La Pura Vida Costa Rica Expat Interview: Meet Ellie Fortier

Expat Interview: Meet Ellie Fortier

Welcome to the initial La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat interview!

This site is the second expat-focused blog I have. On the first – about Panama – I found my audience’s interest peaked when hearing stories from others who already relocated to Panama. As such, I did a number of expat interviews and shared them over the past four years. When I launched my second book in early 2014, I chose to include four key interviews from those past conversations.

A couple of weeks ago here in Costa Rica, Ellie Fortier began the beta testing of her new website – a connection portal for love, friendship, activities and play dates (for parents with kids) for expats who live in Costa Ballena along the South Pacific coast.

Ellie’s announcement on one of our community groups on Facebook caught my eye for a couple of reasons –
1) This site represents the first of its kind in our expat community, and
2) Most complaints I hear of from expat women in Panama and in Costa Rica particularly center on the difficulty of finding community and connection in their new location.

As Ellie’s new site will address this second point, I contacted her to learn more. What follows is the conversation she and I had at a local coffee shop in Uvita after she accepted my invitation to meet earlier this month.

Meet Costa Rica Expat Ellie Fortier of Uvita

JuliAnne: What first brought you to Costa Rica?

Ellie: In 2014, my husband’s job related visa expired in the U.S. when he moved from one company to another. We had three months to figure out where to go next (I am American; he is Canadian). We were living in Austin, Texas, though with my husband’s new job, we could choose to live anywhere. So, we chose Costa Rica!

Moving to Costa Rica was like coming home for me, because I lived here from ages four to six with my parents (who served as missionaries in San Jose). I’d been waiting all these years for the opportunity to come back, and then it finally all aligned with my husband and this remote job.

JuliAnne: I noticed you speak fluent Spanish; was your time here in Costa Rica the origin of that?

Ellie: Yes. My growing up years were spent in California, Cape Cod, two years in Colombia (another missionary posting) and the two years here in Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: So within three months, you packed up, shipped out and came to Uvita? Why Uvita? Had you done some research?

Ellie: No, we’d never come, and nor did we do any research. My daughter – now 21 – was 18 at that time and had come to Costa Rica to volunteer for six weeks after she graduated high school. She traveled around the country quite a bit, so I asked her, “What area do you think I will like?” and she told me that I needed to come to Uvita.

JuliAnne: Wow! And you didn’t you come and visit beforehand?

Ellie(laughing) No, we took my daughter’s advice and rented a place sight unseen.

JuliAnne: Holy cow! That’s really brave! Was it just you and your husband?

Ellie: No, we have a young son, now 2 1/2. When we arrived he had just turned a year old.

JuliAnne: What kind of work do each of you do that allows you to live in Costa Rica?

Ellie: My husband builds software online for a start-up. His interactions with his colleagues are on the web via Skype and email. I came as the trailing spouse when we first moved to Costa Rica. Once we arrived here, I started Crouching Frog Yoga and Wellness Center in Bahia Linda. And, now I’m working on this new site.

What’s the Biggest Challenge for Expats in Costa Ballena?

JuliAnne: You’ve lived here just under two years. What is the thing you’ve found most challenging about moving to Costa Rica and living here on the South Pacific coast?

Ellie: I think the biggest challenge for me was the connection piece. Anyone can learn to manage the bugs and the workers who take forever to show up at your place. You start to realize pretty quickly that your friends back home can’t come to visit you. All those good intentions they (and you) have are great, but they fade away. And this areathe Costa Ballena coast – is full of great people. It’s interesting now that I’m am promoting this new site, I’m meeting all kinds of new people, some of who have been here for years. We just never had an avenue or a reason to meet until now.

I also came to realize that everyone else here is as eager to meet new friends as I am. I have to be honest: expat life can be quite lonely. I’ve had a lot of women here tell me they really miss having female friends. So, I’m hoping that this new site will be a resource toward meeting that need here in the local community.

JuliAnne: Tell me about your new business endeavor then. And by the way, you are the very first La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat interview! So, this is excitingme! What’s your new business website called?

Ellie: It’s called Wavelengths. When someone visits the site, they will have the option of clicking into different areas: looking for love, a playdate for their kids, someone to go surf (or do another activity with), or another couple to have dinner with.

JuliAnne:  Wow, that sounds really great. Are you thinking that most local singles are going to be using the site for dating purposes?

Ellie: All my beta testers are interested in the dating piece, yes. For that area, each person will be able to set up their own profile – I will provide a questionnaire to keep it standardized – and view profiles of other like-minded singles.

But I want to be clear that Wavelengths is not solely about dating; it’s about connection.

This site will focus on self-improvement, connecting socially, activities and support. I’m interested in building a community where the membership supports each other beyond a Facebook experience.

LLPV Expat Interview Wavelenghths banner

JuliAnne: Will the site be specific to expats or open to everyone?

Ellie: I’m starting with expats, but I imagine this will gain traction quickly in our area, so I anticipate opening it up to locals, as well.

JuliAnne: How will a member find a match – whether for love, sports or a kid’s play date?

Ellie: People can come in, build a personal profile and then navigate a password protected area to view other people’s profiles in their area of interest. If anyone needs help compiling their profile beyond the questionnaire I provide, I’ll be available to assist them as a service. Then, the person can chat with other participants anonymously before they choose to exchange personal information. So, each member can decide from their online conversation with a person if they are worth of sharing their identity or not.

JuliAnne: Will Wavelengths be similar to other online dating websites?

Ellie: We are designing elements of Wavelengths to work in a similar fashion to sites like www.PlentyofFish.com, www.Tinder.com and www.OKCupid.com.

But the overall idea is that the site will be easy and less intimidating than the bigger dating sites.

JuliAnne: How are you going to deal with people who might want to stalk someone else, which is sometimes a concern in online interactions?

Ellie: First of all, I will have everyone’s real name and their contact information, as that’s a requirement for people to sign up and become members. Though in the initial interactions, a member will appear anonymous, they will probably only be able to do that for so long with any other individual member if they truly want to connect. I’m also going to heavily monitor the site for appropriateness to ensure that everyone is treated with respect.

JuliAnne: Is this a free service you’re offering, or will members need to pay a fee?

Ellie: At the moment, I’m taking beta testers, who won’t be charged for initial membership.

JuliAnne: How can people get in touch with you if they are interested in participating in the beta testing over the next few months?

Ellie: My email address is ellie@wavelengths.vip

JuliAnne: And past the beta?

Ellie: I’ll offer memberships – either monthly or semi-annually or maybe annually. That has yet to be fully defined.

JuliAnne: How else will the new site benefit new members in the Costa Ballena community?

Ellie: There will be an area that provide links to area businesses along the Ballena Coast which support self-improvement and helaing. These will be categorized by the member’s interest. And also, there will be links to reading and resources that promote other avenues for the same type of thing.

JuliAnne: Right now – in early August 2016 – the site is still in beta testing. When will the site launch?

Ellie: Around the end of the year, I believe. Our goal is for it to go live in either December 2016 or January 2017.

Residents of Costa Ballena Offer a Warm Welcome

JuliAnne: Ellie, tell me some things you absolutely love about your life here in Costa Rica, things that are unique to Uvita and the Ballena Coast here along the South Pacific.

Ellie: Honestly, it’s the people. Altogether, they’re awesome here. Nobody’s boring. It’s very eclectic. They’re a lot of solid, very open-hearted expats. Relative to a North American lifestyle, I love the freedom here with choosing schools, being away from certain societal pressures that exist in the States. I also feel there’s less judgment of how I choose to live, how I choose to raise my son, etc. People here in Costa Rica overall are also warmer. Just your everyday interactions here, even with strangers, are friendlier. And I’m talking genuine friendliness, not when people are just being nice.

I also like that this is a very untapped market, so there’s lots of original ideas here. And, living in Costa Rica and doing business, there are few restraints to getting a business set up.

Ellie with her son Django
Ellie with her son Django

Ellie’s Top Recommendation for Someone Moving to Costa Ballena with Young Children

JuliAnne: What one recommendation would you give to someone reading this post who is considering moving to Costa Rica – someone who is English speaking, from North America or Europe and moving here with a small child, like you did?

Ellie: I would say get involved with my new site – and others like it online – even in advance of moving here. Because the connections you make are what make the difference in how you adjust to expat life. I think the connections you make are what will determine how you get along – whether you thrive or just survive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Special thanks to Ellie Fortier of Uvita, Costa Rica and her willingness to share her story with me! This new site – Wavelengths – sounds like it’s going to be a fabulous resource for the expat community here along the Ballena Coast.

Here’s how to get in touch with Ellie on Facebook. And please take a moment if you enjoy the content you are finding here about Costa Rica expat life to connect with me and Like my Official Author Facebook page.

Stay tuned for my next expat interview, in the weeks to come!

How to Protect Yourself from Costa Rica’s Creepy Crawly Wildlife

How to Protect Yourself from Costa Rica’s Creepy Crawly Wildlife

We’re gonna shake, rattle and roll! I can hear the famous song by Elvis when I say those words, but in the case of your new life in Costa Rica, we’re talking more about your protection from Costa Rica’s creepy crawly wildlife than about having a good time.

Though, the types of precautions I’ll outline for you here will ensure your time here continues on without a hitch, whether you live in Costa Rica or are simply on vacation. It’s July – the rainy season here – and as such, while this is low tourist season, it’s definitely high season for Costa Rica’s creepy crawly wildlife. Let’s face it – when the rain comes, the plants and the wildlife get happy and reproduce at a crazy rate.

Welcome to the jungle.

Costa Rica Spider by JuliAnne Murphy La Pura Vida Costa Rica Costa Rica Spider by JuliAnne Murphy Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

So, let’s jump right in. How do you protect yourself from intersecting in a negative way with the wildlife in Costa Rica? Today, we’ll cover scorpions, spiders and snakes. These tips are some I’ve figured out on my own since I’ve lived here in the tropics – both in Panama (for eight years) and Costa Rica. Since the climate in these two countries is similar – hot and hotter – many of the bug species are the same.

Tip One: Shake, shake, shake!

This is a good one for spiders, scorpions and probably even snakes. But it’s something I do each and every night before I go to bed and I recommend you do it too: lift each layer of your sheets and blankets and shake them out before you get in them. Not the bottom one, no. Just the top sheet and whatever comforter or blanket(s) you have atop.

Did you know that the majority of scorpion stings happen when you are sleeping? That’s because scorpions adore cool, dry places – like your sheets. So, believe me when I say this, a quick shake, shake, shake and fluff of your sheets and pillows vale la pena (is worth it). Having tangled with a scorpion some years ago, I can tell you it’s definitely not something you want to experience.

This shaking method is best accompanied by a thorough visual inspection, as well. While scorpions will usually take off, sometimes spiders like to crawl deeper into your covers. Eek! So be sure you’re lifting every edge of that sheet, pillow or blanket and giving it a good shake or two in addition to eyeballing it.

And, don’t forget to turn the lights on! Or at the minimum, use a strong flashlight.

Tip Two: Rattle

This is a two-part tip.

Rattle, part one: for anytime you’ve left anything on the floor – even if it’s in an airtight air-conditioned hotel room – rattle it with your foot – or slide it across the floor a bit, if need be. This will encourage any creepy crawlies to get a move on.

The bottom of duffel bags, boxes, bags, pet beds, cushions, pillows, etc. is an ideal hiding place for Costa Rica’s critters. Even when they’ve only been there overnight. ☺

Yes, there is a higher probability that if the item has been sitting for a longer period of time, that it’s more likely to have a new resident clinging to the bottom or sides of your belongings.

Scorpion on lampshade by JuliAnne Murphy
Scorpion on a lampshade in Costa Rica. Photo by JuliAnne Murphy

Did I mention that the scorpion’s favorite hiding place is the bottom of anything – again, cool and dry?

Rattle, part two: When you are out hiking, walking or enjoying Costa Rica’s spectacular scenery, or even in your garden, do a bit of stomping along the way. Snakes sense movement versus hearing you, and when they do, their first instinct is to get out of your way.

So, a little stomping your feet here and there is always a good safeguard against snakes.

An Arboreal snake
An Arboreal snake
Green vine Snake / Flatbread snake in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Green Vine Snake in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If for some reason, you stop along your walk and encounter a fallen tree or a log in your path, it’s a great idea to hit it with your shoes a couple of times before you scramble over. Snakes often hide in the cool, damp shade of such obstacles. A visual inspection here – before you jump over – is always a good idea, as well.

Tip three: Roll

For this tip, I’m talking about your toilet paper roll. Many homes and hotel rooms in Costa Rica have free standing toilet paper rolls next to the toilet. I can’t tell you why. But they do. And, guess what? The inside of that toilet paper roll – the vacant hole where the roll usually hangs onto something? A great hideaway for spiders.

Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

Yes, it has happened to me. And, there’s nothing more disconcerting than sitting down in the middle of the night, reaching for the toilet paper and having something crawl onto your hand. Much less, bite you.

And, of course, it happens at night because spiders love the quiet and the dark. Can you blame them?

Spider in Costa Rica by JuliAnne Murphy

So, in this case, the best precaution is to a) get a nightlight, and b) take a quick peek in the hole before you take a seat.

Yes, it sounds pedestrian to even write this, but trust me, someday you will thank me.

So, whether you live in Costa Rica, are considering a move to Costa Rica, or are planning a vacation in Costa Rica, these little tips can help you plan accordingly.

Next time: Natural Remedies for when you DO get bit and/or stung in the jungle.

Sign up here to get notified of my upcoming posts about expat living in Costa Rica. And, if you have other questions in between, shoot me a line here or catch me on Facebook. I’m also pretty active on Twitter when I’m not nose down in my computer working on the final chapters of my third book!

See you soon.

3 Luxuries you’ll miss when Living in Costa Rica

3 Luxuries you’ll miss when Living in Costa Rica

What? You ask. What 3 luxuries could I possible miss when I live in Costa Rica? Isn’t living on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica as close to paradise as it gets?

To answer, I am going to quote my significant other, who is Tico: Yes, but it’s not perfect.

And understanding that is pretty darn crucial to your long-term success as an expat in Costa Rica. I’m serious.

Living on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica…que rico!

Yes, we have the Pacific Ocean. Beach walks as often and as long as you like. Ahh…

Yes, we have farm-fresh fruit and vegetables year-round from a variety of farmer’s markets in and around Uvita, Ojochal, Dominical and Tinamastes.

Yes, we see monkeys almost every day. Not every day, but almost every day. And if we don’t see them, then at least we hear the Howlers every morning and night. 🙂

So, what is it I forgot to ask about, before I moved to Costa Rica?

The 3 Luxuries I miss…

Drum roll, please.

Luxury #1 I miss about living in Costa Rica: I miss not having a dryer. A proper dryer to dry your clothes in. When you live full-time in Costa Rica along the Pacific coast, 80% of homes do NOT have a clothes dryer. How come? Because electricity costs 3 times as much as it does in the U.S.

Vacation homes in Costa Rica, however, generally (or often) do have clothes dryers.

But, I ain’t here on vacation…so, that means I’ve gotten used to pinning our clothes up on the clothes line twice a week and then making a mad rush for them when it starts to rains. (It is rainy season, yes.)

Funny, I never considered a clothes dryer a luxury when I lived in the U.S. I suppose that’s yet another example of the things you take for granted, until you no longer have them. Though in comparing Panama to Costa Rica (and many future expats email me with questions about that from my Panama blog), most expats in Panama DO have clothes dryers. And the electricity is costs just as much in Panama as it does in Costa Rica. Hmm.

Luxury #2 I miss about living in Costa Rica: 

I miss not having a dishwasher!

Now in Panama, not having a dishwasher in your apartment or in your home is pretty standard (unless you have a newer home built in the last five years), because the cost of service help there is still inexpensive enough that you can afford a full-time or part-time maid. (Here’s a story I did a few months ago about maids in Panama).

But here along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, having a part-time or a full-time maid is very, very rare.

Which means that you wash your dishes by hand and dry them after each and every meal.

I have to be honest, it gets old. Though these days, I do have Palmolive hands. (Anyone else remember those commercials?)

Luxury #3 I miss about living in Costa Rica:

Consistent internet service. Now that I think about it, maybe this should be #1! 🙁

Living on the Southern Pacific coast, we’re in an area which is up and coming and amazing and gorgeous. But, that all pales when you’re trying to get work done and the internet service goes down for 2-3 hours.

In fact, a recent article from QCostaRica states that Costa Rica is among the 40 countries in the world with the worst internet service. Yep. Average connection speed in the world is 5.6 MH and here in Costa Rica, that average is 3.4. Ugh. Here’s a link to that here.

Moving to Costa Rica’s Costa Ballena region, where I live?

If you’re retired, you’ll be in hawg heaven here, as long as you do some homework and make sure this laid back, Pura Vida lifestyle is for you. If you’re still working (virtually), it’s best to be really prepared, at least mentally. The coastal mindset is often a bit more lackadaisical, then what you’ll find in more populated areas of Costa Rica like capital city San Jose.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my life in Costa Rica!

But, if you’ve read my books about Panama expat living or my writing, you’ll appreciate the fact that I also tell it like it is.

And, that’s the purpose of this Living la Pura Vida in Costa Rica blog. To celebrate, to have a place to commiserate (only occasionally, of course) and to be real about expat living in Costa Rica.

Stay tuned next time for the Top 3 Things I love about living here on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast…until then, I’m off to do my Three Things today.