Monday, January 17, 2011


It's Monday and the couple of post topics I had in mind are still, well, in my mind and not fully formed, nor do I have the appropriate photo accompaniments. So, in lieu of a fully formed idea with a beginning, middle and end, I am resorting to some half formed musings. Some pros and cons of life here (or "opportunities and challenges" as the policy wonks like to say).

1. Health Care
A big pro on the health care front is that it is of high quality and wildly affordable, at least in comparison to our less than perfect system in the US. I hear tell of week-long hospital stays for $2000, of mammograms for $30 (complete with immediate results). The con for us in Nosara is that we are no where near all that high quality medical care. We are an hour away from the nearest hospital (in Nicoya) and word on the street is that you may want to bypass that particular hospital and get yourself to San Jose should you find yourself dealing with something major (except snake bites. Nicoya is known for their antivenoms).

On the other hand, we do have a couple of doctors here, at least one of which is usually in town at any given time. Just recently we found ourselves in the position of knocking on the clinic door, our child in my arms, covered in blood with a towel on her head. Seems she had a nasty run in with a cement tunnel at school. The doctor was pleasant and efficient. He cleaned her up and told us that the wound wasn't too serious and would likely heal fine. However, he cautioned us, if we can't wake her up the next morning we should probably go to Nicoya. He didn't charge us a thing. You see why my feelings are a bit mixed.

Here's another example. I've recently been dealing with a minor but annoying urinary tract infection. I haven't been able to fight it off myself so was resigned to getting some drugs. Not too long ago Ian was sick and we learned the helpful trick (when we couldn't reach a doctor) of going directly to the pharmacy and getting medicine with a diagnosis from the pharmacist. This seemed like another good candidate for that option so off to the pharmacy I went today. After explaining my symptoms briefly (very briefly, since it was in Spanish and I had only looked up a few key words in the dictionary), the woman behind the counter conferred with the pharmacist over the phone, got out a box, handed me a sheet of 12 pills and told me to take 2 every 12 hours. It took 5 minutes and cost $8.

The pills came with no information but did have the name of the drug stamped on the sheet. When I got home I took two and then Googled the drug. The drug is not available in the US so all the websites with critical information are in Spanish. I used Google Translate and learned that you should never take the drug if you are nursing or epileptic. I'm neither, not that anyone at the pharmacy asked. In addition I learned that I should take it on an empty stomach (good information) and that it will turn my urine orange (huh. Sounds like just the type of critical information I should know before I go to the bathroom for the first time and freak out and make Ian drive me to Nicoya). I also should stay out of the sun (a bit of a challenge here). I'm thankful I have access to Google but quite concerned for those who do not. In addition, Google Translate is very good, but not perfect. I am now deeply concerned with the potential for "subjective and reversible visual disturbances without objective findings" (do I see spots or do I just think I'm seeing spots because of my spot-seeing history?) and maybe even "cartilage erosions joints and other signs of arthropathy." Oh my god!

But I avoided the middleman completely and have utter faith in the ability of the pharmacist to treat something so common. Five minutes and $8....

2. The Weather
I'm obsessed with weather. Not because of how it is an amazing and complex scientific phenomenon, but because of how it affects me personally. My relationship with weather is completely self-centered. Mostly because I hate to be cold. I love always being warm here. I love never thinking about taking a sweater anywhere (even if I'll be out past dark), I love getting up in the morning and being as warm as I was when I went to bed at night. I love never wearing socks and never shivering.

But.... In Costa Rica there are two seasons - the rainy season and the dry season. In many areas of the Country, the dry season just means less rain than the rainy season. Here in the Guanacaste region, however, rainy means rainy and dry means dry. I loved the rain but I also already complained about the rainy season months ago, so I won't repeat myself.

Now we are in the dry season. As in, not a drop of rain for months and months. The weather is lovely. The mold is gone, you can go to the beach every day, each night we sit on the deck and are treated to amazing sunsets.'s hot. And I hear we have no idea what hot is yet. But not only is it hot, it is dusty. So very very dusty. No paved roads, lots of vehicles (it's high season for tourism), bad combination. In many areas of town they pour some sort of molasses product on the dirt roads, which hardens and dries and helps keep the dust down. But still it pervades. Folks wear goggles and tie bandanas around their noses when they travel by foot or motorcycle. Despite never rolling the car windows down when we go through town, I feel the dust in my nose and throat. Sadie coughs at night frequently and I worry about her and all the other children in Nosara. It's hot. We wait for rain but likely won't see any until April. I didn't realize how extreme the seasons were here. It's a challenge, but does give me ample fodder for my obsession.

3. The Language
Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Yes, it is. That's one of the reasons we chose it. If you live in the beaches area of Nosara, however, you'll hear mostly English. It is the language of tourism, of an expatriate community, of the service industry that serves both. It is relatively easy to live here and get by with speaking very little Spanish. A plus if you are like me and don't speak Spanish and maybe even have a block about learning Spanish that you can't seem to get over but still like living in a Spanish speaking country. A shame (and an easy way out) if you are like me in all of the above ways and end up living in Costa Rica for a year and learning very little Spanish. A challenge if you are like Ian and came here specifically to work on your Spanish and are forced to actively seek out ways to do so.

Ian is dedicated and determined. In addition to taking actual Spanish lessons, he continues to find creative ways to practice and learn more - taking cooking lessons, volunteering at the library, making friends with the owners of the farm he buys milk and eggs from, reading Junie B. in Spanish every night with Sadie. For me, I pin all my hopes on Spanish by osmosis. I alternate between being relieved and disappointed that I am not forced to learn and speak the language. In situations when I am forced to try, I am left feeling frustrated and isolated, with an occasional slight urge to do something about it. In the meantime, thank goodness for Google Translate (as long as my vision problems clear up).

4. Surfing
I can't surf, I'm too old to learn, I'm going to hurt myself, I'll never get it, lessons are too expensive, I'm going to get water in my ear.

I love surfing, it's so fun, I love the ocean, I'm sure I can learn, I'm in good shape, friends will teach me, I'll be great, I just need to get out there and do it.

Until next week...


  1. Loved the musings. Give me more. I miss you all. Send me a photo of my girl. Need to see her, especially her lovely big-front-tooth smile.

  2. I promise more pictures next week!

  3. I'll learn surfing with you! I have avoided it because even when I'm in good shape it is just so much work! But, if I had a partner in the venture, I would do it. Rick has said just paddle and don't worry about getting up. Just get used to all the paddling and then you'll enjoy it more (the hard work of it)...
    fun read Caitlin! All of it!

  4. I think you are my new Elizabeth Gilbert! Seriously, i get to live vicariously through your ponderings and wit and sass and adventures...i can escape into jungle beach land with you and imagine the wonder of making and selling helado there. Keep writing, such a fun read, you have a way with words.