Thursday, December 24, 2009

Riteve: Costa Rica Car Inspection 2010

One of my least favorite things to do in Costa Rica is have our annual car inspection. Costa Rica subcontracts a Spanish company to do car inspections and the process is frustrating and complicated. Having a 25-year-old car with 200,000 plus miles certainly doesn’t help the situation.

Other Central American countries don’t have a daunting system like this and in New York State the inspections are done by mechanics who fix whatever problems they find so the process is seamless. Here, you pay ~$20 and if you don’t pass, you must go elsewhere to rectify the failures and then return to start the process again.

Our experience started out hectic. To prepare for inspection, our mechanic Wilbur in San Ramon had to adjust our carburetor to improve our emissions which made the car barely drive, a maximum of 10-15 mph uphill with lots of backfiring. Driving to Riteve was a challenge. Despite our repairs, we went through the Riteve obstacle course and failed. After explaining our predicament to the “Man,” he told me to drive around and find a mechanic and return within 2 hours. We found a strategically placed mechanic within a kilometer who tinkered a little with our 1985 Mitsubishi Montero and refused to take any money for his services. Amazingly, when we returned the employees at Riteve felt some sympathy and employed a lenient interpretation for us. The gods were looking out for us as we eventually passed after lots of smiling, pleading and connecting. We got our sticker and this stressful situation was somehow over. Honestly, I shed a few tears of relief as it took a lot out of me to make it work. My Spanish is mas o menos (more or less, mediocre) but in this culture, a heart to heart connection with someone goes a long way.

In order to register our car for 2010 we needed this inspection and at Dec 15, the clock was ticking. In New York State, registrations are cheap and similarly priced for cars whether they are new, old, cheap or expensive. In Costa Rica you pay your annual registration fee depending on the value of your car. Our fee was $88 while a new fancy car could cost over $1,000 a year just to register. In contrast, my house taxes in Costa Rica are only $40 a year vs. over $5000 in Ithaca, NY. It’s not a bad idea to tax to the max luxury cars while making it cheap for everyone to own a home with inexpensive property taxes, phone, electricity and water. What a concept!

From my least favorite task to the best of Costa Rica, a visit to the hot springs. Past years we went to Riteve in Alajuela and Puntarenas. This time we opted for Ciudad Quesada / San Carlos to combine it with an overnight at our favorite hot springs. I have been to Termales del Bosque in San Carlos between 15-20 times over the years and it remains the place I return to most often to recharge in the thermal waters and amazing natural setting. It is very different from Tabacon and Baldi which are more for tourists both price wise and lacking the awe-inspiring nature of Termales del Bosque. (See my blog from Nov.14, 2007 for more observations and photos of our favorite “quasi secret hot springs.”)

A highlight of this trip to the springs was meeting Danny, a 21-year-old Tico who recently started working at the front desk. He was graduating the next day from an intensive English class and said he didn’t get many opportunities to practice his English. He was cool, friendly and had overcome many obstacles to put his life in the positive place it was today.

We had a great 24 hours there with de-stressing soaks in the afternoon and following morning. The rooms are nice and after sitting in the hot springs, driving home the same day ruins the buzz of being totally relaxed. Our package included breakfast, dinner, room and 2 days in the hot springs.

Life is a roller coaster of highs and lows. The insanity of getting our car inspected followed by the ecstasy of sitting in the hot springs was a wild 2-day ride. Keeping balanced and centered through the ups and downs is a process and challenge. Living in another culture keeps life alive with a full spectrum of experiences and emotions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sunday ... At The End Of The World

When we moved from urban San Ramon to La Paz 2 years ago, we were the first and only foreigners in this country oasis. The phone line still ends just past our house and the last mile is on a primitive stone road. About 2 miles past our house the river crosses the road and you need a horse to enter the preserve that stretches all the way to Monteverde and Arenal. In many ways this is the end of the world ... just 20 minutes from San Ramon but as pure and natural as it gets.

In the time we've been here, a couple of folks have bought land past our house and built beautiful houses. It's nice having great new neighbors who also speak English and can be there for each other on this wild journey.

I used to have to go to San Ramon when I wanted more socializing and action. This past Sunday I went to 3 parties walking distance from my house. I never would have imagined this day a year ago.

I started out at an 11AM birthday party for Marielos, our wonderful Tico neighbor whose family has made our time here as smooth as can be. She made homemade corn tortillas and vegetable picadillo for a hearty topping. I didn't stay for the birthday cake as my tradition that grounds me in Costa Rica is watching the NFL on Sundays.

Off to Jeff and Jane's, a couple from Big Sur, California who have built a lovely modern home about a mile past our house. I love the locals but just having someone nearby who is from my culture makes a big difference. We had cocktails and watched some football.

The party shifted to Janet's, a brave 60 something who is La Paz's newest resident. Her land adjoins the preserve and is wild and "out there." My number one sidekick for my 8 years here Jimmy Lee joined us along with my partner Janet. Here we were at "the end of the world" watching the NY Giants (Los Gigantes) beat the Cowboys on satellite, enjoying snacks and drinks. Surreal to say the least!

No matter how native and natural a life we live here in Costa Rica, having a few friends nearby who speak English and have a similar cultural context is nice.

After 3 parties on Sunday we went back to our tranquilo life of sitting on our porch and watching the world go by ... very slowly.