Michael’s version of the history of Costa Rica

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Newsletters

newsletter edition no. 8

 A client of mine asked me the other day where I come up with my ideas for my Newsletters. Truthfully, I already have 8 or 10 of them partially written, and they just seem to come together as I need them to.  Usually a comment or some circumstance brings one of my ideas to the top of the list.


Well, this past week, it grabbed me by my collar, looked me in the eye, and shook my spine loose. It was in the form of a 7.6 Earthquake, and it struck the Nicoya Peninsula, 50 miles south of here, at 8:42 am on Wednesday September 5, 2012, while I was attending a Home Owners Association meeting.


Just a week or two ago I was made a comment on my Facebook page; Reason number 812 to live in Costa Rica: NO HURRICANES, as Louisiana was getting blasted again.  I guess this was God’s way of saying “Hello Michael, here’s your foot, please insert it into your mouth and let me know how it tastes!” Boy, was it one hell of a ride, let me tell ya!!!!!  It only lasted about 20 seconds, but you have never seen an HOA meeting adjourned so quickly.  It was actually a blessing in disguise because I would rather eat glass, than have to attend those things, but its part of my job description and it comes with my territory unfortunately.

At the end of the shaking, the water in the community pool came splashing out about 18 inches high like a mini Tsunami. It makes you appreciate Mother Nature that’s for sure. I found myself singing the Rolling Stones all day, “It’s only Rock n Roll but I like it, I like it, yes I do” because in all honesty, I will take a little shakin’ any day over a hurricane. It lasts for a few seconds and then it’s done and you can get on with your day.


I spent a decade in Los Angeles, so you come to realize that earthquakes are just part of life. Having also lived in South Florida for many years, I experienced many tropical storms and they are so inconvenient.  You gotta batten down the hatches, lock up the house and leave 3 or 4 times every season, even though they usually don’t do any damage, but you can’t take the chance.  When they do finally hit land, they stay for days, like in-laws, and just keep hanging around.  The destruction can be devastating.  Earthquakes come and go, and you move on with your life, hopefully.


Considering how big the earthquake was on the Richter scale[more…], we were very fortunate.  There was hardly any serious damage at all, anywhere in the country and not one single reported death.  NOT ONE!!!  China had a 7.9 a few years ago and there were 87,000 dead.  Pakistan had a 7.6 and there were 86,000 dead.  Haiti had a 7.0 Earthquake in 2010 and over 317,000 died.  But not a single Costa Rican died last week, THANK GOD.


To me, that is an amazing fact.  It speaks volumes about this country: the quality of the infrastructure, the intelligence of the people and the preparedness of the local governments.  But mostly it shows us how well buildings are built here in Costa Rica compared to other parts of the world.  We have the same construction codes and regulations as Southern California.  Unfortunately, for countries like Haiti, they don’t, as they are still, 2 years later, digging themselves out of the mud.


The cell phones and internet were working within 5 minutes of the quake, and the electricity and water was back on with a couple hours.  Other than a few broken wine glasses and rum bottles, some busted hot water heaters and a fallen picture here and there; we had absolutely no damage in the Papagayo region.  Of course right after the quake, Mother Nature had to really rub it in.  She hammered us for the next 2 hours with torrential down pours as the sky opened up and really let it rip.  There is nothing like running around trying to board up broken windows, while getting blasted with rain.

This was THE Earthquake they have been talking about for the last decade.  Supposedly, every 50 years a big one hits, and the last time we had one this big Led Zeppelin was recording their first album, so we were due.  Glad to know we are all set for a while, see you in 2063 Dude.  Two days after the quake, I went to the town of Nicoya, just a few miles from the epicenter.  One of my dogs needs surgery and the specialist is there.  I was actually supposed to go the day after the earthquake for her pre surgery check up, but I thought the town would be devastated and nobody would be open.  So I didn’t even call, I just didn’t show up.  The vet actually called me wondering why I missed my appointment.  I had to apologize to him, as I have never in my entire life, been late to an appointment, let alone just blown it off, but I just assumed he wasn’t open.


So I went the next day.  Other than a few cracks on some old buildings, and a couple broken windows, there was not one single sign that a huge earthquake had struck this little town.  Everything was in tact, everyone was back to work, and the town was bustling, as if nothing had happened.  Very impressive, I have to say, but I guess I should just come to expect that about this little country.  Costa Rica has a long amazing history of taking care of itself, without much help from the outside world.


Here is MY version of the History of Costa Rica.  Enjoy.


One of the most commonly asked questions by my clients is “why is Costa Rica so stable when the rest of Latin America is a mess?” I tell them, that a lot of it is luck.  The first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica was the Great Navigator himself, Christopher Columbus.  The day was September 18, 1502, and Columbus was making his fourth and final voyage to the New World.  As he was setting anchor off shore, a crowd of local Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew warmly.  Later, the golden bands that the region’s inhabitants wore in their noses and ears would inspire the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name the country Costa Rica, or Rich Coast.


The Conquistadors came back and set up shop in this little jungle country, and started to dig around looking for huge gold deposits.  If you have ever driven across this country, you can see how thick and over grown it is.  70% of this country is a jungle or rain forest, and you can barely see 15 feet through the vegetation.  Imagine hiking, or riding a horse or burro through that stuff, it would be one daunting task.  Personally, if it was me, I would have been back on the boat to Spain after the first look. 


“Screw this! I am going home!”


Unfortunately for them, and lucky for us, Costa Rica has no natural resources so the Conquistadors raped all the women and killed all the men and left. 


“Nothing but bananas and coffee, we’re outta here!”


A Spanish governor in 1719 described Costa Rica “as the poorest most miserable Spanish colony in America” As they went North, the Spaniards found huge gold and silver deposits in Nicaragua and gold Mayan temples in Mexico as well as Peru in South America.


This set off hundreds of years of Civil Wars, as invaders fought for the incredible wealth in these other countries.  But everyone ignored Costa Rica, the little dump with nothing but Pineapples.  This is one of the main reasons Costa Rica has been so stable.  Nicaraguans have never had one generation that didn’t experience war.  Not one.  They had a brutal civil war as recently as 25 years ago. 


So every father told his sons of death and invasion, while the Costa Ricans, just minded their own business, tending to their farms and families, creating an inner beauty that is second to none.  This is also why the Costa Ricans are such beautiful people physically. They have a direct blood line from Spain with hardly any interruptions; where as so many other countries are huge melting pots of mixed races and cultures, creating tremendous diversity.


You can easily spot a Tico or Tica, as they will be the best looking person in the room.  It is kind of why the magazine Playboy always does the Farm Women of Iowa.  If you have ever been there, you know what I mean.  Great place to visit Once, but you aint never going back.


Go to a place like Panama City, Panama and you will see exactly what I talking about.  Many people are trying to sell Panama as a better place to live or retire, than Costa Rica.  But once you visit, I seriously doubt you will pick Panama over this gorgeous country. The people just aren’t as nice.  Part of that, in my opinion, is because of the Canal.  For the last 100 years, hundreds of thousands of boats have made their way through the Canal from all over the world.  And many of the people on those boats, decided to get off and stay, rather than continue on. 


So it is a lot like New York City. It is a huge melting pot of races, languages and cultures that are all now stirred together calling themselves Panamanian, and none of them have any real stake in the country. Ticos on the other hand, have so much pride in their country, because it has been THEIRS for hundreds of years, with no outside influences to disturb it.


Because places like Nicaragua and Mexico had such incredible wealth, the original land grants by Spain were given to their toughest warriors as rewards for their conquering.  The Spaniards that were given chunks of land in Costa Rica tended to be the “whimps” of Spain, which again turned out to be a huge blessing.  In Mexico 1% of the wealthy own 99% of the land.  In Costa Rica, the majority of families own a piece of real estate in this gorgeous little paradise. This was because those original Spaniards, weren’t greedy war mongrels, and shared their land with the people who worked it with them.


“Help me to make this fertile land prosperous, and I will give you a chunk of it in return.”


Families, for many generations continued to pass land to their children and share their fortunes.  This is why you see so many houses right next to each other, in front of a huge farm in Costa Rica.  The father would carve off little pieces of land and give one to each of his sons or daughters.  It’s also why you see fences, sometimes made of barbed wire and sometimes made of posts or even rock walls, surrounding these little houses.  It is not so much about security, as a way to distinguish, My property from Your property. 


Land ownership is higher in Costa Rica than any country in the America, including the United States, and is one of the only countries South of Texas where a foreigner can own land, Fee Simple, as stated in the Costa Rican Constitution.


On September 15 1821, Costa Rica gained its Independence from Spain and had its first Democratic election in 1889.  There were attempts to take over Costa Rica, by people like William Walker in 1856, but the Ticos would have none of it and turned him away.   But the smartest decision was made by Jose Figueres Ferrer who abolished the army in 1949.


I find it funny, when my Tico friends talk about this epic event, as if they had some big vision of economic prosperity.  In the late 1940’s we were in the start of the Cold War, and the USA and Russia were telling countries all over the world, “you are with US or you are with THEM.  Take your pick”


Ticos have never been known to be good fighters, if anything they run from an argument. So I could see the Politicians sitting around biting their nails, trying to decide what to do. “I got it!!!! Lets just abolish the army, and hopefully nobody will bother us”.


LOL It worked.  All of a sudden they had a boat load of cash in their bank account, so they spent it on Health Care and Education, and 60 years later they see the results.  Costa Rica has some of the best medical care in the Western Hemisphere, and Medical Tourism is one of their top sources of income.  Lots of breast implants here, gentleman.  They also have one of the highest literacy rates in the Americas, higher than the USA, which is exactly why I won’t ever go back.  If the greatest country in the world, can’t teach their people to read and write, it is destined for disaster.  Can you say Welfare???


This past week, right after the earthquake, there was a Tsunami warning.  You could see right away, why Costa Rica has no army, they have absolutely no fight in them at all.  The towns cleared out in seconds, like a Stephen King novel, RUUUUUUUUUUUUN, and the only people left were Gringos drinking beer in the bar.


Kind of like the French. You know the joke about the French WWII rifle for sale, “Dropped once, and never been fired” You don’t yell at your maid in this country, because she will be a mental, nervous, physical wreck for 3 days.  If I yelled at my maid in Boca Raton Florida, she would have lifted me up and thrown me off my own balcony.  I DON’T DO WINDOWS! She was a tough broad from NYC. 


Ticos don’t do well with confrontation, so it’s probably better they don’t have an army anyway.  They just figured, aw what the heck, let’s just abolish it!  My pharmacist was telling me how nervous she was, and that she was on the verge of crying again, TWO DAYS after the earthquake.  The gringos? We were still sitting in that same bar, talking about how fun it was.  What a ride man, what a ride.


Do you know where the word Gringos comes from by the way?

During the Mexican War with the United States, the Yankee soldiers were singing a marching song called “Green Grow the Rushes” The Mexicans heard them saying Green Grow over and over and assumed they were saying Gringos.  Hence the name was formed, and it stuck for the last 150 years.


As you fast forward into modern times, Costa Rica got lucky again.   Where so many other countries discovered Oil, our resource department let us down again.  THANK YOU.


So as places like Venezuela descended into the depths of hell, fighting over the greed of oil, we just kept growing our coffee.  And in 1960, we were blessed one last time.  Marijuana and Cocaine leaves are not harvested here.  Now I am not saying you can’t grow some good bud in your back yard, but it isn’t a natural crop.  So when the drug craze of the United States hit during Woodstock, and the drug cartels started setting up shop, they skipped us completely and just left us alone.  Who wants to go to that dump, nothing grows there but Sugar Cane, remember?


While the rest of Latin and South America, have been dealing with all this extreme violence; El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, we have been sitting back, watching the sunsets, drinking cocktails on the beach.  But in the 1970’s Costa Rica realized that they have the best natural resources in the world, Mother Nature, and started selling it to tourists.  This is truly one of the most amazing countries you will ever visit in your life.  There are thousands of places to go.  Rainforests, volcanoes, mud baths, hot springs, white water rafting, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, zip lining, hiking, bird watching, cloud forests, crocodile rivers, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving.


There are jungles and forests, mountains and beaches, a huge city and small little towns.  You could go to a different location every weekend and you wouldn’t even make a dent in the list in 10 years.  But the greatest natural resource of this country is THE PEOPLE.


Best in the world!  Hands down!


The other day I had a client in my car and we were going down this pretty bumpy road.  She made a comment to me about the potholes, as she thought they were caused by the earthquake.  No, I told her, these were here long before September 5 and they are part of the allure.  The mayor has no family here, I told her, and she had a confused look on her face.  We have corruption in our governments too, like every country, but it is on a much smaller scale than back home.


In the USA, you have Senators voting for Billion dollar packages, because it benefits a company that they happen to be a shareholder.  Here, the local Mayor paves the road to his grandmother’s house, while ignoring more important avenues of transportation.  It’s funny how you can be in the middle of absolutely no where and there is this brand new, perfectly paved road, with street lights, bicycle paths and painted lines.  You just know someone’s family lives at the end.


September 15 is our Independence Day, and it will be a heck of a celebration.  Ticos know how to party, and they never miss an opportunity to prove it.  But we have a lot to be thankful for, this weekend, more than just our Independence.  Costa Rica has come a long way since Columbus arrived 500 years ago and has proven to the world, that they don’t need anybody’s help, they are doing just fine.  They are the greenest country in the world and the happiest country in the world.


According to the UNDP in 2010 the life expectancy at birth for Costa Ricans was 79.3 years, much higher than the USA by miles.  The Nicoya Peninsula, home of the earthquake, is considered one of the Blue Zones in the world, where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100 years.  It ranks very high in human rights, as well as the Environmental Performance Index, highest in the Americas.  It has an incredible economy, with a huge thriving Middle Class.  While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity and over 25% of the land is protected.  90% of our electricity is through renewable energy and we are one of the ONLY countries in the world with TRUE Eco tourism.


The country has very little violent crime and the friendliest people you will ever meet. Those are OUR Natural Resources.  The women are HOT and the beers are COLD, what more can you ask for?  We have amazing climate year round and NO HURRICANES.  I just hope you don’t mind a little shakin every now and then.  James Bond would have loved it.  Most important, we are alive after a pretty serious earthquake. 


It was amazing how many people called and emailed, concerned for our safety.  THANK YOU for thinking of us and caring and making our well being your top concern.  We only had one client who emailed and asked how is my house?  Obviously they are a seller, and won’t be here much longer.  We don’t want people like that in our little paradise anywhere, so let’s hope his house sells soon and we can get someone in that fits in a little bit better.  This is truly a paradise.


I was talking to God the other day and he said that Costa Rica is his favorite place.  As I told you earlier in this Newsletter, I tell people this country got lucky.  Well I have always had a saying, “I would rather be lucky than good.”  In 1719 that Spanish governor said it was the least desirable place to live.  Thank you for saying that.  They left and we became the most desirable place to live.


I hope you can get down here soon to see for yourself.


Again, this is MY version of Costa Rica history.  If you would like the facts, and nothing but the facts, here they are:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica


Pura Vida!!!                


Michael Simons


PS Please take a moment and remember all the people who lost their lives 11 years ago on that fateful day 9/11.  I sometimes think that Costa Rica takes for granted that they are free, even though they don’t have an army.  It is because of the sacrifices made by the military of countries like the USA and Canada.  Please say a prayer for all our service men and women around the globe who are protecting these freedoms.  May God bless them and their families and may God Bless the United States of America.


If you have had a great experience with my office and Costa Rica, I want to hear about it. Please send us a video of yourself telling us WHY and I will post it to my website for everyone to see. Or send me an email and I will put it in my Testimonials. I appreciate your business and that you have decided to read this Newsletter more than I could ever tell you. THANK YOU.  Please take a little more time and check out the entire site. We have added a lot of information lately that I am sure you will find helpful. Also, please forward this to any friends you think might be interested in learning more about Costa Rica. Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course, but you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop procrastinating and hurry back!


Check Out My Full Website at www.tanktopsflipflops.com





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