There is a Monster Under My Bed- Surviving my First Earthquake in Costa Rica

It was about 9 pm when I started falling asleep Friday night. It was early but I had a long week and after one glass of Seville and tonic, I was done. I told my hubby, whom I’d been video-chatting with, I love you and called it a night. I’m a light sleeper and any light or sounds awaken me, so I put in one ear plug and covered my eyes with my blinders.

About 4 hours later, something scared me half to death. I was awakened to my bed being shaken. I felt it once and thought I was dreaming until, it happened again. This time I jumped up because I thought a monster was under my bed. Half asleep, I looked over at my vanity to see if anything had fallen over. Perhaps it was an earthquake, but I couldn’t see anything. The dogs outside were barking and then suddenly stopped. I checked under my bed, no demons there. I called Darryl and left him a message. Of course he didn’t answer, he was asleep. It was 1am here which meant 3am there. My heart was beating out of my chest and it took me 2 full hours, and 2 episodes of Making the Cut, to finally fall back to sleep.

Later that day, Darryl checked google for any record of Earthquakes in Costa Rica and there it was. At 12:53am, a 5.0 Magnitude Earthquake occurred in the North Pacific Ocean, 44 km South of San Isidro, Costa Rica. That was the monster that shook my bed side to side, woke me from my slumber and scared the shit out of me. The website www.volcanodiscovery.com provides alot of information on Earthquakes around the world. Check out this reporting from that website on earthquake occurrences in Costa Rica:

Past 24 hours8 quakes | 5 quakes M2+ | 3 quakes M3+
Past 7 days87 quakes | 43 quakes M2+ | 35 quakes M3+ | 4 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 30 days316 quakes | 157 quakes M2+ | 132 quakes M3+ | 18 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 90 days781 quakes | 340 quakes M2+ | 379 quakes M3+ | 50 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 365 days2,944 quakes | 1,148 quakes M2+ | 1,519 quakes M3+ | 226 quakes M4+ | 14 quakes M5+ | 3 quakes M6+
https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/earthquakes/costarica.html

The ironic thing is, we had an earthquake drill at my school just this week and my Director and I were just discussing our experiences with earthquakes on Friday morning. The only other earthquake I had ever experienced was in Philadelphia 11 years ago. I remember that earthquake clearly because I was in training at the first school I ever worked at. It was a 5.8 Mag earthquake that struck in Virginia and was felt pretty far up the East Coast.

I guess now is as good a time as ever to prepare an emergency bag. I had one prepared in Qatar when the Embargo occurred against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and talks of war were everywhere. No matter where you are in the world, it is always better to be prepared. Thankfully, I am ok and this was just an interesting, surprise experience in my new country. I just love my life!

Buying a Car in Costa Rica

Meet Skittles, my new road dog.

I’m so excited that I am now mobile in Costa Rica. It didn’t take long for me to realize that having a car here would be very helpful. The area around Santa Ana, where I live, is walkable however, in the rainy season, walking is not the best option. Also I really want to explore the country.

Skittles is the brightest colored car I have ever owned and it all started one day when I arrived at work. In the parking lot, I saw the cutest, small, lime green car and it instantly brought a smile to my face. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted a car that made me smile too. I wanted a car with personality, a bright colored car that would stand out.

Buying a car in a new country can seem daunting so here’s my experience and I hope it helps someone. The most common ways of finding a car here include: Facebook Marketplace, traveling to Grecia (an area filled with lots of car dealerships, reminds me of Passyunk avenue in Philadelphia, or a car mall), visiting local auto dealers and 2 popular websites: encuentra24 and crautos . Two of my coworkers went to Grecia and said they were overwhelmed. I had success using crautos.com.

Checking out a few cars and then taking a mechanic along with you when you find a car that you are very interested in, seems like the best choice. Thankfully, my schools H.R. department has connections and hooked me up with a mechanic. Skittles came from a private owner. The couple were/is super nice and bought the car to my condo for me to view and test drive. The mechanic also met at my condo. He charges a fee of 50,000₡ ($80) each time. Thankfully, I only needed to use him once. He completed a diagnostic check right there, took the car for a spin and then gave me his approval. I told the couple I wanted the car, negotiated a little and gave my verbal agreement of purchase. That was on Saturday. By Tuesday, my H.R. rep had arranged for our school lawyer to meet at the school, with the couple and myself to sign over the papers. The lawyer’s fee was 400,000₡ ($633). This seems expensive but it included everything needed for me to drive my new car home that same day.

So for the purchase of my used, 4×4, Hyundai Tucson Limited, mechanic check, change over and all paperwork, I spent approx $15,400. This does not include the car insurance, that I was not required to purchase straight away. I have been quoted 303,000₡ ($480) for the year, for full car insurance. This is insanely inexpensive compared to the U.S. I thought car insurance was cheap in Qatar, at approx $1100/year, but this is amazing. Full car insurance in Philadelphia is about $250/mth.

The most difficult part of the entire process was two-fold. 1) Finding a car, 2) Finding a way to pay for it, when the majority of my money is not here. My job was super helpful with the whole process and made it easier. So far, I am pretty happy with my choice. Let the adventures begin…

Adjusting to Life in Costa Rica- 1 Month in…

It’s been a little over 1 month since I’ve moved to Costa Rica and I have gone through all four stages of culture shock at different times and some at the same time. I’ve moved through most of the stages in moments rather than days. Stage 1: The Honeymoon stage- There have been times, when I have been extremely happy with the move. I do not regret my decision in the least. Stage 2: The Frustration stage- Banking was frustrating, as is trying to find a car, so is being unable to hold a conversation with my Uber driver because my Spanish is minimal, and being cancelled by my Uber driver after waiting 8 minutes. This stage comes and goes due to bouts of loneliness too. Stage 3: The Adjustment Stage- I think, this stage takes the longest because I am constantly adjusting, especially mentally. Stage 4: Acceptance- Although I go through all stages here and there, ultimately, I understand that I must accept what is so that I can thrive in my new environment. I will admit that the hardest part has been doing this completely alone, no friends, no family, no familiarity.

I’ve moved into my condo, aka- apartment. I haven’t lived in a place this small since my first apartment right out of high school. It’s a lovely, top floor, 1-bedroom apartment. Since it’s in the central valley, where most people are located, Santa Ana to be exact, it’s pretty expensive compared to some other parts of this country. My rent is $850/mth. My housing allowance is $800. During my search for my place, I was torn between the one I chose and a 2-bedroom that would have run me $300 additional per month. I settled on the less expensive 1-bedroom to give myself time to adjust financially. My condo grounds are immaculate, very green and clean. It has a nice pool and a gym.

My place is an hour walk from work, a 15-20 minute Uber ride or a 25+ minute bus ride. I’ve done all three. I prefer to walk to get my cardio in, which is the only exercise I’ve accomplished so far. But walking home from work has proven difficult in the rainy season, which is the season we are currently in and I would prefer not to exhaust myself and get sweaty before work. The bus is cheap, only $0.49 but it takes the longest time and taking it means being out the house an hour before I’m due at work. The bus is my least favorite mode of transportation, not because anything is wrong with it. I just don’t like to take public transportation anywhere and you have to leave so early to ensure you make it on time. I use Uber most days. It runs me about $5.00 each way. Sometimes it takes a while to secure an Uber and sometimes they even cancel on you, so while it is convenient due to door to door service, it’s not the best either. So in summary, I’m looking for a car.

But cars are expensive here, about $3-5,000 more than in the U.S. Kia and Hyundai seem to be the most common brands here. Once you leave the main roads, the others can be quite rocky and underdeveloped so I believe a truck would work best. I definitely don’t want to run into the same problems I had in Qatar with a vehicle. That American car cost me an arm, leg and mental anguish. I was so happy to be through with it. So now I’m taking my time and being smarter with my car buying decisions. Having my own car would be super helpful right now. My new country is absolutely beautiful and I want to get out there and explore it more.

One of things I love the most about Costa Rica is the flora and fauna. This place is the complete opposite of Qatar in that area. I look outside of the window of my workspace and see so much green.

Every morning, I am greeted by bird sounds that I’ve never heard before and a red breast squirrel even greeted me on my balcony twice. I’ve been on two hikes, so far, and couldn’t stop snapping pictures of colorful flowers, breathtaking views and natural beauty. I assume a mix of this crazy rainy season and the fertility of the volcanic ash makes this place what it is- a paradise to the eyes, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

For my birthday weekend, I borrowed the school van, (yes this is allowed which is a wonderful perk) and along with two other teachers drove down to Jaco (pronounced Ha-kō) beach. The scenery along the drive was beautiful. We stayed only one night, and the beach wasn’t swimmable but still it was a lovely time. I spotted a black squirrel, several iguanas, and some leaf cutter ants on the hotel grounds. This past weekend, Darryl flew down and we took a tour to the Arenal volcano. On this tour, we visited the Tres Generationes coffee plantation and had the best coffee we ever tasted. We also visited the Cinchono Waterfalls, which is in the center of the Americas. I felt like I was back in Hawaii standing in front of this waterfall. It looked identical to the ones Darryl and I had seen on the road to Hana and for the first time, and for a brief moment, we both admitted that maybe we could stay here instead of moving to Hawaii. It was on this tour that I saw a sloth in person for the first time, along with some other animals and Darryl got attacked by a Couti. More on that in another post. We zip-lined through the rainforest and I repelled down a mountain. Needless to say, the last two weekends have been full of fun.

As for daily life, I get up, go to work, come home, video chat with my hubby, cook, watch tv. The same things I was doing before, just in a different place. Work is definitely different here. Some days I love it, others I don’t. I work longer hours than I have in years and I’m quite busy. Resources are less than what I’m used to and the power goes out from time to time. I’m making less money but so far I’m still able to save. The natives are very pleasant; everyone speaks and smiles. The children are sweet and affectionate but are not used to sitting still. I’m not in the classroom 100% of the time so that’s a plus. I haven’t quite found my footing as the ECE Coordinator yet, but hopefully that will change. It’s a new position for the school and for me so I kinda feel like I’m on trial and not really sure where I fit. I just remember why I’m here and make the most of it. Twice a week, I attend free Spanish classes after school, which are needed, because everyone does NOT speak English. Learning Spanish will make life easier here. My Spanish is improving because I try to use it as much as possible. I want to learn it. One of my only regrets about Qatar was not learning the language before I left. Sure it wasn’t necessary but it would have been nice and I don’t want to make that mistake twice.

Moving abroad has it peaks and valleys especially in the beginning. Some days are easy. Some days are tough. So if you’re wondering how I’m doing, I’m adjusting…

The Big Move to Costa Rica

July 9 was move day. With all the negative experiences people have been sharing about the airlines lately, it was a big concern. My flight had been changed prior from a PHL departure and short layover in Miami to a layover in Boston, then a longer layover in Miami with a next day arrival. This was not acceptable so I cancelled that flight on Jet Blue and rebooked another on United, non-stop to SJO from Newark Airport. There were some discrepancies on the weight and size limits of the baggage that I could take but in the end I used the information given to me over the phone by a representative. We were allowed a max of 2 checked bags, that we had to pay for, and 1 carry-on and personal item for free. At the advice of some other expats in a FB group I joined, I purchased some totes for odd shaped items. In total, I packed 2-62.4 dimensional containers, purchased from Lowes, 2 large suitcases, 2 medium suitcases, 2 small suitcases for carry-on and 2 backpacks as personal items. Darryl and I left with 10 total pieces of luggage, 8 which were mine. I paid $440 in total but I didn’t mind because I would be reimbursed by my job for relocation costs. A very nice United Airlines attendant helped us at the airport with rearranging our seats so that we were sitting together and in spacious seats. (Advice: wait to get to the airport and ask for seat changes rather than paying for them online)

We had to present proof of return flight, within 90 days, since we were going on a visit visa, which we would obtain on arrival. This is a Costa Rican rule. I cannot obtain my work visa until my FBI apostille comes back from Washington. The only two documents I was required to get authenticated for work in Costa Rica was my birth certificate and FBI background check. The Birth Certificate authentication is completed at the state office building, Harrisburg in my case. That was a simple task of simply driving up there, walking in and paying a small cash fee of $15.00. The FBI authentication is completed through the national office in D.C. and walk-ins are not accepted. I used the third party company ProEx again; the same one I used to get my documents authenticated for Qatar. Their services cost me $150 and takes approximately 4 weeks. I still plan on flying back home for the October break rather I have the document within 90 days or not.

Our flight departed only a few minutes late and was rather pleasant. Five hours is a whole lot less than the 12.5 hour flight I was used to taking to get to Qatar. Getting through immigration was easy. They simply asked where we were staying, stamped our passport and whisked us through. There are nice gentlemen in green shirts at baggage retrieval that can help you with your bags for $20. Containers like totes come out of the area marked with the number 1 all other baggage comes out of different baggage carousels. Minus 1 missing tote handle, all of our things arrived safely. Thankfully Darryl had the bright idea to zip tie the totes as extra security. The lines for customs was disheartening, however they moved quickly and we were out of the airport in under 30 minutes.

My new VP picked us up from the airport and she had a vehicle big enough for all of our stuff. She drove us to the Aloft hotel, where we would be staying until we found housing. In our room was a small gift bag with coffee, cookies and snacks from Costa Rica, cash of ¢150,000 ($215 approx.) and a prepaid phone with ¢30,000 ($43 approx.) credit for our use for the first few days.

After dropping off our baggage, Mrs. VP and family took us around the neighborhood and then to get something to eat. The restaurant is where I learned my first lesson about Costa Rica: I need to learn Spanish and fast…

10 Facts About my Next Home

Quick Read…

Written before the move…

Within a few days, I will be off to my new adventure. This summer was super short. I literally had 3 weeks off. I spent most of this time preparing for the move. In between, I did get in a 5 day trip to Panama (more on that coming up in a future post), some quality time with family and a little down time to do some research.  So, here are 10 facts about my soon to be new host country. 

  • A lot of people think Costa Rica is an island but actually it is not.  It is a part of Central America and borders Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south. However, it does have several uninhabited islands.  Can’t wait to explore them. (costarica.org)

  • Costa Rica does not have a military. The Military was abolished in 1948, and money was reinvested in education, social security and health care.  The standard of living has been steadily on the rise since then, the country’s literacy rate is 98%, and the infant mortality rate is the second lowest in the region.  (ticotravel.com)

  • It is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with 5% of the world’s biodiversity and 500,000 species of wildlife.  (trafalgar.com)

  • Costa Rica has a high life expectancy and is home to one of the 5 blue zones in the world, Nicoya.  (asuaire.com)

  • You can see the sunrise on the Caribbean side and sunset on the Pacific side in the same day (visitcostarica.com). It is possible to drive across the entire country and catch them both.

  • There are about 750,000 species of insects that live here, including 20,000 different spiders, and 10% of the worlds butterflies. (bahiaaventuras.com) I almost declined the offer to move here because of this fact .

  • There are more than 121 volcanic formations and seven active volcanoes. Most of the volcanoes are in the northern part of the country. (bahiaaventuras.com) Costa Rica’s soil is rich in minerals due to many eruptions over the past millennia.

  • The country is about the size of West Virginia or slightly smaller than Lake Michigan (puravidamoms.com)

  • It is the most visited country in Central America due to its rich biodiversity and ecotourism. (worldstrides.com)

  • Costa Rica was ranked one of the happiest country in the world in 2012. (hidden lemur.com)

Hopefully you enjoyed reading some facts about Costa Rica and learned something new. Do these facts motivate you to visit this country?

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