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O C T O B E R caribbean, west indies, real   estate, property, land, retiring, moving,             relocating, living, working, expats, international living, overseas,   abroad,             caribbean property magazine, caribpro 2 0 0 9
Issue 33
An online magazine about investing, living, working and relocating to the Caribbean.
EDITORIAL
Ramblings, thoughts and occasional sense from the Eastern Caribbean >>
HOT OFF THE PRESS
Events and news from around the region >>
SUSTAINABLE LIVING
Sharing resources and best practices >>
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Updates on Caribbean tourism, conferences>>
DID YOU KNOW?
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Investment
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Caribbean Property Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working Confidence Grows in Roatan Investments
Caribbean Property Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working Samana: DR’s Rising Star, Part 2 of 3
Caribbean Property Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working The Joy of House Sitting in Costa Rica
Caribbean Property Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working Tales of a Caribbean Sails Man (Salesman)
Caribbean Property Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working Expat: Do You Have What it Takes?

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Caribbean Property  Magazine, Real Estate, jobs, relocation, living and working Mortgage Matters Advice on moving, finding and saving money for your Caribbean property >>
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S P E C I A L caribbean, west indies, real estate, property, land, retiring, moving, relocating, living, working, expats, international living, overseas, abroad, caribbean property magazine, caribpro F E A T U R E S

THE JOYS OF HOUSESITTING IN COSTA RICA
by Mark Crump


In the stress-abundant environment of construction management, where I worked for over twenty-five years, I found that I could escape my humdrum life through reading about faraway lands and dreaming of a cool job in an exotic country by strumming through the pages of my Caretaker Gazette subscription. As 2008 drew to a close, I once again renewed my subscription to the Gazette, and once again was dreaming about the possibilities of finding a house sitting and property caretaking position which would give me the wonderful opportunity to see some of the world.

In 2008, in order to "test the waters," I had actually placed a Situations Wanted ad in the Gazette and received a great response from many property owners. It was really encouraging, and I nearly accepted a few of the short term positions that were being offered to me. Unfortunately, the logistics did not work out.

Then, I was finally given another opportunity on one cold, Canadian winter day. In late February 2009, I had just received one of the Gazette’s email updates. An advertisement in Costa Rica caught my attention, so I decided to email a property owner about the short-term house sitting position.

I communicated by email an overview of qualifications, along with an introduction about me. We communicated briefly via email messages and it appeared that, because of my experience, I was now the prime candidate for the house sitting position. I was both thrilled and concerned since; finally, another of my life goals could soon become a reality.

 
At the same time I answered the Costa Rica ad, I had also responded to another ad that was placed by another property owner, and had commenced building a relationship through letters and plenty of questions and answers, with some folks in rural Montana. They were seeking someone who could assist them in reconstructing a wilderness lodge in Montana for the summer of 2009. Unfortunately, they needed someone who could commit a little sooner than I could insure I might be back from Costa Rica.
The Joy of House Sitting in Costa Rica
Those owners did not want to split their tasks and assignment into more than one agreement with more than one person. 

I thought at one point I might have been able to swing coming back from Costa Rica and go directly to Montana to help them out, but it was just too tight a commitment.

It would have been unfair to ask the Montana folks to wait for a week or two while I dropped back home and said hello to everyone for a week, after being gone for to Costa Rica for few months.


IN THE END, THOUGH, DURING MY EIGHT-WEEK STAY IN COSTA RICA, I WAS PROBABLY HEALTHIER THERE THAN I’VE BEEN IN YEARS.  
 
For this short-term house-sitting assignment in Costa Rica, I had to make my own travel arrangements. In addition, I decided to take out added insurance for medical coverage - just in case. And,  before leaving Canada for Costa Rica, I also went on a regiment of added vitamins and pro-biotics, etc. as I did not want to risk becoming ill while down there. In the end, though, during my eight-week stay in Costa Rica, I was probably healthier there than I've been in years.  The reason for this was that everything was natural and my digestive system was very happy to be consuming all of the locally produced foods, with little or no preservatives in them.
 
After giving me a few days to investigate and to speak with the current house sitters (who were from Canada as well), I decided to commit and purchased my airline ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica. By the end of March, I was sitting on a bus on my way to Limon, after a flight and overnight delay on the flight to Houston from Toronto. When I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, I boarded a bus for a nearly four hour trip to the eastern coast of Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. It was there that I eventually met my new friend – the owner of this lovely casa overlooking the ocean. Upon arriving, with my Spanish – English phrase book in hand and with the assistance of a wonderful senior citizen from New York who was also on that bus, I finally met the owner, D.
The Joy of House Sitting in Costa Rica
We left the hustle of the bus/taxi/tourist/guest arrivals and made our way through the now complete darkness to the site of what was to be my new adventure for the next two months. D made me some food, we enjoyed a few words, and I was shown my bedroom where I happily retired for my first night in Costa Rica, weary from the full day of traveling. I had heard the sound of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the shoreline all night long but I could not believe my eyes when I awoke. Upon awaking, I realized that I could lie in bed and actually watch the surf among the mesmerizing dance of the palms outlining the cliff overlooking this surreal view.

D introduced me to the two resident dogs, Cannella and her son, Blanco. Both dogs had arrived one day, got a free meal, and then decided to stay. After some breakfast I was given a tour of the property and then we went into town to pick up some groceries. All of the magnificent scenery, the tropical heat, and the cooling ocean breezes were causing a sensory overload. I knew I was in for some adventure here and I found out later that afternoon just how it would commence.

 
LESS THAN 24 HOURS IN COSTA RICA…I AM ALREADY IN THE THICK OF THE JUNGLE, SLIPPING AND SLIDING DOWN A VERY STEEP HILLSIDE WITH MACHETE IN HAND.

On my first afternoon on the property, D asked me to put on some long pants and shoes and join him. Join him where, I wondered? I soon found out: we were about to trek down the mountainside to clear brush and palm branches away from the power lines. Less than 24 hours in Costa Rica and I am already in the thick of the jungle, slipping and sliding down a very steep hillside with a machete in hand and an aluminum pool-cleaning pole to lift branches out of the way. Within a few hours I was now muddy, a bit scratched, a little bitten by bugs, and really happy that this was finally over.

Next, I learned to knock down coconuts, cut the top off, and drink the sweet coco-water - all during my first afternoon at the casa! There I was, in the middle of a very dense tropical jungle, on a very hot afternoon, surrounded by all sorts of trees, plants and living things I had never been so close to before, sweating and working alongside the owner, working to complete our task. I must say… I was exhilarated by the experience.

 
After a few more days with the owner, he explained what he wished to be routinely checked on, learning the various methods from him personally. He seemed at ease with my taking responsibility over his casa so he left to return back to Europe. And, actually, within a few days of meeting the owner, I asked if he felt comfortable enough to want me to return - and he was.

Because of that, I had left the arrangement wide open regarding returning to this assignment. After he departed, the owner and I communicated every few days via email.
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I quickly got used to the ocean surf sound lulling me to sleep each night in this paradise. I developed a routine of breakfast, exercise, completing a few chores around the casa, reviewing the property perimeter, and tending to some seedlings I planted (to eventually allow the owner to have some fresh vegetables growing right on the property).

After I completed my responsibilities, my activities included reading, photographing the local shoreline, and wandering into town to observe the local folks and photograph the architecture. I was also able to travel extensively throughout Costa Rica, visiting nearby beach communities and exploring more of that amazingly beautiful country.

 
Because the town where I was house sitting had the only port in Costa Rica which regularly received all of the country's imports, it was a very busy place when the ships came in. In addition, there were tourists who came into town once or twice a week, when cruise ships would come to port. When these cruise ships came into port, the town was a flurry with activity. I actually went into town once on a civic holiday, Easter Monday and, aside from the occasional tourist wandering about, the town was almost a ghost town with hardly a person around anywhere - quite a contrast from the days when cruise ships came into port!

For those who were seeking an active nightlife, there was a social scene happening around several of the bars and a few dance clubs in town but it was not my style or my desire.  Business life was hectic in town and from dawn until dusk everything was active. Folks were out and about and all over doing what citizens everywhere do: going to work, going to school, going to meet with friends, having lunch, having meals, making business deals. Of all the people I've met during my travels, I found the local Ticos to be among the most helpful and friendly.
The Joy of House Sitting in Costa Rica
On a typical day, I would usually rise around seven a.m. and shower in cold water (no hot water in the casa). I would then lounge around for a bit and check and respond to email messages.

Next, I’d wander downstairs, make a cup of coffee, and go back upstairs to spend an hour communicating with friends on a laptop computer. Then I would go back downstairs, make some breakfast, have a workout in the pool, and decide on the day at hand. What a relaxing way to start my day.


My days usually consisted of going into town for fresh groceries, making minor repairs around the house, or simply reading and enjoying the scenery and surf. Occasionally I would plan a trip into town and then board a bus for a trip to another neighboring city located down along the Caribbean coast. I would typically spend the day there, returning in the evening to my new little piece of paradise. After dinner, a drink and watching the stars, I would update my diary from the day's events, and then go to bed. What a life!

On the whole, utilities at the casa worked just fine and were uninterrupted. I did experience a few power outages, usually for a few hours at a time, when the winds were strong or a storm blew in. In most cases, power was usually restored within a half day or so. During power outages, I would just make do and go about doing something else not requiring power!  I was fortunate to have internet access, although it did go down a couple of times. It was a little distressing but, fortunately, it always came back.
 
As far as my food and beverages, everything was from town. I just took a hike down the driveway, with a backpack, and took a cab into town to pick up my food, groceries, and beverages. Afterward, I took a cab back to the base of the driveway - because of the steepness of the driveway; most cabs would not even attempt the drive up. I would get out, pay the fare, adjust my pack and walk back to the casa - all uphill, while carrying a very good-sized load. 

On occasion, I was able to arrange for a four wheel drive taxi so I could then shop for more goods. The four wheel drive taxi could drive directly up the driveway and nearer to the casa so hauling in greater quantities was not a problem.  Water was drinkable and provided municipally, by the town. While it was a little high in minerals and particles, it was potable and actually not bad. For two hours each week, on Fridays, around noon, the water actually stopped flowing.

 
Although there was no vehicle available for my use, it was never a problem as I either walked or relied on the always available and reliable local taxis. I found that walking much better for my health. I lost considerable weight while there and built up my endurance substantially with all the walking and hiking I did. During my travels, I've always found walking is a much better way to see the beautiful, indigenous natural settings around me.
The Joy of House Sitting in Costa Rica
During the two months I spent in Costa Rica, I tried to speak Spanish. I found that, as long as I made the effort, the locals seemed thrilled. I was picking it up ever so slowly. In some situations, it would have been much easier if I had a better understanding of the language.
 
Being in a foreign country and maintaining a luxurious residence such as the casa in Costa Rica is wonderful, although it has its own myriad of responsibilities which comes with taking care of such a place on your own. I did not receive any monetary compensation but I did have free room and board, with a view of the Caribbean Sea each night and the constant sound of the surf! The experiences I had in Costa Rica were priceless and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

I think the most important attributes, skills, and personal traits one should possess for a house sitting or property caretaker assignment like this are flexibility, the willingness to accept change and work with it - to embrace it. One has to have a strong willingness to live life, no matter where it takes you. I also think you need to be a reasonable judge of people's character, and ensure you are comfortable with the entire scenario. You have to determine what you can control before you book a flight. Once that is decided,  just go with it and "git-r'done"!
 
Based on my own experiences as a house sitter in Costa Rica, I would highly recommend that others pursue similar positions. In fact, I wish my grown children would take leaves from their hectic life and do something similar to what I did. It really was a life altering experience for me and it's something that I wish I had done so many years before.

I found that to view and experience life in another culture simply makes you understand more about life in general, more about living, more about what is really important in life and more about yourself and what you are capable of. I learned that you can truly enjoy the simpler things in life, learn to be happy within yourself, and find peace in your soul without all the hype which we are subjected to... or should I re-phrase that - bombarded with... every minute of every day. There actually is time to stop and smell the roses!

Would I would consider doing this again? Absolutely, as long as the assignment has something about it which interests me.  I have most recently considered taking a job in Alaska... and, still may subconsciously be considering it! If that happens, ’ll let you all know about it with another article.  
Author : Mark K. Crump is Canadian by birth and quite proud of it! After his first taste of travel, he could already sense that it was going to be an important component in his future years as he knew then he wanted meaningful adventure in his life. Different places, meeting new people and seeing things from an outsider’s point of view continued to be exhilarating as Mark worked in the corporate world. Eventually he continued his formal education at the Technical College in Edmonton, Alberta, studying Architecture. Upon graduation, he began work as an architect, married and started his family.  Realizing a major dream of taking an early retirement, Mark decided to make plans about following his travel dreams. That dream took him to a house sitting job in Costa Rica. The experience was so exhilarating that he is still open to travelling anywhere for the assignment that is “the right fit.”   

Email : Mark K. Crump
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