The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick

Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.

Squeezing Colossal Returns from Your Retirement Kitty in Costa Rica

I've been aware of the enormous interest rates on savings in Costa Rica since we moved here, but until recently was unable to take full advantage of them because spare cash was tied up in other things and, I must admit, the big returns made me gun shy. I mean, there has to be a catch right? Yes, there is a catch, but looking back over our 7 years residing here, with the absolute clarity that 20-20 hindsight provides, I wish we'd taken the plunge sooner.
Typical CD Rates in Costa Rica for Colones Deposits

As you can see from the chart at the right, phenomenal rates can be had on Certificates of Deposit denominated in Colones. Rates for U$D deposits are dramatically less, but much higher than in the U.S., up to 3.5%.

For deposit amounts in five figures or higher, you can actually negotiate slightly higher rates as well. We were able to get 12% with a quarterly payout of interest on one CD.

The highest rates are not universal. These quoted at the right are from a local credit union. Bank CDs yield 2 or 3 points lower and National Banks even lower. The latter provide something like the FDIC insurance coverage enjoyed in the States however.

Which brings us to why you might not want to invest in such CDs:

8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (probably incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

Mouthwatering Free Fruit in Costa Rica

One of the things most people savor about summertime anywhere in the world is gleaning wild fruit whether it be wild blackberries, salmonberries, apples, pears, cherries or nuts. I loved gathering tart apples, plums and cherries in Oregon from roadside trees. They were rarely hybridized, grafted, fertilizer-fattened specimens, but they were just as delicious as those in the supermarket bins if not more so.
Various citrus fruits in Costa Rica
This morning's juice fruit selection

Most of our roadside fruit here in Costa Rica is of the citrus variety, though there are varieties of vine berries and occasionally other tropical tree fruits to be had. Most of the latter, such as water apples or guanabana, come from neighbors' trees, which they readily share with us.

The past week, Tamara and I have been collecting various citrus fruits on our neighborhood walks and this morning I clambered down the steep hillside below our balcony, thick with six-foot tall coffee plants to add some sour mandarines  to the growing collection.

Despite a similar appearance, these are not the same as the Mandarin oranges one finds on store shelves in the States. These possess a bit thicker peel and are very sour (or ácido in local parlance). Locals claim these provide more health benefits than other citrus fruits such lowering cholesterol and cleaning your liver of toxins.

In the picture upper right, starting from the left side are these fruits: sweet lemons, mandarines, sweet oranges, grapefruit and a few sour lemons.

Can Going to the Dentist in Costa Rica Actually Be Fun?

I'm not sure I could ever say that going to the dentist anywhere could be fun as in large round wooden containers of primates kind of fun. Just having to go to town in the middle of my day for the appointment is annoying in itself. Compared to trips to the dentist in the States, however, I'll take the Costa Rica variety of dental care any day over that. First of all, all the equipment here is identical to that in the States and the education level and experience of the dentists is likewise.

Dentist examining teeth in Costa Rica
The requisite cleaning, painless, quick, ends with  a smile
There are several more reasons, however, why I prefer dentistry here:
  • Most Costa Rica dentists, it seems to me, are women. I can't tell you why, but I prefer female hands groping around in my mouth better than larger male digits. The women have a lighter touch. By the way, I made that assertion about the high ratio of female to male dentists to a female dentist and she thought not, but at least in La Zona Sur I see a lot more "Dra." signs than "Dr." signs.
  • There are no pesky hygienists. 80% of the time, I visit a dentist to get a cleaning and the dentist does it herself. I've been to three (and I like them all, btw) and it is always the dentist doing the cleaning. One time there was an assistant who did just about nothing but run out to answer the phone or fetch supplies. The dentists here do it all.
  • It takes far less time. Having the dentist do the cleaning means there is no downtime as in the States when the hygienist finishes and you wait for the dentist to give you another exam. Also, they are faster about it. Some use ultrasonic, some use hand tools to scrape the plaque, all have polishers, but they are not endlessly scraping and scraping the way U.S. hygienists do it.

When Rainy Season Arrives, We Head to the Beach!

How to Beat the Heat at the Beach

As you have probably surmised, we are not mega-fans of tropical heat when it hits the 90s. That's why we chose to build our home in Costa Rica at 4,000 ft. elevation where temps range between the mid-60s to mid-70s most of the year. When we feel the need to "visit the Tropics", it's only an hour's drive to some of our favorite beaches. 

Tamara collecting plastic on favorite Costa Rica beach
Trash collection run on a favorite Costa Rica beach

One in particular, which we discovered recently, was the subject of our visit last weekend. It's close, small, uncrowded and has a classic tropical island look with leaning palms and reaching almond trees with plenty of sand framed by broken rocks. The nearby restaurant is high, wide and open. It's tourist prices there, but the food is not the usual gallo pinto based plate and it comes with a trio of small (non-begging) dogs that have the run of the place. One of them escorted us on the beach, happily showing us the way.

Hike to The Top of Our Finca in Costa Rica to See The El Santo Statue

Melted San Isidro de El General El Santo statue
The San Isidro de El General statue is no more as of June 2, 2015 after taking a direct lightning strike

The blog post below is from 2011 when we took a hike up the back of our property to gaze at the famous San Isidro de El General statue known locally as "El Santo." It was not, as many gringos believe, a statue of Jesus, though one could easily make that association when first seeing it. 

Yesterday, we had an averagely intense lightning storm and unfortunately, El Santo took a direct hit. Obviously, the frame was made of steel, which made the perfect lightning rod for that strike. Given how high and exposed the statue base is, it is something of a wonder that this never happened before in the 36 years it was standing. The outer shell was fiberglass, so naturally that disintegrated instantly.

Tal luego El Santo! We will miss you and we hope this emminent landmark will soon be replaced. If they get around to it within the next 10 years, that would be "soon" in Costa Rica time.

I'm a Type A, to-do list kind of guy. I endlessly make lists, often on some tiny scrap of paper. They get tucked away in the wallet or left on a counter. I'm lucky if I get to half the stuff on any particular list. Then, there are all the background mental lists of things to do "someday" that are talked about in a wistful tone of voice, but usually don't make the quasi-realism stage of pen on paper.  

One of those  latter items was to trek up through the forest above our property to the ridge crest to see what I could see. That short trek, however always took a back seat to the farm chores, writing and other projects. 

Top of our local world. The El Santo statue to stage left.
I was pretty sure what I'd find. We once slogged up to a nearby ridge on a neighbor’s property for the view. Also, we'd been to the top of Las Piedras (The Rocks) during our 2009 New Year's hike up the crack between the big rocks on our northern side. Still, I wanted to know if the imagined trail up to the ridge really was a shortcut or not. And could we see Pérez Zeledón's famous El Santo statue from there.

As luck would have it, a couple of weeks ago our neighbor on the other side of the big rocks, Kim, cut a crude path with the help of a couple of workers exactly on that line I'd wanted to pass over to the ridge top. Their property has a corner that touches ours up there, and she was checking some existing survey markers and adding a couple new ones.

 A couple of weeks after that, we took full advantage of their efforts to finally make that hike up the steep slope. Machete in hand, I led the way, widening the path as we went.

Want to Buy a Lovely Costa Rica Finca? or Selling, but Not Selling Out

panoramic sunset from our costa rica balcony
View from the balcony of our house. Cerro de La Muerte just beyond the clouds
Our rationale is simple: a little less field work and a little more money in the bank acount. That's essentially why we've decided to offer up a couple of lots out of our nearly 3 hectare finca here in southern Costa Rica. If you will not be satisfied unless you can have it all, we'll consider that too.

Prices start at $39,000 up to $329,000.

Here's a rough summary (more details can be found at the "Our Finca Sale" page, which you can access just under the blog header photo above):

  • Located at 4,000 ft. elevation just north of San Isidro de El General. The air is always fresh and cool and the views are outstanding
  • Walking distance to Matasanos village and the larger towns of San Ramón Sur and San Ramón Norte.
  • Fresh, cold, clean water comes from a spring flowing right out of the Las Piedras granite batholith, part of which crosses the property

Tick, tick, ... it's that time again in Costa Rica

We have observed that in Costa Rica soon after a summer rain or at the beginning of the Emerald season that the local tick population exhibits a marked rise of activity. This year seems no exception. Whenever there is a rain day in summer, we are sure to find more ticks on the dogs. 

The ones pictured above I recently extracted from our Border Collie, Buster. They're enjoying the Big Sleep in a bit of naptha (lighter fluid).

Though it may be old hat to folks who have pets and live here or another area of the world where ticks are common, I think it's worth repeating: Ticks carry diseases, so it's important to check your animals regularly and use preventatives and repellents. It is not uncommon here for pets to contract something lethal from ticks, such as erlichia.  Tick inspection is not an easy job for dogs with thick coats like Buster, but we can usually find them by feel. It's important to check less obvious places such as the ears, between the toes and the tail and anal area.

There really is only one good way to remove them, especially if they've been in long enough to embed their mouth parts into the skin. That is, to use some twisting device, such as pictured below. There are some of these that are more like tweezers that will work in really tight places (one time we had to extract one from our puppy's nostril!). Always twist counter-clockwise.

You can pull them out with regular tweezers or your fingernails, but you risk leaving mouth parts embedded in the skin, which can infect the animal. If you pull on a tick, you can easily put pressure on its abdomen, which risks injecting the pet with even more disease-carrying organisms the tick is carrying.

All the hearsay remedies for tick extraction (covering with oil, kerosene, burning, etc.) are not always effective and at any rate take a long time during which you could have just taken the beastie out mechanically.

We also apply Revolution monthly on our pets and during bad tick periods we spray their coats with a dilution of Bañol (Amitraz) about twice a week. This repels as well as knocks off any ticks that are already on.

So, keep those pets healthy! Give them a check-over today.     - Ciao cacao
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