Monday, December 26, 2011

Tamales, Bull Fights and Baby Jesus

What's Christmas like in Costa Rica?  Just read the title, man!

December is when the tamales start showing up in Costa Rica.  It's a traditional food that's always eaten around Christmas time.  They're a bit different than Mexican tamales and are wrapped up in huge banana leaves, instead of corn husks, and tied in pairs with string.  Usually they have pork, and other veggies and rice, but you can find chicken ones as well.  They are quite tasty with a dollop of Salsa Lizano.

Tamales ready for a boil!

Looks tasty!

Christmas day also brings another Costa Rican favorite- bull fights.  And I'm not talking these types of bull fights.  Unlike the classic image of Spanish bull fighting with a fancy matador and more than one tortured and slaughterer bull per session, Costa Rica's bulls are neither killed nor tortured.  In fact, they are celebrities.  They have facebook pages and silly names like Black Magic and El Wachi.  These "bull fights" go on all year long but Christmas day starts the Zapote fights, which are the most popular.  Some of the festivities include actual bull riding, and some sort of strange tico version where the riders don't hold on with their hands at all, but the main event is the improvisado or "improvised" bull fights.

What happens in improvisado is around 100 stupid, macho men are let into a ring.  Then El Wachi, or whatever other bull they have lined up, is let in as well.  The stupid, macho men (and occasionally a woman or two) then attempt to touch the bull and yell at the bull and run as close to the bull as possible, without being impaled or trampled.  Sometimes, they tie things to the bull's horns, like balloons or handkerchiefs, and whoever manages to pull it off gets a prize.  Most of the guys inside the ring are dressed up as superheroes, women, or other silly costumes just to get more laughs.  It's entertaining, and although I feel sorry for the saps that do get hit, it's their stupid fault for getting into a closed ring with a 1500 pound bull!  Oscar, his aunt and I are trying to get tickets to go sometime this week. So hopefully I'll get some good pictures then!  Until, here are some internet finds:

Improvisado bull fights

The strange tico bull riding

Here's a video of what the toros are like.  Some of the hits look pretty bad, but people are rarely seriously injured.

In every country you have to ask "Who brings the presents on Christmas?"  David Sedaris did a whole thing about France having a Bell deliver presents (or was it on Easter?)  So it's always funny to see who has the most strange traditions.  Well in Costa Rica, Santa does not bring presents, rather the Baby Jesus does.  Children are told to pray to the Baby Jesus to bring them presents.  I guess I just thought this was pretty funny.

So for our Christmas, Oscar and I went over to his mom's house for dinner on Christmas Eve.  We had paella, salad, and for dessert my failed chocolate pie which was more like chocolate pudding.  Yummy all the same.  I brought over my computer and skyped with my family back home as they sang "Feliz Navidad" to Oscar's family.  Oscar's family was down right tickled about that.  At midnight, when children are allowed to open presents, Oscar and I drove home and went to sleep.  I had a wonderful first Christmas with Oscar and his family!


Family dinner

Feliz navidad!  Prospero año y felicidad!

Christmas day, Oscar and I spent sleeping, watching the cyclists of La Vuelta de Costa Rica (similar to le Tour du France, but in Costa Rica!) ride right in front of our house and devouring the box of chocolates Oscar gave me.  Feliz Navidad!

Go, bikers, go!

Perlita liked watching too!

For more pictures of La Vuelta de Costa Rica, click here!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting a Job in Costa Rica

I thought I would go ahead and give an update on the job front.  About a week ago, Oscar called Migracion for me and found out that Costa Rica is no longer giving out work visas.  Instead, they are giving out temporary residencies.  Which is strange because as far as I knew, you can't work with a temp residency.  About a year or two ago, Costa Rica changed their laws so that when a couple married, the foreigner would only be granted a temporary residency instead of a permanent residency.  They would keep this temp residency for 3 years before they could apply for permanent.  CR did this in order to crack down on scam marriages.  But it doesn't seem to make any sense if you can just work with a temp residency anyways, right?

Later in the day, migracion emailed me the requirements for applying for temporary residency.  Luckily, it's all the same stuff I already have together.  I also talked to Oscar a little more about the residency, and it seems like it's a specific category that they give to teachers.  So perhaps if you're anything but a teacher, you would need to take another route to work legally.  Here are the requirements (in Spanish):

1. Solicitud dirigida al Director General, suscrita por el representante legal de la institución educativa o su apoderado o el estudiante. En dicha solicitud se deberán incluir los siguientes datos:
a. Razones que justifican la solicitud de categoría especial y las funciones que va a realizar el extranjero en el país.
b. Nombre completo y apellidos, nacionalidad, profesión u oficio, fecha de nacimiento, lugar previsto y fecha estimada del arribo; tipo, vigencia y número de pasaporte; indicación del posible tiempo de permanencia en Costa Rica
c. Lugar dentro del perímetro judicial de San José o número de fax, para recibir notificaciones
2. Copia de la hoja del pasaporte del extranjero solicitado, donde conste su fotografía y datos personales.
3. Comprobante de huellas del extranjero, acreditadas ante el Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, salvo personas menores de 12 años.
4. Comprobante de inscripción, de la persona extranjera ante el registro consular de la embajada de su país de origen ubicada en Costa Rica.
5. Dos fotografías tamaño pasaporte de fecha reciente.
6. Certificación de nacimiento de la persona extranjero donde conste el nombre de los padres, debidamente consularizada, es decir, que debe ser presentada en el consulado de Costa Rica en su país de origen para su respectiva autorización y una vez en Costa Rica presentarla en el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores para ser sellada.
7. Certificación de antecedentes penales de la persona extranjera en la que conste no haber sido condenado en su país de origen o en el que haya residido los últimos 3 años, debidamente consularizada, es decir, que debe ser presentada en el consulado de Costa Rica en su país de origen para su respectiva autorización y una vez en Costa Rica presentarla en el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores para ser sellada.
8. En el caso de cónyuge, original de certificación de matrimonio debidamente legalizada.
9. Comprobante de inscripción, de la persona extranjera ante el registro consular de la embajada de su país de origen ubicada en Costa Rica.
10. Comprobante de afiliación al sistema de seguro social de la Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social
11. Todo documento que se encuentre en un idioma distinto al español deberá estar acompañado de su respectiva traducción al español, realizada por un traductor oficial.
12. Completar el formulario de filiación. Podrá adquirirlo en la ventana de información o en nuestro sitio Web.
Las certificaciones de nacimiento o de antecedentes penales, copias de pasaportes o cualquier otro documento, deberán haber sido emitidas dentro de un plazo de tres meses previo a su presentación ante Migración. Sin embargo, tratándose de certificaciones de nacimiento de nacionales de países donde se demuestre que no las emiten sino una sola vez, se podrá eximir de este requisito y en su lugar deberá presentar copia debidamente legalizada. 
Nota: Debe realizarse un deposito a la cuenta 242480-0 del BCR por $200 por concepto de cambio de categoria migratoria.

(I pasted this here in case another foreigner needs to know the requirements one day.  If you can't read it, I suggest you copy paste and make it a reasonable size.  Didn't need it taking up lots of space.)

Also, I thought I would go ahead and start doing the money side of the process.  How much do residencies or visas cost?  A lot.  Here's how mine has broken down so far.

Round trip ticket from USA to Costa Rica- $550
New birth certificate- $10
Fingerprinting in USA- $15
Police report of good conduct- $25
Authentication of birth certificate and police report by Secretary of State- $10/document= $20
Authentication of birth certificate and police report by Costa Rican Consulate- $40/doc= $80
Overnight certified shipping, round trip, to Consulate in Atlanta, GA- $80
Translation of birth certificate and police report by certified translator in Costa Rica- $60
Three copies of front page of passport- 6 cents
Registering with the US Embassy in Costa Rica- free (online)
One or two trips out of the country to renew tourist visa- $100-150
Taxi/bus fare to interviews- $120
A few Imperial beers for my mom for doing so much for me- $10

Grand total: $1095.06

And that's just so far.  I still need to get my translated documents certified by the Casa Amarilla, I need to get fingerprinted, I need passport pictures taken, I need to fill out a form you have to pay for, and finally I have to deposit $200 for my change of residency request.

So there you have it gringos!  If you want to work legally in Costa Rica there's a lot to go through.  I'll continue to update (of course) as I keep going through the process.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What a Big Boy!

(my behind-me neighbor is currently doing her best to tear up as many Beatles songs as possible...)

Festival de las Luces, Paseo Colon, San Jose

Yesterday was Oscar's 31st birthday!!!  Hooray!  What a big boy!  Saturday night we were planning on going out to eat at his favorite meat restaurant, La Esquina de Buenos Aires, but by the time he got home from working 11 hours, he was too tired.  So we ordered a pizza, finally went to buy some more beer, and watched the Festival de la Luz and the MMA fights.  I was quite amused by the Festival of Lights, namely the maraca players in the marching bands and the very odd floats with people in Cirque du Soleil jumpsuits and face paint doing nothing but running around.  I think it was some sort of attempt to show the cultural heritage of Costa Rica, but to be honest it looked like they just tried to make it a more tasteful Carnival.  And who wants a tasteful Carnival??  Oscar was happy to see one guy break another guys arm, and the final fight end in the loser being choked out and fall down like a sack of potatoes.

Creepy floats

Costa Rica's Festival de las Luces


We started Sunday off by sitting on our porch, drinking beer, watching the runners go by (some race) and playing salsa music loud so the runner could hear.  We again were planning on going to the Argentinian meat house, but Oscar's mom called and asked me to make a cake and come over.  After watching "The Help" (don't see it, just read the book), we went out to grab our Holiday Tree and a few other things to bake a cake.  We bought a tree out of the back of a truck for $20.  When we handed over the money, the guy hammered 2 planks to the bottom of the tree to make it a base then shoved it into the trunk of the car.

Oscar cheering on the runners!

Back at the apartment, I put on The Roaches Christmas album and we decorated the tree.  I baked Oscar a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting while he fixed a string of lights.

In Oscar's mom's house I was greeted by the most magnificent nativity scene I have ever seen!  Evidently every year she comes up with a new set up.  This one was 2-stories and was decorated with rocks, tree branches, wood chips, pine cones and a very giant baby Jesus in the center.

In the house, we waited for over an hour for Oscar's sister to show up with the dinner, but she was taking forever so we decided to go ahead and cut into the cake ourselves.  The pumpkin cake was definitely a big hit!

The cake


Monday, December 5, 2011

Work Stuff Fun Stuff

Man I feel like I'm really slacking with posts.  But maybe you all are siked there's not so much to read now!


So my mom and Jeb left, this Thursday is my last day of Italian, which means I will have ample time to get all my work visa stuff together.  I feel like I FINALLY found a website (in Spanish) that sort of gives step by step information on what to do.  Anytime I look up info or try to ask a forum about it, I just get the answer "it's hard to get a work visa and barely anyone gets one".  Gee thanks.

Lots of people have told me that I wouldn't be able to get a job here and work visas are impossible.  But what was I going to do?  Throw my hands up in the air, give up, and fly back to the States?  No way, I worked hard, scoured the internet and spent tons of money in taxi rides to interviews.  And I got a job.  I signed the contract, and I start in January.  Now comes the visa stuff.

I have to start by getting all my papers translated, which costs an arm and a leg.  Then I have to get them authenticated (again!) by the Casa Amarilla and then I have a bunch more paperwork to get from the school and fill out myself before turning it in and hoping I get a good result.  So I will start all of that... tomorrow. jaja  I'll send off my documents to get a quote on translation.


Yesterday, Oscar and I hosted our first couch surfer here in San Jose.  We only had one couple surf with us in Greensboro, because well... it's Greensboro.  We took her to the festival that's going on in Pavas right now.  Each town in Costa Rica has a virgen (appearance of Mary, ie: La Virgen de Guadalupe is when Mary appeared in Guadalupe) and they use it as an excuse to have a big party once a year.  Pavas' virgen is Santa Barbara (although I think she was actually a saint and not just Mary bouncing around to different towns) and they've been shooting fireworks for the past week.

Yesterday was the "payasos".  Payaso means clown in Spanish, but these are the creepiest, strangest clowns you've ever seen.  The day started off by hearing that the payasos were coming out at 12pm, 1pm, 3pm, 3:30pm and 4pm, no one actually knew.  So we went ahead and got there at 12:30pm and started drinking beer.  A few bands were playing and everyone on the street was dancing.  It was a beautiful day.  Eventually at 3:30 we moseyed on over to where the payasos are supposed to leave from.  What happens with the payasos is they run after you and try to hit you.  There is also one person dressed as a bull that tries to knock you over all while a traditional band plays.  Good times.

Get the party started!

Pavas centro

One of the marching bands

This is a list of people who owe money to the bar

Our surfer getting her groove on with a very crazy lady

Waiting for the payasos to come out!

Unfortunately, the band didn't show up and the payasos didn't really try to run anyone over.  The bull did hit a few people, but not nearly as hard as Oscar had promised.  But, we had a great day and went home exhausted.  We had a quick nap before dinner and this morning I waved goodbye to our surfer.  She'll probably be stopping by again in her 3 week travel of the country.  Buen viaje!

The payasos are coming!  The payasos are coming!

Though, it ended up more like a walk and less like a chase

The bull going after some children

Some payasos chased children, most just walked and then went into the church.  Remember this is all for Santa Barbara!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So it's been a while

And there are many stories to tell!

My mommy and Jeb flew into SJO on Tuesday (Nov 22) after having eloped the day before.  We went out to eat dinner at Sash, a Lebanese restaurant that night and drank plenty of Imperial.  Wednesday, my mommy, Jeb and I all took the bus to Volcan Poas.  By the time we made it half way up the mountain, it was clear that the clouds would not permit us to see the crater.  Seeing the top of Poas is sort of a crap shoot (below are my 3 attempts to see the volcano).  But we had a good time anyways, my mom especially loved the orchids growing all over the place.

Attempt 1: A very blonde gringa in front of a... volcano?

Attempt 2: VOLCANO!!!

Attempt 3: I can't remember if this was the volcano or lake picture...

Thursday was Thanksgiving and Oscar's mom put on a lovely meal for us.  She knew my mom doesn't like meat so she cooked up three delicious vegetarian dishes.  The first, and my favorite, was a picadillo de chayote (here's a picture I found on the net).  Picadillo is like a warm potato salad, except you can make it with anything, and there's no mayonnaise.  I'd link you to a reference, but the only ones I find online are for meat, and that isn't picadillo at all!  Chayote is sort of like a green potato.  The next dish was garbanzo beans and hard boiled eggs, very yummy with some mayonnaise!  And finally a rice and veggies bowl.  After much chatter and laughter, we followed up the dinner with a pumpkin pie and some family pictures.  I can't think of a better Thanksgiving!

Still don't have all my kitchen gadgets together.  Using a wine bottle to roll out pie crust.

My mom and Jeb all dressed up for their "elopement party"

Dinner time!!!

Family picture

Early Friday morning we all rolled out of bed to catch our (what turned out to be) van to Tortuguero.  We had to take an alternate route because of a landslide covering the main road.  After 3 hours in the van, we boarded a boat and were handed large garbage bags to put on as ponchos.  It was a two hour boat ride into Tortuguero.  At the dock of the hotel, we were asked to take off our shoes and roll up our pants as the dock had been completely flooded.  One unfortunate Spaniard took a step too far to the left and fell off the path into a very, very deep puddle.  We checked into our adorable cabins, ate a delicious lunch, and took a boat taxi over to the "more small than nice" town of Tortuguero.  Our guide, Robert, talked to us about the town, the turtles and all sorts of stuff.  We bought three 6-packs of beer and hopped on the boat back to the hotel.  Before bed, we hung out just long enough for me to be bitten by a freaking huge black ant.  Oscar told me they are "tiger-killing" ants.  Whatever they are, it hurt like a bitch and stayed swollen for 3 days.  I still have a little mark on my finger now.

Trying to stay dry in the boat

A very flooded dock

No cars or really anything in Tortuguero

Enjoying a brewski

A sad gringa after being attacked by a nasty ant

The next two days were full of rain, sleeping, eating and canal tours.  We spotted a lot of cool animals.  On Saturday we also went on a quick zipline.


Fat caiman

Baby sea turtle

Jeb enjoying the tarzan swing!

Sunday afternoon, the rain finally cleared up and we had some amazing weather on the boat ride back to land.  On the way home, we had to drive through about a kilometer or two of river raging over dirt road.  My mom called it our final canal tour.  Along this watery way and then the 1.5 hours more over a hole-ridden dirt road, something in the van broke.  About 45 minutes outside of San Jose, we had to pull over and wait for another bus to come fetch us.  So the four of us decided to make the most of it, have a few beers and make fun of the misspellings in the menu.

Finally some clear weather

It's always beer-thirty!

Whatever "spumgs" are, I'm glad they're not in my fish!

Monday was a hang-out day, and Tuesday my mommy and Jeb left.  It was such a fun week and I can't wait to go home and visit in May!!!

Oh, and where was Perlita during all this?  Well a friend of mine took care of her for the weekend.  She came back so tired she slept the entire day away.  What a silly puppy.

Perlita sniffing out food in Jeb's beard.  She's wearing her brand new fancy-pants collar that Jay gave her!  Thanks Jay!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's official

I will be working next year.  WOO!  I got not one, but two job offers this week.  But one was in a strange way. I went into what I thought was a second interview, only to find out that they thought I accepted a job in the first interview.  The HR lady kept telling me "don't get a contract with anyone else!" and I was sort of confused.  I guess I'm used to the words "We would like to offer you a job, would you accept?" routine.  Whereas in this case the first (very strange) interview ended in this way-- Director: "Do you love high schoolers?"  Signe: "Umm.. yes"  Director: "Okay if you really love high schoolers, we can move onto the next step.  You need to set up a second interview"  Signe: "Alright".  I didn't think agreeing to a second interview constituted agreeing to work.

The very same day I got an email from the school where I gave sample lessons informing me they want me to come on Monday to sign a contract.  I'm very excited about this school.  It's a music/arty school so it's seems really relaxed and laid back.  So even though I feel bad about this misunderstanding with the Catholic school, I plan to sign with the music school and then send the Catholic school a very empathetic email.  I really do feel bad about it.  But after a long talk with my sister and Oscar telling me "this is how business works!" I'm going to do it.

So hooray!

Which leads me to think... I have all of December and most of January to travel.  I've been looking up some flights and everything is expensive (duh) but not out of reach.  The thing is, if I'm going to spend $1300+ on a plane ticket, I want to stay longer than a few weeks.  Plus, most locations I'm looking into (Italy!) are in winter right now and the warmest piece of clothing I have is a fleece jacket.  Not coat.  Jacket.  So I looked into some places in South America (Argentina!) where it will be summer, but flights are just as much as flying to Europe.  I'll think about it and see what needs to be done for my work visa.  My Italian classes end on December 8 and the thought of sitting almost 2 straight months with nothing to do is quite unappealing to me.

So does anyone in a warm or not snowy area want a visit??

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Man dressed as a woman, and other things

Today I think I saw for the very first time in Costa Rica, a man dressed as a woman.  Or I just saw the ugliest woman on the planet.  Either way, I consider it an achievement.

Italian class was great today because that annoying Venezuelan girl wasn't there.  Man it's crazy how much of a difference her absence made.  Everyone in the class participated more, and I know I learned a lot.

My visa documents have yet to arrive at my mom's house.  I called the CR Consulate (I have their number memorized now) and they told me that the documents had been authenticated and sent out.  Next I looked up the tracking number of the envelope and I got "no information available".  So now I'm sort of freaking out thinking that this stuff has somehow been lost.  But... tranquila, Signe...  maybe it was just put in the mail and has yet to be scanned...

Yesterday I called my mama tica.  I hadn't spoken to her in a while and I wanted to tell her my mom and Jeb were coming and that they wanted to visit.  Well she answers the phone in hysterics.  Evidently, she's been calling me and calling me and since I haven't been answering, she assumed I had left the country without telling her.  I swear she worries about me more than my biological mother!  We gossiped for a bit, and I promised I would call her more.

Oscar and I are looking for a new apartment.  We'd like to move for a couple reasons, mainly because we don't like our landlord.  He's sort of a douche bag, and listens to techno music really loudly.  We'd also like to find an unfurnished apartment to start buying our own stuff.  And lastly, we'd like a patio for our Perlita.  There is one place that looks really nice, but might not be done in time for us to move in.  We'll have to see.  Then, last night while walking the dog, we saw a "Se Alquila" sign and Oscar called them up.  We might be going to see this place tonight.  It's only $400/month instead of the $550/month we're paying now.

Finally, I've been compiling pictures of Perlita chewing her bone on top of shoes.  I don't know why she does this, but she always takes her bone, puts it on top of a shoe, and then chews it there.  Or, if she's not in the bone-chewing mood, she'll just lay on top of some shoes.  It makes me laugh.  So here's a couple pictures of my funny puppy.

On top of my white flip flip

Of top of a black flip flop

On top of Oscar's flip flops

Hanging out with the flip flops

Shoes make a great bed

She even chews her bone on shoes with feet still in them.  Oscar did not find this as hilarious as I did.