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Episode 11 - May 2009

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Labor Day, Gymnasio, What’s-in-a-Word Department, Getting a Cedula

Labor Day

Not yet having experienced a full year cycle in Costa Rica (I’ve passed the seven months point now) I am constantly, and pleasantly, surprised by events that regularly pop up here.

Recently, I tried to make an appointment in San Jose for Friday, May 1 to initiate the process of obtaining a Cedula, a document which affirms my status as a government sanctioned “Pensionado” or retiree. The Cedula brings with it certain privileges such as not having to leave the country every 90 days to refresh one’s visa. Also, it allows participation in the Caja (cah-hah) which is the national health care system. That alone would reduce my drug costs significantly, costs that are leftovers from the bouts of bronchitis and congestive heart failure our hero suffered during the first three months here.

It's a Jungle Out There

The lady I was to see in San Jose quickly informed me that it would be impossible for us to meet on May 1 as that day is Labor Day in Costa Rica and all government offices as well as many businesses would be closed. We reset the meeting for the following week. Because it was celebrated on a Friday, Labor Day turned into Labor Day Weekend and the busses and beaches got busy, even bustling again. (Is that Onomatopoeia or Alliteration – where are the English teachers out there when I need them?)

It's a jungle out there!

The crowds on Labor Day weekend were not as large as New Year’s but were close in size to those of Easter weekend. I surveyed business activity with several of the vendors as they passed by my lounge chair and umbrella. (You didn’t think GG would actually lie on a towel in the sand did you? How uninteresting that would be when I rent the right equipment for 2,000 Colones (~ $3.50) a day)

My canvassing of the vendors showed that they were not happy because sales were not good, especially for the large number of people around. A couple of them told me the reason for the poor sales performance was the high composition of Ticos in the people mix!! They implied that Ticos were reluctant to part with their hard-earned Colones, whereas Gringos and Europeans were much freer with their platta, and, of course, on average, have a lot more of it. Perhaps, guys, but maybe it’s also because the locals know the system. God forbid that I would suggest that beach pricing is entrepreneurial, even opportunistic and that there may be a two-tier system out there, one price for Ticos and one price for Gringos. Tsk, tsk, wouldn’t that be unfair?

It seems that everything one purchases on the beach costs 1,000 Colones, be it a half liter of water, a Coca Cola, a beer (yes Dorothy, you can have all the beer you want delivered directly to your umbrella – we live in a genteel manner here and there are no open container laws), an empanada, a snow cone, a slice of fresh watermelon or three slices of fresh pineapple etc. But only 250 meters away, you can buy the same water for 500 Colones or the beer for 700. When I learned the system, I began buying my two bottles of non-alcoholic refreshment, usually a bottle of Fresca and a bottle of water, on the way down to the beach from the bus stop. Sorry my good Tico vendadores, but I can save nearly half the price of an umbrella this way. So let it be Caveat Vendedor (see the What’s-in-a-Word Department below for an explanation of and variation on this word).

What happens during a major holiday at Manuel Antonio beach is worthy of note. Long weekends produce long car lines and extra buses ferrying Ticos to the shore from the hinterlands, such as San Jose. For me, it is reminiscent of the summer exodus from cities to the shore that I experienced most of my life in the Northeast U.S.

At MA beach, many people set up tents at the palm tree line and camped for the weekend. There are very few restrictions imposed on this practice by local authorities (actually, there seem to be very few authorities of any kind to impose any restrictions). Like campers around the world, Tico campers come surprisingly well equipped with extensive cooking equipment and the inevitable music box or CD player that doesn’t seem to have a moderate volume level. One lady actually set up business 10 meters behind my chair on Saturday of Labor Day Weekend and began offering a variety of casados. A casado is a typical Tico meal consisting of a platter with a modest amount of meat, chicken or fish and rounded out with gallo y pinto (rice and beans) and a salad and sometimes with a fourth item such as little pasta shells with cheese. This lady asked only ¢1,500 (about $2.75) for her plate. Yummy.

I know that camping is popular with many people but the call of the wild has never been strong enough to convince me to “rough it”. I prefer to visit the wild on a daily basis rather than use it as a bedroom. I was a Boy Scout and Explorer and camped out enough in my early years to realize getting dirt in my food and fighting large bugs or small wild animals for sleeping space was not interesting to me. No mí interasante, amigos. Camping to me today is a Marriott with a sauna.


Our hero, the Golden Gringo himself, finally bit the bullet and joined the local Gymnasio called Mucho Muscalos (if you can’t interpret that much Spanish for yourself, please see your doctor for an Alzheimer’s test). This gym is located at the base of the hill on the road that leads from Quepos up onto the mountain we call Manuel Antonio. That makes it a guesstimated and brisk 1.5 kilometer walk from my apartment with only the last 350 meters or so up hill. From there, after working out, I can grab a bus only 75 meters away to get to the daily rendezvous (that’s French for “meeting” for those of you from Rio Linda) at the Mono Azul.

I’ve been a member of health clubs over the years in quite a few places and it was nice to find this gym. It’s limited, as one might expect in a small town like Quepos. There is no pool, sauna, steam room or restaurant (darn, one can always use a casado). The health, tennis and squash club I belonged to in Brussels had a restaurant having tables set with linen and crystal and epaulet-shouldered waiters pouring fine wines. But of course, messieurs et madams, one needs un peu de refreshment after squash.

Yeah, Mucho Musculos has none of those trappings but it does have all the usual, mostly modern equipment one finds in a place where us koool dudes go to pump iron. And it has showers; wait, I take that back, it has a shower in a little room which is shared by men and women (not at the same time of course, come on, clean up your mind) (sub sub-thought: actually that’s not that bad an idea and they do have a suggestion box). Fortunately, most people don’t use the shower and, so far, I haven’t had to wait for my turn. The first time I used it, the attendant asked if I wanted him to turn on the hot water. Being the mucho muscular, macho dude that I am, I of course replied it wasn’t necessary. I’m not sure, but I suspect the whooping and hollering that ensued frightened birds for a 50 meter radius.

The gym attendant, Jorje, helped me work out a routine. I declined to use the bicycle because the last time I used one I blew a disc in my back and had to have surgery. Bummer.  A second disc blew later – I’m now very wary of bicycles. Basically I told Jorje I just wanted to tone the upper body. I don’t want to “build” anything, God knows I’m big enough already. But I’ve become flabby in recent years and I want my biceps, tummy and pecs back. In my twenties, thirties and even forties I had good pecs; now I have tits. I remember seeing guys my age on the beach when I was younger and saying “I’ll never let myself go like that!” Yeah, right.   

Local Fauna – Why We Exercise!

So something had to be done for GG’s condition and Mucho Musculos was the immediate answer. Jorje helped me work out a routine that focuses most of the effort on machines that are designed to help the upper body. At the start, the weight settings GG is using are half way between 60 year old woman and 80 year old man. But that’s a start and things will get better, hopefully.

So now, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, GG finds himself marching up to Mucho Musculos and doing his thing for about an hour. Then the cold shower; zowee, it certainly wakes one up. Then the bus. A great way to start the day, or at least three of them per week.

What’s-in-a-Word Department


The word for sales person in Spanish is “vendador” (plural: vendadores) and the word for sand is “arenas” (like in the town Puntarenas or sandy point). I personally know most of the sellers at Playa Manuel Antonio now and I think “vendadores de la playa” is an unnecessarily long descriptor. I propose we call the numerous vendors plying the beaches of Manuel Antonio “vendarenas”. Much more economical of language, don’t you think? 


In Issue 8, I made the statement that Costa Rica is home to over 70% of the known animal species in the world. A Tico buddy, who happens to be a tour guide here and should know, pointed out to me that the real numbers are more modest. Costa Rican territory represents approximately 0.03% of the land mass of the earth and has approximately 6% of known animal species. That still sounds like a disproportionate ratio of over 200 to 1 to me, but it’s not quite as dramatic as I reported earlier. Mea culpa y muchas gracias, amigo.

Wait a minute, are we excluding the ice packs in the .03%? Is the percentage being diluted? Is it really based on the whole land mass or just relatively habitable land? OK, OK…let it go GG.


In Issue 7 I referred to that tart, mottled-skinned, lemony citrus fruit peculiar to Costa Rica as a Limone (lih-mo-knee). I then corrected the pronunciation in Issue 8 to drop the “e” on the end; it became “Lee-moan”. Now I’ve been told that Costa Rican limones are really limes and the correct name for the fruit in question is Manadarina, a name taken from the area where they are grown. Whatever their proper name they are unique to the fruit world and, even though they produce more seeds per squeeze than any fruit I’ve ever seen, they really give an excellent taste to orange juice in the morning or salads, fish and other items any time.

Getting a Cedula

Parque Manuel Antonio Beach

Although I’ve enjoyed the brief escapes I’ve made to other countries (Panama – Issue 6 and San Andres Island – Issue 9) for the purpose of refreshing my Costa Rican visa, I would rather make side trips when I wanted to, rather than when the government says I must.

To do this requires becoming an official resident of the country and this, in turn, requires obtaining a document from the government called a Cedula. Once obtained, it can be used for a variety of business purposes such as owning a cell phone (I cheated and got one under a friend’s corporation) or establishing a checking account at a local bank.

I’m still pondering why having a local checking account is necessary as my U.S. account and debit card work well here in either dollars or colones. But what if I lost my debit card? What then, Mergatroid? It’s interesting that my biggest concern is not losing my passport. That would be a relatively easy replacement process at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. But how fast would I be able to replace a debit card on a U.S. based checking account? Would I have to resort to eating wild bananas and mangos for two weeks? Would the world tilt off its axis? (There you go again GG).

In essence, for various purposes, the Cedula replaces the need to carry around a passport, which I never do anyway unless I’m traveling significant distances from Quepos. I do, however, keep a copy of my main passport page in my wallet. I’m told that this will suffice for general identification purposes such as being stopped by the police. This has not happened to me up to this point. Hell, it’s often difficult to find police anywhere in Quepos (yuk.yuk). There is a police trap north of Jaco on the way to San Jose but it’s as predictable as rain.

I had originally investigated the requirements for this important document shortly before leaving Florida in the hope that I could complete the requirements for residency early, get ahead of the curve if you will. I emailed the Costa Rican Consulate in Miami and they promptly responded with a detailed list and explanation of the process. All I had to do was:

1.    Obtain an original birth certificate (someone should enlighten them that this doesn’t exist – they’re all copies) and forward it to the Secretary of State in the state where I was born (MA) for “authentication”. Sounds like a government fee to me.

2.    Send the authenticated birth certificate to the Costa Rican consulate closest to where I was born (NYC) for further “authentication”. Sounds like another fee to me.

3.    Send the authenticated birth certificate to the Costa Rican consulate near where I last lived (FL) for further “authentication”. Fee, fie, fo, fat, I smell the blood of a bureaucrat. 

4.    Hold the triply authenticated birth certificate in a file until the following is also completed.

5.    Obtain a clean police record from the state in which I last lived (FL).

6.    Repeat Step 2 and 3 for the police record. Hold in the file.

7.    Obtain a verified document of income of at least $600 per month (the National Assembly recently passed a new minimum and the number is going up to $2,000 shortly). An “authenticated” (read stamped with a seal) letter from Social Security will suffice. If one doesn’t have this, copies of “some” documents proving monthly conversion of the minimum amount from dollars to colones is required. Such a document might be a bank receipt from actual conversions.

8.    Take all the documents to a Tico lawyer or someone who knows the Costa Rican system well enough to translate them all into Spanish.

9.    Have a letter of application prepared by the lawyer in Spanish.

10.     Have the lawyer file the application and other documents on my behalf with the appropriate Costa Rican government agency.

11.     Go into wait mode. Your Cedula is now “In Tramité” or in process. The waiting period is indefinite but reportedly in the one to six month range, once filed. (That’s quite a range, dude).

In Florida one can conduct most business with the state government online, so I dutifully logged on to the official FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) website and ordered a police record after paying the $25 fee by credit card. Somehow I didn’t notice, or I didn’t think it was important, that there were two other dudes with the exact same name but with different Social Security numbers and different birth dates listed below my name. I hit the button marked “Produce Report” and I quickly got an official, printable document. I fired up the printer to get a copy.

hen I read the hard copy more closely I found, unfortunately, that the two dudes were listed on my record as “aliases”. Even more unfortunately, one of the dudes had an outstanding warrant for six fraudulent check charges. The future Golden Gringo now had a report that pictured him as a felon, an inauspicious, inappropriate and unacceptable classification for Costa Rican immigration. When I called Tallahassee directly, they informed me that the only way to get a clean report after “corrupting” the computer record was to print out a new application form and send it in. I did so and sent it by Fed Ex because I was leaving in less than a week to go to C.R. I never saw the report, probably because I changed forwarding addresses in mid-stream and the return doc got lost in U.S. Postal Service system or maybe it was forwarded to Santa Claus (I checked later with Santa but he denied knowledge of the document).

The above process is one way to do it. A close friend here who has lived in C.R. nine years suggested another. “Just call Sandra in San Jose and she’ll take care of it.” So I did and set up the meeting mentioned at the beginning of this chronicle, just after labor day. Sandra sent me to the U.S. Embassy and within 30 minutes I had an “authenticated” (in Spanish with embossed seal) version of the Social Security report and two passport-type pictures for the Cedula application.

When I mentioned the problem I had with the police report, Sandra said: “Don’t worry about it; I’ll get an FBI report.” She took the SS Report, the birth certificate copy and told me it would take about 3-4 months. I’ll reserve final judgment until the Cedula actually happens (the telecom monopoly representative told me 4-5 weeks for an internet connection at my apartment and I’m still waiting at 3½ months) but Sandra’s demeanor and apparent efficiency gives me high hopes for a smooth process.

Duuuude, I love it when a plan works. Who was it that originally said it’s not what you know in life but who you know.

Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstratum – In effect: “that which was to be demonstrated has been”). I just feel the need to use the Latin I learned in high school somewhere, even if it is a dead language.


Pura Vida! y Solo Bueno!
Roberto de Quepos
El Gringo de Oro

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