I know it’s been awhile. Around the last time I wrote the kids started “summer camp” at their new school and Matt and I started Spanish classes. There’s nothing like 4 hour long intensive, daily language classes to make you realize how poorly you actually speak a language. So suddenly we were busy studying and shuffling schedules and feeling strapped for time. I know, I know. It’s nothing like life back home and it wasn’t, but I think I was honestly feeling a little down on our whole experience thus far (stay with me). In a lot of ways I can sum up Costa Rica like this: the big things are much better (living in the jungle, low stress from not going to work, everyday’s a beach day, etc..) but the little everyday things that make up life are harder. Take, for example, laundry. I know, a super sexy topic, but one I feel compelled to discuss nonetheless. This is our washing machine.
It is something I’ve never heard of: a semi-automatic washer. Call me provincial but I was unfamiliar with the concept. What it boils down to is that this baby and I do the laundry together. First, I fill the tub with water from a hose. Generally, the water is brown but I’m ok with that, I hear the minerals are great for the kids’ bones. Then the laundry washes in the standard top loader manner. When I realize the washer has stopped I head back outside to drain the tub. Then I refill it and have it agitate for several minutes. When I realize it’s stopped I head outside to drain the tub again. Then I move the laundry to the centrifuge on the right, make sure it’s balanced and secure a grate overtop. When I realize the spinner has stopped I head outside a final time to hang the laundry. Hanging it is fun because I want to take advantage of the morning sun to hopefully dry our clothes that day but if I miscalculate or am gone from home longer than anticipated (frequent) I run the risk of a sudden, brief and/or fierce rainstorm thwarting my efforts. Then I get to haul the clothes back to the spinner and hang them from our kitchen ceiling, where they remain for a day or longer. This is a nearly daily task.
The other fun thing that has occupied our time in a way it never has in the States is figuring out and acquiring modes of transportation. As I mentioned previously, we live about 5km from town. This has it’s advantages but the downside is that walking everywhere is not a realistic option. Matt was really keen on getting a bike but value for money down here is quite different. Every bike, regardless of condition, starts at around $100. Imagine his delight when he found one in a rougher part of town for only $40. Sure, it needed a bit of work but nothing major. The first time he rode it home after making some repairs one of the pedals fell off halfway home. Of course it did. This is Costa Rica after all. In fact, the more we started talking to people about mechanical or electronic things (bikes, cars, microwaves, the nonexistent dryers) the more we heard people identify the Country as the culprit, be it the humidity or the power surges. We heard it to such a degree that whenever something stops working suddenly we now just smile and say, Ah, Costa Rica.
One of the first times we really experienced this was the day, a couple of weeks into our time here, our landlord wanted to add some fluids to the car we were renting from him. When it was time to close the hood the latch that secures the hood to the body of the car fell off in his hand. It didn’t just need to be screwed back on, the whole latch was rusted through. Thus followed a more than hour long project to try to relatch the hood involving nearly every adult on the property.
During this time I noticed that the point where the hood attaches to the car near the windshield was also rusted through and not actually attached. This meant the hood was only physically attached to the car at one corner. As we drove away with the hood tied to the body of the car by a piece of twine we came to the realization we needed to buy a car of our own.
I so didn’t want to do that. If bikes are overpriced here, cars are ridiculous. It has something to do with the crazy taxes that Costa Rica levies on them. Anyone who wants to import a car has to pay roughly 70% the value of the car in taxes. Crazy! Plus, which we didn’t know at the start of the process, transferring the title from one private party to another requires the services of a lawyer. As far as I understand it, there is no DMV so the lawyer serves in that capacity. Like the States, title transfer depends on the value of the car but to this one now has to add the lawyer’s fee. In the end, it costs roughly $500 extra to transfer the title. Sigh.
At the end of our search we became the proud owners of a manual transmission, 4WD 1999 Nissan Pathfinder. Only three of the doors open, the sunroof is welded shut following a direct hit by a coconut and the upholstery is torn. It would probably cost about $2500 in the States. We got it for a song at $5500. We really like the woman we bought it from and met some nice people through her. We were even able to work through the potentially tense situation when she ran it through a larger-than-expected puddle two days before it transferred physical ownership but a day after we had transferred the majority of payment from our bank to hers. Suddenly our expensive truck did not go above 3000 RPMs. I almost lost my sense of humor at that point.
It turned out to be an easy fix. Or rather, it would be an easy fix in the States. We needed to replace the air filter. Back home we could have gone to one of 20 auto parts stores and fixed it that day. Here it required hiring a French mechanic, working through our language barrier in a mix of 3 languages, having him drive me to local places in HIS van held together by twine to find a replacement, not finding one and having to take a separate trip the next day an hour away with our broken air filter held together by duct tape. The upside is that we learned a lot automotive Spanish. We also learned we were going to have to replace the timing belt, which would be another few hundred dollars. Sigh.