ISSUE #381: Nov. 14-19, 2011



Brian Timmons, Newsletter Author
Brian Timmons

Dear friends,

When I started Residencias Los Jardines, I started writing a weekly news letter -determined to tell all the good, bad, and the ugly. I knew some readers would be interested in the construction process. I expected others might be interested in the lifestyle of two people who had decided to live outside the box. For others, the adventures of Lita, the parrot and the cat took on an entertainment saga all its own.

Residencias Los Jardines is finished. We periodically have resales and rental availability. Some readers may be interested in this information.

More and more, the content will be dominated by events of our new project, "El Dorado" for short. While the future is always uncertain, I again aim to tell it like it happens -the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that is what follows.

Brian Timmons
Residencias Los Jardines /
Hacienda El Dorado /


Construction Log
Updates about Hacienda El Dorado

Rio Oro: Friday morning was beautiful over the property and the discussions we're beginning got off to a good start. Discussions are continuing... and they still are...


Residencias Los Jardines
Property Management, Rentals, Re-Sales

Note: I spent a long time writing the "feature" article for last week's newsletter only to have it disappear to who knows where in cybersapce... I'll try it again:

Imagine the "Titanic": On a quite Tuesday afternoon, with soft music playing in the background, a couple were winding down their day, having a drink and talking about their trip the next day. They noticed their feet were wet, looked up and saw the entire ground floor was awash... obviously, we heard about it right away... we shut off the water supply to the house (or at least tried), begin sweeping and moping and then begin looking for the break... it being a two story house, we checked the ceilings and walls... nothing... no where was their evidence of a leak... we stated checking outside and finally, under the vegetation, saw a rivulet running from under the house... we have a problem that's going to take some time to solve. I give some instructions, go off to pick up another person since I knew this is going to take time... three of them worked on tracing the rivulet back to it's source. Three hours and a pizza later and three feet under the exterior footing they found the source of the problem... the water supply line had a "T" intersection... the "T" extrusion had failed completely... why???????? and how could the water come through 5" of concrete? Who knows? Was the pipe extrusion faulty from the factory? Did the failure have anything to do with the three years of vibrations from the heavy trucks on the roadway? Did the breakage have anything to do with the earthquake which hit about that time? I don't know. I only know that the piece had failed and had to be fixed. The only way to fix it since it wasn't accessible from the outside, was to break a hole in the finished floor of the interior bathroom floor... We did the next morning and replaced the failed "T" connection. Then patching it back required we find the exact same tile... or ??????? At the end of the construction we had distributed extra tile to most houses for this type of emergency. Well, they were no where to be found... Luckily I remembered having a stash of left over tiles at El Dorado... we searched the stash and found one the right size, color and only the edging was different but we worked on that and... now it's all put back together as if nothing had happened... and in the process, we found that the shut off valve to the house worked only 90% so that was replaced and another hose bib was replaced as well. It just proves that one never really knows what is going to happen here...

PENDING SALE: One of our residents decided suddenly to change personal direction and wants to undo what he had set into motion... living in CR... for whatever reason, he wants to sell his house. He priced it reasonably, I made a phone call to people who I thought might be interested, they were / are, and after outlining what each was expecting to see if there was a basis for conversation, I put them in touch with each other. As of now, the deal is moving ahead.


Unit 106B: $164,000 for sale / Price Reduced by $5,000 See Unit
Unit 115: $205,000 for sale See unit
Unit 125: $140,000 for sale / Price reduced by $10,000 See unit


Site Plan-


UNIT #106B
FOR SALE $164,000
Price reduced by $5,000

Total Area (Sq Ft): 1270
Total area (Sq M): 115
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 2
Floor(s): Ground
Type: Apartment
Furnished: Yes

This is a fully furnished 2-bedroom unit situated in a 2-story building, which has two nits on the ground floor and two units on the 2nd. floor. Each unit is the same size 1,250sf) divided into 800 sf of interior space and 450 sf of covered front and back erraces. Floor. The solid masonry demising wall (common wall) as well as the 5" oncrete slab prevent sound transference.


UNIT #115
FOR SALE $205,000

Total Area (Sq Ft): 1345
Total area (Sq M): 124
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 2
Floor(s): 1 Story
Type: Attached
Furnished: Yes

This 1,345 sf single floor home includes a 200 sf private terrace plus parking for one car. It is attached on two sides by a 6” solid concrete block wall which prevents sound transfer. This is an extremely well decorated home with lots of natural wood built ins.


UNIT #125
FOR SALE $140,000

Price reduced by $10,000

Total Area (Sq Ft): 662
Total area (Sq M): 61
Bedrooms: 1
Bathrooms: 1
Floor(s): 2nd Floor
Type: Semi-Detached
Furnished: Yes

This 662 sf, + parking for one car and 33sf locker is a one bedroom home on the 2nd floor overlooking the large pool. It is ideal for a single person or couple —or investment property.




Our Lives

WEATHER: It's been a normal transitional week of weather -beautiful... from my perspective.

Cars: The Pathfinder now sitting in my parking space with title in hand; performed well... It was nice to crank on the AC (which I don't usually do) pop in a CD which I don't usually do... cruse along in climate controlled interior listing to the music having a nice conversation with friends...

Nicaraguan beef: Nicaragua has some of the best beef I've ever eaten. I know it sounds crazy, the 2nd. poorest country in Central / South American... but it's true. We used to (and still do) go to Granada and our first stop (and last stop) is a steak house... fantastic... The company is now exporting to Liberia... while in Playa Carrillo, we went to an Argentinian steak house... I asked their source and they gave it to me along with the price list... Nicaraguan beef delivered to Liberia. I contacted them asking if they had a San Jose distributor... they don't -at least not yet... I'll be following this closely.

Playa Carrillo: This is the picture perfect half moon bay with coconut palms to high tide followed by an expansive, clean gently sloping beach into the quiet Pacific Ocean... We stayed at a nice place for $40 a night including a full breakfast. We were the only customers. The hotel consists of a group of cabins, lots of landscaping, restaurant, swimming pool, bar, WiFi, American owner with Tica wife... and daughter working it. They bought it in July 2008... well we all know what happened in September 2008 and since then. He's barely surviving. His annual occupancy is about 20% and most of that comes a Christmas and Semana Santa (two weeks each); he hosts "Texas hold'em" for the guys and dominoes for the women one night a week, local weddings, graduations, N. Am. sports games, etc... he's had to drop his rates substantially from what he was expecting when he bought the place.

Our previously favorite hotel (the "Leyenda") at which we could not make a deal, was virtually empty. ((Another John Holtz article is presented below... asking, and answering the question: where have all the tourists gone?... as he notes -it's no secrete.))

Personal note: I found it a bit surreal to be sitting on the beach making and receiving phone calls coordinating actions in a totally different world or writing about an event I couldn't relate to from where I was sitting at the beach (any maybe that's the reason the feature article disappeared)...

Misc. News about CR: The following was culled from various sources this past week and would not show up in the news listings above since that listing picks up only the day's news... Several of these articles I thought were particularly insightful... the one by John Holtz really nails CR on the head (for me). The other articles are actually, supportive of this central thesis:

Inhibiting Progress Is One Of The National Pass Times in Costa Rica
By John R. Holtz*

Last week I had the good fortune to attend another business round table of the “Young Lions” of Costa Rica (40 to 50 year old executives). These are the same women and men who believe Costa Rica has over democratized and is spinning out of direction as a result.

As we all well know, in Costa Rica it is almost impossible to separate culture and business from politics as they are so much intertwined making them virtually impossible to differentiate and so easy to manipulate by an elite few.

The “Free Market” system is very much promoted on paper, but the central and local government regulations accompanied by the massive amounts of institutions have both infinite formal as well as informal power over industry and human behavior which makes planning impossible.

We always muse that for every formal law or regulation there are at least six informal ones and five bribe requests. Sort of like the current diputado Jorge Angulo who, since 1974 has had 48 charges of fraud and extortion levied against him, all of which is public record and he remains a congress person.

While disguised as laws and regulations to best benefit the citizen and expat, they are more so designed to stop forward progress unless such progress is clearly benefits an existing power structure. An outsider does not stand a chance unless investing big money!

After all, inhibiting progress, on every level, is one of the national pass times and that is what makes Costa Rica so terribly complicated and socially deficient . You never know whose butt to kiss nor when.

Put this together with a complex social structure and hierarchy, it is difficult to do business and stay in business. The World Bank ranks Costa Rica 121 out of 183 countries on its Ease of Doing Business Index. And with the plethora of all the new polls, statistics: I believe them the most because the Bank has nothing to gain.

Is it possible to plan and control your own destiny?

The conversation switched to why both Costa Rica commerce, government and even the people think only in the very short term? This goes back to my discussion about the lack of maintenance while expecting unreasonable “sustainability”. Or, “Why so few resources and so little effort are made to maintain the infrastructure, industries and buildings.”

I argue that in Costa Rica all planning, however short, is a high risk venture and anything beyond the short term is an exceptional risk.

Therefore, it was concluded that the best business plan is no longer than six months to a year forward. And, after that the best intermediate business plan is to design the company, organization or your personal life to be a good reactionary and for a long term plan; don´t waste your time. (Go with the flow.)

We are a culture without transparency, limited information and we effect critical change absent of open debate and without public notice. In addition, the change can be dramatic resulting in a complete modification of the status quo.

A classic example would to include the relatively new appearance of traffic cameras and now the consideration of taking them down while the cost of an infraction went from 20,000 colons to 308,000 colons. Indeed a dramatic increase that lingers in congress and the courts leaving both civilians and commerce in the dark.

The congress makes the law then sends it to court to see if t is a legal law. Duh!

The new electric proposed rates being requested, not yet confirmed, for 2012 is 21% more for homes and 24% for industry which seems to have come from nowhere. Another quantum leap making even a one year budget high-risk.

Right now it is the dreaded fear of the new tax plan. However, the plan has not been passed resulting in the unknown and breath holding for many businesses as well as expats and nationals not to mention foreign investors. Bits and pieces are released to the media but not the plan itself.
A legislative committee approved on Tuesday an admendemnt to the fiscal plan that would impose the value added tax on homes that exceed twice the monthly base salary, which is presently ¢ 632,400 ($1264). Other motions clarified that drugs would be exempt from the VAT and established a lower 2 percent VAT for the agricultural sector while exempting public universities.
A legislative committee approved on Tuesday an admendemnt to the fiscal plan that would impose the value added tax on homes that exceed twice the monthly base salary, which is presently ¢ 632,400 ($1264). Other motions clarified that drugs would be exempt from the VAT and established a lower 2 percent VAT for the agricultural sector while exempting public universities.
A legislative committee approved on Tuesday an admendennt to the fiscal plan that would impose the value added tax on homes that exceed twice the monthly base salary, which is presently ¢ 632,400 ($1264). Other motions clarified that drugs would be exempt from the VAT and established a lower 2 percent VAT for the agricultural sector while exempting public universities.

As a total surprise, a few weeks ago the two arch enemies, perpetual presidential candidate from the left Otton Solis and center –right Laura Chinchilla, came to an agreement to pass a tax plan with some modifications. One of those notable modifications seems almost laughable. The concept is to impose a 15% tax on profits to those international companies who will locate in the Free Tax Zone in the year 2015 but were told only two years ago, “Come on down!”

This is the classic example of the “Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.”

The bottom line is that in Costa Rica there is no sense in making businesses nor personal plans except perhaps to satisfy foreign investor curiosity and satisfy banking regulators or practice the exercise. Intuition is as good as anything else.

In reality, every day brings another surprising change, another new decree. We live for the day simply because there is no other alternative. Costa Ricans have mastered the “What me worry?” syndrome and have become totally dependent on the paternalistic government for small favors and dolling out subsistence to its people. Getting ahead or climbing the ladder is pure luck.

Just don´t get too upset with the bad news and never break out the champagne on the good news, until the check clears.
This might all change within hours.

*John Holtz can be reached at


Where O Where Did All The Tourists Go?
By John R. Holtz*

Only a week ago, we were brimming with confidence and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) just assured Costa Rica of a great 2011, a 5% increase in tourism over 2010. Meanwhile, CANATUR said, “well maybe” but the smaller hotels will not do so well. And the ad hoc hotel group Pro-Tur said, “No way!”

And let´s not forget the 30,000 medical tourists who will be coming down for that special Costa Rican face lift price and that world renown Tico hospitality. (“Why it´s almost like a vacation,” as her swollen lips sipped ginger ale through the straw sitting in the shade at $400 a night.) Certainly medical tourism is a mega-mega growth industry that has yet to show a profit. Not everyone should convert their homes or invest into care centers and advertise like hell; can´t miss, just like “Mega-Mega” in the 90s.

Never mind the single largest source of tourism is the perpetual tourist who has been living off our land for God only knows how long by simply crossing one of two borders and hanging out for hours in another country and then coming back and once again counted in the tourist ledger as “new”. Or, that all countries are fighting a heart break recession and the fear of unemployment and the bottom line is that Costa Rica has nothing special to offer the 6 to 7 hour traveler who pays a premium price for an airplane ticket because in 2007 we went literally whaco cutting down the jungle, putting up billboards blocking beautiful roadside views and chasing away the wildlife in the name of short term profit and real estate sales.

I am exhausted trying to figure all these advertised deals out. Remember the Peter Drucker KISS theory? Keep it Simple Stupid. (They forgot)

No deal, not matter how complicated like pay for five days and getting 1/2 night free are not valid between December 15 and January 2.

The government´s answer to the 3%+ in drop in tourism is to look for rich Russians and Chinese who pretty much need to give up their DNA to get a 30 day visa rather than improve the tourist experience itself.

The reason for the drop off?

The U.S. and Europe are each trying to fend off a second recession and the Canadians are hanging out in Mexico for the winter with 180 day and not 90 day visas as in Costa Rica. (Six months = Almost no snow. Still a little chilly, but usually much snow.)

While this is not the beginning of the end, there are some pretty good clues here that paradise has its problems and we need put more than a band aide on the wound, maybe even CPR to get the groove back.

When Americans are willing to spend their vacation in drug invested, violent Mexico rather than Costa Rica, there is something said.

Money is tight and travel is frugal this year and Costa Rica is not the place to be if you have a limited budget. It sounds good on paper but when you arrive? It is reality time. The first thing that hits you is the us$15 per person arrival tax and you have not seen a monkey yet.

When the ad says meet and eat with native families in this peace loving nation that translates to rice, beans, two tortillas and an egg. Coffee is extra and no refill. All included for only $13 + 10% tip + 13% tax soon to be 14%. (A $16 meal). Not to mention the "Tours R Us" real estate sales who promise living in Pura Vida on just a small amount of what it costs in your home country.

Car rental prices have gone up as have taxies and even public transportation. Gas has not. That´s not reality!
After popping a Cialis around 4:00PM, take a quiet walk on the beach, holding hands at midnight while enjoying the shimmer of our famous silver moon is just asking to get mugged, raped or killed. Worse, do that in downtown San José day or night.

The tourism dollar represents approximately 12% of the Costa Rican GDP and what projects the State has only taken seriously are the up-scale all inclusive resorts and the planned luxury projects forgetting about the horse that got us here: The beaches, jungles, mountains, boutique hotels, ecology, surf camps, reasonably priced and rustic places to eat not to mention lots of cold and well priced beer. You know, “frugal”, but fun which is not being advertised.

Instead we have the world famous and highly touted by our own former President, Oscar Arias, “Exclusive Resorts” and the famous Andre Agassi – Steffi Graf Tennis Compound. ”Exclusive” advertises only 1 9 apartments and no Andre or Steffi compound.

Let´s not forget the $1,000 a night with the guest´s own personal butler, the Regency near Los Sueños; never built and went bust.

Adjacent to the Port of Caldera lies another pipe dream, La Roca, an exclusive development with stores, medical facilities, two golf courses room for all those baby boomers to retire….never happened.

The Papagayo groups have history on their side and have been around for years catering to the upper middle class with the Four Seasons. That has legs. However, those are not enough to feed a very hungry dragon.

Costa Rica went “Wanna be Rich” in 2006 and 2007, got off it´s good and trusty steed named Real Ecology, dropped family travel, became a haven for yoga and expensive spas and when the recession hit, they just went under.
Even in 2010 while more tourists arrived, they spent less days and less money than 2009. A sign right there that things were being ignored.

Countries to the north and to the south picked up the slack.

You might not like Ortega who seems likable only to Nicaraguans however, Nicaragua offers much better prices for everything from food to lodging as well as security. Our neighbor to the south, Panama, went on a PR blitz capturing more and more typically Costa Rica bound tourists, also at far more reasonable prices fronted by internationally acclaimed musician Rubin Blades. (We now have an avatar sloth representing Costa Rica who falls off the tree branch at the end of his/her presentation for not staying awake. Is there a message there?)

I want to send all Costa Rican travel professionals to Mexico for one month and learn how it is done. I want to start with immigration and duties whose foreheads would crack wide open if they ever gave a friendly smile of welcome to paradise. Congeniality is not part of the equation although I once got one to laugh.

The business secret of tourism is to seek repeat clients. When asking ICT and CANATUR, after a little foot shuffling, they said, “We have no plan for that.” It reminds me of the slogan printed on the Denver post: “It is a Privilege to Live in Colorado”. Here the mentality is that it is a privilege to let you, Mr. & Mrs. Tourist to see visit in paradise even if the monkeys are only rented for the day.

A tour group from California ordered up over nine rooms at the Grano de Oro in Downtown San Jose, still during the Green Season. I just got a call from the group leader saying the attitude was awful and this being the third year, he expected some respect as a valued customer. "Where can we move?"

Many tourists have just burned out on Costa Rica´s inflated prices, poor service and a feeling that they are not really of much value. We have totally forgotten that Costa Rica is selling, the tourists are the customer and they do have choices.
It is not a privilege is to spend your money in Costa Rica or anywhere else for that matter. We need to learn to earn. That is learn to earn discretionary vacation expenses rather than survive on folklore, catch phrases, half-truths and a sleepy sloth.


Costa Rica: All Aspiring Judges Flunk Basic Law Test

With high hopes, the Judicial Branch gave a basic law test to 162 lawyers, aspirants applying for 32 places in a course to prepare future judges for their duties. The results couldn't have been more disappointing.

All failed the test last June and the course was canceled. The aspirants came from several universities, public and private.

Supreme Court Magistrate Orlando Aguirre was appalled. "This demonstrates that the Court is attracting a human resource that doesn't have a good university grounding," he said. He has a right to be worried: he heads a committee charged with ensuring quality of judges.

The test was administered last June 27, reported the newspaper La Nacion and was developed to counter criticism that young judges lacked proper grounding in the nation's laws. If any had passed, they would have gone on to a year's extra training.

The training program has had its problems. Only 16 of the 211 lawyers taking the exam in 2010 scored above the minimum of 70 necessary to enter the course. So, they resorted to a familiar ploy to fill out the rest of the 25 students necessary for the course -- they graded on a curve.

Marivin Carvajal, director of the judicial training school, noted that last year after the six-hour test, examiners had been setting the bar at a score of 78 but the highest scorer was 77.01 and only 16 scored more than 70 points.

Worse, the lowest score turned out to be 35.26. Carvajal noted that the overall results "were very bad and very worrying." But the lawyers scored worst in the section requiring knowledge of the law.

Judge Carvajal told La Nacion that 181 lawyers took a makeup exam on Oct. 10 but the results of that one are not in yet. He added that despite the financial sacrifice the Supreme Court had made to train future judges, the candidate quality is not up to requirements and they show deficiencies.

Analysis: Although many North American expatriates view the court system here with suspicion because the judges are not elected but chosen by the courts themselves, it is obvious the the Judicial Branch here is trying its best to bolster up the system.

Certainly, a system that tries this hard to screen their prospective jurists is trying to assure that justice in this country is on a higher plane. U.S. expatriates will remember their ballots in which they blindly mark an incumbent judge's name because it is familiar without knowing the capacities of any of the judicial candidates.

Here, new judges are chosen by other judges. They don't always get it right and some of the inept or dishonest slip through, but sitting judges have a better chance to know qualifications of the candidates.

As for the aspirants for admission to the course, presumably they have the chance to bone up on the law and retake the exam. But they'll be the judges of that...

By Rod Hughes ,

(And to think the have been testing applicants for "judge" for only two years... wow, now read this: (copied from "Inside CostaRica")

COSEVI May Shut Down Traffic Cameras
Turning off the traffic cameras will be voted by the COSEVI board next week

The board of directors of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial (COSEVI) - Road Safety Council - is considering shutting down the operation of the traffic cameras, permanently or at least until the Constitutional Court rules on the appeals before it. For now, in accordance with the Court ruling, the COSEVI has had to suspend all collections of traffic camera tickets, while the cameras continue to operate and issue tickets to drivers exceeding the posted speed limit by 20 km/h.

The president of the COSEVI, Silvia Bolaños, confirmed that the program is under review and that shutting it down is one of the options. Bolaños said that the board meets next week and will be asked to vote on the issue.

The other reason that drives the COSEVI to halt the program is the multiple problems that have risen, one that the camera program was installed by a private company and sharing of fines with the state telecom, Radiografica Costarricense S.A. (Racsa), a subsidiary of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).

The question with the deal is the financial interest Racsa and the private company installing the system as they share a percentage of the take, leading some to charge what is the motivation to be fair?

The Traffic camera program ran into problems almost from the beginning, taking almost a year to be put into operation, as problems, legal and technical, plagued transport officials.

The cameras were to have gone into operation last December. But, since notification was not personal, the COSEVI had to find a legal way to notify offending drivers and/or owners of vehicles.

Following months of negotiations, a deal was struck with Racsa to maintain a database of offenders, posting to a website where owners of vehicles and/or drivers can check on any infractions and to compile a list of offenders to be published in the official government newsletter, La Gaceta.

The notice is one of the items under appeal, a filing with the Constitutional Courts charges that the notification is not legal since the driver is not personally given the ticket for speeding.

Others problems and the main reason for the Court to suspend collections are filing for "disproportionate and unconstitutional" the ¢308.000 colones fine.

Then there is the appeal process. Every traffic ticket can be appealed within 10 working days of being notified. In the case of the traffic cameras, the appeal period start with the publication in La Gaceta and can take months on end to process.

Following months of negotiations, a deal was struck with Racsa to maintain a database of offenders, posting to a website where owners of vehicles and/or drivers can check on any infractions and to compile a list of offenders to be published in the official government newsletter, La Gaceta.

The notice is one of the items under appeal, a filing with the Constitutional Courts charges that the notification is not legal since the driver is not personally given the ticket for speeding.

Brian, Lita, Hugo, irreverent Vicka, the pigeon toed parrot, Chico II and Chica II

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