On Friday, Hal and I drove to the southern Pacific area to visit a
small hotel that needs an operator. We'd met the owner a couple of
weeks ago, liked each other, had similar goals… just needed to case
the joint. So, we spent the day in DUO (Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal),
going to the farmer's market, seeing the hotel, ate
at a couple of really good restaurants. We spent the night with friends
who own a beautiful house with a spectacular view (that's their sunset),
then drove home to reflect.
We loved the hotel. There is so much possibility there: great kitchen for Hal to whip up a few comidas fantasticas.
Well-maintained rooms, plenty of operator living space, lively colors,
fantastic view of the ocean. Perfect spot to build a yoga tiki hut
overlooking the water. It was nice to see we still love the towns of
DUO… really mostly UO – D is too touristy! But there is a lovely
sense of community there that you only get in a small isolated area –
nice. Reminds me of Key West, and not just the heat. I could definitely
see myself living there for a few years.
But it is not to be. The hotel biz is tough there. Since we were last in that area,
about a zillion hotel rooms have been built. The highway is lined with
signs for hotels, villas, cabinas, spas, apartotels, you name it. That
zillion does not include all the vacation rental properties that have
sprung up. You know, second homes rented out part-time to vacationers.
Which brings total rooms for rent to somewhere over a zillion.
Fully half of them are for sale. And most of them are empty. It's
Christmas week, one of the two busiest weeks of the year (the other is
Semana Santa, Easter) and there are plenty of places to stay. This
can't be a good sign. Since we are actually looking to lease a b&b/small hotel
rather than be a caretaker/employee, we have to consider the financial
future of any investment, even if said investment is small on money,
big on time. This all looks too risky for us right now.
the thing: whole towns were built up around a real estate boom. Escazú,
Key West, Orlando, the same phenom in every town that had a boom. In an
isolated area like this, it is abundantly clear, no getting around it.
many people lived there in 2002 when this was all sleepy fishing and
surfing villages? I'll bet a tiny fraction of the people who live there
now. I'm also thinking in a year or so, the population will be closer
to pre-boom levels. Practically everyone we've met there, this time and
last, is in a real estate related business: property buyer/seller,
developer, construction worker, home goo-ga or hardware store-owner,
real estate salesperson, restaurants and grocery stores selling
expensive food to everyone. Aaaiiiieeee. Déjà vu gives me vertigo: this
is Key West all over again.
But the boom is over. A few
salespeople have closed up shop, a couple have disapp–, um, left. At
least a couple of developers have put down their tools, fired their
employees and walked away. There are plenty of happy home-owners there,
but most of them are part-time. Who will stick around full-time to
support the support businesses? In recent years, hotel customers and restaurant eaters have
been future homeowners traveling down to look at property, then
traveling down to check on the progress of building projects. There
will still be buyers and visitors, just not as many. Certainly not a zillion.
who played hotel customer pre-boom? Because post-boom, that's who
we'll be serving again. In the southern Pacific, where there is
nothing to do but surf and drink (in Key West, you don't even have
surfing), we are thinking surfer or drop-out, neither of whom is
looking to pay $80/night. That's ok: $50/night would still make ends
meet and leave something over for those delicious chicken wings at the
Jolly Roger in Escalares…
It's still sooooo tempting:
living in the sun (I'm back to freezing here on the mountain),
overlooking the sea, having visitors, creating something uber-fabulous
from something pre-fabulous now. Sigh. And after the correction, the area will still be fabulous… probably more so!
But it doesn't make sense for us to
move from a good situation to an iffy situation. Even if we aren't
financially worse off for having moved, we won't be significantly
better off if we do. It would be a super place to live and work… but, right now, we need Significantly Better in the equation.
It was an excellent exploration, though. We narrowed our focus, pinned
down what we have to offer, what we are looking for, what we can make
work. We got to see the big Jesus heading back up the mountain to the Cerro de la Muerte [SAIR-oh day lah MWHERE-tay, hill of death]. It's no Rio de Janeiro Jesus but how did we miss him last trip????
open to the universe here… that M.O. seems to be keeping us on a
sweet path so I'm keeping the faith. Not to whine or beg or anything,
but it'd be nice to have that path open up before we're completely
broke. Just sayin.