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House Hoppers International: Welcome To Your Costa Rica Dream Retirement -- Now Pack Your Things And GO (Part One)

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Alamy
Alamy

Ask any Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica resident "How many times have you moved since your arrival?" and it goes something like this: "Five times in the past year," "twice this month," "I've lived in 18 places since i got here" and so on. When we first heard these Hobo Joe tallies we were dumbfounded: What the hell? Feral cats lay down deeper roots. But as we approach our one-year anniversary here in PV, we're making ready to move into our sixth place of residence.

The reasons for this are as numerous as the number of folks telling the stories (I wanted to be closer to the beach.. I wanted to live up in the hills... The neighbor's pit bulls kept trying to kill my Cockapoo... I wanted to live closer to the bar... I couldn't live that close to the bar anymore... Too many bats...).

True, moving around here isn't quite the calamity it is in other places (huge moving trucks; grandma's chifforobe; scores of boxes marked kitchen, nursery, living room, den, garage, attic, master en suite, Britney's room, Max's room, Fido's things, et cetera). Your average PV resident is mobile.

Pretty much all of the rentals come furnished here (they are, for the most part, vacation houses), and lots of folks own little more than what the average tourist shows up with for a two-week vacation. So when opportunity -- or disaster -- strikes, it's relatively easy to go all Hawkeye and Trapper. Think college freshman switching dorms after first semester and you're pretty much there.

But still.

When we originally landed in Puerto Viejo roughly two years ago on Costa Rica recon, we received the same sage advice from several people: don't buy til you've been here for a while; rent and see if it's right for you; check out the different areas, house styles, altitudes, etc. All excellent pieces of advice, which we took to heart. Sure, we'll rent, look around, check things out. Little did we realize we'd actually wind up living in each of the above.

From bad timing to better options to simply being advised you gots to go, people seem to move a lot. We've danced with all three. Here's our tale.

Move One.
NYC to Puerto -- file it under really bad timing. Our apartment sale closed (and we needed to leave the States) the week before Easter, the most crowded week on the PV calendar, as the entire country of Costa Rica shuts down shop and heads out for vacation. Double (triple) the normal vacation rental price, start looking a bit late in the game and what you've got is a casita pequeña (complete with the world's most annoying rat); $900 for the month. Glad to have found it, but no, we won't be staying.

2013-03-22-huffpo.8.movingpt1.jpg

Move Two.
Costa Rican dream house: four bedrooms, two hammocks, two baths, huge patio, all on a private lot a three-minute walk from the beach; visiting howler monkeys, a parade of morpho butterflies and gorgeous jungle surroundings. The house belongs to the owner of a fancy "boutique hotel" -- bit of an oddity in Puerto Viejo, a town that doesn't have a gas station or an elevator. The hotel manager, who showed us the house, insisted he had to know immediately whether or not we were taking it, that the people who had just rented the house the week before wanted it again. It wasn't cheap, but looking at the patio and the beach location, we couldn't say yes fast enough.

After we moved in we discovered a few flaws: the house was always damp and always filthy; the shower drains were located on a rise, so the water pooled around your feet; and the kitchen consisted solely of a four-burner gas range with only two working burners and a refrigerator with a single broken shelf held together with duct tape that wouldn't support even the weight of a six-pack.

Also living, in a modest two-room house on the property, was the caretaker, a charming, happy, wonderful guy, unable to fix anything, but so nice we shrugged and put up with two weeks of having to go outside and turn on (and off) the main water valve every time we need to shower, cook, wash hands, do dishes, brush teeth, flush and so on. Once that problem was finally solved, we were visited by a week of having electricity only in the kitchen. He did put on an entertaining show one night when he tried to fix the electricity by sticking a screwdriver in the meter box, setting off a shower of Roy Hobbsian sparks and panicked howls from every dog in the neighborhood.

Every so often he'd generously share a bunch of bananas, a handful of oranges or one of the fish he'd caught. Nice. But Mrs. Caretaker; another story entirely...

Our rent included weekly house cleaning by this dour butterball, with neither "weekly" nor "clean" qualifying as truth in advertising. And that was really just the tip of her disgruntled iceberg; Mrs. Caretaker didn't seem to like us. In fact, Mrs Caretaker, if she could have, would have machetted us into hundreds of little gringo pieces for the purpose of examining each individually, and then pointing out the faults with each and every one.

But still... the glorious patio! The beach! The jungle! The plenty of room for scheduled guests! We talked about moving, and kept finding reasons not to. And then one week before Christmas, the heart of high season, and two days before our sons were to arrive for the holidays, we were told we'd have to leave. Two days notice. Call it Panic in Puerto: The Unfortunate Confluence of Bad Timing, Bad Manners and General Landlord Douchbaggery.

And so it goes...

Next time: Moves Three, Four, Five and Six, featuring: A Week In A Shed; Where are we, Del Boca Vista? and more...

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