Welcome to the July 2011 issue of our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Monthly Newsletter!
In this month’s 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: Eat Less Meat and More Fruits and Vegetables
- Feature Article: Our Climate in Costa Rica
Celebrating the 4th of July in Costa Rica
Even though we are living in Costa Rica, we are still American citizens and the 4th of July is still big down here. It is celebrated heavily around the Central valley and anyplace where a large contingent of American expats resides. Being an expat doesn’t mean that we are no longer patriotic about the United States. Expat is short for “expatriate” which just means someone who is living, either temporarily or permanently, in a country or culture other than the one where they are a citizen by birth or where they were raised.
Costa Rica has more foreigners per capita than any country in the world and Ticos are strongly tied to the U.S., both historically and economically. Costa Rica is a tiny country with 4.5 million people and many of them understand the 4th of July. They are savvy and often join in the festivities with us. At the same time, they strive to be nationalistic and are proud of their own country. They are decidedly different than their neighbors as well as the U.S.
Still, the 4th is a big holiday with us expats. Most expat-frequented bars, restaurants and organizations celebrate this day. Some of these celebrations are quite large. For us, a group of 23 people and eight dogs headed for the beach.
It was a perfect day for cooking out. The beach provided grills and we provided the food – pot luck style.
It was a feast, including hotdogs, baked beans, potato and macaroni salad, brownies, apple pie and much, much more.
And like always at the beach, I ate too much. Gloria says I’m a grazer, going from table to table, chatting with friends and, well, grazing.
It’s kind of like going to the beach at Ocean City Maryland for the 4th when we lived in Baltimore, except our beach is only 45 minutes away, shady with monkeys in the trees and not too hot as it’s winter in Costa Rica — air-temp: 85 degrees F and water-temp: 82 degrees F – the perfect weather to head out to the waves with my board.
A Visit to the Emergency Room and a Lesson Learned the Hard Way
It started out as such a nice day. We left San Ramon about 10am with another couple to visit mutual friends who live in another part of the Central Valley. We stopped on the way at EPA (kind of like a Home Depot) to buy some plants. We bought a couple of flowering plants, some fresh herbs, and a fig tree which I was looking forward to planting outside of our cabina.
After leaving EPA we drove to our friends’ house. The four of us had been invited for lunch and, as both the husband and wife are great cooks, we were anticipating a delicious meal. We weren’t disappointed – fresh, homemade pesto sauce with toasted bread to dip, olive salad, lasagna with eggplant, and Italian style chicken tenders served with a tomato and red onion salad. Mmmmmm…just thinking about it makes my Sicilian mouth water!
Here we were, enjoying the day…good food and good friends, what could be better? So what’s the lesson learned the hard way, you ask? Simple, don’t wear flip-flops during the rainy season, unless you are at the beach or inside your house. I walked off the patio to see the progress our friends had made on renovations to their garden area and carefully walked up a couple of steps to get a better view. Then I carefully (or so I thought) started to walk down the two steps. Next thing I know, my left leg is twisted around underneath me and I’m calling for help. Immediately, Paul and our friends come to pick me up and get me into a chair. Before I know it, my leg is propped up on another chair and there’s ice on my leg where it had already started to swell. I am, of course, embarrassed but among friends and we continue to enjoy the afternoon.
Fast forward a couple of hours to 3:00 pm and it’s time for us to return to San Ramon. I slowly walk towards the door without too much pain until suddenly, something in my lower left leg pops out and I am definitely in pain. It takes a village to get me into the back seat of our car, and we debate whether we should drive to San Ramon or to a closer Emergency Room. I finally decide that I am in too much pain for the 90 minute ride to San Ramon and Paul puts the car in gear to drive us the ER, only to find that our left front tire is flat…as a pancake. By this time, it’s become apparent that moving me to another car might be too painful, so while Paul is calling for emergency road service, one of our friends is on another phone calling for an ambulance to take me to the hospital. There is, however, a complicating factor getting an ambulance to where we are — in Costa Rica, there are no street signs or addresses. So, our friends have the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance meet them at a nearby school, then lead them back to the house where the rest of us are waiting.
Fast forward again…the ambulance arrives at Hospital San Juan de Dios emergency room at 4:30 pm, I am helped into a wheelchair, and we are directed to the Orthopedics area. This seems to be one of the busier areas and we have to wait in the hallway until the doctor can see me. Lots of people with sprains and breaks on one appendage or the other…somehow, this comforts me, that I am not the only one learning a hard lesson this day. Just over two hours later, we are finished in the emergency room, X-Rays and prescriptions in hand, and relieved to know that nothing is broken, though I have badly bruised, sprained, and possibly torn something. I am directed to stay off of my leg, ice it frequently for 15 minutes at a time, take the prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and acetaminophen for the pain, and go to the ER in San Ramon if it’s not better in four or five days.
We return to our car, the spare tire mounted, plants in the back of the car and find a surprise waiting for us…our friends’ beautiful Himalayan cat had been locked inside our car for about two hours. Luckily we were still in front of our friends’ house when he was discovered. Thankfully, it had been a cool day so curiosity didn’t kill (or otherwise harm) this cat!
It is now five days later, most of the swelling has gone down, and a lovely bruise stretching about six inches is developing on my lower leg. I can’t put any weight on my left leg but I am trying not to think about how long this recovery process could be, instead taking it day by day. I am trying to focus on the good that is already coming out of this “bump in the road.” There has been an out-pouring of concern and offers of assistance from our friends, including the loan of a walker, crutches and cane to help me get around and “meals on wheels” from friends to get us through the early days. I am so grateful that we are part of a community here and have many people we can call friends.
Another benefit is that Paul and I have been enjoying doing some things together that I used to do on my own, like baking bread and making dinner. He has really taken up the slack caused by my injury and is taking great care of me. I am blessed, and on the road to recovery.
Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Eat Less Meat and More Fruits & Vegetables
Perhaps this one’s not fair. Before we came to Costa Rica, living in the Baltimore, Maryland area, our food budget was $400 per month. Most people thought that that was pretty good, but in Costa Rica, we’ve managed to reduce our food budget by another $100. Our $300 monthly food budget includes paper products, cleaning products, personal care products like shampoo and deodorant, wine occasionally, and even fresh flowers every week or two. It does not include entertainment or eating out.
We eat as much as we did in the States, while consuming a little less meat – ground beef, pork, chicken. Meat costs approximately the same in Costa Rica as in the U.S. but we’re eating less of it. As you know, Costa Rica grows great fruits and vegetables. They are plentiful and cheap. Here are a some price examples of a basket of products from one of our local produce stores, La Gran Bodega de las Frutas y Verduras:
Generally we don’t eat meat with breakfast or lunch. I start the day with a glass of water and a mild blood pressure pill. My typical breakfast includes 1 cup of high fiber cereal with skim milk or low fat yogurt and a couple of glasses of water. Most days, lunch consists of a large piece of homemade bread toasted, topped with homemade peanut butter and a little honey & cinnamon. In addition, I drink a smoothie of banana, frozen pineapple, orange juice, extra fiber and ice. Dinner is the meat meal, usually with 3-6 ounces of meat, though meat is not always the main focus of our meal; we do have vegetarian meals once in a while. We accompany our evening meal with salad and/or lots of vegetables. Sometimes we chop up the meat Chinese style, like in ginger stir fry, and in soups or stews. We also eat whole-grain rice (arroz integral), black beans, and pasta.
Gloria also bakes her own breads – cinnamon raisin, whole grain granola, banana bread, pita and foccacia. As you might guess, I’m gaining a little weight with all of the breads – it’s a battle to refrain. All this baking also reduces costs. We still eat lots of desserts like low-calorie chocolate pudding (muled in by friends visiting from the States), banana bread with chocolate chips, etc. Gloria often offers fresh fruit for dessert but I usually hold out for the sweetened stuff.
Since we’re not big drinkers, our costs are held down further, but we still manage to buy several liters of Chilean wine every month. I don’t usually drink, so Gloria and guests enjoy it. By making these choices, and also limiting more expensive imported items, we are able to keep our grocery budget to $300 per month on average. If you would like to read more about how much we spend to live here, check out our recent article, “Update on Our Cost of Living in Costa Rica.”
As you probably already know, there are two seasons in Costa Rica, a wet season (winter) from May to November, and a dry season (summer) from December to April. Additionally, there are many micro-climates here that change the weather, usually depending on altitude and topography. The climate is different on the Caribbean slope than on the Pacific side. Guanacaste in the northwest region of the country gets a little less rain and more sun, while the Osa Peninsula in the southwest gets more rain and less sun.
But today I want to focus on our weather right here in San Ramon. We live in the mountains at 4,000 ft. elevation, while the town of San Ramon (4 miles away) is about 3,450 ft. It’s July and we are in the middle of the rainy season. Yesterday, we had a downpour and for the last several days it’s been raining pretty hard. The San Ramon area gets between 60 and 80 inches of rain a year. But interestingly, only 15 days of the rainy season provide 70% of the total annual rainfall and yesterday was one of those days. Even though, we’ve had a fairly dry rainy season so far.
May, which usually has nine inches of rain, had about four. June, which usually has more than 11 inches, had about 6 inches of rain. July is still an open book, but averages 8.5 inches. The wettest months, September and October, are yet to come. Because weather data is not available for San Ramon, I had to go with San Jose data. As you can see from the colored chart above, it’s similar, between 60 and 80 inches per year. Since we live in the mountains at 4,000 ft. near San Ramon, you can probably tack on an inch or two to some months.
Since 70% of the annual rain falls on only 15 days of the year, those days must average 3.73 inches, times 15 days, or 56 inches of rain. The rest of the time, the other 180 days of the rainy season, receives about 24 inches. Most days in the rainy season are not downpours, but rather rainy days somewhat like Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon, with a lot of clouds, a little rain, drizzle, showers, and brief periods of hard rain.
San Ramon is noted for its pelo de gato (hair of the cat) which translates into soft drizzle, so typically it doesn’t rain that much most days – but it seems like it’s always raining, especially in the afternoons. Usually weather-talk is small-talk but for me, an amateur meteorologist, it’s exciting and a prime topic of conversation. Every morning at 6:00 am, I rush out to look at my mercury thermometer and rain gauge. Gosh, life is so exciting! As Gloria always tells me, I’m easily pleased.
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Gloria & Paul Yeatman
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica