Long-term expat life, weird weather, and more….

Published: January 23rd 2007
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It’s been a few weeks since my last blog update. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s just a darn busy time of the year with many guests at the B&B. Obviously, many people want to escape the weather in much of the U.S. so Costa Rica is a natural target. Second, I’m still trying to catch up from being away for 3.5 weeks in December. Even though being away actually gave me some time to get work done without anything else interfering there are just some things you have to do while in Costa Rica. Third, almost as soon as I returned I had to plan our January Boomers in Costa Rica Tour (http://www.boomersincostarica.com) which does take some logistical effort. Fortunately, the tour went very well and I’m very pleased to have introduced more people to this great country.

Doing what you want to do….or not!

When you put all my various activities together it doesn’t give me much time to write which is my favorite pastime. I have three or four articles in various stages of development—now I just need to find a solid three or four days to finish them. Luckily, as a freelance writer I can generally write when I want to. The problem, of course, in being a “non-retiree” in Costa Rica (or anywhere else for that matter) is that you either don’t want to (or can’t) stop working or if you do, you quickly get bored. While some people can make a good life for themselves shopping, seeing the sites, and taking leisurely naps, I was never that type of person and don’t think I’ll ever be. I suppose it is not a terrible tradeoff however. I could still be working for for some big corporation, putting in 80 hours a week, continuing to have my future decided by others. At least in my current situation, it’s up to me to make it work, and so far it has worked (notwithstanding a few stumbling blocks along the way).

I talk to many people—mostly via email and through the online forums—who are considering moving here, and like me, are well below retirement age. Since I’m doing it, they seek my advice on what to do and what to expect. I find that some people want to move here and just let life take them wherever it leads them, while others have detailed plans about the direction of their lives abroad and where they want to be in 5, 10, 20 or more years. I thought I was definitely the latter, but the longer I’m here the more I’m somewhat inbetween. I do think constantly about where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing at retirement age, some 20+ years from now. I also, however, have found myself just letting go and seeing what tomorrow brings. This is a significant departure from my life in the United States. Just a few short years ago, the prospect of not having a steady paycheck would have been terrifying for me.

One of the big concerns people have about coming here, particularly those people below retirement age, is whether they can make the transition from a typical corporate job to working for themselves. Along with that, of course, comes, “What to do?” In my situation, I knew running a B&B was something I had the potential to excel at, given my background in travel. However, I never thought I’d get involved in tours and real estate. What I tell people, therefore, is just get to know your area well, and see what product or service may be missing in the marketplace. When my friend Alex and I started Boomers in Costa Rica, we took a hard look at the marke for relocation/retirement tours and decided there was room for a tour that catered to people under retirement age, and in some cases, well under that age. We saw more and more people frustrated with the pace of life in the United States and more and more people concerned about being able to afford retirement. We certainly aren’t geniuses, but we did find our niche. If that niche is big enough for us, it is still an outstanding question, but we like trying. If I learned anything in college business classes it is that you either find your niche in the market and service it well (and charge a premimum for higher quality products and services if you can) or you go big, like Wal Mart. We’ll never be Wal Mart, but we’ll have fun no matter what direction we take our business.

One of the concerns I occasionally have is: “Okay, I’ve been here X years. Is this permanent? Am I missing something somewhere else? Should I be doing something else? What would I do?” The questions and concerns go on and on, but in the end, just trying to enjoy life placates me somewhat. However, it’s not always easy to enjoy life even in a paradise like Costa Rica. Unless, you are a hermit, no matter where you are or what you do, you are going to run into people and situations that are well, unpleasant. No matter where you are in the world, you cannot escape the ups and downs of human emotions, whether they are your own or coming from others, and inevitably, they lead to conflict. The reason I bring this up is partially due to my own issues in dealing with everyday life in a foreign country and also because people have asked me about it. I’ve found, particularly in recent days, is that whatever the issue is, give people the benefit of the doubt and trust they are good people first, and if they turn out to be not to be good, just drop ‘em, move on, and spend time with the people you know are good.

Weird weather…..

I had made a number of missteps late last year proclaiming the rainy season had ended just to see it rain the next day or week. I also misspoke about the fact that the windy season was in December. On the former, the rainy season appeared to finally end later than usual and the winds of December blew over until January. I guess I’ll never be a weather forecaster.

However, the weather remains odd. Lately, early mornings are cloudy and foggy and by mid-morning the clouds disappear and the weather is bright and warm as one would expect for January in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. I don’t recall the early morning clouds last year. I also don’t remember it being as chilly in the evenings.

I asked a number of “experts” about this—people who have lived here for at least 10 years—and they claim that in the last few years both the timing of the change of seasons and slowness by which the seasons changed were different. In the past, by date “X,” give or take a few days, the rain would just stop dead in its tracks and the dry season would be upon us. The winds would pick up for a few weeks in December but they also came and went with predictable accuracy. In recent years it is getting harder to predict when the seasons would change and in the past two years at least, the demarcation between the seasons was less apparent. This could be due to a number of factors including a long-term change in weather patterns that none of us are old enough to keep track of. It could also be due to global warming. Whatever it is (and I believe it is global warming), fortunately I can still claim that while everyone is freezing in parts of the U.S., I’ll still be basking in the sun for quite a few years to come.

Fiesta Palmares….

Palmares, one of the quaint “coffee towns” near me, hosts an annual fiesta for two weeks in January. I missed it last year but finally made it over there this week. What an event! About 800,000 people (there are 4.5 million people in Costa Rica) overtake this small town of some 50,000 for a combination carnival, cultural festival and horse exhibition (“tope”). The event planners even erect three-story bars/discos. There is terrific food and everyone is very friendly.

Garden update…

As you know from reading this blog, a few weeks ago I bought a bunch of seeds and planted them in 30 pots in my greenhouse. After fending off the chickens and building a fence to protect these fledgling plants, I’m happy to report that the plants have sprouted and before long they’ll move to their new home in my garden. We’ll see how they do from there, but this year I’m ready and hoping for a signifcant bounty.

It’s a good day when….

It’s a terrific day in Costa Rica when you get stuff done! I don’t mean things around the house but when you have to interact with others, particularly in town—or with computers! I recently set up my online banking through Banco Nacional, one of the four national banks here, and so far things have been going smoothly—at least all of my bills get paid on time. However, it took me days to figure out how to find the statements for my paid electric, phone and other bills. I finally found it today and even worked my way through the Spanish. It’s a good day even when you can accomplish minor items like this. Now back to my hammock!

Thanks for reading and for your comments. More soon!

Pura Vida!

www.BoomersInCostaRica.com (4-day/3 night relocation/retirement tour!)
www.CostaRicaRealEstate.typepad.com (Boomers’ Real Estate & More Blog!)
www.AngelValleyFarmBandB.com (the B&B!)


25th January 2007

re: basic stuff
Mark: Thanks for your comments. I've heard it has finally turned cold up your way--sorry! On your questions: We have a septic system as all homes here in my community do. Our water is piped in from a natural spring in the mountains above us and it is outstanding, clean drinkable water. The government tests for heavy metals, etc., frequently--Costa Rica is much better than even the U.S. in this regard! Most of the pollution is water-based and occurs near the ocean, largely from illegal dumping. There is no air pollution out in the country where I live. Something like 90% of the country's energy is hydroelectric. The only pollution, unfortunately, is near San Jose, from trucks and cars--like anywhere else I guess. But even then, Costa Rica has strict emissions testing annually for all cars and trucks and it is even more stringent than in the U.S. However, some manage to skirt the laws. Overall, I'm fairly comfortable with the environmental situation here. Like any small country struggling with budgets, they can do more however, but are trying. Andrew

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