Oct 152017
 
Costa Rica History in knife metaphor

I’d say that about 1/10th of my time spent with people looking to buy property in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific zone is spent in the actual buying/selling of property. The other 9/10ths is a mix of conversations regarding what’s involved with living here, as well as discussing the business of real estate in Costa Rica.Understanding Costa Rica real estate

At its core, the lack of an actual MLS (Multiple Listing Service) colors all aspects of the business here, and I’ll go into that later on in this series. To really understand the business of real estate here, I have found it helpful to go back in time and see the progression of events up to the present. This helps to not only understand the current market but also, to project what is to come.

Early days:
I got into real estate in Dominical in 2004. It felt like the day I got into real estate was the day that someone threw the on-off switch to “on” in the market. Since then I’ve heard some tales indicating that the market was already simmering and poised to boil.

I made a sale on my first day in the business. A $60,000 gorgeous ocean view property sized at around 2 acres.  The property featured Uvita’s Whales Tail front and center. That property has gone on to have a lovely home, guest house and pool built on it. It has been re-sold and enjoys a stellar vacation rental history (link to rental page on HomeAway)

Quick overview of The Zone:
The Zone is made up of a string of 3 towns with Dominical at its northern end. The northern boundary is not a hard line but is decidedly fuzzy, easily extending up to Hatillo and at times, up to Portalon. (link to Hills of Portalon Development).

From Dominical heading south on the coastal highway you get to Uvita and then further south, to Ojochal. The area between Dominical and Uvita has a nicely laid out mountain range that runs parallel to the ocean. Hence the handle “coastal mountain range”. This means that you can travel inland from the beach just a short way and get to elevation where it is breezy and cool and offers expansive views of the ocean and coastline, attributes which make this area extremely desirable to investors, relocators and migrators (part-of-the-year residents).

More History:
Before the incoming press of foreign interest in The Zone, the Ticos (Costa Ricans) owned all the land, and their land holdings were always in the multi-hectares (1 hectare = 2.48 acres. Think 2.5 to make it easy).

There was a time in the not too distant past when land in Costa Rica was nearly value-less. There were land-grant programs whereby a man simply had to be willing to take responsibility for a property and the government would “grant” him the land, with conditions.

At that time it was not known that “nature” had a lucrative aspect to it. Instead nature was largely viewed as “in the way” and needed to be tamed, subdued, or eliminated. So, one of the conditions to receiving a land grant was to cut the trees down and raise cattle.

I suspect that this era may have coincided with the “McDonalds” explosion. This is an arguable point, so let’s just say it coincided with an extreme demand in the U. S. (and world) for beef.

After some time of cutting down enormous canopy trees and attempting to raise cattle in former rain-forest environs, there was a shift in our world’s appetites; nature became (and is) an important commodity. Granted, beef has continued to be an active commodity, but it was also learned that former rain forest land doesn’t necessarily make for the best pasture land.

Raising cattle in Costa Rica was a daunting struggle. The farmers found themselves up against nature. Having to maintain former rain forest jungle land in “pasture” condition presented its trials, as well as the fact that the beef business (exporting meat, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and 3rd world infrastructure or lack thereof) made a guy scratch his head and wonder if having all this land was such a good idea.

The Tico culture was/is multi-generational. These large, granted tracts of land, would end up being populated by the man who acquired the land, his now grown sons & daughters and their families, and the grand kids (soon to also have families.)

So despite having lots of land, a condition that in first-world countries equates to being wealthy, these farmers were “subsistence”. They lived off of what their land produced. As a child would grow to adulthood, Abuelo (abuelo = grandfather) would simply build them a house and apportion off some land (or not) and they would continue on contributing to the sustenance of the family. The land itself was not thought of in lucrative terms. It was a simple fact of life.

Abuelo just happened to acquire a land grant on, let’s say, 60 hectares of land that reaches from the inland side of the maritime zone on the coast up to the highest point of the coastal mountain ridge. He’s not thinking “oh boy! I’ve got some ocean view land here.” No, he’s thinking: “man I hope this land is fertile.”

Enter foreigner:
One day Bob, a tourist, is exploring the area and decides that he’d like to buy Abuelo’s property. Bob offers Abuelo $60,000 for the land. Abuelo has never even considered the remote possibility of maybe someday having such a sum. In fact, he’s never even seen that much money. He talks it over with his family and they (very understandably) feel that this would be a wonderful thing for them to do. So, they sell their land.

Bob is a visionary. He sees what is likely coming and so he stakes his early claim. Now, keep in mind that there is no electricity to this property, the access is horseback and the water is from an onsite or nearby spring that is bubbling out of the ground. Abuelo has run a pipe from the spring to an elevated storage tank near the family homes. Bob qualifies for the handle “visionary” in that – what foreigner in their right mind would possibly want such a remote and forbidding piece of land?

To understand this is to understand the element that is credited with making the world go round. We all have different likes and dislikes. I wonder at the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s and their focus on the personal home computing idea at the time that they had that focus. I’m not of this ilk and so my hat is off to such ones. I view the early investors here in The Zone as being made of the same stuff.

In looking back over the history of the first wave of investors here, I marvel at their foresight. My then wife and I looked at some Whales Tail view property in Uvita around 2002 and, despite its being gorgeous and nicely priced, I felt that it was simply too remote. This was in the same area where 2 years later I sold my first property.

Ok, so I said that to understand the real estate market here in Costa Rica, it helps one to know a bit of the history. Granted, we’ve gone back to what I appropriately call the first-wave of intrepid and visionary investors – The Visionaries. We’ll continue on in the next article with Bob’s next steps and incredible gains on his visionary act.

Nov 172016
 
Suitcase for a move to Costa Rica

This article is a copy and paste from an e-mail with a couple that have purchased a property here in Uvita. They are moving from Canada and are going to build a primary home for their own full-time residence. Plus, they are going to build at least 3 rental cabinas that they will run as a business to support themselves.

They asked a series of questions about what to bring. They have sold what they have at home, and are moving, lock stock and barrel, to Costa Rica.

Suitcase for a move to Costa Rica

What to pack in a move to Costa Rica

Questions fer ya:
We are trying to figure out how much cash to bring… We want to buy an ATV within the first week of being there… What’s the best way to pay for it? We’re looking at ones around 5-6k Max… Do we use our CR Bank card? Write a check? What’s the best way to pay for large ticket items?
This is likely preaching to the choir but, you can only bring $9,999 on your person without having to declare it. This is something that I have done sin problema (without a problem). I’m not even really sure what the problem is with having to declare anything at or over $10,000. It may be a non-event, but I suspect that it will result in a bit of bureaucracy (man that is a crazy word to spell correctly).

 

And as we are packing the kitchen items we are wondering about a few items and if we can get there and/or if they are way pricey there!
  1. Sm shop vac – to keep the spiders away!!!

Y’all will likely want to sign up for membership at PriceSmart (Price-Ehsmart in Spanish). They’ve got shop-vacs there. I’m not sure about the

Buy a ShopVac in Costa Rica.

You can buy this one at PriceSmart in San Jose for about $200.00 USD

pricing, but at some point it becomes no longer worth it to always try and beat the system with getting lower prices elsewhere and then the hassle of getting the item(s) here. Peter and Mindi just told me the other day that they had bought their Shop-Vac at Price Ehsmart.

 

  1. Leaf blower (to bring later – its a hand held plug in type)
This would likely be a useful item here. They are not common so I don’t know about their availability nor pricing. Ditto the above comment for this. Maybe it’s available here. There is the “Get it There Jerry” service that lots of folks here use for bringing such things down.

 

  1. Should we bring our juicer? Are veggies for juicing readily available or are they expensive? Beets, carrots are our favourite and then any hard fruit that can be juiced i.e.: apples, pears

Yes (conditionally), bring your juicer. I have had a Champion juicer, as well as another high-dollar brand here in the past. These were a major hassle to clean. We used them as a family but eventually we all tired of the

Vita Mix

This author feels the VitaMix to be essential to life in Costa Rica, or anywhere for that matter.

hassle. I suspect there have been some design improvements over the years though. I now accept the oxidation hit that comes from using just a

Vitamix for all my juicing needs. This is a must-have item here (as we have discussed). I think that my regularity of using the thing and the high quality of kale, spinach, turmeric, carrots, bananas, papaya, flax etc… mostly organic, makes up whatever qualitative concerns there are between a blender that oxidationalizes over a juicer that just extracts the pure juice from the pulp. So, it’s a personal call.

  1. Thick duvet cover for our dogs to use on the back of the jeep (small dogs need some security lol) – can we buy an ugly polyester one for cheap somewhere?
I would think so. Nat is the queen of the Ropa Americana shops in San Isidro. She can help to find whatever. These shops usually have good prices. They’re akin to Salvation Army. We have found that the heavy packing blankets that one inherits from using a container to ship stuff to Costa Rica come in handy for such purposes.
 
 

 

  1. Chai seeds
Available here. Nuts and seeds are generally cost prohibitive to my way of thinking. I haven’t checked for a while, but I generally avoid buying these items here.
 
 

 

  1. Hemp seeds
Ain’t never seen these here. Getting in with the Tinamaste crowd would likely result in a broader selection of such things. I would bring what you can though. I’ve got a few items for which I just know what a 6 month supply is. I regularly bring these down with me every 6 mo. visit to the States: good tasting yeast, coconut oil, Dr. Bronners and so on. This list is changing however. There are more products here all the time and prices are changing both here and elsewhere. Ex: I’ll not be bringing Coconut oil back anymore due to the rising price of it in the States.
Ditto this on the Dr. Bronners, but not for pricing so much. I have a friend here in Playa Hermosa that sells Amway products. I buy my laundry detergent, toothpaste, bar-soap, bathroom cleaner etc… from him. This company seems to me to pay the requisite attention to biodegradability of both its products and its packaging (for the most part). Their toothpaste is more organiquer than “Tom’s”.
 
 

 

  1. Balsamic / white wine / etc vinegars

All vinegars are available here at the Poop (BM) Market. I make my chilero

Malt Vinegar is a bit frivolous due to the wonderful lemons that serve to brighten up the flavor of the abundant fresh fish here. But I still use it on occasion.

Roland Malt Vinegar is available at the grocery store in Uvita, along with other such liquids.

with Heinz apple cider vinegar. Synthetic (still not sure what that means with respect to vinegar) white vinegar for cleaning spray. Balsamic and malt vinegars are available here. The company “Roland” seems to fill the void with various products. They are more expensive but hey, what can you do.

 
  1. Any spices that you think we should bring? I have tumeric, cumin and spices like that packed
I buy all those here. Fresh turmeric is cheap (500 colones for a bag of roots at the farmers market). Cumin I pay about 700 colones for 1 oz of the dried powder, again at the Poop.
 
 

 

  1. Organic oatmeal (spelt is ideal)

There is oatmeal available here, but if you get into the specialty types,

BioLand Avena Oatmeal

Avena is Spanish for oatmeal. Bio Land sells some good organic foods in Costa Rica.

you’ll pay. Steel cut is occasionally here and expensive. I buy any brand of regular oatmeal that claims to be organic, and it’s not expensive. Bio-Land is a good bet here. However, anything other than just run-of-the-mill avena will be pricey.

 
  1. Good cereal – I have a cereal addiction and we like the ones made from quinoa and black beans – so in that zone of health
Quinoa is expensive here. I don’t buy it for this reason. Bring a supply. Black, white, red, lentils and garbanzo beans are plentiful and good here, and affordable.
 
 

 

  1. Chocolate almond milk (to go on the cereal)
Almond milk is available here, but due to pricing is not on my shopping list. Your call.
Liquids are tough to bring. When I’ve brought Dr. Bronners soap or coconut oil, I cut a rectangle of cardboard and wrap the bottle in a layer or 2 of the carboard and then tape it so that it’s secure. You don’t want to open your suitcase to find everything covered in oil.
 
 

 

  1. 70% or higher dark chocolate – there’s a theme here
Yes, this is available but I’m not qualified to speak to the pricing of it. There is a gal at the farmers market that sells it. There are lots of cacao plants around the country so I suspect you’d be able to find a cottage source for your habit.
 
 

 

  1. Rice noodles

I think this is here. I have found Roland’s Organic Buckwheat Soba

Roland Buckwheat Soba Noodles.

These buckwheat Soba Noodles make a mean spaghetti.

noodles are to die for.

 
  1. Medications? We have a Costco size of Aleve already lol
This will likely be a good difference here price-wise. You might have to find equivalents in other brands, but medications are readily available. I’m not well versed in this actually, but Big Pharma is great at getting its junk everywhere.
 
 

 

  1. Any other food recommendations that you think we might like that we can’t get there please add – we like our healthy options!!!
Sheesh! Not sure what could be added to this list. But I’ll give it some thought and letchoo know if I come up with something.
 
Just thought I’d share.
Dec 032015
 
Costa Rica rainy season experience.

Before moving to Costa Rica in 1999, my family and I had lived in Colorado for the previous 20 years. We lived in the gorgeous Aspen valley. There was one busy season there at that time: winter. Aspen was known as a ski town and that was why people went there.

Us locals didn’t really understand why summers there were the “low” season. Summer there is magic. Well, during the years that we lived there, we saw a transformation from a 1 season tourism town to a 2 season. I’d be interested to see the data on which one is bigger tourism-wise. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that summer out-does winter, but that’s just me.

Costa Rica rainy season experience.

Antonio taking advantage of a downspout & wheel barrow to shower off after a mango-skin fight.

Here in The Zone, I feel like I’m seeing a repeat. For many of the locals that live here, the rainy season is the preferred time of year. It is cooler, and absolutely magic as well. Its still warm when it rains.

The beginning of the rainy season coincides nicely with the mangos becoming ripe on the trees. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a mango, but they are MESSY. You get the juice running down your chin onto your shirt & shorts. It is for this reason I don’t eat a lot of mangos as a practice, despite the fact that I LOVE their taste.

So here’s what we do; when heavy afternoon rain set in, we suit up in swim attire, go climb a mango tree and get a bunch of mangos to eat. Then we sit in the downpour eating mangos. Invariably we end up having a mango-skin fight and getting covered with mango juice which then promptly gets washed off by the rain.

Or, one might find the deserted beaches to be the thing that they like to do during a tropical rain storm. They are “deserted” due to the fact that it is raining. Again, not sure why this is. The beaches in the warm tropical rains are a pensive and wonderful experience. To have a couple miles of breathtakingly beautiful beach all to oneself or with a loved one is, well… magic.

Swimming in a Costa Rica quebrada.

A refreshing dip in a very private, tucked in the jungle pool. Many are fed by waterfalls.

Again, its not cold out when it rains and the ocean here is just about warm. In fact it wouldn’t bother me a bit if it was a bit cooler. On a hot summer’s day, you jump in the water and now you’re wet. Its not what I would call “refreshing”. If one wants a refreshingly cool dip, they have to go inland to one of the many rivers and find a pool with a waterfall. Now this is invigorating. Nothing like the breath-stealing cold of the melting snow rivers of Colorado however. The rivers here in Costa Rica are set at the perfect temperature.

Costa Rica rainy season sunset

Sunset over the Pacific during a rain storm.

Anyway, as the change from rainy season to dry season is becoming evident, I’ve now heard a  number of locals say (yours truly included) that they are sorry to see the rains go. Weird eh? Many that live here almost prefer the rainy season over the dry season, despite the fact that it is the low season for tourism. Shades of Aspen Colorado in 1979.

In Aspen, the summers were/are just absolutely gorgeous. The rivers to die for (albeit really cold). The backpacking, bike riding, fishing and any number of other outdoor activities were magi…, er… wonderful. It is no surprise that the tourism crowd figured this out. Will the same thing happen in Costa Rica? Me thinks “yeah”.

In fact, I think that its already happening. I’ve heard a number of the local merchants, i.e.. restaurateurs, hoteliers, vacation rental-ers and tour operators say that business was good this past “off” season. Granted, for travelers from the U.S. & Canada there is a bit more involved with travel to Costa Rica than to say, Colorado. So there are some aspects of the comparison that differ. But I suspect that we are seeing a gradual up-tic in the numbers of people here in rainy season.

There is also an increase in the numbers moving to The Zone. Our real estate business is brisk. One of the guys in our office says that he likes the start of rainy season because it is always busy for him. My experience has been similar.  Real estate seems to have its own time frame. Some that are considering a move to Costa Rica come down during this time to see if they like the rains. Another benefit is that since it is a bit slower, you can get the undivided attention of your real estate guy (or gal).

During the busy season, we will sometimes plan a morning of showings with one buyer and then have to finish up by early afternoon to free up for afternoon showings with a different buyer, limiting the total focus that is available to any one buyer during the rainy season.

So, if you are among those considering a move, or even a visit to Costa Rica, you might want to consider coming during the months of May through November. September & October have typically been the wettest months of the year here but this may be shifting a bit. November was one of the heavier rain months this year.

Of course, one of the favorite activities during the rainy season is the afternoon hammock siesta with the sound of the rains pattering on the rainforest. You might start off with a little book reading, but it will likely go into slumber.

To some extent, I am just putting to writing here a conversation that seems to repeat itself in my real estate business on a regular basis. People want to know what its like in the rainy season. So, I thought I’d share.

Feb 122015
 
Towns for the Vegan Lifestyle - Ojochal Uvita or Tinamastes

Preamble: this article is my response to question I received from one of this blog’s readers. Its a bit unusual, but I see it as demonstrating a growing interest in The Zone – wellness – in its many forms. This one is specifically “vegan”, but the principles apply to all aspects of wellness.

Tinamastes is mentioned quite a bit. This is a high-altitude (relative to Costa Rica) area between Dominical and San Isidro.

Towns for the Vegan Lifestyle - Ojochal Uvita or Tinamastes

Which town is best for the vegan lifestyle?

Here is the question:

Hello Ben. I’m ——, from Venezuela. I’m planning to move to Ojochal, where I bought a 1000mts lot for $25k a year ago, very close to Tortuga river, next to ———-‘s house. I went one of these days and figure out there’s no farmers market in ojochal (only a project on the way to Pto Cortes). On the other hand I have the impression that the community in Tinamaste and Uvita are more organised in many fields (organic and local farmers market, vegetarian people… since I’m vegan) and its nearer to a bigger city. So I’m wondering if it’s worth or not selling my lot to buy a similar one in Tinamaste/Uvita. I also think that relations in Tinamaste are more based on solidarity, co-creation instead of Ojochal where people are  wealthier and live kind of an eternal vacation… Pura Vida!

Here is my response that I sent via e-mail. I am seeing the concerns mentioned in this question as growing in frequency here in The Zone, so I feel that there will be a benefit to posting this thread.
Hello ——,
My what an interesting question to receive through my blog.

Short response: yes, I think that your estimation of the differences between the towns of Ojochal, Tinamastes and Uvita are accurate. For overall “wellness”, I see the Tinamastes area as becoming a central point, a mecca if you will. Uvita is more so than Ojochal, but not to the level of Tinamastes.

As for whether this issue warrants the move that you mention of selling Ojochal and buying Tinamastes or Uvita, that is a much more involved and frankly, very personal issue, but I’ll go ahead and venture into it a bit here.
The vegan lifestyle is sufficiently different than the mainstream that I can see how being closer to a community of such minded ones would be appealing. However, I would need a bit more information on your purpose for owning a property in Costa Rica to offer counsel. Are you moving here full time? Just going to be here part of the year and somewhere else for the rest of the year? Is your purchase indicative of your “land” budget?
It sounds to me like you bought one of Pacific Lots properties around Ojochal. Do I have this right? To get a lot you’d want to live on elsewhere in The Zone for $25k is difficult to non-existent. There is a development in Uvita called Villa Del Sol that has 525 meter lots for sale for $42,500. These are walk-to-the-beach and near to the town center. Other than that, one of your big issues may be to find a property that you can afford.
I really enjoyed your description of the Tinamastes community:
“I also think that relations in Tinamaste are more based on solidarity, co-creation…”
I think that is fairly accurate and well put. I’m curious as to how you came to that observation of Tinamastes. Frankly, supposing that your vegan course is central to your lifestyle, Tinamastes would merit a good look-see. This would involve getting to know the community.
The Tuesday farmers market there is bigger and better than the Uvita farmers market (Uvita’s is on Saturday). Both are intensely cultural weekly events and are a fantastic way to get a feel for the community. I live in Uvita and so don’t go to the Tinamastes much due to the drive.
My lifestyle is undeclared. I live essentially “vegan” in my home, and don’t when out and about. I buy my weeks allotment of kale, spinach, turmeric root, carrots etc… every Saturday at the Uvita market. I also supply my larder with Himalayan salt (ALL of the salt served in Costa Rica has fluoride in it and is pure, demineralized sodium chloride. I carry my own so as to avoid these when in sodas & restaurants), also biologically sound soaps and indigenous plants for growing my own produce at home. So, as you can see, there is some of this in Uvita, but there are entire sub-communities of organic & vegan folks in the Tinamastes area.
With the little bit of information that I have of your situation, I would suggest consulting with residents there in Tinamastes, and it would certainly warrant a more extended stay there in that area. Tinamastes is much higher in altitude and is less “beach” centered. Yoga, organic farming, wellness and ceremonies abound in the community.
I can provide you with a couple of connections there that would be good starting points for a more in-depth understanding of the community.
Hope this helps.
Sep 062012
 
Crocodile north of Jaco Costa Rica

I have a thing I do on a personal level that I call my “Toucan Test”. It is my personal test for determining whether I’m becoming jaded to Costa Rica’s uniquely raw and wild beauty. It goes like this: when I see a toucan, do I take note of it? In other words, do I react with a “ho hum, just another toucan” – or do I still marvel at this extra-ordinary bird that defies design logic here with appreciation?

Crocodile north of Jaco Costa Rica

This is just one of the guys hanging out and keeping cool, just north of Jaco.

Earthquakes are a Continue reading »

May 202012
 
Photo of a stethoscope for the article on health insurance in Costa Rica

I am 53 years old and have just gone through the process of applying for private health insurance. There are two types of health care in Costa Rica. One is socialized medicine. All residents of Costa Rica are required to pay into what is called “caja” (KAH-hah) insurance. This runs me about $25 per month. This is the government subsidized health insurance in Costa Rica.

I have written about my one week stay in one of the caja hospitals. I don’t recommend it. Its not so much that the practitioners aren’t good, its the overall structure. I think that you definitely want your health providers to be mindful of the fact that if they don’t offer a good service, then someone else will and they will get the business.

Photo of a stethoscope for the article on health insurance in Costa Rica

The second type of healthcare here is very similar to what you get in other  countries, and what we refer to as “private” insurance. Up until recently. the Costa Rican government was the exclusive provider of health insurance. This has changed and there are now some international health insurance providers here, and I hear that they are pretty good. I don’t have any experience with them so I can’t detail how they work or their value.

This article is just about the private insurance that is offered through INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros), the Costa Rica government’s health insurance branch.

The Exams

Since I am so old, I had to get a number of health exams to see if I qualify for the insurance.  I still don’t know if I do qualify, but if the response on the part of the examining doctors is any indication, I should get in no problem. It is interesting that this past May 11th marked the second anniversary of a violent criminal event that almost killed me and left me blind in my left eye.

One of the testing doctors used the word “perfecto” about 5 times during the general examination of my overall level of health.  She said that if I didn’t have that one, life threatening bugger on my record, I would have a perfecto health record. So, it will be interesting to see if I get approved.  For you folks out there that are wondering how to be middle aged and have a couple doctors say say “perfecto” when they examine you, I’ll pass my secrets along in a minute.

So, 53 years old, in perfect health with the exception of this small, life threatening incident two years ago – $1,600 per year.  I can pay it monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or once a year. I’m not sure that the coverage is as far as deductibles go, I’ll post that information when I find out. The coverage is for up to $200,000 of insuring per year.  You can get an additional coverage if you like. It’ll set you back another $160 per year and it adds another $200,000 to the coverage and is specifically for cancer and other such catastrophic incidents.

I decided against the additional coverage, despite its low cost.  I spent a month in CIMA hospital and was in a drug induced coma for 2 weeks.  That visit included multiple medical specialists, amazing facial reconstruction surgery that left nine plates in my head, a plethora of x-rays, and a good steady flow of pain meds and antibiotics. My bill came to $110,000.  So, I’m not sure what you’d have to do to run the bill up to over $200,000.

I’ll post another article if and when I get accepted.

Ben’s Health Secrets

As a reader of the Guys in the Zone blog, you get the dubious pleasure of my secrets on how to be in perfecto health.

Kickboxing

I have been into fitness all of my adult life.  We have always had a home gym of the Olympic weight variety with vertical leg press machines, and cables for low rows, squat rack, bench, etc. I have been involved and invested in my health. I thought that I was in shape when I went to my first kick boxing boot camp here on Dominical beach – boy was I ever humbled.

Aside from attaining to new levels of exhausting, never before achieved, I also released more endorphins than I previously knew possible. The point here isn’t to discuss how to kick box, but simply to say that I am in the best condition of my life, and I credit this activity with this data point. Oh, but there is one more thing –

Green Drinks

Vitamix is the key here. I brought one down from the States during a visit to my family in Davis.  If you don’t yet have one, or worse yet, don’t know what one is – a Vitamix is a blender on steroids. I mix up a drink every morning that has the following ingredients:

  • kale
  • spinach
  • ginger root
  • turmeric root
  • frozen pieces of pineapple
  • frozen bananas (2 of ’em)
  • 2 apples
  • 1/4 cup of ground up oat meal
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of ground up flax

I will also add mango, tamarindo and other fruits when they are available. This drink gets me through every morning of my life with no hunger and is slowly converting me into something of a super hero.  I am almost to the point of flying, almost.

The best way to buy a Vitamix is to go to my website and buy one there.  There are a couple of reasons why this is the best way to buy – one is that it appears to be the best price around.  The other is that I make a commission if you do.  Buy a Vitamix from Ben: Go to www.blenditraw.com.

In conclusion, getting basic health insurance in Costa Rica is easy.  It’s the getting healthy part that takes some doing.

Use Your Brain

 Posted by on January 2, 2012  Just for Fun, Personal  1 Response »
Jan 022012
 
Use your brain

I subscribed to a new blog on my Kindle last night.  I am now paying .99 cents a

month for content that can be seen for free by going to www.sharpbrains.com

I am willing to make this investment cuz, as many of you know; I am finding that there are brain changes afoot at this period in my brain healing. I am right around the 20 month period from my brain trauma incident, and I am finding the doing and learning of new things to be right up there with some of the more enjoyable things that I have ever done in my life.

Use your brain

Using my brain and drawing

In my recovery I have had numerous fascinating interchanges with people who really have come out of the woodwork of my life to check in on me and see how I’m doing with my healing. One of these was a man who is a successful therapist of some sort from New York. He is the one that suggested to me that I might look into adrenal fatigue as a possible cause of my depression and tiredness. That mixed with a touch of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can really goof a guy up. I set about addressing the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and I am now of the view that that bit of counsel was a huge help.

Right along with that choice morsel of guidance, he said “Ben, you should use your brain”. His feeling was that since I had parts of my brain now that weren’t being used, it was/is important to use my brain so that it is stimulated and I then can reduce the amount of atrophy in the parts that used to be used by what is now “missing” memory, and also the vision centers that my now blind left eye no longer needs.

This suggestion to “use your brain” is one of the coolest suggestions I think that I have ever had.  Now, as I go through my days, I am looking for ways to challenge the gray matter.  I am paying attention once again to Spanish as a language and am learning new words and aspects of the language that I didn’t know before. (I had gotten into a comfortable plateau with the language and had essentially stopped paying attention.)

I have also taken up drawing, which is becoming my heart’s desire. This is a very strong indicator of a fundamental change happening in my brain structure.

The high school that I went to was a private Quaker affair called John Woolman up in the foothills of the Sierras in northern California. It was a college prep type deal with a strong emphasis on the arts. The principal of the school was a phenomenal drawer-person.  He claimed that he could teach anyone to draw.

Now, this gent was no braggart. He was a very mild, soft spoken sort that was merely stating what he felt to be a fact. I was so far removed from being able to draw that I felt that this would be an interesting challenge. Right about in the middle of my second year with this man and his class, I handed him my drawing supplies and said “no you can’t” and left.

My drawings are nothing to talk about really, but they are an indication to me of the joy that I think we can all have, from the act of using our brains.

I’m sharing this thought as we start a new year.  I have recently tried to drink alcohol, after several years of not, and found that the effect on my brain was not so good.  It was really this that reminded me of my condition of being in recovery from brain trauma.

So, avoiding the conventional method of observing the digit change from 2011 to 2012, (I was in bed by 8:30) this benchmark is being observed in my life by writing this update… and drawing. I spent New Year’s day drawing the picture at the top.

The New Year coincides with the start of a New Season here in Costa Rica’s southern pacific zone. We have had a real press of visitors.  One would never know that there is a recession out there. I am among the worst offenders of being “unplugged” from the media world, and so I admit that I really have no idea what the media would like for us to be thinking at this moment. Maybe it is saying that there is a genuine recovery going on now, or maybe it is continuing the “end of days” mantra that it has been chanting over the last 3 years, I don’t know.  But, in looking around at the amount of activity that is going on in our little real estate office here in Uvita Costa Rica, and at the grocery store parking lot across the street, it would appear that people are still able to travel.

So, the blog mentioned at the outset promises to be a good find.  But I have also been using the web site www.lumosity.com.  I pay their annual subscription of $80 to have access to their “brain gym”.

Finally, as I progress along this path of recovery, each day presents new insights and reminders that “this moment” almost didn’t happen for me, and so I find myself fascinated by life’s moments, as they stream by. I try and slow them down so that this moment can really reach full saturation.

It is good to be alive.

Nov 242011
 
Cars in Costa Rica
It is a well-known fact that the import duties, taxes, stamps etc… for bringing a car into Costa Rica are exorbitant. They run somewhere between 50% & 70% depending on how new the car is. They tax newer cars less than older cars, hoping that this will improve the quality of cars in Costa Rica.

When we foreigners first hear about the amazingly high tax rate on cars, we are shocked and wonder at how can that be? This is lunacy! There must be some way around it.

Cars in Costa Rica
First off: there is no way around it, and as for the lunacy part, perhaps.  But there is a rather twisted sort of logic that I’ll go into later that may help to explain this.

What kind of car to own?

In 1999, when I first moved to Costa Rica, the world was a very different place. Not many Ticos had cars and those that did were driving cars that were considered classics by Gringo standards.  I was a bit surprised to see a number of Datsuns on the road. Remember those?

I discovered that Costa Rica is extremely hard on cars.  So, whatever car you see a lot of here, that car is likely a very good, very well-built car. The hot tickets were the late ‘70s Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rover Defenders. They were all over the place – and diesel no less!  These cars in the States go for a pretty penny.  Here, they are not so much fashionable, as reliable and affordable.

My first car in Costa Rica was a 1978 Diesel Toyota Land Cruiser. Every grown up boy’s dream.  I LOVED it.  My kids didn’t like it due to the rough ride and the sideways facing rear seats.   So we ended up getting rid of it and getting an early ‘90s Isuzu Trooper, another of the immortal cars at the time.

So, back then, at the beginning of my Costa Rica saga, the amazing cars were:

  1. Toyota Land Cruisers old & new
  2. Land Rover Defender (old)
  3. Toyota 4Runners
  4. Isuzu Trooper
  5. Mitsubishi Montero
  6. Suzuki Samurai
  7. Niva
Niva Russian made car.

Niva Russian made 4 wheel drive car

The Niva was an interesting car. It is from Russia and was built like a little coupe, but it was/is 4 wheel drive. I had some Tico friends that had one and they loved it.  I looked it up on the Internet and saw that there was some serious fever around this little car. There were clubs and some very souped up examples of the little vehicle around the country.

Now

I drive a 1998 Toyota 4Runner and I love it.  I am VERY hard on it, and it just purrs right along. This body style and 3.0 turbo diesel motor are a genuine classic here in Costa Rica, and you see lots of these cars around. Toyota continued this particular model until 2002. So, if I were to upgrade my Toyota, it would be for a 2002, but the problem is, I am quite happy with it the one I have now. I spent $16,000 on it 3 years ago. I am told that it would fetch $16,000 now.  I have a hard time believing that, but a quick check of what they are getting for them at crautos.com confirms that it has held its value very well.

I’m also a fan of the Suzuki Gran Vitara.  I don’t know if this car exists in the States, but here it is a long lived car, and so its presence is felt on the roads of Costa Rica. Concerns are: gas only, a little low on ground clearance.

The Mitsubishi Montero is a great SUV. There are 2 models, a Sport model and a larger, more deluxe model.  Both are good, but my preference still leans towards the 4Runner, mainly due to the larger 3.0 motor.  Although, you can get a 3.5 in the larger Mistubishi, but then you are in another price bracket.  Good clearance, stout, diesel.

Other popular makes & models are: Toyota Prado – very popular, most Nissan SUVs, Daihatsu BeGo is a small 4 wheel drive that is immensely popular.  Jury is still out on durability. I know that the back door starts to rattle almost immediately, but with their short wheel base, they seem to go anywhere. The smaller 4 wheel drive cars feel every bump in the road.

Samurai’s and Sidekicks hold a strong place in the mix.

You still see some of the older Landcruisers and Defenders around, but they are getting so old, and so beat up here in the Costa Rican life style that they are now starting to suffer from material fatigue. They seem to want to keep running, but even the raw material of the chassis is getting tired out. Still, there are some good examples around and you can have a lot of fun fixing one of these up.  I know of one right now for sale by my neighbor for $4,000, which I think is a decent example of their street value. Its in good condition and runs well.

Cars are the largest single expense in the Costa Rican lifestyle. Gas is running over $5.00 per gallon, and those taxes make just the buying of them painful, if not prohibitive.

Ridiculous Taxes Justified

So how is it that the high tax isn’t absolute lunacy?  The government of Costa Rica is saddled by an interesting challenge.  The land in the country has just recently, say in the last 15 years, started to have a value.  Up until then, all Ticos had land, land they didn’t have to pay for. For the most part, it was free!

Now people from all around the world are wanting some land in Costa Rica, so obviously the values on Costa Rica real estate have gone up. However, the government does not have the ability to raise the taxes on the land since this would impact a good sized majority of land owners in Costa Rica – subsistence farmers. So, I think without saying as much, and perhaps without even consciously recognizing that it’s what they do, they set out to tax the rich, and leave the poor alone.  This is done by high vehicle taxes, with exceptions being extended to common types of farm vehicles.

The government is now starting to look at other ways to tax the rich.  They are working on tax maps that will assign a tax value particular to certain areas ie. coastal areas would be taxed higher than inland farm territories and so on.

If you’d like to post your thoughts on cars in Costa Rica, please feel free to do so.

Oct 142011
 
A Wall of Magazines

Visiting Family:

It is one of the truly enjoyable aspects of living in a foreign land.  You have to leave the United States to be able to visit the United States.

There is an obvious pleasure quotient to visiting family. However, I suspect that my case is a bit unusual. Here is what I get to do at the advanced age of 52. I am able to visit my brother, sister and mother – all in the very same house that we all grew up in. The biggest change over the years is simply that our father is no longer with us… well that and the fact that we are all quite a bit older than we used to be.

A Wall of Magazines

Food For Thought?

But that’s about it. In fact, the green shag carpet that we had there in the 70’s is still there. I’m in favor of a law regulating the life of carpet. This green carpet really should be illegal, but there it lies.

Aside from the joys of family, I get a real kick out of visiting my former homeland. I am very much transplanted now.  I have lived in Costa Rica since 1999, and so in the normal course of my days, I don’t pay that much attention to the goings on of the States.  The exceptions to this are when I visit there, or when there is some noteworthy happening that finds its way through all of the insulation that I’ve put up in my life, motivated largely by a desire to reduce, if not eliminate, the effects of media on my mind and by extension, on my life.

So, when I fly back into the States, it is normally via Dallas or Houston. I make it a practice to bee-line it to one of the airport book stores. In these stores there is generally a wall of magazines. This wall of magazines is an intensive crash course in what the media is currently pumping.  The topics seen there will likely factor into my visit, and I expect to see these topics being worked and reworked in various configurations throughout my stay. This pumping is largely in response to what “we”, or the population at large, demand from the accommodating media.

My life in Costa Rica is immersed in a very different lifestyle than anything that I ever experienced when I lived in the States.  The contrast of my “normal”, with the “normal” of the States, causes a sort of sensitivity. The aspect of this sensitivity that I focus on at this point in my travels is primarily the media. But there is a problem. I suspect this problem is due to the fact that I am from the States, so in fact the prevailing conditions in the States are never all that far from what I grew up with. So the acuity of vision, or sensitivity, only lasts for a short time. I quickly slip back into my deeply ingrained gringo-ness and all of the bru ha ha starts to make sense and grow in importance.  All of the blaring news announcements, “BRAD APOLOGIZES TO JENNIFER” – from the tone one might think that World War 3 has begun, or that someone really has discovered perpetual motion. I just really get a kick out of these things when I first arrive in the good ole US of A.

Over the years, my visits to The Wall have provided me with an opportunity to re-evaluate my own life and my own move to Costa Rica so many years ago. I wonder at what it would take to get a presence on The Wall.  It must cost a bundle to publish a magazine and distribute it to all the Walls every month, or week, or 2 weeks, whatever. Vale la pena, as they say in Costa Rica: it’s worth the cost. They incur the expense because they know that we – us humans – want this stuff, and we will pay for it.

I am a sponge, standing there. I smile at my own species while I observe the media, in all its glory, accommodating the gigantic demand for this brain-rot drivel.

I can’t say that I’m interested, heavens no! Ok, maybe a little, but not a lot. Well, you gotta admit, the personal carryings on of Jen & Angie does have a certain appeal, a certain “I think I’ll just take a minute and find out what is going on here” appeal.

In my visit to The Wall as I enter into the States, I really find that I’m not interested in the least. However, over the course of my stay, my attitude goes through a shift. As I leave, I feel that perhaps this information really does need to be told.  And by golly, I really would like to know just exactly what Brad said to Jen when he apologized to her.

Topics

The Wall is diverse in its subject matter. I generally find that there is a hot technology topic of some kind, health, politics, and of course, celebrity.  The Apple Corporation seems to be enjoying its 15 minutes. Health has gained some points over the years that I have been visiting The Wall.

The political scene ebbs and flows on The Wall.  In past years George W. was a common feature on The Wall. I found it interesting how quiet The Wall was about Mr. Obama, but it was quite noisy about a few members of the large group that are vying for the GOP position in the upcoming presidential election.

So, as I fly out and away from this consumer haven, I do The Wall in reverse. I note how I feel about observations on life. And I like to watch how these feelings morph as I settle back into my “normal” in the coming weeks.

I have written in the past about my theory that I like to call “Original Thought”. Original Thought can be seen in visitors to Costa Rica on or shortly after about day 4 of their trip. Staying in a villa, nestled into the jungle, overlooking the Pacific ocean, there is a noticeable shift that occurs in people.  The theory posits that getting away from the media, frees up the mind to think about topics that are genuinely of interest and originate from the person. The theory states that we all have a little something as a gift, like maybe a leaning towards poetry, or music. Or maybe we have a propensity for thinking up sustainable systems, or a better way to raise broccoli or whatever.  The topics of The Wall are nowhere to be seen when Original Thought rears its head.  People find themselves conversing about all manner of topics, topics that bear no influence at all from external media but instead originate from the pure, unadulterated human intellect that we all carry around with us.

So in my re-entry to Costa Rica, I watch as the numerous images that were repeated with regularity during my visit to the States, recede. The Wall will have to get along without me – until my next trip.

 

Interested in Costa Rica real estate as an investment. They primarily live somewhere else, but they own property in Costa Rica for the asset appreciation potential as well as possible rental income. Some just buy and hold (land-bank). For developed properties, the investor has a vacation home to visit as desired.

Migrators spend a regular amount of time in Costa Rica during each year.

Re-locators are those that are looking to move to Costa Rica from wherever they are. They will live full-time in Costa Rica.