Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Chapter

It feels like a new chapter is beginning.

We just sold our house in La Paz, San Ramon. It's been a rich few years. From my urban childhood in Brooklyn, NY to the pristine natural world in La Paz is quite a trip. We are forever connected and grateful to the Arias family for being there for us in so many ways during our time in La Paz.

It's time for something new, the next chapter.

The new owners are great people and it has a been a fun transition. We are excited for them as they put their personality, ideas and more into making Quinta Mama their place.

For me, I'm going to keep life simple for awhile. I'm exercising daily, cooking and eating well, hanging with friends/family and making space for the new chapter as it unfolds.

The Streets of San Ramon

After being a country guy these last few years in Costa Rica, I spent last week downtown on the streets of San Ramon. I love the energy of so many people outside ... walking, sitting in the park, chatting with friends. The near perfect 70 degree and sunny weather is a major contributing factor.

I stayed at Hotel La Posada which was comical, comfortable and convenient. The comical part is that after 8+ years living in San Ramon, I have never stayed at a hotel.

Many of the people I've met over the years I ran into on the streets, which helped me feel connected and cared for. The tradition of kissing the women and shaking hands with men just brings you closer.

I have a list of things I always do when I arrive in Costa Rica that seem too expensive when I'm in Ithaca, NY. I love fueling the local economy and indulging, but also feel grateful at how fair and modest the prices are. I visited Dra. Jenny, the dentist and had my teeth checked, cleaned and a cavity filled. Oljer gives the best massages and helped put me in the pura vida mode. Then to my old fashioned barber shop for a haircut and shave that had me styling and relaxed.

In the evening, I met Jimmy and other friends at Bocaditos for drinks and dinner. Very civilized, inexpensive and social. I love their fish in garlic sauce w/potatoes and salad; C1900/$3.75. It was lively and happening every time I was there and the open air setting is festive and fun. I also visited Alonso and Sergio at Rincon Poeta, my former haunt for many years.

An alt to the bar scene has developed in San Ramon recently. The afternoon coffee and pastry scene is thriving and well done. I spent sessions with friends at both Cafe Delicias and Cafe Aroma throughout my week. Cafe con leche, milkshakes, chocolate cake, sticky buns and more gave me the sugar rush I needed.

Life has many sides. I love the beauty and tranquility of La Paz, but this week I was thriving on the gritty, bustling streets of San Ramon. I am amazed when I feel how I am immersed in this small Costa Rica city. Lots of smiling faces, people calling my name and a real sense of belonging.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eat Pray Love

On the long plane ride to Costa Rica, I devoured the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is the story of a divorced woman who feels broken and her journey back to life. She divides a year into 3 – four month periods where she eats in Italy, prays in India and loves in Indonesia (and does lots of other stuff also).

I cried, laughed, and shook my head as an exclamation point as I read the book. When I came to San Ramon, I was in a similar place to the author. Sometimes you need a physical journey to shake your life up. No old friends or family, no familiarity, no patterns and no idea where it is all going.

Everybody has their own way of transformation and their magical people and places that impact them in big ways. This is a cool book for anyone who needs some inspiration to make their life a true reflection of themselves.

A special thanks to my friend Greg who gave me this book. Over coffee, beer, tequila and food we’ve spent 28 years supporting each other through our ups and downs. Sometimes a friend can believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.

They say life is about the journey not the destination. Check out Eat Pray Love to stimulate your own personal journey.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Unique Opportunity: House for Sale in San Ramon, Costa Rica

Moving to a foreign country can be a daunting experience. Rather than an exercise solely in price and value, there are many other issues to creating a successful and happy life ... after the purchase. We have a house for sale in La Paz, outside San Ramon that is all set up for a new owner to enjoy Costa Rica and move smoothly into life in another country and culture with no hassles. We are offering OUR very special, San Ramon home for sale.

After 8 years in San Ramon, Costa Rica ... we are integrated into the local scene as few foreigners are. While many ex-pats flocked to the beach, we found that living in the mountain town of San Ramon a far better alternative. It has milder weather, real Costa Rican culture, a hospital and university and is just 45 minutes from the international airport and an hour from the Pacific Ocean.

We bought this home, Quinta Mama, from an 80-year-old Tica who connected with Janet over the gardens and peaceful porch sitting. In the past two years, the house has been totally renovated to highlight it's charm yet upgrade with new plumbing, electric, hot water, finished ceilings, two new bathrooms, and many finishing decorative touches. This is no easy task in a very different culture, but Janet's experience as an architect and preservationist and my relationships with contractors, neighbors and building supply stores made for a smooth and successful upgrade.

The house is located in La Paz about 20 minutes on a paved road from San Ramon, yet offers a rural lifestyle and environment from another era. The friendliness and slow pace of life in La Paz is unique in a rapidly changing world. Our neighbors use oxen to transport their sugar cane and their life revolves around their family and community. A few other ex-pats have joined us here over the last few years attracted to the natural beauty and quiet lifestyle. It is also an area where a number of Costa Rican professionals have simple weekend homes.

La Paz is one of the more pristine places in the world. About a mile past our house, the road ends for vehicles at the river crossing and horses are needed to continue. At this point, it is all nature with reserves and conservation land stretching all the way to Arenal, Monteverde and Santa Elena. The air and water are as pure as it gets and the area is a haven for birds and butterflies. The house itself is on the route of the Quetzal and the numerous flowering shrubs and trees provide refuge to other rare birds who make our land their home.

Our land is totally organic and bursting with fruit trees, vegetables and flowering shrubs. The half acre plot is all accessible and can feed many families. As a guy originally from NYC, it's been ironic eating all this amazing food from just outside my house ... year round. I love taking hikes in these hills and there is easy swimming and fishing in the river.

Of course the most important thing in owning a home in Costa Rica is the neighbors. We have been accepted as part of the community. Everybody in La Paz knows us by name and always has time to say hi and smile as they pass. The kids come by and practice their English and eat bananas. I have learned how to make fresh tortillas and empanandas with the Arias family from corn grown on our land.

Our neighbors also take care of our house when we are gone. The gardens are tended and the house is safe and clean. This is the real Costa Rica which is getting harder to find as development transforms the country.

Due to some family health issues, we need to sell our home at this time. The price of $88,000 includes everything; just bring a suitcase. Taxes are $25 a year and electric, phone and water bills are each $5-10 a month.

We are ready to help the next owners enjoy this very special place and make it their own. For more photos and info go to

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Riteve: Costa Rica Car Inspection 2010

One of my least favorite things to do in Costa Rica is have our annual car inspection. Costa Rica subcontracts a Spanish company to do car inspections and the process is frustrating and complicated. Having a 25-year-old car with 200,000 plus miles certainly doesn’t help the situation.

Other Central American countries don’t have a daunting system like this and in New York State the inspections are done by mechanics who fix whatever problems they find so the process is seamless. Here, you pay ~$20 and if you don’t pass, you must go elsewhere to rectify the failures and then return to start the process again.

Our experience started out hectic. To prepare for inspection, our mechanic Wilbur in San Ramon had to adjust our carburetor to improve our emissions which made the car barely drive, a maximum of 10-15 mph uphill with lots of backfiring. Driving to Riteve was a challenge. Despite our repairs, we went through the Riteve obstacle course and failed. After explaining our predicament to the “Man,” he told me to drive around and find a mechanic and return within 2 hours. We found a strategically placed mechanic within a kilometer who tinkered a little with our 1985 Mitsubishi Montero and refused to take any money for his services. Amazingly, when we returned the employees at Riteve felt some sympathy and employed a lenient interpretation for us. The gods were looking out for us as we eventually passed after lots of smiling, pleading and connecting. We got our sticker and this stressful situation was somehow over. Honestly, I shed a few tears of relief as it took a lot out of me to make it work. My Spanish is mas o menos (more or less, mediocre) but in this culture, a heart to heart connection with someone goes a long way.

In order to register our car for 2010 we needed this inspection and at Dec 15, the clock was ticking. In New York State, registrations are cheap and similarly priced for cars whether they are new, old, cheap or expensive. In Costa Rica you pay your annual registration fee depending on the value of your car. Our fee was $88 while a new fancy car could cost over $1,000 a year just to register. In contrast, my house taxes in Costa Rica are only $40 a year vs. over $5000 in Ithaca, NY. It’s not a bad idea to tax to the max luxury cars while making it cheap for everyone to own a home with inexpensive property taxes, phone, electricity and water. What a concept!

From my least favorite task to the best of Costa Rica, a visit to the hot springs. Past years we went to Riteve in Alajuela and Puntarenas. This time we opted for Ciudad Quesada / San Carlos to combine it with an overnight at our favorite hot springs. I have been to Termales del Bosque in San Carlos between 15-20 times over the years and it remains the place I return to most often to recharge in the thermal waters and amazing natural setting. It is very different from Tabacon and Baldi which are more for tourists both price wise and lacking the awe-inspiring nature of Termales del Bosque. (See my blog from Nov.14, 2007 for more observations and photos of our favorite “quasi secret hot springs.”)

A highlight of this trip to the springs was meeting Danny, a 21-year-old Tico who recently started working at the front desk. He was graduating the next day from an intensive English class and said he didn’t get many opportunities to practice his English. He was cool, friendly and had overcome many obstacles to put his life in the positive place it was today.

We had a great 24 hours there with de-stressing soaks in the afternoon and following morning. The rooms are nice and after sitting in the hot springs, driving home the same day ruins the buzz of being totally relaxed. Our package included breakfast, dinner, room and 2 days in the hot springs.

Life is a roller coaster of highs and lows. The insanity of getting our car inspected followed by the ecstasy of sitting in the hot springs was a wild 2-day ride. Keeping balanced and centered through the ups and downs is a process and challenge. Living in another culture keeps life alive with a full spectrum of experiences and emotions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sunday ... At The End Of The World

When we moved from urban San Ramon to La Paz 2 years ago, we were the first and only foreigners in this country oasis. The phone line still ends just past our house and the last mile is on a primitive stone road. About 2 miles past our house the river crosses the road and you need a horse to enter the preserve that stretches all the way to Monteverde and Arenal. In many ways this is the end of the world ... just 20 minutes from San Ramon but as pure and natural as it gets.

In the time we've been here, a couple of folks have bought land past our house and built beautiful houses. It's nice having great new neighbors who also speak English and can be there for each other on this wild journey.

I used to have to go to San Ramon when I wanted more socializing and action. This past Sunday I went to 3 parties walking distance from my house. I never would have imagined this day a year ago.

I started out at an 11AM birthday party for Marielos, our wonderful Tico neighbor whose family has made our time here as smooth as can be. She made homemade corn tortillas and vegetable picadillo for a hearty topping. I didn't stay for the birthday cake as my tradition that grounds me in Costa Rica is watching the NFL on Sundays.

Off to Jeff and Jane's, a couple from Big Sur, California who have built a lovely modern home about a mile past our house. I love the locals but just having someone nearby who is from my culture makes a big difference. We had cocktails and watched some football.

The party shifted to Janet's, a brave 60 something who is La Paz's newest resident. Her land adjoins the preserve and is wild and "out there." My number one sidekick for my 8 years here Jimmy Lee joined us along with my partner Janet. Here we were at "the end of the world" watching the NY Giants (Los Gigantes) beat the Cowboys on satellite, enjoying snacks and drinks. Surreal to say the least!

No matter how native and natural a life we live here in Costa Rica, having a few friends nearby who speak English and have a similar cultural context is nice.

After 3 parties on Sunday we went back to our tranquilo life of sitting on our porch and watching the world go by ... very slowly.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Cheap Airfares To Costa Rica

In my lifestyle, airfare between the USA and Costa Rica is a recurring expense. I try to monitor and keep on top of the rapidly changing pricing that is hard to predict.

I just bought a ticket for $186 RT between NYC and San Jose/Alajuela (SJO). In almost a decade of doing this trip, this is the cheapest I have seen. I bought our tickets and wanted to alert all of you to the possibilities. I get regular updates from Travelocity which allows me to check numerous individual airline fares at one site. Some people prefer Expedia, Kayak and others.

It's gonna be cold, dark and snowing soon and having a $186 RT ticket is a great security blanket.

Here is the Travelocity link:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Micro-Giving in Costa Rica

While it's nice to donate to charitable organizations, it's always seemed impersonal and hard to see specifically how I was helping. Also, many organizations use up a lot of their funds on administrative expenses, real estate, staff etc. There are many wonderful organizations who do great work, but I'm enjoying being able to help people directly in La Paz and San Ramon.

Janet and I bought 2 used Apple laptop computers before our last trip to La Paz. Our plan was to donate one to the La Paz school to supplement the one old desktop computer that serves the whole school. The other was a gift to our neighbors, the Arias family who have never owned a computer or been on the internet.

Our neighbors love living in their pristine country setting. They have welcomed us as a filtered source of the bigger world outside. They don't travel, but we bring some exotica into their lives. Yet, they know that learning the internet and English are 2 things that will increase the options in the world ahead for their children.

It was comical going into San Ramon with Mariellas and Carlos (9) to use the WiFi at Cafe Delicias. They now have a Gmail account and access to all the information the internet has to offer. I don't think I have to worry about them becoming addicts like folks I have known, but they now have a good tool for connecting with people far away and learning whatever they are curious about.

We gave the other computer to the La Paz school and received a sincere heartfelt thanks and warm welcome. The principal, teachers and students all shared how surprised and appreciative they were of our donation. Cool stuff.

I'm hoping to volunteer to teach English at the La Paz school in the near future. Since many of the English teachers have never lived in an English speaking country, often their pronunciation or knowledge of common ways of speaking, idioms, expressions, slang etc. is limited.

It's great to donate money to charitable organizations who really help their target groups. For me, it's been nice to be able to give directly to my neighbors things of $$$ value and also share my experience. I have learned so much from them about how to successfully live in San Ramon. Life is good when there is balance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm Back... Wow!

I haven't written for a few months as life got hectic and challenging. After some time in the USA sorting it out, we returned to Costa Rica last night. This is the longest I had been away from Costa Rica in 8 years. As we drove from San Ramon to our little paradise in La Paz, life just became simpler and innocent, or as the locals say "muy tranquilo."

For me, the key to a good and successful life in Costa Rica is good neighbors. While we were away, the Arias family took care of our land and house so well... it made me teary eyed and oh so welcomed. As we drove up to our house, we saw the beckoning lights. Our house was clean and the kitchen was stocked with organic fruits and vegetables from our land.

After a long day (17 hours) of travel and months of stress, sleeping in this serenity is healing on so many levels. We awoke to clear blue skies and awesome mountain views. The birds sang at sunrise and the sounds of the river combined into a symphony for awakening.

As a bookend to one of the most difficult parts of my life, I feel very blessed at the moment. Life is an unfolding mystery that keeps changing. Time for a nap to soak it all in ... beyond words.

Monday, April 6, 2009

World Economic Crisis and San Ramon, Costa Rica

It is shocking how the world economy has changed from a year ago. Many people who felt flush with the equity in their houses, value of their stocks and secure jobs are now feeling much poorer as they look ahead. Living in the United States and other developed countries is expensive. It is a time when many are considering other options.

I feel lucky to have found San Ramon. San Ramon feels easier for me as the cost of living is relatively low, life is slower and people just seem to smile more. My property taxes are about $25 a year, electric bill $7 a month and the cost of purchasing my home very affordable. Food is local, fresh and alive with amazing fruits, vegetables and more. Going to restaurants and bars is a regular event and keeps me connected with friends and neighbors.

The financial crisis has opened people to new possibilities for the future. There are many places to explore. I've learned a lot in San Ramon about what is important. Living a happy, healthy life doesn't require big money. This has new importance in these financially challenging times.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Family Time in La Fortuna and Surfing at Playa Samara

This is Janet’s turn to blog:

In February, my teenage daughters spent two weeks with us exploring our world in La Paz and meeting our friends here. It was a special treat for me to share my Costa Rica life with them. We interspersed their trip with visits to some of our Costa Rica highlights: a day at the hot springs, a visit to La Fortuna, and surf time at Playa Samara.

It was wonderful seeing Madeleine and Lydia exploring La Paz with the local children, going for unexpectedly long likes, swimming in the river and sharing their slack line. We are amazed at how in two weeks they became comfortable in the language and culture of Costa Rica.

The girls came to Costa Rica determined to ride on a zipline. Our good friend Graciela made reservations for us at her family's famous Sky Tram and Sky Trek in La Fortuna ( in the shadow of Volcano Arenal. On the drive up to Sky Trek, we pulled off to take photos of the panoramic view of Lake Arenal. When we returned to the car, it wouldn’t start. This inconvenience became an opportunity for the girls to experience one of the true highlights of Costa Rica….the warmth and generosity of its people. We walked the final two hundred meters to the reception desk where the Sky Trek staff went out of their way to help us. While the girls rode the zip lines together, Sky Trek’s maintenance person did what we could to ascertain what was wrong with the car and help get it going. A local hotel owner at Sky Trek with her guests over heard my plight and stepped in to help. She offered us a ride back to La Fortuna with her guests and a room for the night at her comfortable Hotel Vista del Cerro ( By evening, her husband had helped tow our car back to the hotel, the hotel cook had given the car a once over by flashlight in the hotel parking lot and had pinpointed the problem before calling a local mechanic who came at night with his family to repair the car’s electric system. We left the next morning with a working automobile and many new friends.

Our days at Playa Samara were equally magical. The girls spent two days playing in the surf with our used surfboard. After many failed attempts to stand, the surf teachers at Surf Samara came to their rescue offering the use of a long, stable board for the day and some surf pointers ( The girls got up on the next try and were surfing like experts by the time we left the beach for home.

The final night was spent back in La Paz with our neighbors. We shared a feast. The Arias family contributed a chicken, rice dish and a tres leche that the girls helped make. We brought a salad and pasta with fresh vegetables for the most part from our shared garden. The evening ended with all the children piled on the beds giggling and playing. We will treasure this time together and everyone here will look forward to the chicatitasnext trip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Making Cheese Empanadas With The Neighbors

Being a former restaurant owner and foodie, I love learning about local foods. Costa Rica is blessed with some of the best fruits, vegetables, fish etc. in the world but local cuisine is sometimes lacking creativity and strong flavors.

Since moving to the country, my neighbor Mariellas has been inspirational in teaching me some local favorites. We just planted an organic vegetable garden that both our households will share and we also have plenty or oranges, limons and bananas on our land.

On a lazy Sunday, our neighbors invited us over to make cheese empanadas. Their family has cows and makes the local cheese which is a fresh cheese that looks like a cross between tofu and feta. Often the corn comes from our garden. A couple of weeks before, Mariellas taught me to make fresh corn tortillas. Together we husked our corn, then Hormidas and I took turns grinding it with a hand grinder. The tortillas were like none I had ever tasted before.

We made the dough with cornmeal, salt, grated cheese and a little water. They showed me how to use the tortilla press to make the shell which then got stuffed with more cheese. After a few minutes I was on my own making the empanadas and then frying them. I made about 20 that Janet and I shared with Hormidas, Mariellas and their 3 children. The tortilla press got demystified today and I'm ready to add it to my kitchen tools. I'm excited to start making simple corn tortillas and also to fill the empanadas with vegetables for variety.
I thought a city kid like me might feel isolated in the country, but I'm finding the opposite is true. My neighbors all stop by and chat and the kids have found me a definite curiousity. I'm looking forward to learning some new local dishes and more importantly to share the meals with my wonderful neighbors, the Arias family of La Paz.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Costa Rica 6.2 Earthquake ... January 8, 2009

Last Thursday Costa Rica had a major earthquake. The current information is 23 are dead, 11 are missing and 2,300 people have been left homeless. The epicenter was near Poas Volcano just a few hours from my home in San Ramon. President Arias declared some areas uninhabitable in the future. There were photos of people walking away with just a garbage bag filled with a few possessions with all else lost. The planet seems to be reacting strongly with extreme weather all over the world and natural disasters on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there was no damage or impact to the people, property and landscape of San Ramon and La Paz. Janet and I were out for a walk during the earthquake/terremoto and didn’t feel a thing. Others in our community felt the tremors, but fortunately little else. We were with our friend and neighbor Falo, showing us a property he wanted us to help him sell. A joyful afternoon of discovery followed while less than 50 miles away chaos ruled.

One thing I learn over and over again is trying to make plans in Costa Rica rarely works and is often frustrating. But lots of cool experiences occur when just taking a walk and being open. As we walked with Falo, he brought us to see the Trapiches in La Paz. Much of the Central Valley is planted with coffee but La Paz seems to be mostly sugar cane/cana. Our neighbors fill up their carts with harvested cane and with their oxen bring it to one of two local Trapiches. (Life and work here sweetly resembles that of 50 or more years ago.)

At the Trapiche the cane is pressed for the pure sweet liquid, then boiled and finally formed into cones of brown solid sweetness, tapa. Agua dulce is a traditional drink made by combining boiled water or milk with the dulce/sweet. At the Trapiche they also make candy that is mixed with yerba buena/mint. It was fun meeting more of my new neighbors and learning about what happens to all the sugar cane that grows here.

We walked home on a stone road thinking our day was winding down and in the middle of absolutely nowhere we discovered Panaderia La Paz. Like wanderers in the desert finding an oasis, we were greeted by 5 women baking and an assortment of sweet and savory breads just out of the oven. They offered us stools and we proceeded to sample their treats. We learned that they bake on Mondays and Thursdays and then package their goods and distribute them at pulperias/corner stores in the area. We now walk by on their baking days, hang out awhile and bring home a few bags of pastries and breads.

I thought I might get bored moving to the country after 8 years living in the center of San Ramon. I find with each day I’m enjoying my new life and connecting with my neighbors in La Paz, 20-30 minutes outside San Ramon. I’m learning a lot about simplicity, community, nature and a joy that doesn’t require a lot of money, things or complex thought patterns.