Ah, Riteve… How Do I Love Thee…?

 

Let’s NOT count the ways…The list is short, based on personal experience. You’ve got to applaud Costa Rica’s efforts at keeping the roads safe though, and that’s the bottom line. Riteve is the Costa Rican equivalent of our yearly auto inspections in the States. However, unlike in the United States, automobile owners cannot simply go into any repair shop they see that offers inspection services… Here, you must bring your car to the Riteve station that is nearest to you, and subject your vehicle (and yourself) to a battery of experiments and examinations which determine whether or not your vehicle leaves with a shiny new sticker on your windshield OR, if you must leave with a printout that screams out all of the “graves” which need to be rectified prior to passing the test. For our Hyundai Galloper’s previous two inspections, we sent our local mechanic in with the vehicle to get it done. It was a service that he offered and I figured “What the heck- why not”? My Spanish was evolving fairly well in the “sink or swim” methodology, but I figured why not leave something like this to the “professionals” 😉 . However, a couple of years ago I decided to take the old girl in myself and see how the system really works. I’ve been grunting with a grin as the month of May approaches ever since.

Almost any person you talk to here in Costa Rica has a semi-expectant dread of their yearly Riteve inspection. The standards are very high here to pass inspection and the Riteve staff is quick to cite infractions. I was thoroughly impressed by the series of tests and the level of scrutiny that vehicles undergo for their yearly inspections. I wanted to take pictures of the process so I could share them, but the use of cell phones for any reason is FORBIDDEN.

There are what seems to be 4 “levels” of checks as you drive through the inspection line:

#1: All lights, turn signals, the horn, seat belts, windshield wipers, tint of your windows, etc.

#2:  Appeared to be testing the alignment, balance, and overall quality of our tires. They also make you turn you’re wheel back and forth at this station to see if you are able to make a turn easily. (If this is not accurate, please feel free to correct me with a comment- just taking a guess on this one).

#3: You roll your vehicle onto a machine that tests the strength of all of your individual brakes. It rolls your front tires first. They ask you to slowly apply pressure to your brakes until your foot is to the floor. Then you scoot forward so they can check the rear brakes and the emergency brake.

#4: Last station before you’re at the proverbial “end of the line”. You pull your vehicle over an underground pit where they look at the guts of your car from the best vantage point that exists. The attendants also lift the hood and check all of your vital organs and fluid levels.

Now you wait nervously for the verdict.

Our Galloper failed the 1st time through in Alajuela due to four “graves” that had to be remedied. We took care of three of the necessary repairs/adjustments and had to rely on a valid protest for the 4th. They wanted me to remove the adhesive tint from our windshield… The problem is that there IS no adhesive tint on our windshield. It’s the original windshield from the factory. Once I demonstrated that I couldn’t physically remove the tint that has been part of our Galloper’s genetics since “birth” AND I decided to peel off the adhesive tint on the other four windows for good measure, they decided that my vehicle had just barely passed. The staff also sent me away with homework that I had to promise to take care of in the very near future (minor adjustment on my right brakes and a new set of windshield wipers).

So… Although I will probably share in the customary dread that most Ticos share regarding upcoming Riteve inspections, I have zero complaints about the system. I actually appreciate that they are so thorough and unforgiving. It ensures that all the drivers on these wild roads at least need to have their vehicles up to snuff when they’re speeding around like maniacs. Costa Rica has taken responsibility for the safety of it’s drivers in one of the most basic ways it’s able to, and it may save your life one day. Kudos to Riteve!!! <cringe>

 

“DOGLAND”: A One-Woman Canine Rescue Project

When we first got to San Ramon, we constantly heard tales of the “Dog Lady” with the wild red hair and endless energy up in the hills who was rescuing and caring for every single dog in need that she encountered. Back in July 2011,  Anna & I decided it was time to arrange a meeting with this fellow dog lover and check out the operation for ourselves. We had the pleasure of meeting Helene Wirt in person at her “DOGLAND” site and we were instantly in awe of what she was tackling up there on a daily basis.

 

 

It all started back in 1997 with a cute male puppy named Balduin… An acquaintance brought Helene a little box and from this box peeked Balduin’s fuzzy white & black face. Helene fell in love right away and spent most of her time with her new friend. They watched TV together, slept together at night, and were inseparable. Helene’s relationship with Balduin is what unlocked her passion for helping homeless dogs and canines in need… It started with one little puppy and now DOGLAND houses one-hundred and ninety (190) dogs of various ages and conditions… The rescue project is held entirely on property that Helene owns and has built canine shelter areas on. Typically you’ll see anywhere from three to six dogs in one “run” which consists of a huge concrete play area, a picnic type table and bench setup with an umbrella if the pups want to get out of the sun but remain outdoors, and a large house that all the dogs get locked into at night for safety and noise regulation. Each of these areas is fully fenced with chain-link and showered daily with love and attention from Helene, her volunteers, and whatever dog lovers or potentials adoptive families stop by to hang out with Helene’s babies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helene has been getting overwhelmed over the last few years because the donations and the adoptions are not keeping pace with the number of dogs taken into the shelter… The one-hundred and ninety souls that she is currently caring for is by far the highest number in the history of DOGLAND and there are no signs that the trend will slow. There is a realistic danger that sometime soon she will not be able to keep up with the costs and the workload of caring for all of these dogs by herself…If that occurs, what happens to all of these sweet dogs??? Helene is very selective about who she adopts her canine friends to, but I have personally seen her working on arrangements to fly dogs to other countries if it is for the proper home. Our buddy Roy, the Siberian Husky in the two pics above, took a flight to Germany to be with his new family. If you have any interest in adopting a dog, whether you live in Costa Rica or not, please consider adopting from DOGLAND. There are so many dogs in need and it’s a shame to see folks breeding dogs or buying them while there are so many amazing dogs in shelters that need love. It’s been a blessing to see that folks are even adopting older dogs now. The dog directly above this paragraph, Balthazar, was almost a teenager already back in 11′ when we visited DOGLAND, but he was adopted by some loving ex-pats and lived out his life in San Ramon with a smile 🙂

 

If you would like more information about Helene’s DOGLAND operation or have questions about how to volunteer, adopt, or make a donation, please go to the DOGLAND website: http://www.meetyourdog.org/index.html

Anna & I have always had a deep love and connection with animals and Paradise Management is doing what we can to support DOGLAND in a donation capacity. For every property sale that we close, we donate 3% of our earnings directly to Helene’s labor of love. She truly is a saint doing God’s work and any assistance or relief that can be offered is greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mystique of Bajo La Paz

The family and I were craving a nice Sunday drive and the freshest fish that we could find, so we hopped in the Galloper and cruised up the hill to Bajo La Paz. Bajo La Paz is a quaint fishing and farming village that is overflowing with culture, character, and natural beauty. It’s only a twenty minute drive from San Ramon Centro. As we pulled into Bajo La Paz, it felt like we were entering a magical world that was quite different than other parts of Costa Rica. The presence of the strong but serene Rio La Paz sets the tone. Noise pollution is virtually non-existent. The dominant sounds are the river flowing and the birds singing and talking to each other. Ox-carts and folks on horseback are abundant. You’re surrounded by pastures and primary forests that climb up into the clouds. Much of the land is protected and is therefore a literal safe haven for wildlife to thrive in. There are plenty of adventure type tours to take in Bajo La Paz, but we need to wait for Violetta to get a little older before we can enjoy them as a family! For now, we’re happy with a charming drive and a visit to the local trapiche-

Catch your own trout out of the pond in seconds with some twine, a hook, and a morsel of plantain. Lunch just doesn’t get any better than this! A good size fish that is as fresh as can be is on your plate in minutes along with some pickled vegetables, picante, and a side of fries. Of course, you’ll need a nice cold beer to wash this all down 😉

If you’re in San Ramon and you want to do enjoy some time “off the beaten track” as far as tourism goes, Bajo La Paz is certainly worth the trip. It gives you a taste of the traditional, “old school” Costa Rica. PURA  VIDA!!!

Patron Saint of Costa Rica: The Virgen de los Angeles

 

August 2nd is a national holiday here in Costa Rica. The day is set aside to honor the Patron Saint of the country, the Virgen de los Angeles. Any Catholic worth his or her salt that is physically able, makes a pilgrimage to the church where the Virgen originated in Cartago. On foot… Some folks make this journey from remote parts of the country. I personally saw quite a few people a day or two prior walking down the autopista coming from the West (Puntarenas or maybe much farther. Who knows?) so they could make it on time. For more information about the history of the holiday please click on this link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgen_de_los_Angeles

Many Catholics who live in the San Ramon area make a similar pilgrimage on August 2nd, but it is a much more manageable journey. There is a beautiful area up in the hills north of San Ramon Centro called Los Angeles. It’s only fitting that San Ramon’s Los Angeles have it’s own religious gathering/ monster party to represent their namesake. So we decided that we just had to check this out for ourselves. The drive to LA usually only takes about 10 minutes from the center of town, but on this day it took closer to thirty minutes due to the gaggles of pedestrian traffic going both to and fro. Many hundreds, if not thousands of Ticos were making the pilgrimage to our own private Los Angeles to celebrate the Virgen. We popped onto the main drag and saw complete mania up ahead. There was no way I was going to drive up into the chaos directly, so we parked a safe distance back on the side of the road. As soon as we got close enough to see everything clearly, it was evident that it wasn’t only devout Catholics celebrating this country-wide day off. Every citizen within driving distance had apparently made it a point to be in Los Angeles to party. There were plenty of folks in and around the church, but there were also amusement park type rides, multitudes of vendors, a great band playing, non-stop dancing, and an abundance of beer. It was high noon, quite literally. If you look at the picture above on the right hand side you’ll get an idea about what I mean. The dancers are blurry in the shot but it’s not because I lack a steady hand. It’s because they’re moving faster than you will ever generally see any Ticos move. LOL! Costa Ricans really know how to fully enjoy and maximize the days off they’re blessed with.

 

 

We stayed for a couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere and wolfing down the excellent homemade food before we headed back towards the car. Hundreds of people were lined up at all times waiting for the next empty bus that would be making a run back down the hill to San Ramon. There was a fleet of  buses and they were moving quickly, but the line was always packed and long. Check out the pic below on the left. Whether you took a bus, drove, biked, walked or even crawled it was something to behold. An interesting blend of religious reverance and unbridled celebration. We’ll probably be going again next year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pura Vida!!!

Mother’s Day @ Zoo Ave, La Garita

Mother’s Day is a very special day. It represents a celebration of some of the most hard-working and often unsung heroines that walk this Earth. Moms… I consider my wife Anna to be the best mother in the entire world and I am lucky enough to witness the magic that she performs on a daily basis up close and personal. She started being the mother that she is today many years before our 1st little girl, Violetta, was even born. Anna was (and still is) an active advocate and champion of all behavior that contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Consumption of strictly organic foods as often as possible, use of natural products rather than chemical based items, a consistent yoga practice to strengthen mind, body, and spirit… She worked so hard to make certain that her body and mind were at maximum strength before creating another life within her. My wife is ALWAYS researching and doing her best to make certain that the entire family is as healthy, educated, and globally responsible as we can be. She became even more militant about what she ate once we found out she was pregnant. Exercise was steady and regular and she taught her yoga classes at the El Castillo de Relajamiento right up until midway through her 8th month of pregnancy. We endeavored on the wild adventure of attempting a home birth in a relatively foreign country without pain medication of any kind and she was a valiant angel throughout all of it.  I say “we endeavored”, but let’s be honest- I was present and did everything within my power to help and support her through the process, but it wasn’t me trying to pass a watermelon through a small opening without any pain relief… Anna embraced the entire journey and only after she had been FULLY dilated for over five hours due to a complication and we had literally exhausted the possibility of having our baby at home, did we execute Plan B with decisiveness. The hospital staff was excellent and little Violetta surprised us all shortly after midnight on August 28, 2011. Due to Anna’s tenacity in the face of excruciating pain, our baby girl was able to enter this world drug-free. The pain medication was administered and before it could even have a chance to get live in the umbilical cord, Vio was out. Anna endured all of that and more solely for the purpose of giving our unborn child the best possible start to life that she could offer…and she continues walking that road every day now that V is with us… It seems that I have gone off on a bit of a tangent here, but maybe I’ve struck the real point of this blog post: honoring a great mother on Mother’s Day… I imagine that when she first reads this post my wife will want to kill me for being so raw and honest about this sort of thing on a public forum, but I feel that it must be said… ***Anna: you are a fantastic mother and I am so proud to be your husband and to have the opportunity to raise children with you.*** I gave her “carte blanche” to do whatever she wanted today and told her that I would be in her service, but in classic Anna fashion she chose Zoo Avenue in La Garita so Violetta could make her first trip to a zoo… A quick 30-minute zip down Highway 1 and we were there-

 

 

Baby V apparently approved, since she spent most of the day smiling and clapping her hands. She got to see some wild monkeys and regally beautiful peacocks… and not just the ones above…ha ha ha! Some bonafide wildlife-

We enjoyed a wonderful day together at Zoo Avenue and what makes it even more special is that all of the proceeds (4,900 colones entrance per adult/ 2,000 colones for kids)  go towards supporting and furthering Zoo Avenue’s animal rescue & preservation mission. They work to protect endangered species, rehabilitate injured animals, and try to make the living quarters for their animal guests as close to their natural habitat as is possible. Zoo Avenue is a respectable operation and turned out to be a very enjoyable day trip from San Ramon. It was nice to spend Mother’s Day among so many other creations and children of Mother Nature.

Now that we live in Costa Rica, we have the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day twice! We still recognize the holiday on the same date and fashion as we always have in the US, and then on August 15th it’s Mother’s Day here in CR… Ticos take the festivity a step further though, because Mother’s Day is a national holiday here. Banks, government offices, and most businesses are closed. Costa Ricans believe that everyone should have the opportunity to visit and spend some quality time with their mothers at least on this one special day. No soldiers left behind, so to speak. It makes me smile 🙂 In closing, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all you amazing moms out there!!! I’ve been on this computer far too long now and I think it’s time to go give my wife a foot massage-

PURA VIDA!!!

 

Gran Venta de Libros UsaDOS @ Museo de San Ramon

 

On Saturday, April 28th the Community Action Alliance of San Ramon sponsored it’s 2nd ever used book sale and fundraiser. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this group, the Community Action Alliance is a wonderful coalition of ex-pats and Ticos working closely together in an effort to make the community of San Ramon as strong, educated, and empowered as it can possibly be. My wife and I are members of this organization and have been since early 2011. The CAA Mission Statement sums it all up:

“The Community Action Alliance is a community based, action oriented   organization   focused on resolving issues and improving the lives of   all residents of   Costa Rica.  Our focus is in several primary areas:   Citizen Security, Economic Development,  Environmental, and Education.  We accomplish this   through identifying   clear and credible resources and bringing people   together to develop   solutions.  Be a part of the solution.”

 

 

This event was run by a team of dedicated and smiling volunteers and the fundraiser was a HUGE success! Over 6,000 books, DVDs and CD’s were donated and nearly 2,000 people attended… there was live music echoing melodically within the courtyard of the museum and refreshments were available for sale if anyone desired food or drink. The selection and quality of items for sale was truly impressive. Over $4,200 was raised and 100% of the proceeds went directly to the two beneficiaries: The Regional Museum and the San Ramon Senior Center. I love book sales so I was like a kid in a candy store… I spent 49,000 colones myself! For less than the equivalent of $100 USD, I was able to load two large boxes with twenty-six adult books, eleven children’s books for Vio, an audio-book titled “The Spontaneous Healing of Belief”, two movies, a Christmas DVD for the baby, and the 1st four episodes of “24”… (I was a huge fan of “Lost” and a couple of friends have suggested that “24” is superior. I’m skeptical about that, but I figured I should give it a fair shake before making any judgments). Take a look at some of my bounty:

 

 

I LOVE BOOKS and when the proceeds are donated to such wonderful causes as these, it makes the purchase and the experience so much sweeter. Thank you to the Community Action Alliance for all of your hard work!!! Volunteers, donations, and new ideas are always welcome. To find out more check out the CAA website: http://www.actionalliancecr.com/ or contact Mike Styles directly: mike@styles.com

 

 

St. Paddy’s Day in CR: The Music of Buddy Tetreault, Guinness & Homemade Shepherd’s Pie!

You will not find many Costa Ricans who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it warms my heart to know that I can still enjoy most of my holiday mainstays right here in San Ramon. Certainly there are no parades or fanfare available here, but that also means that there is no need to push through groggy crowds of folks who have likely had far too much to drink LOL. Instead, we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful musician named Buddy Tetreault offer a FREE concert at the Jose Fugueres Cultural Center. Buddy is quite a talented musician and played everything from Celtic tunes to Flamenco stlye music on his many guitars and stringed instruments. In these photos, the crowd is enjoying “Orange & Green” and “Irish Washerwoman”, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone enjoyed the show -even Violetta held it together and was all smiles until the very end! I picked up some Guinness at the local liquor store (yes, they sell it here!) and when we got home I listened to the classic sounds of the Wolfe Tones and many others on my Ipod while my lovely wife cooked up a delicious homemade shepherd’s pie for us. I would have posted a picture of her masterpiece, but I pounced on it and devoured it before there was any thought of grabbing a camera…It was a very enjoyable St. Patrick’s Day and it was a blessing to be able to share it with my family here in sunny San Ramon. Slainte and Pura Vida!!!

San Ramon:”The King of the Day Trip”/Nonno Visits S.R. to Meet Violetta!

One of the best aspects of living in San Ramon is our enjoyment of a close proximity to so many amazing places. I consider San Ramon to be the “King of the Day Trip” in Costa Rica. In 45 minutes we can be walking on the sand at Playa Dona Ana in Puntarenas, and an hour drive in the opposite direction puts us in the hustle and bustle of San Jose. Volcanoes, cloud forests, thermal springs, zip lines and much more are only one and a half to two hours away, depending on what spot you want to hit. When family and friends visit to share the wonderment of these excursions, SJO airport is only 35-40 minutes away. We have the ability to experience a great deal of what Costa Rica has to offer and then return the same day to one of the most desirable and consistent climates in the world. Thank you, San Ramon!

Anna’s father flew in from Brooklyn, NY to meet his granddaughter for the 1st time in person (he talks to her every morning on Skype) and it was love at first sight!

After spending a couple of days showing him around San Ramon and introducing him to some friends and neighbors, we hopped into our Galloper and sped off to soak in some calming and refreshing thermal springs in San Carlos. Calgon, take me away!

 These thermal springs are the equivalent of a relaxing, steamy bath with benefits. The water is nutrient rich and you emerge feeling mas tranquilo and rejuvenated. Not only that, but you can spend time with loved ones and meet new people while giving yourself some TLC. If you’re craving a tropical drink or a bite to eat, there is a bar/small restaurant and the servers will bring your order right to you in the thermal pools.

 

On the way home, we savored a delicious Caribbean-style corvina dish at Las Lagos (highly recommended) and then we were back home in San Ramon to sleep in our own beds. The next morning we decided to take a jaunt to Volcan Poas National Park! After a beautiful drive (about an hour and a half) through lovely and lush La Garita and the winding mountain roads that lead to Volcan Poas, we were ready to hike the trails in this very special park. The four of us needed to trade in our bathing suits for warmer clothing in preparation for the higher altitude (max elevation of about 8900 feet above sea level) and then we were ready to ROCK!

 

 

While hiking and enjoying the fresh air, we often felt like we were travelling through an enchanted forest. Gorgeous twisting trees that allowed sunlight through in dazzling patterns… Animals and birds who came right up to us without fear… Sensing and feeling the general ancient pulse of the jungle forest that surrounded us… Then there was, of course, the volcano itself. This park has some serious presence. The trail to (and from) Botas Lake can be a challenge depending on your fitness level so be sure to observe the difficulty level of the trail on the sign at the trail entrance before heading up. Volcan Poas National Park proved to be an excellent day trip and a rich experience for the whole family, so check it out when you get the chance!

 

After our little adventure to the volcano, we made it home in plenty of time to catch one of San Ramon’s famous sunsets in El Empalme…

PURA VIDA!!!

Three More Ladies At Our Casa (Bienvenido, Las Gallinas!)

My wife and I aspire to be conscious concerning the food that we eat. When buying vegetables we prefer organic and try  to search out veggies that have not been sprayed with pesticides and other toxic substances. The Farmer’s Market (La Feria) in San Ramon has a couple of vendors that offer a vast array of quality organic foods. When purchasing meat (I am a BIG meat eater) we will always choose organic if it’s available and feasible. The central questions that concern us regarding our meat, eggs, and dairy are: What are the animals fed? How are they treated? Do the animals have the ability to roam relatively freely? Are they treated with a basic level of respect? Are their lives enjoyable or are they miserable, stressed out, and frightened? In addition to the basic humanity issues that are at the heart of these questions, some would furthermore argue that if an animal is fed food that lacks proper nutrition, gets injected with hormones and steroids, is restricted from exercise and lives a generally miserable and stressed existence, that each and every bit of that negative energy gets passed on to the person eating this animal’s flesh or their products… We’ve started to buy raw milk from some local farmer friends of ours because we have known them for years. They walk their cows every single day and it is from one pasture to another. We have witnessed their operation for a long time and like what we see. My wife Anna has been asking me to build a chicken coop and get some hens for awhile now, and I finally got it done for her about a week and a half ago. Once the coop was built, it was time for me to go select 3 hens to get us started… I realize that commercial farms have a steep challenge if they want to raise their chickens the way that we believe to be ideal. It’s no simple feat to have 7,000 some odd hens roaming free if you hope to have some organization and don’t want to be stepping in chicken poop every time you turn around (LOL). That being said, the operation that I visited to select our hens really opened my eyes and confirmed that we were making the correct choice.

 

From when they are chicks until they reach egg-laying age (5-6 months from what I understand) the chickens have a fairly large area to walk around and peck in. It’s once they reach egg-laying age that they get locked in a very small stacked cage area. Here they remain (4-6 hens packed tightly in each small cage) until they stop producing… As I stated earlier- I am not naive about commercial farms and how difficult and costly it would be to do things differently. I am just extremely happy that we live in a place where we can raise our own chickens and let them range freely. Many commercial farms have a simple tenement-like area setup for the chickens so they can max out on their eggs and profit margin.

Fortunately, we are a small family and can get by on the fruits of 3-4 hens. We’re starting with three for now and will see how it plays out. They adjusted to their new home pretty quickly and seem to be happy with the accommodations. A few days ago we got our 1st eggs! Anna fried up our fresh harvest with some gallo pinto, platanos, tierno (fried cheese), shredded cabbage and some steak. Not bad for a couple of “city slickers”, huh? Pura Vida!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Precious Tica y Santa in San Ramon?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been over 6 months since my last blog entry… Our lives became a whole lot more unpredictable towards the end of last August. My wife and I welcomed our 1st born child into the world on August 28th, 2011, and since then we have been blessed enough to experience a whirlwind of utter amazement. Our daughter, Violetta Gaetana Gillespie Campagnale, takes my breath away every day- she is more beautiful and precious than even I could have ever imagined (and I have a vivid imagination!)

Currently, Violetta is probably the whitest Tica in Costa Rica, but with all the sun, swimming, and travel that we expose her to that is bound to change 😉 Anna & I feel so very fortunate that we have the opportunity to spend our lives with such a precious soul. She makes all of the beauty and nature surrounding us here in Costa Rica even more vivid and profound. Our adventure here in San Ramon has been taken to the next level, and we are ecstatic! Our little girl even got to meet Santa Claus in San Ramon’s Parqueo Central on her 1st Christmas Eve- what could be cooler than that?!? Pura Vida!!!

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