Saturday, April 16, 2022

Costa Rica-- the Positives and Negatives of Living There + Why We Chose to Leave

Our previous host country (Thailand) went into full Covid fear mode; mandating a PCR test at 38 weeks of pregnancy. Should an unlucky to-be mother test positive, an immediate forced C-section would be performed, and afterwards both baby and mother would be quarantined; but not together, in separate rooms, and Mommy would not touch her baby, nor would the baby be fed her milk, for 14 days. 

Even assuming a 1% risk, we deemed it waaayyyy too high, so at 32 weeks pregnant, we hopped on a plane to Costa Rica.

Having moved far too much for my liking in the 5 years, we really wanted to make it work there, especially since, as parents to a baby born on Costa Rican soil, we would be given the right to apply for permanent resident status, and our baby would automatically be granted Tico (the local slang word for Costa Rican) citizenship.


So, with that, let's go over the positives and negatives of living in Costa Rica, and why we ultimately ended up leaving. 


Positives

The weather- I spent most of my life in California, between the Bay Area, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, and the climate in the central valley of the Costa Rica, puts the Golden State to shame. It is perfect, year round. 64-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s more hot and humid in the beach areas, but the climate here in general is unbeatable.


waterfall in the distance amidst the emerald forest

Nature— one of the last places on the planet with actual wildlife in its forests.
In Asian countries, like Laos, much of the animal life has been hunted out of existence- the jungles sit silent, and neutered.
The opposite is the case here. Just looking for housing in a wealthy gated community along the coast in Guanacaste, I encountered a Howler monkey walking the golf course, who decided I was a little too close and bared his teeth at me to back away, a coati-mundi (South American version of a raccoon,) and two different species of snakes as well. 
If you want to interact with the planet as it once was, you won’t find much better than Costa Rica.

video: Howler monkey warns me on the golf course to put my mask on


video: venomous coral snake eats a competing snake on the forest floor near Arenal volcano



Beauty- the country is gorgeous, particularly the area around Uvita, near the Panama border, where the rainforest descends down the mountains to meet the sea. The emerald hues, and many waterfalls make it a paradise to behold. 
video: sliding down the jungle waterfall in Uvita


Negatives


Expensive- My friend, who is Filipina but living in Costa Rica, described the country as the most expensive on earth, and she’s lived in Norway.
“There is no way Costa Rica is more expensive than Oslo,” I gently corrected her, “Or Bermuda,” — 

“No, it is,” she rightfully interrupted, “Because in Norway I got paid far more, and even though things cost more, I could still save.”
And I stood corrected, understanding her paradigm completely.

video: Costa Rica- the world's most expensive country



Costa Ricans earn very little, and staples like cars, gasoline, and food (both groceries and restaurants) cost more than in the US. And again, the prices in relation to the median salary makes survival here very difficult for the average Tico.
It also means that the money I worked so diligently to save, has a burn rate much higher than I am comfortable with.

Food-- The country wins the world bronze for least tasty food, (Colombia- gold, Myanmar- silver.) It's not particularly healthy either. 


The Roads— Costa Rican roads are notoriously bad, aside of the main highway connecting San Jose to the beaches, where they have toll booths every ten miles or so to extract more out of the underpaid Ticos, driving here means constantly keeping your head on a swivel to avoid the potholes that dream of destroying your car’s suspension.

Government corruption— Even in Los Laureles, the wealthiest area of the capitol city, potholes are plentiful. And should the government, by some miracle, authorize repairs, like everything in Costa Rica, they’ll take at least twice as long as they would in the United States. 

To boot, there is a high rate of taxation, and the government offers little in return except an ever expanding bureaucracy, and a government health care system that is spurned by the wealthy in favor of private providers. 
100% of the Ticos I spoke with on the subject affirmed the story of massive corruption, they only differed in the level of visible frustration outwardly expressed on the topic. 
To add injury to insult, none of the taxes go towards paying for a military, which the country has successfully eschewed since 1948, meaning a greater percentage of revenue collected is able to find its way into the pockets of government bureaucrats. 


Covidiots— In December 2021, outside the national airport, I was nearly arrested for not wearing a mask. I was, once again, OUTSIDE. 

Inside, when leaving the country by way of SJO, my mask was below my nose, the police gave me an incredibly stern warning, and their anger was palpable. 

True, outside of the capitol things are a lot more lax, and most people dislike the mandates, but nearly everyone complies, often for fear of being fined.

video: a store owner scared of being fined, chases my business away


Also, in terms of our decision to leave, it definitely did not help that the school we were sending our 4 year old to, banned us from attending the end of the semester party that was, again, an outside event, after determining we were not vaccinated.


Leadership — Until the election of April 2022, the ruling party had the same blueprint for the country as the incredibly successful socialist paradise of Venezuela, and its President was a disciple of Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum.


The Vaccine— the government has been trying to mandate the vaccine for 5 year olds and up, and rumors (unconfirmed at this moment) are they are making it a mandatory Annual vaccine for everyone. We know the vaccine doesn’t even prevent transmission …
What happened to "my body, my choice?"
No, this is Communism in action, where a centralized power believes they know what is best for everyone.
Also, who is to say that Pfizer didn’t pay a massive bribe to a couple well placed government officials? Imagine a yearly revenue stream from millions of people. That’s gotta be worth the bribe.


It’s a Giant pain in the Ass — The bureaucracy of Costa Rica is slow, expensive, and deadly. Examples:
In order to purchase a 2005 Honda with 178,000 miles on it, it cost nearly $700 in taxes and lawyer fees. That prices rises dramatically with newer cars, adding substantial friction and expense to the process. 

Applying for permanent residence, the number of documents needed is startling. We spent thousands of dollars, and, partly due to our extensive travels, we were unable to procure all the necessary paperwork.
Want to stock up on food en masse and live outside the capitol- good luck. The Pricesmart (Costco like warehouse ) are few and far between, and the prices there aren’t even good.
A 13% sales/VAT tax is applied to nearly everything (and who knows the import taxes,) and because Costa Rica is a small, hard to get to country, it simply costs more to ship and distribute within, but gosh darn it, if you value efficiency, this country is not for you. 


The beauty of Costa Rica is the nature. It’s gorgeous and wild. There are large amounts of water as rainfall is plentiful, and the climate of the central valley is positively unbeatable.

Unfortunately, even as nature lovers, the negatives outweighed the positives, especially because we refuse to subject our children to the Covid vax, the government seems so eager to impose on everyone, and well, for us Costa Rica is an amazing country to visit, but I’ll chose to live in a more efficient country with greater personal liberty.


video: rainfall of the central Valley

Friday, March 4, 2022

Mexican Taxi Angrily Rejects My Cash- Sends it Flying

 -- Puerta Vallarta, Mexico

Taxis, hard to find this area of town. Gotta meet my wife a mile down the road. Decide to walk. 
Right then a cab pulls to a stop. Knows exactly where I am going, I get in. 
Friendly banter, seems nice enough. Two minutes later we arrive. 

"How much do I owe you?"
"80 pesos."

It's not a lot of money, but for such a short ride ... I'm familiar with the general taxi fares, the normal price should be half. 

"80 pesos? Demasiado (too much)" 
"How much will you give me?"
"50."

Now he gets mad. Gritting his teeth, "Okay, I'll give you the ride for free." 
"No, no, not for free." 
"Get out of my car!" 
"What?" 
"Get out of my car!" 
"Here is 70, okay?" 

He won't take it. I place it on the front seat next to him. His anger is palpable. I'm glad he's not carrying a gun.
"CIERRA LA PUERTA!" (close the door) 

I follow his orders. The taxi begins to pull away, I turn and begin to walk away. Out of the corner of my eye, something flutters through the air.
An old woman sitting on the corner alerts me further. 
"Sir, sir, moneda." 
Still levitating off the ground, perhaps in a vortex of anger, are the 50 and 20 peso bills. I watch as gravity overtakes them, and look in dismay at the mess created. 
I walk over, pick them up, nod at the elderly lady who eyes me wearily, and continue on to my destination. 


video: the story as I remember it, without rereading before relating to camera


Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Whale's Tail + the Emerald Coast- Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica

A patch of dark sand separates the rolling waves of the Pacific and the soaring rainforest above, rising into the clouds above on back the coastal mountains. 


The vibrant hues of the emerald green jungle are nurtured by near daily rains, water managed to be absorbed as it leaps down cliffs, hurrying to be reunited with its source. 


me going down the waterfall "slide" of Uvita, Costa Rica

It's one of few areas on the planet where the forests are truly alive. Monkeys, sloths, deer, jaguars, toucans, abound. On the downside so do snakes. 
If you're a nature love, you've found your paradise.  



There isn't much here infrastructure wise, and what exists caters almost exclusively to tourists, be they surfers or nature lovers. 
That's not likely to change much; developers' dreams of building a larger town in this seaside paradise are dashed on the steep hills which hem in the two, on occasion three, lane highway running down the coast to the Panamanian border. 

If you are okay with a slow paced existence, it could be a great place to move to, albeit pricey.
There is, however, one requirement for living here -- a 4x4 vehicle. Aside of the highway, and the road up to San Ysidro, a mountain town of 40,000 people, the roads are best, "difficult," to traverse. 

We are on our way to check out a 271 acre property, including a ten thousand square foot mansion, with a huge pool, two smaller guest houses, a 5 acre coffee plantation, fruit trees (albeit with monkeys and toucans snatching much of your produce) all 100% powered by hydro-electricity, harnessing the currents from one of the the three waterfalls on the property.
The price- $2.4 million, which might get you a 3 bedroom house on the West Side of Los Angeles.
It's only twenty minutes off the main road, but our car's dashboard warning lights blink wildly going over the uneven, rocky terrain, forcing us to exit and get into our realtor's truck to complete the journey. 

I ask whether there is helipad on the premises, "Yes," comes the answer. (see below video) Ultimately the current implausibility of the daily commute to school made our decision for us. 

video: "location, location, location"- a rule of real estate that might be nearing its end

Aside of the nature, the one tourist attraction that exists here is a geographical oddity, a sandbar jutting out into the Pacific known as the Whale's Tail.
The area surrounding is designated a natural park; pay a few bucks to enter and walk a couple km on the beach out to the end of the tail.
Sit there, take in the silence and the calm waters lapping up towards you during low tide. Rest your mind, gaze at the beauty around you, feel heaven now. Meander back before the tides rise, and the sea reclaims Monstro. 

the Whale's Tail- of Uvita, Costa Rica

the Whale's Tail- of Uvita, Costa Rica





Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Pura Vida in San Jose, Costa Rica- a Look, Taste, + Feel of the Central Valley

Breathe in deeply, and fill your lungs with the pristine, 72 degree Fahrenheit air. If peace had a smell and taste, this would be it; "Pura Vida" it's called by locals.

Lush, green, cloud shrouded hills rise from Costa Rica's central valley. 

the mountains of Central Valley

Climbing the mountain it quickly dons on me that driving here is, challenging. Even in the "Beverly Hills" of the country, street lights are sporadic, leaving far too many opportunities for the numerous potholes hiding in the shadows to snatch your wheels.
The roads often narrow, making for tense moments as cars literally slide by each another, occasionally trading paint. Angle your vehicle a little too much towards the mountain to avoid oncoming traffic and risk falling into the drainage ditch built to siphon away the daily tropical downpours, which come unfailingly at 3 PM daily, during what Ticos consider their "winter."


a Costa Rican afternoon shower


The vibrant emerald colors radiating from the plants are straight from the Garden of Eden. Bright butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds forage for pollen and nectar, while fallen leaves magically float across the ground, as leaf-cutter ants work around the clock to turn nature's debris into fuel for their colony. Harmony. 
leaf cutter ants moving their fuel





emerald green colors of Costa Rica

The locals are friendly and inviting, though I'm warned by the person I'm doing business with,"The Tico is always late." I quickly calculate I'd be better off doing an extra ten minutes of work at home.  I still beat them to the meeting. Can't fault them for honesty.

While there is a genuine feeling of tranquility and safety here, it stumbles badly when juxtaposed against the visually noticeable barb wire and electrical fencing protecting all houses. This is not the two foot high white-picket fences of suburbia America. 
I ask an expat who has lived here for years about my observation.
"It's just the style of housing in Latin America, the beauty of the house is all within." 
I roll my eyes. No one would add to the expense of building while concurrently diminishing the curb appeal of their property; without reason. 
Whatever crime exists is undoubtably exacerbated by the sky high prices which rival the US and Europe, with the exception of automobiles, where Costa Rican rates nearly double American by way of heavy taxation. 
The good natured man behind the desk at the rental agency tells me the car I've chosen goes for more than double his monthly salary, making it impossible for him to afford the less than extravagant product he's paid to peddle. 
"The money is all robbed by the politicians," he informs me. 
"It's the same throughout most of the world," I sigh, "even more so in Latin America."
Looking through the glove compartment, I remove and unfold an ancient, paper map of Costa Rica. It's like the world atlas that they give children to draw on at Denny's. Outside the capitol, there are maybe two roads cutting through the rainforests of the country. 
But that's what expats here are bargaining for, a simple life, with emerald colors, perfect weather, gorgeous beaches, cloud forests, and friendly souls. Breathe it in, it's called "pura vida."





Sunday, May 24, 2020

Triple Your Spending Power- Go Have an Adventure in a Cheaper Country. The Financial Arbitrage of Living Abroad




Video: triple Your Spending Power- Go Have an Adventure in a Cheaper Country. The Financial Arbitrage of Living Abroad (video 14 min with text below. Channel is about FREEDOM- politically, of though and speech, and financially)

Look, this station is all about Freedom- of speech, of thought, of finances and ability to act on our dreams.
I want to speak briefly about breaking free of the Matrix like rat race the West generally is.

We go to work to support our, not even lavish, just expensive lifestyles. If you live in a major Western city, you are paying a ton in rent, going out to eat costs a fortune with all the taxes, regulations, salaries that they have to pay for, and if you live in the USA- health insurance.
Most people are just working to live. Work, eat, watch TV, grow older; repeat.

Then you say to yourself, I'm going to take my two weeks vacation, and go somewhere amazing, and have the time of my life.
And you do, you buy that plane ticket probably to coincide with a holiday when tickets are most expensive, you go to Hawaii, or some other resort area, have fun, come back, and get right back on the hamster wheel so you can do it again next year.

I'm sure you know people that live in constant materialistic competition. Who can get the promotion, the most desirable mate, the slightly bigger house, the fancy car.
Let me blow that paradigm up!

What if I told you, take a fricking year long vacation or make that tropical paradise your home, and live a far better, more relaxed life. Leave the rat race and experience something new.
Look, everybody can tell you the benefits of travel. It forces you out of your comfort zone. It opens minds, helps you grow, gives you new experiences. And it absolutely does if you don't stay at some all inclusive resort and drink for a week straight.

How am I equipped to talk about this: I saved most everything I earned in my twenties. started to travel, and have explored 60 countries around the world on every continent. I've also lived abroad, in the Czech Republic and Thailand.
So let me tell you, you DON'T NEED TO LIVE THE WESTERN PARADIGM.

Let's say you make a $60,000 a year. That's a decent living, nothing to sneeze at right. But in most major cities you're just getting by.
Now what if I told you I'm going to tell you, you don't have to make any more, but I'm going to help you be able to spend like you make $180,000 a year?
Warren Buffett defines investing as consuming less today so you can consume more in the future. That's kind of what we're doing here but instead of waiting a decade to triple your spending power, we are doing that almost instantaneously.


How? Basically it's a form of financial arbitrage. You earn that 60k in the USA or Europe, and you spend it where your money can get you the same buying power as earning several multiples of that amount in the west.

The US dollar still has tremendous strength, which frankly is highly questionable in my mind giving how much we are printing and borrowing, but that's another discussion, so let's say you started saving every dime you could.
Is it inconceivable to save $2,000 a month after taxes if you make $5,000 a month? It's doable I think, you just have to cut back on dinner out, Starbucks, a few other things.
You bank it, after a year you have $24,000 saved.
Now you get the hell out of Dodge.
You take advantage of the fact that money will buy you way more abroad.

Why is this available?
Simply because you were lucky to have born into a wealthy country while the majority of the world wasn't. It's not white privilege, it's American privilege. You have the world's reserve currency, you have wealth creation from companies like Ford, General Motors, Microsoft, and Google.
What is a middle class salary in America allows you to live like a king elsewhere. So save your money, and arbitrage where it spends like you made way more.

That said, these places are getting more expensive. With globalization and reduced barriers, with companies moving overseas, these areas are becoming wealthier, and the people move rapidly out of poverty and into the middle class. That's a good thing.
If you were lucky enough to be born in the West, hell, take advantage of it. This opportunity will not last forever as levels of wealth around the world are equalizing more quickly than ever.


Where Should you Go?
Well, of course that depends greatly on your interests, but your best bets are either Latin America or South East Asia, or maybe a former Eastern Bloc country. You can live pretty decently in either of these for $1,000 a month in these places. At $2,000 a month you're living very well.

Personally, I love SE Asia.  I have lived in Thailand for maybe three years total of my life, my latest stint lasting 15 months so far. It's safer than Latin America, and the Eastern Bloc still suffers from the Hangover of Communism. Plus it's cold. Not only the weather, but the people as well, though I hear they are slowly warming up.
On the other hand, Prague is the most stunning city in the world architecturally.
But that's my personal preference.

So What Exactly will my Savings get Me?

My friend Nick who founded a business that he did very well in in Los Angeles, I guess credits me with inspiring his travels. Today he lives on the beach in a spacious two bedroom, 3 bath condo, with gorgeous views of the beach, with pools, a movie theater, sauna, steam, and massage room, 24/7 security and underground parking for $840 a month rent. The food is organic, and great he reports, he's all in for $1,200.
What would that cost in an American city for that condo on a beach that outside of Florida isn't going to be as nice, with organic food? I'm going to say that's costing you at least 3-4k in total to live like that.

If you live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I lived for 6 months,  you could get by on less if you tried, and Vietnam is even cheaper, though Thai people are generally friendlier.
Look, I lived 7 months in Chiang Mai, Thailand and went out to a great local restaurant. You can get really tasty meals for $1 if you try. At $5 you're eating a ton of food. Of course you can go more expensive, but it's not necessary.
I've also lived down in Southern Thailand where the beaches are amongst the most gorgeous in the world. If you live in a heavily touristed area the prices can be higher, but you can still live very well, and Thai food and people is delectable, and the people incredibly friendly.

You can live in the coffee region of Colombia, which is too high in altitude for mosquitoes and absolutely gorgeous, or go to Pablo Escobar's old town of Medellin and learn to dance salsa. The prices might even be cheaper there. Medellin has amazing weather, it's referred to as the city of eternal spring.

Additional Savings
As for health care, if you're going to be abroad for a year, dump the insurance. You can cover yourself. To share with you a a little story, my daughter was born in Northern Thailand, and had to go in for emergency surgery, recovering after three weeks straight in the NICU. The total bill in America for the surgery, medicine, care, likely might have totalled 100k. Oh, and the hospital, we were lucky, was great. We could have easily lost her. In fact, I spoke at length to the amazing pediatrician that helped save her life, who worked for 30 years to stock the hospital, train people and doctors, get equipment. She would have certainly perished if this had happened at an earlier date.
This is an example of the benefits of technology and the rising tide of humanity.
If you're spending a year abroad as an American, you get to dump your insurance and save money there too.
Not to mention, if you make some money overseas, you won't pay US state tax on that money since you aren't living there.


So, you take that $24,000 and go live abroad for a year. Leave the rat race and consumer culture behind. Even if you don't get a job that keeps you there (like teaching English,) make no money and come back at the appointed time, you still experienced a new culture, saw new places, and were able to take a year long vacation, not 2 weeks.



Friday, March 20, 2020

Traveling via Air in Thailand; During the Time of Corona

With so many people stuck at home due to the Chinese Corona Virus, brought to you courtesy of their totalitarian government which lied and suppressed information that could have given the world greater time to prepare as well as their countrymen to suppress virus initially, you might be wonder what it is like to travel during this time.
I can safely (an interesting word choice perhaps) tell you that it was the easiest and best experience I have ever had. The airports and planes were nearly empty. Last minute (12 hours before) tickets for 5 people, including an infant were $125.
You can see below just how empty the airports were. You waltz up to the counter, through security, and onto the plane.
Bangkok's main airport, which would take over an hour to get to in the morning in the city's infamous traffic, took twenty-five minutes with zero delays.
This might not be the safest time to travel, if the mainstream media is finally right about the "wolf" they've been invoking and calling for the last several years, but it certainly was the most pleasant and easiest travel experience I have Ever had.
Still, take precautions and know our trip was necessary for visa and passport services ... 

I've just been approached by *gulp* Chinese security ... "I'm sorry I recant all I said about your wonderful country, and especially your government. Yes, I agree, Xi does not look Exactly like Winnie-the-Pooh. I'm sorry, I swear, it won't happen again.

Now excuse me as I turn away and *COUGH COUGH COUGH*


baggage claim in Bangkok- we had to wait for something and not a soul wandered through in half an hour

check in leaving Bangkok

Ellie and Grunty-Goo NOT practicing social distancing. Someone's gotta tell them

the security line in Chiang Mai

check in Chiang Mai

a nearly empty plane. No one seated in front of us. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Why You Should Be Optimistic about the world

When people tell you real wages haven't increased, they are lying. You can buy way more for the same amount of money in many cases then you could in the past. The future will be absolutely amazing, so long as we don't nuke ourselves, destroy the environment past the point of reversal, have Skynet take over, or develop some completely destructive biological agent.
VIDEO:: This is why I am so optimistic about the world, our future, and why it is so great to be born today!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Lost in the Bermuda Triangle


the aqua water off the Bermuda coastline

the aqua water off the Bermuda coastline
"The Rock" sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 650 miles off the mainland, no other islands near, no other islands far. The sound of waves softly rolling onto the deserted shore amplifies my sense of isolation.

Solace is momentarily broken, a head pokes out of the crystal waters. I wade out to say hello to my only friends here, a pair of sea turtles, who, frankly, make me do most of the talking. 
sea turtles just off the coast

I walk back to our Airbnb in Somerset Village. Few sidewalks exist on the island and I find myself squeezing up against walls and gates to offer vehicles the safest passing lanes. Fortunately there is little pressing to do for most islanders, and they treat their gas pedal accordingly.  
Bermuda vegetation- bright flowers
Bermuda vegetation- bright flowers

Plant life flourishes and vivid colors accent the emerald green base;  it feels like the Garden of Eden.

You'd be hard pressed to find a building painted less brightly than the surrounding vegetation, with pink, orange, green, and blue hues being the most common. Whatever you can critique Bermuda for, drabness is not on the list
a Jamaican restaurant, note the colors 
$18 for less than a gallon of water
$18 for less than a gallon of bottled water.
Tap please


At night, the melody of insects and birds helps create a sense of pure tranquility. Walk down to the beach to add the sounds of the ocean for an unparalleled meditative experience.

I meander to the store in the morning and my reflective state gets concussed by sticker shock. At least in part due to the isolation of the island, Bermuda was ranked as the world's most expensive country, handily beating out Switzerland and Norway.
Groceries cost anywhere from double to triple what they do in the US. A small house starts at 800k, and a half our taxi ride  will run you $70-80.
Dining out is almost a non-starter, due to the food being both exceptionally high in cost and terribleness.

The island is tiny- 20 square miles. Even with the windy, hilly roads, driving from tip to tip takes less than an hour; width wise you can walk from one side to the other in half that. 
Fortunately, no matter your location you're surrounded by spectacular aqua water and some gorgeous beaches, which is frankly the best reason, and likely the only reason, for anyone to visit The Rock. Just make sure your savings account is flush when you land, it won't be upon exit. 









my little crab heads towards the clear water


palm trees swaying on the Bermuda shore

My son enjoying himself down a a tubular slide in Bermuda. 7 seconds of bliss

Bermuda tips- if you do decide to see Bermuda, SKIP Hamilton altogether, sit yourself down on a nice beach around Somerset Village, and only come for a couple days. The beaches are very nice, but that's all there is really.