COSTA RICA - Atenas - Dec 2011 - Jan 2012 - House Sitting

I’ve been slacking on writing about my trials and tribulations or also commonly referred to as my o- shits and hot damns.

Since I’m retired and as most retirees, on a limited income, I needed a way to supplement my travels.  I looked around and registered on some websites to do house sitting for people while they go on vacation.  After a few failed attempts of houses to sit not matching up with my availability dates I finally got one in Atenas, Costa Rica.  Some of you may be asking what house sitting is so simply put, it’s a lot like you take a vacation and ask your neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re gone.  There are a couple of differences with what I’m doing.  Mainly, these people aren’t my neighbors and you might even get paid for doing it.  For instance, if you had a house for me to sit and wanted me to do work around the house (lot of pets, big yard, landscaping, maintaining pool, etc) we could come to an agreement on payment.  For me the big downfall in that is you could also charge me for rent and utilities.  In my feeble mind I would rather do normal stuff around your house, like taking care of your pets, keeping your place clean and simple stuff like that, in exchange for living in your house for free.  If the owner wants more than I agree to, well, then we’ll start negotiating.

So, back to my trip; the home owners (we’ll call them K and P) agreed to pick me up at the airport.  We arrived early and after making my way out of the terminal I was asked by a couple of people if I needed a taxi and I told them a friend was picking me up.  They said they’d help me find him and asked our names.  Within a couple of minutes I heard a bunch of people yelling “Mike, Mike”, as they pointed to a car where K was holding a sign out the window with my name.  When I got in the car and K asked me how all these people knew me and I told him they were helping me find him. 

We started making our way to the town of Atenas which is about 30 minutes from the airport.  When we arrived in town we stopped at one of the local expat hangouts, a sports bar to grab a bite to eat and a beer.   After the beer and a burger, we made our way to his house which is in a rural area, north and west of town.  By rural I mean farming.  K and P showed me around and we chatted a while, then I called it a night.


As is normal for me, I got up early, however, I’ve never woke up, looked out of my window (from the bed) and saw a horse looking back at me.  Welcome to the campo (country).

K and P took me into town to show me around and introduce me to some of their expat friends.  The town of Atenas is not a large town, but it appears to have everything a person needs.  I also noticed there were not a lot of tourists, but the area does have a large number of expatriates from all over the world.  The expats I met were primarily from the US but some were also from Canada and Europe.  So, if you’re looking for a place without tourists, but still want to speak you native language, you can add Atenas to your list.  Here, like many Central American countries, speaking Spanish is not really required, but it sure is helpful.

When we returned to the house, we confirmed what K and P wanted me to do (we had already ironed out the detail before I agreed to sit) and they packed.  Later that evening we went out to dinner, met some more expats, and finished out the day.

We got up and headed for the airport.  After dropping K and P off, I started making my way back to Atenas  but zigged when I should have zagged and ended up having to go to the nearest town to turn around.  It wasn’t a huge mistake because it only added about 10 minutes to the trip.  Hey, I had gas in the car, money, and a passport, so I figured what the hell.  I stopped in town to have some breakfast and pick up some necessities, you know like rum and rice.

Since a lot of the roads are unmarked and one-way streets, I decided to park by one of the biggest landmarks in most any Spanish town, the central church, and walk.  I wandered around town for about 20 minute before I found one of the main US expat hangouts (Kay’s Gringo Bakery).  While the name implies it’s a bakery, it isn’t.  Her kitchen puts out a pretty good breakfast and lunch.  So if you’re looking for sweets, you’ll need to head to the middle of town beside another expat hangout, the local sports bar.
I got my breakfast, walked around town some more, and got my shopping done before heading back to the house.  Once there, I hit the pool for a quick dip.  The water was a bit chilly, but it was refreshing and that is what I was looking for.

Around dusk, the important part of my house sitting gig started.  I feed and watered the dog, and had to round up four guinea fowl and get them in the coop.  Well, one decided it didn’t want to come home.  I worried a little, really, just a little, but not enough to lose sleep.  And later, I had to walk the dog.
So, that concludes another day living the “Pura Vida”.

Since things don't change much when you're living "Pura Vida", I'll post again in a few days.

DAYS 4-5

The last few days have pretty much been the same so I didn’t bother posting anything.  In fact, nothing has really changed at all.  The weather has been great, the scenery spectacular, and the solitude to complete an on-line course welcomed.

But, after reading my post of the other day, I’ll expand a little on what my responsibilities.  They are really easy and don’t entail any more than most people do when they are home.  Well with one exception.  So here goes, I get up in the morning, feed and water the dog, water the plants (both inside and out because it’s the dry season here).  I let the guinea fowl out (the one that didn’t come home, well she comes to feed only a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon; I think she’s nesting), fed and watered them.  Did some on-line course work, lay in the sun, skimmed the pool, and cooked my meals.  In the evening, I put the hens back in the coop, feed and water the dog again, and clean the few dishes I used.  See, it is a tough job, HA.


Well Christmas here is quite different than it is in the US.  I’ve been in a few South and Central American countries as well as the Caribbean at Christmas and unlike the US, the holiday does not revolve around gifts.  It revolves around family, friends, and religion.  Even if you don’t believe in Jesus (and I do), you have to agree that the North American Christmas revolves around gift giving.  Just look at all the scrambling retailers do to get you in the stores to buy their products.  Enough of that and I’ll get off my Christmas soapbox.

This morning was no different than the others.  For the afternoon, I was invited by some of my new expat friends to attend a Christmas party in another town to which I accepted.  About 12 of us met in town and convoyed.  We headed towards San Jose then got on a road that I did not expect to see; a toll road.  And the toll was only about $.15.  Most of the roads are maintained as good as any secondary road in the US, but this toll road was interstate quality.

Anyway, we got to the house where the party was at and it was spectacular.  There were two large houses on the lot; one for the Costa Rican owner and one for his son.  His son decided not to live so close to mom and dad (good idea) so they rented the second house out.  The lot has enough room for yet a third house, but it’s covered with fruit and shade trees.  There is a shared swimming pool and gazebo that has plenty of room for entertaining.

 So, we were welcomed, shown around the house and everybody headed for the gazebo.  Before anybody sat down, drinks were poured.  Everybody mingled around a bit, looked at the outside of the house to include the four big dogs, a parrot, and about 30 parakeets.  After about an hour, dinner was served.  Now remember what I said earlier, Christmas is not the same overseas, well we had chili and finger foods for dinner.  It was great.  The cleanup was a 30 gallon plastic drum, commonly known as a garbage can and there were not enough leftovers to worry about.

Well, the party ended as uneventful as it had started and we convoyed back to Atenas.  Since I drove, I took the folks that road with me close to their house and headed home.  I accomplished my obligatory duties of cooping guinea hens (still minus the one) and taking care of the dog; lights out about 11pm.

29 December 2011

Still living the life of “Pura Vida” and trust me, you won’t hear me complaining.  The winds continue to blow, keeping the rain away and the temperatures down.  In the Costa Rican world (at least here in Atenas) these winds are known as the “Christmas winds” because they start around December and basically continue through New Year’s.  When they first started they were almost constant and gentle.  But, as the time went by, they constant wind speed increased and they contained some good sized gusts.  I had originally thought it would be good kite flying winds, but now I think the gusts would tear a kite to shreds, so that idea went like the rain; away with the “Christmas winds”.

I tried the “Jalapeño Bar and Restaurant” for dinner and the food was good.  Some of you know I’m a fan of rice and in most Latin American countries it’s a staple and they serve it with almost anything.  It’s like potatoes for a gringo.  Anyway, I had arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp) with a couple of beers for about $12 (including tip).  The food, service, and atmosphere were all good and I’ll probably go back again before I head out.  The place is located right on Highway 3 and it’s a typical Tico bar, restaurant. 
Other than doing my normal “job” and going out to eat, all remained the same.

Just an update on the past few days.

Went into town the other day to get some lunch at Kay’s Gringo Postres and catch up with the gringo gang.  Kay and a few other folks were just hanging around chatting and as I walked in, they welcomed me and invited me to join the conversation.  When you’re in Kay’s you, expect the conversation to be anything from what is going on in town, to what’s going on in the US.  So I joined them and asked for recommendations on some local places that I should see before heading home.  So here are some of the places around the Alajuela area you may want to see;   Poas Volcano National Park (there are also other volcanoes in the area but they were farther and not mentioned), La Paz waterfalls, Zoo Ave in Alajuela, and the Ojo de Agua which is like a Tico water park.  Keep in mind these were recommendations from people who live here and I did not personally check them out yet, so don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. Anyway, I ordered lunch and waited while Kati fixed me a good cheeseburger with fries.

Kay’s place is not only a restaurant, but a rather large library also.  I’d guess she has about 500 books that she loans out for your reading enjoyment.  She encourages folks to swap books and many times when somebody has finished a book, they donate to her library.  Al lot of the expatriates read a lot and at times the majority of conversation revolves around what they have read, recommended reading, and what is not so good.

With lunch and a little chatting completed, I headed back to the house to sit and do a little reading and on-line course work myself.  I took care of the daily tasks and called it a night

30 Dec 2011

Just another typical day in Costa Rica, living the “Pura Vida”.

With the upcoming celebrations I figured I’d better get some necessities to make it through to Monday, so I took a short trip to town.  While there, I stopped by “Don Tadeo Sports bar and Restaurant” (same place we stopped on my first night) to get something to eat.  The place was pretty full of gringos and Ticos for being 4 in the afternoon.  Like the first night, the food was pretty good and the beer was cold.  Speaking of beer, I’ve noticed something here that I’ve not seen before, when they give you a glass for your beer, it comes with ice.  Yep, a lot of people drink their beer over ice.  I tried it and for me, after it sits a while it gets watered down, so I guess you have to decide, do I want warm beer or watery beer.  It’s gotta be a personal decision.

Anyway, other than going to town to stock up, nothing is new.

31 Dec 2011

The “Christmas winds” are truly blowing today.  The house I’m sitting has a nice sized garden that has a shading net over part of it.  The framework to hold the net is made of bamboo poles which is abundant in the area.  Well, the winds blow the shading net over some of the plants and tore down a couple of the poles.  I went to work getting is secured so as not to damage anymore of the plants.  And believe me that took some work with winds blowing about 30 MPH and trying to hold a 20 foot square tarp or should I say kite.  Got it done and later in the evening after the winds died out, I went out and made it a permanent fix.  I hope it’s permanent.

About 8PM the New Years Eve celebrating started.  You could hear parties from town (mind you it’s a 10 minute drive) to the local villages.  All were having a good time and then the fireworks started.  Costa Rica is like a lot of the Latin American countries I’ve visited at this time of year, in that they do not have a lot of city sponsored fireworks.  The locals buy their own and blast away, so you never know what, when, or where your show will come from.  Sitting on the side of this mountain I had a pretty good vantage point for a lot, but even though I can see the city lights of San Jose (the capital city) I had trees blocking most of the fireworks.  The local stuff was pretty good with the main difference from the sponsored shows was they were smaller in size and less in quantity.

So the night continued to be noisy, with a lot of music, yelling, and more fireworks.  Come midnight, the skies lit up with color and the valleys roared with booms.  Across the ridgeline I could see flashes that would remind you of bombing during a war; you wouldn’t hear the boom but you would see the bright flash of light.  By 1AM, all was quiet, house lights were going out, and most people called it a night.

1 Jan 2012

HAPPY NEW YEAR world!!!!

The last couple of days were normal “pura vida” days.  Did my chores around the house, did more on-line course work, and relaxed.  K and P returned last night, they put most of their foodstuff away, and we chatted.  One thing I learned, well maybe not learned but realized, is that when you go on vacation you really don’t have time to “miss” something from home.  However, when you don’t have access to the things you’ve grown accustomed to, you tend to crave for them.  This really sunk into my mind when K and P returned with three containers of food and other products.  While they could find some or most of here, the cost is always higher.  The “substitute” products are not of the same quality and in the processed food arena (cereal, canned/frozen goods, etc) the nutritional levels are not always the same.  But on the flip side, most places I’ve lived outside the US have had a better selection of FRESH fruits and vegetables so I didn’t get the canned stuff.

Well, a new day has come and gone, and my house sitting gig ended.  I met some real good people and want to express my sincere thanks to K and P for allowing me to watch their home while they went on vacation.   I can only hope they are as happy with my sitting job as I was sitting for them.  It was truly a fun experience and sponsored by two great people.  I had fun with the dog (Sierra) and what started out to be four guinea hens.  For those that haven’t kept up to speed, I thought I lost one on the first night.  But, she showed up the next day, only long enough to eat though.  And as I am writing this post, I got an email from P that explains why I was missing guinea hen; she said “… you're an uncle! Berta has at least 10 babies!!”

So, now that my job is complete, I’ll start a short vacation of my own.  The way I figure it, I purchased a plane ticket to house sit, so why not extend my stay in Costa Rica after the home owners return and take a vacation of my own.  K and I tried to go to the Poas volcano, but with the cloud cover and rain, the folks at the gate sat we would not be able to see anything so we left.

Right now, I’m staying at the Santa Maria Inn ( which is on the outskirts of San Jose.  The inn is nice but since I’m not renting a car it is a somewhat challenging walk to get to a restaurant.  Roads are narrow, not lighted real well, no sidewalks, and of course the traffic.  I’ll only be staying here for a couple of nights then relocating to downtown San Jose.  If I have to stay at hotel for a night when arriving or departing Costa Rica, so far this will be the place.  First, the staff is excellent, the room is nice, and with that, I can only assume the free breakfast will also be good.  I’ll let you know.

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