Monday, April 30, 2012

A mostly pleasant trip to Granada

This weekend I went to Granada.  I actually had a pretty good time, not so much because of the trip but because of all the people I met!  And that's how I plan on telling my story.

Mexican man on the bus  This is the guy I sat next to on my bus ride up.  He worked and traveled through Central America for many years.  After passing the border, the bus was stopped by a few policias.  The man next to me was asked off the bus where he was interrogated by the policia.  I asked him what it was about and he said every time he travels (and he's been doing it for 14 years) he is always stopped by the policia because he's Mexican.  And Mexicans are known to carry drugs.  He seemed very nonchalant about it and said he was used to the ethnic profiling now.  Like it was no big deal.

Japanese girl on the bus  I was scouring the bus for someone who was obviously a tourist who I could share a taxi with into town.  I saw one girl who I started talking to at the border.  Turns out she studies in the same university where I did my study abroad in San Jose!!  What a world!  She was really nice and I got her facebook.  We plan to hang out when she gets back to the country.

When we got to Granada, I asked a taxi driver to take us in for 19 cordoba, he threw up his hands like it was a ridiculous request and tells me there's other cars.  I asked how much he wanted and he shooed me away saying to find another taxi.  Obviously, he was just there to charge some unknowing gringo up the ass for a cheap taxi ride.  Once he realized I knew how shit worked, he wanted nothing to do with me.

We stayed in a very nice hostel which I'll recommend to everyone.  Seven dollars a night.  Request a bottom bed, they're bigger and the top beds are hot because the fans don't reach them.

Old Canadian man  I met this man while drinking a cool Tona in the common area.  We talked all night about traveling, politics and everything in between.  The most interesting story he had is when he actually hung out with a Samosa.  For those who don't know, the Samosas were politicians in Nicaragua and murders.  I'm surprised he survived the meeting.  Very interesting old guy.

Japanese couple  The Japanese girl introduced me to this couple who was also looking to go to San Jose the next day.  We woke up early Sunday morning to go to the Tica Bus station.  This is right when I realized my ticket was booked for the wrong day.  At Tica Bus, they told me all buses that day were sold out and I couldn't change my ticket.  I almost cried a few tears of frustration thinking about the lawyer not getting my stuff in on time, when the couple came up to me, pointed at a map and said "How about Trans Nica?"  So we walked 5 blocks over to the Trans Nica stop and met a lady sweeping the street.  She said the 8am bus was already full and maybe we could get on the 12pm.  That would have sucked because it's a 9 hour bus ride and we'd get to SJ very late.  Turns out there were three tickets left for the 8am bus!!  We snatched them up and went on our way.

When we got to SJ, Oscar drove the couple to their hostel since it was on our way.  The guy gave Oscar a big giant hug and the girl asked me for our address to send us a postcard.  I explained how awful mail is here and instead asked for a picture or two via email.  She agreed.

Opinionated Spanish Man on bus  I was "lucky" enough to spend the entire bus ride next to a Spanish man who refused to shut up.  He thought this 9 hours was the perfect time to tell me all the reasons America has disappointed him and the world.  He told me the only way to have peace in the Middle East is to kill all the Palestinians.  He also said that Hugo Chavez is awesome.  Needless to say, I tuned him out most of the time.

And that's my trip!  It was pretty nice and I have my new visa to turn into the lawyer.  He's already sent me an email asking me for a scanned picture of it, so it seems like he's finally on his shit.  I guess it'll all be worth it when I get my numero comprobante.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A better attitude

Well the journey continues.  Let me give you the short version because otherwise I might get in another hissy fit.

Wednesday the lawyer said he would turn my stuff in on Friday.  Friday he said Monday.  He also assured me all would be fine Monday and I wouldn't need to leave the country.  Monday I didn't hear from him so I wrote him an email, no response.  Tuesday, Oscar called and turns out the lawyer's brother died Monday and he wouldn't be able to turn things in until Wednesday.  Wednesday we call again and he says he can't turn anything in until I leave the country again.

*deep breath*

I'm || this close to getting all my documents back, taking a day off work, and going to immigration myself.  The thing is, I DID EVERYTHING FOR THIS GUY.  There was absolutely nothing he had to do but turn my stuff in.  And he hasn't.  For THREE MONTHS.  Three months he has had my stuff.  For three months I have been bugging my director about getting that stuff in.  She assured me it was in immigration and everything was fine.  But it's not in immigration.  And it's not fine.  If I had just went by myself at the beginning of February, everything would be good.  Or at least better.  The reason I wanted to go with my director's lawyer is because a lot of times when you use a lawyer things go faster in immigration.  I don't want to wait one year for my residency, so I thought a lawyer (who I'm not paying for) would be great.  WRONG.

So yesterday I had my little breakdown.  I was (still am) so frustrated with this whole thing.  The fact that that ass hat didn't have to do anything but walk into immigration and hand them my stuff......  ugh.  I feel bad for the man that he lost his brother, but seriously?  What the fuck.  Do you job dude!  I wouldn't have to bother you during this family crisis if you had just taken care of my shit THREE MONTHS AGO when I gave it to you.

Now I need to leave the country on an expired visa.  The truth is, probably nothing will happen at the border.  (I talked to a woman who first overstayed her visa by almost 4 months and then the second time by two months!)  But, it still uses up a perfectly good weekend and about $100.  I'm trying to convince my BEST FRIEND IN THE WORLD VANESSA to meet up with me in Granada, but she's not sure she'll be able to.  I want to enjoy my time in this really stunning city, but when I go like this it just seems like a chore.  It's a 9 hour bus ride and I'll only be there for 24 hours or so.

But!  Being angry is not going to change my situation.  It'll just make me miserable.  So, I'm going to have a better outlook on everything.  Yes, I have to leave, but at least I have the resources to do so.  And really, Granada is beautiful.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rough Road to Residency

I should probably wait to post this until Monday for legal reasons, but oh well.  I sort of highly doubt any migracion official is going to pass by my blog, hunt me down and deport me.  They're too busy losing people's paperwork and giving out wrong information.  Anyways...

This Tuesday I was sent an email saying from the lawyer that my police report was expired.  When applying for residency here, everything has a 6 month expiration date.  Evidently my police report expired in January, one week before I turned everything in.  Yes, it took until April 17 to let me know.  This report needs to be reapplied for in the States, apostilled (new law means no longer needs authentication from Sec of State, CR Consulate, and Casa Amarilla which is GREAT) and translated here.  This is frustrating, but it isn't the worst news in the world.  I already had a second envelope all set up at home with fingerprints and instructions for my mom *just in case*.  I'm going home in 3 weeks so I can pick it up and bring it back down (much safer, easier and cheaper than sending it through the worst postal system on the planet).  Buuut here comes the ugly part.

My 90 day tourist visa expires.  Tomorrow.

I was trying to get in contact with the lawyer to see if he had a numero comprobante* for me which would allow me to not have to leave the country every 90 days.  Wednesday night, he tells me I need to sign some papers which he will send me tomorrow and hand into migracion on Friday which will result in me having my comprbante.  That cuts it pretty close, but cool.

Thursday I sign the papers and send him an email telling him I did so and to pretty please turn them in.

Friday at noon I find out that he's going to turn them in on Monday instead.  U.G.H.  It made me want to scream.  He knows my visa expires tomorrow and I was depending on that number to not have to leave the country again.  Evidently everything will be fine and he'll turn the packet in on Monday and I'll have my comprobante.  BUT If I "want to", I can leave the country "just to be sure."

I'm so frustrated.  I have never over stayed a visa before.  I don't like leaving the country every 90 days, but it's the law so it's the law.  I'm frustrated because I go home in three weeks.  I don't feel like leaving the country just to do it again in another couple weeks!  I need my comprobante so I don't have to waste a weekend and $100+ to make a border run.  I want to believe the lawyer will actually turn my shit in on Monday and then pass me along my number.  But... I just can't trust that man.

So my plan is to wait until next Friday.  If I have no info by then, I leave the country.  I'll be a week over but that's not a whole lot.  I talked to a woman who at first overstayed her visa by 3 (almost 4) months, and the second time overstayed by almost 2 months.  And they didn't give her any trouble.  So I'll look as white and as gringa and as ignorant as possible and hope for the best.

Really I'm hoping for my numero comprobante next week.

*fingers crossed*

*numero comprobante is basically a receipt that you have turned in documents to apply for residency.  The reason you are then allowed to stay in country is because migracion might need you to sign something, show up, or do whatever.  So this means that if you have to leave the country, you might not be inside the country when needed.  And since residency takes at least 5 months and up to 5 years to process, it's pretty important to have that comprobante.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Four and a half hours

That's how long it took to get from San Jose to Jaco.  Not even to Jaco, we were 20 kilometers outside of Jaco.    Four and a half hours to go 80 kilometers (about 50 miles).  That's what you get for traveling during Semana Santa- bumper to bumper traffic the entire way.  The highway is only one lane, but that wasn't the worst part.  The worst part was for every exit, the one lane highway turns into two lanes for about 50 meters.  So all these jerks would screech into the second lane to try to pass everyone.  Which slowed down traffic to a crawl because no one would let anyone in.  It was so frustrating.  Didn't these ass hats realize they were the ones causing the damn traffic??  UGH!

There were guys selling drinks and snacks on the highway in the very slow traffic

Now that my bit of a rant is over, we had a BLAST.  After our awful commute, we were welcomed to the Nativa Resort by Oscar's family with ice cold Coronas.  Now, I think Corona is one of the most foul beers on the planet (second only to Heineken *shudder*) but I was so thirsty, hot, sticky, and grumpy I drank two back to back.  And they were super refreshing!  After a few beers and empanadas, we headed down to one of the three infinity pools to hang out a little bit before we went to celebrate Oscar's sister's birthday.  Which we did later with meat, tortilla, chimichurri, avocado and a chocolate cake.

We made it!  Finally!

Infinity pool!

Oscar cooking up meat

The next day, Friday, we spent almost the whole day at the beach-like infinity pool.  I brought my hula hoop and everyone was quite impressed with the few tricks I can manage to do (only because my neighbor wasn't there to show me up with her circus worthy talent!)  The pool was super clear and Oscar's sister's boyfriend (did you follow all that?) let me use his goggles to do a little swimming.  It was great and I was tired after about a 100!  We had a delicious lunch, a long nap, and then Oscar, his aunt and I had two bottles of yummy wine plus some cheese and apples to snack on.  A good day!

Beach infinity pool

Wine time!

Saturday was similar, except we went to eat lunch at Los Suenos, a Marriot Resort closer to Jaco.  I had a mahi mahi po'boy with mango coleslaw that was super yummy!

I think my favorite part of the whole trip was the condo where we were invited to stay.  It had these huge windows and overlooked the ocean.  We caught some really amazing sunsets and beautiful clear mornings through those windows.  We even sat and watched a lightning storm over the ocean one night.

On Sunday, Oscar and I decided to leave fairly early so that we wouldn't have to re-live the traffic nightmare. We arrived in San Jose in good time, picked up our filthy, happy puppy and went home to unpack.  I was welcomed with the news of not having to work today!  Woo hoo!  All in all, a great trip during Semana Santa!

My puppy is filthy and exhausted after four straight days of playing!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Curse of the Evil Orange Couch

A few days ago on ARCR forum (linked to the side of this blog) one lady posted about trying to get a refund for a couch set she bought.  Evidently, they delivered the wrong set and this woman her her husband unknowingly tried to get it into their house.  Well it didn't fit (the original model would have), and in the attempt to get it in, a bit of the fabric got scratched.  The factory would not return it, so they put it up for sale at an amazing price and Oscar and I jumped on it right away.

But it is a cursed couch.  Perhaps it once doubled as an Indian Burial Ground.  Or maybe some poor soul fell into the couch-making machine and he now haunts the love seat.  Only one thing is for sure- it brings nothing but grief to those who hold it.

The original plan was to go see the couches after Oscar got off work today and see if we wanted them.  If we did, we'd go tomorrow to pick them up and pay.  Well in the middle of the day today, Oscar calls me and tells me he's already on the way up to Heredia with a truck and "a guy".  As soon as I hang up the phone, the sky opens up and rainy season begins.

Now for people who have not experienced rainy season, it usually is an intense amount of rain over a short period of time during the day.  Or it's an intense amount of rain ALL day.  Usually it rains sheets of rain from about 12pm/1pm-3pm/4pm.  Today it only rained from 2pm-3:30pm, but long enough for me to freak out.  

I frantically called Oscar to tell him to buy something to put over the couches.  But it's rainy season, which a lot of the time means that even if you have an umbrella, you're still getting wet.  It's that sideways rain that gets you.  Forrest Gump knows what I'm talking about.

Luckily by the time Oscar and "the guy" get to the apartment, the rain is more of a sprinkle and less of a monsoon.  But, needless to say, there were plenty of parts to the couch that were soaked through and through.  So I did what any young adult would do-- I called my mom for help.

She told me to go at it with towels and then fans.  Which I did.  I spent a good hour attempting to soak up all the water out of the cushions and arms of the couches.  Now I have it all strategically positioned in front of the door (hoping for a bit of a breeze) and have a rotating fan hitting it.  One of the other problems is the power keeps going out so my fan isn't doing all that it could be.

I'm worried it's going to end up with awful water stains all over it (I think it's microfiber, does microfiber stain?).  Not that I care so much what it looks like, I mean I'd like it to look nice, but I'm thinking about re-sell value.  No one would ever buy a couch set for more than $100 with giant water stains all over it.

So I guess we'll see how everything turns out.  We finally have a couch set, a really nice one, and we got it for a great price.  Unfortunately, it is an evil couch, but perhaps we can make peace with the demons that reside inside its wet cushions.  Only time will tell.

The rain

The damage


The set-up

Update:  Well the power went out for about half an hour and in that time I'm happy to say it looks like the couch is drying nicely.  The cushions are mostly dry, the arm of the love seat is still pretty wet, but it's getting there.  Maybe the curse has finally been *washed* away.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Couch Surfing is the best thing ever

Last night was another monthly potluck for the Couch Sufers (CSers) of San Jose.  It was a great party.  The desserts were delicious, the beer was flowing, the music was popping and there was plenty of tom foolery to go around.  It got me to thinking about Couch Surfing (CSing) and how much I appreciate the community.  CSing is one of the big reasons I'm happy here.  It is my friend base, and friends are extremely important to me.

I think one of the problems I had during my first couple months here is I had no friends.  Sure, I had Oscar's friends and family, who are all extremely nice to me. Who I love to hang out with.  But they aren't my friends.  So I joined a couple CS groups and started heading to the meetings*.

The great part about CSers is they love to meet new people.  The very first meeting I headed to, I was embraced like an old friend and immediately included into conversations.  There weren't any cliques, dirty looks, or "new girl" treatment.  Everyone was hanging out with everyone.  CSers are exciting people, they've been to places I've never heard of, done things I thought were impossible, speak languages I didn't know existed.  I learn something every time I'm with CSers.

These people are so important to me, and I'm so glad I was able to meet all of them.  Plus, they're TONS of fun!!!


So now that I've given my little sentimental spiel about CSing, I'll post some of the more technical aspects of the organization.

In case you don't even know what Couch Surfing is, it's a community of people who open their homes to travelers, travelers who want to see a native's perspective, or just folk who like to hang out.  Basically how it works is you set up a profile for free, it's always better to have a complete profile, then you can search for a couch in the area you are traveling to.  You read the profile and see if you think you would like to stay with that person.  Then, you send a request for the couch with the date you plan on being there and BAM!  You're officially a surfer.

Isn't it dangerous?  What if these people are murders?  These are the two questions (or statements) that I hear the most often when I explain CSing to someone.  The answer: probably not.  Just like life, CSing is as dangerous as you make it.  For example, walking around at night is usually no biggie, but walking around at night with all your money, expensive jewelry and your passport while drunk is a bad idea anywhere you go.  There are safety systems set in place and it is up to the user to practice them.

Each profile on CSing has a section for references.  After someone hosts, travels with, meets with, or surfs with any user they are encouraged to leave a reference on their stay.  This reference cannot be removed, so it is quite easy to tell that someone with 100+ positive references is probably a pretty good guy and someone with only three references, two of them negative, is probably someone to avoid.  Plus, all correspondence between users is saved, users can have their address verified, and there is a vouch system (which basically means someone met you, and you're a good person).

But yes, there are people who only use CSing to get laid, to network, to get a free place to stay, or some other alternative.  So you have to use your own discretion when allowing people into your house, or going into someone else's.  Fortunately, for the most part, CSing is full of wonderful, helpful, selfless people who just want to give a fellow traveler a hand.

And it's not just for surfers or hosts!  A lot of people tell me "But I don't have anywhere to host someone" or "I don't feel comfortable with letting people into my house yet".  No problem!  I, personally, fall into the first category right now.  Instead, you can meet up with travelers to show them around your hometown.  Take them to the hot spots only locals know about.  Introduce them to a new type of dance that the guidebook doesn't mention.  Help them experience your city to its fullest potential!  Or just come and hang out with your local chapter in one of its meetings.  It never takes long for a skeptic to become an enthusiast.

I really hope I've helped someone out there see how great couch surfing can be.  Happy travels!!!

*A Couch Surfing meeting is anything where CSers meet up.  It's not like a board meeting, it's usually at a bar.

My very first hosts in Madrid!  The start of something wonderful.