Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Costa Rica the Future?

Several years ago, we decided to take a leap and quit our jobs and move to another country, preferably a Spanish speaking country. While we were trying to decide where to move our family and open a business, I ordered 3 books; all Frommer'sCosta RicaNicaragua and Ecuador. All books, needless to say were great reads and loaded with valuable, unbiased information which is more than I can say for the internet alone. Undaunted, I continued spending countless nights browsing the internet and reading studies on civics and government; history and growth; economics; potable water and energy development; child safety enforcement laws and schools; agriculture imports and exports; the law in general for expats; residency and immigration law; requirements to start a business, etc.  We studied for 2 years before making the leap. We knew we wanted to live in Latin America, but where? Mexico, too dangerous and while the food is probably the best in my world, you can't drink the water. The beaches are incredibly beautiful, but it is so dangerous - simply out of the question. Ecuador, years of political unrest and very far from our home state of Texas making family visits more stressful, plus private school prices are outrageously high - out. Nicaragua, cheap, but not much infrastructure, there are the Sandanistas and not much of a market for a new business, plus the economy is crippled by the current government leaving most of the citizens impoverished, hungry and jobless. Costa Rica maintains a stable government since the mid 50's and the population has grown from just over 800,000 people to just under 4 million in 2012  (now over 4 million) plus an influx of tourism between 1.5 and 2 million more people per year. They abolished their military in the 1950s to redistribute more funds into the social services, healthcare and education system. There was also countless reports on water safety and safe water practices and efforts in reducing carbon emissions, plus a ban on hunting and further deforestation. Perfect. The more I read about Costa Rica, the more I cared about the efforts this tiny country was making for a better and brighter future, not only for its land, rivers, streams and oceans, but for its people; which significantly is a symbiotic relationship only more so benefiting the humans so focused on destroying the environment. 

A bit of history that I found valuable before making a decision. Costa Rica is only about the size of West Virginia at just over 51,000 sq kilometers and has a volcanic mountainous topography bordering Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South with both the Caribbean Sea coast to the East and the Pacific Coast to the West. The unique fact is that the marine territory of Costa Rica is more than 10 times its land mass at 573,000 km². The tropical climate boasts temperatures from 60°F or about 18°C in the mountains to a high of  about 97°F or 36°C at the beach with an average of about 80°F or  26°C. The country offers a diverse climate from tropical jungle to dry forests to cloud forests with a variety of local micro climates in between due to different levels of altitude and a varied distribution of precipitation in the atmosphere between the dry season and rainy season. The country is divided into 34 river basins and over 200 volcanoes with 5 being considered active.  The average rainfall in Costa Rica ranges between 1,200 and 7,500 mm a year, which places Costa Rica among the countries with the largest availability of fresh water in the world. The slopes of the land allow water to flow from the rivers into both the Caribbean and Pacific as well as the San Juan River that borders Nicaragua to the North. This river has been a constant area of dispute between the two countries for hundreds of years. Since more than half of the water into the San Juan comes from the run-off of the rainy season, Costa Rica has laid claims to the rights, diverting a tributary into the Colorado River to aid the drier Guanacaste region. In 2009, the UN returned the sovereignty back to Nicaragua upholding the original Cañas -Jerez treaty of 1858. Costa Rica maintains unrestricted use of the river for transportation only. 

With so much rainfall, why is the ever-growing population of Costa Rica beginning to experience pressure on its valuable water resources? With no ability to capture the excess of water running into the oceans and the recent acceleration of agricultural use of land and livestock, combined with a bustling metropolitan growth, the basic natural environmental balance is broken. All this has generated more problems like erosion, loss of ecosystems, and flooding with a reduction in the capacity of the soil to retain water from rains, also common in other parts of the world. What makes Costa Rica different from other Central American countries? Between 1950 and 1980, the GDP (gross domestic product) grew annually 6.5%, surpassing even industrialized countries. They created a larger middle class by improving health and sanitation services, offering primary education available to all, and increasing access to secondary and university level education. These economic and social reforms gave birth to ICE- The Costa Rican Electrical Institute and UCR- The University of Costa Rica, among others. So in less than 60 years, Costa Rica reduced its poverty level, doubled its life expectancy rate, reduced infant mortality by more than 10 times, and constructed democracy , all while living in peace while neighboring countries endured heavy conflict for over 60 years. ICE has since committed to powering the country with hydro-electricity using the abundance of water, placing Costa Rica at the top of the green energy platform proposing a carbon free future. 

Historically, the Costa Rican economy has based development on agriculture: coffee, sugar cane, bananas, rice, beans and cattle. Over the decades, the industrial sector has surpassed the agricultural and service sector and since 1980 has become the most important sector of the GDP. This rise gave way to policies in the 1990s developed to strengthen the sectors that created wealth, tourism and micro-electronic components, bringing large foreign companies to do business in Costa Rica like Intel, Amazon and Microsoft. Recently Costa Rica has even been called the next Silicon Valley. With this new sector of business came a rise in municipality and local governments and needs for local offices. The first Mayors were elected in 2002, changing budget appropriations and responsibilities to the municipalities. This deferment of authority creates a new consideration for local governments regarding zoning for, water, housing, commerce, industry, education, recreation, and public uses provided for by the constitution and National Institute of Housing and Urbanization. This creates a whole level of supervision regarding how to manage the actual water supply system for the population and how to supervise and control exploitation of materials from rivers and beaches as well as any and all contamination, pollution and or protection. There is also Hydro-Electrical Energy production in many of the lakes that has allowed Costa Rica to advance into the carbon free era, but consumes the largest amount of available water. The potential water availability of Costa Rica varies, but constantly has the opportunity to be replenished with each rainy season. This is important because who wants to live in paradise without water? Paradise is relative, but water is essential. 

This is where it gets really cool. Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces of which are divided into 81 counties.There are three major drainage basins encompassing 34 watershed with many rivers and tributaries, one major lake used for hydroelectric generation, and two major aquifers that serve to store 90% of the municipal, industrial, and agricultural water supply needs of Costa Rica. The water tables are divided into 2 major aquifer systems, the Barva Aquifer and the Upper and Lower Colima. These aquifers are separated by a low permeability layer that acts as an aquitard, which allows for the descending and ascending vertical transfer of water. This has formed naturally and mainly from the Barva Volcano over millions of years. With each eruption and layer of lava, a complex system has been created underground distributing water throughout most of Costa Rica. The water then shoots up, literally percolating from the ground! How awesome is that? The volcano naturally created an aquifer for about half of the rain water to be disbursed. The other half gets dumped into rivers and streams then eventually to the ocean and we haven't figured out how to harness it, yet. Take it from me, we live in a rural area called Cebadilla and fresh spring water runs constantly around us, into lakes, streams and rivers. Just in our backyard there is a fresh water stream that flows constantly. Strange though, just across the Rio Grande, I see the twinkling lights of Atenas and wonder why they sometimes endure a water ration during the dry season, but they are separated by the Rio Grande from the Ojo de Agua, part of the water shed on our side. Guess we chose the right place to live in the event of a doomsday. The owner of the farm where we live actually harnessed the water by building a series of dams and holding wells that he uses for irrigation for his horticulture nursery, or vivero and ranch style subdivision, or quintas

In a perfect world, gas, diesel and coal are no longer needed; plastic is recycled, not produced; farmers will rotate their crops, not use harmful pesticides; the masses can rely on the municipality to manage and treat wastewater instead of relying on the overuse of septic tanks that leak into the groundwater; and we can harness water and solar more efficiently than ever to drive our energy needs. Subsequently, rains will not flood, but seep into the earth regenerating the water tables for that land, and the water naturally underground will be safe, fecal free, nitrate free and abundant, but we are not there yet. Deforestation, overgrazing and human interference has changed the face of the Earth, and Costa Rica. So what does the future hold? Currently, Costa Rica has plenty of water, only using approximately 5% of the available fresh water supply annually. So why are we worried and why do so many people complain that Costa Rica is behind the times and the government does not know what is going on. From my perspective, the government has charged forward and should be proud of the amount of progress and the swift rate of progress. Currently Costa Rica has a Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula boasting more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world. That means more men, in particular live over 100 years old, and the national paper recognizes them on the cover.  Is something in the water? Yes! High levels of calcium and magnesium proving that hard water is good for you to drink, but not your appliances and shower heads, go figure. So before we discount the good people governing Costa Rica, remember we are a step ahead of the rest just by caring, because what is more important in life, Keeping up with the Kardashians or sustainable drinking water? 

As I mentioned, we just moved into our new home in a small rural town called Cebadilla located just outside San Jose. Water literally bubbles up out of the aquifer directly under us. This got me thinking what, why, where and how? We have a pool, should I worry about filling it? We are on a well with a pump, but does the entire subdivision run on a well? No, because we are in the first home on what was a farm, we have a well and pump. The subdivision will be managed by the municipality. There are 2 large hydroelectric lakes nearby, one of which is owned by ICE. There are several small community lakes nearby for swimming and recreation, all fresh, spring-fed and abundant. Join my quest, learn more about your drinking water. Find out where it comes from and who manages it and what elements or chemicals it possesses. The more you know, the better the chance for a bright future for your kids and grand-kids. Fundamentally our future depends on clean, available water. Pura Vida!

To learn more about where we live, please enjoy our video. 

I would like to thank the following Sites for their hard work and research: 
The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution: Opportunities and Threats to Development by Karen Vilholth and Mark Giordano
Tárcoles River Basin Costa Rica by Maureen Ballestero 2003

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Valle Verde Quintas, Ranch Style Subdivision Best Climate

Have you ever dreamed of moving to Costa Rica? Not sure where to go? A casita on the beach sounds so romantic, but such high prices and it is so hot, oh and the bugs! A cabin in the jungle sounds like pure serenity, but where do you go to shop or the doctor? Are there any roads in the jungle? We have the perfect solution in Valle Verde Quintas. We offer ranch style acreage lots in the Central Valley, just minutes from San Jose and the airport and just 1 hour to the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica. Our lots are nestled in the mountains across from Atenas, best climate and La Garita, but you can have more land for a fraction of the prices offered in both cities. We are situated in a lazy ranch town called Cebadilla just outside of Turrúcares which sits on Highway 27 across from Atenas. We have shopping, schools, medical facilities and most of all, perfect weather!

You can build your dream home in paradise with beautiful mountain views, picturesque ranches with horses, smatterings of huge volcanic rocks behind picket fences among rolling pastures, all smacked between lush green jungle. There are several fresh springs running through the property offering a wildlife corridor to view tropical birds of every color and size! The subdivision adjoins the Rio Grande river that runs from San Ramon down to Turrúcares. The area boasts the best climate with cool nights in the 60's needing no air conditioning, but with days warm enough for a pool at about 83° year round. During the dry season, you can enjoy the mountain breezes and views of the private reserves that surround the subdivision. That is right, the reserves maintain the viability of the green jungle surroundings forever! During the rainy season, feel the cool misty air from your porch or balcony with a fresh cup of Costa Rican coffee from the local cafétal.

Valle Verde Quintas are the perfect place to retire, or build a family; close enough to all the shopping and major hospitals; fancy restaurants and museums; and enjoy all the big name music shows and nightlife of San Jose. Valle Verde Quintas is also a great place to raise a family with the school just 1 kilometer away for the little ones. Just a quick drive away to some of the best schools in the country.  No matter what your dream is, you can build it in Valle Verde Quintas. There is no Homeowners' Association to approve your build, your canvas is free to your creativity. You can have horses! And the lots are big enough for meandering driveways and all the privacy you could ever want. Take a look at our Plat Map for lot sizes and dimensions. We also have 180 degree videos of each lot. The land is situated on a large aquifer so water is plentiful. The owner of the property offers a landscaping package with your lot purchase. Take a look at his private vivero (nursury) and contact us to start building your oasis in Costa Rica! I live on the property and can assist you with any questions you might have. I am happy to schedule a private tour of the property and area at your request. Pura Vida!

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Best Way to Watch US TV in Costa Rica

During the first year living in Costa Rica, our family watched CableTica and it was pretty good. The best part was the Music section, with over 50 different included music channels offered, it was not great, but it was good for about $60 per month, way too much. Only some of the US channels were in English, but we needed the practice so it worked for the first year. When we moved, we signed a contract with Claro for about $30 per month. Claro offered a DVR, which we did not opt for, but the remote included an Audio button, which was great! Most of the channels offered either a Spanish or English audio and allowed perfect closed captioning, allowing us to read the Spanish CC while hearing the movie or show in English. This was awesome! The down side with Claro is that the commercials were very twice as loud as the program and in Spanish which is irritating because you are constantly holding the volume button to turn it up or down. We were able to watch Animal Planet and NatGeo, our favorites and learn Spanish at the same time. We also love Graham Norton on BBC. 
We never even knew about Graham Norton in the states because we were so consumed with abundance and news, we forgot to ever check BBC for the news or best new funny guy.

Now we are in our 5th year and we are using USTVNow. We love it. We can stream it from the computer, tablet or laptop and from our smartTVs, which are old Vizios, but work like a charm. It is only about $20 per month and the basic package offers all the regular channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, plus the news channels like CNN, and Fox News. In addition, you get Discovery, Animal Planet, National Geographic and the History Channel to name a few. 

Since we watch Netflix, DVDs and Amazon for most of our movies, we really do not need the premium HD service or DVR. We are very happy to be able to stream from all of our old smart televisions though. When we moved here we shipped our stuff, including 2 large televisions. We were positive thinkers saying, maybe we will not watch TV anymore, but let's face it, we have 3 kids and it rains 6 months out of the year in Costa Rica, so we watch some TV. Before USTV Now, it was guesswork, but now we can take a look at the TV Guide and pick something to watch together instead of endless browsing through crap and commercials. We are more focused. We also moved the large TV out of our living room and created a TV room, helping a lot. We spend less time in front of the TV now, but it is more quality time since we peak at the nifty TV Guide and pick a show and time, just like back in the day at Grandma's house. Before you can watch, you need to order the Roku device, which is about $50, a streaming device. If you do not have a TV yet, I recommend the Roku television, eliminating the need for the box. Especially if you are an expat or travel the world, take your Roku TV or Roku box with you to be able to constantly stream. Just plug it in and pick a show or movie! Now that we have good internet options and fiber optic in some places, Costa Rica can be a great place to stream HD! Pura Vida!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Trunk or Treat Costa Rica 2016

Since Costa Rica does not typically celebrate Halloween, we created a trunk or treat event for the kids. There is no door to door trick or treating here, in fact, the typical Costa Rican holiday is Festival de las Mascaradas, Festival of the Mascarades. The kids were encouraged to bring a mask to school and they participated in an Activo Civico with singing and dancing. Halloween is more of an adult scene in Costa Rica, in fact, one of the busiest nights for clubs and bars. We wanted to teach the tradition to the local neighborhood kids and let our kids enjoy some good old fashioned trick or treating. So we invited our friends to decorate the trunks of the car, line up and offer a condensed Halloween celebration and it was a big hit! 

We had zombies, witches, pirates, Smurfette and Shrek and Fiona! We also had a Grandma in her rollers, a nerd, 2 Queen Elsas a Geisha and characters from Spirited Away, Nightmare before Christmas and other scary monsters and Scary Movie folks. There was an array of Supers, Superman, Flash, Batgirl, Bumblebee from the Transformers, a Gladiator and Spiderman, of course. Our friend Rebecca brought homemade Halloween cookies and cupcakes and the Devil eggs were gone in 60 seconds! We had green chips and party dip and candied beans! The car themes were great and we packed quite a bit of fun into a 2 hour party. The fiesta ended with everyone being slimed with green goo! Enjoy our photos and Pura Vida!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

About the Pit Masters

We are Matt and Niki Meeks and we have come to Costa Rica to introduce our version of healthy and tasty beef jerky. We were both born in Texas where quality beef jerky is as common as peanut butter and jelly and this means we ate our fair share growing up. Throughout the years, we noticed many discrepancies when it comes to beef jerky. Some are thick cut, some thin sliced by a machine, some are even manufactured and formed into a paste to be any shape. Some are dehydrated and some are hung and smoked. We prefer the all natural kind of jerky, thick cut, free of fat and marinated in a nitrate free marinade and smoked with wood, none of that liquid smoke stuff added. We decided to bring our family to Costa Rica and build a smokehouse in the mountains of Grecia on a coffee farm. Coffee firewood is sustainable because the trees are trimmed every year, giving us an abundant amount of wood. It is a hardwood, great for smoking and; although many people ask, it does not add a coffee flavor to the meat, but it is a clean consistent smoke. 

We created a brand called Carne Rico JERKY, meaning "Good Meat JERKY" and even though in Spanish, meat is la carne, we created a mascot called "Rico", a Sarchí artisan inspired colorful bull head to represent the Brahma cow in Costa Rica and that is why our meat is masculine. Costa Ricans often say, "que rico" or "que rica" if something tastes good, it is like saying "yummy" so we are basically calling our jerky "Yummy Jerky". We really took our time while creating our product because we wanted to offer a healthy, quality meat snack. We ultimately decided on what we feel is the best slaughterhouse in Costa Rica called Montecillos. They deliver to our plant and guarantee the beef is free range, grass fed, grass finished. When we receive the meat, we slice it free of all fat which is not hard to do since the Brahmas of Costa Rica are a lean beef to begin with, after all, they climb mountains daily. We then marinate the meat overnight in 3 secret recipes. We hang the meat in our smokehouse and smoke it all day for a delicious and flavorful snack or meal packed full of protein. We offer our jerky free of nitrates / nitrates and gluten free. We are able to maintain this quality by using a small oxygen absorber packet called JerkyFresh. 

Costa Ricans did not know what beef jerky was until we hit the market. It has been a struggle to get our product on the shelves of all the stores, but slowly we are becoming a huge presence in the Costa Rican market. We researched the market thoroughly and we knew that the tourist market would be easy enough, but because of the rainy season, we definitely needed to break into the Costa Rican market to sustain our product and we have done so with product sampling and events. We are often seen at La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, known as the toughest mountain bike race on Earth. We also think jerky is a great pair with beer, so we work the Oktober Beer Fest every year. We also are involved in the Atenas Chili Fiesta every year, a fundraiser designed to raise money for the local orphanage in Atenas. We are working with the Animales Atenas Fundraiser as well. Slowly, but surely our jerky is seen all over Costa Rica and we even just started selling in the local Delta Gas Chains. We sell in AutoMercado, and Vindi's the country's leading supermarket chain. Cafe Britt in the airport sells our jerky. There are so many stores, it is hard to mention them all and our distributor works hard every day to add to our portfolio. Eventually, our goal is to offer our product on Amazon to the Americas.  We also keep a great Facebook page, so check it out!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Costa Rican Science Fair 2016

This was the second year for Max to offer a tantalizing science fair project to Escuela San Francisco.

Little sister Sofia also shared in the glory of a win! Sara also participated this year as the Pre-Kindergarten winner. In Costa Rica Pre-K is called Materno. Sara build a Kaleidoscope with some odds and ends around the house using an old Pringles can, some sparkling jewels and a broken mirror, with my help of course.

Max also utilized a Pringles can to build a telescope for his 1st grade entry, but his supply list was a bit larger, needing 2 magnifying glasses called lupas to build a 30x magnifying image. Many of the kids took turns trying to spot an image and exhibitors and onlookers alike took a chance to browse the floor testing all the projects. The wind was blowing down all the boards, making for a fun-filled game of chase the project. I found out after the presentation that not all students were required to do a science project, but they were encouraged. I am so glad we did this again this year because Max and Sara both learned many things from the point of construction to the finished product. They learned about stars and constellations, they learned about reflection and light. They learned that when you do a project with a Pringles can, you get to eat all the Pringles first :) and they learned that things like Pringles cans should not be thrown away because recycling can also mean re-purposing. 

All the kids at the school had impressive projects. They made a rocket out of baking soda. The 3rd graders made a windmill and calculated the power derived with a small light bulb, my favorite. There was Newtonian putty, the epic volcano and chemicals flying! There was even a rocket.  Many offered great information and displays, but Max and Sara as a few of the youngest definitely need to work on their microphone skills because they both clammed up when it was time to explain their projects to the school. Hopefully they will learn to overcome the shyness with all the civics and arts and dancing available at the school on a monthly basis.

If your child is shy, Costa Rica is a wonderful place to send them to school because they practice a wide range of culture within the schools, allowing the kids to really break out of their shells and immerse in the culture, arts and sciences. At the end of the science fair, each kid received a gift and cake! Another great day! Pura Vida!