From NYC Co-op to Costa Rican Casita (de Raton)

You'd think it'd be tough to pull a move like this together; what to pack, what to get rid of, finding a buyer for our Manhattan co-op, trying to find place to land (in Costa Rica) while living in New York. On the other hand...

We really couldn't do anything till the apartment was sold, and that was the realtor's job. Yes, I did entertain the notion of selling it myself, thinking, "I'm a freelancer, I'm home most of the day, how hard could it be? They're either gonna buy it or not." Then I realized two things. 1) "You gonna buy it or not?" turns out to be not such a great sales pitch and 2) straight men aren't really any good at staging: "Move the garbage over to the left a little... a little bit more... yeah, that's good."

We hired a realtor.

Getting rid of our stuff did actually prove to be a bit of a challenge. "You don't want ANY of our 5,000 hardcover books?" "How could you not want that dulcimer?" "Seriously? No one wants the cow skull?" Fine, no worries. Three days of dumping our possessions on the street made us extremely popular in the East Village. ("Do you have any MORE books, man?" "Wow! A dulcimer!" "Duuude, cool cow skull..." The king bed walked uptown. The Morris chair headed west toward Joey Ramone Way. Hey! Ho! It's gone.


As for finding a place to retire to, we thought we'd find one when we got there, which ended up being a laughable assumption. We ended up closing just before Easter Week. Latin Americans call it Semana Santa and it's no joke; pretty much everyone south of Houston goes on vacation -- and everything from youth hostels to the chic boutiques are booked balls to the walls. Door gets locked, a bomb goes off, and we end up paying way too much for a 250-sq.-ft casita that had a kitchen sink hanging out the window, a two-burner hot plate and toaster oven, and a rat who checked in the last week we were there (some mixup with the booking agent?)

We closed on our co-op, packed the rest of our stuff into the maximum allowable six pieces of checked luggage (seven boxes would follow us on a boat) and we boarded the plane to Costa Rica and toward retirement -- all within 24 hours.

On our first morning, we woke to the sound of (about a million) birds, howler monkeys (what's their problem anyways?) and only God and a handful of biologists know what else. We threw open the wooden shutters (we don't need no stinkin' glass windows in Costa Rica) of the casita (Minnesota ice fisherman have more square footage)... and saw banana trees, hibiscus, hummingbirds, geckos and nature's harlot, the neon blue morpho butterfly. Welcome to Puerto Viejo.

Bikes would take us to postcard beaches (in five minutes), to mojitos overlooking the infamous Salsa Brava surf break (in 10) or to the ex-pat bar to catch the Mets game (call it 20).

We swam in the ocean every day, ate fish that had also swam in the ocean that day, explored the different beaches (which one is the most beautiful is a fiercely argued question around here) and biked the gravely paths that meandered off the main (and only) paved road.

One night, soon after we moved in, we heard noises that weren't so jungly, more mewling and squeaking and coming from the neighbor's yard. The source turned out to be a litter of five puppies, and as we had planned to get a dog (there seems to be a one-dog minimum for all residents of Puerto Viejo), we invited ourselves over to get (what we thought would be) the pick of the litter.

The neighbor turned out to be an American ex-pat who had been here for 30 years, with five really nice kids and a very attractive Costa Rican wife. He invited us into his yard, where he had built a crate out of planks, topped by a broken boogie board. We lifted the boogie board to reveal... well, first a cloud of flies, then three brownish pups, one black and white spotted pup (where'd he come from?) and a little grey pile that would eventually become our own booger-dripping, ear-scratching, butt-gnawing, deep-wheezing, perhaps soon to be ex-dog, Bitey. (After a visit to the vet, we renamed it Bitey One).

Meeting people, getting a puppy, swimming, biking -- nice, no? But a big reason for choosing Costa Rica for retirement was the hope of luring family and friends to visit; our kids would be arriving in a few weeks followed by our best friends, parents, siblings, nephews... and the shed, or hut, or whatever it was we were sleeping in wasn't going to cut it... Time was getting tight. And the new roommate, Señor Rat, was screaming every time it got stuck in the casita walls. (Why does it keep getting stuck? Aren't rats supposed to be able to squeeze through holes the size of quarters?) We tried keeping the lights on, but that only meant we got to hear AND see the f*#ker.

Things were less than muey tranquillo. We had less than 48 hours to move...

Check out the slideshow below for photos of Jeff and Gay in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Retirement