You Did What?

It's day 29 of our brand spanking new life in Costa Rica. Time to take a breath, and do a little 'splainin'. Here goes:

We arrived at the San Jose International Airport 28 January 06 with 16 bags of luggage and four laptops. We'd decided to move to Costa Rica for a year without ever having been here. Madness. In 2003, we almost took off for Mexico for a year. But the real estate market was hot, so we put that madness on the shelf. It really didn't matter where we went, just that we went somewhere exotic. This year, the dart landed on Costa Rica.

Key Westers have been visiting Costa Rica, buying property, moving here for years. No one ever said "I'm never going there again." In fact, EVERYONE who'd been here couldn't wait to get back! At first blush, it has tons to recommend it. Costa Rica has no army. The cost of living is less than home (just slightly). The ticos are peaceful, welcoming, warm. It's unbelievably green here with loads of geographical interest: 90 different mini-climates and not one of them with snow.

Hal and I made a scouting trip in December to make sure we didn't hate it. Within two days we found a house to rent, on a finca, no less (FEEN-kah, farm, in our case a coffee farm) and bought a car. EVERYONE, including paid consultants, told us we would never accomplish any of this until we'd been at it for at least 3 months, more likely six. But everything fell into place. Like magic. If I believed in signs, I'd have to say the universe is on our side. Since we don't believe in signs, I guess it's just plain dumb luck.

At home in Key West, we rented our house to the lovely and charming Avi for a year. My listings were farmed out to crackerjack fellow Realtors. We had the mother of all yard sales and sold all the stuff we had collected over 30 years, including the brand new (idle) Bowflex.

Car Our beloved Kathy Kilroy, who practically raised our children in her home child care business, bought the flower power CRV. More signs everywhere.

Our friends cried. We cried. We have wonderful friends and we miss them all. It's funny how you don't see people for weeks, months at a time. But you feel the love in Publix. That's nice. I can feel it all the way here, 3000 miles over open water. The plan is to be gone for a year, have our adventure (having it, oh yeah), break out a little. We figure it's the last chance we have to do anything with the boys before they hate us…

At the end of our escape, we'll return to our home and leather sofas in Key West. Despite the burnout we are experiencing now, there is much to love, in particular our friends and community. Thirty years is a long time to live someplace… we got ties!!! Unless the enthusiasm for real estate returns, however, I need a new career. So we have feelers out for a business – here or there, anywhere really. Not actively pounding the pavement, but the door is open to the universe for, um, signs.

Why. Everyone asks why. Even us. That's the $64,000 question. There are so many reasons why, I hardly know where to start. That won't stop me, of course.

Wilma took the last bit of wind out of our sails as far as Key West real estate. And in other ways, too. She was hard, relentless, unforgiving. Key West seems emotionally bereft at the moment. I feel like we're waking up after a two year binge, a huge happy hilarious drunk, and the hangover is really really unpleasant. Not the please-God-let-me-die headache hangover… this is worse. Where there was excitement, anticipation, there is now anxiety and a sinking feeling.

Last year, the topic was real estate conquests. This year, everyone is discussing their exit strategy. Sadly, many of my friends are leaving. Like everywhere, Key West's real estate market has enjoyed an overabundance of speculators in its game of musical chairs. The music has stopped and there just aren't enough chairs to go around. When the butts start hitting the floor, I don't want to be there.

Working… that's another big reason to run. My income stopped along with the music. After 11 years, I've been through some dry spells, certainly. But this one, coupled with intense burn-out, overtook me. I ran. I couldn't get out fast enough. Our market will come 'round again, but it will be awhile. In the meantime, I'm in no shape to help anyone slog through the muck!

Thank goodness I have a husband who squirrels away money. I do not. I have a penchant for stuff. Had. I have given up stuff in Costa Rica. You just don't need stuff here. Nobody has stuff. I bet I could open a store and sell stuff, though. I mean, everyone needs SOME stuff, right?

The straw that broke the camel's back, that sealed this deal, was the news that Hal's baby sister, Megan, 40 years old, was losing her 8-year battle with cancer. A last wish foundation gave her a Christmas trip to DisneyWorld with her 3 children and husband Ed. Everyone was there: her mom, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, all the families and we had a wonderful time. Megan is amazing. She spent 3 of the 5 days in and out of hospital but was with us laughing and chatting every other minute. What a gift.

And guess what? Megan is in remission. It's a flat out miracle. Nobody really knows how this happened, but after spending 5 days with me, she is healed. Coincidence?

One day while we were planning Christmas in DisneyWorld, Hal and I looked at each other and said "what are we waiting for?" Wilma had struck, the income account was a black hole, we are cancer-ready ages, suddenly past the time when you can count on living what you've lived over again, two teenagers who still like us (we might be down to one, I'm not sure at this exact moment) and a thirst for…. something.

If it hadn't been for Wilma, we would not be here. I am grateful. We've been wanting to run but have never been "ready." How do you know you're ready? The universe will send a hurricane and stop your paycheck. Be on the lookout.

Somehow we ended up here: on the side of a mountain in Costa Rica. On a finca, no less. Life in Costa Rica is something… breathtaking, frustrating, hilarious. Here's the start of the tale. Algo más… pronto! Love, Saratica

Algo más pronto = ALL-go MAHSS PRAWN-toe, something more soon!

4 comments to You Did What?

  • George Maffei

    hey Saratica, remember me? I own a townhouse in 29 Spoonbill Way, Key West, and you used to send me real estate information –I found this blog very interesting and enlightening, and hilarious at times–I contemplated and researched going to Costa Rica for the past 6 years and was thrilled and happy for you to make that great adventuresome escape –I like your writing style and if you keep it up you might be the next Frances Mayes, the author of Bella Tuscany –if you recall a movie was made based on her experiences there, similar yours in CR.
    I would love to come down to see both CR and Panama for a week and check out the real estate market and see why so many expatriates are going there and if I’m lucky enough to find a nice property I might contemplate selling my KW investment and be the next expat. KW cost of living has been exorbitant, and too many cruise ships, the Transient Law rental has really killed any incentive to make a decent living. I love KW and like you, maybe it s time to move on. Going to buy me a plane ticket and fly into San Jose for the first part of January and check out everything in your blog you referred.
    Please keep writing and posting these interesting observations you encounter in CR–you are truly blessed with having a great family and support network . That is wonderful!
    Please feel to email me anytime –I will tell my contacts at the Key West Golf Course about your blog.

  • Cat

    Hi there – is Megan still okay? I’m going to Costa Rica for the first time with my husband in May. I did a Google search and found your story and was entranced. I do hope your adventure has turned out wonderfully.

  • Hi again, Cat. Megan is in heaven, she died a year ago. I wrote about that here:
    http://www.abroadincostarica.com/megan/. She went kicking and screaming, God bless her. We miss her but so glad she is not suffering and having to fight that losing battle another minute. Thank you for asking.
    Enjoy your trip – it’s a beautiful place. Addicting… our adventure is still going on…

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