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New Construction

Lease / purchase
 

Phase 3: The construction of the remaining 11 residences.

Scheduled to begin in November with completion expected by
January 31.


Progress Report

September 25 - October 1º, 2005 // CONSTRUCTION LOG #51

Contact phone numbers

Internet Phone:
New York 315-279-6711 // Toronto 416-907-5758

Costa Rica:
Cell 506-305-3965 // Land 506-282-4142 Ext. 101

NOTE: our land line in CR has changed;
we are now integrated into the compound network.


CONSTRUCTION

Four weeks now of firing on all cylinders and with 60 people working, progress is being made. Rain has delayed some areas of progress.

Units 114, 115, and 116: The purchasers of Unit 114 are moving in. There are some finishing details yet to be covered off but for the most part, it is quite liveable. Unit 116 is not far behind it will be occupiable by next weekend. Granite work is slowing it's completion.

Unit 115 continues to advance. It's probably 2 weeks from completion.

Unit 106: The concrete pour was interrupted by rain but we still managed to complete it all on Saturday. The framing for the second floor is advancing. These units are actually quite large and the upper units will have great views and wonderful interior space.

Units 121, 122, and 123: The framing for 123 second floor is underway. We ran into difficulty with the design of the staircase we're recovering and created a new solution. The footings for 123 are and the block work as started.

Units 117-120: We're still repairing the "miracle" parging - you win some; you loose some: We lost on this. We are beginning to frame and board the soffits and facias work continued... Some interior drywall framing has started.

Units 101 and 102: No time to focus on this other than to visit an aquarium to begin thinking about building in the things necessary for easy mtnc. Lots of research yet. I did get some decorating ideas on our recent trip to Nicaragua. Problems. Rain has slowed some work and continues to be a nuisance. Fortunately, we have various stages of construction on the go so we are able to move the labor force around depending on weather.

Marketing:We closed on 116 and on 114.; We have edited the brochure and are waiting a mock up for final authorization.

Useful Websites on Costa Rica:

http://www.therealcostarica.com/default.html http://groups.msn.com/CRLeBoard http://www.arcr.net/ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CostaRicaLiving/ http://welovecostarica.com

OUR LIVES

This week the story is about our trip to Granada, Nicaragua:

FROM SAN JOSE TO GRANADA
NICARAGUA AND RETURN WE'RE IN LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Background: Not being a resident of Costa Rica requires a person to leave the country every three months for 72 hours. In times past, this hasn't always been enforced but as of late, it seems" times are a'changing". The consequence for overstaying your visitor visa can be deportation without the right to return for 10 years. So when my wife and I were nearing our three month limit, we decided to make the trip an enjoyable experience. We had been to Granada about 5 months before for two days, We liked it and vowed to return.

The Bus: We decided to take the bus and leave the driving - and cost - to someone else. I asked one of our Nicaraguan workers which of the two bus lines he preferred-Trans Nica Bus or TicaBus. Without hesitation he said TicaBus. For $10 each way it takes the same amount of time - 7 hours - in a comfortable, air conditioned first class, direct, bus. The 6am departure was full and I didn't want to get up that early anyway, so we took the 12:30 afternoon departure. Since we knew there wouldn't be much of anything to eat on the bus, we took our own. a loaf of fresh San Francisco sour dough bread, a hot off the grill chicken, and some wine for me and fruit juice for Lita. We knew we would be seeing up to three movies and in our case "Lord of the Rings" #3 in the trilogy was great. The bus was about 2/3rds full. The driver had the AC turned way down to the point it was uncomfortable. When asked by others to adjust the temperature, I believe he said he couldn't control the temperature. (The bus back was newer and the temperature was perfect.) Suggestion-take a sweater or long sleeved shirt.

The TicaBus terminal is a non-descript one room building two blocks east of the National Theater on Avenida Secundo and one block south. It's near a park and a church. To buy a ticket you need your passport. You are suppose to show up one hour before departure -you can shave this substantially. When you check in (we bought our tickets several days in advance) you are assigned a seat-no need to scramble.

The Border-Pena Blancas: The bus attendant distributes the necessary forms for each person to complete and then collects what he can process. He also collects an $8 tax per person which seems to have to be paid in U.S. dollars. (Returning the tax was $3.) You first depart the bus on the Costa Rican side to get you passport swiped and stamped (important). Everyone then re-boards the bus for a1 minute drive to the Nicaraguan side where the driver has had your passport processed. Everyone again departs the bus, goes through Customs with their baggage (not a very thorough process) and re-boards the bus with your now Nicaraguan stamped passport. Total time - perhaps 30- 45 min. Another 90 min. and you arrive in Granada which is accessed from the Pan American highway leading to Managua.

Pena Blanas is a bit desolate. Neither government spends a lot of money maintaining the facilities. They are staffed by government officials, a few truck drivers awaiting papers or on layover / rest. The Costa Rican side has a cafeteria; the Nicaraguan side has a few street venders selling not much. There is a duty free store on the Nicaraguan side; I've never been inside so I don't know what is sold other than liquor.

The terminal in Granada is on the western outskirts of the city and was closed when we arrived (8pm at night). However, taxis were there which took us to the center of town (5 min. and 20 cordobas ($1,10) (The exchange rate is about 17 cordobas to $1.00 US or about five cents each for the math challenged.)

GRANADA: The more we see of Granada, the more we love it. Going there every three months is not a hardship. I may never get my residency because now I am forced to take a trip and for us to enjoy ourselves.

Granada is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited Spanish Colonial city in Central America. While that may be the case, what exists today is certainly and old town in various states of repair or disrepair as the case may be. Perhaps about 15 years ago, foreigners started going there, and bringing their money, their ideas and talents, and their desire to re-invent themselves and create a new life. They found dilapidated but beautiful buildings. One by one they started restoring them. Now, many of these buildings are restaurants, internet cafes, bistros, small hotels, tourist shops, etc. In the downtown core - that being the main square in front of the largest of many churches -in a three block radius, are lots and lots of interesting places. Some of the sidewalks are wide and reasonably well maintained, some are narrow and reasonably maintained (coming from virtually any city in Costa Rica, this is a treat, and a novelty). If the sidewalks are too narrow, no problem because many of the streets have few cars -and you can always hear the clip clop of the horse carriages and carts. Most of the streets have night lighting.

Pizza houses, Mexican, French, Italian, and Nicaraguan restaurants -both upscale and casual are to be found. There is an American breakfast place -"Kathy's" serving waffles, pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc. We had the best charcoal grilled steak in Central America -tender, juicy, and delicious -we went twice -$8.00 each which included green salad, vegetables, grilled potatoes, rice, garlic bread with a side of guacamole / salsa / or marinated chopped onions and your choice of several cuts of tender, juicy steak cooked to your order. The first night Lita had a butterflied whole breast of grilled chicken a la orange and it, too, was delicious ($3,25). It was huge -WE had to finish it off. Their margaritas were to die for -and I wished the next day that I had... (Actually I tested out a number of places in Granada for the quality of margaritas, and Lita did the same for non-alcoholic pina coladas -since I discovered the price for her drink was usually the same with or without liquor, I now get her to order the rum on the side and I sample that as well -what the... this was a reenactment of our honeymoon 19 years ago which eventually brought us back to Costa Rica.

Most all the restaurants have a nice ambiance not found in most Costa Rican restaurants. The central courtyard garden is a wonderful assist, nice lighting, use of wood columns, beams, furniture, table cloths, cana brava, Spanish tile, etc. all add to the eye candy. From $3-$7 you have lots of choice of restaurants and full meals. Internet cafes are all over, many serving an alcoholic drink or coffee if you wish -no need to lug your computer to keep in touch- I think up to an hour it's $.50. and a half hour is guess what? $.25.

Hotels: Lots of them -yes there are the two large and famous hotels-The Alhambra and The Colony -around the $65-$85 range. There are lots of new, wonderful places for $25-$30 (these prices will rise $10 or so during the high season -December thru March- no hot water (always a bracing, wake-me-up shower, but air conditioning, great service, usually a TV and of course, a private bathroom. There are also places cheaper ($8) but we didn't check these out. Just walk around that three block radius, ask to see the room, The streets have names and the buildings actually have signs on them (neither is the norm in Costa Rica),

The Alhambra is a great people watching spot with it's large terrace overlooking the park. You can sit in a rocking chair, drink in hand, and watch the activities in the park -and there is almost always some cultural event going on as well as the ever present food and handicraft venders and the shoe shine boys.

The Culture: Nicaragua has lots of Central American culture-women carrying various things on their heads, ox or horse drawn rubber or hard wheeled carts, push carts with fruit and vegetables, horse drawn covered carriages (not just for tourists), a few old cars (some new ones), itinerate broom and wicker basket venders, faces lined with character and stories I'm sure, shoe shine boys, handicrafts, You see teenage boys picking up their girlfriends on their bicycles, I don't remember seeing any traffic lights but there are sometimes police directing traffic. The roads are mostly narrow and one way-I actually did see direction signs (a novelty in Costa Rica) but since I didn't drive in Granada, I don't actually know how easy it would be to drive-but walking is much better for exploring. For Example: Lita had fallen in love with the Spanish tiled floors she saw. I recognized these a cement tile (vs ceramic). By walking and asking, we happened on a place making them. What a process -not hightec- and a lot of work and I'm sure made in virtually the same way they've been made for hundreds of years. Into a heavy steel frame is poured an off white gravy consistency liquid, next goes the wire framed pattern into which is poured the different sections of the frame, colored pigments to about 3/8" deep -green, blue, red, white, etc-the frame is now jiggled for leveling, and the wire design frame is carefully removed, On to this is now put powered cement which is leveled with rapidly moving hands, then a sand mixture is added and it too is carefully leveled, A male lid to the frame is then added, and then the frame and the entire filled form isis placed under a press for about 10 seconds where it is compressed into a brick about 1 1/4" thick. After removing from the press, the "lid" is lifted off and the now solid brick is carefully removed and stacked on it's edge where it will be allowed to slow cure with lots of water slowing the curing process. Why the dies don't all mix I don't know but the result are crisp clear lines.

Trip to the Beach: While it may sound like, all we did not only eat and drink, not so. We hired a car and driver for a day to take us to San Juan del Sur -a beach and real estate development area I have been reading about for 5 years. It was one of the closets beaches to Granada yet a two hour ride each way. I have to say that I was really disappointed. Perhaps we didn't see the right area but I can't for the life of me, see what any hype is about -the town can hardly support it's own needs, the bay is not for swimming-sewage and strong waves/current and brown, unattractive sand, describe the bay. Perhaps the rain didn't help it's appeal but regardless, the place is so remote and the area is so close to subsistence level living, I have difficulty envisioning it becoming the next Puerta Vallarta or Tamarindo, or ?????? -at least in my lifetime.

Building Materials and House Furnishings: I was still on the hunt for construction materials and furnishings which we might use when we get to building our house. Spec building doesn't allow me the freedom to build far from mainstream taste other than adding some Costa Rican character - arches, non patterned ceramics, granite and marble, tropical woods, etc. The result is a wonderful product but doesn't capture old Central America. So, while I was in Granada, I wanted to look for inspiration for our own home and to check out what products I might find. In addition to the tiles described above, we found a place where they made fantastic vases and pottery, carved wooden furniture and columns, and stone fountains (the same as we bought here for $350) were $90 there (of course we have to get them back here). Right now I'm thinking how to put a buying trip together and transporting products back. (First of all, however, guess I better finalize the house plans.) When and IF we go that route, I'll probably select a couple of my Nicaraguan workers to go with me (us) to negotiate a better price and to facilitate the purchase and return transportation.

After examining water fountains we started the return trip to Granada, I had forgotten to put on my seat belt. After a short time, I was reminded by my driver to do so. He said the police were just up ahead. Having passed that way earlier and seeing a police woman with a rifle, I decided I better do as was suggested.

Observations, Impressions and Misc.

Nicaragua is poor, poor, poor... The only country worse off is said to be Haiti. Why? I going to answer by saying a long history of bad politics and dysfunctional governments coupled with a major earth quake around 1991. Some people see some hope in that the common person is protesting in this fledging "democracy". I'm not a political scientist and I long since gave up claiming to know anything about economics even though that was my major in undergraduate school nor have I really studied either as it applies to Nicaragua. Some of the following opinions might not be supported by those who have-so be it. My observations, however, are less academic-what I saw is what I saw.

Two people I spoke with opined that Daniel Ortega will continue to be noisy but not a significant political force regardless of his alliance with Aleman. (To me this is the marriage of two vipers neither of whom can trust the other.) Neither the two people I spoke with seemed to be too concerned about the politics there nor the upcoming elections. I don't think I could be as sanguine.

Nicaragua is broke and it doesn't have a lot of world credit. Venezuela is giving or selling at very favorable terms, some oil daily. Nicaragua cannot afford to buy gas and diesel and oil based products. While there were never many cars, there are fewer on the roads now than five months ago and fewer public busses as well. People hitch rides in the pickups, stake trucks, and dump trucks that still run, use bicycles, horse carts, walk, or stay home. (Energy guzzling countries, including Costa Rica might well look at this-Granada was actually nice to walk around in.)

In three days we had 4 power outages-it reminded me of Santa Ana (although in all fairness, we haven't had a power outage for several months-it's almost scary. I was told that power outages occur regularly because the generating plants are privately owned and fuel has been rationed so rotating blackouts are the norm.

Roads are not being repaired (if you think Costa Rica has pot holes, the expression "you ain't seen nothing" has a whole new meaning.

I saw only two farm tractors, one of which was in use.

Cattle and horses were grazed along the roadway. Why? It's considered free land so the grass is free. The benefit is that it keeps the side of the highways mowed.

The vast majority of the rural houses are, at best, basic, basic, basic-not always a raised, cement, floor, often times unpainted wood structures with often times old tin for roofs, surrounded by bare dirt (mud in the rainy season) with a few chickens, cows, or pigs. I didn't see many/any tools other than the machete and the very odd shovel. I didn't see as many dogs as I would have expected to see in Costa Rica but then dogs have to eat too IF there are enough scraps-if not, the dog goes-and perhaps becomes dinner. Most of the rural houses use wood for cooking.

Many, many of the buildings and streets in Granada, which is probably one of the most prosperous towns in Nicaragua, are in bad repair - stucco falling off either brick or adobe buildings, walls at various angles, rotten roof joists, unpainted wood and seemingly abandoned buildings, etc. I did see some new construction (by foreigners) although I was told Nicaraguan investment money is coming back to Granada and to Managua. (I was told that the two best restaurants in Granada were Nicaraguan owned.) Without a functioning banking system, however, it is difficult to build a country...

We saw one 18 wheel tractor trailer run into the bog on a straight stretch of road. The cab and motor were good only for parts. We speculated how, on a straight stretch of road, this might have happened. The driver further speculated that it could have been run off the road and then the cargo robbed - when I queried him on this, he said it was a common occurrence. On our return, we asked the guys sitting beside the truck if this was in fact what had happened. No, it was a case of an idiot driver on the wrong side of the road and the truck had to swerve to miss it. While robbery wasn't the reason in this case, the driver's comments did reveal that it happens (it happens in Canada and in N. America as well.)

Petty theft was confirmed to be a nuisance issue (it is in many parts of Costa Rica and N. Am.)

On Sunday we walked down the farm produce street. We saw the normal fruit and vegetables one would expect but all appeared to have been grown without fertilizer or pesticides-great, I guess, if you are in to organic food-but the quality of produce suffered in all cases- tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, corn, celery, etc. were all small and poorly formed. The fruit was harvested from the countryside-papayas, watermelons, avocados and the few pineapples were very small. No imported items nor anything that might be realistically called a "supermarket".

Health Care: Hospital, clinic, or medical lab: I saw no evidence on anything which might be effective if required.

Building materials stores were few and far between and with little stock. They certainly do not use the amount of steel that we use in Costa Rica. Neither do they build will hollow block as much as is done here in Costa Rica. Where we use hollow block, they might use either adobe or sun dried clay brick over which they plaster. They use more wood -cedro and almenndro (a type of cedar and almond wood-both gorgeous) and the underside of many, many ceilings (terraces as well as interior ceilings) is cana brava-beautiful. I do not know their cost of construction but based on the similarities and differences to what I'm doing, I guess it would be around the $30sf. For houses with asking prices(not necessarily selling prices) of $250,000-$350K one would think you might get a lot of land but that's not the case in downtown Granada. I was told by the car driver that crazy gringos were buying through Remax, Century 21, Caldwell Bankers, and some other local Am. RE offices were driving up the prices and the vendor's expectations. The same can be said in Costa Rica and some things here (especially costal areas), I have to shake my head at but value is in the eye of the beholder and I've missed things before-I've always managed to keep my head above water as others have sank...

Summary: Yes, Nicaragua and Granada lack many things but for a visit, it's fantastic. We are looking forward to our return in early December.

Brian, Lita, Hugo and irreverent Vicka, the pigeon toed parrot.

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Fourplex 106

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Units 114-116

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Units 120-122

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