Sunday, July 31, 2005

CR: Paradise or Environmental Disaster?

So I went to the Costa Rican Democrats Abroad monthly speaker meeting. The speaker was introduced as the number one Costa Rican activists. But first they had a debate and openings and blah blah a lot of talking. Basically a bunch of retired people debating CAFTA, oil, war, upcoming elections. They track each state to make sure they are involved. They also do a lot of letter writing. Pretty active group, surprisingly.

Basically there are a number of environmental disasters going on down here:
1. Garbage! Lots of garbage. The city of San Jose's landfill is full and they still haven't finalized a contract for a new spot. Seems like there are some allegations of corruption.

2. Recycling! There are recycling facilities here, but there are not any pick up systems for it. So recycling is dependent on very poor people mining the trash for goods. I've volunteered on the environmental committee and we are going to be working on tetrapak. Tetrapak is from some European country that is encouraging recycling of their products by providing technical expertise, etc. Tetrapak is the packaging for soy milk, regular milk, wine, etc.... Wine from a box is popular down here because of the moist hot weather. You can get some good wine from a box! Milk in a box is also very popular down here. Unfortunately the queen activist mentioned earlier says that Dos Pinos (the big milk manufacurer and user of tetrapak) has been promising to establish a recycling program for years but hasn't.

3. Transportation! Ask anybody who lives here and they will tell you that the roads are hell. That's bad because it increases the maintanence on cars. But that's not the point. Taxes on cars are extremely high, therefore people hold onto older gas guzzling polluters for longer than they should (although getting new cars is a form of consumption), when higher efficiency vehicles could be used. Additionally the only people who use the busses are people who can't afford a car. The bus system down here is privately operated because their are market forces that insure that they will make money. Unfortunately these busses are also big polluters. I can't find the source, but I read an article that if the governemnt reduced the tax on cars pollution would go down because people would buy more fuel efficient cars. I'm not sure, that just might encourage people to buy more cars. Needless to say in San Jose pollution is a pretty big deal. The government has an incentive to reduce it, nationalized health care has to pay for all of the ailments attributed to pollution.

4. Chemicals! There are chemicals here for everything. Every public bathroom you go into is laced with these smelly pucks. They make my nose burn worse than any thing else you would smell in a bathroom down here. In San Jose the bathrooms seem generally cleaner, I don't think they need all those smelly crap pucks. They should just put flowers in the bathrooms. We have a bouquet of flowers in our house and you can smell it outside before you even walk in the house, mmmmm beautiful flowers for super cheap. No seriously though Costa Rica has the worst record for banning dangerous chemicals. This activist passed around a list of Central American countries and the chemicals they've banned. Costa Rica had the lowest number of banned chemicals, something like 23; whereas Nica, Guat, Hond, Pan and other countries had higher numbers of banned chemicals. Assuming banning more chemicals is better. According to the speaker the government officials say yes they are working on it, but they never are and have no intention of working on it. Remember this is costa rican culture. It's better to tell somebody a lie than to tell them the truth if you think it will cause ill feeling. Kind of like the ill feeling I have in my nose from chemical pucks.

5. Endangered Species: Everybody knows that Costa Rica has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife diversity than anywhere on the planet. The Costa Rican government has placed protections on certain species. Take for instance certain species of trees. There are a numbered of endangered trees that have been listed. The problem is that the guards who are suppose to be on the look out for these special trees do not know how to identify them. So there is very little enforcement of these laws. There are a lot more species in danger that she elaborated on but I can't remember enough of the details.

6. Shark finning: Shark finning is when they capture a bunch of sharks hack off the fins and sell them to the Taiwanese who use it for an aphrodesiac. Can't they just use ginger or X, com on! Completely illegal but it happens anyways. Shark numbers have been going down drastically in the last few years. The costa rican government is suppose to send an official on every boat to watch out for this but they never do. They don't have enough resources.

Funny joke, my friend Abby who works at the Tico Times has been doing a great job of following the shark finning problem and writing about it. When they heard that Shar Cayman was coming to town they gave her a nickname: Shark Coming. They have a cute little dance that goes with it. Shar was a good sport and laughs, but won't answer to the nickname.

Read more about it here

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Rio Picaure

So Shar and I just got back from a two day rafting trip on the River Picaure. It was so much fun.

First we get picked up in downtown San Jose at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. Than we drive about an hour and a half to the rafting company headquarters and have breakfast. Than drive a few more minutes to the river. We let the other one day groups go than we pack up the rafts and head down. This was a pretty active river, with a lot of section 3's and 4's with very few flat spots. I would say that it was more intense than the Rogue River and the Deschutes, but not the Klamath River. The river was the best part about the tour. The scenery, the smells and the rapids were amazing. Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures on the river because the river was so active there were very few spots to get the camera out and take pictures.

The guides were very nice and the company was very organized. You never know with Costa Rica what you are going to get but this company had their shit together, so to speak. The lodge was rustic, but very nice. It had hot water, which is more than you can say for some hotels. They cooked all the meals. They were not gourment, but very nice. The best part was the view from the dining hall.

We also had a chance to do some canopy touring, which is just a bunch of cables strung across trees and you just zip down the line. I guess it's just scary because you are so high up. You just step off this platform into nothing, you are just hooked to this cable. I guess if you are a climber you might be used to this. This canopy tour was included in the package so I did it, but I don't think I would pay to do a canopy tour. I kind of saw it as a way to entertain tourists in the jungles. If the terrain, new smells, sights, animals, plants, bugs weren't enough to keep you entertained, which they are for me, they will take you up into this canopy tour and scare the crap out of you if you are afraid of heights, which I'm not. Though, the bugs and the snakes on the ground really scare me.

You can see the rest of the Rio Pacaures pictures.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I am not a Tica whore

There are pros and cons to looking like a Tica (Costa Rican woman). Brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin go a long way in avoiding taxi drivers ripping you off, random cat calls and stupid stuff Latin guys say to gringas. I know this because I was walking around town with my friend Shar who is really tall and a real redhead. We got soooo many rude cat calls and the taxi drivers trying to jack the prices up.

It's not that bad when I am walking around with Adam. The taxi drivers sometimes try to jack us but luckily there are no cat calls. The flip side to that is people think I'm a Tica who has just found herself an American sugar daddy. You can see the looks and you know what they are thinking. It's not unusual to see some young Tica girl with an older man walking out of the Del Rey hotel, a notorious prostitution house. Prostitution is legal here and 'sex vacations' are pretty big here.

Sex vacations are guys coming down here for a 'fishing trip', where they catch more than fish on the boats. If their wives want to come they just leave their wives at a spa or medical facility where she can get a quick nip and tuck. Adam and I found this out by sitting next to a guy on the plane that was a pimp. Yes, a pimp! He had a charter fishing boat.

But no, I am not a Tica whore, I do have a real job.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ok ok breathe....

I have been holding back the criticism of Houston Texas just because "If you don't have anything nice to say". That was until I went to the mall to go to the book store to get a few English books before heading back to CR. I went to the Galleria mall which is huge. It had all the money stores in it. My urge to run away was strong while in this mall. I was able to find my way to the book store and it was tiny. Probably slightly larger than one of the three Starbucks that I passed on the way there. I actually laughed out loud when I saw it. Coming from Portland where book stores can take up whole city blocks and be four stories tall.

Needless to say they didn't have any of the books that I was looking for so I got Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I really enjoyed The Davinci Code and have heard that A&Ds was good too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Job Duties

Yesterday I flew from Costa Rica to Houston for work. When I got to Houston I realized that I didn't have my driver's license, it was waiting for me in my PO box in town. That meant that I couldn't get the rental car that I had reserved. I hopped into a cab at the airport and started heading towards town. The guy driving was of latino descent so I started talking to him in Spanish. He could speak English but he was excited that a gringo could actually understand and (sort of) speak Spanish. He was from Guatamala and had been in Texas for 15 years. Originally in Guatamala he was a teacher and had some good advice on learning Spanish.

1) Buy a dictionary
2) Live where you are required to speak/listen to Spanish daily.
3) Watch telenovelas (Soaps) on TV.

Roberta has always said that she is watching the telenovelas to learn Spanish. I always made fun of her in the past. Sorry.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Tico Time's Girls

If you get the Tico Times you will know that this week there was an 'entertainment' section where the Tico Times describes Karaoke in Costa Rica. There were some great photos of people singing their hearts out.

Backup a little bit...

So a friend from the United States introduced me to her friend Shar via e-mail. Shar just moved to Costa Rica and will be teaching at a private school Escazu, she's been staying with us for the last week. Shar was introduced to another teacher who knows some reporters at the Tico Times, who used to work at the same private school (it's a very small world in the english speaking circles of Costa Rica).

Well we meet the girls at a popular taxi pick up place, and low and behold the pictures in the newspaper matches who we are having dinner with. Needless to say there was a lot of teasing going on. But, I guess Karaoke is very popular with the Tico Times crew.

We end up at Machu Pichu (after getting ripped off my the cab driver, grrr). Machu Pichu is a very famous Peruvian restaurant that sells pisco sours. Pisco sours are now my new favorite drink, not that I drink that much. They are made out of some sort of brandy, lemon juice, and sugar. The brandy has a higher alchohol content than vodka so the first drink is all you need, but that is different than how much you want! By the second pisco sour we were ready to head to the karaoke bar. Luckily it was so crowded that only one person from our crowd made it up to sing. After that we went home because I just can't do that all night thing anymore, especially with karaoke involved.

Here is a picture of Shar,Roberta, and Adam.

Click for pic

Friday, July 08, 2005

Straight razors in the mechanic district.

That sounds like a good band name even though that is what I did today.

Two days ago our wonderful truck that we got a deal on overheated. Luckily we caught it before all the water drained out of the motor. We were heading over to try the restaurant Matsuri Sushi in Plaza Cristal in San Pedro. Right when we pull in the parking lot I smelled motor water in aerosol form. I look over at the temperature gauge and it is pegged. We pull over quickly and watch all the water drain out of the motor.

That set a nice mood for eating dinner. The sushi was ok but so damn expensive. The Spider Roll was very fishy and oddly crunchy. I don't think that we will eat sushi in Costa Rica again.

Anyhow, back to the story, we had to leave the truck in the parking lot at plaza Cristal for the evening and our mechanic came the next day and towed it to his shop. Turned out a water hose had cracked. He replaced the hose and that fixed it.

Our mechanic is over by Plaza Vicquez which is where we swim for lunch. After swimming today I walked over to the mechanic's and noticed a barber on the corner. After paying for the truck I went back and got my hair cut. I got my point across that I wanted to get it all shaved off. After shaving my head with an electric razor he busted out the straight razor and started to even everything up. All that I could think was "What is the Spanish word for ouch?", especially when he started shaving my neck. No blood, the guy was good. Good job for about $3.

Now I need to find some people who want to start and band and call it "Straight Razors in the Mechanic District".

You won't like me when I'm angry.

We went and saw Batman last night again for the second time, great movie by the way. We got back home at around midnight and I tried to check email and such and noticed that the internet was down. I decided that it could wait until morning.

It was still broken this morning so I called up tech support and the guy on the phone said that it was a problem with my computer. I hate having to pull the "I do computer networking for a living." bit but after about 30 minutes of him telling me that I needed to take my computer to a technician I did. It didn't help. Lo and behold, it made it to the front page of the paper this morning that ICE screwed up a router and knocked out internet service. But the funny part was that they broke the router last night and when I called this morning they didn't inform me that there was a current known problem.

It takes a lot to make me rant. Breaking my internet and then telling me that I need to take my computer to a professional is probably the easiest way. I am gonna head to a dark room and do some breathing exercise.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sunny day trip to the park

Roberta and I had been meaning to go to this park where they fly kites and check it out. It was a sunny Sunday so we decided to go. It was packed with people and there was the usual kid chaos and there were ponies and a ton of people flying kites. The pictures will speak for themselves.

Pictures of the park

Monday, July 04, 2005

4th of July Picnic

We went to the 4th of July picnic and had a great time. There were probably a few thousand people there. It was very similar to going to a county fair except without the animals. A petting zoo here would be kinda sad since the animals are so skinny because it is so hot(except my kitty). I really think that the pictures and captions will speak for themselves.

Pictures here

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Bzzzt zap crzzzzt!!!

For a lunch break today I decided to drive over to my favorite Cuban cigar store to pick up a couple for the party tomorrow(I will get back to the party). I was driving my normal route and typically where I take this one left right after a bank there were a bunch of cars stopped. I had my window rolled down and I heard what sounded like a crew of workers demolishing something. Almost like a jackhammer crossed with an arc welder. A guy came running to the end of the street and waved us on past that street. At that point I heard a Firetruck coming. The traffic started to move and as I drove by the road I saw that there was a powerline down in the middle of the road arcing. Huge showers of sparks and really loud poppings. The cable was literally jumping around the street like a firehose. Exciting.

Ok, now back to the party.

There is a huge party tomorrow to celebrate the 4th of July. It is put on by the US Embassy and has an expected turnout of around 5000 Americans. You have to show a valid passport to get in and there is all the free beer, cotton candy, icecream, bagels, etc that you can handle. There are games and two stages with music and performers and a water balloon toss and much more. Sounds like a crazy messed up zoo. Should be fun. Oh yeah, the best part is that it is from 8:00AM until noon. You have to have it that early because it starts raining at around 1:00 every day.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Little Joys in Life

Daily rythms have found their way into my life again, thankfully. There were a few months that went by without a daily rythm; moving, finding apartment, etc. That tends to to get old for me.

One of the things that I do is go to the mall (almost) every morning. Whah? The mall you ask? Yes my gym is there and it is so close I can walk. Otherwise I would be paying outrageous rich people fees to drive to some dumb country club. It's really easy here to work up a sweat. So after that on my walk home I hit the local orange juice cart. Orange juice carts are shopping carts converted into roving juice carts. So a fresh glass of orange juice on my walk home is one of my little joys, it costs about .50 cents and there is no pulp! Mmm yummy

Another little joy is seeing our truck right where we parked it. I always say to myself, woohoo I can't believe the truck is still there. There is no alarm system or anything and with late model SUVs being the easiest to break into and steal, it's a small little joy to see it parked right where we left it.

And have we mentioned before, people here are genuinely happy. There's no grumpiness, or bitchiness. There are a lot of refugees here and people who are very poor, but no need to be upset about it. When Adam is not looking I tend to give spare change out, sometimes they will give you a little treat for your change like mints but today I got a really nice smelling single stick of incense. It smells nice.

Another thing that makes me happy is working. This week I have finally started working. I like working, just not the 9-5 office thing. Here are the guys I am working for: GIS