Life and Death on the Farm

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Another frosty morning on the farm

It’s lambing and calving time here. The dairy cows have been birthing for the past week or so, with a new calf almost daily, it seems. They are mighty cute…one has a little heart shaped white spot on its forehead. They’re soft and perfect, with the shiniest little hooves I’ve ever seen. They like to sleep in the sun and their dark hair absorbs the heat as they snooze silently, without a care in the world.

IMG_3098The calves can, however, pick up something called the scours from the ground by sleeping on it too much. It can end up killing them if you’re not careful. I really don’t want that to happen while I’m here, but Rosa tells me that she sees the signs of it on a couple so far. I’ve gotten some insight into the mass cow production that takes place in the ‘real world’. She told me that calves are taken away from their mothers a day or two after birth just so people can have milk to drink. The little ones then go to ‘the works’ so they can be processed for veal. Sigh….

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The sheep are heavy in lamb, as they say around here. Some have had their babies already and others have simply not made it through to birthing. I mentioned before about sheep being cast (fallen or laid down and can’t get up again) and I came across my first few the other day. When I went to look for a new calf in the paddock, I cut through where some sheep were grazing. I saw the calf, then turned to walk back home. I passed a large rock outcropping and there she was…a pregnant sheep on her side, legs sticking out and missing her eyes. The gulls got to her and it was exactly as I had thought it would be from Rosa’s description. Sad, horrifying and depressing. I went around every rock to make sure no others were awaiting the same fate. I didn’t see any that were cast and alive, but I did see the remains of a couple that had been dead for a while.

Today, we went to muster up some other sheep to give them vaccinations. We had to separate the babies from the mob and somehow also find their mothers to keep them nearby. As we were moving them up the track, we saw a baby with a female, but I was told it probably wasn’t its mother. The sheep had fallen over and was too heavy and weak to make the walk, so she was put on the back of the ATV and I got to hold the lamb in the truck. Lambs are hard to catch and when we can’t, a dog goes after them instead, tackling it to the ground and being a little too rough for my taste. That’s what happened with this one. The dog chased it, grabbed it by its neck and pinned it down. The lamb screamed out and I felt the need to be ‘mom’ for a while and comfort it. Bill went over to retrieve it and I asked if I could hold onto it. It was the most darling thing. Soft little chin, fluffy coat and eyes that were barely open. I noticed a little blood in its mouth, surely from the rough up it got minutes before. My hand cupped around the tiny rib cage and her heart was beating so fast, I couldn’t even keep count.

Once we got the sheep to the paddock and a few females in with their babies, I was told to let the little one go to see if it could find mom. The poor little thing walked up and down the fence line, yelling out just waiting to be found. No mom came. Rosa thought that maybe it didn’t have a mom or else they were separated when we were drafting them out. The decision was made to put the lamb back around where we found it and wish for the best. Hopefully it did have a mom and it will live a long, healthy life.

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Goats making a run for it!

As we brought the other mob back home and crested a hill, we saw about 50 goats in the turnip patch. Rosa was not happy. Goats are a pest here and I often hear of Bill and the boys going out goat hunting. The goats sort of herded themselves in with the sheep and ended up in the yard, behind closed fences. We had to vaccinate all of those sheep and trying to keep the goats out of the way was a challenge. Rosa managed to put a bunch into the sheep shed but some stayed in the mob. One in particular got spooked and ran fast toward a gate at the end of the paddock. It looked as if it thought it could ram right through it, but instead it broke its neck and couldn’t move after hitting the ground.  “He just buggered himself,” Rosa said. I walked up to it, already knowing its fate. It was still alive, looking at me from an unnatural angle.  I saw Rosa walking to the truck and I knew what was coming. For some reason, I expected to see her walking back with a gun, but as I passed her, it was a knife she had. I didn’t want to be around but was still within ear shot as I heard the goat cry out with its last breath and then it went silent.

The future of the other goats in the shed isn’t likely positive either. There are too many goats, hogs, rabbits and hares around here for the farmers’ taste. They take food from their stock and are seen as pests. They’ve told me that the hogs will eat baby lambs during the night. One year, they took so many that they had to do a massive hunt to try and curb their population. They had to just shoot them on sight and leave them there. It’s not as bad now, but it’s a loss they have to factor in unfortunately. I can’t imagine how horrified a little lamb would be, but again, it’s life on the farm. One would like to think that nothing bad ever happens, but nature isn’t that kind.

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Mustering Up Some Inspiration

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We rode out to muster the cattle (or round ’em up, as they say in Texas) the other day. This time I opted to ride in the truck with Bill instead of on the ATV (bike) since it makes me too cold. The back deck of the bike isn’t padded and I have to hang on to what looks like a tail pipe sticking out of the side in order to not fall off. The ride is bouncy and we blaze through mud puddles and precariously close to edges of cliffs, but rest assured, she is a good driver.

We drive in the truck until we can go no further. We all pile onto the bike, close yet another gate behind us and go to a section where the cattle should be. The sun is out and the day looks clear. You can see for miles over the hills and the snow is slowly starting to melt off of the top of the mountain range. She lets Bill off to go find cattle on the Dark Side. I like the name of that section. It’s funny to hear them talk about it. “There’s a mob of sheep on the Dark Side.” I wonder just how evil those sheep are out there. There is also Butt Cheek Hill, the Solar Panel and Volcano Ridge to name a few.

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Looking out toward the Dark Side

Bill takes a long handled flat head axe with him. I wonder why, but don’t ask. Rosa and I ride up the track a bit and she says she will go muster the cattle down below and that I can wait up here. I’m happy to hear that, as I now have some alone time and can sit in the sun IMG_2935 and warm up. As I look up the hill in back of me, the sky is once again an impossible blue. A few cows near the top slowly meander toward the rest of the herd, as if bothered by the fact they have to move at all. The tan color of the tussock and the dark scrub brush on the hill contrast beautifully with the sky. The clouds are breaking up into patches and it reminds me very much of the wool on a sheep’s back.

I take this opportunity to walk up the track a bit to see if I can find some photo ops. The curve in the road seems to promise more beyond it.  I think about how barren this area looks and remember Rosa saying this place hasn’t changed at all in 100 years. I feel very alone, but quite content to be. I feel like I’m the only creature that has walked this ground. Yet, as I look around me, it appears that absolutely no part of this land has gone untouched. I can’t walk without seeing droppings from the sheep or cattle. No matter how far up or down the hillside I go, it is there. There are bones scattered in spots and later in the day, we came across a sheep carcass on the track which hadn’t been there a couple days ago.

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We could see out to the ocean from here

It is quiet except for the many birds I hear singing. They sound happy…maybe it’s the chill wearing off or it is coming into mating season. The sun is getting warm and I decide the tussocks look to be a pretty comfortable seat while sporting a gorgeous view in front of me.  I take off the heavy coat and sling it on top of the tall grass and lean back into it. There is another small tussock right in front of me for my feet. I look up at the sky and the sun warms my lips. The black top I have on soaks in the heat. It’s a good day to be alive. I look beside me and am again reminded that I was not the only one to be in this spot. A twig is poking up out of the ground with a bit of wool stuck to the end of it gently waving in the breeze. IMG_2971lo

I hear the bike in the distance coming back for me and I stand up to take notice of the herd. They are far off in the distance all standing together for once. There might be about 50 of them. It seems to me they are much harder to muster than sheep, but I’m told it’s the other way around. It feels we have been out for a long time and covered a lot of ground to only have rounded up 50 cattle.

Rosa asks if I had seen where Bill walked, which I hadn’t. She pointed to the Dark Side and moved her finger across the land all the way to where I saw the herd of cattle.  It probably took him a couple of hours or more. We all met up and mustered them into different paddocks. Bill leans on his axe while he and Rosa talk about where to put the cattle and try to determine the total count. Experience shows on their faces and clothes. They’ve been farming practically all their lives. It’s a dying business, I’m told. Their concerns about growing older and wondering if their son will take over the farm  lingers on their minds. Their income is mostly obtained from selling lambs and wool. They sometimes contract people to do work on the farm which comes at a steep price. I often wonder how they get by.

Turnip patch
Turnip patch

Even with all of the work that must be done during the day, I’m amazed at what good parents they are. They have two boys and a daughter in boarding school in Dunedin, who comes home on the weekends. They are caring and concerned, teaching the boys manners and encouraging them to do their best in school and sports. They never appeared bothered when one of the boys interrupts them with a question and they always take the time to answer thoroughly. They maintain a sense of humor along with the discipline young kids seem to always need. They are a stellar example of what parents should be. I am happy to be here with them all and able to experience this unique, yet dying lifestyle.

Step Into My Office

My kids confined in boxes but being fed well and they get a daily cleaning.
My kids confined in boxes but being fed well and they get a daily cleaning.

I don’t believe I’ve given you a peephole into my world over here.  I now have a zero minute commute to work which is great!  I open my front door and there I am! No more traffic, lights, groggy people or parking lots.  Above is the lab I go into first thing in the morning to check on the larvae, eggs and pupa that are growing in those boxes and cups.  The table is where I clean boxes, change out food, transfer new kids to their respective boxes or remove pupae for hanging.

The lab i live in for a few hours a day
The lab I live in for a few hours a day

So when I get up and walk out my door, work awaits me.

My house
My house

Here are the grounds:

Looking toward my house from the yard
Looking toward my house from the yard
Casita where the goodies get made during the day
Casita where the goodies get made during the day
Side of the flight house and into the driveway with mountains in the background
Side of the flight house and into the driveway with mountains in the background
Walking in from the parking lot, cafe on left, Flight house on right
Walking in from the parking lot, cafe on left, Flight house on right
View of the mountains from the parking lot
View of the mountains from the parking lot

It’s a big yard, takes a while to water and tend to.  But I saw a cute iguana today by the gate all fat and happy.

Out watering today I saw this little fatty iguana in a tree!  He must've been reall famous because he got down and tried to sneak away from the paparazzi that was me.
Out watering today I saw this little fatty iguana in a tree! He must’ve been real famous because he got down and tried to sneak away from the paparazzi that was me.

Then Fred, our dog, decided to hang out all day.  We often find him at the bar or hanging on main street around the action.  Although we never really SEE him in action, he seems to thrive in chaos.  He is typically horizontal and has really bloodshot eyes.  I saw him trying to pee against a pole the other day and he just stumbled over and didn’t even try.  We’re convinced he has a beer habit.  Or worse.

This is how he looks at any given moment of the day.
This is how he looks at any given moment of the day.

He’s spoiled now (he was a street dog) since I gave up part of my foam mattress topper.  Now his shoulders don’t hurt as bad as laying on hard ground!

Our overly relaxed dog.  We're pretty sure he's an alcoholic.
Our overly relaxed dog. I said we should name him Bed or Dead, not Fred.

Looks comfy, huh?  Spoiled boy.

Speaking of being spoiled, I’m starting to delve into making gelato.  The Sicilian type uses cornstarch which is kind of like eating frozen hot fudge.  Wow…it’s good.  Very creamy texture…silky, almost.  Then I made some the normal way with egg yolks and I did a couple things wrong in the cooling process.  I could feel the ice crystals in it so I’m being FORCED to make it again.  DARN!!!  I did make some mango yogurt popsicles tonight which tasted good in the un frozen form.  We’re hoping these things will sell better than the baked goods.

Mix Mix Stir Stir Married Young It's All a Blur.  These are espresso coffee grinds with the cream, milk and sugar.
Mix Mix Stir Stir Married Young It’s All a Blur. These are espresso coffee grinds with the cream, milk and sugar.
Add that yummy chocolate
Add that yummy chocolate
Mmmm chocolate espresso gelato.  My newest adventure.
Mmmm chocolate espresso gelato. My newest adventure.
Put it in an ice bath minus the ice because i didn't have much of anything
I put it in an ice bath minus the ice because I forgot to make some, so it was just cold water.

You have to mix it up every 45 min or so to keep ice crystals from forming.  I don’t think I mixed it enough times and it didn’t cool down quickly enough,  Lesson learned…next time I’ll do better!

Speaking of chocolate, I’m SUPER excited because I noticed our cacao tree has little flower blooms on the trunk!  That means cacao (chocolate) pods!!  How awesome would that be!?!  Now we’re talking organic chocolate making.  I think I’ve found my calling.  ha!

OOOO we have blooms on our cacao tree which could mean cacao pods one day!!  It's better to fall in chocolate than in love.
OOOO we have blooms on our cacao tree which could mean cacao pods one day!! It’s better to fall in chocolate than in love.
Cutest little flowers EVER
Cutest little flowers EVER

And since we’re already in the flight house, might as well show you what’s going on there too!

I was collecting larvae on the senna and didn’t even notice the two Sulfur’s sitting right in front of me.  Man, nature is freaky.  They really blend into that leaf.  Their babies are a bright yellow then turn green later on.

Sulfer's blending in well on the senna.
Sulfer blending in well on the senna.

Our little morpho’s are growing still:

baby morpho larvae
baby morpho larvae
Me moving the baby caligo larvae to the banana plant with Orlando, the tour guide.
Me moving the baby caligo larvae to the banana plant with Orlando, the tour guide.

Here I am in action moving some baby caligo larvae out into the real world.  We ended up moving them again though because the wind was too rough on them.

So at the end of the day, this is what I see before going into my house:

Whispy clouds with high winds
Whispy clouds with high winds

How Much Does it Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

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I know one of the first things I wondered when I decided to move was how much it would cost per month.  Of course, I got this information from expats (mainly Americans) living there and the ranges were different, which was to be expected.  It all depends on what your minimum requirements for creature comforts are and what you’re willing to sacrifice.  Most locals only make about $400 a month and still survive somehow, usually with a family of at least 3 or 4 to support.

As others had said, if you look for a place to rent on the internet, you’re going to pay more than if you actually get to know the locals and find out some ‘local prices’.  However, it is sometimes necessary to book a place in advance before going somewhere.  So with that said, those of you who happened across this post and looking to live/move anywhere in the word, I’ll say this much:  Only book it for one month.  It might sound attractive to possibly save money on a 3 month or more ‘deal’ but sometimes pictures aren’t very accurate.  In a way, I wish I wouldn’t have done a three month deal in Puerto Viejo.  It still looked pretty nice when I arrived, but once I got used to being there, I found things out that I wish I could’ve lived without!

When you get to where you’re going, take the time to get to know the locals.  EVERYONE knows someone who is either selling or renting.  It seems every single place here is for sale.  And even if it’s NOT for sale, it could still be for sale, just not advertised.  I wouldn’t recommend buying anything either (if you plan on actually moving and staying).  I used to see the International House Hunter shows and I just had to laugh.  These people go to a few different areas (sometimes for the very first time in their lives) and think it’s great then sign their lives away a week later.  Now I don’t know how much of this is staged, but I have to believe there really are people like that out there.   I remember seeing one guy who bought a bungalow in a country I know quite a bit about because he liked the look of it and it was near the water.  Well, what he didn’t know apparently was that was an area where cocaine runners tend to pass through quite a bit.  Not to mention the drug problem in the area.   It pays to read the local news for a while if you plan on buying in a different country.

I think the other problem with buying is that if you need to sell it for whatever reason, you could have problems getting what you want for it or selling it at ALL.  Some people may think it’s an investment, which it could be (or not!?) but you never know what’s going to happen.  You need to know about potential disasters (living near active volcanoes, below a mountainside, near rivers, etc.).  That nice piece of land with the stream running through it could easily flood during rainy season and cause serious erosion issues.  Or that active volcano could be set to pop any day now and devastate your community.    That beautiful hill side behind you could turn into a landslide during a heavy rain or earthquake and bury your house.  So…enough about the warnings…how much does it cost to live here!?!?

I kept a spreadsheet for the past four months because I was curious what I was spending and what it was going toward.  The first four months, I rented places.  The past 2 months, I’ve done a house sit and do NOT pay rent (this is the way to go!!!).  So take that into consideration when looking at the numbers.  The best thing I’ve done so far was joining a house sitting site.  I think anyone who wants to live in another country for an extended amount of time should absolutely do this.  It might cost a little out of pocket, but in the long run will pay off that fee and you’ll probably live in a lot nicer place than you could have rented.

So, here’s the breakdown (in USD):

July-Tronadora on Lake Arenal.  2 bedroom house furnished with lake view.

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  • Rent: 450
  • Transportation (with tip): 42
  • Food: 230
  • Utilities: 6
  • Lodging: 70
  • Misc: 49
  • TOTAL FOR THE MONTH: $847

All utilities were included in my rent except for my cell phone so that $6 went to recharge that.  The lodging and transportation were from when I came back from the border run and spent the night in San Jose and got a ride to Arenal.  The miscellaneous expenses were from eating out a couple of times (and paying for someone else’s lunch one time), buying a shirt for myself and giving someone money to take me on a boat ride.  The house was nice but I found out later that I could’ve rented a different place cheaper had I just known someone in the area…about $100 cheaper.

August-San Antonio de Turrialba.  House sit (no rent paid) 2 bedroom furnished on acre+ of land with fruit trees, fish ponds, view of volcano.

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  • Rent: 0
  • Transportation (with tip): 80
  • Food: 448
  • Utilities: 6
  • Lodging: 0
  • Misc: 192
  • TOTAL FOR THE MONTH: $726

I did not have to pay the first month’s utilities so the owners paid for the previous month since I wasn’t here.  Yeah, I went a little crazy on food.  I was STARVING and was glad to finally shop in a decent grocery store and ended up getting a lot of things in bulk.  I had to take a bus to the store so when someone would actually drive me, I’d stock up so I didn’t have to get as much when I took the bus.  So a lot of the expense was for things I could use for the next month also.  The transportation cost was for getting here from Arenal.  The misc. total went up also because I bought a bike (that I ended up never using), some creature comforts for the house, a bill I still owed from Texas, and a donation to a family here.  But I also wasn’t having to pay rent, so I did splurge a little on other things.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten most of the things I had.

September-San Antonio de Turrialba.  House sit (no rent paid) 2 bedroom furnished on acre+ of land with fruit trees, fish ponds, view of volcano.

  • Rent: 0
  • Transportation (with tip): 290
  • Food: 203
  • Utilities: 93
  • Clothing: 99
  • Lodging: 220
  • Misc: 317
  • TOTAL FOR THE MONTH: $1222

Yow…what happened in September!?!?  Well, the bulk of that came from my border run to Panama.  Yes, that’s another thing one needs to take into consideration…border runs!  They can be cheap or they can be expensive.  Again, i felt like I hadn’t really done anything fun and I wasn’t paying rent so I splurged.  In a big way.  The transportation cost was the flight, the lodging was for the hotel and the bulk of misc. stuff came from a TV I bought for $140, a couple of entrance fees to local places, stuff I bought at WalMart and a birthday present for someone back home.   Oh, and the Panama expenses aren’t done yet!  More in October!  As you can see, the costs do vary wildly so it’s really hard to predict how much you will be spending while living abroad.  Now, for this current month…I’ve done pretty well!

October (up until the 22nd)-San Antonio de Turrialba.  House sit (no rent paid) 2 bedroom furnished on acre+ of land with fruit trees, fish ponds, view of volcano.

  • Rent: 0
  • Transportation (with tip): 84
  • Food: 136
  • Utilities: 84
  • Clothing: 175
  • Lodging: 0
  • Misc: 27
  • TOTAL FOR THE MONTH: $506

Yeah, I didn’t really NEED those clothes but I got them anyway in Panama.  I’ve already paid the utilities.  Transportation was for getting to the airport, taxis and a tour guide.  Misc. was for a haircut ($10) and the Panama Canal entrance fee.  I have one more trip to the store this month, another $4 for the fruit guy this week and that should pretty much cover it, so the real total will probably be about $565 or so.

<Updated on 12/30/13 are Nov. and Dec. expenses:>

Total for November: $172.42 (nice!! $70 was for food)

Total for December: $460.65 ($312 of that was a flight to Panama; sold my bike for $50; $135 for food; didn’t have to pay electric bill this month)

So there it is.  That averages about $840/mo.  However that is also skewed if you have to pay rent.  It would come out to more like $1200 if you were paying $400/mo. for rent for the past three months.   I could live a little leaner if I needed to.  I certainly won’t be buying any more clothes.  I’ve started making my own items instead of buying them and I’ve cut back on the things I have to PAY to go do for fun.   I also intend on selling the bike and the TV before I leave, so I’ll recoup almost $180 from that.  Food isn’t exactly cheap here either.  Panama had much better prices.  CR is the ‘California of Central America’ as they say, so expect to pay more for things you’re used to getting at home cheaply.  Namely CHEESE.  Yeah, I can’t let that one go…I’ve mentioned it, what, 4 times at least on this site?  Personal hygiene items cost a bit more than they did in the U.S.  I almost keeled over when I saw the Almay makeup that I use (makeup is really difficult to come by for brand names also) selling for $20!?!?!  This is a drugstore brand, folks.  I paid at the MOST $8 or $9 at the grocery store in the U.S. or even less on Amazon.  Even saw some powder I use and that was also $20 ($6 in the states).  I have never seen Olay in any of the stores around town but I did see it at the Walmart in Cartago and the price was almost double from what I’m used to seeing.   I brought as much of that stuff with me since I knew it’d be hard to come by and expensive, so ladies…don’t skip that if you really need it!

My side businesses over the internet help pay the expenses and I’m proud to say that I haven’t touched my REAL savings account since I moved down here (7 months now).  I did have a couple of other accounts to draw from aside from savings but those haven’t really depleted much at all either.  I could find some work here (under the table) if I really needed to by designing websites or doing computer work.  But for those of you who move to another country without an actual work permit from a company there, don’t expect to find much.  And you’d also be working illegally.  You never know if that immigration guy is going to come into the restaurant you’re waiting tables for.  Some people find jobs teaching English or babysitting or gardening.  But locals have a hard enough time finding work.  Oh, and don’t expect to get paid ‘what you’re worth’ either.  A design job in the states could run $85/hr but here you’d be lucky to get $20.  I believe minimum wage for non-skilled workers is about $3/hr here.  I made more at my old job in 2 1/2 months than most people make here all year.  Pretty depressing.  So please think about the job you might be taking from a local who really needs it and have a way of supporting yourself without relying on the local economy.

A final word on border runs too.  CR is starting to crack down on the 90 day visa for ‘repeat offenders’ who are not locals.  Recently they passed a law that if you don’t have your cedula (proof that you are or are becoming a citizen) you can’t renew your driver’s license.  Ok that’s fine if you don’t have a car.  But what happens if you rent a place for a few months and have to do a border run in between that time and the immigration officer only gives you a few weeks instead of a few months?  Back to the border you go (airport tax fee, transportation, food and lodging costs) only to hope they let you in for the maximum time again!  They don’t really want you here unless you’ve invested in a business or land and are in some way supporting the economy.  They also don’t want you taking a job from a local.  So come prepared with some documentation as to WHY you’re here just in case you need to show it (and it better be good!).

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the ‘onward ticket’ thing.  You must show proof that you are leaving the country either to your airline and/or immigration.  Otherwise you could run the risk of not being let in unless you mosey on over to that full priced ticket counter and make a fast purchase.  Some airlines don’t care but a lot do (they don’t want to have to pay to send you back to your country) and I have been asked a couple of times by immigration to show that ticket.

Please feel free to post any comments or questions, as I feel I’m fairly qualified to answer them after living here for a while now!

End of Year Update:

I figure the first three months I lived here (that I didn’t record) ran me at least $2100 which included a flight back to the states and then I came back to CR.   So I’ll estimate that for the past 9 months I have spent a little over $6000.  That didn’t include the health insurance I paid before I left so I could be covered for 6 or 7 months which was about $450.