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.

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

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. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Taste, Look, and Feel of Toronto, Canada

Lake Ontario- spooky sky
spooky yet gorgeous skies around Lake Ontario at sunset
The beaches of Lake Ontario lap up its ferocious waves on this windy evening as I stand on her shores gazing up at the setting sky. Although the most polluted of the Great Lakes, it still contains a number of water enthusiasts; tonight that number is "one." I strip and dive in, but am quickly ejected by the frigid waters. I dress and retreat back up the hill feeling slightly defeated.

Toronto street car
I hop in a street car, its civic purpose to slow Queen Street traffic to the speed of a 60 year old jogger taking a coffee break.

As we continue west, large green parks start popping into view; people toss frisbees back and forth, as some set picnic baskets atop their large beach towels, while others meditatively practice tai-chi, breathing in deeply and exhaling slowly until they literally start flying through the air, upended by a linebacker of a dog chasing a squirrel through their circle.

Noting the lush landscapes combined with substantial summer humidity my wife declares Toronto, "The ideal place to grow a garden;" ... failing to factor in the snow which blankets the Great White North during its harsh winters.
There's a for sale sign in front of an old, three story red brick house near the downtown, which will undoubtably sell for a pretty penny. Toronto real estate is in bubble territory, bid up by Chinese money anxious to park itself in safer lands. Escalating rents, high grocery prices, and an Ontario sales tax of 13% on top of all other purchases apply substantial pressure to your finances. After 4 months of living here, my wallet is as flat as a penny left on the rail road tracks.
Toronto street scene, late January

Walking between the downtown sky-scrapers, it's notable how the pedestrians seem to represent every country on earth, and during winter months Antarctic penguins round out the continents; no one in this ethnic melting pot gives them so much as a second glance.

downtown Toronto
Presenting our e-tickets, we enter Scotiabank Arena  to watch the "hockey" (whatever that is) game. Molson beer flows in greater and greater volumes through the stands, until finally, during the 2nd period intermission, the generally milquetoast and polite Canucks start flapping their mouths, bragging about:
  • Canada's greatest invention and contribution to the world- the zamboni
  • how they have the worst traffic on the planet. 
Canadians are funny, ey? Toronto moves like the Indy 500 compared to most large cities around the globe. Even on a Friday night, downtown, with several events going on, traffic here still moves faster than a Christmas morning in Los Angeles. (provided you don't find yourself behind the aforementioned Queen Street cable car) 

But through and through Toronto is an eminently livable city, with its friendly people, large green spaces, plethora of restaurants, and the feeling that no matter who you are or where you are from, you're likely to find a little niche for yourself here. 
The only dilemma I have is whether I should inform my newfound Canadian friends that the zamboni was, in fact, invented in Southern California. .... 
Nah, I just don't have the heart. Let them have it. The game just started again and my amigos are decrying a penalty against the Leafs. When I join in and deride the call, one of them offers me a beer. I love these hosers.
So much so I married one.
Do you see one Hoser or two? 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Lighter Side of Police Corruption in Bangkok, Thailand

My very pregnant friend, craving fruit in a way that only the pregnant can, managed to convince her husband to take her to market on the back of his motorbike. 
Somehow deciding that their sole helmet should be worn by the driver, the choice in judgement was heavily questioned by the policeman who pulled them over. 
Amenable and apologetic, they paid the fine of 300 baht directly to the policemen, as is the Thai custom.

Thai policeman
Continuing onwards, they realized upon arrival that they had no money left to spend. 
Lacking bank cards, instead of returning home, they went back the short distance to the policeman, nicely approached him, and asked if they could get a rebate on the bribe so that they could afford some fruit. 
He pulled 100 baht out of his pocket, and handed it to them with a smile. 

Even corrupt police are friendly in Thailand. 

 video: differences in police forces around the world

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kilim Geo-Forest Park on Langkawi Island, Malaysia

the park sign as sign from the ocean
Langkawi Island, an island till covered by tropical rainforest off the coast of Malaysia. The locals are mellow, the island Islamic, and though slightly off the beaten off, if you're a nature lover it's well worth the visit as the island has much natural beauty as well as protected regions, and one the biggest attractions is Kilim Geo-Forest Park.
Take a slow (and fast) boat with a guide down the river and see the mangrove jungle for yourself. From the bat caves (hard to get any decent photos) to the monkeys you might see playing and feeding along the forest.
Check the video below, and then the photos, of what you're liable to find here in a pleasant half day excursion.
Videothe sights and animals of Kilim Geo-Forest Park (see the monkey?)

archer fish- they actually shoot water from there mouths to knock insect out of the air so they can feed
Shoe island- Langkawai, Malaysia. See it? See it???
the spectacular scenery

monitor lizard
an eagle, the symbol of Langkawi flying overhead
the dense, and smelly, mangrove forest up close
slightly common macaque monkey handling a crab it caught

baby faced rock- lock left and bottom jutting out

more rare species of monkey- would blend in perfectly if not for the white faces

monkey up close- has muscles