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4 Things You Won't Get When You Get To Puerto Viejo: An Ex-Pat Checklist

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Flickr: B. Laguer
Flickr: B. Laguer

"We got sunlight on the sand, we got moonlight on the sea / We got mangos and bananas you can pick right off the tree..."

We have all of the above in Puerto Viejo, plus snorkeling, surfing, gorgeous beaches, wildlife to rival the Bronx Zoo, and one of the world's most laid back cultures. What ain't we got? Well...

Hot Water
Living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a building with a boiler that looked like Edison himself might have put it in was good preparation for Puerto Viejo -- hot water heaters are about as common around here as mittens.

We do, however, have warmish showers thanks to a contraption affectionately known as the "suicide shower." To use one you simply have to forget everything you were ever taught about water and electricity. Here, apparently, the two DO mix, as water for the shower flows freely through 110 volts of hot, glowing coil. Go ahead, step in, turn the metal handles, enjoy! (Just don't touch that other part...)

Dishes get washed with room temp water and an abrasive cleanser called Axion ("Now with extra abrasiveness!"), which somehow gets about 50 percent of the dirt from the plates, while averaging a healthy 75 percent when it comes to removing the skin from your fingers. Laundry? The combination of weird, two-part, made-in-China washing machines and no hot water means that our clothes don't ever get clean, just slowly, inexorably, shredded.

Good, Cheap Beer
I'd take either at this point. Good or cheap. We have neither. Imperial and Pilsen are the two big brewers in Costa Rica, Pura Vida's answer to Budweiser and Miller. But they run a surprisingly high $9 a six, and a tall-neck Bud would be a Duval compared with these sad local contrivances. Imperial recently begun a promotion offering "33% Gratis." I'm still trying to figure out if that's a discount... or new ingredient.

Pick the piss you'd care to compare it with (cow? monkey? dog? cat? goat?) and you've got a fair fight. Follow up thought: Gay is from a dairy state and knows how easily cows are offended ("Mooo..? Have you ever actually tried our piss!!?")... so let's leave the cows out of it. I go with monkey.

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Internet
The area of Costa Rica we live in was (is?) considered the hinterlands -- and the 21st century is still slow on the come. Probably less than 10 percent of the houses have the landlines needed for high-speed WiFi, and it's impossible to get ICE, the national phone company, to put in new lines around here. The reason for this state of affairs, we've been told, is the phone company has run out of numbers. Shall I repeat that? Nah. We'll talk about misinformation a bit later on.

To get online, most people use a flash drive-looking thingy that feebly tries to connect our computer to a cell phone tower somewhere. If you are reading this online, the little stick that couldn't has actually managed to make a connection. On a really good day, we can post on Facebook to let our friends know why we haven't posted on Facebook. Skype calls drop like T-ball pop-ups, and it's impossible to watch even a two-minute video on YouTube (so long, girl who loves every kind of cat!) Netflicks? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Of course, we didn't move to Costa Rica to watch TV, but sometimes in the midst of a three-day downpour, it'd be nice to see something other than each other. We've heard that ICE will be releasing new numbers (hmm, let's see; 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9... what?), but as in all small towns, rumors are bread and butter. The last bit of juice off the local rumor grapevine was that the greater Puerto Viejo area was seceding from Costa Rica to join Panama (A man, a plan, a canal, Puerto Viejo!)

Mostly, we read (assuming we're lucky enough to grab a signal with strength enough to download books to the Kindle).

Accurate Information
Ain't gonna happen. You've got about as much chance of finding out when something starts (ballgame? parade? party?) or where something is (doctor's office? waterfall?) as you do of guessing how many jellybeans are in the giant jar. And this isn't an issue of something being lost in translation. For whatever reason, no one ever seems to know... and no one will ever cop to that fact. It's sort of the Unofficial Tico Way. Ask a man who does not know how to get to Bribri (the administrative capital), and the man who does not know will tell you anyway. "Sure, go that way! You are welcome! Pura vida!" and the next thing you know, you're in Nicaragua.

ON THE OTHER HAND, here are some other things you don't get when you get here: annoyed, hassled, stuck in traffic (unless there's a sloth crossing), bored, behind schedule, over-worked or under pressure. Just todo bien... todo el tiempo.