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?”
- 10 Ways to Fit In When You Retire in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
- Paul’s & Lance’s Monthly Weather Report for San Ramon and Atenas
- The 7th Reason Why We Still Choose San Ramon – Healthcare
- Democracy in Action
- Featured Article: Our Four Year Review of Living in Costa Rica
- Protect Your Property Title in Costa Rica, by Bob Gieser
Looking back on the month of April, much of it was focused on interactions with Ticos and speaking Spanish, both things that we are trying to do more of.
We started the month off with a luncheon on our porch for the staff of six from our local EBAIS – the community clinic that we go to for most of our on-going medical needs. We have gotten to know them, some better than others, over the three years we’ve been going and they have always been welcoming, kind, and helpful to us. We wanted to do something nice for them, to show our appreciation, so, we invited them to come over during their lunch break. They all came – doctor, nurses, pharmacist, and administrators. We relaxed together and feasted on homemade pizza and salad. Since I’m my mother’s daughter, we had more than enough food and everybody was encouraged to indulge.
All of the conversation was, of course, in Spanish and I felt much more confident speaking the language in a group than I have in the past – thanks to our weekly Spanish lessons at CPI. It was one of those times that Paul and I looked at each other and agreed, “This is why we came to Costa Rica, for experiences like this.” We wanted to become part of the community, to speak Spanish with the locals and have it feel natural. And it’s happening!
A Trip to the E.R.
The following week, we had a medical scare that took Paul back to the EBAIS, and ultimately to the Emergency Room. He woke up that Tuesday with chest pain. He said that it felt like someone was sitting on his chest, though he wouldn’t go to the doctor or the ER. By Wednesday morning, it hadn’t improved and he agreed to go to the EBAIS. There was a new doctor filling in that day, so Vilmar, one of the nurses who we’ve gotten to know, offered to go with Paul to a private doctor who (supposedly) had an EKG machine right in her office. Turned out, she didn’t have one in her office, so they had to stop by a private medical clinic to have one done. Vilmar stayed with Paul the whole time. The doctor told Paul that she didn’t think that he’d had a coronary episode but she did see something on the EKG that had her concerned. “What should I do?” Paul asked? “Go to the Emergency Room” she answered. So, $90 later ($60 for the doctor and $30 for the EKG), Paul came home to pick me up and we took off for the Emergency Room.
There, after signing in and having his vitals taken, Paul saw the doctor. She immediately ran another EKG and said that everything looked normal. But to be sure, she wrote an order for some lab work to verify that he hadn’t had a coronary episode. We walked over to the lab right there in the hospital, then went back to the ER to wait for the results. When they came, about an hour later, the results confirmed that everything was fine, gracias a Dios! Total cost: $0.
It wasn’t until later that day that Paul realized the chest pain was probably a result of swimming hard against the current the previous Sunday when he went snorkeling on one of our boat trips to Tortuga Island (click here to check it out). The current had been especially strong that day and it took him about 20 minutes just to get back to the boat. So, bottom line is that he’s fine and we are very grateful that it wasn’t his heart. And next time, no nonsense, we go right to the emergency room!
Dinners at our House
Homemade pizza and salad were on the menu again when we had some friends over for dinner and to watch the sunset. I made the pizza, Lorca and Robert brought a delicious salad, Mae made one of her world famous chocolate cakes, and John and Caryl brought wine. A tasty addition to the pizza was a sauce we had just tried a few days before when eating pizza out – a mix of minced parsley and lots of garlic, brought together with some extra virgin olive oil. We found that it’s great on lots of things – salad, bread, just about anything. Needless to say, now we always have some in our fridge.
We got to spend some time with a nice Canadian couple we met a couple of weeks before during one of George Lundquist’s retirement tours. Bea and Gordon were great fun and it was like we had known them for a long time instead of having just met. They spent their last night in Costa Rica at our house then took off for the airport the following morning.
In some ways, April was much like other months for us. Paul was busy doing tours and airport runs. We did another boat trip to Isla Tortuga, and we hosted George Lundquist’s Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security tour guests both at our house and at the cabinas where we used to live.
Monkeys, Dogs, and a Parrot, Oh My!
I had a few more opportunities to monkey-sit at Spider Monkey R&R. In April, however, in addition to two monkeys, two dogs, and a new puppy, there was a rescued green parrot with a broken wing added to the mix! There’s never a dull moment at the Gawenkas!
We also continued to drive to Heredia (about an hour away) for our weekly four-hour Spanish lesson. During one of our lessons, our teacher, Elena, brought us into a media classroom equipped with a “SmartBoard.” It was a fun change from the normal class structure and it was one more example of CPI’s interactive teaching methods.
Taking classes at CPI has helped both of us to improve our Spanish, but the biggest benefit for me, personally, is that it has given me so much more confidence when talking with Ticos.
Happy Birthday Marcia!
This was confirmed for me when we drove to Zarcero for a surprise birthday party for our friend Marcia, given by her husband, Tom. There were about 50 people in attendance and, besides Tom & Marcia, we were the only “gringos.” All of the other guests were the extended family of their neighbors and Tico friends from their senior citizen’s group (along with a couple of cats and a cow!)
There were people of all ages, from an 8-week old baby on up to folks in their 70s and 80s, and none of them spoke English. Spanish was the language of the day, and I found that I could communicate most of what I wanted to say. When we left the party for the ride home, we were both smiling and said to each other, once again, “This is why we came to Costa Rica.”
Gran Venta de Libros 2013
Perhaps our biggest activity in April was volunteering with the third annual Gran Venta de Libros, sponsored by our own Community Action Alliance. More than 7,000 books were donated and over $6,000 was raised. We thank our friend Earl for letting us use his video of the event.
All proceeds will be shared by the Regional Museo de San Ramon and Escuela Jorge Washington, San Ramón’s patriarchal school named after the first president of the United States. The Escuala’s portion will help fund the installation of a 5 KW solar panel system. The Escuela Jorge Washington will be one of the first schools in the country with a solar panel system. This installation is part of San Ramon’s plan to become the first carbon neutral cantón in Costa Rica. For me, the best part is that it has truly become a community event. Many Costa Rican students volunteered and more and more Tico families came to buy books and take part in the other activities offered as part of the event. It was a fun day and a great experience, bringing together the whole community — Ticos and Gringo, families, teachers, and students, young and old. And yes, I got to speak a lot of Spanish that day too! The books sale was the first event promoted with the Action Alliance’s new campaign, “Porque Yo Amo A Mi Pueblo” (Because I love My Town).
We do love living in San Ramon and are proud to be part of this community. Despite our busy-ness, we still find lots of time to enjoy our home, to watch the clouds coming in and the beautiful sunsets, and to enjoy a freshly picked banana or two. It’s the simple life that is so satisfying to us.
And Coming Up – The Yeatmans Go to Mexico!
Paul and I have been asked to speak at International Living’s Ultimate Conference in Playa del Carmen, Mexico the end of May. After five days at the conference, we will do some exploring on our own in other parts of the country, including some time in Mexico City.
We plan to send out one more newsletter before we leave, but won’t do our normal first of the month newsletter in June since we’ll be traveling. We’ll tell you all about our trip in a newsletter around the middle of June, so stay tuned!
- The EBAIS – Where Healthcare Starts
- Explore Costa Rica and Learn Spanish at the Same Time
- Community Events as a Vehicle for Integration
- A Day in the Life – March 17, 2013
– Hans Hofmann
by Tom Bunker
My wife, Marcia, and I have lived in Costa Rica for almost 3 years. We have made many friends and are well-known by most of the community. We moved here from Southern California where our lives were very different. We lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and I can honestly say that I didn’t even know all my neighbor’s names.
We’ve made more of an effort to fit in with the community here. Let’s face it, I’m a big, old Gringo and will never be mistaken for a Tico. Then how do I “Fit in?” It’s simply a matter of attitude and it takes very little effort. But it does take some. Here’s how I do it and what I recommend you try. These are my opinions and they cost nothing, but are worth ten times that (engineer humor). You may want to try some of them and see what happens.
- Speak Spanish! Don’t just study Spanish, speak it! It’s natural to be afraid of making a mistake, but get over it and just speak. You will also have to study the language and there are many ways to learn through classes and/or books. If you only study and speak in your class, you are not learning. You are surrounded by Spanish speaking people; even the children speak Spanish. Start with greetings and pleasantries and numbers. When you don’t understand, just say so. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid. You will make a lot of mistakes, but it won’t be long until people are praising how much you understand.
- Slow down! There is always time to greet someone and ask how they are before you ask where the milk is.
- Learn how to tell what is normal in your area and relax. If you don’t feel comfortable with your surroundings, how can you relax? Are the men walking towards you carrying machetes dangerous, or are they just field workers on their way home?
- No offense to fellow Gringos, but you can get a lot of wrong information from some of them. Many are well-intentioned, but ill-informed. Try to confirm things independently.
- Be more than a spectator. Attend local events and join in. Ticos are extremely welcoming and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. We are always asked to dance with people. Marcia always gets led around on peoples horses. They are happy to see you enjoying the activities that they enjoy.
- Join in. We joined the local senior’s group. It got us a lot of new friends and we look forward to our meetings and outings.
- Photos make great inexpensive gifts. I like to take photos at peoples parties and at community events and print some. It seems like everyone has photos on their phones and will show them to you, but getting a print is always well-received.
- You don’t have to give up your Gringo friends and activities, but don’t limit yourself to them. You will miss out on a lot of great experiences.
- Avoid negative people.
- DANCE LIKE NO ONE’S WATCHING!
- The Bunkers’ Road to Costa Rica
- On Integration: Living in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
- Video – Do I HAVE to learn Spanish??
- CPI’s New Online Spanish Classes
The winds abated in early April, finally. But without the winds, the bugs have appeared. Our house is well-screened but they still get in. I realize now that the winds drive the bugs away. Most notable are the June bugs, called May bugs here because that’s when they usually appear.
April is the warmest month of the year as the sun is passing directly overhead, the wind has stopped, humidity is rising, getting ready for the rains that will follow shortly. Usually, we get 2 inches of rain in April; though interestingly, last year we got about 10 inches, all within one week. As we’re writing this over the first few days of May, the rainy season actually started like clockwork on May 1st, with 1.25″ of rain. As a matter of record, May should get about 8 inches of rain. We’ll see. The upcoming months of May-July are our favorite months in Costa Rica. Everything will start to green up, but the heaviest rains won’t start until September or October.
As usual, 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 — the higher the elevation, the cooler the temps. It gets warmer by about 4-5 degrees per 1000 feet as you descend in elevation.
Following is our rain and temperature data, at our home in San Ramón at 3,000 ft. elevation, for the month of April 2013:
- .15 inches of total rainfall over two days
- 3 days measured trace amounts of rain
- 26 days with zero rainfall
Here’s the rainfall trend since the first of the year 2013:
- January – 0 inches
- February – .05 inches
- March – .15 inches
- April – .15 inches
Total rainfall year-to-date: .35 inches
- 6am average: 65.2°f (lowest reading was 61°f on 1 day)
- Mid-day average: 80.3°f (high of 85°f on 1 day & the lowest high of 77°f on 3 days)
- 6pm average: 70.9°f (lowest reading was 68°f on 1 day and highest was 74°f on 4 days)
To give you an idea of the difference that elevation has on temperatures, here is the breakdown of temperature data from April 2012 when we were living at 3,950 feet elevation, about 1,000 feet higher than we’re living now:
- 6am average: 62.5°f (lowest reading was 58°f on 1 day, highest reading was 65°f on 1 day)
- Mid-day average: 76.1°f (high of 81°f on 2 days & low of 70°f on 1 day)
- 6pm average: 65.7°f (lowest reading was 62°f on 1 day and highest was 68°f on 1 day)
Our friend, Lance Turlock , recorded day-to-day overnight low temperatures and daytime high temperatures at their home in Vista Atenas at an elevation of about 2700 feet. The temperatures may differ from the town of Atenas itself where the elevation is lower, or other nearby places where the elevation is even lower or higher. As is characteristic of Costa Rica in general, the Atenas region has many microclimates. A few hundred feet can make a significant difference. For instance, on most if not all websites, it seems that the weather information for Atenas will be the same as for Juan Santamaria Airport. This is inaccurate because of Costa Rica’s microclimates and the fact that Juan Santamaria is at a different elevation than Atenas.
- Overnight lows (about 6am) Average: 68.4°f (lowest reading was 63.1°f & highest reading was 71.2°f)
- Daytime highs (about noon) Average: 88.8°f (highest reading was 93.2°f & lowest reading was 83.3°f)
Some additional observations from Lance:
- The average daytime highs seem to have been unusually high for the month of April (but not uncomfortably high if you simply lay back and enjoy the ambiance).
- Though I still do not have a rain gauge, I noted that there were 4 days in April when there was at best a trace of rain for a few minutes, and another 4 days where there was light to moderate to heavy rain — but not for more than an hour at most.
We’ll continue the weather info next month.
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2011
- Our Weather in San Ramón de Alajuela, Costa Rica – 2012
- Where We Live: Santiago de San Ramón
On the 25th of April, we met a new acquaintance in Alajuela. She and her husband live up on the mountain towards the Poas Volcano at about 4,000 ft. elevation and only 20 minutes from downtown Alajuela. It was a beautiful day, clear and bright, and the view of the Central Valley was breathtaking, one of the best of thousands of great views in Costa Rica. She has been in Costa Rica for 15 years with her husband and runs a small but cute restaurant and gift shop.
During our conversation, she mentioned her husband’s illness and the medical system in Costa Rica. She felt it leaves a lot to be desired. Even though the hospital in Alajuela is new, it was beset with problems from its inauguration two years ago. It is a public Caja hospital which was poorly staffed, poorly run, and underfunded. Nothing seemed to work right. As she spoke, the magnificent view became a little tarnished in my eyes.
I immediately felt very lucky to be living in San Ramon, where our Caja hospital is more efficient, and not as crowded, as the one in Alajuela. Our lines are shorter and everything seems to work pretty well here. The staff at our hospital seems proud of its accomplishments and history. Our local clinic (EBAIS) is a good one too. We feel so fortunate to live in San Ramon where the medical system seems to function at a high level.
Over the last year, the Caja’s has started to come back after about 13 years of mismanagement. Funding is being restored and improvements are being made. The restoration is happening quickly but not overnight. We can visibly see the difference over the last four years since our arrival.
Unlike most expats and some Costa Ricans, Gloria and I use the system extensively. We have had success with the system and even know a few Ticos who have had successful open-heart surgery at Hospital Mexico, less than an hour away from San Ramon. So far, we are extremely satisfied but we were relatively healthy when we arrived and take few medications.
- The 7 Reasons Why We Still Choose San Ramon
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Join the Caja, Costa Rica’s National Medical System
- My Experience Using the Costa Rica Medical System (the “Caja”)
We got to see a good example of the people speaking and the president listening here in Costa Rica recently. Residents were upset over the government’s plans to go ahead with a concession to improve the PanAmerican Highway (Rt. 1). The Brazilian company, who had won the concession, planned to pay for the road improvements by charging a 2,000-colon toll each way along the route San José to San Ramón. This toll would increase the expense of commuting by an additional $8.00 each day for drivers and would most likely increase fares for those traveling by bus.
The people let their views be known, with manifestaciones (demonstrations) all along the San Jose to San Ramon corridor, especially in our town of San Ramon. On April 23rd, A.M. Costa Rica reported that “President Laura Chinchilla said Monday night that she was terminating the concession with the contractor who was supposed to build a modern highway to San Ramón. The president said she was doing this to guarantee the social peace of the country. ‘I recognize that in the current environment it is not possible nor convenient to carry forward a project that has received the rejection of diverse sections of the population, among them communities, social organizations and even business chambers,” said the president.’
You can read the AM Costa Rica article, entitled “President says she is dumping road concession to preserve peace” at this link: http://www.amcostarica.com/042313.htm#32.
On April 1, 2013, we celebrated four years of living in Costa Rica. In reflecting on our experience, I thought I’d encapsulate my thoughts about our Costa Rican adventure in the following 11 areas.
This is my favorite one. The people are so much more wonderful than I originally expected. It’s the main reason our experience here has been so good and is getting better every day. You can’t just read about the Ticos in a book, you have to experience them. We have learned a lot from them. They possess the formula for happiness. I think I have it, too, but being around them constantly reminds me to:
- Be easily satisfied
- Keep expectations low
- Keep a positive attitude
- Keep acceptance high
Don’t get me wrong, Ticos are far from perfect and they have problems too, but you would never know it.
Ticos have a “peace mentality,” I think, because they have no army or navy. Young people never worry about entering the military and dying in some far-off land, or returning with some horrific injury. It never enters their minds. Of course, it was like this before we got here and it’s the same way today.
Well, I always wanted to live in a Spanish speaking world and learning the language was a high priority. I knew some Spanish before I came, because I went to and graduated from The University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico in 1977.
Presently, we take four hours of immersion Spanish each week and are determined to improve…and we are! It increases our enjoyment of all phases of life here and helps us fit in.
This also has been a pleasant surprise. Even with yearly inflation of 5%, we’ve managed to keep our living expenses low, averaging under $2,000 per month, including medical and car expenses. When you read our budget issue later this month, you’ll see we managed to live for just $1741.00 in April. We do it and you can do it too. Remember, it depends more on how you live. We chose simplicity, yet live a fun, full,and rewarding life. If you’ve got $3,000 a month, you can live just about anywhere in Latin America. And if you’ve got $4,000 a month, you can live anywhere in the world, even France, which International Living Magazine says has the best health care system in the world.
We thought it was beautiful 5 years ago when we first came for a visit, and we still think it’s spectacular now. It’s amazing just how much natural beauty there is in this tiny country. We’ve since learned that the beauty of the country also extends to its people.
When we first arrived four years ago, the climate was a bit of a disappointment. It just wasn’t sunny all the time where we lived at 4,000 ft. elevation near San Ramon. But you know what? I got used to it, and now I love it. It’s become the 6th reason we stayed in San Ramon. Of course, four months ago, we moved to a house in the same general area but 1000 ft. lower and are experiencing a completely different microclimate. One thing I know for sure: the weather is a whole lot better than in Baltimore from where we moved!
We had high hopes for the health care here in Costa Rica and we haven’t been disappointed. We are saving money, yes, but we have also found the quality of healthcare here more than adequate, and in some areas, excellent. We use a mix of the public (CAJA) and private systems and have written a lot about our experiences.
This happens to be one of my money-saving tips. It’s true, you can save money with Costa Rican dentistry, and the quality of care is excellent. Just look at Costa Ricans’ teeth (far better than the English ?). Many people here, both young and old, wear braces. And they brush their teeth three times a day, even after eating at restaurants.
Interestingly, we found that a high proportion of dentists here are women. Our friends at GM Medical have a male dental surgeon on staff, right here in San Ramon, who can save you thousands of dollars on your dental work.
We were never worried about keeping busy like some people are. We had intended to start a small, part-time business like Retire for Less, but I also thought I’d just have fun in a new place learning Spanish and getting to know the Ticos. Neither Gloria nor I are “A” types, so this has never been a problem for us. It just doesn’t take much to make us happy. Still, for others, what to do all day is a major concern. That’s why we write “What’s Up with the Yeatmans?” every month and encourage people to read our articles on simplicity.
I think Ticos drive pretty well, although motorcycles, bicyclists and pedestrians are another issue. Traffic gets worse every year but the infrastructure has improved, too, and keeps the traffic moving. Naturally, as one gets closer to San Jose, the potential for traffic problems increases, and it’s been that way since we arrived. Part of the problem is that there aren’t a lot of alternative routes.
Banking may have been the biggest, and most delightful, surprise of all. Like most people, we started with one of the national banks. Since we weren’t buying or building anything, we opened an account with $20 at Banco Nacional and never used it. We did most of our banking through ATMs and exchanged dollars for colones when needed, but never at Banco Nacional. Once we found Coopenae, the credit union to which we now belong, our banking fortunes really changed. We came down with a modest reserve of cash, not a lot of money, but a “just in case” fund, should something go wrong. (We recommend that people have at least $10,000-$20,000 in their emergency fund, just in case.) Thanks to the great CD rates on colones accounts, our reserve has increased dramatically:
- 11.75% in 2011
- 12.5% in 2012
- and now 11.25% in 2013
Sweet! Additionally, I love going to Coopenae. They are efficient, with no long lines like the national banks. Two of my friends are bank officers there. Interestingly, I originally learned of Coopenae by striking up a conversation with Asdrúbal Zamora, Investments Executive, on the street one day. I quickly found out that, 27 years ago, he was an exchange student at Towson Senior High School in Towson, Maryland, my home town.
The Bottom Line
So, four years later, our experience in Costa Rica has turned out better than we expected, though we’ve tried to keep our expectations were fairly low anyway. We just wanted a simpler life with less stress and anxiety, and to be out of the “rat race” in the States. We want to enjoy our home, our friends, and our “little lives.” We’ve never looked back and look forward to the next four years in our adopted country.
- Another Reason We Chose Costa Rica – the People
- 11.75% Colones CDs: Answering Your Questions
- Documents You Need to Open a Bank Account in Costa Rica
- Reflections on Five Years Living in Costa Rica, by Connie Sandlin
- Our Little Lives
- All of our “Simplicity” articles
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Visiting the Dentist
- All of our “Healthcare” articles
- Our 2012 Cost of Living Summary
by Bob Gieser
My name is Bob and I have owned land in Heredia since 1991. In 2009, I lost that title and the land that goes with it through the fraudulent work of a Costa Rican Attorney and Notary. Let me summarize how it happened and how you might be able to protect your property from the same type of thievery. When I was in the USA, a unnamed attorney/notario contrived a fictitious Bill of Sale for the land and filed and recorded it with the Registro Nacional.
A short time later it came to my attention that the new owner was visiting my property telling people it was his new land. Records were discovered that revealed the property was fictitiously sold to a S.A. corporation, mortgaged and sold again, all within a short period of time.
For a small additional fee the company’s legal counsel can block the document from changing title if the client has no attorney who can complete this procedure in a timely fashion. For further information in English, call Miguel Jimenez, legal counsel for Private Property Security at (506) 223-25273. I hope this will help people from the unscrupulous deeds of just a few but troublesome Costa Rican Notarios.
I have no personal interest in this company, only to the extent that I believe they are doing a great public service while protecting public property. Check it out!!
Note: We at RetireforLessinCostaRica.com present this information as a public service. We are not affiliated with the above-named company, nor do we endorse them as we have no direct personal experience.
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What’s New on the Website
Check out our newest posts on www.retireforlessincostarica.com:
- Reinventing Yourself in Retirement
- In The Mailbag – April 2013
- More Testimonials
- On Integration: Living in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
- Simple Pleasures: My Morning Walk
- Palmares, Our Neighboring Town
- 9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Scores High on Social Progress Index
- Our Costa Rica Food Budget Breakdown
- Our March 2013 Cost of Living
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Sign Up for Skype, Vonage, or Magicjack
- Why You Shouldn’t Move to Costa Rica
- When is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica?
- Healthcare in Costa Rica — Our Recent Experiences (January 2013)
- Types of Costa Rica Residencies, Requirements, and Benefits
- MythBusters: What’s it REALLY Like to Live in Costa Rica??
- Our 2012 Cost of Living Summary