How the banks are killing tourism and investment in Costa Rica

So, you think you want to visit the beautiful country of Costa Rica with your family and don’t want to tuck cash in your socks and underwear to do it?  No problem, you’ll just use an ATM for your cash, right?  Remember that first you have to notify the bank that you will be using your credit or debit card abroad.  Okay, you’ve done that.  Then remember that you will have daily limits on how much can be withdrawn in order to protect against fraud.  Ok, you can live with $500 per day.  But then you get to the ATM at Banco de Costa Rica and you realize that the ATM won’t give you more than $100/day.  At this time, Banco Nacional and private banks still allow more, but $100/day?  What family of 4 can vacation on $100 a day?  Not in Costa Rica.  So, what do you do?  For now, you go to every bank you can, pay withdrawal fees at each of them and unfortunately, waste a lot of time on your vacation.

Why this sudden restriction?  The answer I got is that the Hacienda (or the tax agency in Costa Rica) wants to track payments that previously have been done in cash and therefore, not reported as income.  I’ve also heard to avoid money laundering, although I’ve never heard of any money laundering that happens with only $500.

What if you want to bring down a student group for a trip?  They’ve paid for their trip and you need to figure out how to bring the money down to pay.  You can’t bring more than $10,000 without reporting it and who would want to carry that much cash anyway?  Forget the ATM (see note above).  You’re only here a week so opening a bank account is out of the question (and see the limitations below).  And third parties are not allowed to accept your money to give you here on this end due to money laundering concerns.  What do you do?  Do you have to make international transfers to each and every hotel, national park (which doesn’t accept bank deposits for payments), and restaurant?  Just how do you pay?  Make each child carry their own money?

What if you want to move down and buy a home?  No problem here.  Costa Rica allows foreigners to buy property and if you invest in $200,000 or more, you qualify as an investor for residency.  Just go open a bank account and move your money down, right?  Hmmm.   Banco de Costa Rica no longer allows anyone without a residency to open a bank account.  They have set up an easy to open account system for foreigners, but it limits the amount in the account to $1000.  Not going to buy a house on that money!  And with housing rentals at typically $1000 and up, how is a family going to live on this?  They aren’t.  Honestly, who decided on a $1000 limit?  So, you would actually have to make the transfer down from your home bank on the day of the closing, but make sure you have someone back home authorized to make the transfer for you.

So, once someone has their residency, they can apply for a bank account (at BCR), but the trick is that you can only apply for investor residency after you have bought a house (with no bank account) and have waited the approximately 6 months for your residency to be approved.  Of course, you might qualify for residency in another way, but you will still have to wait for the processing and approval before you can open the account.  What a mess!   Banco Nacional still allows people to open accounts on a passport, but yes, there is a lot of paperwork to have ready before you hit the bank.  Best to consult your local lawyer on that one so that you don’t waste your day just to find out you don’t have all of the papers.  And be prepared to sit in the bank for hours while the account is being opened (even though you have every document ready).  Then, once the account is opened, make sure you can verify why you are bringing the money in or it will be frozen.  Be able to present a contract to buy something at the time of the transfer to prove the reason for this influx of money.

I personally have my account at BCR and like the fact that the website is in both Spanish and English, but the recent restrictions have made new accounts and ATM withdrawals impossible at this bank for tourists and immigrants.  They claim that the other banks will soon be following suit as it is a government mandate.  I really hope this isn’t true because it is already difficult enough to travel or live internationally without these restrictions.  For the moment Banco Nacional is still opening accounts for foreigners with the proper documentation and Scotiabank has confirmed that they also are available to open new accounts.

Costa Rica is still one of the most amazing countries to visit and live in, but the banking restrictions are making it harder every day for the average tourist and immigrant.  If anyone has discovered legal ways to get around these restrictions, please comment on the blog as it would be very helpful to many.

For more information on opening a bank account and what you need to have with you, Cecilia Tristan, at the law firm of Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan can help you every step of the way.  Email her at Cecilia@gomeztristanytristan.com.  Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton and you can contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com as well as through Facebook and the website.

Costa Rica 101

There are a few differences in Costa Rica that just might make you shake your head and smile (or cry depending on the case). 

1)       Roosters can start crowing at any hour, even at 3 in the morning.  Forget the idea of roosters crowing at sunrise.

2)      New Year’s Eve parties are usually with families.  Parties at bar and clubs will start after 1 a.m. which is when Costa Ricans go out to celebrate the New Year after celebrating with the family.   If you think you are going to go out and be part of a large crowd to welcome in the New Year at midnight, you will be deeply disappointed.

3)      Easter is celebrated all week, that is, the week before Easter Sunday.  Vacations will be in full bloom and many places closed.  Stores often re-open on Saturday, before Easter Sunday.

4)      Christmas is completely focused on Christmas Eve.  Christmas dinners and gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve at night and Baby Jesus gets placed in the manger at that time. Even though Santa is becoming more common, you will still hear that Baby Jesus brings the gift.

5)      Vacations are taken VERY seriously.  The National Registry is closed from the 21st of December until the 9th of January.  Do not even hope to do anything that involves legal processes during this time.  Even if the office you need is open, don’t be surprised to find that the person you need is on vacation and no one else can do anything about your problem until you get back.

6)      If you have a new baby, you will find that ANYONE may come up and ask to hold him/her.  Costa Ricans love babies.  After at first being shocked when a lady came up and took my baby while I was at a funeral (I was quickly informed that the lady was a nurse and she was to be trusted), I quickly learned to love the fact that waiters would take the baby and walk around with her while I ate or had to run to the bathroom.  A new baby is always considered a blessing and NEVER a shame no matter the circumstances.

7)      Tomorrow does not always mean tomorrow.  It could mean anytime in the future.

8)      Costa Ricans do not seem to feel worried about canceling or changing appointments.  “If God willing or wishes it” ends most arrangements to meet or see another person.  And with that, a laid back attitude about appointments.  If it rains, or someone was just delayed for any reason, appointments may be cancelled, often without advising the other party.

9)      Time in general is just not stressed about.  “Tico Time” is the term for when people arrive late.  It can vary from person to person, so you might want to check if the activity will start “en punto” meaning right on time, or “en hora tica” which is Tico Time and could mean 30 minutes to an hour later.

10)   Reading is not as common.  Children’s books are hard to find and very expensive in International bookstores.    Definitely, bring your favorites with you.

11)   Watching international news is not considered very important.  Why worry about something on the other side of the world when you really need to know if the bridge to San Jose will be closed for your commute?  So don’t be surprised if discussions tend to be more locally oriented.

12)   Forget “blocking” your friends because you disagree on politics or religion.  Costa Ricans can easily discuss or disagree on things without feeling personally offended or accusing others of being wrong. 

13)   If you are told that something will be “difficult”, assume you are being told , “No, this will not happen.”  Costa Ricans do not like confrontation and rarely say no.  So, when you hear a “maybe”, forget it.

14)   Defensive driving is a must.  Always assume that the other driver will not follow any of the rules of the road.  Blinkers? Nope.  Stop signs?  Just suggestions.  Passing on curves, going uphill?  Absolutely. 

15)   More than a coffee break.  In government facilities, do not be surprised to get to the front of a long line, just to have the clerk get up and leave with no explanation.  What is happening?  If it is between 8 and 10 a.m., he/she has gone to breakfast.  This can be 30 minutes or longer.  The same occurs in the afternoon for coffee time.  What to do?  Have a seat and wait and hope you have a book.

16)   Why does everyone say “goodbye” or “adios” when you pass by?  They aren’t really saying goodbye.  When someone is just passing by on the street, people will often yell out “adios”, just like we might say “Hey!”

17)   Glad your flight has landed?  Costa Ricans are so happy, they clap.  A full applause can be given upon landing.

18)   Rain.  The rain makes people sick.  I always scratch my head at this one.  The rain here is warm and just wet but people will often use it as an excuse to not take children out.  It is raining and they can’t get wet or they will get sick.  Hmm.  Except for soccer, of course.  My child has played games where they couldn’t even see the other players or the ball because of the rain and the stands will still be full of devoted fans.  Who knew?

19)   Differences are considered interesting, not threatening.  I had a Costa Rican lady come up to my African-born volunteer.  She touched her skin and said it was so beautiful and so much healthier than her own white skin.  What a great way to see the world.

20)   A true family focus.  Older brothers and sisters carry their little siblings around and help care for them.  Extended families are very common with grandparents living in the same house and everyone caring for each other.  I don’t ever remember seeing so many teenage boys willing to help care for a baby.

Differences that are frustrating, silly, or endearing, Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”  with a lack of confrontation (except on the road) and a relaxing love of life and living in the present.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She has lived in Costa Rica and is always glad to answer any questions you might have about life in Costa Rica or purchasing a property here.  Contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com.  Her work partner is Cecilia Tristan who has been a broker for 40 years and is an attorney with specialties in residency and property transfers.    Both are bilingual and completely available and willing to help you every step of the way.  Click on the website or Facebook page for more information.

A Successful Campaign

What makes some social campaigns succeed and others fail?  Is it just having someone who is inspirational leading it, or a lot of money supporting it?  None of that hurts, by any means, but the most important aspect is to involve as many different aspects of the community as possible. Why?  Because, the more people and agencies who back a project and feel that is relevant and important, the more people will be informed which increases the rate of success. This support typically includes the Municipality, the Ministry of Health, and other government agencies as well as the private sector including businesses who are both directly affected and interested in the campaign. This also includes involving the education sector and the general public.  When all of these sectors can be brought together to support the cause, then that cause will be more likely to succeed.

The Atenas Swim Campaign is kicking off to a strong start. To see how it is measuring up:

1)      Business Support:  The swim instructors in Atenas were gathered first and they will be presented to the public during the Christmas Fair the weekend of December 16, 17, and 18th.  They are offering the regular classes and vacation swim classes with reduced prices for those children who are being sponsored.

2)      Institutional Support:  The project was presented to the Ministry of Health and then to the Municipality of Atenas.  Even though this is a campaign that obviously will directly benefit the private swim instructors, the focus is on the general security of the public around sources of water and both institutions were completely supportive even giving the Municipal symbol to put on flyers.   The Municipality also said that they would make the swim campaign a priority for the Sports Committee which would provide some funding in the future.   The Ministry of Health feels this is an important initiative and has agreed to have a representative on the Swim Commission which will be formed in January after the holidays.  There is already a specific group in the Ministry of Health formed to use sports in general as a tool to keep kids healthy and out of trouble and this initiative will fall in line with this need and also lower the risk to our children.  Due to this alignment, future funding could even be possible from this collaboration.   

3)      Public Awareness:  Flyers have been created to hand out to the public during the Christmas Fair on December 16, 17, and 18th. These flyers include general information about safety around rivers, the ocean, and pools during the Christmas break and stress the importance of learning to swim.  The flyers contain the Atenas Municipality symbol and the copies were sponsored by Tristan & Newton Real Estate. 

4)      Private sponsorship:  As the general public is being made aware of the need, 120,000 colones have already been donated to sponsor children not able to afford lessons but who wish to learn.  This currently will cover 6 children in a three-week swim program during vacations and we are aiming for the ability to provide a total of 20 children in need with the lessons this January.  To do this, we would need 280,000 colones more (which can be through complete sponsorship of 20,000 colones or shared sponsorship of 10,000) but it is a goal that I am sure we can reach. 

5)      Education:  As soon as the schools are back in session in February, water safety information will be distributed there as well and the Commission will coordinate with the schools to provide presentations about water safety.

The more organizations that support a project ensure that it will be projected out to more of the public and will be better received than with only an individual effort.  Since the swim campaign already has the support of 2 major public institutions, private businesses, and individuals, I have no doubt that this campaign will be an ongoing effort with far-reaching results.

To be a part of the commission and the swim campaign or to sponsor a future swimmer, please contact Tina Newton at tina@tnrealestatecr.com.  Tina Newton and Cecilia Tristan are co-owners of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and proud sponsors of the swim campaign.  They can answer all of your real estate and legal needs.  Check out the website at http://www.tnrealestatecr.com and the Facebook page for listings and more information.

Generosity Abounds

Living in Atenas, we are very lucky that the majority of strong storms do not hit us directly and that is exactly what happened with Hurricane Otto which just passed through the area.  Very rarely do hurricanes hit directly Costa Rica in general as they curve North before hitting land.  However, if they get close, the Caribbean coast gets hit hard with the heavy rains and winds.  Hurricane Otto hit both the Caribbean coast and the Northern area of Costa Rica.  Videos are displayed all over social media with the destruction and power of this storm.  Here is just one example ( video Upala ).

With tragedy, the best in human nature is often seen.  The community of Atenas has collection sites at the Municipality, the Red Cross, the grocery stores, churches, and with private groups who are gathering supplies to take up to the disaster victims.  The amount of giving is really overwhelming and amazing.  Everyone is doing their part.  donations Atenas 1.jpg

I am always impressed with the generosity of people, especially here in our town.  Whether it is contributing to the children’s home, to the Angel Tree program, or helping neighbors in need, the community comes together to give.  I have even been told by some that they want to help, but just need to know when and how.  This giving culture is something that has really been cultivated in Atenas and is a beautiful thing to behold.  In addition to being a part of the general Costa Rican culture, I also think it  has to do with living in a small town.  People look out for each other and come together to help in all kinds of tragedies, large and small.

We had our Thanksgiving lunch on Sunday and were able to be thankful both for the fact that Atenas did not get hit by the hurricane, but that there is so much generosity in this community to help those who were not so fortunate.  And a special thanks to all of those volunteers who rushed up to Upala to personally help everyone involved in the tragedy.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Costa Rica.  Feel free to contact her with questions of any kind through her email or Facebook.

The Big OOPS

What could be worse than two days before a closing on your house, you discover that you can’t close because the registry information doesn’t match up?  Oops! We’ve all heard horror stories of properties being sold that don’t officially belong to the person that sold it or official sizes being way less than the offered size, for example seeing an original plot map (plano) of 5000 square meters but pieces were sold off and it is no longer the actual size of the property.  Then there is a long legal battle to correct it (if there is any way to correct it after purchase).  However, there are more simple and honest mistakes that can happen in the system that can still stop your sale until it is corrected.

We’ve heard it a million times.  Check your credit score and history to make sure all is accurate before you need credit.  This is true for more than credit scores.  Before you decide to sell your house and even if you aren’t planning on selling anytime soon, check the registry for your property to make sure all is correct.  Make sure your name, identification number, and the information about the property is correct and updated.  Even when you know that the property should be in your name and that there aren’t any true discrepancies, such as a property being in the name of a family member that passed away years before, errors still exist in the system.  The registry in Costa Rica has many, many errors that you should make sure are corrected in advance or it can slow down or stop a sale and even if it’s not caught at the time, it can cause a new updated registry request to be rejected.   Nothing like the horrible feeling from the buying side that you just paid money on a property, the owners have left the country, and you can’t get the property passed into your name.  If they are legitimate, honest sellers, they will have to jump through hoops to get it all corrected both for the buyers and so the property doesn’t remain in their names with taxes and other liabilities still due.  And if they aren’t so honest or don’t want to bother???  Oops!

What kinds of errors can happen?

1.       Name misspellings.  If your name is misspelled, the registry can doubt it is you as it doesn’t match your i.d.  If the name is spelled incorrectly and does not match the i.d. spelling, a lawyer may have to swear that you are the same person and file that paper as well.  If the spelling is very different, it should be corrected completely.

2.       Unmatched name with identifications.  For example, using a name copied from a passport and an i.d. number from your residency which are not always the same.  Maybe the property was bought in a maiden name and now you are selling with a married name on your i.d.  You need to get it corrected and again have a lawyer justify that you are the same person.

3.       Incorrect or even expired identification numbers.  Each time your residency number changes or you change from a passport to an i.d., your registry doesn’t.  This may not cause a problem, but you will have to verify that you are still the same person by having a lawyer justify why the identification number is different.

4.       Properties in the registry which don’t match up with the plot (plano) numbers or sizes.  There are times when the plot registry has a different measurement for the lot than the registry of the property.  This should never be the case but it happens quite frequently.  This needs to be corrected for a buyer to have the correct size of property that is being bought.  This could be due to the plano not being updated with sales of pieces of the property or even a typographical error.

5.       Debts listed to the property.  Make sure that any loans that might have been taken against the property and are now paid are cleared off of the registry.  These are not taken off automatically but have to be requested to be removed.

6.       Easements that have not been updated.  All easements should be listed in the registry of the property.  However, if something has been eliminated or added, it is important to check that these changes have been made.

All of these apply if the property is listed to a corporation as well; checking who has the write to sign in order to sell and therefore, making sure that all names and i.d. numbers match up.  These things are not difficult to check and a lawyer or even your real estate agent should check these at the time of listing your property so you don’t get down to the moment of closing a sale and have a surprise.  If you are a buyer, your agent should also be checking the registry to make sure all is correct before closing.  However, in the end, it is up to you to stay on top of it and make sure someone is confirming this.  All of these issues listed above are usually minor and can be corrected fairly easily, but it takes a little time and you wouldn’t want to lose a deal because of a typo.

To avoid your “oops” moment when selling a home, contact Tristan & Newton Real Estate through the website or by email.  Making sure that all is smooth and easy in your home selling and buying process.  Names to Trust…Homes to Cherish.

Dengue, to Fear or Not to Fear?

The Scare.  A friend of mine, who is headed back down to Costa Rica, asked me about the dengue situation in Atenas because they had read that the cases in Atenas were sky high.  I was surprised about the question because I’ve only heard of a couple of cases recently.  I’m not sure exactly where my friend read this information, but after searching the internet, I did find an article about dengue in “La Prensa Libre” which publishes online and listed Atenas at the top in Costa Rica (http://www.laprensalibre.cr/Noticias/detalle/81094/atenas-encabeza-cantones-afectados-por-dengue). 

Time to put it all in context.  First, the way this article was reported was incredibly misleading.  Statistics can be used to influence people in many ways.  For the average person, who may not be professionals in economics, these stats without explanation or improperly stated can be alarming (which is probably the intent in the first place).  This specific article states that Atenas leads  with the highest percentage of cases for the first 31 weeks of the year 2016.  It reports that there are 3,134 patients.  But if you read closely, that number is per 100,000 inhabitants.  Since Atenas doesn’t have 100,000 inhabitants, but only around 15,000, the actual number of cases would be closer to 450.  Still terrible, but a truly different number.  Also, the director for the country states that at the beginning of the year, they were getting reports of 1000 cases/week (for the country, not Atenas), but since it was stated right after the statement about Atenas having the most cases, with a quick read, you might think he was talking about Atenas.  And he goes on to state that currently (August), he was at about 100 cases/week for the country.  We are now in November.

Fighting dengue.  Atenas had a large fumigation campaign several months ago.  It was recognized that mosquitos and dengue were a problem and addressed (although probably not totally eliminated).  But people are reading these statistics, now, in November, and are getting scared to come now. 

Dengue transmission.  Dengue and the other mosquito carried diseases are transmitted when one infected mosquito bites another person.  The distance that mosquitos travel is usually not that far (typically no more than 300 feet reported by mosquito.org), so it is the biggest problem between families and people living or working close to each other.  It’s also more common in the lower altitudes where more mosquitos thrive rather than up where it is cooler.

Symptoms of dengue.   Dengue is terrible.  I have seen true cases of dengue where people run high fevers for 5-7  days straight, are in extreme body pain, and break out in rashes with an extreme tiredness that can last for weeks.  Unfortunately, it seems that every time someone here has a fever, immediately it is proclaimed that the person has dengue.  Even if they get better in 48 hours and discount it, they already made the announcement in the community that they had dengue and that is what people remember.  Fact, the regular labs don’t do dengue exams.  Only the Ministry of Health can run a dengue exam which takes 1-2 weeks for the report to come back.  Therefore, no one waits for this report and instead, the doctors request blood exams for platelets counts which can be returned the same day.  The labs check the levels of platelets in the body and if they lower to an extreme amount, it is assumed to be dengue.  Regular viruses will also lower the platelets.  So only after multiple days of platelet testing and counting will a doctor declare that it APPEARS to be dengue.  Treatments for these viruses are the same with lots of liquids, medicine to control the fever, and rest.  Antibiotics do not work as these are viruses, not infections.   

So, what to take from this?  Be careful and a bit suspicious with health reports in unofficial news sources.  You need to check the source, understand the stats, and put it in context.  Atenas does have flair-ups with dengue, so use repellent or long sleeves to help prevent mosquito bites and but don’t give up your life just because of rumors or badly-stated statistics.  

Tina Newton is the co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.  Feel free to contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com with any questions, real estate related, or not.  Check out the website for current listings and the Facebook page for updates.  They look forward to helping you find the home of your dreams.  Names to Trust…Homes to Cherish.

Spring Cleaning in Costa Rica

Now that “winter” or the rainy season is heading out and “summer” or the dry season (and high season) is heading in, it’s time to do some serious spring cleaning. The rains can do damage and leave everything smelly and moldy.  So, to prepare your house for the high season, it is important to do a little “spit shining”.  What to do and where to start?

Start from the top and work your way down.

1)      Check the roofs and the gutters to make sure all is in good shape and that there are no left over blockages in the gutters that will produce mosquitos until everything dries out completely.

2)      Check the ceilings for any spots that might have been caused by backed up gutters in the heaviest rains or from mold which can build up just from the humidity in the air.  Replace, clean, or repair.

3)      Check the paint inside and out.   Are there areas that might have been damaged or need a bit of refreshing?  Even a good scrubbing can take away some muddy dog prints that might have been left on the walls.

4)      Check in and behind the furniture and closets.  ALL of it.  Especially with wooden or leather furniture, mold can hide behind from the humidity and smell really bad.  For some people, they won’t even know what is wrong but will get a sudden headache from being in your home and it might be something you don’t see but is lurking behind the furniture or inside drawers.  Personally, I wipe it down and Lysol it as that is supposed to kill most mold spores.  I’m sure there are other options out there as well.

5)      Air everything out.  Things just get stuffy in the wet season.  Air out mattresses and covers.

6)      A deep down scrubbing on the floor will get the tracked in mud out and then you will be back to just sweeping and mopping dust again.  Don’t forget the entry way and the front and back porch areas as well.  The cleanliness of your home is seen long before anyone steps in the front door.

Now you know why the locals call the rainy season, winter.  So, in the transition month of November, get your cleaning gear out and prepare for the sale.  Spring cleaning, here we come!

Please add your own best cleaning tips and share them with everyone.  Tina is a Realtor and half-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  Feel free to send her any questions at her email and check out the properties in Costa Rica on the Facebook page (like to see the newest updates) or on the website.

Swimming, the Most Important Sport to Learn

This topic may seem way off base for a real estate blog, but our little town has just been shocked and saddened by a tragedy this week in which two adolescents drowned in a local waterfall.  My own children are the same ages and we are all in mourning for the loss of these young lives. 

This tragedy occurred in a waterfall that we swim in frequently.  However, I know what the reaction will be…close off the waterfall; don’t let your children near the rivers, and more.  The opposite needs to be happening; we need to make sure that every person and every child knows how to swim and how to swim well.  I have seen and heard so many tragedies with water over time, boat wrecks, rip currents, swimming pool accidents, tsunamis.  Now, I am not saying that even the best swimmer could overcome some of these acts of Mother Nature (including this one) and there are always many more factors to consider such as being hit directly on the head by objects or diving into rocks, but I am always saddened when in light of such events, one of the main things I hear is, “They didn’t know how to swim.” 

In many cultures, even ones based directly next to the sea, it is not common for people to know how to swim.  In Costa Rica, this is also the case, and yet we see people playing in the ocean who don’t know how to swim.  I have been told, “We don’t go too deep. We stay at the edge.”  What if a wave comes and pulls you further out?  What if the boat you are on goes down and you can’t get to a life vest?  Swimming is the only sport that if you don’t learn it, you could die. 

We must make an effort to get every child in swimming lessons.  In addition, it is important to teach the strength of nature.  Don’t swim in rip currents, know how to identify them, but also know how to get out of them.  Know the strength of a waterfall and which ones are fine to play under as if you were in a tropical movie and which ones are just too strong for the human body. 

I am not in any way placing blame or judging anyone in this current tragedy, but with every tragedy, we have to learn for the future.  What do we take from this?  Do we let their lives be in vain?  Do we follow our gut reaction and just close off swimming pools and all access to rivers?  My suggestion is to teach every child how to swim from the very earliest moment and also teach them to recognize danger.  Children will be interested in water.  Accidents happen. 

Giving our children the skills to at least try to avoid or survive these accidents are vital.  Sponsor a child in swimming lessons.  Our little town of Atenas, with the “Best Climate in the World” should be producing Olympic swimmers as we can swim outside, year-round.  There are lessons from Wednesday to Saturday in all hours at the local swimming pool (Balneario El Cerro) for little ones up to adults.  It’s great exercise and it can save lives.  Learn to swim, teach young ones to swim, and sponsor others in swimming lessons.  Have certifications in lifesaving techniques.  It might not have prevented this current tragedy, but it can prevent others in the future.  I plead with you all, in every town and every country, to recognize the importance of water safety and teaching swimming to our children. 

Side note:  Although I focused on swimming for children, it is never too late to learn. You never know when it could save your life or the lives of others. 

Tina Newton is half owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.   Check out their Facebook page and “like” it for more information or see the website for their listings.  Feel free to contact her for any questions about living in Costa Rica.

Get Involved

No matter where you live or how you live, the more you get involved in your community, the more connected you will feel, the better you will feel about yourself, and just think of how much can actually be accomplished.

In Atenas, we are very lucky to have a lot of people who get involved and volunteer to help.  Whether you want to help children, the poor, or animals, there is something for you.  Below are just four of the groups that are organized to help others.

1)       Animales Atenas.  This group has gotten stronger every year.  This group of dedicated animal lovers do their best to find homes for abandoned animals, castrate animals so there are fewer on the street, and rescue animals which are being abused or have been forgotten.  What can you do?  Support the foundation directly by being a member or donate money, time, or food to the cause.  They are always in need of foster homes for the animals.

2)      CATUCA.  This is the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce in Atenas.  This group puts on the large fairs such as the Climate Fair in April and the Christmas Fair in December.  They are also trying to work with the community to form a Cultural Center.  Of course, they also participate in tourism fairs to promote  Atenas and Atenas businesses.  If you like cultural activities, this is a great group to join.  You don’t have to be a business owner to be a part of this group and you can make a real difference in the direction of activities in Atenas.  The more people who are willing to help, the more activities that can be done.

3)      The Chili Cookoff.  This started approximately eight years ago as a simple bet as to who could cook the best chili.  The funds raised (just a couple of hundred dollars), went to benefit the local children’s home.  Each year it has grown and is now one of the major sources of funds for the home.  Normally held in February of each year, 2017 will be the only year that the Chili Cookoff will not be happening, but it is to gear up and expand for 2018.  The Cookoff has gotten so big that it will now be benefitting multiple organizations in the town in addition to the children’s home.  This is always a fun and exciting event and volunteers are needed year-round for planning and making it happen.

4)      Angel Tree.  This will be the twelfth year that this event has benefitted the needy children that live in Atenas.  Each year, over 300 names are gathered and descriptions of the children (age, sizes, and likes) are put on angels to be selected by community members.  It is all kept anonymous and each sponsor selects a child (or more) and purchases a gift for that child.  In December, the Christmas party is held and the gifts are distributed to the kids with food and entertainment.  Volunteers are always needed for the planning, organization, and cookie making as well as the day of the event to usher children in the door, hand out the food, and make everything run smooth.  Participating in this group can be as simple as you want by only buying a gift or donating money for the party or as involved as you would like to be directly with the planning.  Look for the trees this year at Kay’s Gringo Postres and Balcon del Café.

These are only four of the groups in Atenas and the more Spanish you learn, the more involved you can be in the community as a whole by attending town meetings, working on the water committee, recycling committee, and more.  Get involved.  Make a difference.  Feel good.

If you are interested in any of the groups above or have a specific interest not addressed, let Tina know and she can put you in touch with the right people.  Tina is half owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.   Check out their Facebook page and “like” it for more information.

Pura Vida!!

Atenas is currently going through a terrible water outage due to Mother Nature.  The hurricane level winds and rains that blew through the community caused a tree to fall on one of the main water lines that delivers water from Grecia to the central areas of Atenas.  The town is now going on the fourth day of gathering water in buckets from the large trucks which are bringing water through the town.  As I saw the reactions of the Costa Ricans, I appreciate even more this culture.  This is a very frustrating situation as they have no water for anything, not for toilets, drinking, cleaning, or showering, but the majority is gathered at the street in groups, hanging out and making the best of it.  You would think you were watching tailgating parties rather than such a dire situation.  No wonder this is considered one of the happiest places on Earth.  It’s not that everything is perfect; it’s that they make the best out of terrible situations.

What are some other traits that seem to be distinctly  Costa Rican (or “Tico”)?  Here are a few that I have found amazing, frustrating, and downright baffling at times.

1)       An acceptance of bad things.  Even though Ticos will complain until the sun goes down (and after), there is a general acceptance that bad things happen. Unlike many of us from North America who feel like we have to and should “fix” everything, there is more of an acceptance and an allowance of bad things.  It’s not common to show initiative to come up with ways to change things and there is more reliance on the government to fix it for them.

2)      Ticos tend to just avoid rules they don’t like.  They know that they government is always inventing new rules and so, for the most part, they ignore them or figure out ways to get around them. Often the rules are soon changed or become so commonly ignored that they are not enforced anyway.

3)      Ticos don’t like to say “no”.  It’s too direct.  If a Tico tells you it is “dificil” or difficult, he is saying that it isn’t going to happen.  “Maybe” is also usually “no”.  Even “yes”, often has the added “si Dios quiere” meaning literally if God wants it to be that way, which gives a way out if things don’t line up just right.

4)      When will it be ready?  “Mañana” is often the answer.  Tomorrow (which doesn’t necessarily mean the very next day).  It could be any time in the future, since tomorrow is never today.

5)      Saprissa or la Liga?  One of the things I really like about the Costa Rican culture is that people can discuss politics or soccer (the second often being of higher importance) without being hateful.  Among families and friends, it’s often common to be on opposite sides and that’s okay. There is a lighthearted “ribbing” that occurs, but it doesn’t get mean and nasty.  Wish we could incorporate this in our culture at the moment.

What do these have in common?  Avoidance of conflict.  Ticos are peaceful people in a peaceful country and those who want to make changes are sometimes seen as instigators of problems and it’s not seen as a positive thing.  As frustrating as that can be for an outside culture that feels the need to jump in and fix everything, we also have to learn to take a deep breath and feel the “pura vida”.  There is a reason why Costa Ricans really are less stressed about life.  I fully accept that these are generalizations and there are many Costa Ricans that don’t fall into these characteristics, but even most of those will laugh and admit that they aren’t very “Tico”, no arguments even there.  Pura Vida.

For more information on living in Costa Rica or to answer any questions you might have, please send an email to Tina Newton at Tristan & Newton Real Estate and check out the website and Facebook page.   Whether it is finding the home of your dreams, making an investment, or just helping you feel at home, we are here for you.

cecilia-y-tina