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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Learning About Costa Rican Plant Life

Our Tico friend, Luis, stopped by our gate today bearing gifts and those gifts were ...... sticks.

Here is what the sticks look like:

He indicated that we should smash them with a hammer, put them in water with a bit of sugar for two days and, voila, we would have a very refreshing drink. He said the name of the plant was "mozote" and his wife drinks the prepared water to settle her stomach.

Well, I certainly had to learn more about this plant/bush/tree, whatever it is.

A Google search led me to Finca El Tigre where I learned that mozote is a rural Costa Rican drink. The locals drink it regularly to maintain intestinal health. But, besides that, apparently it is just a nice cold drink. You are going to have to search their site for September 24, 2010, to find this article. I couldn't do a direct link to it.

Another Google link to the Tico Times explained more about this plant.

I decided to peel the bark after reading up on preparation, rather then smashing it with a hammer. It peels very easily but you will get a glutinous substance on your hands, which washes off easily. Instead of leaving the concoction to sit for two days, I have opted to refrigerate it for one day.

Here are my sticks in their water:

I'll follow up on this tomorrow when the drink is ready!



Sunday, April 26, 2015


I have been documenting the process of my painting "Tranquilo" here and it is finally finished, except for varnishing.

Click here to see it on my art web page and read more information about it.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Learning Spanish in Costa Rica

Before we moved to Costa Rica from Cloverdale, British Columbia, Canada, we took a six week basic Spanish course. I don't think it did much good.

We've been in Costa Rica for almost four years and just about every Spanish word we know now has been acquired from interacting with Ticos, especially our taxi drivers.

We have advanced to the level of being able to call for a taxi, order food delivery, order meat at the butcher shop and buy fruit and vegetables at the ferias (farmers' markets), order our meals in restaurants. Banking has become much easier, although I still sweat when my teller says, "Deanna ....." and I wonder where I have gone wrong.

When I shop for groceries, it is automatic for me to look for natilla and not sour cream, pan not bread, lactocrema not butter, atun not tuna and so on. My grocery lists are written almost all in Spanish. I can ask for the fruit and vegetables I want to buy from the street vendor and what the price is and understand what their reply is - mostly!

But yesterday, I learned something new from one of our taxi drivers, Rodrigo Espinoza Solano, who is a stickler for correct pronounciation and grammar. When I went to pay him in colones, I asked for "cincocientos" in change back. Wrong!! Although everyone else understands what we want.

In Spanish, when you are counting in the hundreds, it is like this: 200 = doscientos; 300 = trescientos; 400 = cuatrocientos; 500 .... different!!!

500 suddenly becomes quinientos. I asked why, "Qué?", but didn't get or didn't understand the answer. Rodrigo gives me a Spanish lesson every time I ride in his taxi and then he tests me the next time I ride with him.

Not only that, he plays wonderful Spanish music on his car radio.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Climate Fair and Oxcart Parade

This coming weekend (April 24, 25 and 26) is the annual Atenas Climate Fair and oxcart parade. This is the schedule:

There will be lots going on in the central park - music, dancing, food. Everyone loves the oxcart parade - the painted wooden carts are beautiful and the oxen are amazing. Bring your camera. The parade is on Sunday starting around 11:00 am.

Here's a picture I took at a previous year's parade:

This year I donated one of my smaller oxen paintings to the boyeros (oxcart drivers) for their raffle. I hope they make lots of colones. Here is the painting:


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Almost Complete

The large (36"x36") cattle painting I am currently working on is so close to being done, but I keep seeing little things that need tightening up.

The tree leaves need some more work. This canvas has nice deep sides so I was able to carry the leaves over the top and right side.

I put a cattle egret on the left side. These birds are seen here in Costa Rica in open fields and with grazing animals, preying on invertebrates disturbed by the animals' feet. This needs a bit more work also.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Living Legal in Costa Rica - Part III Addendum

As was indicated in my previous blog entry on this topic, we obtained our original drivers' licenses in Costa Rica when it was possible to do so on presentation of a foreign driver's license (British Columbia, Canada), a passport, and proof that an application for residency in Costa Rica had been made. Our passport numbers had to appear on these licenses because we had not yet obtained cédulas (Costa Rican ID cards).

Then the law changed. Now, you must have a cédula before you can get a Costa Rican driver's license. For some, this leads to the headache of having to leave the country every 90 days in order to keep driving in Costa Rica on the strength of a foreign driver's license. However, unlike ourselves, when these people finally get a cédula and their first Costa Rican license, it will be their cédula number which appears on the license and not their passport number. Later, when it comes time to renew such a license, the renewal process may be more streamlined than in our case. There will be no need for COSEVI to update its records to show a cédula number instead of a passport number.

The upshot is that it may not be necessary to go to a COSEVI office in order to renew a driver's license that already shows a cédula number. There will be no need for a "jefe" to update COSEVI's records. Instead, one should have the option to go to a participating branch of the Banco de Costa Rica which can handle the entire process – payment, photograph, etc. in one sitting. Go here for more information.

We were aware of the Banco de Costa Rica program but did not go to the bank to handle the process because we had visions of being told by the bank to go COSEVI to get the records updated with our cédula numbers, then come back.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Living Legal in Costa Rica - Part III

When we arrived in Costa Rica, we had valid driver's licenses from British Columbia, Canada. To obtain Costa Rica licenses, all we had to do was present our unexpired foreign licenses and some papers (passports and verification that we had applied for residency status), pass low threshold medical and eye examinations, and pay the piper within 90 days from our date of arrival. Fortunately, we did so in a timely manner because the law changed a short time later.

Now, the rule seems to be that you must have residency status in Costa Rica before you can obtain a Costa Rica driver's license based upon a foreign driver's license. The problem is that it often can take upwards of a year or more to have a residency application approved. In the meantime, your foreign license will be recognized for only 90 days from your latest date of entry into Costa Rica as it appears stamped in your passport. So, for those caught by the new law and wanting to drive in Costa Rica, it may be necessary to periodically leave the country (to Nicaragua, Panama or wherever) and return the next day (or whenever) merely to get a new latest date of entry into Costa Rica – and then to be good for up to another 90 days. Or, you may choose to rely on the bus system and taxis.

Recently, the time came when our original Costa Rican drivers' licenses had to be renewed. In fact, they had expired but expiry has no effect on renewal. The only consequence is the obvious one – you cannot or you had better not drive. You certainly will not be able to rent a car as we do from time to time.

The first step in the renewal process was for each of us to obtain a medical exam and "dictamen médico digital" (digital medical opinion). For this, we went to Dra. F. Elena Arias (tel. no. 8336-6475) who has a private practice in Atenas – the town where we live.

The exams were little more than taking blood pressure, measuring height and weight and heart rate, and asking a few questions (any drugs, etc.?). We were in and out within a half hour. A good part of the doctor's time was spent entering our identities and exam results into a computer and transmitting the information to a database (SEDIMEC) which appears to be operated under the umbrella of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Costa Rica ("Colegio de Médicos y Cirujanos de Costa Rica"). Although Dra. Arias said we probably would not need them, she provided us with printouts headed "Comprobante Dictamen Médico" (Medical Opinion Proof), each containing an important code number so that authorities down the road could easily locate our information on the database if any question arose.

Costa Rica law requires that we be enrolled in the public medicare system (CAJA) and we are. Whether we might have obtained "dictamenes médico digital" through CAJA, I do not know. But, I seriously doubt it. Nevertheless, not being inclined to address the issue, we turned to the private system. The total cost for the two of us was ₡30000 (about USD $60.00).

The next step should have been to go to the Banco de Costa Rica, pay for the license renewals (₡5000 or about USD $10.00 each), and get receipts confirming the payments. But, early one morning, we instead went directly to "COSEVI" - the agency in Costa Rica which handles the issuance of drivers' licenses and license renewals.

COSEVI is an acronym for "Consejo de Seguridad Vial" or roughly "Road Safety Council" in English. In addition to its headquarters in La Uruca, it has several regional offices throughout the country where renewals can be obtained. The locations of these offices can be found here or, with Google Translate from Spanish to English, here. We chose the COSEVI location in Alajuela which is identified on the maps below.

From where we live in Atenas, Alajuela is a comfortable ride by bus on highway 3 to the interurban bus station "1" shown on the right hand map. Depending on traffic, the trip takes about 45 to 60 minutes. From the bus station, it is a 10 minute ride by taxi to COSEVI. By car from Atenas on highway 3, one should exit right on Calle 24 in Alajuela.

When we stepped out from our taxi at COSEVI, we were approached by a friendly traffic guide wearing road safety clothing. He spoke some English and basically asked if he could help. He then guided us to a guard at the main entry gate to COSEVI only to be informed by the guard that the "jefe" (pronounced hef-eh or "head" or "boss" in English) would not be there that day. He was needed in order to properly process renewal applications that needed to be linked to a cedula and not a passport. "Come back tomorrow at 8:00 a.m." was the message. Both the guard and the traffic guide looked truly sorry, but that's the way it was. So back to Atenas we went.

We returned at 8:00 a.m. the next day and were met by the same traffic guide who took us over to the same guard. We were then were told that unfortunately the "jefe" would not be available until at least 9:30. Again, both the traffic guide and the guard looked sorry. The traffic guide then asked if we would like a coffee. When we said sure, he walked us across the street to a nondescript shop offering coffee and various bottled beverages and seemingly nothing more – but there was more as we subsequently discovered. We left the shop after about 45 minutes and then marked time in the shade at the side of the street for another 45 minutes. The traffic guide gave us chairs to sit on.

It was about 10:00 a.m. before we sat down in front of the "jefe". He wanted to see our existing licenses and cédulas (ID cards) and he wanted to know our current residence. For the latter purpose, we simply gave him a copy of the latest electric bill. Although we had them with us, he did not ask to see our Medical Opinion Proof – so he obviously had no difficulty getting the required medical information from the SEDIMEC database. He asked some questions including whether we agreed to be organ donors. He spent a lot of time at his computer typing and producing a lot of documents each of which required signatures and dating and some of which also required hand printed full names and cédula numbers. I think we each had 7 documents to deal with – more than required to get our original drivers' licenses.

When we were done with the "jefe", we were directed to another office to have our photographs taken. Here we encountered a minor embarrassment. The lady in charge wanted to see receipts confirming that we had paid the required license renewal fees. Well, we had not and we had to leave – nothing more could be done. We had immediate visions of having to taxi to a Banco de Costa Rica branch in downtown Alajuela, then back, just to pay the fees – and who knows how long it might take to get a teller in the bank. When we went outside, we asked the friendly traffic guide for directions. He smiled, pointed across the street, and walked us back to the nondescript shop where we had had coffee earlier in the day. He spoke to the proprietor who then stood at a computer terminal, did a bit typing, and produced two receipts. Total cost: ₡5500 colones each - ₡5000 for the license fee plus a ₡500 colone commission.

We were back at the photographer's office within 10 minutes of having left. In another 15 minutes or so we were done with renewed driver's licenses in hand and good for the next 5 years.

By the way, the friendly traffic guide never asked or hinted, but we did give him a gratuity for his time and assistance. He also has cars on hand that can be rented to take a driver's test and, if you don't have the required safety equipment in the trunk of your car, he can rent you those items too.