As many of you know, corporate changes ended my 15-year career, and at the same time, my husband, Andrew, was unhappy in his business. It was the right time to make a significant change and begin our dream of running an eco-lodge in the rainforest of Costa Rica. We sold everything, and in January of 2018, we left Ontario – and honestly haven’t looked back.
At the time, we didn’t own property in Costa Rica and wanted to spend time with our feet on the ground to ensure we found the perfect property.
Andrew left a couple of weeks ahead and drove here in our rugged Toyota Fourrunner with our tools, schoolbooks for our daughter, and everything else we thought we would need in our new life. My daughter, Payton, and I flew a couple of weeks later with our two Labradors and seven suitcases. We were quite the spectacle at the airports.
After months of driving all over the Osa Peninsula, attempting to speak to and understand landowners in Spanish in a country with no real estate system, comparables, or licensed real estate agents, we finally found the perfect property. With my experience in the real estate industry, the entire process was especially troubling for me, but I am happy with our decision.
Our original property was 12 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest, of which about three hectares were clear of trees, perfect for our plans to build and re-forest. With no road, power, or infrastructure, it had stunning waterfalls, abundant freshwater from the river, and numerous springs. The closest neighbour was over 2.5 km away – how could we resist?
The first job was to build a road 2.5 km up the hill through the rainforest in the rainy season! There was an existing horse/logging trail, so we were not clearing trees, but it took months on the red clay in the rain. At the same time, we began building our own home. Andrew moved all of the gravel for the cement bases of our house, about 6 km in sacks using the quad. One of our workers would spend days in the river filling the bags with gravel, and Andrew would drive back and forth since trucks couldn’t pass. Our neighbours’ oxen and cart also delivered many materials before we finished the road.
During construction, Andrew also designed and built an old fashion water ram which we used to pump water from down in the river to the building site without power. Using our waterfall, we dropped water down a tube that caused pistons to open and close, and the pressure it created pushed a continuous supply of water uphill just over 400 meters.
At that point, we were about one year in and renting a small beach house. Payton and I were learning to homeschool. We were all learning Spanish and spending much time attempting to source building materials and supplies without a Home Depot 10 minutes away and no service from Amazon!
By April 2019, we had a roof on our house and decided it was time to move in. Our power inverter, however, was in customs processing, so we lived without power for about three months. We did have running water, a beautiful house with a fully functional bathroom, a gas oven, beds and furniture, cell phones with data, candles, and coolers with ice (the missing fridge was the most challenging part). It seemed crazy to live without power, but we were comfortable and happy.
Finally, our power components cleared customs, and we installed our system. We have a Pelton wheel in our river, providing an overflow of power most of the time. It was an excellent opportunity to use all of that grade school math – the volume of cubes, volume of cylinders – psi of falling water, etc. – all of us now know so much about these things. We have a system that provides power for our entire house, our villa, and our shop and has potential for our future villas. When the river roars in the rainy season, we have an element that burns off excess power!
Once we were living on-site, we focused on infrastructure throughout our building site. We have run power to multiple spots on our property, have run potable water everywhere, built water drainage canals, and focused on replanting and landscaping. We have also focused on buying our neighbouring properties and now have a rainforest reserve of over 54 hectares.
Covid hit and things slowed down a little. While we planned to begin the main lodge next, the world was saying we should focus on private and self-sustaining spaces. So, we began construction of our first private villa. Now listed online, our first villa is a bird watcher or wild life photographers paradise. It has all the comforts of the modern world, including wi-fi, hot water, and high-end finishes. Our guests can birdwatch and take photos of the local animals from their porch, which has valley and ocean views.
As the travel restrictions loosened, friends and family could visit again. One of our friends (retired) came for a month in October of 2021 and is still here. There was a vacant bar/ restaurant property on the beach sitting there closed because of Covid. I love to cook, and he wanted to keep busy, so we decided to lease the restaurant/bar. We also bought the neighbouring property and have just opened a small beach hotel tied to the restaurant. We now have a great staff to manage the restaurant, and we are ramping up for a busy season.
Our daughter, now 13, is thriving and feels at home here. She is excelling in math and is doing great all around. She has a childhood where she gets to ride her bike everywhere and occasionally checks in – usually for ice cream money. She has friends and is learning Spanish.
It is incredible how much my life has changed in the last five years. I went from stress, commuting, sitting in traffic, seeing my daughter for an hour between daycare and bed, passing my husband on our separate ways to accomplish things – to an incredible family first, WARM, and more relaxed life. Instead of rushing out the door a 5 am, I happily enjoy the parrots and monkeys waking with my morning coffee. And yet what we have learned, and are accomplishing, is truly incredible. Sometimes we forget what we have achieved, but then we listen to a guest rave about our life, which makes us remember.