Expat Extra – Irina and Jim Just


Welcome to another Expat Extra!

When I first moved here and started going to yoga classes, one of my friends asked me: “Have you met Irina yet? She’s a hoot!”

And indeed, Irina IS a hoot. She has enriched my life here in Costa Rica, especially with her and her husband’s fabulous dinner parties (Jim is an excellent chef). She is always feisty and fun to talk to, she loves a good pinot noir wine, and whenever I see her she is wearing my ankle candy – I enjoy her immensely.

Irina and Jim moved to Costa just shortly before Greg and I did, and I admire how they have fully embraced life here and really love Costa Rica. Here is Irina and Jim’s story:

I (Irina) was born in Germany, an only child of artist parents. A veritable nomad, I moved to the US after graduating from Frankfurt University with a degree in linguistics and hitch-hiked all over the US for 2 years before settling in Seattle, where I worked as a language instructor, concièrge and technical translator.

Jim was born and raised in California where he left a law career and a life of « The American Dream » (Nightmare) behind and moved to Seattle to run a wine shop in the Pike Place Market.

We met on Pearl Harbor Day 1991 and 6 months later, we put our stuff in storage and ran off to spend a year in the South of France, outside Narbonne in the Languedoc-Roussion region.

After we returned to Seattle, we immediately realized we couldn’t just pick up where we left off, so we sold our condo and bought a 30-acre run-down farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where we worked hard for 20 years, growing grapes, making delicious pinot noir wine, raising sheep and living 75% off the land.

One morning in 2012, we woke up and agreed, we were getting too old to continue farming but we also realized, we couldn’t afford to retire in the US.

After a lot of research, we decided on Costa Rica, mainly because it had no standing army, but instead had strong environmental regulations, national healthcare and a pleasant, year-round climate. A bit more research narrowed it down to the Grecia area and an elevation of 4500 feet where neither cooling nor heating were required.

The farm sold quickly and within 4 months, we arrived with our dog Zooey in Costa Rica, having never been here before.

Against all odds, advice and common practice, we immediately bought a house in el Cajón de Grecia, up in the hills, and moved in 2 ½ years ago. One month later, Capo, a stray, adopted us and he and Zooey make our lives even more enjoyable and entertaining.

Capo and Zooey

We never looked back, never flew to the US even once and we thank our « lucky stars » for waking up in paradise every morning.

It was not difficult to adapt to our chosen country because neither of us ever experienced being « home sick » – au contraire – « far sick » was more like it. Moreover – Costa Rica IS home now, so we can’t possibly be home sick.

We had experienced European countries, different customs, languages, peculiarities and are now eagerly learning to understand those « tico ways ».

Jim with Tucan Bob at la Paz

Essentially and philosophically, our lives haven’t changed – (we didn’t start a « new life » but instead continued the path we had chosen all our lives). We both do exactly what we want to do, as we’ve always done. Having never been part of the corporate world, we don’t « miss » anything. We never cared to keep up with the Joneses and were never dazzled by « stuff » nor envious of « accumulations ». Although we never made a lot of money, we fortunately, managed to live debt and mortgage free all our lives and within our means, so living on social security, although a bit tight, is not that hard. You can’t give up what you never had nor wanted.

Irina with mariposa at la Paz - by Susanne

However, this is not what most people experience, moving here. Often, people compare their old lives with their new one; look – and go back to visit family and friends – and 60% move back after a few years here, so we can not give advice to anyone else, regarding what to do – or not to do.

A typical day starts with t’ai-chi every morning on the patio, followed by a bowl of tropical fruit. Jim works every day in the garden portion of our 3-acre property and has re-discovered his love for poetry. He spends the morning in his studio and just released his first book, A Year Of Days.


book launch - Jim's poetry

To that extent, and wanting to connect with fellow writers, we founded Salon Cajón a year ago – a monthly gathering of writers of all genres of literature and an opportunity to share, discuss and read one’s work and network with fellow writers.

I (Irina) go to yoga two mornings a week plus I love to take the bus into Grecia to run errands, learning more Spanish on the bus than in a classroom. Many mornings, I bake, particularly bread, which has become somewhat famous in the community.

After an early lunch and a nap, Jim diligently studies Spanish for a couple of hours while I might work on my spinning wheel, spinning the wool of my Oregon sheep.

We both enjoy entertaining and our dinner parties are slowly becoming popular and delicious events.

Jim and Irina at Karaoke Fest

I love socializing more than Jim, and enjoy taking the bus to San José showing visitors and friends the capital and its cultural attractions and international restaurants.

Fridays have become a special routine – after lunch we go to the feria, the weekly farmers’ market where we buy all our frutas y verduras for the week, but also coffee, chicken and seafood.

Picture 007

At 5 PM, we drive to our favorite restaurant one ridge over – Isabel’s, where we mingle with fellow expats and enjoy a delicious meal by Isabel, the Mexican owner. You never know who shows up for these Friday dinners – could be a dozen or up to 30 people. It’s always an interesting evening and again a perfect opportunity to network.

There is no shortage of activities and interesting things to do; neither one of us knows « boredom ». I (Irina) have always been a « foodie » and pride myself in discovering local and/or unusual food items, ranging from lamb and buffalo to interesting not-so-white cheeses and super-tender beef all found in our area as well as a German butcher who makes many different types of sausages.

The el Cajón community is well and thriving. There are many ex-pats in walking distance with whom we have formed lasting friendships. We also know many ticos and ticas in our neighborhood and poco a poco manage to communicate better.

Our circle of friends and acquaintances includes folks from almost every European country, in addition to North-Americans, which includes Canadians. We know a truly diverse group of ex-pats, making life interesting and stimulating.

The ridge of el Cajón is one of 5 ridges, going from Volcán Poás down to the town of Grecia. Elevation is ideal – annual temperatures range from 16-19°C at night to 25-30°C during the day. Heating or cooling are not necessary.

The steep hills are planted in coffee; we own a 2-acre plantation ourselves, but have leased it out. (After all, we didn’t leave a vineyard because we were getting too old just to start working in the coffee fields).

vies towards the next ridge and coffee fields

One of the « best » things about living in Costa Rica is – it is Costa Rica. It’s a different country, doing things a different way and once you fully accept that, you won’t have any problem adapting. It’s their country – and they can do things the way they want to. Period. Take it – or leave … nobody forced you to move here. Comparing Costa Rica to « back home » – or worse, wanting it to be just like it was back home, is the wrong approach. We didn’t move to a foreign country to expect things as they were in the States.

We totally accept and embrace Costa Rica. We have our residency and plan to stay here forever. In fact, we have already donated our entire bodies (not just our organs) to medical research at UCIMED, a local university, once we are dead.

Once a month, Jim publishes a selection of his poetry on his website at Just Costa Rica | Living la pura vida.

20th anniversary and poetry readin

Irina y Jim and Zooey y Capo

That’s all for now folks!  Till next time — Jen

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29 Responses to Expat Extra – Irina and Jim Just

  1. Wonderful profile of two people who have been so helpful to us — we love Jim & Irina and are so grateful to them for making Costa Rica (and El Cajon) become “home” for us too.

  2. Wowzer, this article made me want to move to Costa Rica all over again.
    It’s so nice to hear a happy story from people who have successfully
    assimilated. They sound like they did it all Just Right, and I wish
    them continued happiness, and thank Jen for another great post.

  3. Great story! These two are such an awesome couple — talented, fun-loving and friendly. I so enjoyed learning more about them.

  4. Great article for Great people!! Irene and Jim also welcomed us into their home our second day in Costa Rica for one of those fabulous dinner parties….thanks for letting people know good folks live in Costa Rica!!

  5. What a pleasure to learn more about Irina and Jim. I had the pleasure of meeting Irina when I visited you earlier this year. She is a hoot, lovely and lively. It’s nice to see Isabel too. Her place was so nice and the four wonderful! It’s very cool to read that the Costa Rican life is a perfect extension of the life you always chose to live. Thanks for a very nice article Jen.

  6. Hi! I really enjoy reading your blogs and stories… Greg’s too! I’m also familiar with the other blogs you recommend. Everyone has great information as we research our move to CR. We are having a heck of a time finding people like you who also have kids… and dogs… and a cat. Are you aware of any families that blog about moving to CR? If not, that’s cool. Figured it can’t hurt to ask. Thanks!

  7. Love the stories! Great to learn more about Jim and Irina.
    Can’t wait to find out where she gets tender beef and German sausages!

  8. Hi Jen, just re-read this article in my little Bungalow up the road from the mall. I hope to someday meet you interesting people and learn more about this wonderful community we’ve chosen to live in. About to do some exploring with Brooke the woman who helped me find my rental. It sounds like the Cajon ridge is a unique community of its own. Where is Isabell’s I grew up on Mexican food and know I will soon start to have withdrawal, although I love “Tico” food.

    • Hi Rick! Brooke is awesome and an amazing person and friend – I love her! Isabell’s is on the San Luis ridge, towards the top (arriba). It’s really good!

  9. Dear Irina and Jim,
    I came across your blog while doing research on moving to Costa Rica. A born Hungarian, I immigrated to the US in 1957, and lived in Los Angeles for over fifty years. My adored wife died recently, and I’m alone in the world. My only relative is my brother, a retired doctor, who lives in Germany. Having been a documentary filmmaker and a writer (www.josephzsuffa.com) I was attracted to your vibrant life style and literary salon. It is said that “America is a country of neighborhoods where nobody knows his neighbor.” I’m seriously thinking of moving to Grecia and join the expat community. Grecia sounds like a nice place, populated with nice people. This note is to see if it gets me in touch with you. I wonder if I should start learning Spanish.

    Kind regards,
    Joseph Zsuffa

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