Costa Rica Expat Interview: Meet Enzo from Italy

One of my favorite things about living and writing in Costa Rica is the new friends I meet. That’s where this Costa Rica Expat Interview comes in! A good number of those new friends and colleagues are expats from other countries, not just the U.S. and Canada, but from all over the world. In every conversation I have, I learn something new – about where people are from and what brought them to Costa Rica (or Panama) and often, I glimpse my world and this country through their eyes.

It’s a lot of fun.

Expat interviews are something I’ve done now for many years on my Panama blog. With today’s post, I’m starting to do expat interviews here on La Pura Vida Costa Rica, too! Why? Because the stories you hear from other expats in Costa Rica will inform you, educate you, and help you. And sometimes, even entertain you. 🙂

So, without further ado: Meet Enzo from Italy

Meet Enzo: An Italian Expat in Costa Rica

julianne-murphy-interviews-ojochal-costa-rica-expat
Enzo and his wife Gineth live in Ojochal, Costa Rica. Enzo hails from Italy originally, though he spent some time in England before he relocated to Costa Rica. I met Enzo and Gineth here in our community at a social engagement and at the gym, in addition to visiting their authentic Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, here in Ojochal a few weeks ago.

Enzo Loreto started out like so many new expats do – he came to Costa Rica on vacation 13 years ago. A friend of his had come back to Italy after enjoying his own vacation, and on his friend’s recommendation, Enzo returned by himself and in a short time – just two months – he caught the Costa Rica bug.

He came – again, like many visiting this tropical paradise and many of those same people that become Costa Rica expats – speaking no Spanish. Nor did he know anyone in the country. But, he loved the Tico lifestyle so much that he stayed.

Finding Work in Costa Rica as an Expat

During Enzo’s first year in Costa Rica, he worked virtually via his computer for a company back in Italy. Enzo had previously worked in Italy as a speleologist. (What the heck is a ‘speleologist’? Good question. I had to look it up too. A speleologist is like a geologist or someone who makes maps of the earth, but does it underground, for caves.) So, essentially, Enzo was developing a map for a cave in Italy, though he was living in Costa Rica.

Don’t you love technology? It makes the world so small! I also telecommute – both with my writing and with any consulting I do – and can work from anywhere in the world. I choose to live here in Costa Rica, but let me not get side tracked.

Post that first year, Enzo worked in food and restaurant supplies and also started a t-shirt stand in the beach town of Jaco with a partner. These experiences helped him get a feel for Costa Rica and the business climate, as well as to become familiar with the various communities along the Pacific coast. Soon after, he started his own Italian pizzeria in Santa Ana, which is a suburb to the capitol city of San Jose.

Why did he return to San Jose after living on the beach? “I didn’t like San Jose, but I had to start out there to figure that out,” Enzo said. “I had to see how Costa Rica worked without investing a lot. That’s why I started my pizzeria. Through it, I met a lot of people and I also learned that San Jose was similar to many other cities around the world.”

One of the people he met during his four-year stint of owning the pizzeria is his wife Gineth, who is a Costa Rican native. “She was one of my clients,” Enzo told me with a slight smile. (This falls right in line with statistics I’ve read that a good percentage of us in the developed world meet our significant others and spouses at work. And, yes, it happens abroad too.)

Discovering the Ballena Coast in Costa Rica

“How did you find this area?” I asked. Again, Enzo smiled. “A client of mine at the pizzeria told me about this area. He had some property down here for sale and kept talking about it. So, one day, I drove a motorcycle down from Santa Ana, checked it out, and drove back.”

It was no small feat eight or nine years ago when Enzo made this epic one-day round-trip. First of all, the most direct route between the Ballena Coast and San Jose was yet to be completely paved – at that time, it was lacking a pretty significant strip between the beach towns of Dominical and Quepos/Manuel Antonio. That means that Enzo had to take the famed “Hill of Death” road between San Jose and San Isidro, which is windy and in some places seems to hang off the side of a mountain. It probably made for one heck of a trip to do that here and there all in one day.

So what happened?

“I told my friend I’d take it,” Enzo said.

“The property we’re sitting on?” I asked. Buying a property on your first visit is not normally something I’d recommend, but Enzo had lived in Costa Rica by that time for almost five years.

“Yes!” he replied. “This very property.”

expat-julianne-murphy-interviews-costa-rica-entrepreneurThe photos that accompany this interview are of that Mamma e Papa property, which measures 1.5 hectares (more than 15,000 square meters). That property is also the site where Enzo and Gineth built a cozy cluster of bungalows facing a tranquil river in Ojochal, and the location of their TripAdvisor award-winning authentic Italian restaurant overlooking the jungled hillsides.

It’s safe to say that Enzo’s impetuous purchase of this land has paid off in spades for the Costa Ballena community – especially for those tourists who choose to stay in this lovely setting when they visit Costa Rica – and for those of locals who can go around the corner to enjoy Enzo’s homemade pasta and pizza.

For Enzo and Gineth, that gamble has paid off in success, though it has come with a somewhat hectic lifestyle. While they make it look easy, running a small hotel as entrepreneurs always comes with its set of challenges, especially when you consider that staff and vendors are often on their own brand of “Tico Time”. (I say this after having worked as an executive in an office setting for almost six years in Panama.)

Enjoying the Costa Rica Pura Vida Lifestyle

When I posed the question, “What do you enjoy about Costa Rica?”, Enzo described what sounds to most like a tropical dream.

julianne-murphy-interview-enzo-lorenzo-ojochal-costa-rica“I get up when the sun rises, when the birds start singing every morning,” He waved his hand at the lush landscape of trees all around where we sat. “Here, we live among real nature – not a world of concrete – and we listen to the sounds of the river.” When he paused and I tuned into the bubbling of the water below us, my whole body relaxed. “The sensation of living here in this paradise – the silence I find – the quiet – the tranquility – is like nothing else, nowhere else in the world,” Enzo finished. “Costa Rica is another world.”

Indeed, living here in the jungle in the tropics of Costa Rica is something most people only dream of; Enzo (and his family) are fortunate enough to actually call it home.

The Challenges of Living in Costa Rica

“It’s kind of like asking who do you think the most beautiful woman in the world is?” Enzo replied, when I asked him the question I ask almost everyone: What do you find most challenging about living in Costa Rica?

Enzo did not miss a beat as he replied. “Everyone has a different opinion. The most complicated thing I have found about living in Costa Rica is that growing up Italian – in Italy – has impacted my viewpoint.”

When asked him to explain further, Enzo continued, “Here in Costa Rica, you have the opportunity to do anything you want – however you want. There are all kinds of potential and possibilities. Here, you can find tons of space wherever you want, and do with it whatever you have the money to do. In Italy, there’s less space, more people and less opportunity because there’s more competition.”

His unusual answer caused me to look up from my laptop where I was taking notes. He went on. “The easy thing is that if you want to come here, you can, but it’s different. Here in Costa Rica, you have the opportunity to change – learn a new language, learn a new trade, eat different food. It’s different and it’s an adventure but the change – that many people think may be difficult – is not. The difficult part is only in your mind. But that change,” Here he shook his head. “It never daunted me. For many foreigners, it does.”

“How did you know you’d be successful?” I asked, waving a hand around at the spotless restaurant facilities in which we sat. Enzo shook his head again. “I didn’t come with a marketing plan for “if this business would work”.” He said. “It does. I built it with a dream to have my home here, with this gorgeous lifestyle and with four rooms and we did it. And it’s amazing and it’s been successful and it’s kept us very busy.”

Enzo’s Advice for New Costa Rica Expats

What three things does Enzo recommend to a new expat considering moving to Costa Rica?

  1. Come to Costa Rica for an extended vacation. Do six months if you can. “Not everyone can do it, but my two-month vacation cost me less than living in Italy for those two months,” Enzo added.

(I’m pretty sure I raised an eyebrow when Enzo said this as Costa Rica is not cheap.)

He clarified, “If you have the opportunity, you can do this. You may have to bring a backpack and stay in simple places and take the bus, but an extended stay will give you a real picture of the lifestyle in Costa Rica.”

  1. Don’t buy anything immediately. Rent something. If it works and you like it, then you can buy it later. Many people make this mistake.
  1. Before you make any long-term decisions about relocating to Costa Rica, come here and check it out. Make sure you like the climate, the people, the animals, the environment. Make sure you “get” the real Costa Rica. (My addition: It’s different from the tourist version, believe me.)

Enzo had one final piece of advice, which I really liked. And that was, “If you can’t live spontaneously, this is not your country. If you come with a critical mind, you will have an unhappy life.”

Well said.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Enzo made an interesting observation, which struck me as important to share.

“Many people that live in Italy get to the edge of the ocean – because we have beautiful beaches too – and when the reach the edge, they exclaim “Wow!” he said. “In Costa Rica, the reverse happens. People get to one of the gorgeous beaches – (there are many of them here) – and they wade out into the water, walk 100 meters out, turn around and look back at the land and exclaim, “Wow!” Because here, they are not just seeing the beautiful beaches – those exist in many places around the world. Here in Costa Rica, you see the beauty of the land, the animals, the endless green, the waterfalls, the rivers; these things you do not have in many other places around the world, not like you find here.”

All I could do was nod.

Discover Mamma e Papa Hotel and Italian Restaurant in Ojochal, Costa Rica

For award-winning, delicious, handmade pasta, make sure you make a point to visit Mamma e Papa when you are next in Costa Rica’s culinary capitol, Ojochal de Osa. (They also have pizza, though I have not tried it.) Enzo and Gineth’s cozy bungalows are also perfect for those visiting the Ballena Coast. They sleep two to five people, depending on availability and features a beautiful pool, a shared social area with TV and pool table and the sound of the Ojochal River to lull you to sleep. Rooms start at $115 for two including breakfast.

author-julianne-murphy-costa-rica-expat-interview-in-ojochal

Interested in buying a property in Ojochal, Costa Rica?

Mamma e Papa is currently listed for sale. The asking price of $890,000 is for the bungalows and the restaurant (including a private home above the restaurant) in this beautiful riverside setting of 1.5 hectares. See the listing here.

Special thanks to Enzo for his time and for sharing his Costa Rica expat story with me and La Pura Vida Costa Rica dot com. I so enjoyed our conversation. How about you?

Other Expat Interviews

If you’re interested in reading expat interviews from neighboring country Panama, you can get my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go , which includes four interviews from people coming from four very different life situations. For more on expat life in Panama, visit my Panama blog here.

Three Hard Lessons Learned for Costa Rica Vacationers

While traveling to Panama earlier this month, I witnessed a 60-something Gringo couple stumble out of a taxi in front of the international airport in San Jose pinned on a map of Costa RicaCosta Rica, yelling “Help!”

The couple had arrived an hour earlier and taken a cab off the street (we call them ‘red’ or public taxis) from the airport to their hotel nearby. When they reached the hotel, they realized they did not have lower-denomination bills to pay the cab driver. They both walked inside to the hotel counter but when they returned to the cab, the cab driver and all their belongings were gone.

They had returned to the airport in hopes that the airport cameras would have captured something about the taxi they had hailed.

How unfortunate and sad!

But three hard lessons learned for you, Costa Rica vacationers:

1. When you leave the international airport, take an orange cab (who have an alliance with the airport and are lined up to your left when you walk out of Customs).

San Jose Costa Rica - May 20 : Pick up area outside of the International Airport with Taxis and families waiting for passengers. May 20 2016 San Jose Costa Rica.
San Jose, Costa Rica : Orange Taxis at the Pick-Up area outside of the International Airport

Their official name is Taxis Unidos. Otherwise, take Uber.

2. Never, EVER leave your belongings with someone you do not know, out of your sight. It amazes me that anyone still does this.

3. It’s smart to break down the larger bills that come out of the ATM into smaller bills or coins to have before you leave the airport. Maybe buy a pack of gum or a bottle of water or something. This is something that is smart whether you are here in Costa Rica or any country. Often, taxi drivers who intend to scam you will pull this kind of a trick and tell you they don’t have change.

A sobering lesson for all those who #travel but remember it’s your responsibility to take your own safety precautions.

This is paradise, but it isn’t perfect!

JuliAnne Murphy Pura Vida Costa Rica paradise beach

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Mistakes people make when they move to Costa Rica

We’ve all done it. You come to Costa Rica and you’re in your perfect world – ne’er a worry vacation mode – and you fall in love. I did.

Most Costa Rica expats will attest to the things I’m going to share with you here. Most new expats moving to Costa Rica make a number of mistakes and/or assumptions about this country and/or their future life here that can be quite detrimental to their future happiness and success.

What mistakes do people make when they move to Costa Rica?

Mistake #1: People assume Costa Rica is cheap.

Twenty years ago, Costa Rica was cheap. Maybe even ten years ago. But Costa Rica today – in 2016 – is no longer cheap, people! Is it more affordable than where you came from? Well, that really all depends. If you’re used to living in Manhattan or Chicago, then yes, it may be cheaper for you. But if you’re from Idaho or Arkansas, it probably will not be cheaper from your perspective.

Recommendation: Check out all the other blogs by Costa Rica expats that provide REAL cost of living calculators and comparisons. Do your homework. Consider each one of their perspectives – where did they move from? What kind of lifestyle do they have? At the moment, you can pretty much find an array of soup to nuts on the cost of living topic related to this country.

Bottom line for my monthly expenses for living in Costa Rica versus my former life as a Panama expat? It’s about equal. But here’s the kicker – in Panama, I lived in a brand new condo in a brand new neighborhood. Here in Costa Rica, I choose to live four hours outside the capitol city on the Pacific coast – in the smack middle of nowhere.

Traditional Costa Rican home with ox and cart
Traditional Costa Rican home with ox and cart

Which brings me to another point – Panama is not cheap either. That ship sailed right out of the Panama Canal about 5-6 years ago, when I lived there. Yes, there are things between the two countries that vary, but hear me when I say this, people:

Neither Costa Rica or Panama is cheap!

(For more specifics on a supermarket comparison between Panama and Costa Rica I did a few weeks ago, click here.)

Mistake #2: People assume finding work in Costa Rica will be easy.

I see this trend here in Costa Rica significantly more often than I did in Panama, and I suppose it’s because Costa Rica has a long-standing reputation of being a tropical paradise. Many people come, fall in love, think “I want that! I’m going to leave it all behind and move here” and then, they leave their brains at the border. But as my partner says (almost daily), “This is paradise, but it ain’t perfect.”

First of all, future Costa Rica expats, this country is NOT a country with a lot of industry, unless you count government workers, high technology (in the city, not here on the coast), agriculture and tourism. And, I can tell you right now, you’re not going to get hired in government as a foreigner unless you are specifically relocated here by your own Embassy. You may find something in high tech but those jobs, when available, pay Costa Rica wages – not what you’re accustomed to back home.

As for agri and tourism, same thing. Most of the time, even when a high-rolling foreign investor comes to Costa Rica and buys a hotel, they’re more interested in keeping the Tico employees because they cost less.

Best-selling author JuliAnne Murphy Expat Costa Rica unemployed man

Every single week I hear of another expat who has returned ‘back home’ after they realized they had no way to support themselves. The moral to the story is – yes, there’s room for you in Costa Rica, but don’t plan on finding a job here. They are few and far between. And if you do find a job, it will pay 50-250% less than your job back home. My recommendation, unless you choose to wait tables: bring your own ideas and money to start your own business, or work online. But, somehow HAVE A PLAN that is sustainable to support yourself beyond 3-6 months.

Mistake #3: People assume their savings will go further than it does.

Bottom line: refer to #1 above. So many people move here – and travel here, as well – assuming that Costa Rica is like Mexico 30 years ago.

Those are the people who read too many International Living articles. I, for one, get sick of hearing expats bitch about how expensive it is to live here. YOU are the one who chose to move here, and if YOU did not have a plan or do your homework, whose fault is that? Oh, right! Yours.

A Recap: Three Real-World Facts about Living in Costa Rica

I’ll make this simple. 🙂

  1. Costa Rica is not cheap. And in some cases, it’s the most expensive country in Central America in which to live. So before you plan to move here, do some homework and figure out what YOUR cost of living will really be. Then, add 20% (on an annual basis). Just to be safe. 🙂
  2. Your long-term success for living in Costa Rica is directly tied to your ability to support yourself. And, the options to generate income based on the current landscape of available jobs in Costa Rica (especially along the coast) are very limited. So, have a plan that’s sustainable before you quit your job and buy your plane ticket.
  3. In my opinion, if you choose to move to Costa Rica (or retire in Costa Rica), you should have a minimum of six months living expenses in the bank before you come. And, if you plan to build a house in Costa Rica, take whatever quote you get for the house, and add at least 20%. Trust me. True for Expats, too!

Coming straight from the jungle, that’s it for today’s Costa Rica recap!

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Pura Vida!

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!

Rainforest Remedies for Costa Rica & Central America

Rainforest Remedies for Costa Rica & Central America

When bites and stings interfere with your Costa Rica experience, try these natural solutions – rainforest remedies that have worked for me!

When you move to Costa Rica as an expat, you don’t always anticipate some of the things you might need in the jungle. One of them is medical solutions for all the bug bites, bee stings, wasp stings, scorpion stings and so on.

And, yes, let me say upfront! – a trip to the ER is probably the best solution for a scorpion sting, especially if you’ve never had one and you’re not sure if you’re allergic.

But what happens when you know that a sting is just a sting and it’s uncomfortable?  As in, really uncomfortable? So much so that you can’t sleep and you can’t stop itching. Here’s the reality: I’ve had bug bites and bee stings and spider bites that hurt so bad that I scratched them until they bled…no fun.

Natural Remedies to Bring With You to the Rainforest (or the Beach) When You Move to Costa Rica

Along the way – in the past 18 months – I’ve discovered some really handy natural solutions for when a pest or two gets to you. I didn’t even know about these when I lived in Panama, so this was new information to me. And if I can save you some pain and maybe even a little blood by sharing this, well, then you’ll be better off.

These remedies applies whether you are already enjoying full-time expat living in Costa Rica, considering a move to the tropics or whether you are just visiting. And especially if you are on vacation! But if you are vacationing in Costa Rica, you’ll need to prepare your To-Go medical kit in advance. Your average pharmacy does NOT carry this stuff down here.

My wonderful little secret when it comes to all these pesky bug bites is using essential oils. Hey, the three wise men did it. Why can’t we?

The Best Kept Secret: The Essential Oil that resolves scorpion stings

First off, as I said above, if you’ve never been stung by a scorpion and you don’t know if you are allergic and there’s any chance you are – you probably should be checked out in the emergency room. That does not mean you can’t use this remedy – you definitely can! But do both – put on the oil and then also go to the ER, just in case.

If it’s your second time to be stung by a scorpion (yes, I know, I hate to even say that, but here you are in the tropics, so we have to be realistic), and you are not allergic to the local scorpion venom, then this essential oil remedy will work for you.

It’s simple. Two drops of pure Frankincense oil. It has to be pure, not mixed with anything. And, yes, it’s pricey. But here’s the best thing about it! Two drops and within 30 minutes or less, your swelling will be mostly gone. WOW! You read that right. That is correct! Yes, I didn’t believe it at first but when my significant other stepped on one of these little buggers on the way to the beach, his foot swelled up like no tomorrow and was incredibly painful to the touch.

Two drops directly on the site of the sting and 20 minutes later, the swelling was almost gone.

Two more drops and the pain dissipated, as well. For him, that took another 20 minutes.

So, Frankincense is your ticket for scorpion stings here in the jungle. And, no, it’s very difficult to find pharmaceutical grade essential oils here along the Pacific coast. As an expat, you’ll need to get some in your home country – I recommend either Young Living or doTerra oils. (If you live in Costa Rica and need some, shoot me a line and I can hook you up. This does not apply to visitors however, as it has to be shipped.)

Let me warn you, however – Frankincense is pricey – it’s about $50 for a small bottle. But when you are using it here and there, a small bottle will last you for a very long time.

How does it get any better than that?


Essential Oil Remedies for Spider Bites

The reference book I use from Young Living Essential Oils has recommendations specific to being bitten by a black widow or a brown recluse. We don’t have either of those – that I am aware of – here in Costa Rica, though we do have plenty of other spiders. For more of my personal spider photos, see this post on how to avoid getting bitten by one.

Essential Oils JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica Expat and Best-selling author Pura Vida

I recently had two bites on my stomach which were clearly something other than a mosquito but not a bee. So I assumed it was from a not-to-friendly spider. She chewed on me, because they were really red and painful and swollen for some time. I tried Lavender with no luck. Then I tried Thieves and it worked well. I treated the bites three times over a 24-hour period but even so, within 24 hours, I was itch-free again.

Thank goodness!

Essential Oil Remedy for Mosquito Bites

Some mosquito bites are worse than others down here. I’m not sure why, but sometimes that’s the case. So, when you get one that really irks you, there’s a number of essential oils that may work for you. I believe it may have to do with your skin pH as to what’s most effective, but it’s worth the trial and effort to figure it out if you want a truly natural remedy.

I have personally tried Peppermint oil, Thieves (this is a blend sold by Young Living) and The Gift (another blend by Young Living).

So far, Thieves and The Gift were the best remedies for my skin. The Gift worked the fastest.

Essential Oils JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica Expat and Best-selling author Pura Vida Essential Oils JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica Expat and Best-selling author Pura Vida

Others recommended by Young Living’s reference book on oils: Melaleuca, Lavender, Rosemary, Myrrh, Frankincense, Idaho Balsam Fir, Idaho Tansy, Purification, Melrose, R.C.

Keeping Mosquitos at Bay with Essential Oils

Essential Oils JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica Expat and Best-selling author Pura VidaRemedy One:

While there are many recipes for homemade oil blends to use as insect repellant, I have to say that I have not bothered to make one. Why? A) There are a million organic and natural insect repellants for sale in Costa Rica – almost everywhere, and B) I’m not a very good mixer. I need something when I need it and I need it fast.

However, we live right on a river. Even though the water is moving, there does seem to be a lot more mosquitos in our house and on our patio than normal. (Yes, it is rainy season!) Unfortunately, that means we’re sleeping with a lot more of them. Ugh.

So, one thing I’ve been doing that seems to help is I’m using my DoTerra essential oil diffuser and using Citronella oil in it every night for about two hours before I go to bed. It’s pretty simple. You just pour the water in to the limit (which may vary with each diffuser) and then add 10 drops of Citronella oil.

NOTE: This does need to be the type of Citronella oil that works with diffusers. If you try and use the Citronella oil for torches, you will clog your diffuser and be very sad. I’ve included a photo here of the one I got last time I was in Denver at Whole Foods (see above). I feel certain you can pick them up at any natural food store or wherever oils are sold in the U.S. This one was less than $10, if memory serves me correctly.

Remedy Two: My experience is that when I use the toilet in the middle of the night – always in the dark, of course – that I get bitten frequently on the booty. Nothing stinks worse than a mosquito bite anywhere around the booty area!

So, to take care of that problem, I started putting five drops of Citronella oil in the commode before we go to bed. It hasn’t been a perfect solution, but it HAS helped cut these little incidents down.

How to get access to Essential Oils in Costa Rica

Well, first off, in closing, good luck to you! Whether you’re visiting Costa Rica or live here full-time as an expat, certainly some of these natural remedies for bites and stings may be of use to you.

Again, if you would like to order from me to get your own DoTerra oils, shoot me a line.

For Young Living oils, please visit my social media manager’s web page – she also reps them which is how I learned about them, originally – and that company can ship your products straight to your door, even if you live in Costa Rica!

Essential Oils JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica Expat and Best-selling author Pura Vida

 

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.