Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!
In this issue:
- So, What’s Up with the Yeatmans? Our monthly update to answer the #1 question people ask us, “What do you DO all day?”
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Don’t Buy a Car
- Paul’s Monthly Weather “Report”
- Where We Live: Santiago de San Ramón
- Featured Article: The EBAIS – Where Healthcare Starts
- Featured Speak Spanish Video: Speak Spanish at the Doctor’s Office
Blue skies, fluffy white clouds, mountain peaks, squawking parrots, chirping cicadas, flowering bougainvillea, warm breezes, sweet, fresh watermelon…how monotonous our days have become! Don’t you feel sorry for us? Seriously, though, we are loving our Costa Rica “summer” this dry season. The only negative is that it is, well, dry. No rain for a couple of months now so there is lots of dust, though it always amazes me just how much green remains this time of the year. And we really need to make an effort to stay hydrated, especially when we are at the hotter, lower elevations. But all in all, life is beautiful in our little corner of the world.
A Freaky Week
Freaky thing #1: Paul was on one of our Tortuga Island tours when the boat made a stop for snorkeling. Never one to miss a chance to snorkel, Paul jumped feet first into the water, straight down like a bullet, so he could touch bottom. Unfortunately, bottom came sooner than expected and he ended up cutting his foot on a piece of coral. Ouch! When he got home that evening, we cleaned it out but by the next evening, his foot was red and swollen – definitely infected. We headed to the Emergency Room in San Ramon early the next morning and they gave him three prescriptions: an antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory, and a medicinal foot soak. (By the way, we were out in one hour and our cost was $0)
Freaky thing #2: Later that same evening, Paul had an airport pickup scheduled for the friend of a friend. The pickup went fine, the plane was even a bit early, and they had a safe drive back to San Ramon. At our friends’ house, where Paul has parked hundreds of time in the past, he parked the car but either it wasn’t in gear or the emergency brake wasn’t working because our car started to drift. It was going less than 5 miles an hours as it drifted about 10 feet and…CRUNCH…it hit the corner of their bodega (storage shed). Of course, we had just cancelled the collision coverage in our car insurance policy a couple of months ago! The hood, right fender, bumper, and right headlight had to be replaced. The good news is that, even paying out of pocket, it cost just over $1,000 to fix. Later, we checked the terms of the collision policy and found that the $1,000 was still less than the 20% deductible that would have applied.
Freaky thing #3 (Gloria’s turn, otherwise known as ipod-eye): So, a couple of nights later, Paul and I were both sound asleep in bed when the movement of our cat, Tori, getting under the covers woke us up. No big deal. I decided to turn over onto my left side, forgetting that I had fallen asleep listening to my ipod. The earbuds (which I often have a hard time keeping in my ears) stayed in place and, as I turned, the ipod swung around and hit me squarely in my right eyeball. OUCH! So for the next several days, I was walking around town with a blood-red eye. Frankly, I looked, well, freaky!
Of course, we have kept up with our beach days every 10 days or so. The water is a perfect temperature this time of the year — warm enough to be comfortable but cool enough to be refreshing. The kids are back in school, so the beach is much less crowded these days. There have been about 20 in our group the last couple of times, with maybe another 20 or so Ticos. Last week, however, two bus loads of mentally handicapped folks and their caretakers came to enjoy the beach. The caretakers took small groups of clients at a time down to the water’s edge to play in the surf (see photo to the right). They laughed and cheered each other on. It was really moving, and just one example of socialized medicine at its best!
There are always stray dogs begging scraps in Costa Rica, and the beach is no exception. But what really tugs at my heart are the “beach kitties” who are closer to the bottom of the food chain. They are skinny, but sweet, always wanting to be petted and to sit near us. They need loving homes and, if we didn’t already have two cats in our tiny cabina, we would take them home. If you live in Costa Rica and are interested, please contact us.
Tortuga Island Trips
We’ve also been busy with our tour business. In February, we ran two trips to Tortuga Island and we have another one with about 30 people planned for this Saturday. We’ll continue to offer this popular tour but plan on adding tours to San Lucas Island (the “Alcatraz of Costa Rica”) and a combo-tour to the Mangrove Forest and Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary. Stay tuned for more details!
With our busy schedules, I (Gloria) have started to take a weekly yoga class, led by our friend Anna Campagnale. And for me, it’s really convenient as it’s held right here at the Cabinas where we live, just up at the Rancho (outdoor pavilion). Anna offers two classes a week: Vinyasa Yoga on Monday mornings, and Yin Yoga on Friday mornings. I take the Yin Yoga class and really like it. Here’s how Anna describes it: “Yin Yoga is an extremely therapeutic form of yoga. Contrary to a more vigorous or yang form of yoga,
where we mainly work the muscles of the body, Yin Yoga addresses the Yin parts of the body. Specifically, it targets the connective tissue (the ligaments and tendons in the joints and spine).
The benefits of Yin Yoga are numerous. It increases range of motion and flexibility, cultivates patience, acceptance and peace, and puts the body in a deep state of meditation where healing occurs. Yin Yoga is a wonderful way to experience pain relief and obtain/maintain a sense of well being.” Sounds good to me!
I’m still baking bread, but less of it. I’ve cut way back on the Banana Bread and Pumpkin Bread since we noted más peso alrededor de la mitad (“more weight around the middle”). The other change is that we have retired our little
cabina stove and gotten a new, bigger one. Okay, so it’s third hand, but it’s new to us! It once belonged to our friends Chris & Louise, who sold it to our other friends, Arden & David. And when Arden & David moved to Utah a few weeks ago, it became ours! Six burners and an oven big enough for more than one thing at a time – such a luxury!
Live Where We Live
And while we’re on the topic of happenings at the cabinas, there is a vacancy here as one of the long-term residents moved out to start the next stage of their Costa Rican adventure. If you are thinking about coming to Costa Rica, especially if you plan to be in San Ramon for a while, you can get in touch with the English-speaking manager, Cesar, at this link.
Live Where We LIVED: Baltimore House Update
As many of you know, we still have our house in Baltimore County, Maryland and have had it rented for the last three years. The good news is that we have had great tenants who have taken care of our house. The bad news is that they have all been “upwardly mobile” which means that we are, once again, looking for new renters. Our renters gave their 90-days notice about two weeks ago. So if you know of anyone looking to rent in our area, keep us in mind. We would be happy to send more photos and information to anyone interested.
This is the flip side of one of my other money-saving tips, “Take the Bus.” Naturally, if you don’t have a car, you will in fact take the bus, cab or walk more frequently. Elaine St. James, in her book, Simplify Your Life, classifies “get rid of your car” as “Hard-Core Simplicity” We couldn’t agree with her more. If you are from the U.S., giving up your car may be one of the hardest things to do. There, the car is king…some might say that it’s even un-American to not have a car – it’s inextricably linked to the consumer economy.
Almost by definition, you will drastically simplify your life without a car. You will automatically do less and, ultimately, save money. By not owning a car, you just can’t do as much. Your life will revolve around the bus schedule. Everything you do is scaled back dramatically. And because your options are limited, your choices are fewer and easier.
So how much can you save monthly by not owning a car? Let’s use our expenses for our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner as an example. In 2011, we spent, on average, $311/month, and for the year, we spent $3,732. What does that include? Since we track all of our expenses, we can tell you. In 2011, that $3,732 included everything car-related: gas, insurance, Marchamo (registration), repairs & maintenance, Riteve (annual inspection), 4 new tires, tolls and parking.
Of course, you will still spend money on the bus, and taxis once in a while, but that would still be a whopping savings. It’s easily conceivable that one might spend $100/month for these conveyances. Therefore, saving approximately $211/month, or $2,532 annually. Still very good. I know that if I didn’t have a car, our monthly budget would be reduced by at least $200, from $1700 to $1500. That seems pretty good to me, a substantial savings.
- $13,800 total:
- $10,200 purchase price
- $600 transfer fee
- $1500 suggested repairs, including a tire and an aeriel
- $350 car buying service fees
- $150 compression check
- $400 to set up a corporation to own the car, which limits personal liability
- $600 optional car insurance (6-months)
Let’s see what happened on our mountain at 3950 feet elevation, four miles west of San Ramon, and 9 degrees north of the equator. The dry season is still going strong. Here’s the trend over the last five months:
- October 2011: 35 inches (normal 13-15 inches)
- November 2011: 5 inches
- December 2011: 2 inches
- January 2012: 0 inches
- February 2012: 0 inches
We took the temperature at 6am, mid-day, and 6pm daily, as well as rainfall totals for the previous 24 hours, measured at 6am. All temperature readings are taken in the shade (just like official meteorologists do). If taken in the sunshine, the temps are usually 8-10 degrees higher. You also have to take into account the altitude. We spent some time down on the coast the other day and it was HOT! So, the higher the elevation, the cooler the temps. It gets warmer by about 4-5 degrees per 1000 feet as you descend in elevation.
Rain Data from February 1st to February 29th (29 days)
Temperature data from February 1st to February 29th (29 days)
- 6am average: 59.2°f (lowest reading was 57°f on 2 days)
- Mid-day average: 76.6°f (high of 83°f & low of 73°f on 2 days)
- 6pm average: 64.3°f (lowest reading was 62°f and highest was 66°f )
Our two warmest months (March & April) are still to come, as the Sun moves closer to the equator. That’s it for this report. We’ll continue the weather info next month.
The canton (county) of San Ramón is made up of 13 districts, with a total population of about 80,000 people; it is also the second largest canton in Alajuela province.
The town of San Ramón is District #1 and is home to about 13,500 people, in an area about 11 blocks square. In a sense, it’s like the county seat, as this is where the courthouse, municipal buildings, and cathedral are located. So San Ramón is both a district and a town – confusing enough?
We live in the district of Santiago, actually in the barrio (neighborhood) of Alto Santiago (“high Santiago”). Santiago is both a district and a town too! The district of Santiago is comprised of the towns of Santiago, Magallenas, Calle Leon, El Enpalme, Rio Jesus, and Angustora. Santiago parallels the Pista (also called the Autopista, Pan-American Highway, or the Inter-Americana) which runs east/west towards Puntarenas and the Gulf of Nicoya.
Santiago, the town, is residential, with no commercial businesses, save for a few pulpurias (tiny convenience stores). It is located just outside of the town of San Ramón, to the southwest about two miles. Santiago has a church, a soccer field, a couple of schools, a police station, and it also has an EBAIS (local clinic). The elevation of the town of Santiago is about 3,450 feet, similar to the town of San Ramón.
This is where we live; this is where we make our home. This is where we rent at the Cabinas. If we bought, we’d probably want to live within this district. Statistically, Gloria and I are two of the 4,622 people living in the district of Santiago. Following are some statistics from December 2010:
Featured Article: The EBAIS, Where Healthcare Starts
The Caja is Costa Rica’s public health care system. The full name is the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS). For many expats living here, their experience is limited to getting their carnet (health system enrollment card) at the Social Security office and getting prescriptions or lab tests through the Caja. But in Costa Rica, healthcare really starts at the EBAIS, the local clinic.
EBAIS is short for Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral en Salud. In English, it means “Basic Teams of Global Health Care.” The EBAIS is the first level of care in Costa Rica. These clinics provide both primary and preventative health care to all of the individuals in a community. A typical EBAIS serves about 4,000 people, and there are over 800 EBAIS clinics in Costa Rica.
There are 81 cantons (counties) in Costa Rica, and all of them are composed of districts. Each district has at least one EBAIS; some have more, depending on population. The county of San Ramon is composed of 13 districts, one of which is actually the town of San Ramon, where the county seat resides, population 13,500.
We go to the EBAIS located in our district, Santiago. Luckily, our EBAIS in Santiago is open three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the staff travels to other parts of the district.
Each EBAIS team is made up of at least a physician, nurse, medical records technician, and pharmacist technician. Our EBAIS also has a Técnico de Atención Primaria, a visiting nurse who travels by motorcycle to do home visits throughout the community. Our EBAIS is also staffed by a statistician and, every two weeks, there is also a lab technician on-site to take blood and other samples for analysis. Results are available within another 14 days for review by the doctor.
Going to the EBAIS is convenient because it is close to where we live. It makes me feel a part of the community to go to our local EBAIS. Being Expats, we may be somewhat of a novelty at the EBAIS, but everyone greets us with smiles. The other patients are curious about where we live and how long we’ve been in Costa Rica. They are very respectful toward us and each other, especially their senior citizens. Every month there are posters and information available on a featured medical condition. One month it might be cancer awareness and another month a focus on the special medical needs of seniors.
This is the first time in my life that I love going to the doctor’s. Every time I go, I get a warm and fuzzy feeling because I sit there and watch the families come in – young, old, pregnant, children, everybody in the community. Those with chronic conditions, like diabetes and pregnancy, get seen first by the doctor.
There is no phoning ahead for an appointment, unless it is an emergency. The standard procedure for everyone is to show up between 6:30 and 7 am and get in line to see the medical records technician/ receptionist when the EBAIS opens at 7am. She gives you an appointment time for later in the day – first come, first served. Then you go home and return later at your appointed time.
The waiting room is plain but clean. There are wooden benches and hand-made signs on the doors. No wallpaper, potted plants and cushy chairs here. It is basic and it works. The money is spent on healthcare, not décor.
You wait until your name is called – we usually come prepared with something to read but the wait usually isn’t any worse than in a doctor’s office in the U.S. The first stop is the Nurse’s office to have your blood pressure and weight taken, and to go over the purpose of your visit, as well as any other information needed, with everything noted in your chart. You go back to the waiting area until the doctor calls your name. Usually we are there for about an hour from start to finish. If we have prescriptions to be filled, that takes no more than 10 minutes at the EBAIS pharmacy.
We see the same clinic staffers every time we go and they have gotten to know us as well. The atmosphere is relaxed, though professional. We may joke with the visiting nurse and chat with the receptionist about her recent vacation. Often the doctor is wearing blue jeans under her white lab coat, and the whole staff stops for a coffee break together at 9:30am. There are no constantly ringing phones and stressed-out employees. There are no staff members calling insurance companies to check patients’ coverage. People waiting to see the doctor know the system and patiently wait for their turn. All-in-all, it’s usually a tranquilo place.
We can visit the doctor on any day the EBAIS is open for current medical problems, however we go at least every six months for the doctor to write our prescriptions for the following six months. At that time, the doctor might also write orders for other medical tests that might be necessary like EKGs, ultrasounds, Xrays, blood tests, etc. If the tests are deemed urgent, they are done quickly, sometimes in a matter of days. But routine tests may take months to get scheduled.
Current residency law requires that all residents must join the Caja. However, very few expats actually use the EBAIS system, either because their Spanish isn’t good enough or they don’t understand how it all works. The system can be daunting if you don’t understand it. We certainly didn’t understand it at first. But every time we see the doctor at the EBAIS instead of going to a private doctor, we save $40. We both speak and understand enough Spanish to see the Spanish-speaking EBAIS doctor for most things, but if a more complicated health issue arose, we wouldn’t hesitate to see our private doctor who speaks English.
Most of the private doctors are also members of the Caja. This means that you can see a private doctor for care, and that doctor can then write prescriptions which can be filled in the Caja, and orders for tests that can be scheduled through the Caja too. So, though you pay to see the private doctor, there is no charge for the tests or any of your prescriptions which the Caja stocks. Sometime seeing a private doctor can speed up the referral process and you can, in a sense, jump ahead in the line. Many Costa Ricans also use a combination of public and private medical care.
The visiting nurse visits the sick and also travels to homes to administer flu shots to seniors. Last February, Vilmar, our local visiting nurse, stopped by on his motorcycle with a small cooler containing flu vaccines and gave Gloria and I our flu shots right on our porch. Now, that’s service!
In Costa Rica, they bring healthcare to the people. If only the richest, most powerful country in the world would take some pointers from Costa Rica. How can a developing country make health care available to its residents and the U.S. can’t?
Article Update – 11.75% Colones CDs: Answering Your Questions
Some of our readers didn’t realize that we included Coopenae’s entire slide presentation in English in our last newsletter. If you missed it, here is the link to take a look at it: http://retireforlessincostarica.com/2012/02/colones-cds-answering-your-questions/ The slide presentation is located at the bottom of the article. To move to the next or the previous slide, just click the arrows in the top right-hand corner of the slide. There are 15 slides in total. To read our original article about Coopenae, click here: http://retireforlessincostarica.com/2011/07/investing-in-colones-certificates-of-deposit/ If you are interested in more information about Coopenae, your first point of contact is Asdrúbal Zamora Corrales, their English-speaking financial advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 011-506-2257-9060, ext. 3721.
Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube
That’s all for this month, but we’ll be back in touch soon! If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with your friends. We hope to see you online! Gloria & Paul Yeatman San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica