Innovative Biodiesel Project: Ryan’s DIY Kit

If you’re interested in learning how to make your own biodiesel the first steps are simple and easy; don’t jump right into building a processor, titrating waste oil, processing big batches, and risking producing poor quality biodiesel. Start out with a 1 liter “test batch” using new vegetable oil to learn the basic chemistry – there’s little risk and you’re almost certain to end up with good results! Familiarize yourself with this tutorial so when we publish our designs and instructions for the “Innovative Biodiesel Project,” you’ll be good to go! – Ryan King.

Safety first:

Your 2 primary reagents are lye and methanol – learn how to store, handle, and work with these chemicals in small amounts before moving on to large quantities.
KOH and NaOH (both referred to as lye) are caustic and must be handled with gloves. Breathing masks are recommended when handling large amounts of lye – if the dust is inhaled, it can burn the nasal passageway and respiratory system. Lye reacts with aluminum, tin and zinc. Use HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) or #2 plastic, glass, enamel or stainless steel containers for lye and methoxide. Lye is also hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. Care must be maintained during storage and weighing to avoid prolonged exposure to open air. Lye containers must be airtight, and weighing should be performed quickly in a dry, safe location.
Methanol is also hygroscopic and must be stored in air tight containers. Methanol has a high toxicity in humans. If as little as 10 mL of pure methanol is ingested it can break down into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness. As little as 30 ml of ingested methanol is potentially fatal. The initial symptoms of methanol intoxication include: central nervous system depression, headache, dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, and confusion. Sufficiently large doses can cause unconsciousness and death. The initial symptoms of methanol exposure are usually less severe than the symptoms resulting from the ingestion of a similar quantity of ethanol. Once the initial symptoms have passed, a second set of symptoms arises, 10 to as many as 30 hours after the initial exposure to methanol, including blurring or complete loss of vision. Methanol ingestion, absorption through the skin or inhalation of fumes can be treated with ethanol, which acts as a competitive inhibitor of the hepatic enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, preventing methanol’s conversion to toxic by-products.

Getting started:

Buy about a liter of new vegetable oil (canola, soy, sunflower or corn oil) at the grocery store. New, unused oil will not need to be dewatered or filtered. Pick up a few hundred milliliters of 99% or higher purity methanol (most automotive stores sell HEET brand antifreeze – the yellow container is pure enough for biodiesel production), and pick up some lye from a grocery or hardware store (make sure to get pure lye without coloring or added drain cleaners).

New Vegetable Oil
Heet – methanol
Store bought lye

Making Biodiesel!

Finished product.

Start warming up your new vegetable oil on an electric stove or with passive solar (no open flames!) to a temperature of around 120-132 degrees Fahrenheit. If the oil is too hot, the methanol will start evaporating and the reaction won’t perform as well. The average amount of lye needed to fully convert 1 liter of new oil is about 3.5 grams of NaOH or about 4.9 grams of KOH. In a separate container, mix either 3.5 grams of NaOH or 4.9 grams of KOH into 200 ml of methanol until fully dissolved – use a safe container made of HDPE plastic. This is the methoxide mix – the combination of the reagent and catalyst that will break the triglycerides of the vegetable oil into individual fatty acid methyl esters (also known as “biodiesel) and a layer of settled out byproduct consisting mostly of glycerin (which you can use to make soap!). When the oil is up to temperature, carefully pour in the methoxide, close the container and shake vigorously for about 3-5 minutes. You will notice a color change, indicating the reaction is occurring. After shaking, allow the byproduct to settle out – it usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes to start noticing the separation, then a few hours for substantial byproduct to precipitate.
Here’s a short video that Make Magazine put together for a DIY biodiesel project:

Check out for more details on biodiesel test batches, and let us know if you have questions!

Innovative Biodiesel Project: Week 1

The “Innovative Biodiesel Project” has begun!

Welcome, I am Safari Surf’s Sustainability Director, Carl Kish, and together with biodiesel expert, Ryan King, we will be posting updates on our progress every week during the 4 weeks that we are here in beautiful Nosara, Costa Rica. Follow our progress as we create the world’s first small-scale biodiesel production system that is closed-loop (zero waste), energy independent (off-grid), and carbon negative. Our project was successfully funded on Feb 6th on the crowdfunding website, Indiegogo – view our campaign page for more information:
We are eternally grateful to the following people (and to those who wish to remain anonymous) who made this possible:

Maegan Badham
Tim Marsh
Alexander Vinson
Stephen Kish
Jayne Kerry- Chandler
David Thibeault
Steve Scagliotti
John Anderson
Carl Graziani
Janet Davidson
Dominic Graziani
David Mahony
Peter McConnell
Marian Lim
Linus Eriksson
Hilda Hardy
Keith Mello
Courtney Keller
Sam Evans
John Dobleman
Andrius- Kavaliunas
Andrew Oliveira
Bob Balch
Prudence and Marianne Carter
Debra Takami
Jess Ponting
Alfred Padula
Marcy Siskind
Rosie Roberts
Harry Luce
Deborah Dobbins
Cara Hoffman
Sarah Lowry
Aaron Wong
Sarah Bexell
Rhett Butler
Kevin Mello
Jenny Mei
James Hake
Nick Glasco
Leah Bremer
Justine Schmidt
Vernon Badham
Hector Bertrand
Joyce McAfee
Dylan Fish
David Perault
Jennifer Willcott
Olivier Lejade
Diane Tran
Travis Heacock
Rebecca Needens
Dawn Kinney
Vincent Graham
James Ebrahimi
Matt Carlucci
Kevin Davidson
John Bowling
Jennifer- Stojanovich
Joseph Walsh
Kathleen Kish
Sherry Smith-Witcraft
Amelia Scott
Megan Brown
Jenna Black
Tobias Haller

Week 1

Ryan and I landed in San Jose Tuesday morning, and our driver Miguel was there to shuttle us 250 km back to Nosara.

My new Tico name.

Costa Rican Countryside

We stopped at a few places in Nicoya to pick up materials and get prices for the larger pieces of our system so we could budget our funds accordingly. Six hours later, we arrived at the Hotel Casa Tucan in Playa Guiones at four in the afternoon, hungry and jetlagged.

Gnarliest bull in Nosara – apparently its killed two matador’s already.
I missed this… nachos con pollo y Segua (Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co)

Exhausted from all the travelling, we dropped off our bags, and then went to relax on the beach. We walked to the north end of Guiones to see the defunct palace that has been empty for years… still a cool place with a nice view:


“Mis Amores” Horseback Tours

That night we calculated our expenses and laid out the entire project budget for the next four weeks… then we passed out.
Next day (Wednesday), Ryan woke up with some sort of bug and he still hasn’t shaken it off (its now Sunday). He’s been a trooper though – still working all day with a few breaks here and there, but hopefully he fully recovers before we begin construction tomorrow.
We placed an order for methanol and lye with Arvi Chemicals in Cartago, which was more difficult than I had expected because we needed to find our own transportation to bring it to Nosara (driving with flammable chemicals… most of our contacts weren’t willing), but we eventually found someone and they will be here Wednesday. Now some of you may be thinking “Wait, I thought you guys were using homemade ethanol instead of methanol?!” Well unfortunately, we have to use some methanol for the first batch of biodiesel because it is the control variable against which we test all other variables. This includes testing the purity of our homemade ethanol. Therefore, if we encounter any problems as we add our unique aspects to the traditional Appleseed Biodiesel System, we will be able to identify which variable caused the issue and fix it. Once all the testing is done, we will use our homemade ethanol for biodiesel production instead of methanol.
We are collecting fruit scraps from the Casa Tucan kitchen as well as a local restaurant/hotel, Kaya Sol, who have been generous enough to provide us with their fruit scraps daily! The sugar from the fruit, mixed with yeast and water, will produce ethanol in 2 to 3 weeks. We have a small test batch of ethanol in a 5 gallon bucket while Ryan and I are here, but we are collecting fruit scraps to fill our 120 gallon tank so that by the time we leave, we can begin the fermentation process on a larger scale.  It is ideal to produce as much ethanol as possible because by the time we collect enough waste oil to make a batch of biodiesel, the ethanol fermentation tank will be full and will last for several batches (giving us enough time to fill the 120 gallon drum with fruit again). Just to give you an idea – the amount of ethanol used in each batch of biodiesel averages to about 30% of the volume of waste oil.


Ryan and I went to the landfill on Thursday to see if we could repurpose any of the trash, luckily we were able to find one plastic jug that was still clean and wasn’t cracked. This will be our methoxide tank (methanol and potassium hydroxide), which we mix with the grease to make biodiesel. We also were very lucky to find an old 50 gallon water heater behind the Hotel Casa Tucan, which is in working order (we just need to clean it up a bit). That will save us about $500!
I really wanted to see the new Recycling Center the town is building, which is part of the landfill. I have been following their progress on this blog: and I was stoked to see in person how large it is and how far they have come – its truly impressive:


Now, there has been a sudden development, and the Hotel Casa Tucan has been purchased. While unfortunate, this does not affect our program, it actually enhances it because we are designing the system to be portable – all the parts can be disassembled and reassembled at their new location. Just because the location changed, does not mean our goal is any different – we are still creating a sustainable method for small-scale fuel production and sharing the designs online for free. This was just a minor setback and Safari Surf School will be moving out of the Hotel Casa Tucan this September when their lease is up. As a result, Tyler Marsh (co-owner of Safari Surf), has been so kind as to let us build the system on his property temporarily, until we are ready to transfer the system to Safari Surf’s new headquarters (yet to be determined). We surveyed Tyler’s property on Friday and picked a perfect location for the time being. Tyler’s gardener is also going to help us construct the shelter, which is a huge bonus. We are going to the Ferreteria in Nosara (hardware store) Monday morning to purchase all the necessary supplies.

New Project Site

One of Safari Surf’s surf instructors, Enrique, had 5 gallons of methanol left over from when Ryan was in Nosara three years ago! Ryan tested the methanol to make sure it was still in tact – we bought some cooking oil from the market and made a small test batch of biodiesel in a Fanta bottle so I could be more familiar with the whole process (its really easy!):
Fanta’s new flavor. [Orange stuff settled at the bottom is glycerine, which we use to make soap]
Tomorrow is a big day – we will purchase all the construction materials for the shelter and then we will break ground. Tonight is Karaoke night at the Casa Tucan, should be fun! Thanks for reading! Pura vida!
Jump to “Week 2.”

Innovative Biodiesel Project

I launched our fundraising campaign for the Innovative Biodiesel Project on IndieGogo last week and we have already raised 56% of our $5,000 goal!
Please watch the video below and if you believe in the project, surf over to our campaign page to make a pledge and share it with your friends, family and coworkers using the sharing tools right below the video:

Continue reading

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Destiny?

Cultural Design

One afternoon I got up from my desk to take a stroll over to the local “food court” to get some lunch as I always did every day…day in and day out. As I walked across the street passing by the local gas station en route to shove food down my face, I heard a loud booming voice from the gas station, “HEY TIM…HEY TIMMY!” I looked over to see a long time friend, Pat Weber, whom I had known from days in Ventura, CA. I hadn’t seen him in years. He was gassing up a van with about 10 surfboards on top of the van and another 10 inside. I got over there and gave him the “what’s what and what” about all the boards. He proceeded to tell me that he had started up a surfing school and was just killing it! He told me that he was so stoked; he was doing what he loved (surfing), meeting cool new people, and making good money on top of it! Wow I thought to myself, how cool! Of course I had to tell him I was doing great and making money hand over fist etc. just to save a little face, but inside I was jealous immediately. Not really jealous of him personally, but just jealous of his new “lifestyle.” Pat told me to keep in touch and threw me a t-shirt with his company logo and jumped in the van and took off.
I walked over to assume my position at the “food court,” stunned by what just transpired. Having replayed all the things Pat told me over and over in my mind, my lunch didn’t taste very good.
Now for people that are close to me and know me well, I’m sure they could attest to the fact that I am a pretty jovial person all the time. Always laughing, joking, and having fun. I can tell you I do not suffer from depression and really do not have any understanding of how a depressed person must feel. However, I can say with some certainty that after that “chance” meeting with Pat, I slipped into a funk – a depressed state – I was not the same person for the next 2 weeks or so. I began to “hate” my job, hate my work surroundings, and hate everything about the mortgage business. I was having trouble smiling and for me that just isn’t right. I had officially become depressed about what I was doing with my life – sitting in this cubicle, talking to people thousands of miles away that I didn’t even know or really care about. Everything sucked it seemed like, except my gorgeous family. My wife and kid definitely helped make things easier to swallow in those trying times for me.
One day sitting at my desk staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, I was in one of my daydream states again, thinking about Costa Rica and all the things I missed so much about it. Thinking about traveling and surfing exotic lands…when all of the sudden it hit me, like a ton of bricks, like the biggest head rush ever. What took me so damn long to figure this out?!!! “WHY NOT DO A SURF SCHOOL IN COSTA RICA!” Genius!!!
I had all the connections I had made in my time living there. My brother Tyler was still there and struggling to make a living. He had all kinds of contacts…damn, it made so much sense it hurt! You ever just have a light bulb go on and you know whatever it is, it’s right as rain? I had that moment that day in my cubicle.
It was game on. I had the idea, but there was A LOT of work to do to even think about getting this thing off the ground. First and most importantly, I had to see what my brother thought about the idea. I called Tyler and gave him my “pitch” and before I had all the details out of my mouth, he was all over it,”Yeah it sounds unreal!”
The idea was born…now how the hell am I going to put this together???

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Reality Check

Coming back to the US and the fast paced lifestyle was certainly a shock to both Marsi and I. We had really become accustomed to the “pura vida” vibe so the transition back into reality was anything but smooth at first…sounds weird to say but we were going through a “culture shock!”
Now to understand my current work situation (or lack thereof), I guess you should understand a bit of my work “background.” I did a couple years of college taking courses that I was into, but college just didn’t ring my bell. I had visions of being a Real Estate mogul. I have always been quick with the tongue and a pretty extroverted sort so I had been mainly in some form of “sales” for the majority of my young adult life. When I moved to Ventura, California in the early 80’s I found work as a painter’s apprentice (house painter). I moved to San Diego in the late 80’s where I began my own paint company called “Paint By Design”. I also met my future wife Marsi in SD as well. I went from door to door with flyer’s to ten years later having a successful paint contracting business with eight employees and commercial and residential contracts. I was an excellent painter, but what set my company apart from others was my professional approach that focused on customer service (more on that trait later!).
Having been self employed most of my young adult life afforded me time to travel and surf the corners of the globe. But also, having been a painter for so long I also contracted “work related” asthma. So it was not difficult for me to hang up the painting career and sell everything I had to move to Costa Rica at all. In fact, it was a life choice…meaning I chose to live a long life instead of breathing in crap paint fumes!
Bringing this all together, upon my return from Costa Rica I was forced to jump back into the painting industry and got a job as a lead painter. I did it because we (Marsi, I, and the baby) needed to. But I quickly became sick of the painting routine and Marsi and I sat down one night and decided to write down a few things that I might be interested in doing as a “career.” I narrowed it down to 3 things: 1 – a Real Estage Agent; 2 – a stock broker; 3 – a loan officer (mortgages). I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to work on the weekends so RE was out. I sure as hell wasn’t going to be up at 3 am looking up a freakin’ ticker tape so Stock Broker was out…it looked like the mortgage biz had my name on it.
My sister was a loan processor for a company and had good relations with the owner. She got me an interview and of course I BS’d my way through that, telling the person I had experience and was a great asset to their company blah blah blah. I was hired and started doing second mortgage loans. This was back when people were doing mortgages for 125% of the value of homes! It’s no wonder we all took a dump there a few years ago.
Anyway, within a couple of months Marsi and I had gotten our own apartment and within a year we had bought a house and were driving a range rover (la dee dah). In short, I was making more money than I ever had in my life. Selling loans was my thing. Helping people with their finances was my calling. I was good at it and the paychecks certainly reflected that. I bounced around to a couple different mortgage companies over the next 18 months or so. I seemed to be looking for the “perfect” situation which for me was less time in the office and more time in the ocean while still trying to make my sales “quota.”
It was early 1999 and I had everything I thought I needed…a gorgeous wife and new kiddo, a nice car and a nice house…I had it all right? Well all that was going to change.
I must admit I was certainly restless in my new profession, having been a self employed soul for so long, it was like caging up a cougar…keeping me in a cubicle with my desk, my phone and not letting me be free! I was deep inside, feeling like I should be elsewhere. My day dreaming became ever present again just like in the classroom when I was in grade school.

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Laying the Foundation

Don’t ever let anyone tell you moving to a foreign country is easy…its not! All of our cargo was held up in customs for ten days, every box gone through, and god knows how many things went missing. Once it was all said and done, we got to our destination and our dream home – a 650 square foot box that was a mere 100 feet from the beach in Garza. With the lease paid three months in advance, brooms and paint brushes in hand, we were ready to make the market/deli our own.
Richard had closed the market for some six months or so prior, so once we arrived there were cob webs and a pungent moldy odor. A friendly bat who would not vacate, bugs, and things I’m not sure what the hell they were…littered the place. A huge undertaking in retrospect, but we were “living the dream” so the countless hours of cleaning, scrubbing, painting, building, and fixing were okay as we were preparing for the new “high season.” We had visions of customers coming through town in droves just to buy our custom made sandwiches and goodies.
To give you an idea of how far off of the “grid” we were at that time, the town of Garza had no telephone lines except for one at the main “soda” (Tico word for local restaurant), which typically had a line that would last for hours. There were no computers, WiFi, cable TV, doctors, banks, or ATM’s…I think you get the picture. We were on our own and off the beaten path for sure. Plus, we were so blond we stood out like a sore thumb in that town. We were like the side show attraction to all the locals…literally!
We certainly had the right idea for our market/deli. We had found an amazing butcher/cheese vendor in San Jose with prime meats that were not available in Garza or anywhere in that vicinity. You have to understand that some of the basic foods we take for granted like Lay’s Potato Chips, Snickers, real butter etc…were not only unavailable in our town, but not available anywhere in Costa Rica except select places in San Jose (5 hours inland). Marsi and I would go to San Jose and buy $1500 to $3000 or more worth of “food” and pack our little cracker jack truck we bought for a song and a dance and head on to Garza like traveling hillbillies.
We were the talk of the town…from the local people who were stupefied we would live in that market, to the ex-pats and people who were wanted on Interpol (at least it felt that way!) that lived in the surrounding areas. People would come in just to buy a Snickers bar and just a Snickers bar only. Most all of the ex-pats were on Social Security and had just enough money to buy a Snickers or a bag of REAL potato chips. It was kind of comical and sad all at the same time.
High season came and it was like someone turned on a light switch…we were kicking some butt. We had business rolling in and we were on top of the world. At this time, I contacted my brother Tyler who lived back home in Hawaii and told him to come check out Costa Rica and see what we were doing…surfing everyday and living a simple relaxed life. Tyler was there within a couple of weeks, surfboard in hand and a smile on his face.
Tyler quickly fell in love with the people, the country, the good surf, and most of all, the pura vida spirit, just as I had. He was sold that this was the place for him to be. Amazingly so that he went back to Hawaii, gathered all his stuff together, and moved back within a month! He had found some work with a gringo who had a HUGE farm a few miles south who needed a farm hand/gardener to help keep the over 500 acres in check. Just as a side note, this property is now owned by Mel Gibson.
Things were good, Tyler was working and our mini market/deli was doing okay…sustaining life for us there. Then, like a light switch can be turned on, it can also be turned off…the high season of tourists had just dried up as quickly as they had came. Marsi and I were NOT prepared for that nor had we been enlightened by Richard in advance that the slow season comes quickly and brutally. Perhaps that is why he and his wife wanted out, there were 4 months of “glory” and then nada…zip…zilch.
As the days turned into weeks of no business other than selling the basic staples of rice, beans, manteca, and Guaro to the local people, which of course we didn’t mark up as we thought that was not the right thing to do and certainly not a gesture of good will for letting us chill in their town. Marsi and I found ourselves eating our food, drinking our liquor to the point where we basically had nothing left accept each other and the grim reality that we had lost EVERYTHING in less than a year.
The only option we had was to go “home” to California and try to re-start our lives again. I didn’t want this to be my reality and I can tell you that Marsi and I drank ourselves into a stupor numerous times trying to drown out the sorrow (and embarrassment too) of having to go home like dogs with their tails between their legs. We had failed. I must say that we had so many unbelievable life experiences during that year that certainly will never be forgotten. Those experiences and memories I knew could never be taken away from us.
Once reality set in and there was nothing we could do about it, a small sense of peace came to me knowing that my brother Tyler was there and no way shape or form moving back to the states. He was there come hell or high water. There was a sense of purpose I felt, even though it wasn’t my purpose, I still felt like “well cool, at least I introduced this to my bro and he will keep the dream alive.” It was the best (and only) consolation prize I had. Little did I know that it was going to play a HUGE part later in my life.
Packed with what little we had left, sitting in the airport staring at my immediate future of having to live at my father in laws house (don’t get me wrong he is a super cool cat!) with no job, no money, and no spine…well let’s just say I’ve had better thoughts pore through my mind. My wife turns to me (and I will NEVER forget the look on her face – “should I tell him?” Yes…no…yes…) and then she tells me “baby, I’m pregnant.” My immediate reaction, “F me! Can it get any worse? Is this a sick joke?” This was all in my head of course as I smiled with great joy and wonder giving Marsi a bear hug of congratulatory size.
Wow talk about lighting a fire under my ass! Needless to say the plane ride home was a blur as my head spun from all that had just transpired within weeks. My life, my dream…turned upside down by the powers that be. Sick twisted humor.

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: The Beginning (Pre-Costa Rica)

People always tell me I have a “dream job” and ask how I made it all happen? How did I get to where I am today? I can assure you it was NOT planned!
Join me on my blogging journey as I chronicle the story of Safari Surf School and the trials and tribulations of running a small business in a foreign country (a.k.a. paradise)! This series will give you an insight into how we ended up starting a surf school in Nosara, Costa Rica, and all of the awesome experiences we’ve had along the way.
I love telling the Safari Surf “story,” since it reminds me of the amazing journey this has been so far, and I think it is unique and inspiring for others. Grab a cup of coffee or a beer and chillax with me while I take you back to the “early” days, just prior to the founding of Safari Surf School and beyond.
In my “youth” (late 20’s), I did quite a bit of traveling around the world chasing my dream of perfect surf, exotic places and cultures, and really in an odd way…looking for a place I could move to and live. Living a simple life with great surf always appealed to me. I didn’t have an idea of what I’d do for a living, and in retrospect I was quite delusional, but we daydreamers usually are. I only knew I wanted a simple, tropical life, close enough to the great surf where I could experience the healing power of the ocean on a daily basis. Growing up in Hawaii, people always asked me “why would you ever leave Hawaii?” Honestly, being a white kid on an island where the natives had their land stolen from them by white people…I didn’t blend in well. I’m sure my pale skin and my stark white blond hair didn’t help either.
I was looking for another place where the “aloha” spirit was alive and well, because at times it was hard to find in Hawaii. I traveled to places like Australia, Jamaica, Fiji, and Tahiti…where I found what I thought was THE perfect place for me to live. It was so close to Hawaii in so many ways and the “aloha” spirit was definitely strong. Then reality hit once I learned you had to marry a native in order to own land there. That kind of blew the whole deal out of the water, along with the fact that the cost of living was (is) ridiculous since almost every product there is imported!
Upon my return from Tahiti, I had a discussion with a good friend about my trip and told him how I loved it there, and would move there in a second if not for the aforementioned issues. He told me that I should check out Costa Rica, the new, cool place to go. Great surf. Cool vibe. I was sold.
I traveled to Costa Rica in 1995 with a couple of friends. We had 3 weeks to cruise up and down the coast and check out the entire Pacific side on the country. My girl Marsi would be joining us mid-trip.
My first “feeling” about the country was uncertain…through no fault but my own. Unfortunately, the boys and I had been drinking on the plane ride over and continued drinking on the taxi ride from San Jose to a surf town called Jaco. I do recall our driver being one of the coolest cats as he kept stopping to get us more beer, took us to a couple of cool spots to eat, and of course the numerous pee stops along the road. It was all in good fun and the driver was super friendly. It was a good omen of things to come.
After a couple of weeks in the country, I truly began to fall in love with the people and the vibe they had. They called it “pura vida,” or pure life. Everyone greeted you with “pura vida,” and said goodbye with “pura vida.” It was growing on me. In 1995, there weren’t as many traveling surfers as there are today, which made some of the outlying areas we visited REALLY special. I can remember as we would pass through local villages, little kids would come running out of their houses screaming and waving to us and we would stop and give them candy and stickers (my friend gave me the heads up that stickers were like gold in Costa Rica, candy was always a good thing to have, and if you wanted to barter with something bring some extra pairs of jeans…people just LOVED jeans!).
I remember stopping in front of houses that were basically a shack with dirt floors and ripped tin roof to say hi and meet the people who lived there. You could tell they had nothing but the essentials, yet they always greeted us with that “pura vida” friendliness. Their front yards were always well manicured (dudes used machetes to “mow” the lawn!) and there was no trash littered around, which is pretty prevalent in most poor countries. There was a real sense of pride in the families we met in Costa Rica. The kids were all just full of smiles and giggles, and you could tell they had no clue they were poor, it was just how they lived and they were happy. It really affected me in such a positive way that one could live in such a simple environment with minimal amenities and possessions and be so damn happy and care free.
It was somewhere on that trek along the Pacific coast that I knew I would love to live in Costa Rica. I also found that you could actually buy land and own it outright with no lease involved, and you didn’t have to marry a local!! Things were certainly looking promising!
My girlfriend at the time (Marsi), arrived in San Jose where we met her upon her exit at customs…I couldn’t keep my giddiness in check. I had to tell her that this place was amazing and that we could live here and be happy forever!! It was everything I had always thought I wanted for a place to live.
We took off to a town called Tamarindo, which quickly killed my buzz – concrete everywhere, tourists everywhere, crowds in the water…ugh!!! We got out of there quickly the following day and headed south down the coast to explore. We were there in the summer (rainy season), so we definitely encountered some rain here and there during our trip. It’s funny how when you’re driving along and looking for surf and checking out cool towns that you tend to lose track of time. Losing track of time as the day is winding down when you have no lodging set up can be a bit stressful to say the least.
Darkness was a mere hour away and it was now pissing down buckets of rain so hard that the windshield wipers had no chance of catching up. I thought I had seen rain living in Hawaii, but no…this rain was by far the most intense amount of water I’d seen in such a short period of time. I had never experienced a “flash flood,” but it was happening before our eyes and small rivers that looked passable were quickly turning into whitewater rapids!
By the grace of God, and I say this whole heartedly, the next turn we took in that rain soaked storm in our “dingy” of a rental car changed my life and my girlfriend Marsi’s life forever.
We spotted a small “convenience” store that was open. Now when I say convenience, I mean it was a hole in the wall mini market that actually had lights on and an English sign in front of it. Help was our “mantra” at that point. “Must…find…shelter…help…us…please.” To our delight, we found an American ex-pat standing there with a smile. Bonus!!! In a situation like that, speaking English was quite a luxury. We told the gentleman that we were a wee bit lost, wet, hungry and had no place to sleep, and if he could please point us to the closest hotel or hostel. Chuckling (and I can still hear his laugh of disbelief), he said “there is no way on god’s green earth you can to make it to any hotels. All the rivers are over-flowing and impassable.” I guess looking like defeated drowned rats, he took pity on us and invited us to stay at his humble abode, which was a mere 100 yards away (and did I mention right on the beach!).
“Richard” took us in to his gorgeous, open-air home, which had beautiful hard wood floors, walls, and ceilings. He styled us with some amazing food and we drank with him into the evening…warm and toasty. I was very inquisitive and pressed Richard on how he ended up in this tiny fishing village (Garza)? How was he able to make the transition from living in the US to living in Costa Rica? I was mesmerized and taken in by his “spell” and had so many other questions. I wanted his life (or so I thought). I wanted the simple life. The “pura vida” life.
The next morning the sun shone through and Richard took us surfing to a secret spot where we surfed great, empty waves; came back, and had an amazing breakfast and as we sat there, Richard (sensing my “want” to live a life of leisure – which was exuding from every freakin’ pore of my body!), mentioned that he and his wife were “tired” of running the mini market and had been having thoughts of either selling it or leasing it out. BOOM!!!!! I quickly jumped in and said “WOW…hey Marsi …baby, honey, sugar, sweetie (you get the picture), we could lease the place, huh?”
Richard, Marsi and I hatched an informal plan, and we all agreed that once Marsi and I got back to the U.S. we would chat some more, formalize a plan, and then get back to Richard to confirm if we were all in! Some time passed and Marsi and I got married, but we kept in touch with Richard. I worked as a paint contractor running my own business and stashing away as much cash as possible for my future life. Marsi got her teaching credentials as we were on way to putting some bucks away and our plan was to be in Costa Rica at the end of ’96 or early ’97.
In the meantime, each of our families obviously had some “concerns” about our plans to move to another country far far away from them. We got questions like “how far away is that island?” (kid you not!), and “Isn’t that country between Panama and Nicaragua….uh don’t those people not like us?” So it certainly got the families attention what we were planning to do, but in the end to both our families credit, they wished us well and gave us their blessings (begrudgingly of course!).
Marsi and I sold EVERYTHING we had and I mean EVERYTHING, we packed up all of our belongings in boxes along with our two pug dogs and headed for Miami in a U-Haul truck. We figured it was easier and less expensive to send cargo and our precious pups from Miami than California, so a nice road trip ensued, actually crazy road trip, but I won’t bore you with the details (massive hangovers in New Orleans etc., etc.!). Shit…we were on our way to our (my) dream!!!!!