How We Dreamed it Planned it and Did It!
That is what Steve and I did when we met in 2003. We compared our lists and found them to be surprisingly similar, and not out of reach. That was the beginning.
Moving to Costa Rica was on my list, Steve’s list included items that could be accomplished while living in Costa Rica, actually up and moving to Costa Rica had never occurred to Steve, until he met me and I took him to Costa Rica on vacation in 2003.
During that vacation my dream of moving to Costa Rica became our dream. We hiked the Osa Peninsula, swam in the Pacific at Manual Antonio, sipped rum drinks on our porch at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and watched the volcano’s nightly fireworks show while listening to the complaints of Howler monkeys after an afternoon rain.
We learned about the fragile circle of life in the cloud forest at Monteverde, the effects of deforestation to the ecosystem and longed for a way to make a difference in this magical land. We fell in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life in Costa Rica.
Things that seem so important in the US, what kind of car you drive, how big your house is, name brand this and name brand that are unimportant here. Spending Sunday’s with family and friends, planting trees, education, and conservation take the place of the superficial goals advertisers try to convince us are essential for happiness.
We started to seriously consider the possibility of moving to Costa Rica. How would we do it? When would we do it? What will the family say? Making a list is how this all started, right? So, we started a list.
Our first list was the pro’s and con’s of moving. The pro’s easily out weighed the cons, so that was easy. The next list was not so easy it involved wrapping up 40+ years in the United States and setting the stage to begin a new life in another country. There are a few good books and web sites that provide invaluable information about moving to Costa Rica, I think we used all of them.
We decided to set the date for the big move for January or February 2006 and began to work on our list. One of our first projects was to get our two girls off to school. Tiffany is Steve’s youngest daughter, and Madeline is my only daughter. They graduated from Sarasota High School in 2005, and we got them off to college without much difficulty. Before we put the houses up for sale we needed to let our families know what we were up to. Being logical people, we figured a Power Point Presentation (PPP) would be a good way to explain it all, put it in writing, ensuring that everyone got the same information at the same time. I emailed the presentation to out-of-state family the same day to avoid any crisis that could be caused by gossip. The family’s response was not what could be called warm and supportive. My daughter said, “Mom, my friends think you guys are hippies! Are YOU?” Steve’s mom exclaimed, “Why are you taking my baby from me, he hated the out doors until he met you!” Not true. Steve’s oldest sister, expressed her disapproval by avoiding us the entire month before we left, so she wouldn’t have a breakdown and refused to say goodbye. Steve’s other sister, was supportive, and was our buffer for the rest of his family. My sisters were happy and looked forward to having a place to stay on their next vacation. Steve’s two daughters, were tearful; they tried desperately to be happy for him, but were dreading the thought of their Dad being so far away. Now, since they have been here, they are so happy and supportive of him.
I spent the last 13 years working as charge nurse in the newborn intensive care unit at our local hospital. Steve served in the Air Force for 12 years, was stationed in Turkey and Greece and was active during the first Gulf War. He worked the last 9 years for the local grocery store chain as a mechanic. We quit our jobs on Labor Day 2005 and spent the next few months, getting the houses on the market and preparing for the move.
We found an attorney who helped us set up a Costa Rican corporation, Leaves and Lizards, LLC. Things were starting to fall into place. It seemed that dream that once seemed so impossible was becoming possible!
Starting to pack was a reality check. What are we doing? Maybe we really are crazy? Are we really leaving our life in the USA? Taking time to regroup, we refocused, talked to our Costa Rican friends, looked over our PPP and got back to the list. What should we bring? How should we bring it? We looked at the options and eventually decided to take what we absolutely needed on the plane and pay the extra baggage charge. We ended up bringing 16 – 70 pound bags and the dog; we paid $825 extra for the luggage. We packed and stored other bags to be brought on subsequent trips. Tools, good linen, dishes, silverware and kitchen gadgets are some of the things we brought on our first trip.
On February 14th, 2006 we said goodbye to Florida and hello to Costa Rica. In the summer and fall of 2005 we traveled to Costa Rica, to look for a place to rent. Over the last 12 years we had traveled to many locations, but we found ourselves being drawn to the Arenal Volcano area. We found a house to rent in Cuidad Quesada about a one hour drive from La Fortuna. Our new friends, Fred and Amy Morgan lived in the city, and encouraged us to start out in this community, to learn the language and get acclimated to the culture and way of life in Costa Rica. They helped us find a Spanish teacher, Sylvia. She came over 2 days a week and helped us get around town, run errands, drilled us in Spanish and facilitated our immersion into the Costa Rica culture. Thank you Sylvia!
People ask us how we like living in a third world country. Is Costa Rica a third world country? What makes a country third world? With a literacy rate in the upper 90’s, health care for everyone, one of the longest life expectancies in the world, a country that uses only wind, water or geothermal energy for power and almost free college education for its residents- Costa Rica can’t be third world.
Friends found us a perfect 26 acres of land, near the tourist center of La Fortuna with unbeatable views of the Arenal Volcano. They helped us through the property buying process in Costa Rica. They are committed to the environment and preservation of Costa Rican Culture.
We purchased the property in April 2006, started the cabin construction in August 2006, and opened the Monkey, Toucan and Volcano Cabins in Jan. 2007. In May 2007 we reforested the property and planted 3,500 trees. We added the Heliconia House in Dec. 2008, Hummingbird, Coco, Congo and Mariposa in Dec. 2009. The Lava Lizard restaurant opened in Dec. 2009! We added the pool and bar in 2016. The GRAND Tree House was completed in 2017!
The people of our community, Monterrey, are incredible, helpful and welcoming. The kindness, support and generosity of these people have made our transition to life in Costa Rica easy. Our tours incorporate the community and our rural tourism project puts money directly into the pockets of locals.
With the success of Leaves and Lizards we have been able give back to our community in other ways too. We started a therapeutic horseback riding program, Vinculo con Caballo (The Horse’s Bond) for individuals in our community that will benefit from this type of therapy. Our Equine program has grown over the years, and Debbie is now an Advanced Eponaquest Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL), Riding Focused instructor and Power of the Herd Instructor. In 2016 Sally Nilsson left her corporate attorney life in London. Now she and Debbie offer learning retreats and corporate workshops in EFL. Eponicity is our equine division, individuals from all over the world come to learn with the horses at Leaves and Lizards.
We added a yoga deck and riding arena in 2015. Hosting events and community programs in this new space is a benefit to our community. We have an on-site yoga instructor for most of the year.
In 2016, Leila A. Pages come to interview us for her documentary, Freedom Tracks, and decided to stay! She has become part of our family our on-site photographer and horsewoman.
We love hosting groups and educational programs. Broadreach study abroad program is one relationship we are very proud to host, annually.
Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat is our paradise and a dream come true. We hope to continue to provide our guests with memorable life-long experiences that create a customized mix of adventure, discovery and tranquility for many years to come.