Letters From Exile

...Scott Bidstrup's Life And Living In Costa Rica

Fri, Nov 28 2003

The BBC Misspelled My Name

Well, I made the BBC today.

Last week, I sent an email to BBC's "Click On Line" program. It's a television program that airs on the BBC's world-wide television system, "BBC World." Seen just about everywhere except the United States, BBC World is their television equivalent of the world-famous BBC World Service. The program, Click On Line, is their program about computers and the Internet.

Last week, the host asked viewers to write in and indicate whether or not webmasters should write web sites for specific browsers that do neat things, or whether they should be written broadly to be viewable on as many browsers as possible. This has always been, since my first web design efforts a decade ago, been a pet peeve of mine, so I wrote a response supporting the latter view. Here's what I wrote that they ended up using:

It is simply bad web site design to include commands that are not part of the W3C's standards. It may give the webmaster a warm fuzzy feeling to include commands that do cool, nifty things, but if that means that many of the visitors to the site can't view the site reliably, that design is simply wasted effort.

They didn't let me know they were going to use what I wrote, so I was quite surprised when watching the program tonight, to see the words I wrote a week ago pop up on my screen. They read it, as well as titling it on the screen, so I got a good fifteen seconds of fame. Unfortunately, they misspelled my name, spelling it as "Bidtrup." But people looking for my site will probably Google that spelling and get the "did you mean" response, leading them to my site. Hey, I can always hope! It'll be interesting to see if my web site visits are up tomorrow.

Yesterday afternoon, I got some PVC pipe and some elbows and hose clamps and set up a little improvised mount for my 2-meter J-pole antenna. I can now take it down and put it inside when I'm gone, so that the open window allowing the coax cable to get outside, won't represent a security threat. I'll do this until I can get a cable entry made up that will make the window secure. This morning, the two other fellows here in Costa Rica that are hams that I've been trying to talk to, got on and I discovered that I'm full-quieting to both of them, even though they're horizontally polarized and I'm vertical. So the effort was worth it.

This weekend, I'm going to try to find some bamboo poles to get my dipole antenna up a bit higher, so I can be better heard on the HF bands. I'm just barely over the noise to one of the fellows, when he's a good three S-units above my noise floor. This tells me that my antenna really sucks. So that's going to be the next big effort to improve my ham situation.

The weather has been truly awful the last couple of days. The wind is blowing so hard that the rain it's carrying is being driven into the wall and the wall in the bedroom where I'm writing this, is weeping. There's actually water accumulating on the floor by the baseboard. It hasn't been as cold as it's been, but it sure has been windy and foggy. And the fog always seems to carry a drizzle with it. I sure hope that the wind lets up when I'm trying to get the bamboo poles up this weekend. The chill and the wind-driven fog and drizzle remind me a lot of the Aleutian Islands. Not why I moved to the tropics. I've got to find a warmer, less windy location.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:50:43 PM

Thu, Nov 27 2003

On The Air - Bigtime!

This morning, I was up early, unable to sleep. So I listened around on the ham bands, looking for stations to work, to pop the cherry on my brand-new Costa Rica license, but none of them proved to be strong enough to work with my crummy antenna. But by five thirty, the 40-meter band had shortened up enough that I was hearing a lot of other Central American stations, and so I started listening for the usual crowd I listen for on 7086. The propagation was still extremely long, with stations in Japan booming in like locals, and stations up and down the east coast of the U.S., also booming in. The band was also very noisy, due to the solar storm that was just arriving.

By the time the fellows were due to show, the propagation was still running very long, and when they got on, they were having trouble hearing each other. With my terrific location, of course they were all easy copy, well over the noise, but my signals were very weak, and barely readable to them, due to my lousy antenna. Getting the antenna up higher is now a much higher priority. I'm going to visit my landlord, who has volunteered to help me find some long bamboo poles, and if we can, help me get the antenna up higher.

When I checked in, the fellows proved to be extraordinarily friendly, and have welcomed me to the group. We ran some tests to see if I have a path to either one of the other two Costa Rica stations, and it turns out we have paths to both - I've got a good signal into Belen, a San Jose suburb, where one of the fellows lives, and weak but usable signal into the Lake Arenal area where the other lives - both from an antenna sitting on the floor in my bedroom! I've figured out a way to get the antenna outside and up above the metal roof, without a lot of effort or expense, so I'll try to get that done today, and that way, they can hear me much better and I can hear them much better. I'll jury-rig a simple cable entry for the window, so I can leave it closed, and not have to take the antenna down every time I leave the house and have to lock up.

My plans for VHF are to build a J-pole co-linear array with at least four bays, possibly eight. Once that's up, I should be full quieting in both Belen and in Arenal. I'm also going to try to get some 30-foot bamboo poles, and with the 20 feet of plastic pipe I have, I should be able to get the feedpoint of the HF antenna about 50 feet in the air, and the ends about 20 to 30 - which should be adequate for my purposes.

Well, I ended up ratchet-jawing till well past eight this morning, and that was a mistake. Ever since the water company worked on the pipes two weeks ago, the water pressure has been low in the mornings - to the point where I can't take a shower between about 7 and 9 AM. So I had to wait till ten before there was enough pressure to run the ducha (flash heater) in the shower.

Today, I'm going to start gathering materials to build a proper J-pole colinear, and also order the wood I need for a cable entry for the window. I'm finally excited again about ham radio - for the first time in many years.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:51:16 AM

Wed, Nov 26 2003

Success! Licensed At Last!

Yesterday I went to town to visit Lawyer #1 to get the signature on my ham radio application authenticated. He was in, and I got the job done in a few minutes. That was the last bit I needed to take care of, so I decided that this morning, I would go back to San Jose, visit the Radio Control Office and make another stab at getting my permit.

This morning was foggy and cold, and a bit rainy when I got up. But I was up early, had breakfast, and got underway by eight AM. The bus was uncrowded, which is unusual for this early in the morning, and I had my choice of seats. The trip was fairly quick, too, and had rather few stops and traffic slowdowns, so I was in San Jose by a bit after nine. Got a cab, and was at the Radio Control Office by nine thirty.

I went in and was the only client in the place, so they went right to work on my application. The two clerks both looked it over very carefully, and asked for one minor change in it, which I happily provided. A clerk sat down at her typewriter, an old early-model IBM Selectric, and proceeded to pull out some forms, and type them up, looking at various parts of my application form as she did so. I figured that was probably a good sign; otherwise she'd probably have marked my form "denied" and left it at that. After typing on her various forms for about ten minutes, she took the lot along with my application back into a back room. I continued waiting at the counter.

After a half-hour or so, someone brought the pile back to the clerk in the front office, who brought them to the counter - and there was a problem. It seems that the folks in the back didn't put the right province (Alajuela) on some of the forms, and in my call sign, so back to the back they went. After another ten minutes or so, they came back, and this time, she took the lot, went back to her typewriter, and got out a tiny form, put it in the typewriter and typed up my license.

I'm now TI5/WA7UZO, and have a permit that is good for all frequencies and power levels allowed licensed amateurs in Costa Rica, and the permit is valid until the end of next year. Hooray! I'm as good as on the air!

By now, it was about ten thirty, so I decided that since I was in San Jose and had my cell phone with me, I'd go to the ICE office and see if I could get my cell phone Internet connection sorted out. I hailed a cab to go there.

The cabbie didn't seem to know where the place was, and had to ask, but eventually, we found it. I went in and inquired, only to find out that I needed to see a man named "Diego" in the ICE office, which, handily, was right next door. Taking my slip of paper with Diego's name on it, I went over to the ICE office and tried tracking him down. I eventually found him in a customer service area on the second floor, and sat down at his desk.

I asked if he speaks English, and indeed, he speaks it as well as I do. I explained that I have not been able to get my cell phone to connect to the Internet, and that I'd been told by the customer service desk that the GPRS network was down. Turns out, it's not, and I should have been able to connect. Well, I couldn't, and so he took my phone, configured it for default connection to the internet when the GPRS modem is called (which is apparently the configuration problem that I had needed to do), and he checked to make sure that the phone was in the database as authorized to connect to the Internet. It wasn't, but he sent an email to the department responsible, to make sure that they would do so. He handed the phone back to me, and told me that I should have Internet access within an hour or so. Great! Well, there was nothing left to do in San Jose, but to go back home and check it. The database entry should be done by the time I got home.

Well, I took a cab back to the bus terminal, and got on a bus headed back to San Ramon. The trip back was quick and uneventful, and by half past noon, I was back at the cabina. Breathless with anticipation, I hooked up the cell phone to the computer, and tried it. No cigar. The cell phone still reports that it can't connect to the GPRS network. What a disappointment! So next week, I'm planning to pay Diego another visit.

But at least I have my ham radio license, and can play around tonight on the ham bands.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:56:38 PM

Mon, Nov 24 2003

First Stab At A Ham Radio Permit

Today I made my first attempt at getting a ham radio permit for operation in Costa Rica. As usual, the information I'd been given was bad, and what good information I had proved to be incomplete.

For starters, the Radio Control Office proved to not be where I'd been told. I went to the indicated address, a block and a half south of the cemetery in San Pedro, and there was no Ministry of Governance and Police as I'd expected. All that was there was a police station, so I went there and asked a cop, figuring he'd know where the ministry he worked for would be located. He gave me directions. I lucked out, however, and a man standing there heard the conversation and introduced himself, and told me he knew right where it was - and that the cop's directions were incorrect - not uncommon here. The public office for the Radio Control Office isn't in the ministry anymore, it's in a separate building, several blocks away. But he knew where it was, and I flagged down a taxi, and he gave the driver the right directions. In minutes, and about a dollar's cab fare later, I was there.

It is actually on Avenida 19, at the intersection with Calle 18 on the southeast corner, in a green building. It's about 7 or 8 blocks east of the actual ministry. Anyway, I went in, and announced what I needed, and they immediately produced the form I needed for the application, no hay problema.

I'd been told that all I needed was a copy of my passport, with the entry stamp, a copy of my license, originals of both, some pocket change for the application fees and I'd be in business. Not so. Turns out I also needed 20 Colones and 100 Colones tax stamps (which the clerk was happy to sell me), and four passport photos, which I didn't have. I also needed a list of my equipment, with serial numbers, and I needed to go to the bank to pay the application fee, a huge 50 Colones - about ten cents. The latter was no problem; there was a Banco Nacional branch right up the street, about four blocks west. The passport photos were more of a problem, and my signature on the application also required an authentication (common here), which the clerk told me that the bank would handle for me.

Turns out that there was a very kind motorcycle courier who had arrived at the office while I was filling out the form. He heard my situation, and pointed me in the direction of the bank, and told me that two blocks further up, there was a street vendor who would take my picture and sell me the passport photos for 1000 Colones - about $2.50. He kindly took me there, as he needed to go to the bank anyway, and in a few minutes I had my pictures. From there to the bank, paid my entero (application voucher), and asked for the notary to authenticate my signature. That was a problem. Seems that the notary couldn't do it; it had to be done by a lawyer, and there wasn't one working in the bank.

Well, at that point, I decided I needed to come back to San Ramon, as I didn't have a list of model and serial numbers of my radios anyway, so I got on the bus and came home. I figured I'd stop at Lawyer #1's office on the way back from the bus terminal, but no cigar - his office was locked up and no one was around, so I guess I'll have to do that tomorrow. I returned home and found the model and serial numbers on all my radios, and put those on the application form. All I need now is my lawyer's signature and I'm in business.

Today was a beautiful day - sunny and warm, and a perfect day for a trip into San Jose. By the time I arrived in San Jose, it clouded over, and that played havoc with my sense of directions, as it always does. I really need to get a pocket compass to deal with that - I was warned about that before I moved here, and it's really true. Maybe the locals can sense directions, but when it's cloudy, I can get totally disoriented in San Jose, just as I'd been warned about.

Anyway, by three in the afternoon, I was back at the cabina. It was unusually warm, even hot. And a thunderstorm was building towards the west, and appeared to be moving toward the cabina. Sure enough, within a half hour, there was a thundering downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes, and then it cleared to an ordinary, cloudy afternoon. Still warm. This is a different pattern than the usual rainy-season afternoon, in which the afternoon fog will drop the temperature by a good ten degrees. This didn't happen this afternoon - the temperature dropped by only five degrees, maybe. And this evening, as I write this, it is quite warm, too. Quite a change from a week ago, when the temperature was cold enough that I was wearing both a sweatshirt and a flannel shirt, and was still chilly.

For dinner this evening, I cut up and ate one of the mangos I bought at the market last Friday. It was the first mangos I've seen in the market so far this year, and sure looked good, large, flawless and perfectly ripe. Unfortunately, it was a bit disappointing - not very sweet at all, so I'm going to let the rest ripen for a couple of days before I try another one. They were quite expensive - about 80 cents per pound, so I must say I'm disappointed. But it means that they'll be on the market in numbers soon, and will be delicious and cheap really soon. I'm looking forward to that. I've been enjoying the pinas doradas (golden pineapples) that have been in the market lately, and have been cheap. I've been paying about 60 cents for huge, delicious golden pineapples, and they've sure been a joy - the very same sweet, delicious, mouthwatering pineapples I remember as a rare, special treat from when I was a kid. Now with mangos coming on, and a few avocados too, I'm seeing all my favorite fruits that are so expensive back in the States and are so cheap here - and much better quality, too. I'm going to enjoy the dry season.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:07:37 PM

Fri, Nov 21 2003

Entropy Increasing Faster Here Than It Did In The States

Many years ago, when I was living in Nigeria, we expatriates there used to talk about what we called "the Africa Disease." It was about how things that would have a normal useful life back home in the States, seemed to have about half the useful life, or even less, in Africa. How true it seemed to be. I noted, for example, that the Volkswagen Golf that I had been assigned, had only 30,000 kilometers on the odometer, but it couldn't be driven for more than a hundred kilometers without breaking down. And the television transmitters that we installed, that would have a useful life of 20 years or more in the States, always seemed to be unreliable to the point of being unusable within five to ten. I even recall watching sitting in the guest-house one evening, watching a movie. The central character had just arrived in Africa from a flight from Europe, to a small town in East Africa, and when he got his bags together, asked for a taxi.

"Sorry, Sahib, taxi is broke!" the local responded.

"Of course it's broke," the expatriate shouted, impatiently. "This is Africa. In Africa, everything is broke!"

All of us expats had a good laugh at that line. How true it seemed to be!

Well, here I am in Central America, and it seems that a certain amount of the Africa Disease has begun to afflict me here. I've noticed that my laptop computer, loyal and reliable companion that it has been since I bought it seven months ago, has begun to develop some problems. The video has developed a problem, looking like it's been set for 8-bit video, producing a pasty, almost cartoon-like appearance to some of the television images for which I also use it. It's not the television adaptor; it is showing up on normal still images, too, and so I know its a hardware problem with the computer itself. And two days ago, my USB hard drive developed a problem. It won't initialize, so I can't access the data on that disk. That's a crisis, because I can't access the files from my computer that is in storage, which I'd moved onto the USB drive before I moved down here. And I've noticed occasional black squares flashing on my screen when I'm writing an email or watching television, and the keystroke response sometimes gets a bit slow. I sure hope this computer isn't about to die - that would be a serious problem for me. And the latest casualty of the Africa Disease is one of my ham radio rigs - seems that as I tune across the band, it has developed 'dead spots' where the receiver goes dead for a few hundred hertz or so. That's not a crisis, but it sure is annoying, and it's unlikely I'll be able to repair the radio - I'd have to replace it, which I can ill-afford to do. The computer's another matter - I can't afford to replace it either, but I'd have to. I rely on it too much to not have it.

I have run out of reading material. So while I was at the internet cafe today, I got online with Amazon and ordered a whole raft of books. I've specified a shipping address to a friend here in San Ramon - and I'll see how that works out. He's shipping and receiving all the time, so it should show up just fine. The bad news is that the shipping is a fourth of the cost of the entire order. I'm going to pay a high price for my addiction to books. Amazon says I should have them in two to three weeks. I'll see about that, too. Can't wait! I'm also going to check out Amazon tomorrow for a replacement laptop computer if it comes to that - I sure don't want to have to order one, but I'll do it if I really have to. They're way too expensive on the local market here.

My windshield is sporting a brand-new, freshly minted marchamo (car registration) sticker for next year. I'm all set now. The bill came to the equivalent of $94.90. And next March, I'll have to get the emissions/safety inspection sticker renewed, which I'm told will cost about $38, aside from any required repairs. And there are always required repairs. But that's still cheaper than what a lot of folks spend back home to get a car registration renewed, so I'm not complaining. If I can just keep the car running that long...

Tonight, I had a return visit from a tiny little tree frog that had showed up in my kitchen sink a few days ago. When I tried to catch him, he had jumped out and disappeared behind the refrigerator. I'd hoped he had found his way out the kitchen door, which has no door jamb and has a rather sizable gap at the bottom, but no cigar. He seems to have found my kitchen rather hospitable, apparently, and took up residence, apparently, and tonight, he was back - on the drain-board under the dish drying rack. I carefully removed all the dishes, and took the drain-board outside and gave it a flip - I hope the little fellow finds a nice home in the bushes out front of the house.

It's cold tonight, and very windy. Colder, in fact, than I've ever seen it here - I've got my sweatshirt on, and still I'm a bit chilly. If this house had a fireplace, I'd light it now. I'm increasingly convinced that this particular village is just too high and cold, and I'm not going to buy property here. In fact, I'm considering looking for a house to rent a bit lower down, where I won't be freezing to death. If this is typical of the early dry season, I'm sure I don't want to live here. I came to the tropics to get warm, not to freeze to death!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:14:42 PM

Thu, Nov 20 2003

Thursday And Still No Marchamo

Yesterday's attempt to get my marchamo (car registration) renewed was to no avail. Not that I didn't have my ducks in a row - I did, but it seems that the Ministry's computer network was down, and the teller at the San Ramon Co-op (a sort of credit union) couldn't get into their network to deal with it. So I'm headed back there again today.

I made yet another trip over to the home of the local ham that I'd been told about. This time he was home, and he proved to be extraordinarily friendly and helpful. He showed me his shack - which proved to be typical of ham shacks the world over, full of an odd collection of gear, some ancient and broken, some modern and well-functioning, some carefully restored antiques, some war-surplus junk. There were wires, broken gear, old vacuum tubes, and just plain junk strewn everywhere. He gave me the low-down on all the local repeaters and nets, and what frequencies are used for what locally. It was quite a good visit; we exchanged call signs, telephone numbers and contact information so we can keep in touch.

He indicated that I don't need to get a letter of introduction anymore, all I need is my passport, ham license, copies of both, and my presence at the Radio Control Office to get my reciprocal operating permit for Costa Rica. So my plan is to go there tomorrow, bright and early, and see if I can get my permit to operate from here.

I sent an email yesterday to one of the hams that I hear on the air on 40 meters early in the mornings. I've asked him for a letter of introduction, too, and if he responds, saying that I need one, I'll postpone my trip until I can obtain a letter from him or from my new local ham friend.

Today is cold and very windy. There have been just a few, brief periods of fog so far this morning, but the high winds are the dominant feature of today's weather. It is supposed to be typical for the first two months of the dry season, so maybe that means that the dry season is finally here. The fellows chatting on 40 meters, however, indicated that it will alternate between typical dry season and typical wet season weather for another month, with high winds for a month or two after that. One of them has been here for 30 years, so he should know. Not looking forward to two months of high, cold winds. Maybe moving to a lower elevation would help. I'm at 1200 meters here, and if I shaved a couple of hundred off of that, I'd probably be more comfortable. I do know that is about the elevation San Ramon is at, and it's almost always quite nice there. Seldom uncomfortably hot, and never cold like here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:23:16 AM

Tue, Nov 18 2003

Interesting Evening With My Landlord

I tried to get my marchamo (car registration) renewed today. I'd been told it would be a piece of cake. Well, turned out it wasn't quite as easy as I was told - nothing here ever seems to be. I need to get a couple of documents copied, and bring the originals to the Cooperative to get the work done, and I didn't have them with me. I have to get the Cedula Juridica copied - that's that darned document I had so much trouble getting in the first place, for my cell phone and bank account applications. Not a problem - I have it, so it's just a matter of taking it down tomorrow to the Centro de Copias and getting the copies made. Just a minor hassle - then go back to the Co-op and get the marchamo renewed.

I paid my cell phone bill today, too. First time I have needed to do that since I got the phone, but it was easy, as it turns out. The Camara de Comercio (chamber of commerce) has had lots of experience at taking money from gringos, so it was simple. I was surprised at how cheap it is, too. A month's cellphone service is 3920 Colones - the equivalent of $9.50. Of course, my minutes usage and international calls haven't caught up with me yet - I fully expect next month's bill to be quite a bit higher than this month.

My landlord came by this evening to borrow my cell phone because his phone's battery is bad and won't take a charge. So he needed to use mine to make a call. When his call was returned, I walked up to his house and handed my phone to his wife, and sat down for a nice chat with him.

Turns out he had no idea what the new immigration law was all about. There has been not a single mention of it on television, or in the Spanish-language papers, and he had discounted what I had already told him, because he hadn't seen anything about it in either place, and figured I must have gotten some bad information.

I told him that there was a lot of publicity about it in the English-language press, and gave him the information about when it was published in La Gaceta, the paper that publishes official notices here, sort of like the Congressional Record. I told him that he needed to understand that it doesn't just affect foreigners, but it affects him, too, because it will affect Costa Rica's ability to earn foreign exchange.

He told me that if it has been published, with a law number in La Gaceta, it's already law - as in done-deal - as in not just a proposal anymore. If that's true, my residence application here is as good as toast. So I'd better get a push on in working on Panamanian, Nicaraguan and Ecuadorian residency.

I'm going to phone my lawyer tomorrow to find out if this is true - if it is, I'll withdraw my application here and figure on moving to Panama if I can get approved there. I've got to get creative about formulating a plan to do so, too. It's not going to be easy to qualify, but I have a plan in mind. If it works, I'll just barely qualify, and I'll probably have to put off building or buying a house for a year, but it should be doable.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:20:00 PM

Mon, Nov 17 2003

Que Linda Es Costa Rica!

I set out today to get some work done. And I got some of it done, too, but not much. Hey, I'm getting into this laid-back, manana lifestyle here, so don't bug me, OK?

My intent was to go to visit one of my local Tico friends in his shop in downtown San Ramon and seek his advice on a couple of matters. Well, I no sooner walked in the door than he wanted to know all about my recent trip to Nicaragua, so I sat down and proceeded to tell him all about it. He wanted to know how much trouble I'd had crossing the borders, what I thought of Nicaragua and Nicaraguans, how I liked Grenada, etc. When we finally got down to business, I asked him about where I should go to get my marchamo (car registration) done, and he advised me that the San Ramon Cooperative Association was the place to do it - the price is the same as anywhere else, but they automatically register you in their annual lottery, and if you win, you get a free renewal of your marchamo. Hey, it's not a big pile of cash, but it would help if I won, so why not? Tomorrow morning, that's where I'm going to head, fresh pile of cash and a wad of papers from my lawyer in hand.

I'd also asked my Tico friend about an introduction to a local ham radio operator he told me about. Well, we piled into my car and drove over to the guy's house, but he wasn't home. But from the looks of his antenna farm, he apparently has quite a shack. I noticed beams for 2 meters, 440 Mhz., omni-directional antennas for both, a beam for 10-15-20 meters, and several wire antennas, probably for 40 and 80 meters. So the fellow should be all set. Can't wait to meet him and see his shack. And I need a letter of introduction, too, to take with me to San Jose for my own license application.

This morning, on tuning around 40 meters, I found a local group of gringo hams that apparently are on that frequency every morning, beginning around sun-up. They get up at sunrise to work the "grey-line" propagation. The "grey-line" is the ring of sunrise/sunset that goes around the planet, and it happens that shortwave frequencies can be used to communicate anywhere along the "grey line," so it is an opportunity to work stations in parts of the world one might not otherwise hear. Anyway, these guys are on this frequency (7085 Khz.) every morning at that time, and one of the participants is the same fellow who I had been asking advice about Panama from, before I decided to come to Costa Rica. This fellow has been in Panama for many years, and has retired to a place close to where I was looking at, and so I'm really eager to get on the air and chat with him. His wife also deals in real estate, and he builds houses. Just what I need.

Panama continues to look better and better. The Panamanian government was apparently asked by the U.S. administration to tighten up their immigration requirements for American retirees, same as Costa Rica, but unlike the latter, they told the U.S. to go take a hike. Good for them! Now, if I can get in, file an application, and get legalized before elections next May, I'll be all set. That's important in case a U.S. patsy gets elected in the upcoming elections and conforms to the U.S. requests to help them erect their bureaucratic Berlin Wall. It won't matter what happens after the election if I'm already legalized by that time. That puts me on a tight timeline, but I think I can do it. I also got confirmation today that it was, in fact, the U.S. administration that asked the Costa Ricans for these changes.

Anyway, on my way home from town, the rain let up and the clouds had lifted a bit above the mountains near my home, and it was a beautiful day, so I decided to drive up the road a bit, past the turnoff to my house, to have a look around in some country I hadn't been to before. Wow! What a place! The road takes a bit of a dip, down off of the mountain ridge on which I live, and into a small valley with alternating patches of forest and pastures. The patchwork farms amidst the primary rainforest, all on hills and low mountains, makes for some truly eye-popping scenery - some of the most beautiful I've seen since I've been in the country. I think I'm going to go back up there and spend some time looking around, and maybe look for a property for sale up there. The scenery, if nothing else, would be worth the trip, and, of course, worth taking the camera along.

It's six in the evening, and the nightly fog and gloom has set in. I've been thinking about that, too. I've decided that this place is just too foggy and cold for my taste, and often too windy when it's not - but sometimes both at the same time. And there's a reason why all the trees here seem to be growing downwind - that's because the wind here can be something awful, and can blow constantly for days at a time. There are times when it really howls up here on this hilltop. And with the almost constant fog and gloom in the evenings, I've decided that it's not really where I would prefer to be. A few days ago, I went to have a look at the house being built on the lot next to the one I was considering. I was appalled to discover that the upper half of the house would be visible from where my living room is planned, should I buy and build there. Well, that really spoils about a fourth of the overall view from the homesite. And if I plant a privacy screen, about a third of my view would be blocked, including more than half of the view from the living room. And given the fact that the house is only thirty feet from where mine would be, and would be a rental, I'm not sure I'd have much peace and quiet, which is why I was looking at that lot in the first place. If I was getting the income from the rental, I'd be willing to put up with it, but someone else gets the money and I get the noise and partying. And the proximity of that house to my antennas means that I'd always be into the occupant's stereo and TV with my ham signals, and that's no good, either. So I've decided to shine on that lot. It was nice, but the way the property has been subdivided and where the neighbor has placed his house, has ruined it for me and for ham radio. So now, it's on to search for other, more suitable sites.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:54:58 PM

Sat, Nov 15 2003

Laundry Day Again

As I write this, I have yet another batch of laundry in the washer. Laundry seems to be a never-ending chore here, based on the fact that I have a low-cost manual washing machine, which will only wash about 5 lbs. of clothes at a time, and the fact that the humidity, at least during the rainy season just ending, is running around 80 percent, and so laundry takes about two days to dry if hung up inside. I hang it inside simply because rain is frequent enough that I'd probably not get it in before it got wet again. So I put up a line in the spare bedroom and that's where my laundry dries these days.

I'd put up a line outside, but the weather has just been too damp and rainy, and being on the cusp of the dry season, highly variable. Today is typical of the transition - alternating periods of fog and drizzle, with occasional moments of sun, when there's a break in the fog, and the sun comes out and it warms up a bit. But it doesn't last long, and soon it's damp and foggy again. I'm wondering if that's why I've been so depressed lately. The weather has had me couped up inside, and it's always grey and rainy when I look out, and I suspect that's what's been weighing on me. That and the uncertainty about my immigration status.

I got out my Panama file and started looking through it this morning, thinking that I may end up there - so I have looked over my notes regarding the research done on that country already. I've got to start working on getting an alternative to Costa Rica arranged in case the impending immigration law changes are implemented.

I spent a bit of time yesterday improving my shortwave antenna, and the results have been well worthwhile. I am ready, after a fashion, to get on the air as soon as I can get my permit. While at the Internet cafe yesterday, I spent some time researching what I need to do to get my Costa Rica permit, and found out that I am in need of a letter of introduction from a local ham, which has to be notarized by an attorney. Geez, more legal stuff! Oh well... Back to Lawyer #1... But I've got to see him anyway, and get my corporate tax forms filed before the end of the year. It's something new - there's a $185 penalty if I don't do it. The assets of both corporations are below the minimum required to pay tax, but I've still got to file the form.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:18:14 AM

Thu, Nov 13 2003

Antenna Day Successful

Yesterday was indeed antenna day, and I have a newly-minted "G3RV" dipole antenna hanging from twenty feet of plastic pipe that is clamped to the side of the cabina.

The results are as good as expected - I'm getting vastly better shortwave reception, and am hearing some signals, some fairly strong, on the 75 meter ham band for the first time since I've been in the country. With a little improvement, the antenna should be suitable for transmitting, and I can finally get on the air. I've got some ideas for that, and it shouldn't be hard to do or cost any significant money.

In tuning around the 40-meter band, I ran across some gringo hams here in Alajuela province, and found that they have a standby frequency - 7085 Khz. So I'm going to leave the radio tuned to that frequency during the intervals when I'm not listening to shortwave.

I found out yesterday that getting the marchamo (registration) for my car renewed is no big deal - find one of the several shops in town that offers the service, and pay the approximately $75 that it costs, and I'm legal for another year - at least that part of it. I still have to get the smog/technical inspection done in March, and that's the biggie - they always seem to find something wrong, and it always seems to take a significant amount of money to fix it. So I have that to look forward to in a few months - if I'm still here by then.

Another call yesterday from a friend of mine who seems to be well connected. I got some more background information on the immigration law changes, and it looks more than ever like this is being orchestrated by the Boys From The North. Damn, that makes me angry! Besides the assault on Costa Rican sovereignty (not to mention living standards) that this represents, it's also an assault on my right to live where I want to.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:25:59 AM

Wed, Nov 12 2003

Antenna Day

I've finally gotten inspired, and figured out a way to attach an antenna mast to the cabina without having to set some concrete anchors or mar the paint job on the outside of the house.

The house is constructed from concrete columns, about five inches square, with grooves down the sides into which concrete foam panels are fitted. The columns are about five feet apart, and stick out from the wall about two inches. So my plan is to get a couple of C-clamps from the hardware store, and clamp them tightly to the bottom and the top of a column. I'll then use some hose clamps to fasten a piece of 2" plastic pipe to the C-clamps, and that will be my mast. By placing some packing foam under the clamps, I can secure them to the column without marring the paint or drilling and setting concrete anchors. This should be sufficient to get a mast about twenty feet high, and that will be high enough to get by for now.

Last night, I got out the power supply for my ham radio, and hooked it up, along with the antenna strung around the inside of the bedroom that I'd put up for my shortwave portable radio. The receiver in the ham rig works much better than the portable shortwave, and with a decent antenna, I should have plenty of English-language stations to listen to, and should be able to hear ham radio signals much better than I do now. Next stop will be the Radio Control Office in San Jose, where I can get my reciprocal permit, and begin operating.

Not much new on the immigration-law changes. I found out that there are indeed changes being planned for the "representante" status here, which is the status I'd intended to apply for, but I don't know what the changes are, and I'm increasingly concerned that it won't be an option either. So I've been looking at my options for Nicaragua, Panama and Ecuador.

I spent some time yesterday at the Internet cafe researching Ecuador. It looks really good in some ways - they require only a very small investment for their investor status, and only $8,000 per year as a "pensionado." The application is tendered prior to coming into the country, and the residence visa issued in four to eight weeks.

The downside to Ecuador, of course, is that the infrastructure is poorer, and there and only a handful of internet service providers there, few offering broadband. Of course, that could be an opportunity for me to set up a wireless broadband business, based on my ideas for WiFi networking. And there's still a low-level insurrection going on in the northeast of the country.

Nicaragua, in spite of it's past history of political instability, is looking better. The "pensionado" income requirement is the same as Ecuador, though the investor status requirement is much higher. It seems to have achieved a level of political stability these days, and I can buy a home in Granada, affordably, and have a cable modem installed and running in a few weeks, something I can't do here unless I move to San Jose. That's very tempting. Nicaragua is also much rarer on the ham-bands. That means I would be much more popular there than here. And I can hire a pickup and drive my goods across the border, avoiding the cost of another international move. The downside are more frequent earthquakes and the occasional hurricane. The biggest concern is the large CIA presence in Nicaragua, and the reputation the place has for dissidents such as myself simply disappearing off the streets.

Panama is the best choice at the moment, but I'm concerned about what will happen in the elections next May. If a U.S. stooge gets elected, Panama could quickly become more dangerous for me than Nicaragua, but right now, it is probably the best place to be, as the current president is a determined nationalist, maintaining her distance from the U.S. The "pensionado" requirements are also affordable, and investor status is doable as well.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:34:29 AM

Mon, Nov 10 2003

Water Scare

This morning, I got up and showered as usual. Fixed breakfast as usual. But when I went to brush my teeth, there was no water. By itself, that's not terribly uncommon; I've been without water on two occasions since I've been here. But what had me concerned is that one of those occurences, I was without water for two days.

Since water outages are not uncommon, but rarely last more than a few minutes, I waited it out for an hour or so. When it didn't come back on, I figured I'd better check this out. First stop was my landlord's house. He was at work, and his wife at her job near San Jose. So no luck there. I walked over to the construction site, near me, but the pressure was very low. Probably a general outage. The workers didn't know what was going on. So I walked over to the other neighbors' houses and inquired - they had very low pressure, indicating that it was draining out of the pipes. Being at the top of the hill, I'll be the first to lose water, and they'll have it as long as there's still water in the pipes. One of the neighbors mentioned that he'd seen workmen working on the pipes out at the highway, so I figured it was most likely to be a neighborhood outage during the work. Sure was hoping that didn't mean an outage of several days!

So on the way back to the house, I stopped to see if the water had been shut off at the landlord's meter, and it did not appear to have been turned off. No apparent problem there - it was probably that construction work at the highway.

I hiked back to the house and checked the water, and it was back on. Whew!! I sure wasn't looking forward to days without water again.

Today, I'm planning to go to town, get the weekend's email, upload blog entries and look for a few things, including TV mast pipes. I'd sure like to get a shortwave antenna up, as I'm dead-nuts on top of a huge hill, and have no way to take advantage of my situation for radio at the moment. Sure like to do that.

I am also planning to take a drive or two around the area and see what I can find as far as hilltop properties. My chances of actually settling in the area seem to be diminishing with every passing day, and I'm growing increasingly unlikely to buy anything, but I'd like to have a property or two in mind if it turns out that I do end up staying here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:41:44 AM

Sat, Nov 08 2003

A Dark And Gloomy Night

Tonight I'd hoped to see the eclipse of the moon. Not that they're rare, or that I'd never seen one before; I've seen plenty in my day, but tonight was the promise of a blood-red moon. The earth-moon distance was supposed to be just right for such an eclipse, but unfortunately, I'm not going to see it.

One of the problems with living on the edge of a cloud forest is that it's often cloudy. No surprise there, I guess. If you're going to live near and enjoy the beauty of a cloud forest, you're going to pay a price - fog, and lots of it. And here, where I live, I'm about three kilometers from one of Costa Rica's major cloud forests, and so it's foggy here. Lots of the time.

Tonight, it is exceptionally foggy. I can't even see the lights from the polleria (chicken farm) that's about a tenth of a mile down the hill from me. Even my landlord's house, about 200 feet away, barely appears out of the gloom. It's a foggy night straight out of a Steven King novel.

So no viewing the eclipse for me. I can tell that there's no moonlight to speak of, but that's about it. And I've no idea what the moon actually looks like at the moment. So I'll have to be content to see the pictures on the news and in the papers.

I've not been doing a whole lot the last two days, and that's why there's been no blog entries. Nothing much worth writing about. That's because I'm faced with a problem.

It seems that the Costa Rican immigration minis

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:26:53 PM

Thu, Nov 06 2003

Radio For Peace Off The Air

Early this morning, as I often do while unable to sleep, I turned on my shortwave radio to Radio For Peace International. For many years, it's been the only source of progressive politics, analysis of issues related to peace, justice and the economics of globalization on shortwave radio.

Only it wasn't there. I had been hearing for some time that there has been a running dispute between the president of the United Nations University For Peace, on whose campus RFPI is located, and the radio's management. Through five administrations of the University For Peace, the relationship between the radio and the university have been amicable, friendly and cooperative - indeed, they have participated in many joint projects together.

But the new president of the university comes from a background of long-time "globalization" advocates, and indeed, has spent time at the highest levels of some of the principal organizations leading the charge of "globalization," the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.

"Globalization" is really a misnomer - it's really a bold move by corporate interests to privatize world resources - particularly water, electricity production and distribution, and telephone communications. In other words, make them subject to corporate abuse, unaccountability, lack of transparency and make their consumers subject to corporate greed and avarice, all in the name of "efficiency" and lower prices and better service for consumers. Well, it hasn't worked out that way at all, and activists around the world have been pointing out that wherever it's been tried, quality of service has generally gone down, prices have gone up, and customer service has not improved. The sin of Radio For Peace was to run a lot of radio programs, from a wide variety of sources, that pointed out what the results of privatization have been.

So UP president Maurice Strong, taking advantage of the extraterritoriality treaty with the United Nations, has put the squeeze on Radio For Peace, ordering them off the campus, knowing that they can't afford the move, and that any court orders issued by the courts of Costa Rica, where the campus is located, can't be enforced. The Costa Rican government appointed a cabinet minister to try to arbitrate the dispute, but the University for Peace has failed to bargain in good faith, and has defied the directives of the Costa Rican administration. First, they cut the internet feed. Then they locked the compound gates, forcing the volunteers to stay inside the compound, for weeks, even months on end, without ever leaving. Last week, they cut the water, and a few days ago, the telephones. And this morning, the power was cut, forcing the remaining transmitter off the air. The fact that the radio owns its building and all its facilities, built with donations from listeners, has made no difference to the university, and the university has announced plans for use of the building, even though they have not offered compensation for it.

Radio For Peace indicates that they've received the donation of property to which they can move, but the cost is prohibitive, and they may not be able to survive the move from an economic standpoint. In addition, the cessation of operations in the meantime, mean that their frequencies (7445 Khz. and 15040 Khz.) are in jeopardy. Both are prime frequencies which help make up for the low transmitter power with which they've been forced to operate.

If all this disturbs you, I would suggest that you write to Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, which is the owner of the University of Peace, and for which it is responsible.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:42:52 AM

Mon, Nov 03 2003

D-Day And The Boys From The North

Today was the morning I was due to return to Costa Rica. I walked down to the hostel and had my usual breakfast there - a breakfast burrito and their wonderful banana-milk smoothie.

I'd no sooner sat down to eat it than I was visited by an American expat, who sat at the adjacent table. There was something about the guy that just wasn't quite right. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it just didn't fit. His manners and demeanor just didn't fit the clothes he was wearing, and his claim to have been from the Virgin Islands didn't seem to fit his manner either. He opened the conversation by asking where I was from. He then asked where I was raised. I thought that a bit odd for a second question in a conversation. And after just a couple of questions more, he got up and went inside. When he returned a few minutes later, he asked more questions about me - why I was in Granada, what my plans were, and so forth. Each time, after asking four or five questions, he'd disappear for a few minutes, only to reappear.

It was pretty obvious to me that this guy wasn't your vanilla tourist. He was apparently yet another one of the Boys From The North, that endless parade of intelligence agents sent down here from Washington to keep an eye on the local dissident/expatriate community. Your tax dollars at work.

Not the first time I've been spied on, not even the first time here. But I'm sure getting tired of it! After a few minutes of this grilling, I decided I'd had enough, and got up, paid the check and went back to the hotel room, making sure I wasn't being tailed. I packed my things, and got ready to check out, and start the bus trip back home. I was in luck - the bus was only about half full, giving me a wide choice of seats to choose from.

Given the fact that I know I'm on a watch list with the Bush administration, I was dreading the border crossing coming back into Costa Rica. I knew that they'd know I'm on it - the question was what would they do about it, if anything. I showed up at the bus terminal, made it onto the bus and headed for the border. On arrival, the bus conductor collected all our passports along with a $3 exit tax, payable in US dollars or Nicaraguan Cordobas. I still had a few Cordoba notes left, so I paid the tax in Cordobas and waited to arrive at the border. As on Friday, the drive to the border was a beautiful drive along the western shore of Lake Nicaragua. On arrival, we got off the bus, and waited to get back on. After about a half hour, the bus driver reappeared with our passports and called out our names, one by one. When I got my passport back, I checked the stamp - and the date. It was correct. I got back on the bus, and rode to the Costa Rican side. Here, I knew the drill - get off the bus, wait in the "Entrada Costa Rica" line, and, if all goes well, get a stamp and go back to the bus. No problem - the agent swiped my passport, spent some considerable time typing away on his keyboard, more than he was for the other passengers, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. I checked the stamp and it had the right date, unlike what some of the other passengers found. Whew! I'm in! I got what I came for - a fresh stamp in my passport! The customs agent didn't even bother to check my bag. He just waved me on. Once the bus had been checked over by Customs and Immigration, we were allowed back on the bus.

We resumed the trip, into the fading light of afternoon. I had a good seat on the east side of the bus, so I enjoyed the views of the volcanoes of the Cordillera de Guanacaste. The late afternoon thunderstorm clouds and the mountain views were spectacular, and soon, a red sunset light lit the clouds with fire. A spectacular end to a beautiful day.

With nightfall, the bus driver put on a video tape and soon everyone's eyes were glued to the monitors, watching a very forgettable Arnold Scwhartznegger movie, in which Arnold starred as himself in a movie about being in a movie. Boring!

By eight o' clock in the evening, I had arrived at San Ramon, and I signalled the driver to let me off. A gypsy cab was waiting at the stop, so I took it back to the cabina. I was pleased to discover that nothing had been disturbed, and I booted up the computer and wrote some blog entries. I was soon in bed, and not long after, asleep after a long and tiring day.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:56:46 AM

Sun, Nov 02 2003

Sunday Morning in Granada

I slept as late as I could, but there was noise from an adjacent room, so by 6:30, I was up and about. I walked down to the hostel for breakfast, and decided to go look around for something to do for the day.

I stumbled onto the Convent of San Francisco, one of Granada's real landmarks. Established in 1529 by the Spanish conquistador, Hernandez de Cordoba, it is the oldest surviving church in Central America. The building itself has a fascinating history - in 1855, William Walker, sent to Central America by the U.S. government to found some slave breeding colonies that could be taken over as U.S. states, arrived in Cordoba and proclaimed himself the president. He occupied the convent and used it as his headquarters. The bones of many of his "filibusterers" are still buried in the catacombs. In 1921, the convent was occupied by the U.S. marines, in one of the many interventions in Latin America by the United States - and they stayed there until "our son of a bitch," Antonio Samosa, took over from the Americans. In 1979, the building was occupied by the National Liberation Party - the Sandinistas. Today, it is owned by the Nicaraguan government, though the Catholic Church still celebrates mass in the cathedral.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped and got a sunday edition of La Prensa, the principal local newspaper. La Prensa has had an interesting history - an opposition paper during the Samosa era, it was one of the leading influences in opposition to the Samosa family, and helped spark the Sandinista revolution. After the Sandinista era, however, it was taken over by the Chamorro family, which operates it today. So the editorial policy is not surprising - everything that is wrong with the Sandinista Party, now a major element in Parliament, will be detailed in La Prensa, and no ill is ever spoken of any of the ruling families of Nicaragua. In other words, it's politically safe. And reading the list of editors under the masthead, one can see why - they're all Chamorro family members.

The afternoon was given over to sitting and reading in the hotel courtyard. I haven't spent much time reading recently,and I felt like I needed to spend some time with a good book. So that was the afternoon, with a bit of time with the BBC World television news before dinner. I decided that I wasn't fond of the idea of walking across town for dinner, given the reputation of Nicaragua for street crime, so I decided to phone out for pizza. The pizza parlor I'd been to the day before offers delivery, so I figured I'd give it a try. The hotel had the wrong phone number for them, but after a bit of checking around, they got it right, called them, ordered a pizza for me and in an hour, I had a wonderful medium sized pizza, with mushrooms and black olives (but no beer - I don't know why it didn't come with the pizza) for all of $2.50, delivered. Not bad! I spent the evening nibbling on the pizza and watching the BBC and CNN international. A pleasant evening indeed!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:02:26 AM

Sat, Nov 01 2003

Dia De Recuerdos

Today is the day after Halloween - it's the Day Of The Dead in Latino culture, and only in Mexico is it more carefully observed than here in Nicaragua. The central plaza, with it's Catholic cathedral along the east side, was awash in color - flowers everywhere, with vendors selling them, families buying them, and the city decorating the monuments to fallen heros of Nicaraguan independence and its several civil wars. Combined with the stunning architecture of Granada, the scene was truly idyllic - the essence of what visitors to Latin America expect to see.

The central plaza is itself beautiful. Nicely landscaped, with fountains and numerous monuments, it is filled with park benches occupied by people eating ice cream cones offered by the street vendors, or reading the morning paper. A truly delightful place to just sit and enjoy the local beauty and color.

After breakfast, I decided I needed to get my reservation made for the return trip, so I started walking to where I'd been told the bus agency was. Well, it turned out that it wasn't there. After asking a few people, I determined that Nicaraguans are somewhat like Ticos - they'll tell you what they think you want to hear, not what is actually the case. It was always just around the corner and two blocks further on. Well, it ended up being about a mile from the hotel, not just the two blocks west and two blocks north, as I'd originally been told.

Once I finally found it, I went in and made my reservation for Monday, as I'd been instructed when I bought the ticket in San Jose last week. The ticket agent didn't speak a word of English, and her Spanish was the rapid-fire, complex Spanish that I find so difficult to decode. Fortunately, another passenger was in the office, a very attractive young lady, who spoke enough English to help me out. I got my reservation for Monday. Unfortunately, the only bus to Costa Rica during the week leaves at 1 PM, and got in rather late. No problem; I wasn't going all the way to San Jose, so I'd be home by a reasonable hour. Made the reservation and began the long hike back to the hotel.

By the time I was back to the hotel, it was noon and I was dead tired. So I went to my room and crashed - out like a light for two hours. Once I was up, I decided to go for a late lunch and do a bit of a walking tour of town. I found a pizza parlor and had a personal-sized pizza and a beer for the grand total of $2. Not bad! It was a great pizza, and the beer, a local brand, wasn't bad either, so I considered lunch to be a great success. After lunch, I walked around town a bit, to the local market, which was just breaking up for the day, so I didn't see much there that was interesting. I found a couple of points of interest, including the local municipal museum, but it was closed, so I didn't get a chance to check it out.

Dodging the horsecarts and horse carriage taxis, along with the ancient pickups and cars that crowd the streets of Granada, I made my way back to the hotel. Hot and sweaty, I took a shower (no hot water in the hotel, but the tap water is warm enough that it's not really needed). I collapsed on the bed and watched the BBC news till dinner time.

Dinner was at the hostel near the central plaza. It's owned and operated by an expatriate American couple, who moved there some years ago to get out of the United States. As I was eating dinner, the owner of the place came up to me and sat down, and we started talking about life in Nicaragua. He indicated that a lot of his clientele is people who live in Costa Rica and are either there to explore Nicaragua with an eye to moving there, or who are, like me, in town for the 72-hour exit from Costa Rica to renew their visas. He explained a lot of things about Nicaragua and Granada (some of which subsequently proved to be inaccurate), and I figured that the intelligence on Nicaragua is interesting, but not necessarily reliable. Anyway, it proved to be an interesting visit. It was particularly interesting, watching the comings and goings of all the backpackers, expatriate retirees and tourists coming and going at the bar, cafe and hotel all a part of this fascinating place.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:13:07 AM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.