Your Costa Rica Resource

Thinking of moving to and living in Costa Rica? Learn from our experience - we are your resource. Click here if you're living in Costa Rica and would like to be a contributor.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lisa's 'day in the life'

Since my past days have been spent at the beach with Bruce's family, I'm going back a couple of weeks to when I was teaching 2 classes per day at a school in Heredia, one from 9am-11am and one from 7pm-9pm. These are both advanced English classes for Call Centers that meet 4 times per week (Monday-Thursday) for two hours each day. It's 6am on a Monday (-Thursday) morning. My alarm goes off. I think it's an alien intrusion ringing the doorbell, over and over. At 6:02 I discover the aliens have gone and noise they rudely left behind is my alarm. Damn. I stumble sleepily to the bathroom to a shower and get dressed for the day. At 6:40 I'm sitting at the dining room table/office desk preparing my 9am lesson. I type up a sales activity, review/prepare a grammar lesson, and decide on an in class role-play to do if we have extra time. I make some breakfast and coffee, leave enough for sleeping Bruce, of course, and I'm out the door by 8:20. After a 3 minute walk to the bus stop, a 5 minute wait for any bus going into Heredia, a 10 minute bus ride, and a 5 minute walk, I'm at the school. I make my copies, organize handouts for students who missed last class, chat with coworkers about their weekends and whether or not they are going to use the computer lab for their class that morning, staple, hole-punch, and class time. We begin class at 9 (with stragglers showing up until 9:30). We have class until 11am with no breaks. At 11, one or two students ask me questions on words they heard in a rap song (tricky) or read in a book (better). We chat until 11:15, and after we're all satisfied, we say our goodbyes. From 11:15-1 I organize my class binders with the materials I used for that class and that I will use for next day's class, and I prepare for my evening class. I plan the evening class (same level as my morning class, but started 3 weeks later) using a combination of the school's curriculum and my previous lessons. When I'm happy and organized (the two usually go hand in hand), I either head home or out to a restaurant with my coworkers for lunch. This particular day, Bruce came up to meet me at the school and we walked with a few of our coworkers to the 'Artisan's Fair' in Heredia's Las Angeles park for lunch and to search for Secret Santa gifts. After a lunch of fajitas, empanadas and a fried plantain, we went our separate ways. Bruce and I returned our rented movie "Lucky Number Slevin," hopped on a bus, made a quick stop at Hiper Mas (poor man's Wal-Mart) for pancake mix, apples, spinach, and hand soap, and I was back home by 3pm. At this point I think about going for a run, it starts pouring, I rethink the run and decide against it. I catch up on emails, check on the blog, and relax. At 6pm, I'm out the door and on my way to my evening class. Same routine as the morning. At 6:55 my coworkers decide that we're all going to 'Fiesta' (the local chain casino) after work that evening at 9pm, so I call Bruce, make the plans, and it's time for class. Class goes well, and we finish promptly at 9. Bruce meets me at school at 9pm, we put our bags in our friend's car, and make our way to Fiesta. We do a bit of gambling, chatting, and free drinking until 11:30, at which point we call it a night. We catch a $2.00 taxi home, have a late late dinner (rotisserie chicken Bruce had picked up at the store), and proceed to fall asleep on our bed, mid-crossword puzzle due to exhaustion. The alarm is set, and we rest up for the next day of teaching in Costa Rica.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A day in the life:

So here’s my situation. I live in Heredia at my friend’s grandfather’s house and I teach at a University across town. I have 4 classes spread throughout the week. Right now, I teach night classes Monday – Thursday and a Saturday class as well. My school is on “bimesters” so every 7 weeks the schedules and classes change. Classes meet for 3 hours, twice a week or a nice 6 hour hunk on Saturdays. We basically have to cover an 8-page unit every week. My students range from your classic university students to middle-aged people with fulltime jobs and families to the thirteen-year-old prodigy’s who are already at the highest level of university English. This is what I did last Thursday.

I woke up at 6am and staggered for a cup of coffee at my friend’s house next door. By this time in the morning the whole house is up, with one brother already at work, another on his way and my friend at the gym. I ate a piece of bread and had coffee before I went back to my house using three keys to get through two locked front doors and two locked gates. Here I showered and dressed and was out the door by 6:50. I walked 10 minutes to the bus stop in front of the massive grocery store and waited with a growing crowd to take the red bus across town. By 7:05 I was speeding through Heredia in a packed bus. I arrived at my school by 7:20 and went to get keys to open up my classroom.

My 7:30am class is a midlevel group and mostly all university students who look like they will be there taking other classes after mine. The class has about 12 students and is about half men and half women. That day we covered tag questions and discussed food and cooking. Class starts at 7:30, but we never have quorum until 7:40. Also I give them a 25 minute break around 9am, but without fail some people straggle in 45 minutes later. We do discussions, cover some grammar, do some listening, I cover the homework and answer questions. I am a new teacher so I basically just follow the book exercise by exercise. It may be boring, but it is easier on me. I usually let them out by 10:20 and head back to the street to wait for the red bus.

At about 10:40 I hopped off the bus near the football stadium and went to the gym. I pay 10.000 colones a month ($20) for the gym and it has pretty good facilities, all the weights, a lot of machines and some cardio bikes and treadmills. I am no gym rat, so it serves my purposes. After an hour I left the gym and walked the rest of the way back to my house. Once home, I showered again and went next door to my friend’s house to eat lunch and use the internet. His mom, a retired biology teacher, makes all our food and even does our laundry. I think I had rice and beans, oh wait, I definitely had rice and beans and probably some kind of meat or picadillo. I watched some TV and played with the dogs in the back yard. Then I went upstairs to use the internet and check on the Bruce’s fabulous blog (heh heh) and read the NYTimes and my emails. By around 2pm I went back next door to my house to practice my guitar and do some reading.

At 5pm I got ready to work again. I gathered my stuff into a backpack, turned on my CD player and headed back to the bus stop. Recently it has rained without fail at this time of the day, so I brought my umbrella. My 6pm class is the highest level and has more of a mix of students. Almost all work, many at call-centers or places like Intel or Wallmart. We covered some idiomatic expressions and the construction of the passive. With this group I do less teaching and just try to provide opportunities to practice talking. With this class we had agreed to skip the break and just leave early, so by 8:30 I was back outside. By then, the rain had stopped and it was essentially my Friday night. I returned home to change out of my work clothes and see if anyone was going out. Most of the people I know have to work on Fridays, but my friend’s brother was free, so we went out to the Boulevar, and drank Imperiales until 1am. I came home, ate some soda crackers and called it a day.

Friday, November 17, 2006


While Bruce and Lisa are out enjoying the sun and surf I would like to take a moment to address some technical issues. Fun, fun.

Power of Attorney
If you are planning to be in Costa Rica for at least a year, you may want to look into giving someone power of attorney. This basically means that you authorize someone to act on your behalf legally in the United States (I have no idea how this works in other countries…). Of course, this person should be someone near and dear to you, because they will have real power and can do things in your name. Personally, I am using my dad. Having a person with power of attorney in the States can be useful for signing any documents, like your tax returns, leases etc., or for obtaining birth certificates and police records (both of which you need to apply for a work visa).
I did not designate a power of attorney before I came to Costa Rica, so I was forced to take a trip to the US Embassy in San José. I had the power of attorney form all filled out and needed to have it officially notarized, and the embassy is the only place to do that down here. After checking all my electronics at security and waiting for the cashier to open at 8am, I spent another hour and $30 to sign the document in the presence of a notary. Needless to say, this was way more complicated and expensive than in the US. So if for any reason you think you may need someone to act on your behalf in the US, designate that person before you leave. The embassy is not fun.

Since routine healthcare in Costa Rica is cheap by US standards, it is not really necessary for healthy, relatively young individuals to have full coverage healthcare. Going to the dentist can cost about $100 and medicines are cheap. Of course you should always carry accident insurance, especially with the way people drive here. I looked into some private US carriers and tried to decipher what all their cryptic plans meant, but I did understand the prices and I decided against it. Instead, I am using the local, semi-private system here in Costa Rica, INS ( They offer insurance to foreigners, both tourists and visa holders, so if you’re making border runs it should be no problem. Thankfully, I have not had to test out my policy, but I am glad to say it cost only $175 for a year of accident coverage up to $17,000 (that’s a huge amount here).

Staying in touch with loved ones back home can get expensive if you prefer talking to email, but I’d like to plug a great free service (no they’re not paying me, but they should…). With a microphone and speakers, or if you like, a headset, you can get free international calling service. If you go to you can download a program that acts much like any messenger program (IM, AIM etc), except it’s VioP (that’s voice over IP). The quality is OK, sometimes the calls drop, sometimes repeatedly, but the price is right, FREE. This is really great if you have the luxury of home internet access, but it can also work at internet cafes. I have found it’s not much trouble to install programs at many cafes; they may not be there when you get back, but security can be very lax. Also if you have a preferred place, you can build a relationship with the people that work there, they will be glad to sell you internet time while you chat with people back home.

OK, that about does it for me. One day I swear I’ll write something pertaining to teaching English. I swear.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Keeping ya posted

I wanted to quickly let everyone know that my parents and little brother are arriving in Costa Rica this weekend, and Lisa and I will be traveling with them all of next week, so there may not be a post in that interval. Perhaps DJLera has some info he'd like to share, or maybe Lisa and/or I will use an internet Cafe at some point between scuba diving and lounging on the beach in Manuel Antonio.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out my pictures from Costa Rica by clicking below, and let me know what you think, I always like to hear/read criticism of my photography.

Bruce and Lisa's Costa Rica Photo Album

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scuba Diving Certification

In breaking from the recent trend of talking about our first border run, I'd like to talk about what has kept me so busy the last week or so. I understand that this isn't directly relevant to teaching in Costa Rica, and it may only interest a few readers, but it's a part of living here in CR. So my parents and little brother are coming to visit Lisa and me at the end of November and we have plans to stay most of the time in the Parador Hotel in Manuel Antonio (they've already seen Monteverde, Arenal, Guanacaste, etc.), and my dad has decided that he wants to try his hand at Scuba diving. So at home in the states, he and my brother are currently finishing their scuba certification, and if I wanted to dive with them in MA, I would need to get certified here in Costa Rica.

There are a couple places that I found to get the certification in the San Jose area: Aquatica in San Pedro and Diving Mania in Sabana Sur. I chose Diving Mania becuase it is much closer (although still over an hour commute by bus in rush hour) and because it seemed to offer more of what I wanted at a better deal. So lets get down to prices. At Diving Mania the classroom and pool dives are all done at their dive shop in SJ. There are three 3 hour classes that include pool dives that cost $200. After that, you are required to do 4 open water dives, and Diving Mania directs at least one trip a month to Playas del Coco in Guanacaste to de these dives for only $150 extra. This completes your certification, and it is an INCREDIBLE deal. Believe me. The $150 includes 4 dives (which would otherwise be about $70 each), 2 nights in the Flor de Itabo hotel (which is decent - no more, no less), and 5 good meals at the hotel. To give you some kind of comparison number, to do the 4 open water dives to complete my certification with Manuel Antonio Divers, the company my family will be using to dive, it would cost me $250 and that DOES NOT include hotel and meals. I know I sound like I'm advertising for the company, and I guess I am, but they have not asked me to - I'm just doing it because I was very happy with the prices, facilities, and especially the people I worked with (Francesco is the owner and my instructor was Hector - both people were very nice and very good to work with).

So yeah, last weekend Lisa and I went with Diving Mania to Playas del Coco to complete my certification, and it was an absolutely fantastic weekend (two weekends at the beach in a row, hell yeah). Lisa has no interest in Scuba, so she paid $85 and that covered everything except the diving for the whole weekend (another good deal if your spouse and/or childred would like to come along). We actually dove through the Ocotal Resort which offers an array of diving excursions and is a beautiful resort with a nice pool and a private black-sand beach - that's where Lisa hung out during the day while I was diving.

I want to keep this somewhat short, so all in all the whole certification and diving experience was fantastic and I highly recommend contacting Francesco at Diving Mania if you would be interested in getting your certification. His number is 291-2963 and he can be emailed at

Also, if anyone has been diving here in Costa Rica and would like to share their experiences, I'd love to hear about them. Just leave a comment on this post.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Border Jump, part 2

"Lisa, I believe, is going to write next about the actual town of SJdelS (which was a really great place), finding a hotel, where to eat, what to do "... "hopefully Lisa can write about the remainder of our Border Run trip in the next day or so"... Thank you for the intro Bruce, I would be happy to write about the remainder of our trip! It's my pleasure.

So here's the scene- 6 20-some year olds pile out of a half-working, half-clunking Land Rover/Taxi in the beautiful and hot afternoon in San Juan del Sur. It's Friday afternoon. We have been traveling for almost 12 hours. We're tired, but thrilled to finally be on our feet for a while. 2 people from our group (friends we made on the bus) headed to a family friend's place, 2 more headed to the local hostel (Casa de Oro, quite nice for those travelers on a budget), and the last two, the lone Bruce and Lisa, wander the streets in search of a place to stay. We decided somewhere a little nicer than the hostel (at $10 per night), and a little cheaper than the gorgeous Pelican Eyes (a GORGEOUS hotel over looking the town, at a whopping $100 per night). After checking out a few hotels, there are at least 15-20 in the town, we decided on "Landmark Inn On the Playa." Yes, that is the correct name. A little Spanish, a little English, todo bien. The owner, a Virginia native, gave us a seemingly good deal at $25 per night, if we paid to stay all three nights right away. Our 'comfortable' room came with 'cable TV, a private bathroom, and an amazing breakfast.' Interestingly enough, the cable TV was literally a cable (perhaps for a TV, if you happened to bring one) sitting on a table in a corner of the room. The private bathroom, coincidentally right next to the bar (see picture), was also the private bathroom to half the hotel, nice. And the amazing breakfast consisted of 2 pieces of toast, coffee, and OJ. But the room was clean, sans bugs, and with air conditioning. Tricky thing though, the power is turned of several times a day in San Juan del Sur, and when it's at night, it's not too comfortable without AC. Also, walking to my 'private bathroom' at 4am with the light of my iPod's back light to guide me is less than desirable and quite scary. But, an adventure is an adventure. All in all, the hotel was fine. Free bike and snorkel rental, wonderful hammocks on the porch, 20 feet away from the beach (no joke, actually on the playa - the picture on the left is the view from the lobby), and tons of harmless townies and travelers to keep you entertained for hours. Bruce and I befriended a local by the name of Rafael, who I lovingly refer to as 'the pirate'. He speaks 14 languages, does magic tricks, acupuncture, and can chug a beer faster than anyone I've ever seen, at 9am, no less. So our hotel, though somewhat misleading, was a great place to meet a lot of great people with great stories. And it was clean(ish). Enough for me.

Our days were spent on the beach, drinking beers with Nicaraguan karate expert Jonathon, and fun-loving-stoned-out-of-his-mind-family man, who Jonathon said was not welcome with us. Fine by me. So we got rid of him, only to find him doing splits in our hotel's lobby several hours later (after spotting him playing in the sand with his daughter, and by playing, I mean, staring blankly at the sea while she laughs and giggle, not the happiest sight.) We also ventured down the beach a bit where the waves were bigger and the beaches were quieter. Also, there's plenty of snorkeling right around the cove, for those who are interested. We were more into the wave jumping. A word to the wise- though the beaches might be safe, we never left our stuff unattended. However, it's easy to find trustworthy gringos lining the beach who will watch your stuff, no problem, but don't leave it alone, bad idea. During the day, we also explored the town, the whole 6 blocks of it, took pictures, rode bikes around the streets, snuck up to Pelican Eyes for a drink (in the picture you see the Macuas we ordered; the Macua is the newly elected "national drink of Nicaragua"), refused to pay $5 to use their pool but drank there and enjoyed the view anyway (see picture below), and met some great people. The town has so much personality and it attracts people with personality, too, I can't wait to go back.

As for dining/going out, there are plenty of restaurants and bars. The ones off of the beach are about 40% cheaper, and just as delicious and fun. We got a great meal at Jerry's, we each had 1/4 roast chicken, curly fries, and two beers for $7 (that's combined). I hear their lasagna is to die for, but we weren't quite in the mood for lasagna in the hot hot sun. The other restaurants were good, great deal at Soda Margarita (casados for about $3), but nothing too special. Oh, do check out Gato Negro for their Banana Chocolate Pancakes. Neat little bookstore attached, too. Definitely go for some seafood from any beach front restaurant, try the dorado or wahoo, you won't be disappointed. As for places to go out at night, there's a disco at the end of the beach, plenty of bars along the beach, and a nice little gringo hangout known as 'Big Wave Daves.' 50 cent rum and cokes on Saturdays- gotta love it! Bottom line, buy a bottle of Flor de Cana from any local store, have some drinks in your room, then follow the hoards of people towards the most happening spot of the night. Quite reminiscent of freshman year, heading to the frat party. Sad but true. If that's not your scene, there are plenty of quieter bars with nice atmospheres to enjoy a drink or two with friends.

This post is long, and this is my last point. Unfortunately, Bruce and I ran into some money problems while we were in San Juan del Sur. Basically, we brought about $100 in cash between the two of us, two credit cards, and my ATM card for Banco Nacional (a CR bank). Unfortunately, between the departure taxes, cab rides, a meal or two, and some groceries, bruce and I were close to running on empty, with a full day and a half to go. Not many places took credit cards (only the expensive restaurants on the beach and hotels), and out of the two ATMs in the town, neither accepted my bank card, even with its MasterCard logo. So, I suggest two things 1) Take cash, 2) Take a US debit card. If you do get in a bind like us, try this, 3) Pay for lunch/dinner with your credit card and ask them to over charge you by however much cash you would like, and then get them to give the cash to you. Bruce and I did this our last day there, and they only charged us 4% on the extra money- most definitely less than the ATM would charge you for a foreign debit card! Needless to say, it turned out ok, but we definitely steered clear of pricey activities due to lack of cash. We had a great time, nonetheless.

Bottom line about San Juan del Sur- Lots of personality, cute town, but only stay for 4-5 days max, any more than that and you might get a little cabin fever. Next adventure to Nicaragua... Grenada! Hopefully this spring!

Check out more photos from our trip by clicking below

Border Run: Questions & Answers

Thanks for all the comments on my first Border Run post. Yes, I guess in some ways Lisa and are are Pioneers of the Frontera, but really, I'm happy to be a pioneer so long as I'm going to the beach (pura vida, right?).

To answer some of the questions, Lisa and I actually went from Friday morning till Monday morning to fulfull the 3 day requirement. The exit fee from CR is (I believe) $8, but I'll double check with Lisa. Going back into CR is much the same as going out, except you probably won't have much money to exchange to Colones. The border process is long, inefficient, but necessary for many of us Ex-Pats. Also the fee to get back into CR is somewhere between $3 and $11 dollars. Lisa and I both paid $3, but then later they asked for $8 more from the non-Central Americans, but the guy didn't ask the two of us for more money... go figure, I'm blonde and pale and definitely not Central-American.

Most employers understand completely that you need to take these border runs and have very little problem with you taking off work. Lisa doesn't have class on Fridays (lucky her), and one of my employers just asked me to make up the missed class if possible.

Finally, Joanne, I wouldn't worry too much about having to do the run on your own. First of all, its not that difficult, second, you'll meet a lot of foreigners through work that will have to do the same thing, and third, there will likely be other Americans/expats on your bus to Nicaragua that are going to the same place - we definitely used them to ask questions about the money changers, where to get off, etc etc.

Alright, well, Lisa and I have been very busy lately - hence the sporatic posts - but hopefully Lisa can write about the remainder of our Border Run trip in the next day or so.

Thanks again for all the questions, and keep them coming!