Travel
4 min

My new life in Paradise

IT'S A TOUGH LIFE BUT SOMEBODY'S GOT TO DO IT. Visitors can share the same beaches as Colin and Roberto, and journey into town to meet the locals. Credit: (Colin Brownlee)

You ever hear those stories where people quit the high paying job and sell everything and go off and live in some tropical country on the beach? It all sounds great, but do you notice you never hear the end of the story? Well, I hope to live the ending. I’ve experienced the story opener and so far, so good. But my worst fear is that I will end up too broke to return to Canada they will find me one day talking to a coconut on some isolated beach like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

About nine years ago, looking to shake up my rather mundane life (single and working at a corporate job in Vancouver) I decided I wanted to take one those touchy-feely erotic workshops offered by the Body Electric School combined with a Gay Men’s Adventure Tour at a resort called Kalani located on The Big Island of Hawaii.

My experience was really overwhelming. I knew upon returning home that my life would never be the same and I could not get it out of my head that I wanted a job like the coordinator and resort owner of the Gay Men’s Adventure Tour. And not pursuing this would mean that I had totally failed at life, but had given into all my fears around financial security and societal pressures of conformity.

For the next seven years, I was, without really knowing it, set on the path to fulfill this dream. Things became much clearer when I met a younger sexy Costa Rican guy named Roberto in the sauna at a local gay gym. Even though I swore up and down that I was terminally single and we would not get involved I succumbed to his smile and my inner “bean queen.” And I was hooked.

Three years after meeting him, I had a job I liked and was at the top of my career financially only to quit and liquidate my life of 42 years into four plastic boxes. I tell you letting go was not easy. I never knew how much meaning we homos attach to the $2 lamps that we buy at garage sales and to the 20 years of collecting chutchka. Friends were asking me if I felt liberated from my material possessions and all I could feel was a mild state of panic like I was skating on thin ice.

Early January we arrive in Puerto Viejo, a little town on the southern Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I’d found this town and bought some beachfront land during previous holidays visiting Roberto. It’s a small surf town boasting a rather eclectic crowd of residents. The native population consists of African-Caribbeans, Latinos and local indigenous descendants. And if that’s not enough, there’s another 500 expats from some 49 countries. Very few are from the United States, except for some real hippies. Most expats are from Europe and South America. When I heard it referred to as the “home of the least wanted or the most wanted,” I knew I had found our new home.

I was always worried how we would be received as an openly gay couple opening a hotel. No worries. Given the diversity of local residents — including alternative bohemian types, potheads and alcoholics — as well as Roberto’s being a school teacher and our hiring many of the locals to build our house and hotel, we quickly looked like pillars of the community.

I can see why Costa Rica has been popular tourist destination for gay men. The local men are naturally masculine, horny, good looking and their median age is 10 years younger than North America. As well, they are not aggressive like North American males. They might find it mildly amusing that you are gay, but to get out of a hammock to do anything about it is just not part of their make-up.

To be honest, before moving here, I was afraid I would get bored. As it turns out, life here has been anything but boring. I always tell people not to be attached to your plans as they will almost undoubtedly change. Back in Vancouver it felt like I was becoming a slave to all my appliances. The day that my Palm Pilot would not talk with my laptop, I knew this was not how I wanted to spend my future. I wanted more life, not more stuff. Money seemed easy to get, but real-life adventure wasn’t.

We got adventure in spades. We knew nothing about building and construction, yet Roberto and I set out to build two houses — achieved — and are in the process of completing a 10-room all-wood hotel with a small restaurant and lounging pool. My son was here visiting for two months and he said, “Dad, I didn’t know you knew anything about building a hotel.” I replied, “I don’t. Isn’t it fun?”

I’ve learned a lot more than construction since I arrived. I’ve been taught about happiness by the locals. For example, the caretaker we hired for the property is a 17-year-old indigenous boy named Alfredo who comes to us right out of a hut in the jungle. No education, no running water, no electricity and no stove. He has a life that most of us cannot even begin to imagine, with little outside of a machete for work and a few pots and pans to cook with. Yet, he is probably one the happiest people I ever met. And while we find it hard to fathom his life, he seems equally amused by ours. He now lives in an apartment we built for him and works for us full-time.

We are just coming up on our second anniversary living here. I have absolutely no regrets. And I think I know why. If you make a big move like mine because you are following a passion, it comes easier. But if you are instead looking to escape an unsatisfying life, or looking to finance early retirement, you won’t find paradise.

I like to think that years from now when I am in a nursing home hooked up to all those tubes, I will look back fondly and remember the time we built that hotel on the beach and I lusted over Latin boys rather than buying that new condo in Vancouver.