Letters From Exile

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

Thu, Jan 29 2004

Getting Back To Normal

Things are getting back to normal around here after my return from Panama. Yesterday, I woke up with a severe headache, and I'm not sure what caused it, unless it was the stress of the drive back here from Chiriqui Province. It's a long drive - about 250 miles, and the roads aren't the best, so of course it is a bit stressful. This is a country with bad roads and dangerous drivers. Darwinian selection applies here - if your attention to your driving flags for just a second, you won't be making any more contributions to the gene pool. So naturally, eleven hours of that kind of driving can wear you down, and I was a tense, tired, emotional wreck at the end of the drive on Tuesday.

I didn't get much done yesterday because of the headache - did some laundry and went to town to get my email uploaded and downloaded, and forgot to upload last week's blog entries. So that's on the priority list for today. Feeling much better today, and I think I can get a few things done around here.

I found out about a house for sale on an acre lot on a hilltop up in Arenal, being sold by a German fellow who's divorcing his Tica wife and moving back to Germany. I'm planning a trip up there, probably over the weekend, to check it out, and look at some other properties that my ham friend in Arenal knows about. Not really eager to commit to anything immediately unless its an outstanding bargain, and that's why I want to see it. Arenal is not my first choice of places to live, but the price is right and that makes it possible to write a check and buy the place. I'll be going up there with one of my ham friends who's also interested in the property.

Weather is continuing to be relatively mild. Low 60's at night to low 70's in the day - still a bit chilly for my taste, but a vast improvement over what it was just a few weeks ago. Looks like the December/January wind season is behind us, and the trades are weakening a bit. That means that here on this hilltop, the wind is down from gale force to just obnoxious, and the fog is light at patchy.

Speaking of really bad weather, I got a link yesterday about the volcanic situation in Yellowstone - apparently, the situation is far worse than the Bushies are letting the public know about. Sulfur vents are appearing and people are beginning to complain about the smell, dead fish are floating in Yellowstone lake (the floor of which has been rising for decades), and they've closed part of the park to visitors. And they're not saying much about it. Looks like it could be getting ready to blow, bigtime. This one could be the planet's vengeance - if it goes, it could sterilize the land for 600 miles around and dump suffocating ash layers all the way out to the East Coast, like it did the last time, 640,000 years ago. Sure glad I'm not living in Eastern Idaho anymore. Of course, it would mean a "nuclear winter" scenario, but I'd be a lot better equipped down here to survive it than the folks up north.

The SWR bridge that I ordered from the states has arrived - came Thursday afternoon, the day before I left for Panama. So now I can build two-meter ham antennas to my heart's content, and know that they'll be properly tuned. I'm considering building a corner-reflector antenna to beam a good, strong signal towards my ham friend in Arenal. If that works, it will probably convince him to do likewise - and we'd end up with an intercom of a path - a lot better than the noisy path we have now. There's 30 miles of jungle-covered hills and mountains between us, and that doesn't help either. We both need more antenna gain than what we've got to make the path cleaner. My ham friend in Belen just finished building a yagi antenna to aim a signal this direction - and it's brought up his signal a lot. I might just build a copy for myself.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:25:02 AM

Tue, Jan 27 2004

Back To Costa Rica

Today was the return trip to Costa Rica, to stop at the border and get that all-important stamp in my passport - the one that makes my residence in Costa Rica legal for another three months, and the main reason for my trip to Panama in the first place.

I was up at "0-dark thirty" and put my bags, packed the night before, in the car and took off. It was briskly chilly at the high mountain cabina where I was staying - about 53 degrees, I found out when I dropped off the key to the place. I headed down the hill and towards the border, enjoying an incredible sunrise as the sun came up over the hills east of David.

The trip to the border took just under an hour. As soon as I arrived, my tramitista friend, Reuben, was there to greet me. We got the process started by checking out at Panamanian immigration - and that was the most lengthy part of the process. After getting my exit permit approved, I headed over to the aduanas (customs) and got my inspection and got stamped out there. Now officially out of Panama, I then drove across the border into Costa Rica and parked in front of the Immigration office. After waiting at the head of the line for about ten minutes for someone to come to the arrivals window, I was quickly processed and sent to the aduanas. They took my papers, looked them over, and decided they were in order. I was asked to show them my car, which I did - there was a roll of communications cable in the back, given me by my host in Panama, which I wanted to use for my two-meter radios back in Costa Rica. It was obviously well used, and the aduana didn't have a problem with it, so a quick spray of the car and I was given by border crossing exit permit and shown the way out of town. All in all, I was at Paso Canoas for only about an hour and fifteen minutes.

I headed west, back towards San Ramon, crossing the two temporary bridges installed after the permanent ones collapsed in the Christmas Day earthquake last month. The cranes at the second bridge had pulled the girders out of the river, and you could see where the energy of the quake had snapped the welds like they hadn't even been there. Apparently the Ministry of Works is getting ready to replace the bridges, and I hope it's sooner rather than later - both temporaries are a bit dodgy.

Heading back across the coastal lowlands, I thought I'd give the coastal route a try, and not try to navigate the streets of San Jose at rush hour, which would be about the time when I would have arrived. So I drove up the Inter-American highway and got off at Palmar Norte. What a beautiful, wide, easy road! Financed by the European Union, it was designed to facilitate the development of the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Unfortunately, it hasn't been well maintained, and there are some sizeable potholes developing in it. As I traveled north along the coast, I couldn't help but notice an almost complete absence of traffic. I was growing concerned as to why - such a good road to avoid the Cerro Del Muerte, and no one using it. There had to be a reason.

I found out what the reason was when I arrived at the police checkpoint in Dominical. The police directed me onto a very rough gravel road, and as I proceeded down it, I saw a sign that indicated Quepos as being 43 kilometers ahead, where I knew I'd pick up pavement again. That was a bad sign - I figured I was in for a long, bone-jarring ride. I'd asked before I came what condition the road was in, and I kept getting conflicting answers, so I didn't know what to expect. As I'd figured, it was, in fact, gravel all the way to Quepos. Several of the bridges were also in poor condition - some of them being made passable by having had railroad rails laid on them, side by side, all the way across, sort of like a cattle grate. Some had deckplate laid on top, but most did not. But at least all the bridges were passable after a fashion - after arriving home, I found out that they're often not, and the rivers they cross have to be forded.

After rattling my way across the 43 kilometers of gravel, I finally arrived at Quepos and pavement. The road there, to nearly Esparsa, a distance of more than a hundred kilometers, was an easy three-lane-wide highway, with few potholes. The trip from Quepos to Esparsa was faster than the gravel between Dominical and Quepos, even though it is almost three times as long.

Esparsa to home was a familiar route, up the Inter-American highway to San Ramon and home. It was incredibly slow, as always, mostly in first and second gear. All those naturally-aspirated diesel trucks that used to make life miserable for the residents of hilly states in America have now been sent to Costa Rica, the third-hilliest country in the world, to die. And it seems that they're all trying to climb the San Ramon grade all at once. The truck traffic is incredible - probably half of the traffic on the road were trucks and busses - and it all moves at almost literally a snail's pace. I could have almost walked home almost as fast.

But once home, I found the house as I'd left it. I arrived about four PM, and my landlord came home from work soon after and stopped by to see how my trip was. We enjoyed a brief chat, and I then turned on the news to catch up from what had been five days without the BBC. Then off to bed and dreams about driving in raging blizzards. Been there, done that - and I still hope I never see another snowflake again.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:50:49 PM

Mon, Jan 26 2004

Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin

Today I finally made it to Boquete, after having seen and read about the place for years. I made the trip from Volcan in just under two hours, this time uneventfully going through David.

The ride up the hill from David, which is low and near the coast at only 30 meters above sea level, was not particularly outstanding. It's about 40 km. from David and the road is straight and not at all interesting. The road gradually gains elevation as one travels along, until arriving at Boquete, at about 1000 meters above sea level. By now it is cool enough to turn off the air conditioning and enjoy the fresh highlands air.

Boquete is a tiny town crammed into an equally tiny mountain valley. It's been long since discovered by the gringos who've pretty much taken over the place. Every little cafe, bakery, bike shop and botique is either owned by or run by gringos who have moved there to enjoy the beautiful climate and lovely setting of the place.

But is it all it's cracked up to be? Other than its being Grinolandia, it's really not much different from a thousand highland towns in Costa Rica. Yes, it has all the basic services, and a fairly good-sized downtown, but there isn't much room there to be away from town if you want to be. Sure, there are some country attractions - horseback rides, waterfall hikes and the like, but that's not much different from the sorts of attractions one can find all over Costa Rica. I guess the attraction to the place is that it's a bit like Costa Rica, but in Panama.

One of the real attractions in town is a place called "Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin," a private garden owned by a wealthy Panamanian couple, who delight in having one of the most magnificent gardens in the country. They allow visitors to come and go at will and wander through the garden as they like - no entrance fee - and view all their handiwork. There are four gardeners working full-time to maintain the place and the effort and expense really shows. Lots of topiary, collections of hibiscus and bouganvillea and other tropical ornamentals, and a stream meandering through the garden with lots of flowers and waterfalls. The colors are tremendous, and there's no doubt that it is a prime attraction for visitors to Boquete.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:38:44 PM

Sun, Jan 25 2004

Democracia Panameno

I was going to travel to Boquete today, but I didn't get there. I was blocked by democracia Panameno.

The route from Volcan, where I was staying, took me through David, the provincial capital, and the second largest city in Panama. When I arrived at the edge of town, I discovered a long line of vans and pickup trucks, each with a bunch of banners and flags, proclaiming the virtues of that party's presidential candidate. Since elections are due in May, the candidates are all out proclaiming their credentials as "democratic revolutionaries" and the like. The parade occupied both traffic lanes, and the transitos (traffic police) made no effort to accommodate local traffic.

Well, the parade went on for quite some ways ahead of me, but I figured that I'd ride it out and see if I could make it to the Boquete turnoff. That proved to not be terribly feasible. I got as far as the edge of downtown, after an hour of creeping along slowly, idling in low gear alternating with a dead stop. I finally lost patience, and could see that the turnoff was still an hour away at the rate I was going, so I turned around at the next left-turn bay and headed back to Volcan.

As second best, I decided to drive past Volcan and up to the end of the road at Cerro Punta, near the continental divide. It's in a beautiful Swiss-like setting, with the jagged peaks of Volcan Baru in the distance, and the patchwork of small farms on the rolling hills in the cirque below. There are forests of Caribbean pine scattered around to complete the alpine effect. It's a stunningly beautiful region. I had lunch at the Cerro Punta hotel, a lunch of pork and rice, done very nicely and accompanied by a betido de pina, a milkshake-like smoothie made with a bit of natilla, a local version of sour cream. It was incredibly delicious!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:24:21 PM

Sat, Jan 24 2004

Real Estate in Chiriqui, Panama

Today I got to have a good look at the sort of properties that would be available to me in the Chiriqui province of Panama, should I decide to move to Panama. My host's wife, who happens to also be a real estate agent, took me to two properties, both at about 700m. elevation, to see what I could get. The first was near the town of Cuesta de Piedra, and was 2000 sq. meters in size. It was nice, but too close to neighbors and too close to the highway, besides being too low in elevation. Scratch it off the list. We then took a trip to the border town of Rio Sereno, one of the three border crossing points with Costa Rica, about 30 km. west of Volcan. it's an incredibly beautiful drive - reminiscent of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California. Lots of big cattle ranches and coffee plantations. The property she showed me was a 2.5 hectare property at about the 1000 m. contour, and it has plenty of privacy, and power is nearby, but no phone. There is a nice view to the southwest, and some really large trees on the property, which would make terrific supports for a great quad antenna for the 160 meter ham band - I could have a tremendous signal from Panama, and be a real powerhouse on that band from Panama. I like the property much better than the other one, but it has two drawbacks - it is a day's drive from David, the regional market center, and it also has no house - I'd have to build, which is something I'd rather not do.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:49:35 PM

Fri, Jan 23 2004

D-Day To Panama

Well, it was up bright and early this morning - up well before sunrise. I wanted to get a very early start on my trip to Panama, so I could get through San Jose before the rush-hour traffic hit. I made it too, just as the traffic was starting to pick up. Got through the expressway roundabouts and into Cartago before the traffic ground to a halt for the day.

My route was from San Ramon down the Inter-American highway, through San Jose and Cartago, onto the Cerro Del Muerte. That translates to "hill of death," and for good reason - the road goes up over the 10,000-foot crest of the Talamanca Cordillera and down into the Valle de General. At the top, the route is almost always foggy, to the point of being impassably blind. And coming down the Valle de General side, the road is steep, winding, and very curvy. The curves are often blind, and there are occasional washouts, where the road narrows to a single lane. Since it is the only route from Nicaragua through the country to Panama that is paved the entire distance, it's favored by truckers, who travel it much faster than they should, trying to make time. It accounts for more traffic accidents than most of the rest of the country combined. The reason that the road goes over this route is historical. The Inter-American highway was originally funded by the United States as a land route to the Panama Canal - and the route chosen was the most militarily readily defensible route, not necessarily the shortest or quickest. So even though there is a route along the Pacific Coast that is much shorter and, when completed, will be much faster, the route over the Cerro Del Muerte is the more militarily secure route.

Anyway, I took the Cerro Del Muerte, and count myself lucky for having had only two near-death-experiences. Both were caused by truckers passing on blind hills or curves. That's common here. Don't know what it is - maybe Latino testosterone levels are higher, but the drivers here seem to think they'll never get killed, no matter how reckless they get.

Made it off the Cerro Del Muerte, and into the town of San Isidro de General. The Valle de General is much prettier than I'd imagined - it reminded me a lot of the foothills east of Idaho Falls where I grew up - rolling hills with tall gallery forests on either side of the road, and lots of mountains in the distance. That's a lovely place, and I'm thinking about renting a house down there and having a look around. I've seen properties for sale there quite inexpensively.

I made it to the border crossing at Paso Canoas at about two in the afternoon. I got checked out of Costa Rica quickly and easily, and proceeded to drive across the border into Panama. I was immediately greeted by a tramitista, one of the many touts that hang around the place, helping tourists through the system, in exchange for tips. He introduced himself as "Reuben" and I explained in my broken Spanish that I was driving my car into Panama. He knew just what to do. First, get the car sprayed - but I didn't have any U.S. money at the time, so he got that one waived, and I drove over and parked in the aduana (customs) parking lot. I got out all the documents that my lawyer had drawn up, and we took them over to Panamanian immigration. I had to get some money changed, so I could buy a timbre (tax stamp). That done, we glued it into my passport, and got in the surprisingly short immigration line. A quick stamp, and I was told to go to the Panamanian Tourist Institute and get a tourist visa. A few minutes and $5 later, I had it in hand, went back to the immigration office and got the visa document stamped and signed, and then went to the aduanas. There was a considerable line there, mostly truckers with cargo, and the line wasn't moving. After some considerable delay, the line advanced to where the tramitista was able to get my documents in front of the aduana. She took my passport and vehicular exit permit, and sat down in front of a 40-year old Smith-Corona typewriter, put together a four-part form with carbon paper in between the sheets, rolled it into the typewriter, and proceeded to hunt-and-peck all the way through the lengthy form. It was obvious why the line handn't been moving. After filling it out, she asked for my signature, which I happily provided, and she ripped out the yellow copy and handed it to me. I then took it to the customs inspection station, and with a quick inspection and a bit more paperwork, I was cleared to go.

The drive from the border to my destination in Volcan, Chiriqui province, took about an hour, mostly over a road that was under construction from the border to La Concepcion. From there to Volcan, the road is a beautifully paved, well marked new road all the way to Volcan. I arrived about 4:30, and was met by my contact and shown to my cabina rental. It was a tiny place, with a small bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathroom, and that was it. But hey, I wasn't complaining - at $15 a night, it was a bargain.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:30:09 AM

Thu, Jan 22 2004

Computer Back On Line

Well, after a week and a half, the computer is back on line. It seems that my USB network adaptor died, and I could not find one locally, so I had to have a new one flown in from the States. I got it this morning, and now I'm able to update the blog and get my emails. Seems that when I went online for the first time in a week and a half, I had over a thousand spam messages in my inbox. I've taken down the catch-all mailbox from my mail server, and I sure hope that will make a dent in the amount of spam I'm receiving.

You're not going to read this until after I get home from Panama. I have to renew my tourist visa, and that requires that I go out of the country for 72 hours. So I'm going to Panama to check things out and see if it's the big alternative to Costa Rica that I've heard it's supposed to be. I have a ham friend over there, and I'm going to rent a little cabina that he is managing, for the five days I'll be there. He's got some "heliax" antenna cable for me to bring back, so I'm going to do that, too.

The weather has been improving steadily - the last two days haven't been quite so windy as they've been, and some ham friends of mine who are looking for property too, came by yesterday and we went on a bit of a 4x4 tour of the area west of San Ramon, seeing if we could spot some likely candidate properties. We drove all over the hills west of San Ramon, through several villages I'd heard are good places to live, but found remarkably little. Seems that the country out there is not well traveled, so no one is putting up any se vende (for sale) signs. So one of my friends is going to send a Tico acquaintance up there to make some discreet inquiries in the local pulperias (country stores). That's the best way to find bargains - the local pulperia is the focus of social life in the Costa Rican countryside, so the pulperia owners know everything that's going on, and they'll know what's for sale.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:17:40 AM

Mon, Jan 12 2004

Power Failure

This morning was the first power failure of any significance I've experienced since I've been living in this cabina. The power went off right in the middle of writing this blog entry, and of course, I hadn't hit the "save" button, so the entire entry was lost. I'm a slow learner that way. The power here has been as reliable as in Phoenix when I lived there, and I get careless about saving my work. I just don't expect it to go off. It wasn't off for long - just long enough for me to give up on it coming back on, and therefore getting the computer all packed up to take to the Internet cafe.

This is the first blog entry in nearly a week, mostly because I've been preoccupied with getting ready for my trip to Panama, coming up later this month. I tried all last week to get the "persona testimonia," a document that I need to get the car across the border and back. I've not yet found Lawyer #1 in his office, and so I'll be going back today. I have no idea where he's been, but it hasn't been at work.

I got some lock work done on my car - the driver's door lock occasionally won't permit key insertion, and I've never been able to work the lock on the spare tire. The latter proved to be a key problem - it's not the ignition key as I'd been told by the previous owner of the vehicle, but the locksmith used his burglar tools and got the lock off quite quickly, and then had a key made in minutes. The door key is more problematic. He thought it was a lubrication problem, and lubricated the lock, but I know it's not. It's a tumbler that's dropping too low in the cylinder, and that means that he'll have to replace the cylinder, but he wanted me to try lubrication first. So I humored him, and I'll see this week if that's the problem.

Saturday, I was visited by a ham friend from Belen, who came out here to visit in his newly acquired '75 Mercedes, mostly to give it a shakedown cruise, but also to help me get my two-meter colinear antenna erected. He got here in good time, and we soon had the antenna up, and spent the rest of the morning enjoying an "eyeball QSO." Close to noon, we headed into town for lunch at a pizza parlor that is one of my favorites, and one of the best in the country at least that I know of. My friend, a pizza aficionado, pronounced it to be good pizza - high praise from him!

Not much happening yesterday, just lazed around a lot, and did a bit of laundry, but that's about it. My ham friend in Arenal has certainly been enjoying being able to talk to me with "armchair copy" - meaning that the signals are good, stable and easy to understand. That's certainly a big change, and I'm glad that it's finally working out for him. He was getting awfully discouraged.

Today's agenda is to make another stab at getting the persona testimonia cut at my lawyer's office. I've got to drop off the spare tire and get it fixed, and make an appointment for an oil change. A ham friend suggested an herbal medicine that works well for him for his arthritis, and I'm going to see if I can find some in town, and try it. My osteoarthritis has been bothering me a lot lately, and has my right hand almost crippled for anything other than typing. I'd sure like to find something to take that will cause the pain to subside.

Of course, the weather here in La Penitencia as the locals call this place, otherwise known officially as Los Angeles Sur, hasn't helped my arthritis, either. It's back to what I call "the Aleutian Islands mode" again - stiff winds, light, drizzly rain, fog and cold temperatures - in the mid '60's. I'm getting mixed signals about that - some neighbors say it'll improve in a week or two, but other Ticos I know, who travel the country a lot and have been through here quite a number of times, tell me it'll be like this throughout most of the dry season. Guess I should get serious about finding a more equable microclimate in which to live. I'll miss all my friends here, but this is sure getting old, and I'd sure like to get away from here, in spite of it's wonderful qualities as a radio site.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:56:51 AM

Tue, Jan 06 2004

Tuesday And More Cold Weather

Well, the new year is almost a week old now, and still we're experiencing December weather. A few good days of relatively light winds, bright, sunny skies, and no rain, and now it's over for now. The fog has moved back into "La Penitencia," and with it the cold and fog. I've been told to expect this kind of weather for another couple of weeks, but this has been an unusually bad weather year, and so I wouldn't be surprised to see it continue through the rest of the month at least.

Yesterday, I managed to get some chores done in town for the first time in a week. I paid my annual fee for the post office box I'm renting - it cost a whole 1800 colones, about $4.50. Small money. I tried to pay my cell phone bill, but when I got to the Camara de Comercio, the Chamber of Commerce, the line was all the way out the front door. I shined that one on and beat a hasty retreat out of there. I did make it over to the Auto Decoracion shop, where car accessories are sold. I bought a luggage rack - it was a bit more than I'd expected, at 20,000 colones, about $50, but it was what I could get in San Ramon, so I did it. They installed it for that price, and a few minutes later, I was driving out the door with luggage rack installed. My next stop was the ferreteria (hardware store) where I picked up some 1 1/2" thin-wall electrical conduit for my antennas. Strapped it to my brand new luggage rack and drove it home, no problem. It was wonderful, not having to have it cut and put inside the car. Good thing, too, because the conduit that I got was rather oily and would have made a mess of the interior of the car. As it was, I got my white T-shirt thoroughly dirty. But it's home now, and I used a rag to clean the oil off the pipe, and got it strapped to the antenna and ready to put up. Once again, I'm waiting on the weather to calm down so I can get the two-meter colinear antenna reinstalled.

Today, I tried stopping at Lawyer #1's office to have him research what documents I'll need to get my car in and out of Panama, but no cigar there - his door was padlocked, and that means he's out of town. I'll try seeing if the owner of the cigar store knows what documents I need. Then I'll need to go about getting them squared away, so I can go there to reset my tourist visa at the end of the month. This reset trip, I'm planning to visit a ham friend's place in Chiriqui province, Panama, and find out what my options are for living there. I'll spend the time necessary for my visa reset, and tour around the place a bit and see what I think. His wife is a real estate agent, and she's going to have some properties researched for me to look at, and he will show me some construction he's been doing for other gringos. My plans are to leave here on the 22nd, and be there on the 23rd, and return on the 26th. He has a "Stationmaster" two-meter commercial colinear antenna he's willing to give me, and I would like to bring that back as well. It's higher gain than the one I built, and is a lot more rugged. Worth the trouble of hauling it back, and getting it through the border controls. He's also got some "Heliax" coaxial cable, a very low-loss and expensive commercial cable. He's willing to give that to me, too. It will be worth the trip to drive over and pick up the stuff and come back with it, even if I have to pay some duty.

I'm about out of groceries, and need to do some shopping while I'm in town as well. I'm long since out of produce, so I'm looking forward to the mercado agricola (farmer's market) this weekend - it hasn't been held since before Christmas. It's been almost two weeks since I've had any good pineapple or watermelon, and I'm really missing it. And hopefully mangos will be in the market and a bit cheaper. They were rather expensive, at about 50 cents a pound last time I was at the market.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:39:11 AM

Fri, Jan 02 2004

Friday, Business, And More Rock And Roll

Today is Friday, the second of January, and it is a business day. But you could have easily fooled me. I drove into San Ramon to do my daily Internet cafe session, and the streets were practically deserted. Very quiet - little traffic, lots of parking spaces, no hoards of pedestrians competing with cars for crosswalk space. Just a quiet, peaceful Friday afternoon. Well, Friday afternoons are almost never like that in San Ramon, as Friday is market day for the many campesinos who live in the surrounding countryside. San Ramon is a market town, and it exists on its market power to draw people from far and wide to work and shop there. This Friday was different, however, as it fell between January first and a regular weekend, so most stores didn't bother to open. The post office was closed, as was the Camara de Comercio, (Chamber of Commerce) where everyone goes to pay utility bills (you don't send checks through the mail here - they're liable to get stolen by the underpaid postal clerks). I'd intended to pay my cell phone bill and my year's rent on my post office box, but couldn't do that. I also wanted to go buy a luggage rack for my SUV (will need to haul some tower sections next week for my antennas), but couldn't do that, either - the auto accessories stores were all closed. And it's just as well - I wanted to stop at the ferreteria (hardware store) after the luggage racks were installed, and get some water pipe for masts for my antennas, too, but the ferreterias were closed. The Internet cafe was open, but that's about all that was. The cigar store, where I have packages sent, was also open, and they called to tell me that my books from Amazon came, so I went over there and picked them up. That was my sole successful errand in town today other than the Internet cafe session.

Well, thanks to Amazon, my drought of reading material is now over. I got all six books I'd ordered. Amazon shipped them by parcel post, from Germany, no less, but they arrived in good shape. Either Customs or Correos de Costa Rica, the postal service, had opened both boxes to make sure they weren't contraband (pornography and "subversive" materials are prohibited here), but everything was there. Among the books were two nature guide books I'd been wanting - a guide to the birds of Costa Rica, and a guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the country. I now know that the tiny little tree frogs that have been finding their way to the dish drainpan in my kitchen are Stauffer's Tree Frog, a species that is fairly common in disturbed areas of the highlands from southern Mexico to Panama. And the salamander I saw on my washroom window one day, is a Mountain Salamander, a very common species found in the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.

I've started reading William Greider's book, "One World Ready Or Not," his classic work on globalization. Looks like it's going to be an excellent read. I always enjoy his style; it's easy, entertaining, and best of all, informative and stimulating.

We had another earthquake today, at about four in the afternoon, just a little bit of rock and roll, just enough to be sure of what it was. Just after it happened, I called my buddy up on the radio, one of my ham friends who lives in Belen and happens to have broadband Internet access, to get on the net and see if he could find out where it was and how strong it was. He felt it too, and so he got on the net and found the earthquake site for the U.S. Geological Survey, but they hadn't updated their site since a couple of hours before the event, so we still have no idea where it was or how strong it was.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:54:16 PM

Thu, Jan 01 2004

New Year's Day On The Windy Hilltop

I'm up and around after a long night. Last night was exceptionally windy - the windiest in a couple of weeks, and It seems that the wind broke the bamboo pole on which my two-meter colinear antenna was mounted. Snapped that 3" pole right in two, just above the last hose clamp holding it to the porch column. It came down in the front yard, and to my great surprise, didn't break the plastic pipe through which the coaxial cable was threaded, even though that pipe ran through the last hose clamp, which remained intact. Instead, it bent the 1" schedule-40 PVC pipe at about a 30 degree angle. Rather than risk further damage, I decided to get up as soon as there was sufficient daylight, and take it the rest of the way down. When I opened up that hose clamp, and the strap went past the last thread, and let go, the tension in the pipe flung the clamp a good distance. When it was finally light, an inspection revealed that both the antenna and the house are undamaged, much to my surprise.

So for now, I'm back on the weatherized J-pole that I built a few weeks ago. Don't know how long I'll be on it as I will have to wait, once again, for the winds to die down long enough to get the antenna up. I'm planning to put the antenna back up using some large diameter thin-wall electrical conduit - it should be sturdier than the bamboo proved to be.

Yesterday, I went to visit a gringo friend who lives down the hill from me - and to wish him and his wife a happy new year. It had been about three weeks since I'd been to visit, and a visit was long overdue. When I arrived, I was shocked to be told that his wife died about two weeks ago, and no one had told me what happened. I was very disappointed to hear that she had passed away - she was a dear, sweet lady who was one of my favorite people. Apparently, her passing was sudden, without pain or suffering, and she died in his arms, of complications from increasingly severe asthma. He was still visibly shaken - it was difficult for him to talk about it without his eyes tearing up - after 43 years of marriage, they were still very much in love. I found it difficult to talk about it too - I'd always enjoyed her presence and her cheerful friendliness. I'd grown very fond of her, and her sunny, cheerful disposition, always brightening everyone's day. She'll be sorely missed.

Weather here has been improving slowly. Not quite so windy, not quite so cold. Tuesday of this week was windy, but bright and sunny for a change. The air was so clear that I could see the Irazu volcano, nearly to the top of it, as well as out to the Nicoya peninsula, and today was the same. Yesterday was sunny and mostly cloud-free, but was raining nevertheless. The rain was blowing up from the lowlands to the north, and carried on the wind, it made for a rather unpleasant, chilly drizzle all day long, in spite of the almost cloud-free sunshine.

The display on my computer is slowly dying. It's a Dell Latitude CPx laptop, and the computer has had minor problems since I bought it (used) back in July when I was still in Phoenix. The display has been problematic for some time; the color has not been right, but that has been a minor annoyance. This morning, I noticed that on occasion the black areas and text aren't black anymore, they're a sort of dark Burgundy color, and the Windows borders have patches of olive-colored areas. The problem comes and goes, and seems to have no rhyme or reason to it - it's just a random intermittent. It means I've clearly got to get a new laptop computer, and soon. I'll have to take the plunge before this one dies altogether. The keyboard is intermittent too, and the fan makes strange noises. So it's clearly on its last legs. But I've got to get a working USB drive (my existing one has already died), and move my files onto it, so I can continue to edit this blog and keep my Outlook address book from a new computer. Dell has a factory repair shop in San Jose, but I'm not sure I want to put the money into repairing this machine with all its little annoying problems. But I need to have a laptop computer, as I'm still dependent on the Internet cafe for Internet access, and I can't use their machines. Updating this blog requires special software that does the FTP'ing to the server by itsef, and that means I have to use my computer on their LAN.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:43:42 PM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.