Rain, rain and more rain ... however, the last few days have been gorgeous ... summer is on its way! Yay!
I'm writing this entry hooked up to a data card, which is not brilliant. It's very slow and I cannot upload any pictures. The ICE technician came by today and informed us our line is the problem. He hopes to come back sometime this week to replace the line. Until then, I will not be posting. Check back in a couple of days. I have pictures of the new garage door Kevin built. It looks awesome! Can't wait to share.
For those who read my blog on a regular basis, first of all ... thank you! I'm so grateful to you. During the last year I've been pretty diligent in writing every day. Lately, h with the final push to finish my book I've not been updating the blog quite as regularly. When I'm writing (or now editing) all day, I don't have much to report. And since I'm spending over ten hours a day writing/editing, I need a break from doing more writing. The rain and the river seem to be our biggest preoccupation: one more post about the weather is probably a bit boring. We don't get as much outside work done as we do in the dry season. I'm not saying nothing is going on in our lives, there's lots, but the day to day stuff that most people have already read about. Soon my book will be 100% complete and uploaded on Kobo. And the dry, summer season is also be around the corner. We have a few bookings and life will get busier with new adventures, no doubt.
Until mid to late November, you can expect I'll be updating the blog every couple of days or so. When I have more to write, I'll do so daily again.
The first year was an introduction to all the firsts. The second year, as we're discovering, is revealing a different side to the story. We're able to understand Spanish a little more, which brings a new understanding of the neighbourhood politics. We're understanding the more subtle dynamics of the country, the people, the culture and so forth. Everything is deepening, with more layers to uncover. The learning is not over. Thanks for sticking around to follow our journey.
It appears I've caught the writing bug ... I'm already thinking about writing my second book. But first, a little rest.
Last week, we received an email form ARCR (the agency who helps expats with the immigration process, and the agency we elected to use) congratulating us, letting us know that our Rentista (temporary residency) application has been approved (a year later, which is about right. These things take time). The letter continued by mentioning that the next step is to register for the Caja (health care), which is mandatory for all residents. Kevin did a lot of research regarding this process before we moved here to make sure it was affordable. Citizens pay approximately $20 per month. If you're a farmer, you pay $10 per month. If you're a retired expat with a pension, you pay $35-ish.
ARCR's letter said they will be happy to take care of everything for us. If we choose to go this route, that based on our status, it will cost us $452 per month ... $452 PER MONTH! What?
To qualify for Rentista, you have to prove you have enough money to survive four years without working as an employee anywhere. So this time last year, we had to deposit $60,000 for the first two years into a bank account. We'll need to repeat the procedure for the following two years. The $60,000 is secured as a Certificate of Deposit. It's our money, but we don't have daily access to it. The bank withdraws $2,500 per month from the Certificates of Deposit and deposits it into a Colón currency account (Colón is the Costa Rican currency). We do have daily access to the Colón account. This is the government's guarantee that we can afford to sustain ourselves during the required waiting period before becoming permanent residents. Once we are permanent residents, then we are legally able to work, if we choose to (or need to) and will not need to prove our income (we'll simply need to file taxes). Keep in mind the money we deposited is not a pension. It is savings that we brought from Canada, which we've already paid taxes on. This is not a monthly income. ARCR has presumably calculated our Caja fee based on the $2,500 amount as an income. And even so, they calculated it at about 20%, which is ridiculous. The most it can be is 9%. So the extra appears to be an administration fee for services rendered. They don't make that clear at all. The letter definitely implies the amount is strictly the mandatory Caja fee.
You can imagine our shock when we read the letter. We definitely had not accounted for this amount in our monthly budget! We were panicking a bit. Okay, a lot! At the bottom of the letter it said we could also go to our local Caja office and pay it there, if we prefer. If we do so, however, the option of having ARCR do the paperwork for us is rescinded. We cannot start the process with our local Caja office and then if we have problems switch and ask ARCR to help us.
We asked our good friend Catalina to accompany us to the Caja office in San Marcos to help us with the language barrier. We don't want to get this wrong. We explain to Catalina about the Rentista status, that it is not an income, etc. She's clear. We go to the office and speak with a nice, young woman. She's looks into it for us. She talks to her manager and comes back and says we qualify for the Rentista no pensionado status, which means it will cost us $60 per month. Well, that's more like it. That's what we had read and what we were expecting to pay. Before we get too excited and sign any paperwork, we decide to call ARCR just to make sure that if we go down this route that we are not jeopardizing in any way our future application for permanent residency. ARCR says no. The ARCR woman doesn't explain the discrepancy, just that if we go through our local Caja, that will be fine. She said it's good that we looked into it. No kidding!
So, the only thing we can deduce from all this is that for expats who do not speak Spanish, who do not know anyone in the country who does speak Spanish and can help them, who don't feel comfortable dealing with anyone other than ARCR, who have oodles of money that they don't even bat an eye ... will pay the ARCR rate out of convenience. The $450 is not a mistake, it's a money grab. I guess that's one way they make their profit margins.
ARCR is a useful agency. They definitely do create an atmosphere of "you're not alone in this foreign country" and that is worth something. We don't regret using their services to help us with the immigration process. It's very possible we paid more than we needed to, but last year, for us, it was worth the peace of mind that we could speak English with the representatives and feel a little more comfortable. Having been here a year, knowing what we know, we might suggest that people simply go through a really good lawyer. Having said that, the immigration process usually starts when you first arrive so how do you know who a good layer is? If you've been travelling to Costa Rica for many years, if you know a few people, if you feel comfortable with the customs, then you certainly don't need to go through this type of agency.
We have a meeting in early January to sign the temporary residency paperwork, which will get us our Cedula card. The Cedula is our I.D. card, much like a Green Card in the States (more or less). It means we won't have to walk around with our passports anymore.
So, between editing and proofreading my book and dealing with this little hiccup (which I didn't want to write about until we had it sorted out), I've been a little preoccupied.
The men of the community came together to fix the bridge yesterday. Kevin was among them. It was raining pretty much non-stop all day. Crazy hard work, but if we wait around for the municipality to come to the rescue it could take weeks. Our community doesn't look to others to fix our problems, we band together and rely on ourselves. It's very empowering on many levels.
Kevin was waist deep in the cold, cold river water moving rocks and logs out of the pipes. His rubber boots have a hole in them so his feet were drenched all day. I'm amazed he didn't catch pneumonia.
I have finally finished my book! I've sent it off to an editor and a few close family members to get their initial feedback. I tell ya, it's like giving birth to a child ... after nine long months, a few deep breaths, a final push, a few tears of joy, a sense of absolute terror that I have to let her go into the world to be judged and hope I've given her the tools to hold her own. I just have to believe I've done my job, that I've nurtured her as best as I know how. I hope to have my baby uploaded to Kobo in a few weeks. I'm now going through the less creative aspects of publishing: getting a ISBN (a number assigned to every single book out there—who knew?), write my synopsis, pick the right cover picture, set a price. It's mind boggling, but it's got to be done! I quote an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love and actually had the forethought to ask permission. I wrote an email to her agent and they just wrote back today saying they will give me permission!!! That in itself feels like a huge boost of positive energy coming my way. I had to send them the excerpt where I mention the quote. I guess they didn't hate my writing ... that's a bonus!
Don't worry, I'll keep everyone posted on the date it will be available. Look for it ... and buy it ... please!!! It's called: Following my tug ... all the way to Cost Rica!
So excited and terrified at the same time!!
Of course, as I'm rereading it again, I'm finding more typos and a few grammar errors. So I guess I'm still not completely done. It's all part of the process, and I'm so close to it that it's hard for me to have any more perspective. Hopefully the editor will also have good suggestions.
We were kindly invited to attend a workshop. Our friends Jodi and Felicia hosted the event. Felicia owns some land in San Pablo (just 5 minutes up the road from San Marcos). She has started a project of creating an organic garden and is looking to teach the community how to get on board. Jodi is a yoga instructor and is very interested in medicinal plants. We met them both last July. Jodi called last week to invite us to their first medicinal plant workshop. We thought it would be fun and interesting to see what we could learn. It didn't even occur to us that the speaker would be speaking in Spanish! Well, makes perfect sense, but Jodi speaks English and we just took it for granted that her friend would, too. This workshop was for the community, so it seems obvious (now) that it would be catering to the local language. Doh. I was catching on to a few concepts he was talking about, but after a half hour, we realized it was kind of useless to stick around. We thanked our hostesses and quietly left. All the more reason to learn Spanish, eh?
After leaving the workshop, we had to do some errands at the fereteria (hadware store) and we needed to pick up some milk at the grocery store in Santa Maria. While in the grocery store, we notice tucked in the back, they are now serving Chinese take-out! What? The new owners of the grocery store are first-generation Chinese so I guess they have the market cornered. We couldn't resist a try. We asked for a menu and surprise, surprise ... it was written in Spanish! Well, it could have been worse—it could have been Chinese. It was delicious and quite a treat.
I'm not sure what happened, I was feeling right as rain, but after lunch, I started coughing. I started feeling like I was getting a head cold. I decided to cancel my English class so I called all my students to let them know. Then at 4 pm, Clara calls to tell me the bridge—the one that was just built two weeks ago and the one that I need to cross to get to Copey to teach my class— is overflowing. Kevin went to have a look and he says large tree branches have fallen and are now blocking the pipes. Rocks and sand are accumulating against the branches, creating a dam. The river is now overflowing this fragile bridge. It's no longer safe to drive over so I wouldn't be able to teach tonight anyway. I'm glad we were home when it happened. Tomorrow, Martin will call the municipality. We need a digger to clean out the blockage. Just a few more weeks until summer arrives. We hope :)
The river is still quite creamy, but has receded to a more normal level. Those rocks that were completely submerged are now visible again. We noticed that a white rock that used to be upstream was dislodged and carried downstream (about 80 feet in distance or so). That no doubt contributed to those weird smacking noises we heard. That white rock is pretty big ( approx.18 inches in diameter) so we imagine there are many more, smaller rocks that have moved around as well. Water can be such a powerful force!
Kevin went up to inspect the opening to the aqueduct as soon as he woke up and it's a mess up there: logs and debris have accumulated by the far gate, preventing water from flowing in. Kevin could see where last night's overflow brought in mud. Thank goodness Kevin closed the gate to the aqueduct in time last night or all that mud would have filtered into our nice clean ponds. That would not have been good.
We woke up to blues skies and an intense sun. The French doors are wide open. Who knows what Mother Nature has in store for us later this afternoon, but we say "bring it on."
It started raining lightly at 2 pm and Kevin followed his gut and closed the gate to the ponds. Within minutes, the river took on that dirty, coffee colour. By 4 pm, the rain was pouring down. The river began to rise quickly. Kevin used certain rocks as markers to check how high the river was reaching. The first markers were soon submerged. He'd find another marker, then another. We've never seen the river so high or the current so strong. It's crazy out there. We put on our rain gear and walked under our umbrellas down to the bottom pond to see how Kevin's stone wall was holding up. The river is rushing by and it's really high, but it's not as high as the bottom of the wall yet, there's still room to rise. We hope it doesn't, but it's good to know that all the hard work in securing the riverbank and making sure the house, the guesthouse, the ponds are safe from the river's wrath. As we sit in our comfortable, dry living room now, we hear the river displacing some of the rocks, which are banging against other rocks. It sounds like strange smacking noises. I'm not sure what we would have thought last year.
As much as Mother Nature is humbling and we respect her dearly, after fourteen months of living through all the different challenges she throws at us, we're managing well. Last year's fear is gone.
Kevin told Martin about the cows being on our property again and told him the first priority this morning was to build a fence near the road at the opening on our private trail. Martin got right on it and we now have something blocking roaming animals from easy access to our property (and hopefully people, too, although we've never had any real issues with people).
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Dave and Krista are a couple from the Pacific Northwest that led overwhelmingly busy lives.
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