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January 2010

November 2009

Suely's Chocolate Volcano

IMG_8252  Mr. Crab celebrated Thanksgiving in Playa El Coco, Costa Rica. Coco is kind of, well, little America. The Gringo-to-Tico (Costa Rican) ration is very noticeable. I would guess that the majority of businesses are Gringo owned, mainly Americans, plus a few Canadians, Germans, Italians and French. Nearly every restaurant was offering a Thanksgiving turkey meal. One bar even had a live mariachi singer...because nothing says Thanksgiving like Gallo Pinto and mariachis! 

But luckily, Mary at Pato Loco tipped me off to a great find: Suely's Restaurant. Located about halfway between Playa Coco and Playa Ocotal, Seuly's is a French restaurant, owned and operated by real French. The chef is a former pastry chef from Provence and his wife the hostess is a Belgian-Brazilian who speaks six languages! The daily changing menu is based on whatever fresh fish came off the boat that day. There were about six choices last night and I went for the Tempura Prawns in Thai Sauce, that was absolutely divine. The fusion of Latin, French and Thai flavors was incredible. Accompanied by a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Suely's extensive French wine list.

And for desert: THE CHOCOLATE VOLCANO, a chocolate cake pot filled with gooey chocolate "lava", drizzled with caramel and a side of vanilla ice cream. Divine! Suely's was by far the best meal I've had in Costa Rica yet!

Congress: Show me the money!

So as you know, Mr. Crab is currently sitting on the waiting list to attend "A-100", the Foreign Service Orientation Course held in Arlington, Virginia. Lately, every A-100 (named for the classroom where it was originally held) class has had about 95-98 students. But strangely, the upcoming January 2010 class only has about 70 students. I'm currently high enough on the ranking that I have a good shot at getting February 2010 class. But now we've learned that invitations are being delayed, because there's no money!

Congress has yet to pass two appropriation bills to fund State Department Activities. The bills in question are HR3081 and S1434: "Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, and for other purposes."  Until these bills are passed, A-100 invitations are at a standstill. The bills were introduced way back in June. I guess that's Congress for you!

Even more frustrating is that even though invitations are on hold, there has been no halt to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. So if somebody passes with a higher score, and obtains their clearances quickly, they land on the register very high, and everyone else gets pushed down the list. Never mind that some of us took the OA in April or earlier; the rankings are based on score and the date you received your clearances. Many FS candidates complain about the "fairness" of this process but, oh well, that's the way it is!

MacBook: death & rebirth

Apple_macbook_s20001  On Thursday, my beloved MacBook died.  Somewhere along the bumpy roads from Monteverde to Juntas, Costa Rica, my hard-drive was irreparably damaged. It royally sucked. It was working that morning in Monteverde, but when I arrived at my next destination and turned on my laptop, the only thing I saw was a folder with a flashing question mark!?!?!!  A quick Google search and self-diagnosis determined that my hard drive was dead.

Luckily I had backed up my files the day before, so I only lost a half-day's worth of work. It was more of an inconvenience, and a major expense I had not anticipated or budgeted. It's not like I could just pop into the Apple store down the street. But another Google search brought me to iOne in Playa Tamarindo, about two hours drive from my location. So on Saturday, I bundled up my computer and drove to iOne. The staff were absolutely wonderful. My MacBook went into surgery at noon. I took a long walk down the beach, had a long lunch and paced the sand like a nervous father-to-be while iOne worked on my computer.  A few hours later, I got the call: My MacBook was out of surgery and I could pick her up.

My 3.5 year old Macbook has been reborn. It now has a new hard-drive and upgraded Leopard operating system. She's got triple the storage, double the memory and is lightning fast. They also cleaned her inside and out, so it looks brand new. I had to do a double-take to make sure it actually was my machine! Had to shell out $350 to repair but better than paying $1,350 on that new Macbook Pro that I've been eyeing!   

Before I bought my Mac in 2005, I was a loyal PC user. Now, I would never even think about going back to PC. Amazingly this is the first and only major problem I've ever had with my MacBook; she's been all over the world with me including multiple trips to Iraq. Of course, the roads in Iraq were nowhere near as bad as the roads in Costa Rica!  Here's hoping I can get another 3.5 years out of her.

On another note, after three weeks in Costa Rica, I finally saw monkeys yesterday! A whole family of white-faced capuchins in Rincon de la Vieja, Guanacaste. Monkeys RULE! And MACs rule!

Greetings from Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Hi ya'll. Mr. Crab is in La Fortuna, currently researching and writing the next edition of Lonely Planet Costa Rica. After 5 days of clouds obscuring the volcano, I finally captured this photo of Arenal Volcano, as viewed from the small village of El Castillo, about 45 minutes drive from La Fortuna on Arenal Lake. Is this awesome or what? If you look to the right of the cone, you can see red hot lava pouring out of the volcano.

Arenal Volcano is on the Two Crabs list of "1001" places you must see before you die!

Greetings from Costa Rica!

Costa Rica, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Hey ya'll! I'm currently in La Fortuna, Costa Rica at the foot of Arenal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. If you look closely at this pic, you can see steam smoldering from the cone. Apart from the Burger King, La Fortuna is a pretty cool town, though it is full of "gringos". In case you're wondering, I'm here working on my latest assignment for Lonely Planet travel guides (Click on the Flickr link at the top-right for more photos).

So the invitations for January A-100 Foreign Service Orientation Course are going out something this week. I had to place myself on the "Do Not Call" list because it conflicted with this Costa Rica gig. But I'm really hoping for an invitation to February class.

Cheers for now.

Foreign Service update: On The Register!

Departmentseal2   Nearly one year to the day since taking the Foreign Service Officers Test (the written exam), Mr. Crab received the good news today that I am now officially on the US Foreign Service Consular Register. For the layperson, that means I have passed all the hurdles including medical and security background checks and "Final Suitability Review." Now it's just a matter of waiting for an seat in the A-100 Foreign Service Orientation Course.

So what's next?  A-100!  Named for the classroom where the course was originally held, A-100 is a 5-week, introduction to the Foreign Service.  At the end of the class, there will be a "Flag Day" ceremony where we find out where in the world I will be stationed for my first tour. Then I'll head to Consular Affairs training, which is six weeks long. Finally, if I end up in a country where I do not speak the language, I'll be sent to language school, which could last anywhere from 3 months to 2 YEARS depending on the language. Only after all the training is complete are JOs, or Junior Officers, shipped abroad to begin their new careers as member of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. 

Click here to learn more about the work of the Foreign Service's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

The Foreign Service is HIRING!  Click here to learn more about careers in the US Foreign Service and Department of State. And no, I don't get any sort of bonus or finders fee for this plug!

My stats
11/4/08: FSOT
2/12: QEP
4/14: Passed FSOA. Score 5.40, Consular Track.
4/17: Security background investigation launched
5/1: Veterans preference bonus points added. New score = 5.575
5/5 & 5/7: Medical appointments at STATE MED. Class 1 clearance issued in-person on 5/7.
5/10: DSS in-person interview (three hours long)
5/16: Medical Clearance hardcopy arrives in mail
6/18: Security case manager requests a final piece of information.
7/17: Took Spanish phone test. Flunked (I know, can you believe that?).
7/17: Background security investigation completed
7/21: Adjudication process initiated
10/21: Security clearance granted

11/3: Final Suitability granted. Placed on Consular track.

Next: Awaiting "The Call," the official invitation to attend the A-100 Orientation Course.