Monday, October 6, 2008

Glorious Mornings, Rainbows in the Afternoon

Retiring in Costa Rica is moving to the Tropics. That means mountains so green they look almost blue and forest and jungle can be found everywhere. People can plant flowers and vegetables in a garden successfully anytime of the year and the grass will always be green. Costa Rica is a green country not only because its people are environmentally oriented but because, from up in the air, it appears to be like a gigantic broccoli, full of huge dark green trees that don’t let you see the ground. Hundreds of majestic waterfalls and strong rivers (great for white water rafting) can be found all over the territory.

But then, of course, there is a reason for this greenery. Costa Rica is in the tropics and it rains a lot here. This country has some 7 to 8 months of rain that begins from mid April to the end of November and it doesn’t usually drizzle but pours! So, how can people put up with s

ch weather? Well, it is because it isn’t as bad as it seems. Actually it is quite refreshing!
Costa Rican weather behaves in a very specific way. Almost every morning, people wake up to a glorious, sun shiny day. Birds sing and all flowers and plants look fresh. Going for a walk or hike early in the morning is very pleasant and coming back home for a hearty gallo pinto with fruit juice is a must. Then, the rest of the morning is perfect for going out and doing some errands, going shopping or visiting places. Almost every day, the weather will allow people to do these or any other activity they want during the first half of the day.

At noon, you can head to your house and have lunch and, by the time you finish your meal, you will start hearing the raindrops making music on your tin roof. It is almost magical! The sound of the rain on a tin roof is soothing. It makes the perfect environment for resting after lunch.

Taking a nap or sitting at the porch to read a book and enjoy a hot beverage seem to be a great idea. It may rain for a couple of hours if it is a light rain, or a couple of minutes if it is pouring. Also, it may rain a couple of more times during the afternoon and you will probably go to bed listening to the melodic sound rain makes. This is exactly why most Costa Rican housewives do their house chores in the first part of the day. After lunch they just fix the kitchen and do the dishes and from then on the time is theirs and they can enjoy other activities like watching a soap opera or doing some crafts.

Starting late October until mid December rain and sun will start competing more among themselves and while one is occurring the other one will try to show off also. This competition will cause some of the most magical rainbows you have ever seen. Sometimes, there are 2, and even 3 perfectly recognizable rainbows on the sky at a time. If you happen to have a view of the Central Valley, you may enjoy this phenomenon quite often.

The great thing about this peculiar weather is that retired people find a perfect balance between daily activities and rest time. They are almost forced to sit back and enjoy nature. At the same time, all the beauty and life this weather creates is at your finger tips.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Costa Rica Gets Green Building Council

By Fabián Borges
Tico Times Staff

With the goal of promoting a more energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable construction industry, representatives from 14 sectors of the construction industry, from building material producers and construction firms to real estate developers, agents and financiers, recently teamed up to establish the Costa Rican Green Building Council. “The Green Building Council’s goal is to go beyond existing regulations and propose ways of better developing the constructed space,” explained Alejandro Ugarte, the council’s first executive director. “Costa Rica has developed a globally recognized brand as a country that protects the natural environment. However, this agenda is limited to the natural space, the green space. But who ensures the sustainability of the constructed space, the space inhabited by human beings?”

The construction regulations and environmental impact laws regulating the construction industry in Costa Rica are insufficient to ensure a sustainable constructed space, according to Ugarte. That San José’s streets flood during heavy rains and its chronic congestion creates serious air pollution are signs that not enough is being done to ensure the sustainability of the constructed space, he said.

LEED a la Tica

The council intends to develop a voluntary environmental sustainability certification aimed at assessing the environmental impact of materials and buildings. The standard will also serve as a blueprint outlining what companies can do to operate in a more sustainable manner.

The success of such standards will depend on the companies’ ability to strike a delicate balance between protecting the environment and not imposing an unsustainable financial burden on the private sector; in other words, in addition to being environmentally friendly, standards must be market-friendly, Ugarte explained.

The standard promoted by the council will be based on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the leading benchmark used to certify the adoption of sustainable green building and development practices in the United States. LEED rating systems are developed and updated through consensus-based discussions among volunteer committees from different sectors of the construction industry. At the core of the Costa Rican council will be a series of working groups charged with adapting LEED to the country’s specific conditions.

The Costa Rican council plans to make modifications to LEED to take into account the climatic, geographic and energy-generation differences that exist between Costa Rica and the United States. For example, given Costa Rica’s year-round moderate temperatures and that nearly 95 percent of electricity is generated using sustainable technologies, energy efficiency and building insulation should be less of a concern than in the United States. At the same time, given the country’s high levels of rainfall, proper water management should play a larger role in certification here, Ugarte explained.

The council plans to begin offering regular workshops and training seminars for people involved in the different sectors of the construction industry. The goal will be to help them stay up to date on the latest trends and international best practices in green building. Creating a regular magazine on green buildings is a longer-term goal of the council.

These types of actions will help to gradually convince more people in the industry of the merits of greener buildings, Ugarte said.

A Private-Sector Effort

As is the case with its counterparts in the United States and other parts of the world, the Costa Rican Green Building Council is a voluntary, private sector-led initiative. The council, however, in alliance with the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects (CFIA), plans to lobby the government for tax incentives aimed at promoting the use of sustainable construction products and the development of green buildings. Possible incentives for this purpose include income or property tax breaks and reduced permit costs. However, the council does not aim to become a specialized lobbying group. “Our goal is not to incorporate the government and ask it to solve everything,” Ugarte said. “It’s the private sector that is looking for solutions.”

Living in Costa Rica

It might seem funny, but if you want to start a business in Costa Rica you must find a way to provide delivery “EXPRESS” service. That’s right! If you start a restaurant (fast food or gourmet), a drugstore or an office supply or a movie rental store, your business will most likely succeed if you have “express service.”

Why is this? Even though Costa Rica is a very small country and there are plenty of restaurant and store chains all over the country that provide very good service, people hate to leave home to go shopping.

Imagine it is Saturday evening and the whole family is watching “Dancing for a Dream” and it is drizzling outside. Mom doesn’t want to cook and everyone is hungry. What is the logic solution: call express and relax.

You would see children jumping of happiness if they hear the honk of a motorcycle around noon in front of their house. That means that pizza, fried chicken or hamburgers have arrived.
The delivery is always full service. The meal will come together with the drinks and forks, napkins, ketchup and mayonnaise, parmesan cheese and dried hot chili pepper in tiny bags!

It is also very convenient. A mother might be home alone with her two little children and need medicine for one of them. The drugstore that gives the express service will definitely get the sale.

You can even rent movies and have them delivered to your door and they will even go and pick them up!

This is the way Costa Rican people solve their problem of transportation. Not everybody have a car and sometimes people live up in the hill and far away from the bus stop.

Restaurants like KFC and Taco Bell loose a lot of business on Soccer Sundays because they do not deliver.

If you move to Costa Rica , you will enjoy this service also, and then you may decide if you prefer to go an pick up your purchase at the store or if you prefer to lay back while you wait for your goods to be delivered home by a “moto.”