Jan 09 2014

“Monkeying Around” Newsletter – January 9, 2014

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Gloria, Paul, and my "Machito hat"


In This Issue:





More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

by Gloria

Marisol howling her tiny howl

It’s a beautiful day at Spider Monkey/Howler Monkey R&R. I am “monkey sitting” this afternoon for three sweet little howlers, or “Congos” as they are called in Costa Rica. Also present are two spider monkeys, Lolita and Chiquito, and two dogs, Magdalena and Tequila. But it’s the three baby howlers I interact with the most. They are Venecia, the oldest, at about a year old, Marisol, about nine or ten months old, and Millette, the youngest of the three girls, at about three and a half months old. All of the monkeys here are orphans, their mothers hit by a car, electrocuted on power lines, or killed for bush meat. They have found a caring home here with loving surrogate parents.

“What do you do when you monkey-sit?” you may be wondering. Well, first of all, I AM the monkey bars – my arms and legs and hands and shoulders are there for them to climb on, snuggle in, and use as bridges to tree limbs. A year or so after we moved to Costa Rica, we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. They have a large cage where they allow visitors to enter, feed and play with the howler monkeys. There was a volunteer sitting there with one small howler sitting on top of her head and another in her

Venecia on my shoulder

lap. I remember thinking at the time what a cool thing that was. Never did I imagine that a few short years later, I would have three howler monkeys climbing all over me, sucking my fingers, nibbling my ears, and competing for my attention. It is, as they say, “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

Another saying that I’ve learned is true is “Monkey see, monkey do.” When Venecia came to live at Howler Monkey R&R, she was already climbing trees, but Marisol, who is younger, wasn’t quite that advanced. She’d watch Venecia and eventually she’d try climbing up on a tree limb from the safety of my arm or leg. Little by little, she’d venture further on her own and now she’s a practiced climber. And I get to see little Millette watch and learn, too. She doesn’t miss anything as Venecia and Marisol climb from my arms into the tree. She doesn’t yet break contact with some part of my body, but when I prop my leg on the base of a small tree like a bridge, she’ll climb to the end of my leg and put her front hands on the tree limb. She’s not quite ready to let go, but I’m ready, holding her tail to keep her from falling in case she wants to give it a try. It’s just like a child learning how to ride a bike using training wheels, except I AM the training wheels.

Venecia climbing a tree

There are also other ways they watch and copy each other. If one of them climbs onto my shoulder or in the crook of my arm, the others soon follow. It’s constant monkey motion. And they love to wrestle and tumble with each other, sometimes posturing in a challenging way and biting each other’s tails. My time with them is pure fun and it makes me smile just to think of them.

All three of them know me now and they have their own distinct personalities. Venecia is the jumper of the trio. She loves to jump from tree limbs onto me. All I have to do is hold out my hand and call her name and she’ll jump right into the palm of my hand. She loves to suck on my fingers and sit on my shoulder. Marisol is the wanderer; she likes playing in the trees but soon gets bored and sets out on her own to explore. I get her, bring her back, and she does it again, until I do something to distract her. Marisol loves to suck on my hair and is the main cause of my “monkey head” at the end of the day. And Millette is the drama-queen-in-training, showing lots of emotion for such a tiny creature, but as sweet as they come.

And then there’s feeding time. Howlers are herbivores and in the wild, eat tree leaves, fruits, and flowers. At Howler Monkey R&R, Venecia and Marisol eat tender lettuce, cut up fruit and veggies, and leaves during their visits to the trees. Millette hasn’t started eating solid food yet; she drinks goat’s milk from a syringe so we can monitor her intake. One thing I can always count on after monkey-sitting is coming home and having to take a shower. There are no diapers, nor toilet-training involved, so you can imagine the reason. But it’s okay, it’s just part of the job and I wear old clothes. I just consider it a sign of good luck, or an extra blessing.

It has been a blessing in my life, this being a “monkey-nanny.” It has brought out qualities in me that I never even guessed at. I find that I am somehow attuned with these little creatures. As a matter of fact, since moving to Costa Rica, I feel so much more in sync with the whole of nature. And as Paul and I often comment, “Who knew??”

What could be better? Nothing, I thought…until recently when Machito, a male baby howler monkey, just about a month old, came to  Howler Monkey R&R. And I thought that “being the monkey bars” for three howlers was a challenge!

To see some of my adventures in monkey-sitting, take a look at three minutes of pure monkey fun in my video below. There are some tricky camera angles at times…but what can you expect when I’m the one taking the photos while three monkeys are playing on and around me? Enjoy!


Related Article & Websites:

Reinventing Yourself in Retirement

by Gloria

Originally published April 21, 2013
Since we’ve been writing lately about being inspired, following your dreams, and discovering new ones, we thought it would be a great time to reprint our article on reinventing yourself. Hope you enjoy it:

“A couple of months ago, we received an email from Rob, who is considering the idea of retiring in Costa Rica. He writes, “After the finances, my biggest worry is how I will spend my time.  I have read about male expats who spend a lot of time at the bar because they do not have a purpose (e.g. employment) and too much free time.  It is funny that the opportunity to be free with unlimited time would be frightening but after a lifetime of having school, work, etc. determine my schedule, I am having to go back to basics to rediscover what my passions are and how I want to spend retirement. If you went through that angst, I would appreciate if you would include your thoughts in one of your newsletters.  How do you spend your time, how did you discover your passions, and how are you managing free time?…For me, it is not about being busy, it is about being useful. I can stay busy around the house here moving my too many possessions around or surfing the internet or watching TV. What I think is important is finding a purpose in my life once I have the freedom to search.

This is a great question and one that many others approaching retirement share. Rob is basically asking, “Who am I without my job? When I stop doing all that I’ve been doing, what’s left, and how do I make it matter?” The angst he refers to is, perhaps, an American thing. Do people in other cultures have the same angst that we do, about what we’ll do once we retire? In some cultures, if you are a sheepherder or a guy pushing a cart, there is no possibility of retirement. In most of the world, it’s a struggle just for existence; you work until you drop, and then your family cares for you.

And it’s different for everyone. We all have different talents, desires, and hopes for the future. For some people, the increased social life is enough to make them happy in retirement. There are always outings with friends, weekend trips to the mountains or the beach, dinner parties and happy hours. But for many of us, we need to make our lives, as Rob says, “useful.” We need to have a purpose in life that’s greater than ourselves, to feel that our lives still matter and are meaningful.

For some people, it seems easier. They have always had the dream of writing novels or painting. And many of them end up coming to Costa Rica for its natural beauty and creative inspiration. But even that isn’t always enough. We know a couple who retired to Costa Rica, for him to write and her to paint. And they did. She painted the beauty she saw around her, and he wrote three novels, the first of which is currently being published. But they decided to go back to the U.S. so that he could teach again and help market his book, and for them to be back with the family they missed while living abroad. I’m sure that there were other factors involved, like the language barrier for one. The point is that Costa Rica turned out to be right for them for a time, and then they took the next step in their journey.

For Paul and I, it was a different journey. There are a lot of reasons that we chose to leave the U.S. and come to Costa Rica, which we’ve already written about (and you can read about here and here and throughout this website). We’d spent about 18 months researching and visiting the country before we made the big move on April 1, 2009. We didn’t realize it at the time, but some decisions that we made early on really helped shape our experience here over the last four years.

Paul so loved learning about Costa Rica, he knew right away that he wanted to pass on some of that knowledge. And I’d always loved both reading and writing and wanted to do more of both. I wanted to express my thoughts and ideas and, hopefully, to somehow inspire others. We decided to start a little blog to share our journey with others who might also be interested in retiring in Costa Rica. Maybe, we thought, we can market a couple of relevant items and make a little money to help finance our dream. And so we began our Retire for Less in Costa Rica blog. We both got to write about our experiences and it’s evolved from there. Once we arrived in Costa Rica and found our way around, Paul started doing tours and airport transportation in and around the western Central Valley. It gave him another opportunity to talk about this country we have grown to love.

But it didn’t happen overnight. For me, especially, the transition was difficult, maybe because I was only 52 when we “retired” to Costa Rica. Paul was 62 and had just started to collect Social Security of $922 per month. He was ready to retire and pursue new interests. He admits that he never really had a career, just lots of jobs with none lasting more than 3 years. He was more of a self-professed “rolling stone that gathers no moss,” definitely not a “corporate type” or an “A-type personality.” His expectations have always been low, but he has a corresponding high capacity for satisfaction in life. His goal was never to make a lot of money; instead, it was to be a success in his personal relationships, to love and be loved, genuinely for himself. It wasn’t until later in life that he was able to discover his two passions – me, and Costa Rica.

I was a little less ready to quit my job and move to Costa Rica. I mean, who retires at 52, especially in this economy!? But all the doors were opening for us to make this huge life change, and I decided to just follow the signs and take a leap of faith. My concession was that I didn’t want to sell our house in Baltimore right away. What if we moved to Costa Rica and then realized we had made a big mistake? Also, I was able to continue working for my employer part-time, telecommuting over the Internet, which lasted for most of our first year. In a way, that actually postponed much of the angst I would later feel about “who am I now and what’s next for me?”

Our first 3-6 months living in Costa Rica were both exciting and difficult. The exciting part was that everything was new. We were meeting new people, visiting different parts of the country, trying new foods, and living in an entirely different climate that we were used to back in Baltimore. But, at the same time, we were dealing with all of the differences here. The culture is not the same as back in the U.S.; Ticos have a different set of expectations and ways of doing things. The money is different, and the exchange rate keeps changing, so a dollar isn’t always a dollar. Food and cooking are different as well. Vegetables, like carrots and beets, are bigger. Potatoes and other vegetables have different water-contents and take longer to cook. Baking is different at higher elevations, too. And all of the convenience products and low fat foods I had relied on in the U.S were either not available or cost three times as much.

I discovered that I was doing a lot more cooking from scratch and using a lot less processed foods. Then I started baking all of our bread, making yogurt and peanut butter from the raw ingredients. I learned about alternative ways to cook, and we began eating even more whole foods that we did in the States. I learned about genetically modified foods and the danger they present to unknowing consumers the world over. And I became passionate about cooking and baking healthier and more nourishing foods. I always liked to cook, but working 40 hours a week cuts into any available time I had to try different things and learn new techniques. Now I had both the time and the inclination and found out that I was enjoying it.

Also, Paul and I both started volunteering with the Community Action Alliance, a community-based, action-oriented organization started in our very own San Ramon the year after we arrived.  I became their webmaster and, soon after, we both became members of the Steering Committee. We have tried to help mold the direction of the growing organization in the areas of Citizen Security, Economic Development, the Environment, Fundraising, and Education. (You can read more about the Community Action Alliance at this website.)   Neither Paul nor I had any big aspirations to be part of an organization like this. We just wanted to make a difference and this is one of the opportunities that presented themselves to us.

There is an expression, “follow your bliss.” Okay, but that can be a little scary, and besides, first you have to FIND your bliss. It’s not like there’s a road sign pointing to “Bliss Lane.” The good news is that you don’t have to have it all plotted out on your GPS before you start. I think it requires just taking one step at a time and trusting yourself enough that you will find your way. It doesn’t work to stay home behind a closed door and expect your bliss to find you. You have to go out and take, not necessarily a leap, but a small step at a time and see how it makes you feel. Does volunteering at an orphanage or animal rescue bring you more joy than it makes you feel sad? Is writing your memoir just painful, or is it a satisfying process along the way? Does traveling around the country giving talks to expat groups excite you or terrify you? Does teaching English to Ticos come naturally to you, or do you find yourself tongue-tied? You won’t know any of these things until you try.

So start, just start somewhere. Keep an on-going list of the things that bring you joy, and use that list as a guidepost to your future. Your retirement can be anything you choose, so choose what makes you happy. You have to use your heart, not just your head, in this process. And if, down the line, things change, and it doesn’t feel good any longer, don’t be afraid to change direction, to take a first step on a new path. You don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time. A satisfying retirement (like much of life) is a journey, not a destination. And remember “Bliss Lane?” We found ours, and if and when we move, it moves with us.”

Related Articles:

Our December 2013 Costa Rica Cost of Living

Another calendar year has ended and, in our next newsletter, we’ll share our end-of-year cost of living report, including monthly averages for each category. In the meantime, here’s how we did for the month December, 2013.

Like most people, we spent more on groceries in December. We did more entertaining in our home, and Gloria did lots of holiday baking – Christmas cookies (including Italian biscotti, which has become a tradition), pumpkin bread, herb bread, and cranberry-walnut bread) and cooking. For dinner on Christmas day, she made an authentic Mexican Fiesta Mole which called for 19 ingredients in the sauce alone. And she turned left-over roasted pumpkin into pumpkin butter with the addition of spices and apple juice. So, it’s not surprising that we spent about $100 more than our average on groceries.

Ingredients for Oaxacan "Fiesta Mole"


Another category that came in higher than normal is transportation. Though we stayed close to home most of the month, we took an overnight trip to Nuevo Arenal, about a three hour’s drive each way, to visit friends and that, of course, meant an extra tank-full of gas. In December, we also paid our Marchamo (annual vehicle registration fee) which was just over $200 this year (100,141 colones). Though it’s mostly based on the value of your car, and even though the value of our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner decreased, our Marchamo increased a bit. Go figure.

Our “meals out” category was also a bit higher than normal. We ate out at restaurants during our trip to Lake Arenal. And we went out to a nice restaurant for Gloria’s birthday – Lira, in Palmares is our go-to special occasion restaurant.

Us at Lira Restaurant, all decorated for Christmas

Our “health care” category included Paul’s visit to the dentist for a cleaning (cost: 18,000 colones or about $36.00). Pet expenses were low, low, low. Guess we had stocked up on cat food and kitty litter the month before. Our “miscellaneous” category was higher due to some donations we made and gifts we gave to others. Paul and I don’t exchange Christmas presents anymore (part of our living simply/”less is more” philosophy) so that kept the gift expenses down. Nothing else is especially notable. All in all, it was a pretty good December as far as expenses go.

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:












In the Mailbag

A couple of recent comments stood out to us and we thought we’d share them with you.


Hola Yeatmans!

I have been following your blog for several months as I was trying to decide whether to spend my winter in Mexico or Costa Rica. Your newsletter has been a tremendous resource for me as I attempted to come to a decision.

I have now been in Monteverde since October 30 – your observations regarding the Ticos is spot on. They are friendly, generous people. I have never had a problem with my muy basico espanol. There is always somebody close by to help with the communication.

Your monthly newsletter is the most in depth source of information that I have encountered. When friends ask me about Costa Rica – I direct them to your newsletter. Everything that you need to know is in there.

Happy New Year, from a Canadian glad to be away from the ice, snow and frigid temps of the Great White North!”

Wayne Smith


Hi Gloria:

Love reading your articles! I have no doubt that you would find happiness anywhere you went! Love your open-minded, positive attitude:)

Colleen Sadler
Casselman, Ontario, Canada

Thanks, Wayne and Colleen, for your kind words! We appreciate it. P & G


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