Costa Rica Curious welcomes back Steve Friedman with a guest post about the comforts of home.
Steve and Martha Friedman moved to Costa Rica from Denver Colorado last year after retiring. They are currently living in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste. Steve blogs at his satirical site here.
Ah, The Comforts of Home
If you are only planning to come to Costa Rica for 3 months or less, you need read no further. A little austerity for that short a period will be easy to bear. For those planning on longer missions of 6 months to many years, here are some tips to get you through those “No place like Home” moments.
There are two categories of this. Things that you can bring in a suitcase, and Things that you will need to have shipped. For now I’ll speak primarily about the former.
A Soft Place to Sleep
One of the first things I decided to bring over was a gel foam mattress pad that I purchased at Costco. In a word, unless you like sleeping on cement, Tico beds are incredibly hard! Even US style ones are a bit on the rough side. Having a gel foam mattress pad took all the edge off and gave me a soft place to sleep. It certainly helps if you know in advance what size bed you will have there, but I opted for a Queen and as it was lucked out and found that was the bed size that was in our rental. Make note – Tico sized “matrimonial” mattresses are slightly larger than Full and smaller than Queen. Fully boxed it checked as an extra piece of luggage, but was literally worth its weight in gold to be able to sleep comfortably at night.
On that same subject, high count thread fitted sheets and pillow cases, or bamboo sheets are also welcome relief from the rough ones available here, although you can get some US style ones at Price Mart.
Does It Hurts and Have a Temperature?
While Tylenol (Acetaminophen) and Ibuprofen (Motrin) are available here, many of these and others are usually sold in small individually package blister wraps at 6 times the price. Other items such as Zyrtec, Sudafed, Musinex, are only available in blister packs and by their generic ingredients. Some things like Vicks Nyquil and Robitussen cough syrup cannot be found at all. When you are sick (or have sinus allergies), you want what you know works for you. Bring a good supply along. Likewise vitamins and supplements. What Vitamins you can find here will cost you a fortune, and they charge severe duties on them to ship them to you.
While you cannot bring raw food (meats, poultry, fish, seeds, fruit, and sometimes raw nuts) you can bring condiments packaged sauces and cake mixes, and spices. We like Indian Curries so we brought some packaged spices and jars. Also surprising, you cannot get the mild Ortega chilis here, so we brought back quite a few cans. I have found you can bring in processed vacuum packed meats such as Summer Sausage, Salami, and even Hillshire Farm Smoked sausage.
Unless you are a night owl, most of your entertainment will be done during daylight hours. Even if you are a party animal, you won’t be going out to the bars every night (after all, you live here now!) That leaves a lot of vacant hours to fill once the sun sets or the rain falls. Here are some options we found to keep us occupied when its raining cats and dogs, too hot and humid, or after it gets dark.
“Space, The final frontier….” In this case we are talking about physical space. It just isn’t practical to haul cartons of paperback or hardback books over here, let alone find space to store them in your smaller sized dwelling. This is where iPad, Android, Kindle and Nook devices, and an assortment of tablets can let you buy or go online for electronic editions. My wife, who is a book hound, has more than 500 books on her Kindle. Magazines and Newspapers are also going to electronic format and the tablets are a great way to read these, plus you don’t have piles of old issues to deal with.
We tend to be movie people, and prefer to watch movies from our vast DVD collection than the dreck of “reality TV shows” on the networks these days. Unfortunately the same space limitations apply here too if you try to bring over boxes and boxes of DVD’s. Luckily there is one device that we found really solves that problem well. It is called a KDlinks Box. It frees you from having to store and run movies from your computer and try to port it to your TV. It also does not require the Internet to work. It works connected to your TV set and an external hard drive (or internal hard drive with some models) that can hold 3 terabytes of data. We simply used our home computer to copy the physical files from the DVD directly over to the drive. You can also pull images of the movie covers off the internet so that it displays the thumbnail of the movie. The KDlinks box connects to your TV set via the HDMI port. It has its own remote control that works just like your DVD control. On one drive we have over 500 movies and still have a lot of space for more. It supports nearly every movie format (i.e. MP4, AVI, MKV, VOB, etc). Copying your movies does require a computer, and some dedicated time, but it’s nice to not have to take up a lot of space for 500 movies, or worry about whether or not the Internet speed is up or down that day.
Pretty much the same thing goes for music. CD’s are totally obsolete now and everything has gone to small MP3 files that can be played on smaller devices. There are a lot of software programs out that will let you “rip” your CD collection into MP3 files and preserve the information about the Artist, Album and song lists.
In Costa Rica, the two big cable companies offer only a few English Speaking US channels. NBC recently pulled all their network stuff off, so you can’t even get it on cable. You could go with Sky TV provided you can put up a dish, but some landlords won’t let you, or there is no line of sight. Also it tends to be quite expensive for what you get.
Many people are cutting the “cable cord” so-to-speak altogether and go entirely with Internet based TV. The problem though is Netflix, Hulu and many other internet based content providers are not allowed to display their content down here, or at best provide limited content. That is due to treaties protecting copyrighted material from being broadcast overseas. To get these, you need something called a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is service that disguises where you live and who you are. It can run either through your computer or tablet, or router. The best way is through your router, but setting it up can sometimes be more than a novice techie can handle. Your best bet is to have someone set one up for you before you leave, or purchases= a preconfigured one from Strong VPN. You won’t have as large a selection of models to choose from, and you are stuck with the service from Strong VPN, but their support is very good, and it saves a lot of trying to figure out stuff by yourself. One you have your router configured with a VPN, all of the devices that use wireless can use it seamlessly.
Another way to go is with something called a “Sling Box” offered by some of the satellite TV services. What some people have done is you have their satellite TV setup on a host home in the US, and use the Sling Box in Costa Rica to capture the content. Depending on the speed of your internet connection it is quite impressive and you can use it as a DVR as well.
Wii boxes, Xboxes, computer and tablet based games can all fill the void without taking up space. Finally there are old fashioned board games and of course, a deck of cards.
Family Pictures and Documents
Sooner or later you are going to have to deal with the mountain of family photos and photo albums that have been gathering dust in your closet over the years. While it may be feasible to take a family or Wedding album, hauling boxes of old photos is just not a good idea. There are services that will scan them for you, but it is easy enough to do it yourself. It t only takes a flatbed scanner (available on all multifunction printers), or self-feeding unit. The flatbeds are better for mounted and larger photos or whole album pages. You will also need a graphics program that will allow you to crop, correct, and se-size images. You don’t need Photoshop for this. There are many other inexpensive programs that will do this as well for both Mac and Windows. One that I personally like is called ACDsee. In any case you will need to scan the photos and save them usually in JPEG format. From there they can be viewed on computers, phones, tablets, TV’s – almost anywhere. The best place to store them is “on the Cloud”. You can get at least 5 Gigabytes of storage free from Drop Box, Microsoft One Drive, and iCloud; enough to hold your entire photo collection. That way it is safe, can easily be viewed and shared with others.
The same process works well with important papers such an Insurance policies, deeds of trust, medical records, and any other important documents. In this case though, you would want to save them in a PDF file format or Portable Document format. That way they can be viewed on nearly any device or computer.
Thanks for your perspective Steve.
Until Next time,