Airbnb Like a Rock Star 

HOW TO AIRBNB LIKE A ROCK STAR:
TIPS & TRICKS FOR A HASSLE FREE VACATION
I initially heard of AirBnB through my now property manager and friend. In the past I always used an “Adviser” site as a renter. That site has a wonderful user friendly platform and I loved the reviews. I poured over them.

But since I have taken the plunge to the other side as a property owner instead of just a renter I have learned so much about the renting game! Reviews are a must but some other concerns as an owner are the extra fees passed onto you the renter. I’m not even talking about the fees that are taken from us the owners as that’s part of the game we signed up for. There are fees that are tacked on for the renter to pay for the privilege of being connected with their host. They differ from site to site. But not all sites are created equal.

Firstly let’s all agree that we are all tired of staying in overpriced and under-accommodated hotel rooms. Although I was familiar with hostel-living, I do have children and a husband who leans towards Five Star Accommodations. With that in mind I can only get away with so much in the realm of Hosteling. The overwhelming success of AirBnB and the assurance from my Manager was enough for me to at least try it out. I could always delete it if it turned out to be a dud. Right?

I was pretty tired of staying at dingy motels or pricey hotels in sneaky shifts. You have to understand I have three young children and an older step-daughter who also comes along once in a while. Making our family five to six people. When traveling on a budget you tend to sneak in the extra child. When they are younger it is so much easier. Just push the one queen bed up against the wall and have them all sleep in the one bed sideways. Three in one!

But as they are getting bigger I decided to finally step-up my traveling game. AirBnB allows property owners to rent out their various spaces to those passing through. I was immediately impressed with how easy it was to navigate through the site itself. Not only did it allow for a multitude of personal choices, it let me interact with other users and renters.

When we had taken the plunge and bought a rental/vacation home for our family I was of the mind that I needed to flood the market with my newly acquired Condo in Playa del Coco. I needed it to make at least some money so it wouldn’t break the bank at home. But I had high hopes for it to be so successful that it became self sufficient or even dare I say it maybe it could fund our vacations down there every year. A girl can dream. With that in mind, I was on a mission. TripAdviser, Flipkey, VRBO, were all on the list, so why not add AirBnB? Sign me up. Bring on the renters!

A year later, I’ve become a committed AirBnB devotee and almost never direct people to any other rental site. I use it exclusively myself and rarely book a hotel room unless the AirBnB option is exhausted.
AMENITIES PRIORITIZED

Now, what do you need and what do you want? My husband says there are Nice-it-ees and Need-it-ees. Ones you need, others are nice to have.
The perks of staying in someone’s home are that you’re often able to use the amenities provided by that particular property, such as a full kitchen or en suite laundry. If you’re looking for something in particular, like a short walk to the beach or 24 hour security simply input these details in the search engine to ensure you’re getting the most suitable results.

Many hosts are more than willing to provide you with additional items such as bath towels and toiletries. At our Condo we provide all these as well as a spice exchange, pool toys, movies, a book exchange, a prepaid cell phone with local taxi drivers numbers etc. Just be sure to double check these details to ensure best results.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Paying a little bit extra for a prime location can end up saving you in the long run. My husband went to Vegas once with some friends and they got a place off the beaten path for über cheap. But by the end of their stay thay had more than paid out any savings to taxi drivers.
Instead of spending money on taxi fares and travel fees; splurging on a higher rent to find a home closer in proximity to the majority of your expeditions will be more efficient.

CUSTOMERS’ RATINGS

We are more inclined to chose something if it’s been recommended to us, which is why our society has become so review based. Just like a friend suggesting a restaurant or a movie. AirBnB, as with other rental sites, follows the same principle and utilizes feedback so you can see how many people have stayed at a particular residence and get their honest opinions about their experience.

Make sure you read through both the five star responses as well as the low ones to get a feel for the accommodation you’ll be staying in. The place might be beautiful but what are the neighbours like? Is there a troop of monkeys living in the area. This might be a selling point or a deterrent depending on the experience you want to get out of your trip.
Keep in mind the number of feedback entries as well. A residence with 50 reviews is clearly more popular than one with two or three. Ask what might be the reason for that? Is the place not performing well for people’s expectations or are you dealing with a new member to AirBnB? If you’re feeling bold and want to save a few dollars, you can always message the new AirBnB member and ask for a discount while staying there. It can help build up their reviews.

I think it is also extremely important to read the responses to bad reviews made by management. How did they handle a client that was upset. It also gives clarity to the renters frame of mind as well. I.e. If the renter complains about things that to you seem ridiculous then take it with a grain of salt. This property still might be your little slice of paradise.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE FINE PRINT

Since properties are owned privately, you will need to pay attention to things like check-in and check-out times. These tend to vary dramatically from host to host. If you need a special time you may need extra instructions for arrival like a code for a key box if you are arriving late or even paying for an extra day if your arrival is early in the morning.
Be sure to clearly discuss a needed change with owners for set hours. And be sure you do so far in advance. Hosts have to make sure there is enough time between visitors to clean and prepare their home for your arrival. Hosts often include a list of house rules particular to their place. Included in this list can be hours of quiet, smoking instructions, where to recycle, etc.

At our condo we have to remind guests that our dinning room roll down curtains are semi-see through. At night other people by the pool can see into the condo so our guests might want to wear at least underpants. Just say’n.

Along with check-in times, be sure to take note of any additional fees. The AirBnB service charges will cost you around $30.00. This is the fee you pay them for connecting you to your new host. It is added onto the final total which you then pay the whole sum in one payment.

Each homes’ listing indicates how many people it accommodates. Often additional guests can bump you up $. Bringing home New Bar Friends might put you in the bad books and you could get a hefty charge for doing so. You may want to just leave the party firmly at the bar. Most hosts do charge a clean-up fee and/or a security deposit. Be sure to read the rules before hand so you can decide if the house rules are a set you can follow. This will ensure you get that security deposit back.

TO SHARE OR NOT TO SHARE? – that is the question…

You may want to consider staying in a property that either has other visitors or the host themselves lives there. I’ve found that hosts are more than willing to answer any questions about the local area…like the best restaurants, attractions, local transport etc. Having a personal contact for the city can help you get better acquainted during your visit.

I personally have only gone to one multiple listing property. It was in India with a few girlfriends. We met people from the US, Canada and of course our host family from India. They catered to us for meals as part of the stay. When I arrived and asked when we were going to have authentic Indian food, they were so excited to showcase their beautiful cuisine. It was a lovely experience.

AirBnB is a wonderful way to truly immerse yourself into an adventure. Just living like locals rather than being holed up in a lonely conventional hotel room. It can allow you to save some extra cash so you can afford that excursion you’ve wanted to take part in, and it also gives you an insider’s experience you can’t always find with other sites.

Wanderlust to you all!

Cheers!

Check out this movie on Magisto: Baby Turtles, Montezuma Costa Rica

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https://www.magisto.com/int/album/video/MS56AU5ERwcmKy4HDmEwCXh_?l=vsm&o=a&c=o

Watch Out for Suicidal Lizards!

 

Spiney-Tailed-Lizard

“Stay where you are!   Stay where you are!      S­tay. Where. You. Are.      Don’t move!”

“What’s happening?” Darren asked bolting ­upright and grabbing onto the ‘Oh Shit Ha­ndle’ in our small rental car.

“Oh, Crap, No!” I cursed simultaneously with a large ‘thunk’ followed by th­e blood curdling screeching and scraping ­of the undercarriage of our small rental ­car.

I killed… No. I ‘Sh-MEARED’ a huge five foot long lizard all over the road and car.

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GROSS!­

The worse part about the whole thing was ­looking back in the rearview to see the m­ini bus full of happy tourists behind us ­being sprayed with the innards and dismem­bered body parts of the beast all over th­eir front end. Their looks of joy replace­d by distorted horror .

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I am now officially a murderer of wildlif­e and wrecker of vacation happiness.

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Darren and I were on a vacation by ourselves,­ without children. Two weeks just the two­ of us. Lounging, reconnecting with each ­other and adventuring.

This is the second time Darren has visite­d the country and my sixth. We had just r­ecently purchased a Condo in Playa Del Co­co a few months earlier. I had come ­down to CR last October to shop for condo­s with my father, Don. That trip was an a­wesome adventure and bonding experience f­or us complete with Giraffes and new frie­nds abound. Read that blog post here,

https://ambersunfun.com/2016/02/23/for-the-love-of-a-father-searching-for-paradise/

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However, this visit with my husband was h­is first time seeing the condo we had pur­chased in person, baring photographs. He ­was extremely happy with what my Dad and ­I had chosen!

We had stayed in the luxury­ of our beautiful Condo for most of our holiday but had to leave for a few days. We­ had renters coming in to enjoy our Condo­. Taking this opportunity we chose to travel inla­nd from Coco Beach to La Fortuna.

La Fortuna is a town at the base of Volca­no Arenal which is your quintessential co­ne shaped volcano rising from the juggle ­scape! I think it is a must see for trave­lers to Costa Rica and it is one of Darre­n’s favorite places to visit for a few da­ys while in the country.

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All around the a­rea are hot springs fed by thermals from ­the Volcano. There are many options for h­ot springs available, some being quite pr­icey but are like a dream spa adventure; ­to a free option which is literally swimm­ing in a river that is hot and steamy.

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Darren’s favorite is Baldi.

This is the slogan on the Baldi website:­

Amidst the tropical rainforest, these 25 ­thermal water pools are filled by crystal­line waterfalls, for the use and enjoymen­t of all visitors.

The purity of the water will make you fee­l like you are floating in a oasis of hea­ling, with birds singing all around and t­he sound of falling water that invites yo­u to relax and recover your wellness and ­quality of life.          Sounds divine. Right?

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It is on the pricey end of things but has­ gorgeous grounds, water slides, three sw­im up bars, and as mentioned 25 thermal p­ools…Darren has bought in, lock stock and­ barrel. His favorite ‘pool’ is actually­ a cave. The cave is essentially a very hot ste­am room, with a few hot water falls and a cold shower so you don’t overheat. He feels like the atmosphere in the cave opens his lungs­ and even repairs them.

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Darren in the Cave at Baldi

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So you can imagine with that kind of cert­ification coming from my husband, I would ­not get away without visiting the place.

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Now when you are in another country visit­ing and you settle down in the evening, b­efore going out for dinner perhaps, you m­ight want to watch a little TV.  Now also­ imagine there is only one or two channel­s that are English … You tend to end up w­atching the darndest things.

While in La Fortuna one evening we turned­ on the TV for a half hour or so and happ­ened upon a program all about the Right t­o Die.

A lady was interviewed the day before her­ scheduled death. She brought in the inte­rviewer to show them the parlor she had r­eady for her body for viewings. The outfi­t she had sewn herself to be worn at t­he viewing and the framed photo of her sm­iling wearing that same outfit.

She had been given a few months to live a­nd wanted to decide how and when to die.

So the next day surrounded by friends and­ the camera crew, a Doctor assisted her t­o end her life with lethal injection. She­ laid down and said to her family, “see y­ou on the flip side” and went to sleep.

This TV program came to mind more and mor­e as our vacation went on… Over the last ­days of our vacation I had killed a large­ lizard, and narrowly missed many more.

driving-costa-rica

The road from La Fortuna back to Playa De­l Coco is a beautiful winding one through­ jungles, mountains, and small villages. ­It is so fun to drive, with t­he swerving roads. You feel like a race c­ar driver. But now that I have Iguana jui­ce all over my car, I’m not amused anymor­e.

In my defense the animal literally ran un­der the tire of the car at the last possi­ble second. If it had just stayed put in ­its sunbathing position I would have drov­e right passed it. No harm no foul. But no……

I had been passing the mini bus. You rem­ember the happy tourists looking out thei­r windows, taking in the stunning beauty t­hat Costa Rica has to offer. I had just p­assed them noting their happy smiles. I r­emember it vividly because I thought ‘it ­must be their first time traveling in CR ­because they were taking a transfer.’

We, too, had used the transfer services i­n CR when we were newer visitors. Now we ­had graduated to car rentals and driving ­a country known for it’s not so fabulous roads­ and almost no road signs. We were quite smug with ourselves, feeling truly proficient.

That’s when I noticed the giant lizard! S­unning itself on the side of the road… I ­came up with a quick plan… Ok. Stay in the onco­ming lane ’till you pass that huge sucker…­. Oh no, it looks like he’s going to move­. Don’t swerve. Keep the line. It’ll be fine… No he’s moving!  Arg!   “Stay where you are!…”

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A few km’s down the road Darren couldn’t ­ take it any more. He had to see if the c­ar was damaged. His imagination said that­ the fender is hanging off the front of t­he car by a thread.

My imagination saw a large lizard head st­uck in the fender with entrails dangling…­

­I didn’t even want to hold the steering wheel.  My car had been soiled.

I pulled over and we hesitantly looked with­ our two differing pictures in our heads ­waiting for confirmation.

And… The verdict is….­

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Nothing. ­

It looks fine except for a small new scra­tch right on top of an old one that was n­oted on the ‘walk around inspection’ done­ at the time we rented the car.

Score! ­

And no body parts!­

Double score! ­

I guess they are all over the front of th­at poor mini bus. The mini bus has been soiled. – wrecker of vacation happiness.­

For the remainder of our holiday Darren h­ad to go on lizard suicide watch! It’s  k­ind of like being on Moose watch in North­ern Canada. The passengers job is to look­ in the ditches for the driver as a secon­d pair of eyes to help avoid hitting Moose or a­ny other large game.

After about the fifth lizard who darte­d towards the moving vehicle we started j­oking that these lizards did not want to ­live. Like that program we had happened u­pon, they too, wanted the Right to Die. Apparently I was the Undertaker and these poor fellows ­preferred death by moving v­ehicle.

I can imagine it now…  The lizard on th­e side of the road… he’s thinking ‘Here she comes.  T­he bringer of death…’  “Good Bye Curel W­orld!” he yells as he throws himself in the p­ath of my tires…

Darren yells “Lizard.”

I’m like..  “No,  no, no! Stay there!”­

  We are playing dodge the lizard.  And t­he stakes are high.

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*It is important to note that this articl­e is true and is relayed to you in humor.­ I have the utmost respect for people who­ have terminal illnesses and believe that­ it is the right of the individual to hav­e the Right to Die with Dignity. I in no ­way think that people going through termi­nal illness or having suicidal thoughts i­s funny. I sympathize deeply with them an­d their families.*

Travel Like A Local

The Question is often asked “How can I travel like a local?” As opposed to a tourist.

Being a tourist may mean a large camera hung from your neck, women with large straw hats and men wearing sandals with socks or perhaps wearing an undersized Speedo on the beach. But I’m always more than happy to answer your questions. The answer is not cut and dry since it all depends on how long you’ll be vacationing in Costa Rica and what areas of the country you’ll be visiting.

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If your stay consists of only two weeks, it may be more difficult to accomplish the goal of living like a local. But if you are settling in for six months or more, you will quickly understand the ins and outs of everyday life in the areas you will be visiting. One of the most prevalent factors you have to consider is cost. Will you be staying in a ‘touristy’ area or on the outskirts? Living verses visiting a tourist area. If staying in Playa del Coco, Flamingo, Tamarindo, Manual Antonio etc. it will cost you 25% – 30% more than if you stayed in a mountainous town of say, Grecia or Alajuela. And if you’ll be shopping inside these beach towns that are so popular with tourism then it’s safe to say things will be more expensive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still find great deals to help your pocketbook and therefore your experience as a whole. The only issue is that you need to save 25%-30% on these deals. More corners to cut. Ultimately, it may even mean giving up more things that you were used to in your country. But, no worries. You can still succeed in saving money by integrating a number of cost saving practices that I’ve learned in my travels over the years.

Renting a Condo, Hotel or Hostel Living

$$$- Hotels

Let’s face it hotels are everywhere and easy to find. But most options are expensive, especially when looking at the long term. They run between $100.00-$250.00 /night for your average room with two beds, a bathroom, and a safe. It is a great option if you are traveling from town to town and only staying for a few days in each location. With ‘Hoteling’ the biggest expense is food. You now have to go out to eat for all your meals and that can quickly add up.

$$-$$$$- Vacation Rentals/Condos, Directly from Owners

This is my favorite way to save money over time. It is also the best way to integrate into the area and become a semi-local. You get to have all the comforts of home as most vacation rental owners have taken a great amount of time stocking their unit for you to enjoy. And they are motivated too! With today’s way of marketing your reviews mean a great deal to these people and their business. Most owners work hard for your Five Star Review. The pluses of renting a condo are long. It feels like home. You have a fully equipped kitchen and thus can save large amounts of cash by buying groceries and cooking at home for some or all meals. Drinking at home is also way cheaper! Don’t get me wrong, you can still go out for nightlife and fabulous food, but you don’t have to.

Another great money saving trick is to inquire directly to the owner and see if they offer long term rental deals. Often the day rate is cut by 30%-50% by renting long term. This will leave extra Colones* ($) for fun and sightseeing.

$- Hostels

Hostels, as a money saver, is a great way to go as long as you like living in close quarters. You may be beside a Rastafarian dude who only bathes once a week, but you also may be pleasantly surprised and find a new best friend from Finland! On the plus side most hostels are centrally located and close to all the action. But it is good to remember that most people that frequent hostels are younger in age and often partake in the night life. So you may be up at night with that noise.

 

Grocery Stores

Automercado in Costa Rica is the cost equivalent to Whole Foods in the United States and Safeway in Canada. It carries many imported items from home that you can’t find anywhere else, thus being more expensive. But what a lovely store it is. It has air-conditioned aisles, a plethora of junk food and booze, and elevator music playing at a normal volume. There is a wonderful selection of cheeses you won’t find in the Tico Grocery stores. Most stores offer a very mild fresh cheese in Costa Rica. However, if you are like my husband and think that the kids should eat rocks before he should give up cheese, and by cheese he means good quality old cheese, than this is the only place to get a large selection of the strong cheeses you are familiar with. Be prepared though… with all this uppityness comes a price.

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The Tico or local, less expensive grocery stores in the area may have products you will not recognize, like Costa Rican corn chips instead of Doritos. But the prices reflect the fact that it is a local product. Many of the locally owned stores have pretty good sale days so keep your eyes peeled. You can often find meat and poultry for half price on certain days, while on another day the sale will be for produce. This is a great way to avoid paying the higher prices at the ‘Americanized’ stores no matter how airy the air-conditioning is.

Even better, is to frequent a farmers’ market. You will find even bigger discounts and the product is straight from the farmer. If you don’t mind looking around a little deeper, and shopping around, you will save lots of your hard earned cash. And let’s face it if you save money on food then that money is available to use for a zip lining adventure! (or a case of beer)

 

Renting a Car, Catching a Cab, Gasoline and Walking

Personal Vehicle

Another major part of a Costa Rican budget is anything to do with owning and operating a car. Take gasoline. You might be surprised at how high the price of gas is. It can easily be over $5 a gallon. Not to mention just buying a vehicle. Vehicles in Costa Rica are generally double the price of the same make and model back home. It is expensive here. You will often find many expats carpooling to accomplish all of their errands in the same day. Carpool shopping usually turns into a lunch and a few beers with friends. And that is a fabulous extra treat.

Sometimes friends send an email or text that they are going shopping the day before in case anyone needs something picked up. I only ever had one Eye Candy client call me regularly to see if I needed anything from town. (Hugs Kerry)

Renting a scooter could be a less expensive alternative when compared to renting a car. But it is low on trunk space. Many Ticos will use scooters and motorcycles for just about everything regardless of trunk space. I’ve seen two guys on a dirt bike with a bucket containing tools on the one side and a very long ladder on the other. Apparently they found a balance between the two.

Public Transit

Costa Rica offers very inexpensive and excellent public transportation. Locals usually do not drive more than they have to. There are two types of public transit. Both options are a bus system. There is the cheaper version which is much like our city buses back home. These buses don’t have air-conditioning and run all over the country. The price is a few dollars and they are generally on time but crowded. You should also be aware of your belongings on the bus. Don’t want your suitcase to grow legs.

The second bus system is one step up in comfort and class. The fares are higher but still affordable. These are used mostly for cross country travel not the intercity travel. They are very clean and comfortable. They have air-conditioning and are known for being on time. They don’t run as often as the first option so knowing the schedule is key to getting to your destination.

 

Eating Out

Eating out can be costly, especially if you want a fabulous steak dinner which I might add the beef here is to die for!

But for the budget traveler I suggest you frequent small mom-and-pop restaurants. They are called Sodas. They are not fancy and sometimes not much to look at, but trust me; I’ve had some of the best meals there. Tourists have a tendency to skip over these establishments because of their simple appearance. Don’t be fooled. They are easy on the wallet, have generous portions and are completely satisfying.

 

If you staying in one place for a while, you will find that the good ones usually fill up every day at lunch or dinner time. What they say is if it looks busy it must be delicious. Eat where the locals eat. While there may not be a fancy table setting or even waiters, the food is usually fresh and delicious.

On a funny note; some freinds, my husband Darren and I stopped at a hole in the wall Soda on the way to a beautiful Marina. We were in  need of a little snack and a cold beer with lemon manadrino. (My favourite drink!)  The little family run Soda was only serving two menu  items  that day.  So we ordered both with our beer.  The first dish was a fabulous fresh fish and shrimp Ceviche served with crackers.  The second was deep fried hot dogs and French fries. ~ Below this a picture collage of that snack attack!  LOL. Not your usual fair.

March 2016 1914

All things considered,  eating out is a luxury and if you really want to save your money then cooking for yourself is always a cheaper option.

When we are in CR we tend to eat out only once a day at most. We also find that if you choose lunch as your meal out it is less expensive than a dinner out. Same goes for heavy drinking. One or two cocktails with lunch is affordable but several with dinner can empty your bank account.

One of our favorite ways to enjoy a good cocktail is to go to the Tico Grocery store and buy one or two beer (coolers)  and enjoy them on the beach. We only buy a few as the heat warms them up awfully fast… Oh darn, I have to ‘enjoy my drink fast’. We also make sure to never leave a trace of our time on the beach. ‘Pack out what you pack in’ is the moto.

 

Pura Vida – The Good Life

While trying to figure out all of the ways you can save on your budget, one thing is profoundly true about becoming a semi-local in Costa Rica: The best things in life are free.

Sun shining on your face, listening to howler monkeys and birds cooing in the A.M., swimming in the ocean, time with new friends, and witnessing some of the most stunning sunsets are totally free.

 

Mule – Is That A Faucet In Your Pocket, or Are You Happy To Be On Vacation?

Trying to posture myself in the most believable; ‘I am an honest person and not a plane hijacker slash suicide bomber’ pose. Lined up like good little travelers accompanying our bags as they are screened through the x-ray machine before going to security.

I see the puzzlement on the x-ray technicians’ face.

He asked my husband who is mirroring my ‘I’m the most lovely person, please let me on your plane’ stance,  “Um Sir, did you pack this bag?”

“Yes I did.”

“There is a large kitchen faucet in it…” he squints back at his screen. “And… another faucet…  And… tools.” he looked puzzled.  “Are you going to do plumbing?”

“Yes I am.” my husband proudly said.

 

As it stood the faucets and tools were just the tip if the iceberg…

We had 4 extra-large suitcases filled with a wide variety of odds and ends. Stuffed in them were two sets of new dishes, two night lamps, many light bulbs, kick down door stoppers, a long string of rope lighting,  brackets to put up said rope lighting, weather stripping, a ceiling fan, champagne glasses, two rain shower heads, kids toys, framed art, and painted sculptures in amongst our bathing suits, tank tops and flip flops.

 

We have officially become ‘Mules’.

 

Well maybe that gives off the wrong impression….

Muling was a term that came from trafficking goods, mostly drugs, across borders. In early days before the high tech security we go through at airports now people put drugs on their person. Mostly taped to their bodies or sewn into their clothing. As security checks became more invasive people went to body packing. Swallowing packs of drugs and carrying the drugs into the country in their stomachs and intestines.

I only had my eggs, bacon and toast breakfast to show on any x-ray in my tummy.

Today we are on our way to Costa Rica! Darren and I are the proud owners of a Gorgeous Rental Condo in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica (CR). Although it is lovely just as it is, if any of you know Darren and I, we are suckers for ‘projects’. Something to do with idle hands or whatever. We can’t just sit and enjoy like most people. We have to find work in all corners of our life.

Our condo is no different. We have grand plans for it. Hence the new beautiful facets and such.

Over time the act of muling has become a catch phrase for someone who is bringing a lot of ‘stuff’ into a country. It is anything that can be purchased in another country for a cheaper rate thus making it more economical to bring with you than to purchase it in the country you are going to.

The last time I went down to the condo I was taking a plethora of stuff down. I thought I was a true professional mule.

I ended up bumping into friends who live in CR in the L.A. Airport on their way back home to their condo. We landed on the topic of what was packed in our suitcases. When I told them I was bringing 3 suitcases down, Sheila looked at me sternly and said “Sarah, you have to start taking this thing seriously.”

Apparently 3 suitcases, a back pack and a purse were taking it lightly. Who knew!? I thought I was that person who made everyone mad ‘cuz I had so much.

Sheila told me she had one suitcase filled with candy and sweats from the USA alone, and her husband Brent had a case full of tools. They were even contacted by a CR friend who had horse blinders sent to them in the USA to be muled in by them as a favor. Muling for friends and acquaintances is a regular occurrence.

My Dads friend even brought in a king size sheet set for people they had never met!

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Muling into CR is so economical though. Buying anything that has a plug-in in Costa Rica is more than double what it costs in the US and Canada. An example is a hair dryer in CR is around $55.00USD and the same model in Canada is only $30.00CND! Another example is the ceiling fan that we are carrying with us on this trip. We bought on sale, back in Canada, for $39.00CND. Compare that to the same fan in Costa Rica at $150.00USD.

That’s a huge difference. Just that purchase difference alone is enough to pay the extra baggage fee for the entire suitcase to be brought down with you on a holiday.

Now fill your bags with any assortment of other items you feel you need in your vacation home for either yourself to enjoy while on vacation or for your guests to use. You are giddily ahead of the game!

The thing to be careful of is that if it looks like you have ‘stuff’ in your suitcases for sale than you will be stopped and made to pay import tax once you arrive in Costa Rica. For instance, if you have 15 hair dryers then that looks like a bit of a fishy deal. Tax time!

Once we arrived in Costa Rica with our booty we were stopped by a customs official and  asked to open one of the stuffed cases. The item causing all the commotion? A toaster!

There we were waving our hands in the air trying to do our best ‘making toast’ mime with the customs officer. Attempting to speak Spanish with her and probably talking about taking long walks on the beach instead of toasting your morning breakfast accompaniment.

In the end she let us go without taxing us on the toaster. Not sure if it was just routine or that she felt sorry for us and our bastardized Spanish. All of our other treasures seeming to be just an average haul to the Customs Officer.

Here’s to long walks on the beach and toasty toast!

March 2016 1887

 

‘A Little Bit Extra’  2270785-3d-illustration-of-glowing-green-checkmark-over-black-background

————As it turns out, after the customs area and on towards the final exit, we saw a family with a huge box on an airport dolly. I went up to them and said to Darren “See. You can bring down a large flat screen TV.”

We were quickly corrected by the man pushing the cart, in his thick southern drawl. “Oh no, Sweetheart. This is a complete front end for my Ford 4×4 Truck.” Then he said with a proud smile. “It only cost me $80.00 bucks to bring it down with me.”

March 2016 1795

 

 

 

 

                                                           Darren installing the Ceiling Fan in our Condo. ===>
                                                                   AmberSun Vacation Rentals, Sombras 201

 

 

 

 

For the Love of a Father – Searching for Paradise, Cross Dressing and Small Talk

For the Love of a Father – Searching for Paradise

Smile plastered on my face, holding a carrot over my shoulder… a long curly tongue wraps itself around the carrot and ‘click’. Photo taken!

I had never imagined that I would be this close to an adult male giraffe let alone feeding and petting it! What a treat.

I look at my Dads face and his expression is a mirror image of mine! Pure giddy, childlike smirks. We are delighted! 480

My husband, Darren says I have the spirit of a gypsy. I am always out for adventure and I want to experience new things including moving more than the average person. I can’t argue with him there, though. I do want to move yet again. And this time I want to go to another Country!

Ah, Costa Rica… you are my next conquest. I fell in love with this small peaceful country in my early 20’s while on a back packing trip with two girlfriends. Our adventures were many including a tour of the whole town of La Fortuna with the local police department complete with drinking a few beers at the base of Volcano Arinal.

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But why Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has many different climactic zones. Cloud forests, Mountain Ranges, Volcano Ranges, Jungles and sunny Beaches. It has something for everyone! (Except for snow I guess. But being a Canadian and living the last 10+ years in the great white north of British Columbia has filled my boots full of snow! Many times – literally.)

My husband, Darren, sat me down one time and asked me why I wanted to move to a tropical land. I told him that ‘I want to live in the place where everyone is just trying to visit’. That, I believe, was a moment where he actually listened to me and understood my need for the hot sun on my face. Even if for just a moment.

I dragged Darren to many countries around Central America over the years and always compared it Costa Rica. He was getting frustrated with my ‘Everything is bigger in Texas’ mentality. I compared the food in Belize, the Safety in Mexico, and the culture in Panama. I told him about my experiences in the Dominican Republic and India and researched many other countries that were tropical, but still accessible to Canadians who wanted to become expats. Finally he conceded to a family vacation in sunny Coast Rica.

We had many adventures while touring there with our four children and after a month’s long vacation Darren said “I honestly went there to hate it. I mean, I’m sure some beach time was going to be good and all, but I figured it would be a ‘bin there done that’ sort of thing at the end. But, I get it. I see it. Let’s buy a condo in Costa Rica.”

Lick my finger and mark one on the unseen chalkboard in the air. One for Sarah!

I have never lived with my dad, or at least not since I was a baby. We have a great relationship though. I think we have mostly a father daughter friend’s type of thing. He got married to a wonderful woman when I was very young and I don’t actually remember life without her. They are just wonderful, non-judgemental people and have many interests to draw from for lively conversation. My dad also has his head firmly on his shoulders.

This is the reason my husband suggested I go to Costa Rica with him to look at real-estate in his absence. He knew my dad wouldn’t let me fall in love with a dilapidated mess of a place. I was pumped because I had never done anything just with my dad, one on one, as long as I can remember.

My brother had warned me about some snoring issues and Dad’s ubber efficiency to be early for any and all events. So with a pocket full of ear plugs, Dad and I went on our adventures.

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Turns out he was worth his weight! Apparently when I look at homes I seem to say barely anything, which would shock all those who know me. I don’t often take a quiet road. He asked a barrage of questions at every site and I listened intently as I looked around trying to see it through my husband’s eyes.

When I met my husband he told me he was a Five Star type of guy. And he didn’t ‘do tents’ when it came to the camping question. Oh, how far he has come. Our last trip to Costa Rica with our Four children we stayed in a hostel for Three nights… on bunk beds! Those of you who know Darren, I know are outright shocked. He did manage this with some grace even when our air-conditioner leaked all over the floor and quit. But in the shared kitchen, when a fellow traveller picked up our bottle of oil to use a splash for his cooking pan, apparently that was enough! He was not rude, of course, but I will never hear the end of ‘That time when that guy tried to use our Stuff’.

Dad and I saw about 35 places in three towns while in Costa Rica. We narrowed it down to two places in the end for us to truly discuss with Darren at home. Facebook Messenger must have been overloaded with all the pictures I flooded it with.

But our trip was not all business. We did go to the Safari. On another day we joined a whole group of ex-pats on Hermosa Beach for many cocktails and laughs.

We went to a bar for dinner and karaoke twice in Playa Flamingo. We walked many beaches in the early hours of the day exchanging greetings with fellow early risers. We had cocktails on the Coco Beach, again with ex-pats, that turned into a tour of their home and a ride back to our hotel.

One evening we ended up having dinner with a gay couple from Germany. Two lovely men, which we had met on the beach earlier that morning while on a ‘One hour’ beach lounge between looking at condos. I wanted to know how he had managed to get a lounger on the beach. Turns out that it came with his hotel and on further conversation their tickets from Germany were cheaper than ours from Canada! Figures.

Regardless, we ended up bumping into them at the restaurant across from our hotel later that night. After exchanging warm greetings while standing beside their table, they asked us to join them. It was hilarious to see them innocently hit on my dad! “Donald, you are a handsome man.” “You look fabulous! You can’t be that old, your skin is wonderful.”

My Dad took it like a pro, thanking them with a little giggle! Throughout our evening our party talked about travels and cross dressing. You know your normal small talk at any dinner.

 

I think that dinner was the trigger to one of the best memories I have from this trip. Back at our hotel, and over a cocktail that night, Dad said to me that I was a ‘very interesting person’ and that I must keep Darren on his toes. I asked what he meant by that.

He said he was impressed that I could have such a socially sensitive conversation with people who may have been offended by it. Referring to the cross dressing convo with our new German gay friends. And that he has met so many people with me because I have no troubles just walking up to people to strike up a conversation.

He said “I think you’re neat.” And that he would recommend to anyone to travel at least once with your children, one on one, when they are adults. It is a great way to know your children as themselves.

I think that’s an awesome compliment.

Heart Dad.   

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Nails and Roses – A Valentine’s Affair?

Nails and Roses – A Valentine’s Affair?

 

We all know that love is all around at this time of year. You may be scrambling to get a card for a special someone, or planning a friends’ party to celebrate being single. Just to say ‘stick it’ to the whole Valentine’s Day farce.

During these moments you may have let your mind wander and asked the question; how did this holiday come to be? Or have you ever wondered how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in other parts of the world? Well, today I am, as I remove the tiny snowmen art from my client’s nails in prep for some hot pink, sparkle, and rose madness!

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It seems like I am still reeling from the Christmas holidays. My house has been just recently de-Christmas-ified but I have clients that say their trees are still up!

I am a small business owner of a salon that is attached to my home. I do gel nails and toes, as well as hair extensions. I love most things about my job. Mostly, the wonderful clientele that I have. Every day I get a rainbow of conversations from these ladies who come from all walks of life. Some of my most colorful have been a Dominatrix, Lawyers and Accountants, Hockey Moms, ladies in open marriages, Psychics and other Entrepreneurial women. They have entertained and inspired me for years.

I look up at my client and she’s saying what she has planned for Valentines with her husband and kids and I couldn’t help but wonder where did it come from?

Turns out there are more legends rather than fact. Most are traced back to ancient Roman times.

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According to the most popular ones, Valentine’s Day originated form the reign of Emperor Claudius II, Rome.

Claudius II made an odd decision to ban marriage. His position was that single men made better soldiers without the distraction of lovers and family. However, a priest named Valentine felt badly for these men and continued to secretly marry couples. Eventually he was found out and was sentenced to death for disobeying the Emperor.

The tragic tail goes on that while he awaited his punishment in jail; the priest Valentine fell in love with a young girl who regularly came to visit him. It is believed that she may have been the jailors daughter. A few days before his death, the priest wrote her a love letter and signed it –

untitled8tgil8i7t – From your Valentine. This letter is believed to be the first ‘Valentine’.

 

So how did it become this commercialized blend of pink hearts, red roses, and bonbons? Not that most women on the planet would scoff at chocolate. And, where in history, did the connection with a lowly priest who fell into a passion turn into the third largest money making holiday of modern times? All this mass marketing. The tissue boxes taped to the front of the desks of young children to be filled with cards covered in Disney characters littering sparkles all over the classroom floor?

 

The Origin of  Valentine’s Day           st-valentine1

In the 14th century a Christian Feast Day became associated with love. A poet, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem to honor the engagement of England’s Richard II and Anne Bohemia (1381). This poem of love was given on Feast Day and forever marked it as a day of love.

 

Valentine’s Cards          111

Over the centuries, the Day of Feast and Love evolved. By the 18th century people started to give gifts and exchanging hand-made cards. This was observed all over England at the time. The cards and gifts were hand-made and resembled the ones we see today, with ribbon, lace, hearts and angels.

Over time with the exploration of the new world followed by its’ colonization the tradition spread across the globe. Commercialization swooped down and here we are, buying into love.

The Greeting Card Association reports that 25% of all cards sent each year are valentines.

Valentine’s Day in Latin America

Although, it is big business in North America and Europe, it has remained less so in Latin America. In many Latino countries, it is an excuse to share love and friendship. Nowhere near the amount of sales happen in these countries. It is referred to as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico. People do “acts of appreciation” for their friends.

In Costa Rica, Valentine’s Day or “El día de los Enamorados” (St. Valentine’s Day) is very popular. In Costa Rica you are never too old to be romantic. The Latino culture seems to be warmer and more romantic during the holiday. Ticos** love to send over the top, flowery text messages and take out ads in local newspapers to profess their feelings to their loved ones even if they are sometimes a little risqué.

Somehow I can’t see my husband taking out an ad in the paper for you all to see. We will probably do what we did last year… get candy and chocolates for the kids and say we love each other, simply sealed with a kiss.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!     Sunset-Heart

 

**Tico – is a person of Costa Rican nationality. Used much like a – Yankee is an American or a – Canuck is a Canadian. This is not derogatory. Ticos and Ticas are proud to be called such. (Tica – for the Costa Rica Ladies)

 

 

YELLOW UNDERPANTS; A New Year’s Celebration

New Years is  a Day of celebration for many nations around the world! We had the opportunity to participate in the Costa Rican New Year celebrations in Tamarindo, CR. Our young children were primed and ready to go as soon as dark came, but as you know dark comes early in CR. It’s stone dark at 6:00pm.

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That doesn’t stop the buzz that is swirling all around you. People young and old, from near and far swarm the streets. Venders line the streets filling the air with the smell of fresh baked pastries and Bar BQ chicken (pollo; one of the favorite sayings in our house). There is a jovial air about the town. Laughter is heard all around and you feel like you are about to be a part of something special.

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Bonfires spot the beach, drinks are enjoyed and people make new friends as well as reunite with old friends and neighbors. At midnight the countdown is on, and firework shows are put on by fancy hotels in the distance as well as people right beside you! It is a beautiful sight, and everyone “Ooo’s and Aw’s” with every colorful explosion. Periodically you will also see light lanterns being lit and left to fly up into the night sky.

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There are many amusing New Year traditions that are widely practiced among Costa Ricans. One among them is wearing red underwear on New Year with a hope that the coming year will make them meet their spouse or true lover; and wearing yellow with a hope of receiving good luck in the new year.

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We did not learn of this tradition until the evening was over, so we must try it out next year! My youngest son, would totally run with that one. He loves to loung in nothing but underpants!

Some other traditions that differ from ours in Canada and the US is eating twelve grapes at midnight. Each grape eaten is dedicated to all the months of the Passing Year, and making a wish with every grape is also a traditional way of bidding farewell to the past. The feast put on during New Year’s Eve includes a leg of pork (pierna de cerdo). It is believed to be necessary to have as the main course served. I know that my husband, Darren would be over the moon if it was a turkey leg.

Gotta love the traditions from all over the world! Our family had such a great time at our ‘BEACH NEW YEAR’S PARTY’!

’till next time:

Sarah, Darren and the Kids.

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PURA VIDA!