Letters From Exile

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

Wed, Mar 31 2004

Bangs And Grinds

Well, it's Wednesday, and finally the ironworker is back on the job. There are loud bangs and grinding noises, sparks flying as the welding proceeds, and progress is being made on securing the place. He's currently working on securing the shutter on the front living room window, and has it nearly completed. I'll have at least one secure shutter by the end of the day - not that it much matters until they're all done and the doors are changed out, too.

One of my ham friends came by this morning, in the midst of all the confusion and noise of the ironwork, and wanted a peek at the PSK31 software I am using for my ham radio. I showed him some of the things it can do, and he was blown away - wanted to get on PSK31 himself right away. He went home, downloaded the software and installed it, found and installed the required connection cables, and within minutes, he was up and running on PSK31. We spent a good deal of the morning chatting on two-meters, comparing notes on what we were seeing on PSK31. It was a lot of fun. He's eager to get up and running in the transmit mode now, and he'll soon be on the air with it. I've gotta get my interface completed, so I can be on the air with it too. Just have a lot of things around the house that are more urgent at the moment. That's why I haven't done it until now.

This afternoon, I took advantage of the ironworker being here watching the place to go to town and talk with a few people, including the son in law of the old man who tends a corn field on my property. I told him about the fence the old man put up around his cornfield, and he suggested that I was being overly concerned about a non-issue, and I should ignore it. I mentioned the gates in the corner of the property, too, and that I intended to close them off. Again, he thought I'd just antagonize the people who are using them if I close it off, and thinks I'm being overly cautious about squatters' and transit rights. Another friend, who's been here for thirty years and has had a lot of property here, is the one who advised me to close off the gates. I'm inclined to listen to him; he's been around the horn with regards to property here, and he thinks I should get it closed off immediately. So I'll probably do that, and possibly annoy the neighbors, but it's the only safe thing to do with regards to the property laws here. As for the old man, I'm not sure what to do; I don't think he'll try to secure squatter's rights, but I don't want to take any chances either. I may just have to tell him that he'll have to be off the plot at the end of the growing season, and that will be the end of it. Don't want to have to do that, but I'm not sure that the property laws here would give me much choice, if what my friend is telling me is true.

I just took the ironworker to town and dropped him off in front of the grocery store. Hope he doesn't buy any beer, but I didn't give him any money, so he shouldn't have enough to get drunk on. Should see him first thing in the morning, and I hope I do. I'm getting work done, and I'm liking that a lot.

It's six in the evening as I'm writing this. Just got back from a walk along the shore of the pond, watching the fish jumping for bugs in the evening light. This morning, I saw a 'tiger striped' heron out there - very unusual markings for a heron. Been a busy day, and that's a wonderful way to unwind. Tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can round up some wood and roofing sheets for getting my patio cover installed, so I can have a hammock out there where I can enjoy the view of the pond. It's shaping up to be a great life here. These are the twilight days of my life, and I'm wanting to enjoy them as best I can.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:45:09 PM

Tue, Mar 30 2004

Flock Of Toucans

This morning, I saw the first flock of toucans I've seen since I've been in the country. Sitting out on my porch drinking my morning tea, I looked at the tree on the hilltop opposite my property, and noticed a large, black bird with a very prominent yellow bill, flying towards it. Soon, it was joined by another, and then another, until there were a total of six birds in the tree. When I got a better look, they were clearly toucans, either Swainson's Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii), or the national bird of Costa Rica, the Rainbow-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus). From a distance, the two can be a bit difficult to tell apart, so I'm not sure which it was, but I believe it to have been the latter. In any event, the sight was truly spectacular - the quintessential brightly colored tropical birds.

While people often think of toucans as fruit eaters, which they are, my botanist friend says he's rehabilitated several and released them back into the wild successfully (at the request of the government). He indicates that they aggressively seek out birds' eggs, small snakes, lizards and tree frogs, in addition to fruit. He has kept several in his butterfly garden while rehabilitating them, and visitors always enjoy them.

The howler monkeys in the jungle across the road from my house were very active this morning. About dawn, just after I woke up, they started making quite a bit of noise, as if something was disturbing them. I have no idea what it was - there wasn't any traffic down my road, either pedestrians (which I see a lot of), nor car traffic.

I have a young, though fairly large Guanacaste tree on my property, which I was pleased to discover this morning, is finally leafing out. I had not seen any evidence that it was alive, and had feared it had died (other Guanacaste trees in the area are still in leaf), but this morning, I find it is covered with emergent leaves. These are beautiful trees when in bloom - a mass of yellow flowers, and the trees can get to be 60 feet high with a crown just as wide. Really spectacular when mature, and much more so when in bloom, and that is why it is the Costa Rican national tree.

The glazier showed up as promised, and installed the screen on the window that he replaced last week. I got the bill and was pleasantly surpised - I was charged about 33,000 colones ($78) for the whole replacement, including the jalousy and screen. I asked for a bid on the rest of the windows, using sliding windows instead of jalousies, and for the whole rest of the house, the bill will come to 45,000 colones - the equivalent of $105. Dirt cheap! That's probably a third of what I would pay in the States.

The old man who is working a corn patch on my property on the other side of the pond is out fixing my fence this morning. I went out to check it out, and he is charging me for three hours work, at 500 colones an hour (just a little over a dollar), and is supplying the barbed wire and staples from his own salvaged materials. That's great, but it's not what I'd agreed to - I was going to supply the materials and he would supply the labor. Well, I don't want to get the old boy angered with me. I just want to get the fence fixed, so I guess the three and a half bucks its costing me isn't something to get upset about. I don't mind all that much - it's a way for him to make a bit of extra pocket change, and he can sure use it.

The ironworker didn't show this morning. Not surprised, he's probably drinking up money from his last job in town. I'll give him till noon and then go to town and ask his sister if she knows where he is, or ask at the hardware store. I hope he gets sober soon. It's costing me $2 per day to keep my stuff in storage, and I'd like to stop that cost as well as be fully moved in.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:20:55 AM

Mon, Mar 29 2004

The Delights Continue

It seems that when you buy a piece of property and move in, there are always some nasty surprises, and things often don't turn out as well as you expect. Well, so far I haven't encountered many nasty surprises here. I've been delighted at how the delights of the place just seem to continue.

I've just come back from the pond, braving the early evening's no-see-ums, to see if I could spot any of the fish in my pond. It's been a couple of days now since a serious rain, and there's less mud suspended in the water than there's been since I've been here so visibility is up to about three feet. Being in the late afternoon, the fish are feeding and are therefore near the surface.

Wow! What a delight! I found four species of cichlids, a family of fishes known mostly from the neo-tropics, and one species of tetra, another large family of fishes from the New World tropics. Three of the four species of cichlids are varieties I've known from having kept in aquaria over the years, and the other was one I always wanted, but didn't have a tank large enough to support. It is a fish that is just stunning - a guapote, the famous sport fish of Costa Rica, and this one was at least eighteen inches long - dinner for a whole family. Known in the aquarium trade as the "rainbow cichlid," it is stunningly beautiful - from what I could see of it above the water's surface, it was predominately metallic blue-green, with an abundance of black and blue flecks. Just gorgeous! I'd been told that there were some in this pond, but didn't know until now for sure that it is true.

The other three cichlids are the severum cichlid, the firemouth cichlid, and another that has a very prominent bulge on it's head just behind the eyes - I think it's called the Texas cichlid. Walking up to the shoreline, the smaller cichlids displayed their characteristic boldness and curiosity - they just swam right up to the shallow water, rolled over a bit so they could get a better look at me, and hung around like they were waiting for whatever was next. The guapote was just too big to get that close, though he was checking me out from the deeper water. The tetras were abundant, but not nearly so curious - they'd bolt as soon as they spotted me. I didn't get a good enough look to identify them, but they're about three inches long and have a prominent black stripe through the root of the tail and not much other color. Kinda like having an aquarium you don't have to take care of.

Down along the shore, the tenant had planted some tropical ginger, which is now in bloom. It has a beautiful, even gaudy blossom, dark red with white, zig-zag lines and white borders along the petal boundaries, and about three inches across. Haven't seen it in bloom before. And there's even more blossoms on my snakeroot plants - tonight will be a night heavy with the orchid-like fragrance of those delicate white blossoms.

A large clump of heliconias, near the west end of the lake, are also in bloom. Big, huge, gaudy red and yellow lobster-claw blossoms. Some of the most impressive heliconias I've seen, and I'm pleased that they're right here in my garden. My botanist friend tells me they're a local species, and not a cultivar, either. Just the native species as it comes straight from the jungle. Tomorrow, I'm going to take some pictures for my wallpaper page.

And in the big mango tree, the old one that has a trunk almost six feet in diameter, there are some epiphytic native orchids in bloom. Not much to look at, I'm afraid, small, green, inconspicuous blossoms with no fragrance to speak of. But hey, they're orchids I don't have to cultivate.

I found out why I haven't been finding any ripe bananas on my banana plants. The blossoms are there, and there's lots of fruit spikes with young, immature fruit, but somehow nothing ready to eat - all gone from the fruit spikes. Well, it turns out that there was a hole in the fence that the neighborhood kids have been crawling through and stealing the ripe ones. Can't blame them, and if I said I'd never done that sort of thing as a kid, I'd be lying. So it's off to the hardware store tomorrow for some barbed wire and some staples and fence pliers. Gotta fix that one! Got some other fence work to do, too.

This evening, we had one of the most impressive sunsets I've seen since I've been in the country. Huge cumulonimbus clouds in the east, lit up in the bright orange light of the evening. Just gorgeous!

Well, the power was off for most of the day, as ICE said it would be, so the ironworker didn't bother to show. Not that he would have been able to do anything, but it would have been nice if he'd told me he wasn't coming. He did meet up with one of my friends in town, and told him that he wouldn't be by and asked him to tell me. But that wasn't what I was expecting - I would have liked him to show up so I could ask him what his plans were for the rest of the work I've asked him to do. The power was back on by a quarter to three, and he could have gotten some work done in any event. But he didn't show, and that didn't surprise me. Ticos can be like that - this is the land of Pura Vida - taking life easy and enjoying the beauty of it all. How well I'm getting to know that.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:57:40 PM

Sun, Mar 28 2004

Sunday Morning In Paradise

Paradise is not a word I'm much inclined to use, but the longer I'm living here, the more the word seems to fit. This morning was a good example of how beautiful this place can be. It rained during the night, but by dawn the rain was over, and the dawn was bright and sunny, with just a few clouds illuminated by the orange light of dawn. Once again I awoke to the distant sounds of howler monkeys in the jungle west of my property, and the sounds of birds as well - lots of birds. There have been more than 420 species of birds that have been identified here, more than exist in all of North America. Many are brightly colored - a frequent visitor to my garden is a yellow-breasted flycatcher, of which there are several species here. There are some small red flowers by my kitchen window, and they seem to attract rufous-tailed hummingbirds, a bright, metallic green hummingbird with a rust-colored tail. I've also seen a yellow-breasted flycatcher here, but with a sky-blue chin. Nothing like that in my guide book to Costa Rican birds - maybe it's a new species. As I write this, there's several of the many species of euphonias here, eating seeds from a tree near my dining room window. It's a dark purple bird with a yellow breast - looks like it was colored by a designer. One is carrying some straw in its beak - it's building a nest nearby, and I'm liking that. If I can spot the nest, I'll keep an eye on the family-raising efforts as they progress.

Once I get my tools out of storage, I'm planning to get some stone paths built through the garden. The grass is often wet enough that it's unpleasant to walk through, and I need some stone paths to solve that. And I need some steps to get down to the pond as well; the tenant started cutting some, but stopped when he found out he was going to have to move, leaving behind some crumbling, muddy clay steps. I need to finish what he started. I've also got to get the patio covered, and remove the macadamia shells and replace them with some paving tiles, so I can put a hammock out there and enjoy the beauty of the garden while reading and swinging in a hammock.

Turned on my ham radio and my friends are already on there. The 7086 schedule on 40 meters seems to be coming back to life, mostly so one of my friends can talk to his wife in Belen. She's having us work the Weekend Edition Puzzler, and we're not doing too well - I haven't had my morning dose of caffeine yet, so my brain's only partially functional. So between transmissions, I've got some tea going.

When I'm done writing this blog entry, I can actually upload it from here at home, on a Sunday morning! I'm loving this!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:19:07 AM

Sat, Mar 27 2004

Lazy Saturday In Paradise

Woke up today to the sound of laughing falcons and howler monkeys in the jungle across the road. They make noise from time to time, but seldom very early. This morning, they were up about the time I wanted to be anyway.

Today's a Saturday, and I didn't have much on the agenda, but did have a few things to do. There's no mercado agricola (farmer's market) in this town, so doing that wasn't an option. But I did need groceries, so I got up and off to the small grocery stores that we have in this town, and got my usual grocery store supplies. I'll have to wait for the produce truck to come on Monday, and I hope that my friend who has a shop in town will call me when it's here. I'd love to get some produce - there isn't much in the stores, it's high priced, and not very fresh. So I'd love to get to shop off the truck when it's here on Monday.

I also stopped at the ferreteria (hardware store) in town and got some telephone wire and roofing tar. I needed the telephone wire for my internet connection, so I could have the modem convenient to where I set up my computer. The roofing tar was for two things - to repair a minor roof leak that I have, and to weatherproof a cable splice I had to make in the coaxial cable going to my 70 centimeter antenna. They had everything I needed, and I was soon back at the house at work.

I no sooner arrived than the gardener showed up who had been doing the grounds for the tenant. We settled on a price, and he will start Monday. The garden is a mess right now. It hasn't been raked in three weeks, and the bamboo has made a mess out of things, as has the bromeliads that fall off the tree limbs in a high wind around here. The grass needs mowing, and the flower beds could stand to be weeded. Glad he works cheap!

I got the telephone wire hooked up first. The wire that they use for that here is incredibly small - it's a pair of #24 wires in a rather light sheath, so the whole thing is about the diameter of a pencil lead. That didn't take long, and it was soon ready for an internet session.

Before I went on line for my emails, though, I was being bugged by the ham friend who helped me put up the bamboo pole two days ago, to get my coaxial cable extended for the 70 centimeter collinear antenna so I could get on the air and talk to him on it. I went to work on that, and about halfway through that project, the 10-meter band opened up, and this same ham friend called me to get on the air to take advantage of it. I did so, and what started out to be a half-hour project ended up taking much of the afternoon.

In the midst of doing the work, I heard a Japanese station, but they're common as dirt, so I didn't bother to call him. Later on, however, I heard a Canary Islands station, who was coming in quite strong. I talked to stations in Florida, California, and two in Arizona, one in Prescott and one in Sierra Vista. It was fun talking to folks from my old home state, who I could share war stories with.

This evening is a nice quiet evening, and I'm using it to get caught up on my emails and blog writing. I'll be on line soon, from my own house, using my own phone line. I'm liking that a lot. This place is slowly growing on me, and I'm liking it better all the time. Sure glad I decided to live here in Arenal, instead of buying the property I was looking at in Los Angeles Sur de San Ramon. The people and the climate are a world of improvement for me. Even though it's more isolated, and further from the Central Valley, it's more peaceful here, and the living is actually more comfortable. This is pura vida setting in. And I'm loving it.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:26:42 PM

Fri, Mar 26 2004

Online From My House!

For the first time since I've been living in the country, I can actually go online from where I'm living. The folks from ICE did, in fact, get my phone line cut over, and I'm up and running on my very own phone line.

I am using the 900 service that RACSA, the monopoly internet service provider, offers. It works out quite well - the cost is cheap, the equivalent of 2.6 cents U.S. per minute. Since getting a regular unlimited dial-up account is not so easy, and they quickly boot you off if you're inactive for just a few minutes anyway, the 900 service works out pretty well. Once you have set up a 'connectoid' you can use it from any phone you're plugged into (unlike a regular internet account).

Anyway, I got my email today while sitting right here in my living room, without having to pack up my computer to take it to an Internet cafe. That's truly wonderful! It also means I can be more consistent about getting my blog entries written.

After downloading my email today, I was offered a chance to go paddling out on the lake in an ocean kayak. I jumped at that chance. It's the first real chance I've had to go out on the lake and see what it is like. The water was a bit chilly, but not cold, and certainly warm enough to swim in without getting instantly chilled. The water is not terribly clear - visibility is about four or five feet, but good enough that snorkeling is possible, too. There are plenty of fish in the lake - I saw one small fish jump about three feet out of the water after a bug. In spite of my experience with tropical fish, I have no idea what kind of fish it was. Before I arrived, another friend had gone out and had tried his hand at fishing, but got skunked. The guapote, Costa Rica's famous game fish, abundant in Lake Arenal, eluded him. I suggested to him that he might have better luck in my pond.

The 40-foot bamboo pole that was erected yesterday has proven to be a big success. I got it stabilized with some properly situated hose clamps and now it's sturdy enough to support some other antennas besides just the two-meter and 70-centimeter collinears. So yesterday evening, I got the G5RV run up on the pole, with the apex at 35 feet, higher than I've ever had it. Unfortunately, due to the hills surrounding this house, it's not as effective as I had hoped, but works better than I expected when I moved here.

In any event, I'm a happy camper now. I've got TV worth watching, I've got internet from here at the house, and I've got lots of new friends in this little town. The weather's wonderful here, at least now, and the climate appears to be what I've been looking for. Life is good.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:56:52 PM

Thu, Mar 25 2004

Everything Happening At Once

Today was a happening day. Seemed like everything happened at once, too, and it got a bit difficult to manage. But the results were truly worthwhile.

I had expected the ironworker to keep his word and show this morning, but it didn't happen, so I figured that I'd find a few things to do to salvage the day. I was getting ready to head into town for an internet session and to buy a few things, but as I was driving out, I met my ham friends approaching the place with a forty-foot piece of bamboo tied under the frame of their car. We'd discussed the possibility of putting up the two-meter and 70 centimeter collinear antennas on a piece of bamboo a couple of days ago, but I didn't think they were all that serious about it. And I had no idea they were planning to actually do it until I passed them driving in with the pole.

I did a quick U-turn and headed back to the house, following the rather strange-looking contrivance of the pole tied to the underframe of the car. We got to the house and went straight to work, soon getting this really large (and still somewhat green and heavy) bamboo pole rigged and ready to erect. Fortunately, I'd repaired the pipe on the two-meter collinear that was broken by the cargo taxi on the trip up here on Monday. The glue was set enough that the pipe could be readily handled without serious risk of breakage, so we went ahead and strapped it to the pole along with the 70 centimeter collinear, and manhandled it into place. Lacking a better place to secure it, we fastened the pole to one of the corner posts of the uncompleted patio cover. It is a truss made out of re-bar, and is surprisingly strong, so it proved to be a satisfactory support. When the erection process was completed, we went for a leisurely lunch downtown. I was a bit concerned, because DirecTV had called yesterday, and said they'd be out this afternoon to install the dish for my DirecTV service, and I wanted to be sure to be there.

I was back just a bit after one, but DirecTV didn't show or even call until about three thirty. In the meantime, I spent the time getting my antennas secured and tuned. When they finally called, they indicated that they couldn't find the house, and so I met them where they'd ended up, and had them follow me back to the place. They went right to work.

Just as they were getting well underway, I had a call from the wife of the previous owner of the house, informing me that they were going to have a barbecue at their new office, and that I was invited. I told them I didn't know how long the DirecTV installation was likely to take, but I'd try to make it over if they were done in time.

As the installation progressed, more or less without a hitch, another truck drove up, this one from the contractor that ICE uses to install telephones. Trying to monitor the DirecTV install at the same time, I wasn't about the let the ICE crew off the hook, so I showed the ICE people where I wanted the telephone biscuit placed, and let them do their thing while I was watching the DirecTV crew doing theirs.

The ICE crew informed me that since I was the owner of the house and was requesting that the tenant's line be disconnected, they could switch the service over from the tenant to me, by simply assigning a new telephone number at the central office, and I'd have telephone service "ahorita." Well, that word means basically anytime from now till hell freezes over, so I still don't know when the phone will actually be in my name, but I gather that they're expecting me to use the tenant's number until they get the change made in the central office, since he's not in the country and won't be here to pay the bill anyway.

In any event, the ICE contractor was done before the DirecTV contractor was, so I was soon left with just watching the DirecTV installers doing their thing. It didn't take them long. Within an hour, they were gathering their tools, and I was sitting here watching BBC World again. Hooray! I now have something to watch besides the car crashes, drug busts, and murder investigations that are the standard fare Tico over-the-air television news broadcasts, followed by game shows and the incredibly sappy novelas (soap operas) that make up the bulk of Tico television.

After completing the installation, it was still an hour before dark, so I headed over to the barbecue, packing my ham radios into the car since I was going to be gone for several hours and didn't want to leave them in this still-unsecured house.

The barbecue was wonderful, even if I was a bit late and the food was cold when I got there. Had one of the best steaks I've had since I've been in the country - and found out where the meat came from. There's apparently a carniceria (butcher's) truck that comes through Arenal three times a week. The butcher who drives it raises his own beef, slaughters it himself, and sells it on a circuit tour in the area. I've left word that I would like to be called when he's in town, and I'll rush over and get some really good beef for a change.

The weather for the barbecue was outstanding, as is usual here for this time of year. It was in the low 70's - typical for an evening temperature, and it was almost totally bug-free, too. Made for a very pleasant evening with new friends here in this small town. Returning home, I unpacked the radios and hooked them back up so I could listen to the BBC while writing this blog entry.

The windows are open, and the cool evening breezes are carrying the scent of the Sansvilla (snakeroot) plants that are in full bloom in my garden. The small but attractive flowers produce an incredible fragrance at night, and I've enjoyed it now for several nights running. It's even more sweet and attractive than the orchids and gardenias that are also in bloom. This pleasantly warm evening, spiced as it is by the fragrance of tropical flowers in bloom truly is "pura vida" - the life that I moved here for. I think I'm going to like this place - a lot.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:42:46 PM

Tue, Mar 23 2004

Just Another Beautiful Day In Paradise

I woke up this morning to a truly beautiful day. Hardly a cloud in the sky, and the unseasonable rains of recent weeks seem to be over for now, if not at an end. The temperature in the house was just about perfect, and I didn't have to face a tepid trickle in a freezing-cold shower like I have been. It was about as close to perfect as it gets - just the sort of weather I was hoping for when I moved to this country.

Had to go to town for breakfast, as I still hadn't managed to get my cocina electrica (electric stove) wired up. I have the food in the fridge, but didn't have a working stove to cook it on, so I had to go to town for a hot meal. No big deal, at the equivalent of $2, restaurant meals here are cheap. I needed to go to town for the materials to wire up the cocina anyway, and, if the ironworker didn't show, see if I could try to find him and find out why he wasn't here working at the place.

By nine o'clock, it was obvious he wasn't going to show, so I went to town for breakfast and some materials to do the wiring and start looking for him. After a leisurely breakfast, I went to the ferreteria and got everything I needed - including some grey Scotchlocks, which I didn't really expect to be able to buy. But there they were - much to my surprise.

I hunted around town, and didn't find the ironworker. On the way home, I stopped at his house, and asked his wife - she didn't seem to know either, or wasn't telling, more likely the case. Anyway, I went home and started work on the wiring project.

While working on the wiring job, the ironworker drove up on his little motorcycle. He explained that because I wasn't around, he had to work on some other projects for other customers, and when I hit him up about the square tubing he used for them that I'd paid for, he indicated that he really had meant it to be for his other customers, not for my project, and that taking what I paid out of his wages is fine with him. He said he'd be here on Thursday to resume work, and would have it done by Friday at close of business. I'll believe it when I see it - especially the 'done by close of business on Friday' part.

I decided to take advantage of the dry weather to get some laundry done. I was out of detergent, so I walked up to the little pulperia (country store/community center/ two-seat diner) two blocks from my house, to buy some laundry powder. Glad I did, too, because when I got there, I discovered a poster from the aqueducto (water cooperative) informing everyone that tomorrow, Wednesday, they'd have the water shut off all day because they needed to clean their tanks. Suits me just fine - the water's been a bit dodgy lately, and with a lot of sediment. Hope that fixes it at least for now. What they didn't explain is why, if they have more than one tank, they couldn't do them in sequence, one at a time, with the water remaining on, using the other tank. Oh well, not everything makes sense in this country.

My local ham friend here has been in Guanacaste, at the beach near the Nicaraguan border the last couple of days, fishing, snorkeling and doing some work on the property he has up there. He returned home this afternoon, and while he was traveling with his mobile radio, it gave me a chance to see how well this temporary two-meter antenna is doing. The short answer is not well. It's not very high off the ground (not even clearing the roof line), and down in this hole by the lagito (little lake), it's not getting out particularly well at all. So I think I'll have to get my two-meter collinear antenna fixed, and get it up on a serious bamboo pole before I'll be able to get out very far. Not exactly news to me; I'd figured that would probably be the case. So I'll have to have a tower fabricated if I can't find one to have taken down and moved to my place. Not a really big deal; the biggest cost will be just buying the steel. I figure if I get it up about eighty feet, I'll have the problem solved - a beautiful place to live by a charming little lake, and still have a good ham radio location.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:59:26 PM

Mon, Mar 22 2004

Moving Day

Well, my plan for getting moved came off without a hitch. I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, showered quickly in the frigid morning air of the cabina, and got the Dodge loaded with what remained of my goods - including the bedding I'd slept in. I carefully packed all my radios in the comforter so they'd have a gentle ride, set the pillow on the floor of the car in the front passenger seat, packed the radios on top of that, and I was off to town.

I had a pretty early start, so the usual breakfast spots in Los Angeles Sur weren't open, so I shined that on till I got to San Ramon. I found an all-night soda (diner) and had a leisurely breakfast. The place was pretty dodgy, but hey, it was food, and I was hungry. So I downed breakfast and headed to the post office to collect the last of my mail and turn in the key to my apartado (post office box) in San Ramon. I put a forwarding order in on my mail - good for thirty days - and headed over to the DirecTV agent's store. I got there just as the owner's wife was opening up. She indicated that he'd have to call me - so I gave her my phone number and I was out of there. It was then off to the Parada de Cargas (cargo taxi stand), to see what it would cost to get a cargo taxi to take my goods to Nuevo Arenal.

Well, I found three cargo taxis waiting for fares, and so I had a bit of a choice. I picked the one that had a bunch of ropes and some cardboard in the back, which could secure the appliances and serve as packing to keep the appliances from rubbing against each other and getting all scratched up. I asked the price, and found it was just about exactly what I was expecting - 40,000 colones, about $93. In my fractured Spanish, I managed to get across to the driver that he needed to follow me to my house in Los Angeles Sur, and collect my stuff, then follow me to Nuevo Arenal. He was complaining about the condition of the roads up here, and that I'd have to transport my stuff in the rain. I told him that since it was just appliances, the rain wouldn't be a problem, and that the road had been mostly repaired, so it wasn't all that bad. I told him to expect about a three hour trip each way. He agreed, and we were off.

When I got back to the cabina in Los Angeles Sur, the weather was in its usual full-on La Penitencia mode. Thick fog, drizzle, high winds. That meant it would be high winds, wet roads and pea-soup fog at least as far as Bajo Rodriquez, about halfway through the trip. I didn't know how the driver would react, but I figured he'd seen it all before, and would be willing to proceed. He complained a bit, but the prospect of a $93 fare was too good to pass up, so off he went into the fog and drizzle. I had a good look around, making sure I had everything, and set the keys on the breakfast bar as I told the landlord I would, pulled the door closed and locked behind me, and I was out of there for the last time. I'll miss the view and my neighbors, but not the horrible weather of the place.

Within about ten kilometers, I'd caught up to the cargo taxi. He was driving like a typical Tico driver - as fast as the tire traction and understeering through the curves would allow, fog or no fog, wet pavement or dry. I had some difficulty keeping up, of course, and frequently got some distance behind, but always managed to catch back up. It was a bit unnerving, to say the least, watching my goods bouncing good and hard when he hit a pothole without slowing sufficiently. At one point, the refrigerator bounced up and fell backwards against the ropes - almost tipping over - but the ropes held, and it soon settled back down onto the bed of the truck. The driver had roped the fridge with the condenser coils against the bed stakes - I protested, but he insisted that's the way it needed to be hauled. And with the fridge literally bouncing off the bed of the truck, I was gravely concerned that it would break the coils and the fridge would be ruined. The stove did manage to escape its ropes and ended up, face down on my communications cables, which fortunately prevented serious damage.

When we got to La Fortuna, we stopped so he could re-secure the stove and tighten the ropes on the fridge for the coming stretch of bad road between the Arenal dam and our destination in Nuevo Arenal. He knew the road, and realized that would be the worst part of the trip for bad roads and potholes. While there, we went into a little soda where he had breakfast and he bought me a fresco y naturale (fruit juice drink) - guanabana, my favorite. Soon we were off again, through the driving rain of La Fortuna. Lots of tourists in the town in spite of the rain. They were there for the volcano, of course, but they sure weren't seeing much. And it didn't look like they were going to, anytime soon.

From La Fortuna to the Arenal dam is probably the prettiest part of the drive. The road winds its way through primary rain forest, with trees more than a hundred feet high, with vines and lianas everywhere. With the fog and rain, the effect was magical - really a beautiful sight, but following this Tico driver, it was all I could do to concentrate to keep up, and I didn't spend a whole lot of time enjoying the jungle. That's for another day.

When we got to the bad stretches of road a few kilometers past the dam, they were in better shape than I had expected. The Ministry of Works had been there since I came home on Saturday, and had patched several of the more gaping potholes and had bladed the bare spots. Slowly, that road is getting fixed, but it still has a long way to go. We still hit our share of potholes, and the driver took several of them a lot faster than I'd figured he would, with the fridge bouncing a good foot off the bed at one point, and coming down hard. After seeing that, I wasn't holding out much hope that the fridge was going to survive this trip.

When we arrived in Nuevo Arenal, I signaled him to let me ahead, and I had him follow me to the house. We worked our way slowly down the lastre (gravel) road to my house, picking our way between the big rocks, some of them a foot across. Why they used such coarse lastre on this road, I'll never understand, but they did, and we had no choice but to pick our way down the half-kilometer of the stuff. Finally at the house, we unloaded the appliances and my antennas (one of which got broken, but it will be easy to repair) and the cable. Once the fridge was in the house, I had a good look at the coils, and while the paint was rubbed away, there was no other visible damage - it was cosmetic. I plugged it in and the compressor came on and ran just fine, and no evidence of any coolant leaks. There was nothing to do but pay the driver and send him home. The fridge began chilling right down. Working fine, much to my amazement after all that rough treatment. Whirlpool makes sturdy refrigerators, that's all I can say!

We had arrived at noon, and I'd hoped that the ironworker would be here working on my shutters. Turns out he wasn't, which wasn't much of a surprise to me. His stuff was out of the house, too. I called my friend who had stayed in my house Saturday and yesterday to find out what he knew, and he said that he'd been working on what looked like a project for another customer. Using steel I'd bought for this house. I'm not too happy about that, and I'll let him know that I expect him back here to finish up my project. The cost of the steel will come out of his bill, of course.

Since I had my radios with me, as soon as I was unpacked and rested up a bit, I threw up an antenna to see what kind of results I'd have on my ham radio. I was delighted to discover that I have an almost zero noise level here - very little static from the town - less, even, than I had in Los Angeles Sur. I have the antenna up at only about fifteen feet, all I could do quickly, but I got on and talked with a friend who is at the beach on the Pacific side, near the Nicaraguan border. He had a great signal - and gave me a good report too. So maybe this place won't be the black hole for forty-meter communications that I'd feared.

I then turned my attention to seeing what will be required to get my stove wired up. I had noted some time ago that the breaker on the panel that was marked "kitchen outlets" was a 50-amp breaker. So I had some hope that it would be wired with a heavy wire that would carry that kind of current. I identified the outlet in the kitchen which was fed from the panel, and opened it up to see. What luck! It is wired with a number six wire, so no problem using that circuit for the stove. All I'll need to do is to plumb a circuit over to the stove. Made notes of what it will take, and I'll get the stuff from the ferreteria (hardware store) tomorrow. They should have everything I need, since it's all common stuff.

Tomorrow will be the first full day here, all moved in. There are still plenty of things crying out for attention, like wiring the stove, but at least the place is livable. I can tell the ironworker that there's no excuse for not finishing my job, since I'll always be here now. No more trips back to the frigid, howling windy weather of La Penitencia. I'm here now. And I'm really liking the fact that it's actually warm here. I can walk around the house in my bare feet without my toes getting cold. And a high wind here is one that rustles the leaves in the trees. No flies either. I still have yet to use my new flyswatter. I'm going to like this place a lot better than La Penitencia.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:35:34 PM

Sun, Mar 21 2004

Moving Out Day

I''m back in Los Angeles Sur, writing this in a pretty-much empty cabina, after having spent the day packing up all my stuff and putting it in the back of the Dodge. With the exception of my appliances and radio and computer equipment, all my stuff is loaded and ready to go. My plans are to finish loading and go to town as soon as the stores are open and close my apartado (post office box), and then go to the DirecTV agent and get the agent to order de-installation of the dish, and reinstallation requested for Nuevo Arenal. No utilities to discontinue - they're all in my landlord's name. I spoke with my landlord about the DirecTV dish, and he wants to have them coordinate the de-installation with him, so he can ensure that the roof is properly patched. I'll then head for the Parada de Cargas (cargo taxi stand), and see how badly I'm going to get raped to get my appliances hauled to Nuevo Arenal. If it's not too bad, and the cargo taxi can do it immediately, I'll have them follow me to Los Angeles Sur, load the remaining stuff and then follow me to my new house in Nuevo Arenal. Plan B, if they're too expensive, is to make two additional trips, hauling the washer and stove in one trip, and remove the back seat from the Dodge, leave it in Arenal, and haul the fridge in the back of the Dodge, on its side. I really don't want to have to do that; it's a last resort, but it's what I'll do if I'm really desperate.

The landlord was by this afternoon, checking out the place, getting ready for the next tenant, who's already waiting to move in. Seems there's quite a shortage of rentals around here, and places don't stay vacant for very long. The rents are going up as a result, too, and that seems to be stimulating some building around here. Same is true for Nuevo Arenal, where the rental shortage is even more acute. I may take advantage of that and build some small cabinas like this one on the north side of my property, on the other side of the pond, and use them to generate some income. Might be a way to make some bucks.

Yesterday, I drove down from Arenal and spent the afternoon taking down my two-meter and 70-centimeter ham antennas. They're along side the house now, waiting to be loaded, along with the heliax I brought back from Panama. They'll probably go in the camione (truck with driver) I'm planning to rent, and the only things that I'll have to load in the Dodge when the cargo taxi is here is just three sacks of groceries that are in the fridge. If the camione doesn't have a suitable way to haul the antennas, I'll have to load them on the roof rack of the Dodge. That will work, but they'd be over-sized, and I'd rather not have to deal with that all the way to Arenal.

Friday, the internet cafe was closed in Nuevo Arenal when I went there about four thirty, so I couldn't get my email transferred or blog uploaded. And I left town Saturday morning before they were open. That means email and blogs will have to wait till at least Tuesday, because that will be the first day I'll have time to deal with an Internet session. Tomorrow, Monday, is the transfer to Arenal, and getting moved in, which will take all day and well into the evening.

At least the weather cooperated with the move. The wind was howling like a banshee yesterday as is usual for Los Angeles Sur when I arrived, and it made taking down the two ham antennas a bit interesting, to say the least. No fog, or rain, fortunately, just high winds. But this morning, the wind was fairly moderate, so wasted no time in I getting right to work on removing the remaining 40-meter antenna. By far the biggest, it had three supporting bamboo poles, each thirty feet long, that needed to come down, and I was scared that a high wind would make that a bit dangerous. But I lucked out, and when the poles had to come down, the wind was moderate enough that they weren't hard to take down with controlled crashes. It wasn't as bad as I had feared, because the poles had dried out considerably since I put them up four months ago, and they weren't all that hard to handle. I got the poles on the ground, wrapped up the guy ropes and antenna wire, and put it all away, and was done by noon and spent the rest of the day loading the Dodge. I've left the bamboo here in case someone else wants to use it. My landlord says he may want it.

Walked around a bit in the neighborhood this afternoon, and enjoyed the views for the last time. They're spectacular, and that is about the only thing about this place I'll really miss. My place in Nuevo Arenal has no real view, though the garden is spectacular. But the garden I'll have to pay for - it's big enough (almost an acre) that I can't maintain it by myself, and so I'll have to hire a gardener. Didn't want to have to have an employee, but I think it will be worth it for the spectacular garden that the place has.

This morning when I got up, I found the first tick on me since I've been here. As ubiquitous as they are around this particular area, I'm surprised I haven't had any before. It was on my ankle, and hadn't gotten firmly attached, but was working on it. Ticks are a constant problem here, anywhere there's a pronounced dry season and cattle have been pastured in the past. In Arenal, it's wet enough that there aren't that many around - they're discouraged by the fairly constant supply of moisture. Another thing that Arenal doesn't seem to have much of is flies. I bought a flyswatter the day I moved in up there, but have yet to use it. Here, they're buzzing around me constantly, and they're a real nuisance. That's surely one thing about this place I'm not going to miss.

Well, enough blog writing for tonight. I've got to head for Mi Rancho, the town's only restaraunt, and have some dinner. Haven't had anything to eat all day, and I can't cook, since the stove is already disconnected and ready to move, and all my utensils are packed. So it'll be my last dinner at Mi Rancho. Tonight, a quiet night in the cabina, hopefully for the last night here. And tomorrow, it's the start of a new life in Nuevo Arenal.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:16:46 PM

Fri, Mar 19 2004

Friday And More Rain

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, bright and sunny most of the time. But today I woke up to more rain. Craziest "dry" season on record. It wasn't just a bit of a nuisance rain, either, it was a full-scale downpour. There were rivulets running down the road in front of the place and some tree limbs were down - and I expect that if I drive to Canas today, I can probably expect to encounter some landslides. I drove into town for breakfast, and had the wipers on full-bore the whole way. It is just like the full-on rainy season, but this is supposed to be the driest part of the year. Everyone in town seems to be wondering if this is an early sign of global warming changes. Sure hope it isn't like this every year. If it is, I'll never get this roof replaced.

I tried out the 900 number for RACSA service yesterday, from the Internet Cafe here in town. It took a bit of doing - I had to get on with a RACSA support person, but in a few minutes, we had a connectoid built, and it worked, and I'm up and running. In fact, all the blogs through yesterday were uploaded through that connection. I had about 300 emails, and that took about ten minutes to download on the 56k connection. But everything worked, and I'm in good shape. I now have connectivity here in Nuevo Arenal - after a fashion. Don't have to haul my computer all the way to San Ramon to upload blogs and transfer email anymore.

As soon as I got home yesterday, I started working on the email. What a pile of it! Turns out that my web page on gay marriage has risen to fourth place in the Google rankings, and with the controversy in the U.S. right now, it's getting about 10,000 hits per day. That means it generates a lot of mail - about 20 messages a day by itself, and lots of people explore the rest of my site too, and that means a lot of hits for other pages that don't normally get read very much. I now know what it's like to be the webmaster for a popular site - it means lots of work answering email. I fully expect it will remain like this through the controversy on gay marriage, which, of course, is an election-year issue in the States, so I'll probably be going through this for the rest of the year. Not looking forward to that!

While in town yesterday, I found out why the ironworker didn't show yesterday as expected. It was the reason I'd figured - he'd had a bit too much to drink, and was still drunk when I saw him on main street. Hey, I like the guy a lot, and he's a terrific welder - very skilled, and good at what he does, friendly and with a sharp sense of humor, but this sort of thing isn't getting my shutters hung, and I let him know I wasn't too pleased. He flat out demanded an advance on the money I owe him, and since I owe it to him, I couldn't refuse. So I don't expect him to show today, either. Now I've got to figure out how to get him sobered up so he'll finish the work. I am going to have to discuss this with a friend of mine whose lived here for years and understands the situation very well. I'll see if I can just pay his wife, and that will get his bills paid and keep him from drinking up his earnings.

The ironworker didn't show today, so to keep from having the day be a total waste, I decided to go get the Riteve inspection done on my car. That meant a 35 mile drive to Canas, about an hour's trip given the roads, and an 8,000 colones payment. I got there around half past eleven, and was the third car in line. No big deal, as it turned out. The inspection was over in half an hour, and much to my great surprise, it passed, with just one minor issue - I had to remove the window tinting film from the rear window. It was something I ylike anyway, and with some careful peeling in the parking lot, it was off and out of the way. The Riteve technician put the brand new yellow sticker in my window and I was on my way.

Arriving back in town, I met up with my friends at the new soda in town and had lunch there. It was a bit pricier than the other place, and the food was about the same, so I don't know how much I'll be eating there. But it was fun talking with the owner. She's a local gal, who is well connected with everyone in town. After lunch, I went to the hardware store and bought a new faucet for the kitchen. The old one was pretty well shot - it showered you every time you turned on the cold water. And checking it out revealed that it was too corroded to be worth fixing. So 7,000 colones later - about $16, I have a brand new one on the sink, and it's working much, much better.

The friends I had lunch with are also moving to town, and their house isn't ready to move into yet, so they are camping on the floor of my spare bedroom. I don't have a spare bed yet to put them in. So they just brought an inflatable mattress, swept the ironworker's tools and debris aside, filled the mattress and that is going to be home for the night. They also brought a couple of kayaks with them which they're storing in my living room for now, as they're going to start a roadside kayak rental business, and this is their first two. Different models they wanted to try. They took them to the park, just down the road from me about five blocks, and they're going to put in the lake there and paddle around a bit. It'll be interesting to see how they like it.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:20:34 AM

Thu, Mar 18 2004

Another Fine Day - But No Progress On The Gratework

Today's another fine day in Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica. Beautiful weather, for a change from what we've been having. It started out rainy during the night, but broke up at sunrise, and now the weather is beautiful. Sunny, generally, but with a few, fast-moving clouds to break up the sun.

The ironworker never showed up for work today. Didn't surprise me. When I took him home last night, he asked to be driven by another customer's place, so he could collect for a previous job he'd done. When I saw him walking out of that person's house, stuffing a wad of bills in his pocket, I figured he'd probably head for the bars. And not come to work today. He's a great guy, terrific welder, but not terribly reliable because of his drinking. Too bad, too. He is intelligent and talented, and could go far if it weren't for that problem.

So I took advantage of his absence today to get caught up on my email. I'd had about 40 messages left over from last week that required responses, so I went to work this morning and got them done. Finally. They've been weighing on my mind since I downloaded my last email on Saturday.

This afternoon, I'm going to go up to the internet cafe here in town, and borrow their dialup phone line. I'm going to see if I can get the 900 number working, so I can get online here in town, at least long enough to get my email uploaded and downloaded. I've not attempted to use RACSA's 900 service before, but it will be interesting to see if it actually works as advertised. It'll be a big help if it does. Since the owner of the internet cafe is the wife of the man I bought the house from, they're quite happy to let me use their phone line for a 900 call. I'm also going to get a new kitchen faucet and replace the one in the kitchen sink. When you turn it on, it leaks around the spigot fittings quite spectacularly - more is lost to the leak than makes it out the spigot. I took a look at it, and it's all corroded away - no way to salvage it, even if I could get the parts. And a replacement is only about $15 anyway, so there's not a lot of percentage in trying to repair it.

I'm going to go ahead and get some roof sheets to cover the patio area, so I can put up a hammock. I really miss that from my first days in the country, and would like to have one so I can relax a bit. Since my couch is still in storage, the only place to relax right now is the bed, and that's not terribly suitable for sitting around to read.

Tomorrow, if my ironworker fails to show again, I think I'm going to drive my car to Canas and get the Reteve inspection done. I know it will flunk, but I need to at least get the ball rolling, so I can do what they insist on my getting fixed, and I can get the sticker renewed. It's a hassle, but there's little I can do about it. It has to be done.

I've also got to get the ball rolling on travel arrangements for my visa renewal, which is also coming up next month, too. I've asked a friend of mine if he'd be interested in a trip to Bocas Del Toro in Panama, but the answer was uncommittal. If that doesn't work out, I may just head for Nicaragua again and do the easy, quick and cheap way out. It comes at a bad time - right in the middle of the move, but it has to be done, and can't be postponed. Sure wish I had my cedula (ID papers and residency permit). Then I wouldn't have to deal with this.

This weekend, I think I'm going to head for Los Angeles Sur and finally load my stuff to bring it back here. I'm hoping I can just hire a cargo taxi and bring it all back in one shot - that would certainly be nice. While in San Ramon, I've got to get my DirecTV account moved and also close my apartado (post office box) as well. And say goodbye to my landlord. That's about all that's left to do there. And I can finally say goodbye to the cold, fog, rain, wind and houseflies of Los Angeles Sur. And good riddance, too. I'll miss my friends, but I sure won't miss the climate or the flies.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 11:59:42 AM

Wed, Mar 17 2004

Pura Vida Kicking In

It's Wednesday, and finally the tenant's friend came by to get the last of his stuff. He was quite friendly and seemed in a good mood, so when we were done loading the last of the tenant's things, I asked him if we're done, and if there are any more issues that need to be sorted out. He replied that there were none of which he was aware. That was certainly good news for me - and I was glad to hear it to say the least.

With that issue out of my hair, I could concentrate on getting the security problems resolved so I can move in. The ironworker asked me last night to load the 1/2" pipe we had bought at the ferreteria (hardware store) early in the project, and take it back to exchange for 3/4" and meet him there at a quarter to eight. I did that, and was in front of the ferreteria on the dot, and he showed up a few minutes later. We traded in the two lengths of 1/2" for one 3/4" along with some additional materials, and the difference came to a whopping 150 colones - about 30 cents. I dug around in my pocket for some shrapnel, handed it to the clerk, and we were out of there.

Hanging one of the shutters, the hinged one in the front living room window, went well enough. It was up in a few minutes and ready for the security fittings. The other one, a slider, in the second bedroom, proved to be quite another matter. Our first attempt was to mount it on 1" pipe, through which we were sliding it along 3/4" pipe which was secured to the wall. That didn't work - too much friction. Just couldn't slide them without a great deal of effort. Back to the drawing board.

I hit on the idea of using rollers along the bottom to take up the weight. We worked out a scheme to make it happen and went to the ferreteria to see if we could secure the parts. No such luck. They didn't have what we needed. But when I saw what they did have - rollers used to suspend sliding commercial doors along C-channel - I hit on another idea. In my horribly broken Spanish, I explained it to the ironworker, and he agreed it would likely work. So we set about implementing it. Three hours later, it was on the wall and sliding back and forth, but not without a lot of effort - on the ragged edge of being acceptable. By now, the end of the day had rolled around, so fixing that problem will have to wait for tomorrow.

I'm tired to the bone, what with all the effort of helping with the ironwork today. Rather than suffer through a rather limited menu from my current kitchen situation, I decided that I really would like some real dinner, and went to town for real food. There's usually only a couple of places open in the evening in the vast metropolis of Nuevo Arenal, one a fast-food joint and the other, a pizza parlor/disco/bar. Fast food sounded better than slow pizza, even with a good beer, so I shined on the pizza and went for the pork chops over at Pipo's. The owner was in, and he's a rather friendly chap, and dinner at his hangout is always pleasant. So the pork chop it was, with French fries and a salad, and a mango fruit drink. I'd forgotten how good mangoes can be, and thoroughly enjoyed dinner.

Back home, I decided to sweep out the dirt left behind by the day's ironwork, so I did that, and just as I was finishing, the power went out. Power failures in Costa Rica are a frequent occurrence, but they seldom last long. This time, ICE tried resetting the line three times, but it didn't succeed. So I figured I was probably in for the long haul. I set down the dustpan and broom, and went outside to sit on the front porch in the rocking chair, and see if the clouds had parted and there were any stars. Indeed there were. First clear night since I've been in Nuevo Arenal, and with no lights, the star show was nothing short of magical. Lots of bright stars along the Milky Way, clearly in evidence, and the Southern Cross prominent in the southern sky. To top it off, the fireflies were out in force, winking their way through the darkness. With the warm tropical breeze, it was truly a special moment. It was pura vida - the pure life. What Costa Ricans talk about so proudly. And it is finally coming true for me. I think I'm going to like it here.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:39:20 PM

Tue, Mar 16 2004

Securing The Place Continues

The project for securing the house is continuing. I'm delighted with the way that the ironworker is getting the first two shutters built, and will soon have them up. We'd have had one up this afternoon, but there were some problems with fit, and they'll be solved with a trip to the ferreteria (hardware store) in the morning. In addition, we've got to change some pipe, which proved to be inadequately strong. We're exchanging that tomorrow. I've got to load the pipe up on my carrier rack and haul it to the ferreteria, and meet the ironworker there. Once we've got the right size pipe, it won't take long to get that shutter in place. Once that's done, we'll have two of the four in place - the two on the back side of the house, where they're needed the most.

I've also asked the ironworker to build me two steel doors; one on the front of the house, and one between the kitchen and the pila (semi-outdoor laundry room). Neither door is secure (in fact, they're both just hollow-core interior doors). Not a surprise that the house was broken into so much. Given the ease with which it could be broken into, I'm not surprised it was broken into more often than it was.

Anyway, once those doors are done, and the sliding doors on the garaje (carport) are installed, I won't feel quite so reluctant to leave the place with my goods inside. I'm also planning on hiring a maid to come in and clean, as well as house-sit, while I'm gone. That is commonly done here, and it is a good idea for keeping burglars at bay. Two for the price of one - I get a clean house and I get to keep my stuff. I also need to chat with the tenant's gardener, and find out what his price will be for maintaining the garden. It needs work, and it's big enough, it will eventually need a lot of it. I don't mind - I'd just as soon enjoy the fruits of someone else's labors.

The campesino who works a patch of corn and bananas on the north side of my property was here today, too, and I've finally met him. Turns out he's the older brother of the ironworker whose doing my security work. He informed me that there's a stretch of fence down, and that the cows can get in there, if I don't fix it. I think I'll make him an offer - I'll buy the materials if he'll set the posts and go staple the barbed wire to posts and the trees. I think he'll go for that, since he's using the land for free, and the fence is mostly for his benefit anyway. I walked out there and had a look - it's not really a big job, but he's right - it does need to be done.

The tenant's representative was supposed to come by yesterday for the last of the tenant's goods. He never showed, and didn't come by today, either. The ironworker told me he'd seen him in town last night, and reported that he said he'd be over tomorrow morning to collect for some of the stuff I bought, and pick up the last of the goods. I'll be glad when that's done and I can rest easy, knowing that this whole matter is finally behind me.

I went to the post office today, and rented a P.O. box. Now I can put a forwarding order on my box in San Ramon, and be done with that P.O. box. I also went to the aqueducto (water company) office today to try to get my water account set up before they cut me off, but the guy I needed to talk to won't be in until tomorrow. So that's going to be a return trip. But at the copy center, I got an extra copy made of my passport, so I'll have one to present to the aqueducto. They'll ask for it.

The weather was supposed to have cleared up by now. But it sure hasn't. Everyone's complaining that they can't do their painting or roof repairs, because the weather's been so bad. My ironworker has a standing joke with me. When I'm gone to the ferreteria, the sun comes out and it's nice. As soon as I return, it starts raining again. I guess there's a rain cloud following me around, like that guy in the comic strip of many years ago.

With all this rain, I'd have figured that I'd be plagued by mosquitos. But I've yet to see a one - so far, fewer than even Los Angeles Sur, which didn't have a lot. And equally delightful, no houseflies. Not a one. I bought a flyswatter at the market the other day and have yet to use it. What a blessed relief from Los Angeles Sur, where they're everywhere! The one insect pest that this place has, that Los Angeles Sur doesn't have much of, is "noseeums." Yes, those delightful little creatures that annoy you in the early evening. Don't recall the local name, but they're a pest between about four in the afternoon and sunset, but are seldom bothersome at other times of the day. Otherwise, there's proven to be little in the way of biting insects here. I've been warned, though, to keep my grass trimmed. Apparently mosquitos love to breed in tall grass that's wet. And here it's wet.

I saw my first cockroach here yesterday. In keeping with just about everything in this country being beautiful, even the weeds, this cockroach was quite unlike anything I'd ever have expected from such a critter. Instead of the usual dull chestnut brown, this fellow was shiny, metallic green. Rather pretty, actually, if you can bring yourself to call a cockroach pretty.

I met a delightful young couple - tourists from Germany - in town today, and had quite a long, enjoyable chat with them. They were asking about whether or not they'd have a chance at seeing the Arenal volcano, what with all this cloudy weather and rain. Well, unfortunately, when it's sprinkling here, it's usually pouring rain in La Fortuna, the nearest town to the volcano, and the town with the best views of all the action. I told them that they picked exactly the right time of year, but just happened to have picked the worst year in recorded history for bad weather on the mountain. They were determined to go to La Fortuna anyway. So we'll see if they get a chance to see anything in the two days they have left in the country. I doubt they will - the weather shows no signs of improving.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:52:06 PM

Mon, Mar 15 2004

Back in Arenal - And An Unpleasant Surprise

I spent yesterday at my rental in Los Angeles Sur. I was totally out of clean clothes, and badly needed to get some washing done. When I arrived at about eleven, I immediately set to work with my washing - and promptly ran out of water. I checked with my landlady next door, and they weren't getting water either, but soon it was back on, and my washing chores resumed. I washed clothes all day and into the evening, and fortunately, the weather was dry enough that I got it all done and hauled in before nightfall.

While doing the wash, I got on my ham radio and looked around ten meters - there'd been some indication earlier in the day that the band would be open, and indeed it was - wide open to the gulf coast of the U.S. I let out a CQ and promptly raised a fellow in Punta Gorda, Florida, and had a good long chat with him - just like I was sitting next to the guy. Strong signals, stable and not a problem copying him at all, nor him my signal. When I was done with him, I got a call from a station in Houston, who indicated that I was being heard on the Texas Link system, all over Texas, and there would probably be a bunch of stations wanting to work me. Indeed there were - for about 15 minutes, I was working a small pileup - one after another, with just a tiny bit of chat with each one. Turns out one had been to Costa Rica and knew right where I was. It was a fun experience being on the business end of a pile-up for a change. They'll all be QSL'ing to my San Ramon P.O. box and I hope I get the cards before I close that P.O. box. And of course, I've got to get a P.O. box here, now.

This morning, I had to return to Arenal, but only after a stop in San Ramon at the internet cafe, to get my email. I haven't been able to do that for a week now, and I've got a ton of mail, so that was getting urgent. Did that, and headed straight north, arriving in Arenal by half past eleven.

When I got here, I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise. There was no power in the house, and the wire on the tag on the meter had been cut. I figured that the tenant had skipped out without paying the light bill, and perhaps the ICE crew didn't have any more red tags, so they had simply pulled the meter, cut the power, replaced the meter, and left a cut tag on the meter, figuring I'd be having the power turned back on as soon as I found out anyway. The other possibility was that someone was trying to sabotage me, by getting me into trouble with ICE, through trying to get my power cut off and getting me involved in a theft-of-energy investigation. In any event, there was nothing I could do, as ICE's meter readers would eventually find the the cut wire on the tag anyway, so the best way out was to immediately report the situation. So I recorded the meter number and headed to the ICE office in Tilaran to pay the bill and report the cut wire on the tag, since the ICE office in Arenal was closed at the moment.

Now, ICE is nothing if not a savvy outfit. They go through this sort of thing a lot, and said they'd have a representative right over there to check out the meter and re-tag it. And sure enough, when I arrived home, they'd already come and gone - and a fresh tag was swinging from the meter seal ring. Turns out that the power was off because the ICE line crews were out connecting up some new power lines in the town, and had to cut power to the whole town to do it. The power bill was current, so there's nothing to worry about until next month's bill is due. It just means that I'll have to pay for the tenant's use of ten days of electricity, which, of course, I'll never collect, just like the previous landlord will never collect for the two months' rent owed him.

While in the ICE office in Tilaran, I applied for my telephone, too. Another 27,000 colones and change - about $63, for first month's service, installation costs and the ubiquitous 13% sales tax. I explained that I need 900 service and international service, and there's no problem - the line will have that. With that, I don't need a RACSA account for internet - I just dial a 900 number, and it's billed to the phone at 12 colones per minute - a little less than three cents.

I also found out that DSL service will be available in Arenal in August, if I live less than two clicks from the central office. Well, I'm about one click away, so later in the year, I should have DSL service. This will be way cool - I can finally have always-on broadband again, like I had in Phoenix. Constantly getting my emails, as they come in. Instant messaging, all the time. Download MP3's. Media streaming. I can't wait! I'll be plugged back into the world, once again!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:26:39 PM

Sat, Mar 13 2004

Final Removal Of Tenant's Goods

Today, the last of the tenant's goods are being picked up. Glad they're out of here, you can be sure of that. I now have an almost completely empty house, except for a dinette set and the bed in the master bedroom, and a refrigerator. Just about everything else is gone.

The ironworker and the glazier are coming by today, too. The window in the master bedroom has no glass in it (just a window screen behind a security grate - not all that uncommon here). I want a real window there, so I've asked the only glazier in town to come by and replace the old, glass-less wooden window with a new, modern aluminum window. The ironworker showed up just about on time, and about the same time, the tenant's friend came by to get the last of the tenant's goods. There was one padlock that had to be cut because the keys wouldn't fit, but soon everything that remained from yesterday was loaded, and he was on his way. Glad that is over - at least as far as I can tell.

The ironworker continued work on the shutters, and we were hoping that the glazier would show up, so we could install the window. Well, both the ironworker and the glazier have to be here at the same time, because the grate has to be fitted to the window as it's being installed. The glazier got the grate down while the ironworker was out to lunch, but he didn't return, and when the window was just about complete, we were concerned that the grate might not get reinstalled, and that would trap me in the house - I wouldn't dare leave, because of such a high risk of theft with a large, unsecured window, even one facing the street. About the time that the jalosies were fitted, the ironworker finally showed up, much to my huge relief, and went to work getting the grate ready for reinstallation.

Gratework here is often badly installed, and is quite insecure as a result. That was the case here - and one of the main reasons the place had been burglarized so frequently. The previous installation was using bolts run through the wooden window frames, and in addition, the grates were stood off from the wall by about two inches. Easy to chisel off the heads of the carriage bolts securing the grate to the window, and then pry the grate right off the wall. Ten minute job, tops. So we welded some tabs on the outside rail, to which we butt-welded some bolts to go through the wall itself, not the windowframe. That would preclude any attempt to chisel off the heads of supporting hardware. That was finally finished about the time the glaziers were done, and they left, so we began the final fitting of the grate. We held it up to the wall, checked to make sure it was straight, level, and would fit flush with the wall (so it couldn't be pried off), and proceeded to drill the holes.

This house is one of the houses built by ICE, the local power monopoly, to replace homes flooded by the rising waters of the Lake Arenal reservoir, when the dam was built about 20 years ago. ICE had promised the people of the old town of Arenal that they'd build them some solid, well-built homes to replace the ones they were losing, and they sure kept their promise. The house I'm in was supposedly just stuccoed cinder block, but the wall was so dense it took about 15 minutes to drill each hole with a brand-new masonry bit. With the hardware securing the grate to the wall, the only way that grate is coming off is if the bolts themselves break from being pulled.

Other projects: The house has been a rental for most of its existence, so there's a lot of deferred maintenance. The windows and doors in the house aren't up to much, and for security reasons at least, I'll have to replace the outside doors. The floors have a lot of cracks in them, not because the house is settling, but because the floors were poorly done to begin with. Most of these ICE homes have that problem, and it's easily solved by simply tiling the floor. I'll be doing that sooner rather than later, because the polished concrete floors are pretty ugly anyway. The stuff that matters, the foundations and walls, are pretty solid. Not much to do there other than a badly needed coat of paint, inside and out. The roof leaks a bit in a heavy rain, because one crown-piece of the fiberlite roof is lifted. I've asked the ironworker to build me some steel doors to replace the kitchen and living room doors, and once that is done and all the shutters are in place, this house will be about as secure as it is possible to make it. All in all, about $1000 in improvements. That kind of work here is remarkably cheap! The home improvement projects include having tile put down to replace the polished concrete floor surface, and in the shower as well, and then repaint the house, inside and out. It'll look much, much better. I'm also going to roof over a half-finished ramada (covered patio) out on the west side of the house, and put out some hammocks there amidst the Clemantis and Philodendron.

Went out and took another look around the grounds today. I discovered there are several species of orchids growing epiphytically in my mango trees. They look like they're about ready to bloom, too. There's one ground orchid on the property that has a big, showy flower like a Catteleya, but I don't know if that's what it is. It's known locally as the "flora por un dia," or, literally, flower for one day - the flower opens and fades in a single day. There are many other orchid varieties on the grounds, some of them epiphyitic, others terrestrial. Being the "dry" season, there are many other flowers in bloom here as well. I have quite a few varieties of Hibiscus, including most of my favorites. There's the famous lobster-claw Helconias, in several varieties, two of which are native to Costa Rica. There are several varieties of Ginger - the tropical species of which often have quite showy, tropical-looking flowers. I've got an unusual variety of Bouganvillea - one of my favorites - in full bloom in front of the house. And in addition to the ubiquitous bananas, I have a myriad of other fruit trees, including coconut palms, guavas, and others, many of which I don't even know their names. I was also pleased to discover that I have a Macadamia tree. Don't know if it's old enough to bear, but I sure hope it is. Love those nuts. And I have a Champion juicer now, so I can even make Macadamia nut butter! The tenant told me that the mangos still bear fruit, in spite of their age, and that I can expect heavy crops every other year. I'm hoping to acquire a chest freezer by then and be able to juice most of them.

The weather has continued with this unusual rain. It rained most of the day, on and off, until this afternoon, when it finally quit. This evening, the wind has come up quite a bit, and it's really, really windy out there. They're saying that this means an end to these freak rainstorms. Almost makes me think about being back in La Penitencia, a.k.a. Los Angeles de San Ramon. I'm going back there tomorrow, to begin the process of removal of my goods, and bringing them here. It's going to be windy, foggy and cold in Los Angeles, most likely. Not looking forward to that.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:50:49 PM

Fri, Mar 12 2004

Last Of The Tenant's Goods

At nine o' clock this morning, the tenant's friend arrived to begin the process of removing the stuff. By about half past eleven, it was mostly out. They began working on towing out the boat that was in the second bay of the garaje (carport). There was an old Toyota Land Cruiser in there, too, behind the boat, that was in the process of being restored when the tenant left. They had to find a tow-bar to tow it out, since the brakes weren't functional. Once into the yard, the rain hit the dusty windshield and turned it into mud, so the driver of the Land Cruiser smeared it around a bit, and they were off to wherever they were going with it.

After lunch in town, I was walking back to my car when I noticed that the tenant's friend was going into the office of the only lawyer in town. I had a bad feeling about it. Turned out it was related to a bad maneuver on my part, and I quickly backtracked as best I could, and tried to put things right. I believe they are, but only time will tell.

The weather today here in Arenal continues its strange mid-March rainy "season." It rained all night last night, and throughout much of the day today. No one here can remember a March like this, in either an El Nino or La Nina year, or an ordinary year. There have been occaasional March rains, but never for more than a day or two. But this year it's been going on for a week and a half, and shows no signs whatever of abating. The Ministry of Transport is back to its usual winter mode of landslide clearance and removal, and everyone's construction projects have ground to a halt.

Tomorrow, I'll finish the final removal of the tenant's goods, and at that point, the tenant's friend says he'll be all settled and he'll have no further beef with me. Glad to hear that. I'd rather be on good terms with everyone in this small town where, like every other small town in the world, everyone knows your business better than you do.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:20:06 PM

Thu, Mar 11 2004

Storm Blowing Over

Well, last night was interesting. After the tenant's friend's young nephew settled in for the night, I went to bed too, and was almost asleep when there was a knock on the door. Turns out the kid's sister showed up, and as it was too late for her to go home, she settled into the bedroom on the twin bed with her brother. Two for the price of one.

I didn't sleep well at all, as you can imagine, and by the time the morning rolled around, I was pretty well hammered from the lack of sleep, combined with the emotional trauma of yesterday evening's events. Finally, about four in the morning, I drifted off for about an hour or so. By five thirty, I was up and sleepless once again. The kid and his sister heard me stirring, and quickly got dressed, and beat a hasty retreat. Glad they were gone. Very glad.

My plan of attack was to go to the police and explain the situation and see what their reaction was. Well, the police reaction was far better than I expected. In fact, at one point, when I was explaining what the tenant's friend was trying to do, they actually burst out laughing. So I knew I had nothing to worry about. The police took a deposition, had me sign it, and I was on my way.

The ironworker came back and we spent the day working on the inside shutters that will make the house genuinely secure - at least in theory. The first shutter was almost done by the end of the day, when the ironworker went home, about the time that the tenant's friend was due to come by and discuss the situation. My friends called me on the radio and asked if I wanted them to be there as moral support. Now, one of my friends is as big as a football player, so I was glad to have him around for the intimidation factor, if nothing else. And the other was fluent in Spanish, helpful if the police showed up with the tenant's friend, and proved to be hostile to my situation.

Well, the confrontation I'd been dreading all day was over in a few minutes. He arrived without police, and when he left, and my friends came out from behind the house, where they'd been waiting discreetly. We discussed the situation and agreed that it was pretty much on target. One of my friends, who is just now moving here himself, decided that my offer to allow him to sleep in my guest bedroom was a better deal than taking a hotel room, so he's here for the night. Certainly companionship preferred to the tenant's friend's nephew and niece. Tonight, I'm going to sleep better than I have in a long time. Tomorrow, the arduous process of getting the tenant's stuff out begins at precisely nine in the morning. And it two days it will be over - the tenant's goods will be out, and I can move in next week. I can hardly wait!

The weather here in Arenal continues to be some of the worst anyone can remember for March. Rain much of the evening and night, and intermittently throughout the day - and this is supposed to be the height of the dry season. I'll be glad when it's over, and I can start enjoying some warm weather for a change. This morning's nice hot shower, with plenty of hot water, was certainly a refreshing change from the chilly dribble I've been putting up with for months.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:56:52 PM

Wed, Mar 10 2004

Welcome To Arenal

Got up early this morning, and drove to Arenal, hoping to arrive before the tenant in my house locked up and left. Didn't make it. He told me he'd be leaving about eleven AM, but when I arrived at ten AM, he'd already gone. The place was locked up tight as a drum.

So I went to the old landlord's office, and checked to find out if he'd left the key. I figured it was a long shot, and sure enough, no key. Since the tenant had put his own padlocks on the grate, but it didn't look like the door lock had ever been changed, I concocted plan B - cut the locks off the gratework, easy enough to do, and see if the landlord still had a key to the front door, from when he bought the place. I found the ironworker, and got him over to the house to get started on cutting off the old lock and putting on a new, more secure lock. Went to the ferreteria (hardware store) and got a lock, took it back to the house to give to the ironworker, and then went back to the old landlord's office. I asked if he might have an archive key to the front door. Turns out they had archive keys, alright. About five pounds of them, very few of them marked. I was told I was welcome to take the bag and go to the house and see if I could find one that fit. When I got back to the house, the ironworker had already managed to cut off the old locks and was already prepping the gratework for the new lock. I went to work, trying to find a key, and voila! The very second key-ring I tried had a key that fit. In an instant, we were in.

As I had suspected he would, the tenant had left everything in there, with the intent that his friend would sell it. All his personal property, with the exception of what he put in his suitcase and took on the plane back to the States with him, was left in the house, like he was planning to come back tomorrow. Food still in the fridge, clothes still in the closet, bedding still on the unmade bed, even a razor still in the shower.

For reasons that relate to having to life in a very small town in Costa Rica - you can well imagine the politics - I'm not going to go into all the gory details of what transpired when I was contacted by the tenant's friend, who had been given power of attorney over the personal property. But I will say that gory they were - legal threats, the whole nine yards. The upshot, for the first night at least, was that I am essentially being forced to accept as a guest in my own house, a nephew of the friend of the tenant, who was put here to guard the personal property from me, the landlord.

So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, so far, I like the place a lot. It's a beautiful place, with a well-manicured garden, and best of all, generally warm and comfortable weather - though the last two days have been rather chilly and quite wet - extremely unusual for March, which along with April, are usually the driest two months of the year. While the ironworker was here, I spent the day out in the gardens, cleaning up a bit, and generally enjoying the setting. The place is going to be reasonably comfortable; certainly a lot bigger than the place I have been renting. I can leave the windows open and ventilate the place quite well, too, even during a storm. It has screens on the windows - rare here!

Well, I'm going to go to bed now. And try to get some sleep. That's going to be difficult, not only being in a new house and a strange bed, but also having a complete stranger occupying the adjacent room. Something tells me it's going to be a long night - and most likely, rest of the week. I suspect that I won't be able to leave the place, for even a moment. I may even have to send out for food. Not looking good at the moment.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:49:42 PM

Tue, Mar 09 2004

Cold, Wet, Rainy Weather Continues

It's been cold, windy and foggy again. It just seems to go on. I'm wondering if we're going to have an early onset to the rains, as this seems to be happening all over the southern Caribbean basin, and it just doesn't seem to be going away. I hiked down the hill to visit a friend this afternoon, and it was chilly walking down there, and when I went home, about an hour later, at half-past four, it was downright cold. I was glad to get back to the cabina, and a flannel shirt. It wasn't long before I was putting on my sweatshirt on top of that. That's it for cold-weather gear; when I moved here, I didn't bring that much because I didn't expect it to get that cold. But it sure has. Los Angeles Sur is sure living up to it's reputation for cold, windy weather - even at a time of the year when it should be much more pleasant.

I was unable to wash today, because the water was off from the time I got up till about six this evening. Seems that the new house being built at the bottom of the hill is ready for the floor pours - and that means lots of water for concrete mixing and washup, and that could be why there was no water here at the top of the hill. When water is being used down there, the water pressure is insufficient to push water all the way to my faucets. So apparently that was the cause for the outage.

That's going to be a chronic problem on this hilltop from now on, apparently, too. My landlord tells me that when the new mains were put in to accommodate the subdivision going in next door, they were supposed to put in a two-inch main, but for some reason, a one-inch main was used instead. Well, ultimately, there will be something like 17 houses there - three are already finished or under construction - and that means that all those houses will have to share a single one-inch pipe. He says that when the agency that governs that here finds out, they'll be requiring the aqueducto (water service provider) to dig it up and replace it with a two-inch main. Well, don't know the truth of that; it seemed to me that they put in a one and a half inch pipe, but I could be wrong; I didn't actually measure it. In any event, it's apparently too small, and if it's not replaced, the water pressure problems here will only get worse as more houses get built and are connected to it. If the rainy season is starting again, digging that up will create another big, inconvenient mess, and I'm sure glad I'm not going to be around to have to deal with it. At least where I'm moving, I'll have too much pressure rather than too little, and that's easier to deal with. I looked all over town today trying to find a pressure regulator, but couldn't find one. I'll have to check with the AyA office and see if they can supply one.

My friend down the hill suggested that if I can't get a regulator, which would certainly be the cheapest way out, I could solve the problem by putting in rooftop cistern. That would ensure that the water pressure would always be the same (though lower than I'd like); it would allow air to come to the top and escape, and not get into my pipes in the house, and it would allow sediment to be settled out, which I could then bleed off periodically. That would solve all three problems for me. And it would solve an additional problem; it would enable me to have an adequate water supply during periods of time when the water is off.

I stopped at a tire and lube shop and got my oil changed today. It needed it already, after the trip to Panama and all the trips to Arenal, I've racked up 3000 miles in just a month and a half. And that's enough that an oil change is warranted down here. Since the place has a reasonably well-equipped tire shop, I decided that while there, I'd just as well get my tires balanced and rotated. Spin balancing is almost unknown here; there are few opportunities to drive fast enough on Costa Rican roads that most Ticos can experience the difference between a static-balanced and a spin-balanced tire. Since this shop could actually spin balance, I decided to have all four tires balanced and rotated.

For a long time, I have had problems with some significant wheel shimmy at about 55 miles per hour, a speed I rarely achieve, but do occasionally manage on long trips. Well, when he spin balanced the left-front, it became quickly evident that the tire was seriously out of balanced. Figuring that it might be a bent rim, we exchanged rims with the spare, and it still wouldn't balance. Apparently, it's slightly out-of-round, but since it was going on the rear, I didn't figure it would much matter. The other three balanced up perfectly. On the way home, I hit one short stretch where, when the transitos (traffic police) aren't around, I could get it up to speed and see if the problem was fixed. Sure enough, the car handles like brand new. What a difference!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:05:17 PM

Mon, Mar 08 2004

Done Deal - I'm In

Today I got up early, early as I could manage, and drove to Arenal to finalize the purchase of the house.

The trip up there today was in the fog and rain. The fog was thick, from where I live all the way to Bajo Rodriguez, about 28 clicks north of here, when it began to lift, intermittently at first. It was raining, too. Sure glad I decided to replace the wiper blades on my car last Saturday. Anyway, it rained all the way there. Big-time rain. By the time I got to La Fortuna, the rain was pouring down. So hard, in fact, that I found it difficult to navigate the streets of town. And it rained all morning, and into the afternoon. My friend, who runs the botanical garden there, has kept rainfall records for the last 11 years, and this is the first time he's ever recorded more than a half an inch in a single rainfall in March. No one in town, including the old-timers, could remember there ever being such a heavy rainfall in March. Usually, this is the driest time of year.

Did the deal - picked up my friend, to serve as an interpreter, and we went to Tilaran and Lawyer #4's office. We signed in, then the seller and I went to the bank and did the money transfer. Then back to the lawyer's office, to finish up. Within an hour, it was done.

We went back to Arenal and stopped at the ICE office to order electrical service. For telephone, I need to go back to Tilaran, and I needed a telephone bill from the current resident, which I didn't have, so there was no point in applying for a telephone while I was still in Tilaran. So I shined that on and figured I'll do that when I return later in the week. Returning from Tilaran, we came upon a landslide that was blocking the road to trucks and low-clearance vehicles. Fortunately, my Montero had just enough clearance to get over the mess.

Back in Arenal, I stopped by the local metalworker's shop and asked him for a bid on upgrading the grillework. He went over to the house with me, and we spent some time going over what I want. I should have a bid in a day or two. In looking the rest of the house over, I'm satisfied that there should not be much to do to get it livable. It has a roof leak, but the problem there was noted to be a loose crown piece, and that can be easily fixed. So I won't have to do a roof replacement after all.

The cabinet issue came up again - apparently, the current owner and the tenant didn't come to any kind of agreement - not surprising, given the attitude of the tenant. He's thinking that he can do as he pleases, including leaving his personal possessions in the house and have a friend come by and do a garage sale after he leaves. I think he figures he can stay till the end of the month. But that's not going to happen, because he's skipping out on the last month's rent, and I won't allow that. I've got news for him.

He'll be out in a couple of days, and as he walks out the door, I'll be right there, getting the keys and taking possession, and slapping some new padlocks on the front door grate. I don't know who all in town has been given copies of the keys, and I don't want to allow other people getting into my house, anytime they want, so it's going to need to have some new locks put on it immediately.

After getting the grillework bid, there was nothing left to do in town, and as it was half past four, I decided to go back to my present digs in Los Angeles Sur. It took the usual two and a half hours, and by seven, I was home.

Tomorrow, I need to get some more cost information on the cabinets at a couple of mueblerias (furniture stores) in San Ramon, and look for some of the other stuff I'm going to need once I've moved.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:15:00 PM

Sun, Mar 07 2004

Doing The Deal Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'm headed up to Arenal to do the deal. I'll be signing into the property, paying my money, and will walk out of the lawyer's office as the legal, registered owner of the property. The tenant who is in the property will be leaving on the 10th, and I'll be back, slapping some new locks on the place in a hurry, making sure that no one in town who happens to have a key to the current locks, can use them.

Today, I ran a load of laundry, which is almost dry only an hour after I hung it on the line. It's fairly dry today, but there are a lot of dark grey cumulus clouds - looks like a rainy season afternoon, but without the rain. Looking at a satellite map of the region yesterday evening, it sure looks like the Intertropical Convergence Zone is already just south of Panama - meaning that the rainy season is headed this way. If that's true, it's way early. We should have at least two more months of the dry before the Intertropical Convergence Zone gets here, and starts dumping water on us. Everyone has been marveling at how wet this dry season has been. I changed the wiper blades on my car yesterday, mostly to get ready for the vehicle inspection I have to pass at the end of the month, but if the weather stays like this, I'll need them for my travels before I need them for an inspection. I was interrupted during the process of changing them - by rain. It's just not supposed to rain here during this time of the year.

The temperature is very warm this afternoon, too - ideal, in fact. Rare, very rare for Los Angeles Sur. But I'm paying for it - the winds are calm, and that means the flies are out in force. Coming up from the polleria (chicken farm) down the hill, they're thick as, well, flies. Three or four are buzzing around in this room as I'm writing this, and the kitchen is full of them - a dozen or more. That's another reason I don't think I'd want to live here in Los Angeles Sur - seems like the flies never go away; they're just waiting for the chance for the winds to die down so they can come out to make your life miserable. Maybe some folks don't mind them, but they drive me nuts. I've never seen so many anywhere in this country as I have in this particular spot, but I suspect that the polleria may be the reason why. They're always more numerous in the tropics than in the higher latitudes, but they shouldn't be anywhere near as bad as this. I've never been in a tropical location where they were this bad - even in Africa, a place with a reputation for a lot of flies. I sure wouldn't buy a property anywhere near a polleria or pig farm - and glad I didn't go any further with the property I was looking at buying near here. And I'll certainly be carefully fitting screens to the windows of the house I'm buying.

While in Tilaran tomorrow, I've got to apply for a telephone, internet and power service as well as stopping at the lawyer and doing the deed. That's important to get that started, so I can have utilities when I move in. I want a wireline telephone, mostly so I can have internet access from home. That will be wonderful - actually be able to get my email, right from home, without packing up my computer and hauling it downtown! What a concept!

Once I get moved, getting some antennas up for my ham radio is a project that will have a good deal of priority. I have been having a lot of fun lately, tuning around on the PSK portions of the shortwave bands, monitoring conversations from stations all over the world. This new location won't be anywhere near as good as locations go, but I can get the antennas up three times as high, so that will more than make up for the difference. And I'll be closer to my ham friends, so can talk to them on two-meters much easier than I can now. This morning, I got on the ten-meter shortwave band, and managed to talk to my friend in Arenal, but through a repeater station in Michigan! The bands have been quite strange - strong signals, but with a lot of rapid fading - typical of unsettled geomagnetic conditions, probably the result of a solar flare. As I listen to the BBC World Service while writing this, the BBC's signal from Ascension Island relay station is rapidly fading - something I rarely hear from that transmitter.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:39:31 PM

Fri, Mar 05 2004

Adventures In Rural Electrification

Last night, I was watching television when all of a sudden, the light in the room got very, very dim - barely glowing at all. The lights on my radios didn't change, but they're on a regulated power supply. But the fact that I effectively lost one phase leg, told me that I'd best check voltages on the other phase before allowing anything else to continue to operate on it.

Having been through this many times in Africa, I knew just what to do. Because all the lights are on one phase in this house, and all the outlets and other loads are on the other, I figured that I'd best check outlet voltages, in case I'd lost the neutral or the phases had otherwise become seriously unbalanced, and the outlet phase was as high as the lighting phase was low. And sure enough, it's a good thing I did check. The lighting phase was only about 60 volts, but the outlets were at 160. Way too high to allow anything to run safely.

So I immediately unplugged the fridge and turned off all my radios, the computer and the DirecTV receiver. It was bed time anyway, and since there wasn't much I could do in the dark, I went to bed.

In the morning, I checked and discovered that the problem was still there, so I hatched a plan to save the food in my fridge. Knowing that there's quite a voltage drop on the very long electric wires that feed this place, I knew that if I put a heavy load on that phase, it would pull the voltage down low enough that I could run the fridge safely. So I turned on the electric stove, and sure enough, it dropped the voltage from 160 to 139, and I felt that the fridge would run reasonably safely on that voltage. So that's what I did.

I also took a long, steaming, hot shower this morning. It was the first really hot, abundant shower I've had since I've been in this house. The ducha (electric shower heater) is also on the outlet phase, so I knew that it would have better voltage than it's had since I installed it. I checked, and with it running, the voltage dropped all the way to 100 volts - plenty of ballast to keep things running well. Even on the low setting, it gave me plenty of steaming, hot water. Boy, did I enjoy that!

As I was preparing breakfast, I heard the refrigerator slow down. So I checked the lights, and sure enough, they were back on bright - the phases were balanced once again. Apparently, ICE, the power utility here, had suffered from a shorted phase during the night, and got out early this morning and fixed it. In any event, things are back to normal this morning, after a morning of all the voltage I could use and then some - at least on one phase. In a way, it was nice while it lasted. A hot, steaming shower, a stove that gets as hot as I'd like, etc. But given that I'd have to run the stove anytime I wanted to run the fridge, that wasn't a satisfactory situation in any event, so I'm glad it's fixed. I was ready to go follow the line and see if it was in the neighborhood, and then call ICE with the information. But that won't be necessary now, they found it on their own.

One of the beauties of living in Costa Rica is that even though these things happen often enough, they're generally taken care of fairly quickly. In Nigeria, when I was living there, this sort of problem would have gone on for days. And apparently, things are better here than in the neighboring countries. Both Nicaragua and Panama have privatized electric grids. Yesterday, an article in AM Costa Rica indicated that Nicaragua's power grid passes 54% of homes there, and Panama's grid passes about 60%. But in Costa Rica, the figure is 97%, and is still increasing. So even though the power here is "socialized," it's far better than the private systems next door. And certainly cheaper - power here is half of the cost of Panama, and as discussed above, far more widely available, and just as reliable if not more so. Sure seems to me that those privatized systems don't work anywhere near as well as the "socialized" power we have here, so it seems hard for me to justify in my mind the privatization schemes that are being pushed so hard by the Boys From Up North. That's probably why the United Nations has recommended ICE as a model for utility development in the rest of the Third World. The U.N. is suggesting what actually works - not what's ideologically satisfying to the free-market fundamentalists who ignore the realities on the ground when the realities conflict with their pet ideologies.

Weather here in Los Angeles Sur is full-on Aleutian Islands mode again this morning. Fog, high winds, drizzle and chilly temperatures again. It's not supposed to be like this in March, but this seems to be an unusual March. I checked the El Nino web site yesterday, and noticed that the Caribbean sea is about a degree warmer than usual right now, and so I suspect that may be the source of the unusual weather. Our weather here comes in off the Caribbean, and warmer water there means more clouds coming ashore. That would mean more severe weather here. If global warming continues, this would mean that Los Angeles Sur's weather will only get worse, not better. Sure glad I'm not going to be living here much longer.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:37:42 AM

Thu, Mar 04 2004

More Documents, More Bureaucracy, More Money

Today I've got to go get a personeria juridica drawn up. That's a document that states that I'm authorized to perform acts in the name of the corporation of which I happen to be the owner and president. Without that document, I can't have the house put in the name of my corporation. Not terribly expensive, but it isn't free, either. Mostly its just a nuisance.

I had suspected that I would need it, but didn't know until I talked to Lawyer #4 yesterday, and he told me that it was definitely going to be required, and that the selling corporation would also have to supply one. So I went to town only to discover that Lawyer #1 was out of his office, and I'd need to come back. I'm going to try to get that done today - if Lawyer #1 is in his office.

I also need to get some new wiper blades for my car, and get some caution triangles, too. Both will be required for the "Retevie" inspection - that's the combination safety inspection and emissions test, that every registered vehicle must pass here once per year. It's due at the end of the month, and I've got to get going on it. I'll have to go for the inspection and have it done, then go get all the things done that the inspectors insist need to be corrected before they'll issue the sticker. All that's got to happen before the end of the month. It comes at a bad time - I need to be getting ready to move, and I'll need to be driving a lot. Not sure I'll have the time to leave my vehicle at the mechanic's for any length of time. But it's gotta be done. If I have to, I'll just have to plan the move around it.

I've also got to go to the bank and get some money to pay Lawyer #4. Turns out that here, the buyer and seller each pay half of the fees of the cost of the transaction, which is principally the fees of the lawyer. His fees are fixed by the College of Lawyers, and the lawyer's fees are based on the value of the contract or transaction. So in this case, it will amount to a few hundred dollars. That's it - pay some minor taxes, and the place is mine, lock, stock and barrel. Cheap, easy and efficient. It can be done and completed in an hour. It's a whole lot faster and vastly cheaper than in the States, but there are a lot more risks, too - no inspections, etc., for which here, the buyer assumes the risk. So buyers here have to be very careful about due diligence to avoid getting burned.

One of my ham friends here is buying a parcel of raw land west of San Ramon in the hills near Piedades. It's a ridgetop, and he is well aware of the high winds that site will involve. But the price is cheap, and he can live off the grid there, and that's what he wants to do. The place has been used as cattle pasture for years, and there are cattle pastures all around him, so it's going to be Tick City, and I hope they don't drive him nuts. But he's aware of the problem, so he'll probably have to spray for them from time to time to keep them under control. That's the way it is around here - if there's a pronounced dry season, and cattle or horses have been grazing on the property or nearby, there will be an abundance of ticks, as soon as the rains end. Lots of folks who come here to buy land on the Pacific slope are quite unaware of the problem, and find out too late. There are three kinds - a tiny little thing the size of a grain of salt. They're abundant, but mostly in the weeds. There is another kind, quite similar to the dog ticks in the States. They crawl around, looking for victims, but they're not really abundant, nor do they move very far. Mostly they're a problem for cattle and horses. The third kind I've seen here are about the size of a house spider, and are black, with two little white dots on them. They move around quite a bit, and I see them here in this cabina quite often. They crawl slowly, and have kind of a creepy, omninous appearance to them. I've yet to find one on me, but I'm told that it's only because I'm lucky. Los Angeles Sur has enough of a dry season, and there is enough livestock around here, that ticks are quite common. Arenal is on the divide, so it gets enough rain all year round that ticks aren't much of a problem there.

The weather's finally improving a bit. It was actually warm yesterday afternoon, if a bit windy. The weather this morning was fairly warm, and the fog burned off as soon as the sun hit it this morning. So I'm hoping for better weather in the next day or so, or at least until the next cold front makes its way down through the Caribbean from Texas. Those cold fronts, when they make it this far south, bring a few hour's rain and about a five-degree drop in temperatures to Arenal, but here in Los Angeles Sur, they mean high winds, fog, light rain and chilly temperatures for a day or two - it's the full-on Aleutian Mode weather I talk about here from time to time. We don't get cold fronts often - usually three or four a year, but this year has been exceptional - just one after another. I'm wondering if it's a climate change thing, or if maybe it's an El Nino or La Nina starting up. The water in the Pacific off Costa Rica is where the temperature anomalies are often the greatest, and I'll have to check the El Nino web site to see.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:36:53 AM

Wed, Mar 03 2004

Laundry Day Again

I've got yet another load of laundry going as I write this - the second this morning. I've only got a limited number of clothes with me, and so I have to launder frequently to maintain a supply of clean clothes. I'm looking forward to getting my goods out of storage, so I can have a generous supply of clothes.

Since my wire transfer from my European banker came through yesterday, I'm good-to-go to finish up the transaction on the property in Arenal. I'm planning to go up there soon so I can get all the other things done I need to do up there imminently, while I'm waiting for the renter to move out - get a post office box rented, get a phone line ordered, get the power and water service in my name. And I need to get a bid on getting the grille-work security brought up to snuff. So I needed to get some laundry done so I'd have clean clothes for a couple of days at least.

The weather here in Los Angeles Sur was full-on Aleutian Islands mode when I got up this morning. The usual fog, high winds, cold and light rain. It was cold enough that I could see my breath again. As the day has been progressing, however, the fog has broken up, and when it does so, the air is startlingly clear - visibility is easily forty miles. I can see out to the Nicoya peninsula and over to the Irazu volcano from my cabina windows. But then the fog will roll back in, and it's a wall of grey again. And, God bless Costa Rica, it's warming up a bit, too. For people who prefer to live in a place where the weather is downright chilly far more often than it's too warm, this is the place.

I'm thinking of putting together a web page on moving to and living in Costa Rica. I'm getting occasional inquiries from readers of this blog on what it is like, and nearly every such inquiry includes evidence that the reader is still carrying around some misconceptions in his head. There are so many web pages out there paint a wonderfully idyllic picture - mostly because they're trying to sell real estate or plug tourist traps. I need to set the record straight, I'm afraid, so that at least my readers can come here with realistic expectations and know what to look for and what to avoid. That means I need to do a photography trip and get over to Zarcero, Palmares and a few other places before I move, to take a few pictures there and elsewhere, so people can get a better feel for what this place is really like.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:38:32 AM

Tue, Mar 02 2004

Telling It Like It Is In Latin America

Well, yesterday the end-game in Haiti happened; Jean Bertrande Aristide, the former president and, some would say, dictator, was spirited out of the country, so the CIA-sponsored death squads could take over.

To see the mainstream press portray it, he was a ruthless dictator who had no popular support, and the people were thrilled to see the back of him. As it turns out, however, a very quick check of more reliable journalism painted a different picture indeed.

For one thing, it turns out that it wasn't really a popular rebellion after all. It was fomented by a program set up by the U.S. Agency for Internal Development, USAID, an agency that often serves as a front for CIA operations around the world. They were apparently organizing all these thugs under the guise of a "democratic enhancement" program that has been running for some time. Well, they stockpiled the military supplies in Guantanamo, funneled them through Dominica in the guise of "arms exports" to that tiny Caribbean nation, shipped them to the Dominican Republic, where they were spirited across the border into Haiti.

All the Americans who watched film clips of the thugs roaming around Haiti, dressed in new fatigues, carrying new weapons and driving new pickup trucks, may have wondered if they were thinking at all, where all the money came from that paid for all of that fancy, brand-new hardware. Well, if they'd bothered to ask and poke around the net a bit, they would have quickly discovered that it was their own tax money at work, and the thugs they were watching were the same CIA-sponsored "Tonton Macoute" thugs that kept "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the previous dictator, in power - a man orders of magnitude more brutal than Aristide. And their tax money paid for U.S. marines who stormed the presidential compound at 2 AM, handcuffed a struggling Aristide, and hauled him away. Colin Powell's denials notwithstanding, there are too many eyewitness accounts which agree with each other for the story of his being kidnapped, to not have credibility.

Before you say that it was fine that the money was used to depose a despised dictator, I would point out to you that Aristide had far more support in Haiti than the popular press was suggesting. He had done a lot for the poor in the slums of the cities and the countryside, and if the popular Haitian press is to be believed, he still has a lot of support there, and the presence of American troops will be resisted. Yes, he did in fact sponsor his own thugs, and yes, he did in fact abuse human rights. No doubt about that. But so have a lot of other leaders whom the U.S. is clearly supporting. So what was his crime? Why did Bush want him out, when other dictators that Bush supports, easily get away with far worse? It was the use of state resources to build roads and hospitals in poor areas, and make at least a token effort to relieve the suffering of the poor. That was a crime that deeply offended the "libertarians" of the elite, and they wanted to put a stop to their tax money being used for such things. So they wanted him out. They asked Foggy Bottom for help in doing so. And help wasn't long in coming.

None of this was lost on Hugo Chavez, the current democratically-elected president of Venezuela, who Dubya doesn't like and whom the U.S. tried unsuccessfully to depose two years ago in a failed coup attempt. The CIA was caught red-handed supporting, organizing and financing the coup plotters - a fact that Chavez has hardly let anyone forget.

Well, yesterday's Costa Rican national paper, La Nacion, carried a front-page article about a speech Chavez gave over the weekend, in which he called Dubya a "pandejo." Chavez said that if the U.S. tried to pull off in Venezuela what they just did in Haiti, they'd never get another drop of oil from Venezuela (the fifth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, and currently America's largest single supplier of oil). The exact translation for the word he used to describe Bush depends on local culture, but in Costa Rica, it's the worst insult you can heap upon someone. It translates locally here literally as "coward" (but meaning principally someone devoid of honor) but apparently in Venezuela, I believe it translates as "asshole." At least, that's the translation that Reuters used in their article covering the speech.

Ten years ago, La Nacion would never have dreamed of carrying such an article about an American president, much less on the front page. The fact that they did so now, is a measure of how deeply unpopular George W. Bush Junior is down here. He's the first American president who has almost no popularity or support here in Costa Rica and is thoroughly hated and resented throughout the rest of Latin America. Indeed, even Ronald Reagan, resented as he was in Latin America, had some popularity here, but not Dubya. Junior's routinely seen as arrogant, chauvinistic, incredibly provincial and a toady for the rich and powerful, without an ounce of empathy or concern for the poor. Indeed, he's the first president to be the object of a significant amount of anti-American graffiti here. Scrawls using such language as "Bush fascista" and "Bush terrorista" are increasingly common, and such graffiti can be seen in just about any town of any size these days. And to get along here, I've occasionally had to make it quite clear that even though I'm a gringo, I support neither him nor his policies - and that I'm here in no small part because I don't.

I'm in downtown San Ramon as I write this. Just left the bank, and checked my bank balance. The transfer came through, so I can go up to Arenal and complete the transaction. The house is as good as mine.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:39:43 AM

Mon, Mar 01 2004

March The First And It's Still Aleutians Weather

Today's the first of March, and it's still like winter weather here in Los Angeles Sur. Fourth day running, and nothing's changed - still have thirty-mile per hour winds, light rain, fog and temperatures in the 60's. Hey, this is getting old. Sure looking forward to getting out of here.

My ham buddy from Belen is going to up to Arenal today, to do some more work on the house he's purchased up there. I'm planning to go tomorrow, if my wire transfer is here. I've got a lot of stuff to do up there to get the place ready, as I detailed in this blog last week. My ham friend who is living there, tells me that the weather has improved up there - sunny skies, temperatures in the low 70's, and the rain they've had on and off for the last few days has quit. I told him on the morning 'sked' that I'd like to have him contact the ironworker up there and make arrangements to go over to the place so I could show him what will need to be done. This friend happens to have been in the security business, so he can give me some good advice on what I need to do as well. Besides improving the gratework, we're going to look at some electronic countermeasures, too.

I'd like to replace the roof and ceilings before I move in - the house needs a ceiling replacement - but that's going to be a lot of money. I sure would rather not be living in the place when that's done, as it's going to be quite messy and that means that quite literally, I won't have a roof over my head. So it would be much more practical to get that done before I move, because it's going to take several weeks, minimum, to get that done. And I'd like to get the floors tiled, too. And paint the walls. Lots to do to get it fixed up the way it needs to get it really nice.

I also need to talk to the current owner about the shelving in the house. The current occupant, a renter, built lots of shelves in the place during the years he lived there, but intends to rip them out, simply because they're his property - he can't do anything with them, because he's moving back to the States, but that isn't stopping him from ripping them out and throwing them away. He claimed that the current owner, his landlord, never agreed to reimburse him for the materials, so he's going to rip them out. I wasn't told about that when I bought the property, and so I feel that the owner has a responsibility to me to ensure that they remain. The owner was going to talk to the occupant, but he hasn't reported back to me what they've agreed to, if anything. And I need to talk with the owner to find out. The owner has a strong incentive to come to terms - he's a realtor up there, and can't afford a bad reputation, so he'll have to do something to avoid gossip problems in that small town.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:40:51 AM
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