Uvita, Costa Rica and the North Fork Valley: A Tale of Discovery

After years of dreaming and plotting, my family and I embarked on a month long trip to Costa Rica this winter. We hadn’t talked about Costa Rica as a particular destination much at all. The plan was more an open concept. Relocate the family for an extended period of time somewhere in Latin America and be open to what unfolds. When I say we “plotted and dreamed” in reality it was mostly me who brought up “The Plan”. Put simply, I have come to no longer appreciate the weather Colorado has to offer in the winter. Mexico was always the place we thought we’d spend more time. But after witnessing the royal trashing of some of our past Mexican destinations due to popularity bombs as well as an increasing number of severed heads appearing in more and more resort cities we thought Costa Rica might be a safer, cleaner alternative.

Not being your typical tourists we sidestepped the zipline tours and volcanos and sought out a relatively quiet southwest corner of the country to spend 30 days in one spot absorbing what we could from this iconic place. We rented a house in the mountains with a view of the Pacific ocean from the front porch and a view of pristine rainforest covered mountains and ridges out the back door. Howler monkeys would bellow every morning at the crack of dawn always invisible to us across the canyon while Toucans and Scarlet Macaws among dozens of other colorful birds screeched from the 75 foot tall forest canopy. Costa Rica is, in my opinion ,“Latin America lite” and a great place to dip ones toes into Latin Culture. Due to heavy gringo influence from America, Canada, and Europe, Costa Rica resembles more a dusty version of Northern California 40 years ago. The land here is clean, as is the water. The ecosystem is balanced. Everyone and thing seems to be getting along well even the bugs were pretty tame for living in a house in the middle of the jungle. The Ticos, are pleasantly laid back, family oriented, and good natured folks. Costa Rica is somehow ranked as the happiest country in the world and after a month soaking up this place I would agree wholeheartedly. But I sense a foreboding among some Ticos here and its a similar feeling I get in good ol’ Western Colorado and the North Fork Valley.

Our family became friends with a sweet local family down our road. Caroline is actually from Belgium and migrated to Costa Rica via Mexico years ago. Her partner is Alex is Tico, the term used for Costa Rican nationals. They are a very hard working couple with 3 small children trying to hold on to the small corner of the world they know and love. We were immediately taken in and introduced to other beautiful friendly people living in the Jungle around us, some Tico and some not. Caroline and Alex help manage several vacation rentals along our road including the one we rented. She also bakes bread to sell in her humble jungle house.  It has been good steady work that they are grateful for and that they consider much better than the alternative: working in the resort or tourism industry in the beach towns along the coast. Caroline, being fluent in french, spanish and english, has also been helping to broker real estate deals between gringos and Ticos. She has even described times when she has witnessed fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting Ticos and brought it to light. She is on the front lines of the culture shift that has been ongoing in Costa Rica since the 80’s. Over the past couple years, parcels of land easily within her price range sprinted out of sight once gringo hands touch them. Following the trend, Caroline is desperately working to secure a piece of land for her own family on this mountain before its too late. Its not unlike the current trend in the North Fork valley as upwardly mobile buyers inadvertently price first time home buyers or people of lower means out of the market due to the intense demand for property. Like Colorado, beautiful areas in Costa Rica that have flown under the radar are being discovered and built up with vacation rentals that are usually occupied by the owner for a couple weeks a year. The trend is gradually pushing out Ticos who can no longer afford the steep price of real estate and are forced to seek more economical housing in towns and cities further from where they work.

It is apparent for better or worse the Costa Rican government and its people are more than happy to receive pasty skinned gringos looking for a taste of adventure and Pura Vida. Simply translated as “pure life” Pura Vida is Costa Rica’s motto. The country’s economy is built on Pura Vida and the tourism that it attracts. Realizing this, its government has made bold moves to protect this beautiful landscape and its natural resources. They have realized that a protected natural resource is worth more in the long run than open season on the environment. Over the past 30 years the country has gone from an alarming rate of deforestation due to logging to a steady annual increase of its amazing rain forests. 99% of its electricity comes from renewables, mostly hydropower. The country is clean and its citizens take pride in their country.

 

Gringos however, have fallen for this place and are buying up land, building retreat and yoga centers and building vacation homes at a rapid pace. Old time Ticos who have for generations owned land in the more remote portions of the country are more than happy to cash out to gringos in the throws of Costa Rican love affairs. Our neighborhood if you can call it that is 4km up a steep gravel road about 1000 ft in elevation above the coast. The road follows a ridge with astounding views of the ocean on one side and a densly forested canyon on the other. The parcels of land range in size from 3000 square feet to 60 acres or more. Currently the area feels very rural. There may be 5 cars traveling up and down our road each day. Here and there remnants old world Tico farms that are little more than bamboo shacks with a smattering of banana and coconut trees intermingle with gorgeous modern gringo vacation rentals with swimming pools and sliding walls that open to rainforest and ocean views. It should be noted there is not one gringo in this area who lives here year round but there are several Ticos who still do. When we arrived in January there were, on either side of us, hand made ‘for sale’ signs advertising “land with waterfall” or “borders waterfall”. Immediately adjacent another exquisite property of 6 acres w/pool with 2 off grid small homes that could easily grace the cover of Dwell magazine with an asking price of around $500k. 3 weeks after we arrived all those properties have now changed hands. With the exchange, from Tico hands to Gringo hands those prices jump exponentially and here lies the crux.

Caroline is well aware of what’s happening and has fear that she will get left behind and be forced to relocate off this beautiful forest lined ridge, a place she has raised her family and has a deep connection with. In the meantime she is becoming more savvy to real estate transactions. One recent transaction in play that is far from over would pay Caroline’s commission as a small parcel of land of which she is very excited for. But like all real estate deals she is well aware that nothing is for sure until the deal closes.

Meanwhile, my family and I have become more and more entranced with all that Costa Rica has to offer. The clean warm ocean, the pure streams and rivers, the endless verdant forests, the abundance of clean, wild, local food (coconuts are our favorite) and the very “island like” pace. As a bonus I was able to stay on top of work at home and freely communicate with clients due to the robust wireless communications network. Most times cell service bested the North Fork Valley! But our favorite part of our snowbird sojourn I feel we will miss most (other than not really needing any clothes) is being a part of this mountaintop community overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Ticos are so welcoming, mellow, and down to earth. The pace of this country is ‘muy tranquillo’ a trait we truly appreciate. Even the somewhat transient and pasty white expats (not unlike myself) who occupy numerous country-centric communities seemed to have more or less incorporated the Pura Vida lifestyle. In my short time here I, like Caroline, have started to wonder just how long Pura Vida can last as long as the “discovering” of this place continues. In essence they are the same concerns I have for the North Fork Valley as its own “discovery” continues.

Jay Canode is a realtor, photographer, and hacker of words in the North Fork Valley of Colorado. He wrote this post from Costa Rica where he is pretty sure he will return one day.

North Fork Fall Market Report (Damn!)

Real estate in the North Fork valley is raising eyebrows. Its fall 2017 and buyers are starting to exhibit sticker shock driven due to ever increasing demand while sellers are quite excited at what buyers seem to be willing to pay to secure a piece of our lovely valley of milk and honey! October real estate stats for the valley are out and have some telling numbers. The median sales price year to date when compared to last year in the North Fork Valley saw an increase of 4.9% through October.  Inventory (Month supply of inventory) for September and October 2017 was approximately 30% less than those months in 2016. The number of new and sold listings in October were down nearly 30% when compared to October 2016. Inventory remains a problem!  One could contend Paonia is driving the trends in the Valley. The closer one gets to Paonia the more demand and sale price have increased and the more supply has decreased.

What do these numbers mean for those looking to buy or sell property? If you are in the market to buy and our recent price spike has you shaking your head my advice is get your foot in the door or get ready for more of the same. In times like these its good to house hunt with compromise in mind. In all likelihood you will be competing with several other buyers for a piece of property that does not meet your desires or expectations! Just remember the Western Colorado is a very unique little piece of the world and most homes are of the older, less updated variety!. The North Fork Valley has become increasingly desirable and there just isn’t enough property to go around to meet demand. Higher prices and lack of inventory continue to make for a very competitive buyers market. National trends (always a year or so ahead of local trends) indicate similar things are in store for the future. A record stock market, low unemployment, and very low interest rates are fueling the frenzy nationwide and has infiltrated into the North Fork Valley. “Experts” claim this will continue well into 2018. If you are set on buying into this market be prepared to put your boxing gloves on because lots of other people have the same idea.

If you are thinking about selling well congratulations! You are in the catbird seat! Its a seller’s market currently no doubt. While historically winter on the western slope sees a lull in home buying, not so much the last couple years. Home prices continue to inch higher month by month on the western slope of Colorado and more so in the North Fork. My advice for sellers is don’t bide your time for too long expecting the market to keep skyrocketing and don’t try to overshoot the market when you are ready to list your house with a realtor. This trend (bubble) will end. When? One excellent indicator to keep track of is the Denver housing market. Currently its chugging along just like the little old North Valley and as long as Denver Market is going “great guns” so too it seems will the North Fork. But some prognosticators see ominous signs on the horizon.

Its hard to see a housing market that is guaranteeing the transformation of a culture. I believe we are beginning to  see this shift in Paonia in particular. It has quickly morphed into a market where first time home buyers or those with more limited means can no longer get their foot in the door. People of means can rapidly change the face of a place. Is it better? Is it worse? Well I suppose it doesn’t bode well for those people who really want to be here but can no longer afford to buy here. I do think its worth pointing out that the people attracted to this place aren’t moving here because of jobs, but instead recognize the unique gifts this place has to offer: water, air, a perceivable buzz in the air, and like minds that cooperate and coalesce around important issues. I refer to Paonia as the “Mayberry of Colorado”. Its quirky, friendly (pay no mind to the Paonia Message Board!), and slow. Its a throwback to small town America of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. A great place for young and elderly children alike. Its why my wife and I moved here 10 years ago.  I see the current culture shift as needed but I lament the things that will change. Longtime elders on the front porch waving to everyone that walks or drives by. Passers by on the street who have time for a chat. The oh so welcoming nature of people grounded and comfortable in a community they have lived in and contributed to for 25 years or more. But on the other hand the amount of vacant store fronts in downtown Paonia continues to shrink and new friendly faces seem to arrive daily along with new ideas and fresh energy!

I suppose these changes are not unique to this place alone. I can only hope those core elements that attract new people here are remembered, carried forward and preserved. We can’t stay the same place we were 30 years ago nor should we.  We must move forward, morph, and improve things hopefully at the same time. Its the roots of a place that in the long run can save that place. Just like those grandmother trees that can send roots deep underground and stand through the strongest of storms, so too can a community if we remember and use our roots to our advantage in times of change.

 

Jay Canode writes words, shoots pictures, and is a realtor in Paonia, Colorado. 970.799.8918  JayCanode@hotmail.com

North Fork Valley Weekend Getaway-The Great American Eclipse 2017

Editors note!:The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was an 8 hour drive from Paonia.  While not adhering to The North Fork Nutshell’s official parameters for our irregular feature “North Fork Weekend Getaway” , this potential once in a lifetime occurrence was the exception and thus complies with our strict Weekend Getaway parameters!

 

 

 

As T-day approached (Day of Totality)  no hard plans were being made in the Canode/Williams household to make the pilgramage to the hinterlands of the American West in order to view the total eclipse of the sun. In the weeks and days before the event I’d occasionally throw out to my wife Amy, “The eclipse is coming. We gonna go?” But only received back  vague and non-commital responses. Both of us had read and heard that there’s no comparing a partial eclipse to Totality but there was some resistance from my better half. Amy practices Ayurveda (The east Indian Art and science of Life) and Vedic Astrologers, considered to be the oldest and deepest practitioners of astrology in the world, suggested going inside, putting one’s head under the covers, and wait out any Total Eclipse of the Sun. These same astrologers also have prognosticated that this particular eclipse would spell total doom for our current president Donald Trump, which is intrigueing in and of itself. I didn’t particularly care that the Vedas were warning against bathing in Totality. As Amy described it, “All our skeleton’s get woken up and kicked out of the closet after an eclipse.” That was fine with me. I was game for a closet cleaning anyway. But as the day of Totality approached it was time to defecate or get off the pot. It seemed enough people were singing the fantastical virtues of experiencing Totality on Youtube and Facebook that we had to see what the fuss was about. So we loaded up the family truckster, threw caution to the wind and made a B-line for Lander, Wyoming, the closest place to see totality. (And incidentally and very importantly clear skies were in the forecast!)

 

 

 

Thus, we (wife and I, son Edan, new friend Jake, and friendly but annoying dog Brahmi) embarked from Paonia on Saturday with a fuel up, lunch up, and stock up of provisions in Grand Junction.  Adequately weighted down for the 8 hour drive, we headed over lonely Douglas Pass, skirted Dinosaur Monument, and camped out just outside Vernal, Utah in the high country of Ashley National Forest. Ashley seemed very thirsty and well used with evidence of prolific tree disease as well as intense logging. Lots of traffic on the back forest roads which seemed to revolve around logging and hunting. Edan had a great time gathering plentiful firewood off the ground, poking at the subsequent pine camp fire, and of course roasting marshmallows over said fire. We’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter to Edan what our final destination is for family trips as long as marshmallows and campfires are involved! Amy went to bed early while Jake and I watched the fire die and speculated on what we would experience during our time in Totality. I was starting to feel the skeletons knocking.

 

 

 

Sunday, the last leg of the trip, would find us at our final destination of Lander by dusk. We drove over and looked longingly at the swimming holes of Flaming Gorge reservoir but  were anxious to get to where we needed to be. There was lots of talk about the millions of people like us who were doing the same thing we were doing all over the United States. We had no idea what to expect in terms of traffic or crowds but we knew we didn’t want to be last in line to the show. Thus far in the pilgramage, state highways were desolate, empty, and as always in desperate need of repair. We lunched  in the oil/gas/coal town of Rock Springs, WY in a little park decorated with an army tank and a fighter jet, and hid out from the intense August sun in the shade of some fir trees. Edan was convinced the fighter jet was fake. I spent a bit of time trying to prove it was real.

 

When we reached Lander our first stop was the Shoshone National Forest headquarters. What a welcome committee! Having no clue about the lay of the land we were so thankful and surprised by the warm, friendly, and extremely helpful government employees and working on a Sunday no less! They provided us with free maps with exact overlays of the path of Totality and even how long to expect Totality at a particular latitude. After patient explanations of what places had already crowded out  we made the choice to check out a desolate swath of BLM scrub land about an hour north. Off we went north into what was considered maximum Totality (still no traffic really) and found some nice running water but with about 100 cows and enough cow shit to make walking a bit like hopscotch. Adjacent however to this well used BLM paddy was Boysen state Park surrounding a large reservoir. While there were perceptibly more people like us milling about the park for looking for the perfect spot there was still plenty of places to stretch out and stake a claim…for free! On that subject it was interesting to see all the fields, lots, and private land that had signs to “View the Eclipse Camping: $80. Most of those lots were empty but a few off major highways were filling up. The pack mentality always interests me…. but always from afar. We hunkered down, took refuge from the dry, hot, Wyoming wind and sun on the leeward side of our truck and waited for the big event.

 

Monday started warm and breezy. At around 10:20am I looked up with my handy eclipse glasses and could see a small nibble appearing at about 11oclock on the sun.  To celebrate the 3 of us us boys went and jumped in the lake to wash off our roadtrip scuzz. By the end of our dip we could already percieve a drop in temperature and a less intense light. I went and got my cameral gear and we climbed a nearby hill that revealed expansive views in all directions. Adjacent to us a hundred yards or so a someone hollared to us and motioned us over. It was an amateur astronomer with his family from Michigan with various telescopes and viewing devices and he was eager to share with us. My 7 year old performed a quick inspection and quickly fell into deep conversation of Pokemon and Minecraft with another boy at the astonomer’s camp. By then the eclipse was around 75% or so and the sun continued its slow dimming feature.

 

At around 95% or so things start to get a bit fuzzy. Not knowing what to expect I had prepared to take a night time picture. You can see the image of Totality I managed to capture above and the wide shot just before totality but these photos do little to convey the what was going on. It was unlike anything I/we have ever experienced. The massive approaching shadow from the west, the planets peaking out of an almost black mid day sky, the substantial (chilly?) drop in temperature (My son put his jacket on!), animals, birds, and insects behaving as if the sun had set, etc, etc… In hind site, even though I am a professional photographer/videographer  I would not have spent the precious 2 minutes of Totality fiddling with my camera. I’ve come to realize it was such an unbelievably rare and fleeting experience that 100% of ones attention is required to soak it all in. Because not only does the event itself rarely occur, but the weather HAS to cooperate. One has to be able to have an unobstructed view of the sun to fully realize what is happening, and even then it is a truly unbelievable sight and does not compare to even a 95% solar eclipse!

 

In conclusion, it was well worth the 16 hours of driving it took to experience 2 minutes of a total eclipse of the sun. It is something I will never forget, and I hope it stuck with my 7 year old as well. On the way back to Paonia we took a luxurious dip in Flaming Gorge reservoir and Edan took his first flying leap off a cliff (6 feet) into a lake! We had some awesome mexican food at Tacos el Gordo in Vernal, Utah. And that my friends is the end!

P.S. Still waiting for my skeletons to appear, but my wife says it could take a year or so. Same goes for Donald Trump.

Damn its Hot! But the Real Estate Market is Hotter.

Its official friends. Summer is here and we’ve had a pretty darn long run of scorching days in the North Fork Valley. Coincidentally we have now reached and surpassed the scorching property values seen at the top of 2008 housing bubble! Are we now in another bubble? I won’t touch that question with a 10 foot fruit picker! As a 10 year resident of Paonia and a realtor, I have mixed feelings about where our real estate market is heading. My wife and I relocated here after an extensive search of potential spots in the Southwest U.S.. What we found here was undeniably the best value for the lifestyle we were searching for, a small, friendly mountain town with lots of water and low enough in elevation to experience and participate in a sustainable lifestyle where food can be grown. I like to refer to it as the “Mayberry of Colorado”. But are the quaint porch swinging days of Mayberry numbered?

Today I believe the North Fork Valley still offers value and offers a wonderful lifestyle but property prices are increasing rapidly. Fueled by the sizzling real estate market of Denver and the Front Range, local housing prices have taken some pretty dramatic jumps in the past 6 months and buyers are not balking. The allure of a semi- rural lifestyle in a beautiful, quiet, creative community at relatively affordable price is strong! In small communities with limited means this can create problems. This subject has been covered extensively in recent years in Colorado. Housing prices surpass income levels of the people inhabiting them leaving its teachers, service and blue collar workers, farmers and civil servants in a pinch. Instead of being able to reside in the communities in which they work and contribute to the quality of a healthy community, they are forced “down valley” or out of the region altogether. In Paonia and surrounding communities its a bit different…for now. The North Fork isn’t a big tourist draw nor does it have much in the way of blue collar jobs anymore. . There are literally a couple of small hotels and B&B’s, and a small handful of restaurants. Our community is unique however. We are in the midst of a “new economy” fueled in large part by net-commuting and folks who don’t necessarily rely on the immediate community for their livelihoods.. We are well endowed with ultra creative citizens who wear many hats to make ends meet.  But low overhead is the key to making this lifestyle work. Until recently one didn’t have to make a lot of money to live comfortably in the North Fork Valley. But housing prices, the highest expense for most folks in America, have a huge impact on the “health” of a community. Old shabby rentals are purchased, flipped for as much profit as possible, and usually exit the rental market either as full time or part time homes due to Airbnb. Retirees looking to find warmer winters down south are looking to cash in on their nests. As property changes hands for ever increasing amounts soon our community starts to take on an exclusive atmosphere where only certain demographics can afford to live here.

I’m sure it seems strange for you, dear reader, that a Realtor in the North Fork such as myself is discussing this subject! I am positioned to profit directly from the changes I speak of. To be honest part of me is torn to be participating in this culture shift. Really though is there anyone or thing to blame? I certainly can’t blame my clients or hold them in contempt for what is happening. Over the past year I have seen time and time again sellers overriding the comparative market analysis prepared for them by veteran realtors in the North Fork Valley in favor of their own much higher price tags. With the nature of our recent low inventory and high demand many times sellers are receiving these higher prices! (Price your home TOO high however and it can become stigmatized and shelved, remaining on the market for years.)  Beginning in the early 70’s housing values in the U.S started to take a noticeable steep upward curve. We have started to treat our real property like a savings/retirement account or even a lottery ticket. Many have gotten filthy rich from real estate and many (see housing bubble 2008) have lost everything. Shows like “Flip this House’ add “Flip or Flop” bolster the culture of cashing in on the housing market. Its an honest living and keeps people working albeit not too reliably.

In an area like the North Fork Valley development has already reached maximum penetration for the most part. We aren’t going  to be seeing any 50 lot subdivisions built any time soon. The demand isn’t there nor is there enough water to supply new housing. For the time being as long as buyers continue to look at this valley with goo-goo eyes (and why shouldn’t they?!) without enough cute little bungalows to meet demand we will continue to see an increase in people priced out of the area. We are in the midst of a culture shift which has its negatives and positives. The frenzy has just begun here and there are still great deals on real estate to be had.  All I can really suggest is to get to know your neighbor whether they just moved in or have lived there for 50 years. If you happen to find out they’re thinking of retiring and leaving the area tell them to give me a call! Free comparative market analyses for all!

Jay Canode is a realtor, multi-media producer, dad, husband, volkswagen caretaker, and resident of Paonia, Colorado.  He is the administrator of NorthForkNutshell.com

North Fork Valley Getaway Spring 2017

Living in western Colorado is like living in the middle of everywhere! A 3-4 hour drive in any direction can result in practically anything a human heart desires (short of an ocean that is). The urban experience in Denver, alpine high country of several exotic flavors, ski towns that are full of themselves as well as their less pretentious brethren, and to the west awaits the luxurious desert and pyschic void of southeast Utah, which is the subject of this particular pile of phrases and photographs.

Come April in Colorado my family starts yearning for the warm breezes that tend to swirl around red rock, exquisite deep canyons, the calls of the desert wren, the scent of juniper trees, and the vibrant blossoms of cacti and globe mallow. Fortunately for us there is Utah’s Canyon Country. Herein however, lies a seasonal problem; Utah canyon country, the national parks, and Moab and the mind blowing natural attractions are an absolute zoo this time of year. With the notoriously fickle but mostly mild weather of March-May everyone and their mom has their sites set on southeast Utah,  Its Disneyland in the desert. But what follows is a secret loophole! I usually am not one to reveal these types of secrets in a public forum but I am fairly confident that you will probably never try to do what our party of 14 did this year. Its too tough, too rough, too much planning, and plenty of room for failure and chaos.

I picked a place I had heard of for many years but never had the proper vehicle make the voyage. After acquiring a 4 Wheel Drive Toyota truck last fall and stuffing it with a offroad camper shell I was itching to break it in the rig.  I chose the White Rim trail, a bucket list overland wilderness adventure trip within the boundaries of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Sounds dreamy doesn’t it? Well it is/was. 100 miles of backcountry travel over a rough road originally carved out during the Uranium Boom of the 1950’s. Severely exposed, rutted, and rocky, the road doesn’t allow for much beyond 10mph in a loaded pickup truck. Bicycle or motorcycle travel are  far more suitable methods to traverse this epic route. In fact these days most folks who travel this route pedal on 2 wheels as part of organized tours that are vehicle supported. Our group of 14 all had bicycles except little Ari who was just taking her first steps! There were 3 vehicles (the limit for our back country permit) and we all took turns driving and pedaling the Sag-wagons as we referred to them.

Rather than a word based account of our adventure I’m opting for the photographic evidence. I’m a far better photographer than I am writer anyway! I will tell you however the steps involved to plan this trip. Exactly 4 months and 1 minute before the first day you want to ca

Looking South West off the edge of Island in the Sky

The boys and the rig. White Rim trail.

Sunrise @ Airport Camp.

Edan. Long Canyon behind.

Quick brisk dunk for the boys. Colorado River side ride.

Out the backdoor of the rig. Murphy Hogback Camp

Veranda @ Murphy Hogback

Buds in the Backcountry.