This morning at the hostel, there was no phone or Internet service. I plan to go to an Internet café tomorrow (Friday) to make contact. The entire town was without service. This meant I could not call the contact I had to look at apartments. First thing I did was to rebook my room for the night. Tried killing some time by finding a fishing tackle store (Found one and new rods will be less expensive than I thought, but they won’t be the top of the line I’ve been using.) Then I went through a grocery store, checking out prices for the kinds of things I use/eat and comparing local product prices with U.S. brands. A stock clerk looked at me like he wanted to help me find whatever I was looking for. I just pointed at my eyes and said “precia.” Guess my studying is starting to take hold. That’s price is Spanish. He understood.
Next I asked the hostel owner’s wife about her contact for rentals. She told me one of her friends had 5-6 “cabinas” right around the corner, but of course she couldn’t call her because of the phone problems. These were caused, BTW, by a major storm that blew through just before my arrival. She told me where they were located and I took a look. When we still couldn’t get hold of the manager, I decided to go back and try to find someone. This is where it really gets interesting.
An Outer Limit’s Moment
(Preface: Some of you may remember when I kept saying the signs had all aligned for my move to CR. This story only enhances that belief. My daughter will understand more than anyone.) These cabinas, like everything else in town, had a thick metal fence surrounding them. However, there was a lady outside one of them and I asked if she “hablas inglises.” She looked at me kind of crosswise like I was trying to sell her something, but when I said I was inquiring about the cabinas, she suddenly became animated. She was moving out after just two months and feverishly tried to convince me not to move there. This is a 55-60 year-old from St. Louis who has been in CR for 10 years. She likes Quepos after having lived in a number of locations. And, guess what, she was into real estate and she knew some properties for rent in my price range. She thought of a place about three blocks away that she had just put another American into (actually into another property owned by the same person) – a fishing captain. Happy coincidence? I think not! This was a Tico family. She changed clothes and we walked to the owner’s house, talking all the while about what to do and not to do. Seems she makes some money on the side helping poor blokes like me learn the ropes here.
Now, I could hardly get a word in with this woman (Rena) but she knows her stuff – although some of her advice is more her preference than necessary. Did I mention she also speaks Spanish. Coincidence? I think not! We got to the owner’s house and she chatted with the wife. The owner was out on a charter. We went to the rental property, which was a 2-story yellow building at the north end of town – all residential or local grocery/retail. It is about 5 blocks from the downtown, tourist area. All the units were empty. Like everything else in the area, there was a steel fence around it and double-lock deadbolts. Don’t fear – that’s for property theft, not personal danger.
These units all looked better than what I just left in Sarasota. I had already determined that I was going to need a bike so the distance was not a problem. The units all have TV, couch, two easy chairs, two bedrooms with double beds, kitchen with refrigerator and stove, bath with shower (and a good looking suicide shower head) wash room, deck and balcony. I know I told everyone that I would be looking for something that would not reduce my lifestyle (and doubt that many believed me), these units are just that. I took the top left unit at $360/month. Actually, it’s 200,000 colones. The owner wants his money in colones rather than dollars because of the fluctuating exchange rate. So my rent could go up or down relative to dollars. The owner was still on his boat but the wife said I could go ahead and move in.
Next step was for me to go to a CR bank for the first time. Rena suggested a bank and I walked the five blocks but the ATM was not working. When I entered, one of the staff came up and told me to remove my cap and sunglasses. Seems you can’t look like a robber and come into a bank. I exchanged greenbacks for colones and went back to get Rena, who was cooking her lunch. She invited me in while she ate and proceeded to give me much more advice. Told her she was overloading my circuits. We then went back to the hostel a block away and I got my stuff while she called a cab. She was very impressed with herself about being a CR citizen and how she got special Tico treatment as a result. Therefore the cab ride would cost us only 500 colones (less than a dollar) instead of what they would charge a tourist.
Taxi took us the 6 blocks and Rena asked me for the fare, which I gave her and she gave the cabbie. He promptly asked for double, she brandished her standing as a CR citizen and he threw the the money at her as he drove off. Oh well, guess they’re not all friendly. I think he is getting used to charging tourists so much and saw all my baggage and thought it was fair. I just stayed out of it – and picked up the money.
The owner’s wife then let me move in before paying my first month’s rent (her husband handles the money). Rena had more to say, however, as she sees me as another wayward soul that she can help find his way. Truth be told, she was a godsend (if I believe such things), but has a way of being overbearing. Her next assistance is to take me to a town 3 hours away to buy a washing machine and other more-expensive items. She insists I will save money by doing so and then suggested I meet the guy she recently helped, who was in the owner’s building three houses down. Why not? I want to meet expats.
I know this is getting long but bear with me.
I met Michael Patterson, who seemed like a nice guy. He’s been here since April, dropping out due to the stress. He’s from New Mexico. We chatted a bit and then Rena and I went back to my place for more education. She wants to be my guide for a number of things, like opening up a bank account. She gets a small fee but I need the help. BTW, she also left the U.S. with two suitcases and knowing little about where she was going. When I told her I needed to go to the store to get a few basics so I could eat, she suggested she go along to give me advice on what to buy or not. I thought this was a bit intrusive and, besides, such tasks are part of the learning and adjusting process, so I told her I’d rather do it myself – mistakes included. I did give her 25,000 colones for her help today.
The Pali chain is the lowest priced grocery chain owned by Walmart in CR. The nearest one is 3 blocks from my new home. I started to walk there three times but was turned back by rain. On the first trip, I met my new landlord just before it started to pour. Gave him rent and we chatted for a bit. All the utilities go through him so I don’t even need to find someone for Internet service. He pays the phone, electric, water and Internet bills and I pay him. In fact, when I told him I needed Internet he said he would take care of it tomorrow. This guy really understands how to be a good landlord. His properties are spotless and secure and he addresses tenant concerns right away.
Finally. I put on my parka and headed to the Pali in a light rain. I shopped very carefully, not only to find the best bargains but I had to determine what I was buying. I also could not buy too much because I had to carry it home. A box of milk, a plastic package of mayo and one of catsup, some chicken and hamburg, orange juice, bacon, beer, vodka, and other stuff (total: about $67). I knew it was too much to carry but I figured I’d gut it out carrying it back. BTW, I asked for bags and they charge you for them. They do not bag your purchase for you; they give you the bags and you take your stuff to a table after the purchase to bag it. Managed to get everything into four bags and lugged them home in the rain. My first dinner in my new home will follow shortly. Next time I’ll carry my backpack to lug stuff home. I’ve also located a barber shop, launderette, an Internet cafe and the bank I will use here.
Finally, my new home apparently does not have an address. I guess this is common. Not surprisingly given there are no street signs and directions are given by where the bus station is, or the soccer field, or this store or that bank. I plan to get a PO box. When I do I will let you know the address.
So do you believe in coincidences? Or were the stars aligned? Just too many coincidences have occurred in this adventure to believe there wasn’t a grand plan.