Sunday, October 26, 2008

Financial Matters

Considering the current state of the world economy, I thought it might be appropriate to dedicate this week’s blog entry to financial matters, particularly an examination of our monthly outlays. Following is a list of our expenses:

Rent $ 150 (Yes, we know we’re pretty lucky in this regard)
Electricity $ 32
Telephone $ 73
Internet $ 42
Satellite TV $ 24
Water $ 10
Gasoline $ 450 (at about $5.20 per gallon!)
Groceries $ 400

Because we live in the tropics, we don’t pay anything to heat our house, and the gas we use for our stove is a minimal expense. We don’t currently have any insurance costs, mostly because we haven’t figured out yet how exactly we should handle this. For now, we have a private doctor who charges $40.00 per visit, but emergency medical insurance will probably need to be factored in eventually. We don’t have Lucas in daycare anymore (a $2,000 a month savings!), but when we do have a babysitter, it costs about $2.00 per hour.

So, overall, our expenditures here are considerably less than they were in the U.S. (with the exception of gasoline). This is a good thing, especially considering we’re currently UNEMPLOYED. Having been in the travel and restaurant industries in the States (can you say non~recession proof industries?), we’re pretty sure we would have eventually been UNEMPLOYED there, too. This makes spending down our savings a bit more palatable. At least we’re spending it slower here than we would be there. Wait, we didn’t have any savings there…

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Week's Work

Despite the ceaseless rain (where the heck does it all COME from?!), we’re still managing to drag ourselves out from under the covers and continue our work on Petit Paradis. We’ve slowed down a little bit since it’s too soggy to do much on the property, but there’s still enough to do to keep us occupied. I should preface things by saying that Patrick continues to be the driving force behind the project and is doing most of the hard work. I’m keeping Lucas out of his way as best as I can, and I’m also serving as official sounding board (one that probably talks back way too much!).

Our first order of business continues to be the search for just the right contracting company to construct our buildings. We’ve spoken with nine different companies ~ both from our area and from San Jose ~ who we believe could do the job. We’ve walked most of them through our property with our preliminary site plans, and we’ll be sending the detailed construction plans for them to bid on next week. If the stars are in alignment, at least one of them will come back with a bid that’s within our budget.

Because our budget is probably much tighter than it should be, we’re trying to find as many cost~saving measures as we can. One of those things is finding and purchasing the construction materials ourselves (rather than paying the contractor’s markup!). Patrick has been meeting with the owners of all the hardware stores in the area to see what kind of deals they’re prepared to offer to get our business. In addition, we’ve been sussing out a variety of different wood suppliers. Because the Costa Rican government is (rightfully) protecting more and more of its beautiful hardwoods, it has become difficult to find large quantities of permitted wood. We’ve got a couple of good leads on reasonably~priced teak which would be a nice wood with which to build.

Another project we’ve been working on is our landscaping. Last week, the owner of the largest nursery in the region walked with us through our property to help us decide what we should plant and where. Armed with our books on tropical ornamentals, we’ve developed a preliminary list of bromeliads, heliconias, orchids, lilies, fruit trees and flowering bushes to order. I’ve appointed myself head~gardner, but it’ll be another month yet before I can do anything besides make mud pies.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, Patrick has started talking with the electric company to see if we can convince them to bring power to our property, which is currently off the grid. In response to our initial request, they’ve agreed to do a study, which we’ve decided to interpret as a positive response. Our preference would be to go solar (which we’re also exploring), but we’re afraid it will be out of our price range. With luck (and with a certain environmentally~friendly president in the White House), by the time Lucas inherits this place, maybe the price of solar technology will have come down enough to make it affordable. Go Barak!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Surviving Rainy Season

Chances are you’ve seen the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook series, and chuckled your way through explanations of how to pry yourself free from the jaws of an angry alligator, or what to do if you find yourself free~falling down an elevator shaft. In DC, I found those books amusing, but now, I sure wish I had ponied up at Borders and bought myself a copy. Three times last week, I found myself in situations where I wished I had a heck of a lot more MacGyver in me.

It’s hard to describe how much water there is in the rainforest during rainy season. Let’s just say that there’s more than MUCHO. It rained so much last week that the river that runs alongside our main road overflowed a bridge and blocked our way home. Having spent the day on a road trip and being in no mood to wait patiently until the water receded, we (my mom and I) back~tracked and took the long way around the flooded portion. When we finally arrived in our little pueblo, we faced another small bridge that was on the brink of being submerged by fast~moving water. With night falling and wanting desperately to get home, I took a deep breath and gunned the car across the bridge. Only after we were across did I admit to my mom that I had visions of the old bridge collapsing and being swept down river. When Patrick asked if we had at least opened the windows before driving across, I had to sheepishly admit that it hadn’t even occurred to me. Oh, the hours I wasted watching Rescue 911!

I feel somewhat prouder of my performance during the second~most precarious situation of the week, which found us (my poor mom and me again) on a treacherous dirt road winding up the side and over the top of a steep mountain toward the Boruca Indian Reserve. We were on a quest for indigenous art ~ including painted wooden masks, woven materials and carved gourds. The 8 km drive to the reserve was about as precarious as they get, but we were urged on by a hitch hiker who kept convincing us the worst was behind us. “Pura Vida” was his mantra, the Costa Rican version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. “Pura Vida, my ass!” I thought, as I clutched the steering wheel for dear life.

Once we arrived, the drive proved to be worth it. The artwork was beautiful, and I came away with lots of interesting decorating ideas for our project. I cut our visit short, however, when I felt the wind pick up and smelled the clouds rolling in. As I had driven over the deep ravines carved into the middle of the road on the way up, I at least had the sense to know that we needed to make our way down before the rain came ~ which we did with only seconds to spare. Not that I could have told you this then, but if you should ever find yourself in a car hanging over the edge of a cliff, you should 1) pull the emergency brake, 2) open the windows, 3) turn off the engine, and 4) all move in unison toward the safest exit (unless, of course, movement upsets the balance of the car, in which case you should just sit tight and bank on the good karma you’ve amassed by picking up all those haggard hitch hikers!).

The last event occurred in the comfort of our home. Perhaps because the rain had flooded the ground, or perhaps because it was a particularly cold evening, a family of very large spiders decided to walk in under the door and join us in the living room. Now, here in Costa Rica, tarantulas are not uncommon, and I had visions of finding a fury friend in bed that night. As a matter of fact, just recently, Patrick had stopped to watch a tarantula cross the road. Do you know how BIG a thing has to be for a driver in a pick~up truck to notice it crossing the road?!

Well, for all you potential house guests, it turns out that a tarantula bite is usually no worse than a bee sting for humans, and there have been no reported tarantula~related deaths. Maybe we should stop worrying and just be happy after all!