Please welcome Mike and Michael, otherwise known as “The Mikes”, to my Expat Extra series. Originally from Dallas, they now call Costa Rica home, and have been here for 2 years.
These guys are amazing – they bought a dilapidated old B&B property with a river running through it (seriously), and are in the process of totally revamping it into the coolest house and farm, which they have named “San Miguel del Rio Oro”.
We first met Mike and Michael through our blogs, and then when they visited Costa Rica looking for a house, they just happened to look at one that was right next to ours. Greg saw them drive by, had a hunch it was them, and they stopped and chatted for a while. We were having a little open house party later that day, so of course we invited them and they stopped back later. We liked them instantly (even before I found out that Mike plays piano and likes to cook).
They tell their story much better than I, so without further ado, I give you Mike and Michael:
Where are you from? Tell me about you (and your family, if applicable) and where you came from.
We are both native Dallasites. Our kids are all grown and grandkids are running around now. Our friends all asked, “Why would you ever leave the greatest place on the planet?”
Oh sometimes it was phrased in various ways, but in the end, that was what they all were asking. The truth is that most of them had never traveled anywhere outside the good ol’ US of A. So, while meaning well, they really had no idea that there are so many other “greatest places” on the planet. For Michael and me, Costa Rica was that place.
Where do you live now, how long have you been there, and how did you decide to go there?
We took a big breath and began our search for what we called, The Goldilocks Place. Over a period of three years we visited “the Rich Coast” too many times to count.
The beaches were gorgeous, but too warm for our taste.
The jungles were amazing, but too humid for us.
The Central Valley was cooler and so popular with expats, but just not quite what we were looking for.
Then we found the Orosi Valley. It was “just right” and we knew we had found our Goldilocks Place in the mountains around the Orosi Valley. We’re into our second year of full-time life here.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
We have traveled abroad extensively but had never lived outside the USA before.
Do you ever get homesick?
Nope! In fact, we actually hate it when we do need to leave for some reason.
After six months here in paradise, we made our first trip back to the States. Remember all our worried friends? They were sure we’d wake up and realize what we were missing once we returned to Texas. After about the second day back, we did. We realized we couldn’t wait to get back to our life on our little 3 1/2 acre farm in the mountains of Costa Rica. They were a little surprised. However, when they saw how happy we were, how we couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful our life was, and how healthy, younger, and relaxed we looked (I lost over 40 pounds and eat all the time) they congratulated us on our decision.
Since then many of them have come down to visit and are shocked to see for themselves that what we had told them was actually true.
Have you experienced “Culture Shock”?
Not at all. We were well prepared for the differences and looked forward to embracing them. Living in this part of Costa Rica feels very much like a return to the lifestyle and values of 1950s America. We love that. For example, when we were kids, the milkman came to the house every Monday and Thursday and brought glass jugs of cold, creamy goodness. Guess who comes and honks at our gate every Monday and Thursday — the milkman!
What is your best tip for moving to another country?
Embrace the culture. Embrace the lifestyle. Don’t try to recreate your own little USA; you’ll be nothing but frustrated.
How is your life different now, than back home?
It’s so much more relaxed and laid-back. I never went anywhere without a watch, because there was always somewhere I had to be. The only time I ever wear a watch now is if we’re going out on the town and I want to dress up a little. We have time to enjoy all the wonderful things life presents instead of hurrying past them or ignoring them.
Do you do anything work-wise, or are you retired? Tell me about a “typical” day for you.
We are retired but are busy all the time. It’s hard to call it work, because it’s what we want to do, and there is no one requiring that it be done on any certain schedule. I spend my life now being what one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson, called a “gentleman farmer.” Since being here, we have built a large covered patio by this river. They call that a rancho here, it’s 24 x 24 and it cost less than $2800 to build it. That includes materials and 2 weeks of labor.
I have built a goat barn. The Ticos think we’re a little crazy to sweat for 3 weeks building something brand new for goats, but we have the sweetest dairy goats you’ll ever meet.
We’ve been remodeling the house to fit our specific tastes since we don’t have any plans of ever leaving.
We have hatched out chicks, and ducklings and goslings. We currently have 33 chickens, 19 geese, and 16 ducks. We don’t have a partridge in a pear tree, but recently, we had a Tico acquaintance give us 2 turkeys.
I just finished the new gallinero—that’s henhouse in English. Total cost for that was just my time, as we recycled all the material from the house renovations. Do you know what we named it? The Chick Inn.
The greenhouse is underway.
We built a wood-fired oven for outdoor pizza parties and homemade breads.
And we’re making homemade goat cheeses and homemade fruit wines. (We cook all the time. And have parties and eat our homemade gourmet ice cream flavors.)
I spent a week at an environmental learning and sustainable living center learning about solar energy. Then we went high up into the wilderness and built small solar electric systems for families that had no access to electricity.
Here at our homestead (which we have named San Miguel del Rio Oro) we are preparing our own micro-hydroelectric plant to supply all our electrical needs and to go off-grid.
Do you have any funny stories from living abroad?
Well, I speak Spanish, but some words are used differently in Costa Rica. In most Spanish speaking countries, to ask for a towel, you would ask for “la toalla,” but here it’s best to use “el paño.” I learned the embarrassing way that the Ticos usually mean a feminine napkin when they say “toalla.”
Tell me about the community where you live.
Cachí is a small country town surrounded by farm lands. Cartago, which used to be the capitol of Costa Rica, with all of its malls and movie theaters is only 30 minutes away. We wanted some land to spread out on and to be able to garden and raise animals and be surrounded by wildlife.
When we were kids, that’s what we did and it was everyday life. Today it’s got a fancy name—homesteading. Who knew?
Tell me one or two of the “best” things about living in the country you are in.
Of all the things that we love about our life in Costa Rica, what is it that I love the most? I can best answer that with a story. When I was in high school, they made me take one of those seemingly silly aptitude tests. One of the questions was, “Would you rather be famous for just one thing, or would you rather have no fame and be adept at many things?” I knew then what I know still—being a Renaissance man was the way to go. Here, I get to be that man.
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