Five Things To Know About House Sitting   3 comments

Much has been written about house stilling as a way to see the world.  There are books, articles and even websites, containing house sitting opportunities around the world.  Generally there is no pay for the house sitter(s) unless there are tasks other than house sitting that come with the assignment.  I once saw an assignment in the south of Portugal. They wanted someone who had service experience to care for their small inn and were willing to pay a small salary.  Most of the time what is required or expected of the house sitter comes in exchange for the ability to stay in a place without paying rent.

I, myself, am currently “house sitting” in the mountains on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

The house is in the mountains, just east of the town of Portalon, which lies between Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Dominical.  All three are fairly well-known for being havens for naturalist tourists,especially those that like to ride the almost constant surf that graces the Pacific shores of Costa Rica.

Nearby, there are beaches, jungles to hike, deep-sea fishing, horses to ride, rivers to raft, tree tops to traverse, wildlife to watch and endless gorgeous sunsets to see.

A paradise to live in, right?Absolutely!

Costa Rica is a hot destination place for people from all over the world.  There were 86 applicants for this house witting assignment.  There would probably have been more if the assignment was not for just over five months, August 1 until January 4. But I imagine that not many people can be gone from their lives for 5 months. Though I imagine more wish they could.  I am blessed to have sufficient income and time.  The work I do, readying my book, High School Is Not Enough, for publication can be done from anyplace.

This is my first house sitting assignment.  So, I was wide-eyed about coming here. Let me offer that the old adage, there is no such thing as a free lunch holds to be true for house sitting. Here are some things I’ve learned.

1)      There is a cost to house sitting.  And I am not just talking about the transportation to get there and back, which also is generally not paid by the people who own the house.  I am in the rain forest of Costa Rica.  The nearest store is almost two kilometers down the hill.  The nearest store with a variety of meats, fish and produce is about 25 kilometers away.  There are no buses that come up here.  I imagine taxis would come but it would be expensive and they would hate it.  You really need a 4X4 to get to the house from the main road.  I decided to bring a car (1999 Toyota RAV 4) from the United States.  The car cost me $5000.  The import tax/duty (Costa Rica is really ridiculous in what you have to pay) was just over $2000.  Shipping was $600.  And assorted registration, title and other fees were $500.  A total of $8100, without factoring in the cost of gasoline here in Costa Rica.  Now my case is a little extreme.  But seeing as though I am going to be here for over five months it was the most cost-effective option for me.  What I am offering is that transportation costs. Whether it is by bus, taxi, rental car or other means the house sitting assignment will be in another country.  Knowing what it will take, and how much it will cost, to get around should be a part of the consideration in where people apply.

2)      Get care and maintenance instructions in writing. The people for whom I am house sitting left me notes about the care and operation of their home.  I am very grateful for this.  Pool maintenance; the best time to wash clothes saving on electricity; what to do if the lights go out; which wildlife are not to be tolerated; when is trash and recycling pick-up; and more, means there is something to do every day to care for their home.  Having what needs to be done explained, explicitly, is a good thing.  I would suggest that everyone get it in writing.  It makes it so much easier.  For them to return and feel like their home has been well maintained starts with how clear they are about taking care of their property.

3)      Get an orientation.  I arrived here, to the house, at 4 p.m. on July 31.  They left on August 1.  In hindsight, I wish we had more time together.  Having an orientation is critical to successfully caring for someone else’s property. We did have time for a walk through, even practiced cleaning the pool.  Knowing where things are is really secondary to knowing what the owner really cares about regarding the care of their home.  And the way to really know that is to hear it and see their eyes when they talk about it.  This past week some “leaf cutter” ants got to the hibiscus hedge.  From our time together, I knew that this hedge was something they wanted to protect.  When I could not find the refill for the ant killing spray,  I called.  We worked it out and I took care of the ants.

4)      Get contact numbers. I am sure that every owner will tell a house sitter how to get in touch with them in care of emergency – or hedge eating ants.  What I really like that the owners did for me was to arrange that I meet neighbors, the security guards, and the owners of their development.  Those introductions told everyone that I am supposed to be here.  What they also left me were telephone numbers to the cable company, the utility company, their doctor, emergency medical services, and local police.  I hope that I will never need any of these services, but it is good to know where things are just in case.  Actually, I did make an appointment to meet the doctor.  I was getting over a sinus problem.  I also thought that introducing myself was not a bad idea.  It was not.  He gave me his cell number and made sure that I knew he was available should I need him. I liked that.  I also learned about a reliable car mechanic from one of the neighbors the owner introduced me to.  I hope I don’t need him either.

5)      Get them to show you where things are.  Generally, people want to have a certain lifestyle while they are house sitting.  Whether it is exploring restaurants, nightlife, hiking trails, beaches, museums or other activities most people travel to other countries to experience that part of the world.  I wanted to come to Costa Rica because I have traveled here a lot over the past six years.  Though most of them live in San Jose, about 3 hours away, I have friends here.  What I did not know was this part of Costa Rica.  The owners took me around, showing me other communities, the grocery story, the farmers market, the cable company office, restaurants, beaches, and more.  Having a tour was nice.  Its better when someone who knows shows and gives you the background info.

Again, my assignment is a bit unique.  It allows me to be in a great house in a country I love.  And as I consider living in Costa Rica, this works really well for me.

Aside from all of the positive things about house sitting this is a responsibility.  It is a job, a job that is paid for by barter.  One exchanges their attention and labor for the opportunity to live rent free.  Take it seriously, and enjoy.

PS. This house is FOR SALE…….

Posted September 2, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Sunday In Qingdao, China   3 comments

Now some people may ask why come to this part of China.  I mean other than being kind of China’s epicenter for most things that have to do with the sea, what would bring me here is the question that many people have asked.  Well, I traveled to Qingdao for two reasons.  The first, as I have admitted many times I am curious.  I am the proverbial curious cat.  I love off the beaten track places.  Once I heard the name of the city, saw the photos and read the description I wanted to go there.   Now the other reason is a little more complicated.

I had met Blessing online; on one of those international dating websites that cater to people who want to date and mate across cultures.  She was pretty, smart, a business woman, the right age and spoke English.  I remember thinking, Blessing – was that an omen or what?  Since our meeting, we trailed each other almost every day for months; emails, photos, disclosures about life and sharing our philosophies about living.  We talked on SKYPE, live chatted on msn and I found myself wanting to know – could one really fall in love with someone you only knew through your computer?  Yikes!!!!

The possibility of meeting Blessing only provided comfort to a decision that had already been made.  I had wanted to go to China for years, but never had the time.  No, never took the time to go.  My sister had gone last year.  Her visit made me want to go more.  After talking to my sister, who went last year, about the visa application process, we both used Travel Document Systems (TDS), which turned out to be an excellent service, I took to leap.  You send your passport, the China visa application form (available on the Chinese Embassy website) and the fee to TDS and they take care of the rest.

I must admit I was surprised when the Chinese embassy not only approved my visa application, but also gave me unlimited visits for a 12 month period.  Usually they only give applicants for tourist visas one or two visits during a 90 or at most 180 day window.  It made me wonder whether about Blessing’s name as someone I was going to visit had anything to do with it.  Her now deceased father had been a party official.  It also made me a little nervous.

But, as the time approached for me to depart for China, our conversations became increasingly distant.  Just the opposite of what I thought, and certainly wanted to happen.  The excitement of meeting for the first time; thoughts of spending time together; and all of the problem solving avoidance that can go with romance across cultures had drifted into a gulf that I felt was growing between us.  Our conversations were consumed by her family problems.  She was turning her business over to the people who worked for her.  Her life was being turned upside down and health problems followed.  All of which became the focal point of our conversations.

As my train arrived in Qingdao, I had no idea of whether I would see Blessing.  I came with hopes – I am optimistic that way.  But I did not let myself count on it.  I am also realistic that way.  I, along with what seemed to be a football stadium full of people escaped the train to climb a long steady incline though the station to the mass of people waiting, vending, and hanging out in the sunlight on the other side of the station’s doors.  I had arrived and nobody knew it.

English is spoken by a few people in China, mostly in the cities.  And that includes written English.  I caught a break arriving in Qingdao as the one of the guys who saw the look of “I am really confused” on my face helped me negotiate a taxi to my hotel.  We wrestled to put my oversized bag in this gasoline smelling old three wheel vehicle driven by one of the nicest people who I met on my trip to China.  She spoke no English but went out of her way to make sure that I knew I was in good hands, even if I was sure that her care was very safe.

After three days of no response from Blessing to my emails or calls, I wrote the following email to her.

“It is obvious that I will not see you this trip. I do want to thank you for introducing me to Qingdao.  I have had the most amazing day of my trip to your wonderful country.  I am just very sad that you were not here to share it with me.



I had just walked the boardwalk, as I had done several times before about 5 kilometers, perhaps hoping that this would be the day I would see Blessing there.  Qingdao possesses one of the most social beaches that I have been on in a long time.  Qingdao is a family city.  And though the city itself is about 9 million people, the beach and boardwalk on Sundays is a comfortable place to walk, eat, play, exercise and people watch.   As on this day, like all of the other days I walked the board walk, I was the only person that I saw that looked like me.  Not another man with chocolate-brown skin in sight.  Most ignored this minor oddity.  Many smiled. A few wanted to take pictures with me.  And some stopped to chat.  I had grown comfortable in Qingdao pretty quickly.  And Qingdao had grown comfortable with me.

But this day was different.  Sundays are wedding days in China.  And in Qingdao, for those that have little money to pay for the expensive rituals weddings have become in China, they come to the beach to rent wedding gowns of any and all fashion, tuxes or suites that make the man look like he could afford his new bride and many bring their wedding friends to dress according to the tradition of having many bridesmaids and groomsmen at one’s wedding.  And they bring photographers to capture their special day in poses that ranged from the traditional to romantic to, WHAT are you sure you want to do that.

There must have been thirty or forty couples on the beach that day.  As I strolled I saw women hiking their dresses, revealing the jeans they wore underneath, to get that photo that would be their memory of being together in fun and in love for years to come.  I walked past many couples that day, thinking these are memories in the making.  Their smiles, some exchanging happiness glances with me, were contagious.

My blessing was a different experience that the one I had planned n Qingdao.  Given the opportunity, I would return to Qingdao.  I got a chance to hangout in a few dance clubs, drink coffee at the Starbucks in a downtown plaza, visit a wonderful aquarium full of kids and sea life I had never seen before and eat fresh caught squid grilled on the beach.  And on that beautiful Sunday as I walked alone, I kept catching glimpses of what is possible when one takes a step of faith into possibility.  As you can see from the photos below, it was a day full of romance.  It was a day full of hope.  It was a day full of love.  It was a day full of joy.  It was a day for forgiveness.

The Beauty of Connectedness: A Love/Friendship Letter For The Ages   5 comments

I grew up as the only child in the house, but also was never really alone.  The way it works out is that my sister is 18 years older than me and was starting her own family when I came along.  She used to like to say, our mother had a tumor that just never went away.  LOL… Our brother, now deceased, was 23 years older than me had children before and after I came along.  Our father died when I was a senior in high school.  So, after I left for college, our mother, at age 62, began taking in foster children. Not all at one time, but all together she took in something like nineteen children.  The last two that came into her home stayed until she died; like seventeen years.  They became my sisters also.  Her grandchildren, and even folks in the community, called her “Mom Berta.”  It was natural, I guess.  I think that was her passion, taking care of children and people.  There seemed to be constant streams of her grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, other family members and friends in and out of our small, sometimes very cramped house.

Most would agree, the way in which we are raised conspires to give us our sense of self and our worth.  I think because of my mother, the way I grew up, I am hypersensitive to the connections that extend to people, other living creatures and the earth, regardless of place and time.  I am passionate about, and sometimes a real sucker for, the struggles of others.  And to be honest, I prefer it that way.   The more I travel,  knowing people and their cultures, the more I believe in the connectedness of all life.

For the past five years, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia have been where my interests lay.  Now as I turn my attention to my next travel adventure, China and the Philippines, I again turn to the internet learning what I am getting into before I go; making contacts that may lead to friendships; and yes, even exploring the possibilities of lasting relationships.  Yes, one has to be careful.  There are lots of people out there who use the internet to abuse and use one another.  However the internet also provides the opportunity for people of like minds to join together to make the world a better place; to share ideals, causes and to realize aspirations; and those that wish to know each other in honest and caring ways with the ability to do so.  I guess like most tools, the internet is as powerful, as good or evil, as the soul that uses it.

I recently received a letter from someone I met by way of the internet.  In the spirit of how it came to me, I offer it to you.  Please feel free to share this letter in ways that you feel inspires the spirit of our connectedness.  Let it come from your heart though.  I think insincerity would undermine the karma.  Friendship and love are essential to my soul.  To all my friends/family thank you for being in my life, and supporting me in my efforts to, like my mother, have a positive influence in the lives of others.

Dear Wayne

I’ve been thinking: if love can move mountains, true friendship – which is the widest expression of love – should be able move a group of mountains, should in fact be able to move the world! If everyone was as lucky as I am, and had a friend or knew someone like you, the world would be a much better and friendlier place.

Being able to count on your friendship makes me a more open, more sensitive person, more confident in the future of this small planet of ours. Maybe I’m dreaming, but that’s all it would take: that every human being was as lucky as I am and had a friend like you!

And you, on the other hand, would have another friend, an even more special friend; and it would all turn into an endless chain of people in search of harmony, and this feeling would be passed on to the wisest of scientists, the wealthiest of businessmen and the most cold hearted of world leaders!

Being friends with someone is not a hard thing to do, especially when that friend is someone like you; it allows the people who are closest to practice their best qualities, such as tolerance, generosity and justice, which should be the basis of every relationship.

Looking forward to meet you one day.  Thanks for coming in my life….Take care

Inspirational isn’t it?  God Bless Love and Friendship

Posted March 10, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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