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.