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Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Rental

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Another day, another adventure. But today’s outing had a built-in safety feature: our dear friend and real estate expert, Jean-Pierre Pfleuger, was driving.
We first met Jean-Pierre four years ago on our initial trip to Costa Rica when we hired him as a guide to look at property in various areas of the country. At the time, we hoped to sell our California ranchette and buy here in CR, having read enough about the advantages of retirement in this tropical nation to have us hoping for a quick sale and relocation to this land of Pura Vida. Instead, the California real estate market took a plunge and our hopes for a prompt sale evaporated. In spring of 2007, we put the house on the market once more and made a second trip to CR, again retaining Jean-Pierre’s services to check out areas that might offer the combination of climate, culture, location and Gringo and Tico population that we were looking for. But with the economy still mired in the doldrums, no offers came in on our house even at a reduced price. At that point we decided to sit back and wait on the market to recover some. When in late 2009, the pieces fell into place for us to make this extended visit to Costa Rica, we got in touch with Jean-Pierre once again.
At 10 a.m. today, JP, as he sometimes calls himself, arrived in his Mercedes SUV, ready to cart us around the countryside. He has the Tico driving style down pat: go like hell and “trust the force.” On one of our earlier visits, we had occasion to see JP’s driving proficiency in a crisis. Heading back into San Jose on one of the major freeways, we entered a torrential rainstorm such as you only see in the tropics. Water was pouring down in a deluge even as traffic was hurtling along on all sides. With the windows up, the inside air steamed up and the windshield fogged to the point of utter blindness. In the front seat, Layne struggled to engage the defroster by turning up the heat, as we would in our own wintertime conditions. But that only made it worse! In the back seat, I’m in a full-blown panic attack urging caution in driving and speed in defrosting, neither of which was happening. Jean-Pierre continued on at about 50 mph as though nothing was amiss while Layne fumbled with dials on the heater. We began laughing, out of desperation I suppose, urging Jean-Pierre to “trust the force, Luke!” Eventually, Jean-Pierre calmly told Layne that he needed to take the opposite approach: engage the air conditioning to cool down the inside and thus reduce the fogging. As the window began to clear, Layne and I took a deep breath while Jean-Pierre remained fresh as a tropical breeze, still plunging through the downpour at the same pace!
So we have come to have great confidence in JP’s driving skills, but today’s outing lacked any such excitement. As we headed across the top of the city, JP moved easily in and out of traffic, guided through the maze of streets by his German-made Garmin GPS device mounted on the dashboard. It seemed nothing less than a miracle to us that this electronic gadget could actually make sense of the unnamed and look-alike roads. Not only that, but it talked to him… in German and in a sexy female voice! We simply must invest in one of these little marvels for our own peace of mind when heading into the labyrinth that is Costa Rican roadways. We just hope we don’t have to learn German as well as Spanish!
As we entered Alajuela province, the landscape opened onto the lush green mountain vistas that are so much a part of this magnificent land. We were heading for a house in the town of Grecia which had sounded like exactly what we were hoping for; but the things that it lacked were too important to us to ignore: not enough ventilation for Layne’s comfort (hearing aides are a bitch!), a “suicide shower,” which meant no hot water elsewhere, even the kitchen sink, a minimal half bath, a bed that didn’t seem quite comfortable enough to us and overall, a very small house. The price was good and it was hard to turn it down because the neighborhood seemed ideal with the house situated almost at the end of a dead-end street, so no bus fumes or traffic noise, yet close enough to shops for walking. We met an absolutely charming elderly Tica across the street who apparently owns the place but employs Gringo property managers. Virginia was enchanting with her sparkling brown eyes and vibrant energy and fascinating to talk with as her background included some years as nanny to the children of the Fleishmann family. That would be the Fleishmann’s of margarine and yeast fame! Mega-rich! She had lived in New York, Washington, D.C. and parts of Europe in her colorful career, only returning to Costa Rica at age 65. She explained with justified pride that she had saved her money and built her own house and the one next door, as well as owning the rental across the street. She sent us for lunch to her cousin’s restaurant just a few blocks away where we enjoyed enormous and delicious plate lunches for only a few dollars each. We hope we didn’t make a bad decision in turning this place down but since we have almost three weeks remaining in our current villa, we figure we have time to find something that will be just right.
As we left Grecia, Jean-Pierre headed northwest to the small town of Sarchi, made famous by the hand-crafted natural wood furniture and colorful oxcarts created by the local artisans there. JP drove us to the central park where a huge oxcart is displayed just across from the local church. It seemed
like a photo op so we parked and played tourist for a few minutes, with Jean-Pierre and I posing before the oxcart, then Layne and I standing before the church. Good memories are made this way and good friendships can be the result. We consider ourselves very lucky to know Jean-Pierre and fortunate indeed to count him as our amigo.

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