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On a family trip to Florida when I was nine is when I first got excited about tropical plants. When I was 12, we rebuilt an old greenhouse at home and eventually grew bananas and a pineapple inside. Slide shows from Puerto Rico introduced me to some of my favorite trees. Having had the privilege of helping a retired friend drive to his winter home in Key West for 10 years, continued to fuel my longtime interest in tropical plants.


 
In 2002, I built another greenhouse and for the past ten years have been seriously collecting and selling tropical plants again. On a ten day trip to Honduras in 2004 I got the idea that I might be able to buy some land and grow tropical plants and trees year round without a greenhouse. In 2006 I arranged to spend two months as a volunteer at the largest tropical botanical garden in the western hemisphere, Lancetilla, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras to see if I would be comfortable living in a tropical country and culture. I did.

 

I decided to visit several countries prior to actually buying land. I planned to visit Costa Rica, Belize, and Puerto Rico. I had heard what a tropical paradise Costa Rica was, so I decided to start there. I didn't need to go further! In 2007 I had dental work done in San Jose and then spent time on the Pacific coast. In Quepos, I visited a seven and a half acre farm outside of town, which had sold for $40,000. I decided that if I could find half that amount of land for half the price, I would buy. The new owner had rented in Costa Rica for two years before find the farm, so I expected to spend two or three years searching for my dream property. But a year and one month later I found just what I was looking for. Now I have all three of my favorite trees on my own land in Costa Rica!
My family home is now in the midst of the Ohio Amish country tourism area. I had been told there were no Amish or Mennonite people in Costa Rica, so when a former Pennsylvanian living in Quepos told me plain people were selling delicious pastries in the weekly farmers' market I decided to look them up.

There I met Noah Ulrich and his sister Anita and brought home a jar of her manga jelly. A year later I emailed Noah to tell him I had a taste of Costa Rica for breakfast! I had found the jelly jar in the back of the refrigerator (I think I had hidden it there because it was going too fast) He mentioned his brother-in-law was heading up a development that I might be interested in.  A week later I was looking at the Santiago Springs website and spotted one 2.8 acre lot for $20,000.  I immediately emailed the developer, Nathanael Yoder to ask what was wrong with it because all the other lots of that size were double the price. I learned it didn't have public road frontage which suited me just fine. So, in March of 2009, I went down to see for myself what it was really like as photos showed very steep hillsides.
I set up contacts with several other real estate agents in Costa Rica to see what else might be available. The agent I had lunch with in San Jose offered large tracts with high prices on the Caribbean side of the country, he was helpful in that he put me in contact with agents near the Pacific coast in the southern part of the country near Dominical. I chose to go to Santiago Springs first. After that, it seemed every property was better than the last! I soon realized that most land in Costa Rica is full of steep hillsides! The expensive lots on the Coast were no exception. The only level spots were already serving as "futbol" fields! So that answered the concern of my friend who had warned me the first step out my front door might be dangerous!
 The other agents took me far and wide to see interesting small plots with small houses ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 and on up to $200,000 if they had an ocean view. Upon finally reaching the lowest priced one after driving several hours up into the coastal mountain , the agent only said "now we know why it is only $20,000." One site had very desirable mature fruit trees including my favorite, Guanabana, and some vanilla orchids.
 On the coast, after experiencing a "strong tremor", I thought the agent had only bumped the table, so I decided I wouldn't worry much about earthquakes. I was told that the younger coastal mountains were more subject to tremors than the older mountains across the Valley of the General where Santiago Springs is located. (Don't know if there is any truth to that) I learned that a coastal ocean view is very expensive and that a valley view is next best. Santiago Springs has incredible valley views. Also one night without air-conditioning in Dominical made me acutely aware of the heat and humidity on the coast. The cool breezes in the foothills of International Parque La Amistad make every shady spot a pleasant oasis so air-conditioning is unnecessary. Every evening cools down for good sleeping as well. 
 
Nathanael is one of the few developers to offer financing. Otherwise it would be necessary to negotiate financing with the sale or a local bank. He also has a reputable lawyer (By the way Roger helped me set up a Corporation and guess what I named it?! Plantas Raras of course!) and perceptive architect available and both have provided me with excellent service. There is also a plan to combine all these services with the development office allowing purchasers to conduct all necessary transactions in one place.
Some developments are only on paper with no promise of roads or utilities in the foreseeable future. Santiago Springs had all these in place. It would only be necessary to install a culvert and bring the water and electric in the lane since the lot had no public road frontage. The internal water supply is from the many springs in the development and is soft and sweet.

The annual temperature range and amount of rainfall was of concern. The dry seasons have not been severe in recent years. Getting the heavy rainfall off the property without erosion is more of a problem. Someone pointed out that the cooler temperatures in the foothills are good for a wide variety of plants and trees. Even though some of the more tropical kinds might not yield heavily they would still produce some fruit.
The rains usually come in the afternoon so it's possible to rise with the sun at 6 a.m. and get eight hours of work in before. After lunch and a cool shower it's great to nap when the rain starts. Then it's time for coffee (usually with a snack.) By 6 p.m. its dark and after the TV News it's soon time for supper. The relaxed schedule is very easy to get use to!
  
Another concern I had is that I didn't want to be in a gated community of Americans only. From my Two months in Honduras I knew I wanted to get to know my neighbors and as far as possible to become part of the community. I was assured there would be no limits on community interaction. Consequently, when I returned in the spring of 2010 and 2011 to start planting trees on the lot, Nathanael arranged for me to stay with a local family, right by the entrance to the development. This was really important since as of now there are no hotels or guesthouses outside of San Isidro. What is considered a 30 min trip by car can take the local bus can up to two hours to make the trip out from the city center. These boarding arrangements allowed me to participate in the life of the community and to get some sense of the local culture. The people are very congenial fun-loving and generous they accepted my crude attempts at Spanish, and answered my many questions with much patience and kindness.
Even living so close I still had a half-hour walk up to the lot from the entrance, since I have no transport of my own. This had several advantages including a ten-pound weight loss over three weeks! Another is that I just can't avoid stopping to take pictures! I average 600 photos with each trip to Costa Rica. If I had driven up each day I would have missed so much. Twice I saw toucans in the trees and a pair of vultures had a nest under a large rock. When I eventually have a car I will probably be sorry.

We also had a lot of fun trying to understand each other. On my last trip out on the bus it really pleased me when one of the local men who worked on my water line recognized me as he got on the bus and stopped to wish me well on my trip to the US. I have also had offers of plants and trees for my new garden.
I was also pleased to be part of the local crowd when the Minister of transportation came for a town meeting concerning the proposed paving of the 8 kilometers of road in from the InterAmerican highway. He was pleasantly surprised by the large crowd and evident interest. The gravel road has already been improved a lot since the development started. The paved road will have a big impact on the life of the community.
The nearby Mennonite community has been very welcoming as well, meeting me at the bus station welcoming me at church, inviting me to dinner and introducing me to people. Many of them have been very helpful to me in getting my feet on the ground in this country. Although I belong to a more liberal Mennonite group, I have found them very open to discussing our differences and points of agreement. Friends in the states are in disbelief when I tell them I'm buying land in Costa Rica from a Mennonite man named Yoder.
My friend Noah has offered to check on my property from time to time and to water my newly planted trees. He and his wife Tryphena have recently welcomed a fifth child David Lee into their family. They operate a bakery and also make cheese to sell.

Since I expected to spend several years looking for land, I am now about 2-3 years ahead of schedule and am trying to get to the house building stage as soon as possible. I have been sketching ideas for two years already and have met with the architect again on this trip for two hours. Jose Luis Valverde understood immediately what I had in mind -- good design, with inexpensive but serviceable materials creating a "house that disappears into the garden when opened up." I have a plaque from a friend who knows me well, "I live in the garden; I just sleep in the house." Jose's computer-generated views based on my plans were so exciting I wanted to move in right away!
As a former art professor and life-long gardener designing my own tropical garden is the main reason for buying property in Costa Rica. Every spring I pretend I am living in "Tropical Ohio" and create a tropical garden with palms and bananas that I over winter in my greenhouse and house. Then in September I have to take it all apart and do without for the other nine months. Now I hope to create a lasting tropical garden with all the plants I have come to know over my lifetime, and which I have struggled to grow in northern Ohio.
I am totally fascinated by the plant life here in the tropics! Everyone has been very willing to share their knowledge of plants with me, teaching me constantly of new ones. My garden will not have much lawn, or geometry. The philosophy of the Japanese garden,” using the utmost artifice to create the most natural look possible" will underlie it. It should look like it grew by itself, in harmony with the surrounding landscape, but that it couldn't have grown in any other way. I have now planted 100 trees and plants over the last two visits and managed to stay for a full month this time. Come visit me soon in Santiago Springs or drop me an email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  



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