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Apr 17 2013

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Newsletter – April 17, 2013

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:

  • Our March 2013 Cost of Living and Our Food Budget Breakdown
  • Costa Rica Scores High on Social Progress Index
  • 9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica
  • Palmares, Our Neighboring Town
  • Simple Pleasures: My Morning Walk
  • On Integration: Living in Costa Rica, by Tom Bunker
  • Featured Article: Reinventing Yourself in Retirement
  • In The Mailbag

 

Our March 2013 Cost of Living and our Food Budget Breakdown

Our living expenses in March were pretty much right on target. The one category that came in higher than normal was transportation expenses. In March, our semi-annual car insurance premium of $161.00 came due, and we also took care of some regular maintenance on our car ($130.12: oil change, adjust brakes, repair windshield washer line, fix a squeak) in addition to the normal gas, tolls, and parking.

March’s grocery expenses came to $328.00. In 2012, our monthly average for groceries was $345.96 and the previous year, it was $319.09. Originally, we thought we would buy food, paper products and cleaning aids for a max of $300/month, but gradually, over the last four years, it’s gone up a little due to inflation and minor changes in our buying patterns. However, we still think we’re saving about $100/month over our U.S. grocery expenses, as prices have increased there as well. We manage to keep it close to $300 most months because we rarely go to the big box stores in Alajuela – Auto Mercado, PriceSmart, and Walmart. When we do go there, we have the tendency to buy in bulk, including some U.S. products which are imported to Costa Rica and can’t be found at our local stores in San Ramon. The imported products can cost two to three times what they would in the States due to the high import taxes, so we buy as little of these as possible.

We eat about the same as we did in the U.S. – lots of fruits and veggies, with meat usually only at the evening meal. Rather than breaking down the individual costs of every little item – broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc. — let’s just say it’s less, a lot less in Costa Rica for fruits and veggies. One reason is that we are not buying things like bagged salads and frozen vegetables, instead buying fresh, local, and in-season. We’re so lucky here to have a year-round growing season for most things.

Our Food Budget Breakdown

So what does our $328.00 include? It includes almost everything – food, wine, and flowers, paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, wax paper, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil, zip lock bags, etc.), cleaning products (dish soap, laundry soap, Clorox, sponges, disinfectant, etc.), and personal care products (bar soap, shampoo, razors, powder, etc.). All in all, not bad for $328. It does not include cat food and litter, nor does it include eating out in restaurants. We have separate categories for those things and will break these, and other categories down,  in future months. We eat great and we’re not suffering.

Here are our expenses for the previous two months:

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Costa Rica Scores High on Social Progress Index

“Costa Rica ranks first in Latin America and the Caribbean in the Index of Social Progress,” reported InsideCostaRica.com on April 15th.The Index “measures the degree to which countries meet the non-economic needs of its citizens, according to a recent announcement by the Social Progress Imperative at the University of Oxford in the U.K.”

The Social Progress Imperative website says their Index “measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. Fifty-two indicators in the areas of basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity show relative performance in order to elevate the quality of discussion on national priorities and to guide social investment decisions.”

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Of the 50 countries studied, Sweden ranked 1st, with a score of 64.81, the UK ranked 2nd (63.41) and Switzerland ranked 3rd (63.28). Canada came in 4th (62.6)and the U.S. was 6th (61.6). Costa Rica obtained a score of 57.36 and had the highest score in all of Latin America and the Carribean. Of those countries, in second place is Chile, with a score of 56.6, and Argentina with a score of 56.32. You can see the full ranking here. The goal is to increase the number of countries evaluated to 120 in the coming years.

Costa Rica scores 57.4 overall

The researchers found that, “of issues covered by the Basic Human Needs Dimension, Costa Rica does best in areas including Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and has the greatest opportunity to improve human wellbeing by focusing more on Shelter. Of issues covered by the Social Infrastructure Dimension, Costa Rica excels at providing building blocks for people’s lives such as Health and Wellness but would benefit from greater investment in Access to Basic Knowledge. Of issues covered by the Opportunity Dimension, Costa Rica outperforms in providing opportunities for people to improve their position in society and scores highly in Personal Freedom and Choice yet falls short in Access to Higher Education.”

If you are interested in reading about the study findings in more detail, visit the website at this link.

Related Articles:

 

9 Tips to Find Your “Perfect Place” in Costa Rica

by Gloria

Okay, you’ve visited Costa Rica a couple of times, read everything you can get your hands on, and you’ve decided to retire here. The reality of such a big move hits you, and you want to make sure that every decision along the way is the right one for you. I don’t blame you. San Ramon turned out to be “just right” for us, but where is your “just right” place? When it comes to picking the right town in Costa Rica to settle in, we have a few tips for you.

  1. First, know that there is no “perfect place.” Anywhere you choose to live will require some compromises, either on the weather, or the size of the town, or something. We lived at the cabinas at 4,000 ft. elevation for almost 4 years and wished that we were about 500 ft. lower in elevation because it wouldn’t be as cool. Now we’re living in Magallanes at 3,000 ft. elevation and I wish we were 500 feet higher because it can really be warm some afternoons! That being said, we love where we’re living, just as we loved living at the cabinas. If you don’t demand perfection and try to live each day with a very pura vida attitude, you’ll be much happier here.
  2. Rent before you buy (or even forever!) The good thing about renting is that you aren’t tied into one place. We think it’s a great idea to just come, land somewhere, and then explore the other areas you are interested in. What is “spring-like” to one person is chilly (or too warm) to another person, so you need to experience it yourself to see if it would work for you. But that’s all part of the adventure!
  3. As a corollary to #2 above, if possible, do not ship everything you own right away (or maybe ever). Try to rent furnished houses or apartments at first. Once you have shipped a container of possessions, it becomes harder to be mobile; it’s more of a hassle to move to another house or town if you don’t love the one you’re in.
  4. Experience Costa Rica in both the dry season and rainy season before you decide where to settle down. Late September into October is the rainiest time on the Pacific side of the country, but in the dry season, by March and April,  things can be looking pretty brown here. The Caribbean side of the country has different weather patterns, with no extended dry season and rain at times throughout the year. You should experience both to see how you like it and how your body responds. Allergies can crop up for people during different times of the year (while other people find that their existing allergies go away once they move here).
  5. Maybe you want the conveniences of a larger town but want to live in a small town where you can know your neighbors and get involved with the community. Consider living in one of the many smaller communities that surround the larger town you’re interested in. That way you could get the benefits of small town life along with nearby conveniences.
  6. Remember that there are many micro-climates in Costa Rica. Sometimes you can be in the same general location but up on a hill or down in a more protected area and there can be a 5 degree difference in temperature. It might be windier if you are on top of a hill and not so windy if your house is up against the side of a hill. There are so many variables that it’s hard to generalize. Again, you just have to experience it for yourself.

    Microclimates 🙂

  7. Maybe you’ve always wanted to live at the beach but you can’t stand the heat day after day, and air conditioning is expensive! Consider living at a higher elevation near the beach area in which you are interested. When we selected San Ramon, we liked the cooler temperatures, but also the fact that we can be at the beach in less than an hour. We wanted to live in a place where we didn’t need heat or air conditioning and where we could keep our doors and windows open during the day. If you choose to live at the beach – which many people do – just know that you either need to be extremely tolerant of the heat or live in air conditioning (and pay high electric bills) for at least part of the day.
  8. Finding a great place to live is a very personal choice. If you haven’t done so already, make a list of what’s important to you in terms of access to the kinds of activities you like, climate, type of neighborhood, distance to attractions or shopping, etc. Our friend, George Lundquist, provides such a checklist to people who take his tour. If you would like more information about George’s Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security Tour and to receive his checklist, just fill out the contact form here.
  9. Your ideas about where you want to live and the reality of living there may turn out to be very different. Living out in the country may sound like a good idea but you might find you miss having neighbors close by, and the long trek into town to buy necessities could get old. Or, you might like the stimulation of living in town, with the ability to walk most places, but you find that you really want to be around more green and less noise. Maybe you are convinced that you want a top-of-the-mountain view, but you later find that the accompanying winds that come with being so exposed dampen your pleasure. I know that some aspects of our “perfect place” have changed over time (but after four years, we’re pretty darn close). There are many trade-offs you may need to make that you can’t even conceive of until you are actually living here.

So bottom line, when trying to find your “perfect place,” do your homework, make a preliminary, educated decision about where to land, and jump in! You don’t have to get it right the first time. Living here is different from visiting here, and there is only so much you can figure out ahead of time. Part of the adventure is getting to know this beautiful country first-hand and to discover what’s right for you.

Related Articles:

Palmares, Our Neighboring Town

Palmares is the capitol of the canton (county) of the same name in Alajuela province, and one of the 81 cantons in Costa Rica. The canton has a population of 32,000 surrounding the principle district of the town of Palmares. The town (population: 7,500 in 2013) is only 15 minutes and six km. southeast of our town of San Ramon, and only 35 minutes from the Juan Santamaria International Airport. Palmares was founded in the 1880s and, like its neighbor, San Ramon, is located right off the Autopista (Rt. 1), making it extremely convenient to everything. Buses go back and forth every 30 minutes between San Ramon and Palmares. Most of the commuters are Palmareñans, coming to and from San Ramon for work, shopping, or to go to school.

Cantón of Palmares

Palmares is composed of seven districts, all surrounding the town of Palmares which is, itself, one of the seven districts. The town is 1.09 square kms. and sits in a bowl at an elevation of 3300 ft. (1017. meters). It’s a little warmer than San Ramon, with a little less rain. The entire canton is small, only 38.6 sq km, with the town of Palmares at its center.

The canton of Palmares is subdivided into seven districts (distritos):

  • Palmares (the town)
  • Zaragoza (home of one of our favorite restaurants, Lira)
  • Buenos Aires
  • Santiago
  • Candelaria
  • Esquipulas (the home of another of our favorite restaurants, Fory Fay)
  • La Granja (Granja)

Palmares is perhaps best known for its annual Fiestas Palmares, held in January.  The festival is the 2nd largest in the country, with over a  million people attending over the 12 days. One of the most popular events of the festival is the Tope, a huge horse parade through town showcasing over 3,000 horses and their riders (including our very own San Ramon horsewoman, Cyndy Schaub). The festival also features a Carnaval, music, along with rodeos and bull fights (no bulls are killed though many Ticos are embarrassed), firework displays, a fairground, and more.

We go over to Palmares from time to time to dine in one of its restaurants, visit friends, and do tours for folks interested in settling there. We also pass through it on our way to Atenas. Palmares is about 30 minutes from Atenas, with lots of spectacular mountain views and hairpin turns along the way.  The parque central is full of trees which are home to a few large prehistoric looking iguanas, which are fed by the visitors and local fruit and vegetable vendors in the central market, along with lots of birds and squirrels.

 

Simple Pleasures: My Morning Walk

by Paul

I always look forward to my morning walk. I’m up at 5:10 am and out the door at 5:45 am. I meet up with two neighbors at 5:50 am and off we go. Round-trip is only 3.6 miles but half is up, up, up. It’s 30 minutes down, and 30 minutes back up.

Walking up from the Barranca River bridge

Anyone who walks or runs every day in the morning knows what I’m talking about. It becomes addictive and, if taken away, is sorely missed. It’s the beginning of the day and sets up the rest. It’s great for the endocrine system, too, since I’m soaked with perspiration when I get home at 7:00 am, and good for the heart, lungs, and brain. I get rid of any nervous energy I might have and it gets me totally relaxed for the day.

Keel-billed Toucan

White-faced (Capuchin) monkey

My morning walks are delightful. I walk from the house at 3,000 ft. elevation to the Barranca River Bridge at 2,200 ft. It’s a beautiful walk, peaceful and serene. Quite often, we spot Keel-billed toucans and White-faced Monkeys in the trees and lots of cows in the pastures as we descend. The topography is definitely hilly, with mountains surrounding us to 4,000 ft. elevation.

It reminds me of California in the dry season, except, here, there are more trees, though it’s less lush since it’s the end of our dry season. Remember, it hasn’t rained but 2 inches since October 25th.

The drive leading to our house

As we walk, I’m starting to notice more birds, too — the beautiful Montezuma’s Oropendula, small Blue-gray tanangers, woodpeckers, and huge jays. Generally speaking, everything is bigger here, the insects, birds, and foliage.  The walk is not the high point of my day, but definitely sets the day up. The sheer beauty of the walk always strikes me.

Occasionally, I chat with Victor, the cab driver, as he takes his almost-daily morning fare to the ICE Barranca Hydroplant.  I’ve gotten to know Victor a little. He can’t believe I drove a cab for four years in the San Francisco Bay Area. He knows I understand the psychology of his job. It’s cash in the pocket every day and the next day will always be better. A few cars also pass by on school days, with kids in tow for classes high on the hill.

My walk is one of the simple pleasures of life. I have things to do after my walk but I’m not in a hurry.  After all, no work today, tomorrow, or ever again.

Related Articles:

 

On Integration: Living in Costa Rica

by Tom Bunker

Marcia at Corrida de Cintas in Llano Bonito (She only sits on horses)

This is a follow-up to my previous article describing how Marcia and I ended up here. Now that we have lived here for over 2-1/2 years, we are enjoying our new lives and community. Throughout this article, you will see some photos of examples of daily life. Like everyone, I have my opinions and what works for me may not suit you.

Probably the key principal in our approach to Costa Rica is that we really want to live in Costa Rica. For that reason, I don’t want to live in a tourist area or an “expat community.” I really hate that term and like to consider myself as a legal resident, never an expat.

There used to be a few gringos here. Now there is only one other couple. They are very nice people, but are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We see them from time to time, but their lives revolve around their religion and keep them busy.

Pura Vida – Resplendent Quetzal

Before you get the impression that we’re some kind of hermits, We do know other Americans and sometimes attend events and group tours. We also visit tourist areas, we just don’t want to live in one. I have little patience for those who complain or expect things to change or don’t understand why more people don’t speak English. People who isolate themselves from the real Costa Rica are missing some great experiences.

Oxcart Parade at Patronal in Zarcero

We live in the small community of La Palmita, a few kilometers south of Zarcero. At 5,800 feet, the temperatures here are mild to cool. The area has a lot of dairy farms and organic farming and there is always a good supply of cheese and produce.

We live very much like our neighbors do. We are not on a strict budget, but often spend just over $2,000 per month. We do have disposable income that allows us to travel when we want, which can make our monthly expenses much higher. However, our low overhead means that we can leave the county and have fixed expenses here of less than $500 per month.

Traditional Dance in Laguna

Our house is a 3 bedroom tico style house. We don’t need or have air conditioning. We also don’t have a water heater or clothes drier. The shower head has a built in heater and that’s the only place we have hot water.  Our rent is $240 per month.

Families here tend to stay close to each other and help each other. For example, our landlord’s house is just north of us and one of his son’s lives in a house that shares a wall with him. That is followed by a daughter’s family and then us in a separate house. Just south of us is a grand-daughter’s family followed by a daughter-in-law. Her son lives up the road a bit. Two of the landlord’s brothers live a stone’s throw away. We know other extended families and the story is similar. For some odd reason, many of the Ticos in the area have relatives in New Jersey or have lived there themselves. I can’t imagine moving from here to New Jersey.

Independence Day Parade in Zarcero

Everyone has been very welcoming and we are invited to birthdays, weddings, baptisms,  holiday meals, and other special events. All of the taxi drivers, bank employees, and shop owners know us. We are also the only gringo members of the local senior’s group (Grupo Adulto Mayor). We can’t walk two blocks without stopping to shake a hand or kiss a cheek and exchange pleasantries.  This really feels like home now.

English is rarely spoken here and my Spanish is improving. There are still some times when I have no idea what is being said and then I usually ask if what I think they said is correct. If all else fails a shrug and a smile always works.

Bicycle Event in Zarcero

There always seem to be some kind of event going on in one of the small communities around us. These are always free, but offer the opportunity to buy food and drink. Bingo is very popular and of course, dancing. There is always a danger when trying to make sweeping statements about a group of people, but I think its safe to say, “Ticos love to dance!”

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Featured Article: Reinventing Yourself in Retirement

by Gloria

A couple of months ago, we received an email from Rob, who is considering the idea of retiring in Costa Rica. He writes, “After the finances, my biggest worry is how I will spend my time.  I have read about male expats who spend a lot of time at the bar because they do not have a purpose (e.g. employment) and too much free time.  It is funny that the opportunity to be free with unlimited time would be frightening but after a lifetime of having school, work, etc. determine my schedule, I am having to go back to basics to rediscover what my passions are and how I want to spend retirement. If you went through that angst, I would appreciate if you would include your thoughts in one of you newsletters.  How do you spend your time, how did you discover your passions, and how are you managing free time?…For me, it is not about being busy, it is about being useful. I can stay busy around the house here moving my too many possessions around or surfing the internet or watching TV. What I think is important is finding a purpose in my life once I have the freedom to search.

This is a great question and one that many others approaching retirement share. Rob is basically asking, “Who am I without my job? When I stop doing all that I’ve been doing, what’s left, and how do I make it matter?” The angst he refers to is, perhaps, an American thing. Do people in other cultures have the same angst that we do, about what we’ll do once we retire? In some cultures, if you are a sheepherder or a guy pushing a cart, there is no possibility of retirement. In most of the world, it’s a struggle just for existence; you work until you drop, and then your family cares for you.

And it’s different for everyone. We all have different talents, desires, and hopes for the future. For some people, the increased social life is enough to make them happy in retirement. There are always outings with friends, weekend trips to the mountains or the beach, dinner parties and happy hours. But for many of us, we need to make our lives, as Rob says, “useful.” We need to have a purpose in life that’s greater than ourselves, to feel that our lives still matter and are meaningful.

For some people, it seems easier. They have always had the dream of writing novels or painting. And many of them end up coming to Costa Rica for its natural beauty and creative inspiration. But even that isn’t always enough. We know a couple who retired to Costa Rica, for him to write and her to paint. And they did. She painted the beauty she saw around her, and he wrote three novels, the first of which is currently being published. But they decided to go back to the U.S. so that he could teach again and help market his book, and for them to be back with the family they missed while living abroad. I’m sure that there were other factors involved, like the language barrier for one. The point is that Costa Rica turned out to be right for them for a time, and then they took the next step in their journey.

For Paul and I, it was a different journey. There are a lot of reasons that we chose to leave the U.S. and come to Costa Rica, which we’ve already written about (and you can read about here and here and throughout this website). We’d spent about 18 months researching and visiting the country before we made the big move on April 1, 2009. We didn’t realize it at the time, but some decisions that we made early on really helped shape our experience here over the last four years.

Paul so loved learning about Costa Rica, he knew right away that he wanted to pass on some of that knowledge. And I’d always loved both reading and writing and wanted to do more of both. I wanted to express my thoughts and ideas and, hopefully, to somehow inspire others. We decided to start a little blog to share our journey with others who might be interested in retiring in Costa Rica also. Maybe, we thought, we can market a couple of relevant items and make a little money to help finance our dream. And so we began our Retire for Less in Costa Rica blog. We both got to write about our experiences and it’s evolved from there. Once we arrived in Costa Rica and found our way around, Paul started doing tours and airport transportation in and around the western Central Valley. It gave him another opportunity to talk about this country we have grown to love.

A Happy Rolling Stone

But it didn’t happen overnight. For me, especially, the transition was difficult, maybe because I was only 52 when we “retired” to Costa Rica. Paul was 62 and had just started to collect Social Security. He was ready to retire and pursue new interests. He admits that he never really had a career, just lots of jobs with none lasting more than 3 years. He was more of a self-professed “rolling stone that gathers no moss,” definitely not a “corporate type” or an “A-type personality.” His expectations have always been low, but he has a corresponding high capacity for satisfaction in life. His goal was never to make a lot of money; instead, it was to be a success in his personal relationships, to love and be loved, genuinely for himself. It wasn’t until later in life that he was able to discover his two passions – me, and Costa Rica.

I was a little less ready to quit my job and move to Costa Rica. I mean, who retires at 52, especially in this economy!? But all the doors were opening for us to make this huge life change, and I decided to just follow the signs and take a step of faith. My concession was that I didn’t want to sell our house in Baltimore right away. What if we moved to Costa Rica and then realized we had made a big mistake? Also, I was able to continue working for my employer part-time, telecommuting over the Internet, which lasted for most of our first year. In a way, that actually postponed much of the angst I would later feel about “who am I now and what’s next for me?”

Our first 3-6 months living in Costa Rica were both exciting and difficult. The exciting part was that everything was new. We were meeting new people, visiting different parts of the country, trying new foods, and living in an entirely different climate that we were used to back in Baltimore. But, at the same time, we were dealing with all of the differences here. The culture is not the same as back in the U.S.; Ticos have a different set of expectations and ways of doing things. The money is different, and the exchange rate keeps changing, so a dollar isn’t always a dollar. Food and cooking are different as well. Vegetables, like carrots and beets, are bigger. Potatoes and other vegetables have different water-contents and take longer to cook. Baking is different at higher elevations, too. And all of the convenience products and low fat foods I had relied on in the U.S were either not available or cost three times as much.

I discovered that I was doing a lot more cooking from scratch and using a lot less processed foods. Then I started baking all of our bread, making yogurt and peanut butter from the raw ingredients. I learned about alternative ways to cook, and we began eating even more whole foods that we did in the States. I learned about genetically modified foods and the danger they present to unknowing consumers the world over. And I became passionate about cooking and baking healthier and more nourishing foods. I always liked to cook, but working 40 hours a week cuts into any available time I had to try different things and learn new techniques. Now I had both the time and the inclination and found out that I was enjoying it.

Also, Paul and I both started volunteering with the Community Action Alliance, a community-based, action-oriented organization started in our very own San Ramon the year after we arrived.  I became their webmaster and, soon after, we both became members of the Steering Committee. We have tried to help mold the direction of the growing organization in the areas of Citizen Security, Economic Development, the Environment, Fundraising, and Education. (You can read more about the Community Action Alliance at this website.)   Neither Paul nor I had any big aspirations to be part of an organization like this. We just wanted to make a difference and this is one of the opportunities that presented themselves to us.

There is an expression, “follow your bliss.” Okay, but that can be a little scary, and besides, first you have to FIND your bliss. It’s not like there’s a road sign pointing to “Bliss Lane.” The good news is that you don’t have to have it all plotted out on your GPS before you start. I think it requires just taking one step at a time and trusting yourself enough that you will find your way. It doesn’t work to stay home behind a closed door and expect your bliss to find you. You have to go out and take, not necessarily a leap, but a small step at a time and see how it makes you feel. Does volunteering at an orphanage or animal rescue bring you more joy than it makes you feel sad? Is writing your memoir just painful, or is it a satisfying process along the way? Does traveling around the country giving talks to expat groups excite you or terrify you? Does teaching English to Ticos come naturally to you, or do you find yourself tongue-tied? You won’t know any of these things until you try.

So start, just start somewhere. Keep an on-going list of the things that bring you joy, and use that list as a guidepost to your future. Your retirement can be anything you choose, so choose what makes you happy. You have to use your heart, not just your head, in this process. And if, down the line, things change, and it doesn’t feel good any longer, don’t be afraid to change direction, to take a first step on a new path. You don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time. A satisfying retirement (like much of life) is a journey, not a destination. And remember “Bliss Lane?” We found ours, and if and when we move, it moves with us.

 

 

In the Mailbag

Here are a few more notes we’ve received from our readers that we think would be helpful or interesting to others. We are publishing them with the writer’s permission.

 

Hi Gloria and Paul,
I have been enjoying your newsletters, articles via International Living, website and the presentation you gave at the November Fast Track 2012. Thanks so much for being so “transparent” with your spending and budget, it has really helped Gene (my hubby) and me to get a better sense of the real cost of living. I love your down to earth advice for a simple and worry free life. :)”

Terry Esquivel

 

…We just finished the first month in our rental house, learning how to pay the electricidad y internet en línea and the water at a neighbor’s house 500 meters down the road. I love it! Right now I’m sitting on the sofa, listening to my favorite music from my iTunes files, reading one of my favorite authors, and looking at the view of San José. I never dreamed I’d have it this good until I learned of Costa Rica 3 years ago. Actually, it is better than I dreamed.”

Rich Lobert

 

Let me just start by saying the best thing that could have ever happened to us was meeting Paul and Gloria Yeatman at the International Living conference in San Jose last year. We just came back home to the States after another two week adventure. It was a dual purpose trip. We came to check out the San Ramon area as a retirement haven as well as take care of some medical issues. We could not have accomplished as much as we did without the kindness of Paul and Gloria to start the ball rolling for us. They lined us up with a hotel, doctors, and of course tours. We do not feel they only see things through rose colored glasses. To put it simply, they really are just honest and gracious hosts whose love of Costa Rica and the Tico lifestyle just radiates from them.

On our first day, Paul gave us a tour of San Ramon so we would be familiar with where we needed to go to take care of business. We ate lunch at “Paul’s famous $1.00 lunch spot.” The food was tasty and the price was right. Can’t beat that! The whole town is only 14 square blocks so everything is within foot range. NO CAR REQUIRED – a big plus in our book! We also stopped by their friend, John’s, place and were entertained by his little buddy Scrappy. Next stop was the cabinas where we met Caesar (“best landlord in the whole country”) and Realtor Frank, who was only too happy to offer his assistance in finding us a nice little rental niche to plant roots.

The second tour was a little farther up in the mountains above the cloud forest to the beautiful little town of Zarcero, also known as “little Switzerland”, with its delightful animal shaped topiary garden in front of a gorgeous newly restored old church. There we met expats Tom and Marsha and had a nice visit at their home.

Gloria also treated us to one of her gourmet dinners one evening: Mediterranean style pasta, salad, homemade bread and key lime pie for dessert. Yum! Yum! We met yet another expat couple, Dean and Randi, along with Paul, the “monkey man,” next door.  John also joined us for dinner, and a good time was had by all. It turns out Dean and Randi used to be involved in road racing back in the US the same as my husband and I. Need I say, we hit it off instantly.

Now as for the medical side of things, we were very impressed. We had absolutely no qualms about seeing doctors in a foreign country, and we totally trusted Paul and Gloria’s recommendations. Living on Social Security, we can no longer afford health care in the US. We first saw Dra. Maria Hernandez, general practitioner at Grupo Medal, and met her husband Johann who runs the business end. Dra. Hernandez was very accommodating. She made it a point to see us at 7:00 a.m. due to a medical commitment in San Jose where she spent the rest of the day. She examined both of us and spent an hour of her time discussing our issues and charged us a mere $60.00 with three FREE follow-up visits – unheard of back in the US! She changed my husband’s sleep medicine which has made quite an improvement, and she also referred him to a local  gastroenterologist for further evaluation of stomach problems. When we left, she gave us a reassuring hug and kiss on the cheek and we reciprocated.

Dr. Sergio, the gastroenterologist, performed a gastroscopy and colonoscopy with three biopsies for a grand total of $560.00 including a FREE follow-up consultation – again unheard of in the US! It would have cost us at least four times as much here. Dr. Sergio’s office is new and immaculate with the latest state-of-the-art equipment. I watched both procedures on a flat screen TV, no different than here in the US. The biggest and most important difference is that these doctors have a genuine concern for their patients and will take time to listen. Dr. Sergio reassured us several times to go back home and not worry. Everything has been taken care of. That is peace of mind! We will not hesitate to use either one of these doctors again. Oh yes, Dr. Sergio and I both have family in Toronto and he is a big Bluejays fan. Our nephew is a pitcher for the team. That just raised the comfort level up a notch.

Once again, Paul and Gloria were generous enough to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the clinic and sit with meduring the procedures. Afterwards we all celebrated with breakfast at Aroma Cafe. Our stay at the La Posada Hotel was excellent as well. Jaime (owner) and his staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome, all the way from his daughters serving breakfast to the cleaning crew. The room was very clean, with beautiful locally-hand-carved wood furnishings and modern fixtures in the bathroom. Since we had an extended stay for medical reasons, they even offered us free laundry service and a discounted room rate for the second week. At $60.00 per night, it was a bargain. We highly recommend it for anyone heading that way. Miriam at the front desk is such a sweetheart. She could not do enough for us. Not a day went by that we did not stop by and chat with her. If we were tired from our daily trekking around town, she would call and order dinner for us, and a friendlyTico on a motorbike would deliver it shortly thereafter. She was a great wealth of information about the area being a Tico herself. She also lived in the US for a few years and knows exactly where we are coming from. It didn’t take her long to realize that Tico life is the good life.

Costa Rica is our kind of place. The people are laid back and it doesn’t take a lot to make them happy. We can’t wait to get back there. All in all, this whole trip and the Tico culture immersion was a very positive experience for us. Period. Paul and Gloria helped us find exactly what we were looking for and more. We can’t thank them enough for everything they have done, and I am sure we will be expat friends for life.

Looking forward to calling the land of Pura Vida and tranquilo home.”

Kyle and Diane Baker

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