I’m always being asked, “Who do you hang out with down there in Costa Rica? Are there any other expats? How did they end up there?” We’re a mixed group. And a great one, I assure you! Here are the faces of our now infamous little “barrio cerca de la ancla.”
Lisa and Mau
Lisa Farrell Barrera spent 19 long years riding the subway every day from her Brooklyn home to her job in Manhattan. A popular, successful businesswoman, Lisa could’ve easily stayed in NYC for the rest of her life. But she listened to one nagging doubt that just wouldn’t seem to let go. “Every morning when the B train travelled over the Brooklyn Bridge,” Lisa says, “I’d look down at the South Street Seaport boats and wonder what I’d be doing if I had a boat, where I’d be going.” On February 29, 2004, she took off and never looked back. Her destination? California, to create a more active lifestyle near the beach. But first, she wanted to take her dive masters course in Costa Rica. “At the end of the course, I was hired at the dive shop,” she says. “My work attire went from business suits and heels to bikinis, board shorts and flip-flops. And my ‘office’ was underwater! It was a dream come true.” Her fairy-tale, however, wasn’t over: There, she met local dive master Mauricio Barrera. “We married on the beach in 2007 and started a sportfishing/surf trip business here on the Papagayo Gulf,” she says of her and Mauricio’s North Pacific Tours. These days, she works remotely for the NYC company she left behind, and she and Mau spend their free time booking, preparing for and guiding tours on their boat, the Don Manuel.
A long-time sports buff from mountainous Evergreen, Colorado, ESPN Marketing Manager, Brynn Gottsman seemed an unlikely candidate for settling down in beachy Coco. In LA and NYC, she lived a glam world of VIP parties and events – plus the late nights spent in the office preparing for them. After an especially exhausting six-day Super Bowl XL affair, the decision was made for her: Brynn and Dad headed south for some R & R. “I quickly decided that I wasn’t going back,” she says. “After my dad left, I met a writer for Let’s Go Travel, and we blazed through Costa Rica, researching every beach town in Guanacaste and causing trouble.” Within a few months, she connected with an event planner at Tropical Occasions who needed someone young and energetic like Brynn to concentrate on weddings. “I got to apply my event-planning skills, but with excited brides instead of corporate gurus,” she says. “Between the Let’s Go Travel trip and location-scouting to plan ‘I dos,’ I got to know Costa Rica inside and out. Now, I can’t imagine life outside of Pura Vida! I mean, I throw parties in Costa Rica. Could you ask for anything more?”
A spunky tennis pro for the Four Seasons, Denise Fernandez was transferred to Costa Rica from the Virgin Islands five years ago. After a quick stint in Coco — and a whirlwind romance with her future husband, a Tico — she moved to inland Liberia. Now single and back down in Coco, she’s the newest member of the barrio, even newer than me! “All the girls are right here; I love it!” she says. “With a quick look, I can tell whose light is on and thus who’s home to chat. When I come home from work every day, I honk, and whoever’s around comes out to greet me. We get a kick out of being right on top of each other!” Denise is known for her fun dance moves, hamming it up for the camera, and getting the girls together on the stoop for “once” wine and cheese. All of this, when she isn’t playing tennis with the Papagayo resort’s VIP clients. “I don’t mind the heat and sun, but I do admit that I enjoy playing my doubles matches twice a week at night,” she says. “It almost seems easy in comparison!” Her parents hail from Santiago, Chile, so the native Spanish speaker fits right into Costa Rica, where she plans to file for permanent residency in May. “I never want to leave,” she says. “I considered going back to Saskatchewon, where I grew up, but I just can’t imagine leaving. I think I’m a Costa Rican for life!”
Looking back, Kelsey Hill’s first week in Costa Rica sounds more like survival camp than the start of a new life. “I was by myself,” she says. “It was raining and thundering so hard that the electricity was out, and I had no radio, TV, car, computer or phone. The house was shaking, and the howler monkeys were so loud that I thought wild animals were going to eat me.” The avid reader had a simple deadline for bucking up: “I had brought 12 books with me; after seven days under the covers reading, they were done, and I told myself, ‘Ok, you’ve got to go out now.'” The trip had come about (quickly) after a friend of hers mentioned a house in Costa Rica for rent — that week. “For some reason, I said, ‘Ok,'” she says. “Thirty days later, I sold everything I owned for pennies on the dollar and had friends frantically packing for me in the States. I was going to have an adventure.” Within a few weeks, Kelsey, who wasn’t even sure she wanted to work right away, had a gig at Coco’s Exclusive Resorts as Chief Concierge. “I just kind of figured it out,” she says, “and have been running ever since.” Now, Kelsey is Club Manager for the posh Pacifico Beach Club and Restaurant. “My friends expected me to come back in six months with my tail between my legs,” she says. “But when I got my first dog, Koa, they started asking, ‘You’re not coming home, are you?'”
Ana and Alex
A native of San Jose, Ana Poirier spent her childhood in Costa Rica before landing with her mother in British Columbia. “She’s fair-skinned Irish and always told me I just had a nice tan,” Ana says. “When I was in my 30s, I found out I was adopted and that I was actually Tica! I always had a hunch.” Ana’s son Dustin, 23, and daughter, Carla, 27, are both living in Costa Rica now, too. “Can you blame them?” she says. “Carla spends time in both places, and Dustin’s settled right in, working in San Jose. I love when they come to Coco to visit. Oh, do I have stories about some of those trips!” Ana’s boyfriend, Alex, who’s from El Salvador, puts up with us girls and our annoying talks of shoes and wine (in English, no less) more than any other guy. “We have a good time,” she says. Currently, Ana works as a concierge at Pacifico Beach Club. “Like most working stiffs in Costa Rica, I work six days a week,” she says. “But it’s worth it to stay here. I love Canada, but I’m just not going back.”