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