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Published: October 27th 2005
Me on Gringo
What a great way to spend a Tuesday afternoon! Do you like my horse Elizabeth (my niece)?
This is a multifaceted blog entry, yes by choice, not by necessity. I think it is because I have been thinking about many things as of late and wish to share them. If I get long-winded, someone let me know!
San Jose trip
I know I mentioned numerous times that I would be spending a few days in San Jose conducting meetings regarding our bed & breakfast. That was last week. It was a good week overall though a few things made it tough to get through. For one, I developed a rotten cold just before leaving on this trip so I was not in a terribly festive mood, considering I also wanted to have some fun in the “big city.” Then, and not unexpectedly, it rained almost the entire time I was in San Jose, except for one afternoon when the sunshine finally broke through and allowed me to take some pictures.
I won’t weary my growing list of dedicated readers with the details of the meetings but will make a few salient comments on the nature of business here as I see it through my still somewhat naïve eyes.
At the onset of any business
Her first time on a caballo!
trip to San Jose, I learned that having a good driver is helpful, especially if you have meetings all over the city as I did last week. No, not a limo driver as that is way out of my budget, but a good taxi driver who can get you to where you need to go, is efficient and won’t rip you off. In addition to just getting around town easily, especially when like me, you schedule many back-to-back meetings, a taxi driver here is very important because as you may recall from a previous blog entry, basic addresses are few and far between here. It’s always something like, “50 meters east of the bus station and 200 meters north of the church.” So, if you don’t even know where the church or the bus station is, and San Jose is a fairly sprawling city, having a knowledgeable driver is smart.
Everyone I met with this week I met for the first time so I did not know what to expect. I did know how some of these companies operated assuming that given their businesses, they would be somewhat like the companies I worked with in the U.S. And, they
Art for sale
Franz, our neighbor, is helping us create a mini art gallery at the B&B. He's quite the artist!
pretty much did work as I expected.
They all seemed genuinely interested in working with me and were enthusiastic about the product we are developing. I was also very pleased at the reaction I got from the material I brought with me—all developed in PowerPoint! However, I was somewhat surprised but heartened to learn that travel agents and tour operators often get requests from their clients to stay in a rustic, farm setting as we offer, rather than staying in San Jose, particularly during their first night here or their last night here. It is certainly a good introduction to Costa Rica, and definitely a good way to end one’s trip, and most certainly better than staying in San Jose. The hotel I stayed at in San Jose while priced similarly to my Angel Valley Farm Bed & Breakfast (www.AngelValleyFarmBandB.com) provided for basic needs and had comfortable rooms. However, it was very plain room, had a very less-than-full breakfast and is not able to offer the things we can such as horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, etc.
The most fascinating meeting I had was probably with Nature Air. Just getting there was interesting as I had to get
a special pass to get to their part of the airport, then go past numerous hangers, and then walk around a bunch of planes the workers were painting before finding the small office in the back. Nature Air was bought by an American family after the father visited here several years ago. His son, whom I met, is the head of sales and marketing and shares my (often misguided) passion for the airline industry. I certainly am excited to have met a guy who could talk airlines all night. As a result of my meeting with them, and dinner the next night, they will package our property with their newly formed “Nature Air Vacations” program which I am very excited about. Also, if needed, they told me they will have their car rental company send cars right to our property for our guests.
I also met with another company about creating a special package for our property and three other companies who will be including us among their offerings. While it will take some time for these “deals” to kick in, I think my airline experience is starting to pay off.
I found everyone I met with to
be positive and upbeat. Rather than pointing out any negatives my business may have in relation to their needs, they tended to emphasize the positive and how we could work together, rather than why we couldn’t work together. I found that very refreshing as I reflected on some bad experiences in trying to do deals in the U.S. I also was impressed that in being new to this business, how many of the people I met with were willing to give me advice on my business, my presentation of materials, rates, and so on. Not one of them ever said anything negative but offered good advice such as, “You might consider doing this as you’ll make more money….” or “If you want to strike a deal with ‘XYX Company,’ tell them….” I have heard, and completely understand, that Costa Ricans often do not want to say “no,” so one has to ferret out those truly wanting to work with you.
The most important thing I learned last week is that there is a great bagel shop in San Jose called “Bagelmen’s,” located in a more upscale part of San Jose. I’m in the taxi heading back to the hotel
from my last meeting of the day. It is pouring rain and I can barely see out of the car’s window. I’m tired, I’m hungry and I long to be free…oops, I mean long to get back to the hotel. However, I catch a blurry glimpse of what looks like a big bagel on a side ahead. In the most commanding voice I could muster, I say to the taxi driver, “Pare aquí! Pare aquí!” “Stop here!” I probably said it in French too, just to ensure he stopped. So, he makes a very hard right turn just barely making the entrance to the bagel shop. I run into the shop, sans umbrella in the downpour of rain, and I reach heaven: a genuine, New York-style bagel shop.
You have to understand, one can rarely get a decent bagel outside of New York City—certainly Washington’s bagels were nothing to write home about—let alone in Costa Rica. So, while the driver waited, I savored a tasty poppy seed bagel, topped with BLT fixings, my favorite, and for the two minutes it took me to devour the bagel, I forgot all about my rotten cold. I just could not get any
better for me.
Before I left the hotel to come home, I was perusing Bagelmen’s brochure which I absconded with from the shop, and noticed they deliver. So, for $4 and 15 minutes later I had at the hotel in my hot little hands a dozen bagels to bring back home for me and Beth. Beth, like me, being born in the tri-state area (NY/NJ/CT), was definitely impressed with the quality of the bagels.
Overall, it was a great week of meetings and knowing the travel industry in general and speaking their language was a big asset. Now, I need to get back and meet even more companies. Now on to other things….
We have finally started to unpack our boxes—Lord knows where we will put everything—and I think Beth is about over “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” a la Costa Rica. Every time I pulled something out of a box from Greek olive oil (which I packed in the same box as a stereo and surprisingly, both survived the long trip) to a Greek religious icon, I made sure Beth knew how it excited I was. I think she believes our B&B will
look like a Greek person’s home when we are done. And what is wrong with that I ask!?
Today, two of our guests wanted to ride our horses and it was a great day for it: bright and crisp with decent winds whipping about. It was an event everyone at the house came out to watch—me, Beth, Carol (our cleaning lady), the workers putting up the roof over our new parking area—and of course, our guests. Beth and I were both amused at Carol because as I mounted Gringo (the tamer of the two fortunately) and was about to trot off, she kept exclaiming, “Go Andrew! Go Andrew!” She sounded like most any American cheerleader at a high school football game cheering her team on!
Carol had never been on a horse before, and with some prodding from all of us, tried it and I think she enjoyed it. It’s one of those things—after you try something, you realize you have nothing to fear after all—just don’t walk too close around the backside of a horse!
The Cookbook Committee
Who would have ever imagined me involved in a cookbook committee? Well, I like
to eat, not cook. However, our community association decided to create a cookbook of local Tico dishes and the dishes of the origins of the local gringos. So, tonight we had a potluck dinner of the committee. We had several amazing Tico dishes from chicken and rice, tortillas and vegetables, a Tico pumpkin dish, and Franz our local artist, brought some very fresh pineapples he cut up into an interesting design, certainly one I would have never thought of!
Reflections on Latin America….or what I’ve learned so far….
I have been thinking a lot lately about Latin America (defined as Mexico, Central America and South America); its history, current economic status and prospects for the future, particularly given that I now live here. I have also been reading a few books on the history and politics of the region, especially in relation to the United States.
To better understand Latin America, I think one needs to understand two principal facts. First, it is has had a number of conquerors, particularly Spain over its long, rich history (many of the countries, not all) and that has certainly influenced the region’s development (or lack of it), social customs, and
more. These conquerors have not always been external as Latin America has seen quite a few dictators, many partly or wholly installed by the United States in a supposed effort to stem the tide of socialism. Hey, I’ll take a dictator over socialism any time, right!? While some countries have managed to develop fairly well, others languish to this day, and certainly a history of having either junta governments or very shaky democracies has stunted the growth of many countries here. Latin America is rich in resources but many would contend it doesn’t get its fair share for the fruits of its labor.
Second, Latin America, like some other regions of the world, mostly plays a subservient role to the rich countries of the west. It provides primary commodities and labor used by the west as inputs to products that generate great wealth for the merchants of the developed world. Gold, copper, other primary metals, housing material, electronics components (Intel has a large facility in Costa Rica), and of course, a number of produce items. Fearful of being cut off as a supplier to the west, it has very little pricing power, and as a result, the hard work
and products of Latin America have not typically brought up the general wealth of the masses as power and wealth remains in the hands of the very few, or in many cases, governments through nationalized industries. A U.S. citizen’s average income is seven times that of a Latin American income and grows over ten times faster. There are over 60 million people living in Mexico and to the south on less than $.25 a day. Interestingly, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina combined together consume less than France or Germany although their total population is much greater than any single country in Europe.
There is much more to say about Latin America but I wanted to provide some initial impressions of what I have learned so far. It is an interesting region, rich in customs and history with land and seas that are both a blessing and crutch. I will write more soon—as I learn more!
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