Reason 20001 why living in Paradise SUCKS at times!
Banco Cuscatlan, which I pretty much moved most of my money out of 6 months ago, after they were purchased by Citibank, has been having massive network problems for at least three days now.
The only reason I keep a couple grand or son in the Bank is to buy swag from Amazon.com. Well the last couple of days, charges for purchases from Amazon have been routinely denied by Cuscatlan, despite the fact that I have several grand in the account.
I got my kid and wife a debit card at the bank so I dont have to go digging in my wallet every time they need loot. The last two days, they have not been able to withdraw money from the bank's ATM machines or use the cards to make purchases.... My wife went to the bank this morning and someone there told her that they expect long lines this afternoon as people come to the bank to witdraw funds that they can not access via ATM. ALL OF THIS, and Cuscatlan does not even bother to put notification of the problems or an ETA of resolving them...
And you know what? NOT A SINGLE TICO WILL COMPLAIN!
See here for the details of the latest. But the bottom line is that Jetbox is the worst service organization I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.
To put it simply, you would do better in buying an economy ticket and flying to Miami to purchase most goods, than using these people to forward your mail...
I have reviewed the Costa Rican tax codes, and know of several occasions where I have been significantly overcharged when making purchases online and using Jetbox to deliver them from Miami. DO NOT USE THESE PEOPLE.
More than $80 to deliver an item with a value of $299, a full 27% of the value.... That was generous. I have paid more than 100% on some items... And when you protest, you will get the excuse.... "It was the import duties, sorry, nothing we can do..."
At Christmas I paid over $300 for some books and a half dozen Xbox games...
I would love to see how much of this actually DOES go to the tax man, because this is either rampant overcharging, or simple incompetence...
Every year at the end of the year there are a bunch of Festivals in Costa Rica, all of them have rides, carnival prizes and foods, and stuff. The other tradition is a kind of running of the bulls, but in a bull ring. It is the stupidest thing I have ever seen.
But my wife loves this shit, so I took her to see her bulls.
Saturday night I attended the Festival of Zapote's second to last night. Zapote is a month long party held during the Christmas/New Year Holiday. It is a mix between carnival and Rodeo. The carnival part was pretty cool, with lots of local food, beers, and your typical carnival rides and such... But remember that my lovely wife is a fincera, So the Rodeo part was at the top of her agenda. For me, seeing a bunch of idiots running around provoking 2000 pound bulls was the most boring thing I have ever seen.
I was actually rooting for the bulls. Most of the Holidays we spent just chilling, eating, and enjoying the kids. It did not hurt that I bought an XBox 360 and a 42 inch Plasma TV over the holidays. Anyway, its back to work today... Will put up a few more holiday pictures in the next few days...
Looks like I will be off on another whirlwind trip in a couple of weeks. The Call Center Project in Honduras has been on hold for about a month now, as the client works on some other pressing priorities. This has not meant a vacation for me though. In the last month I have worked with a North American Company to start the process of evaluating three countries, with the purpose of locating a telesales operation.
I have also been working with one of Costa Rica's biggest Real Estate ventures on evaluating and developing a VOIP strategy for their telesales organization and for the companies internal use.
Looks like I will be back on the road the second week in August, and more than likely visiting some of my favorite Central American Cities again. With any luck, I may even have time to have coffee with some of my contacts and friends there.
I am hoping that we will stay at the Raddisson in Guatemala again, what a spectacular hotel, and what fantastic staff.
This coming week will be pretty hectic as I plan for this trip and evaluate some proposals for my North American Client. Things are looking pretty interesting in this project, and I am looking forward to being a part of it right up until it is operational.
In the interim, I also have a client coming in from Russia in the next couple of weeks, I need to set some meetings for him to establish a company here in Costa Rica. I dont expect it to take much time, but it must be done right, he is depending on my recommendations to ensure that he has the right contacts in country to kick his business off right.
Why Cafta is Super Important to Costa Rica's Future
In the last two weeks, two important events have occurred that are linked to the future of investment, and expecially the Call Center Industry in Costa Rica.
The Legislature announced that there would be a nationwide referendum on the TLC, as CAFTA is called here in Costa Rica.
The Entire Country went dark for three hours last week when one of ICE's (The Costa Rican Telephone and Electrical Monopoly), Electrical Stations blew up. This in turn exposed major problems with the Costa Rican Electrical Grid.
The Country has been forced into three hour a day forced rolling blackouts for the last week.
The Referendum was a sign of failure on the part of Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican President to get the TLC through the legislature. Massive street demonstrations, led by the ICE Union and other Unionist were giving the legislators cold feet, and TLC opponents renewed hopes for defeating the treaty.
The Massive Power failure and fiasco that has followed has now put ICE on the defensive, and caused many who supported them and their anti Free Market Stance, to rethink their feelings. You dont realize how badly a monopoly sucks until it fails spectacularly. The arrogance that followed the failure:
Demanding a Rate Hike of an average of 23% to make up for poor planning (And some speculate, to fund additional raises for ICE employees).
When failing to get the rate hike approved, using it to hold the entire country hostage with rolling blackouts...
Were more reason to erode ICE support among the population.
I have written a number of articles on the Call Center business, including one that will appear next month in Central America Today. With the exception of bold visionaries like Rogelio Douglas, whose Admire Americas has opened the first call center on the English Rich Caribean Coast of Costa Rica, Call Centers in the Central Valley, are all competing for the same stagnant pool of English Speaking Talent. Add to this complexities in doing business, extremely high taxes for those who dont qualify for Free Zone status, and the ICE Monopoly, and you have a very volatile market for Call Centers, one that is being challenged by new Call Center Clusters in Guatemala, where I helped to found a new center last year, El Salvador, Panama and Honduras, where I am helping to develop what promises to be one of the most sophisticated Contact Centers in the Region for the Karims Group.
If the TLC fails, Costa Rica will be left with an aging monopoly that once led the region in every statistic that counts, but which is now finding itself behind in technology, (ICE just approved GPRS Internet, and has NO prepaid Cellular Service), availability of services, (New GSM Phone Lines will not be available until August of this year), innovation, and redundancy.... The Country will also be the only one in the REGION without competition in the Telephony Marketplace, or for that matter, any part of the public sector.
Costa Rica has failed miserably to take advantage of the lead they had when I established the first call center in Central America in 1994. While other countries have invested in Infrastructure, opened up their telecommunications markets and focused on developing strong English Language Bases of Employees. Costa Rica has arrogantly held on to a reputation that they no longer deserve. Visit any other capital in the region, and you will feel the progressive Energy. In Guatemala, millions are being invested into creating Call Center friendly parks and infrastructure. In Honduras, companies like Karims are working closely with the Honduran Government to define a new industry.
CAFTA is an important key to the future of Costa Rica. Without it, Costa Rica may see itself losing more and more of its key technology businesses, to other, more aggressive and progressive neighbors.
In the Utopia Group, we are looking at the REGION as our opportunity, Costa Rica just does not seem as promising as it once was.
In October of 2005, I was in Guatemala working on a Project, when my wife had DirecTV installed in our home in Heredia. It was a huge mistake.
Any time it rains hard (something that happens frequently in Costa Rica), the signal is lost, sometimes for hours. There are no Network Channels (to speak of), from the U.S., which I rely on to keep me in touch with what's going on there. All irritants, considering I paid almost $70 a month for service. All of this I knew going into the contract.
When we canceled the contract in December, we were promised a full refund of our deposit, as soon as they picked up the equipment. They picked it up on December 14th, and charged us for the entire month of December. Since that time we have been in a weekly battle with them to return the $85 they owe us for the deposit. Every week we call, and every week the answer is "next week." Yesterday, my wife called for the third time, and was informed that the paperwork for our refund had never even been submitted, despite the fact that she had confirmed it a month ago, and we had to FAX the disconnect order.
Today I spoke with Andres Chaverry, who apologized and AGAIN promised the money for NEXT week. We have had DirecTV for over a year. Not once have we been late on payments. We have paid on more than one occasion for movies we did not order, we have constantly been bumped around by their horrible customer service, and my wife was tricked into signing a Year Long contract when we first signed up.... To be honest, we would have gotten rid of their service a long time ago if not for that.
My advice to anyone considering subscription TV in Costa Rica, DO NOT get DirecTV. They have the worst service in the country, this coming from someone who KNOWS service! And if you do get their service, don't expect them to honor their contractual obligation to return your money at the end of the Contract!
One of my old colleagues from Acer sent me a link to some pictures yesterday, from the early days of Acer Costa Rica, (The first outsourced call center in Latin America), which I founded.
This picture was taken out in front of the Center in 1997, just three years after we founded it.
It looks very different these days.
Wow does this bring back memories. I can still remember the crowded cubicles bursting at the seams, and the magic of the place.
I also remember socializing with my team, hanging out and having a good meal together. Those were the days.
I don't remember where this one was taken, but my future wife is to my right, and I was eating lobster, so I must have been happy! We spent a lot of time eating back in those days, the one below was taken at one of my favorite Sushi places.
Thanks Albin for sending me these. You can see more shots and a great photoblog of Costa Rican sites, here.
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Not only detailed are the "Single Man's" main interest (the girls), this book covers the essentials, from making sure you don't get ripped off by taxis to the BEST restaurant recommendations that only the locals know about. I just found this book days before I left for Costa Rica, and wish I had found it before, because I had made some arrangements from companies I had found on the Internet, only to find I was "ripped-off" once I got there. This book has no hidden agendas, no recommendations by the author trying to "hook" you into buying something else.......just one man, trying to help out his fellow men. BUY this book, for what you'll save, the cost of this book is worth 20 times more!" Jeff
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The book has been a far greater success than I imagined. Selling an average of a couple a week. Get yours now, and don't be cheap. If you like it, recommend it to friends, don't give them a copy. Remember, you will get free updates whenever we make them for up to the next year.
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All those who read the blog on a regular basis know that the last two weeks have been especially hectic for me.
I spent last week finishing up the first round of training for one of my local clients (See picture at right), and flying off to Honduras for a meeting with an investor who is interested in me helping them open a call center in that country.
Suffice it to say, I did not get much sleep last week. This week has not been much better.
I spent Monday working on finalizing some new proposals and beginning work on a new project for La Republica Newspaper. And then spent yesterday on my monthly Sojourn to Esterillo Beach.
The trip to Esterillo is a painful 3.5 hours each way, but views like the one on the left make the trip much more pleasant.
Trying taking the 5.5 hour drive from San Jose, California to Los Angeles, down Highway 5 sometimes, and you will know exactly what I mean.
One of the things I dig about the drive to Esterillo, is stoping at little roadside stands like this fruit stand.
We have made it a tradition now to stop off at the fruit stand and pick up fresh Mangos and Avocados.
The place has the freshest fruit and veggies you will encounter anywhere in Costa Rica. Especially the Avocados, as they are grown local to the stand.
Will be having a bit of Guacamole in a bit here. Will let you know how yummy it is.
The class I do in Esterillo is a short one, about 30 minutes. Seems hardly worth it for the seven hour round trip drive. But it is a nice opportunity to get out of the city once a month, and it pays pretty damned good for 30 minutes of work.
And honestly. Do you really think I am going to complain about an all expenses paid trip to the beach, where I get to spend thirty minutes in short, sandals and shades giving a short talk to some of the richest people in North America? I think NOT!
The next few weeks will likely be very, very hectic. I have several projects coming to head at the same time, so it will be an interesting time and project management challenge to keep them all sorted out. Thank God for the work!
Costa Ricans love their futbol, and this video produced before the World Cup, expresses all the hopes and dreams of the Ticos. There is another one I was looking for sponsored by the local chicken producer which is really moving, but I could not find it. Enjoy!
Hazel has also appeared here on ISOU on a number of occasions, and if I am not mistaken, is a favorite of our resident expert, in such matters.
Hazel has long legs, and a beautiful face. She might just be a candidate for Voodoo Promotions?
What do you think Todd, Amanda? Does Hazel have what it takes to join the elite at Voodoo. Just say the word, I will arrange the interview!
In the meantime, Boyd and the rest of the ISOU/Zelmira cheering section, will I am sure weigh in with their opinions.
I am thinking that Hazel is probably somewhere tonight helping other Ticos to get over the loss in the World Cup... I know I personally feel better already.
One side benefit of the Sele losing today is that tomorrow won't be a national holiday.
I know it sucks saying that, and believe me, I was rooting for the team, but if the Costa Rican Team had won today, no business would have gotten done tomorrow, and honestly, I cant afford to have to deal with a night of celebrations followed by half the country taking the day off.
I have way too much work to do. And that is the way it is in the world that plays Soccer. A national team wins and the country goes nuts for a few hours.
I would rather go nuts over Hazel! Hehe...
Seriously... I watched the news tonight and some good points were made. The Costa Rican team is a young one... They will be back.
Just got back from doing some business in Esterillo today. Not much to report, just did a corporate training gig. But got some very cool pictures on the way back. (All will expand to full size if you click on them)
Humpback bull grazing near the hotel.
With Paul, one of my BEST friends, and the Manager of the Hotel Monterey Del Mar.
This HUGE colony of Alligators (We counted over 15 Adults), live beneath a bridge on the way back from Esterillo.
The wild thing is that the colony of Gators lives right next to a huge group of grazing cattle. Why they dont just have themselves a feast, I dont know. I also dont know why the rancher lets his cattle graze so close to them.
Apollonia and Elsie with my driver on the bridge overlooking the Gator colony.
Now, when I lived in Los Angeles, I was a prince of the city. I drove a Ford Expedition, partied all night, lived La Vida Loca, and still made money...
And there is no DOUBT that if I lived in Los Angeles today, I would be living the Entourage lifestyle with my favoritenephew.
The Grub in Costa Rica is not bad mind you. As you can see from this plate I am eating, the eatin' can be good. But damn I miss my Pastrami sandwiches, burgers and dogs.
You can find a good hamburger here at the Hotel Del Rey, See my Single Man's Guide to Costa Rica for details on that one, but finding a decent Pastrami sandwich is impossible, as is a good hot dog.
I have considered more than once, opening an American fast food joint here. Not a McDonalds or one of those franchise places, but something like your good old fashioned LA Taco Stand. A place where you can load up on greasy American style burritos, burgers (swamped with chili), hot dogs and hell yeah steamed Pastrami on a hard roll with jalapeno peppers and pickles on the side.
I first came to Costa Rica in Early 1994. The mission was to establish an offshore call center for Acer America Corporation. The Early going was tough, but in three months we had established the call center, and hired the first 100 or so employees.
I was employee number 0000, and Director of Operations. I would live in Costa Rica that first time for a little over three years, and form a love affair for Costa Rica and its people that I carry in my heart to this day.
During that time I would make lots of friends, learn a new language, gain an appreciation for a culture other than my own, work hard and play harder.
It was perhaps the BEST of times for me...
Today I look back on those days and realize how fortunate I was to be in the right place, at the right time and have the right skills.
Costa Rica truly changed my life.
During my time here I partied till I dropped. Met the beautiful lady to the right, and eventually married her. Hehe.. Not that I was in any big hurry to get married back then. The truth is that we were on a great adventure back then. We were building a new company in another country. We were sort of heroes too. Everywhere we went, people pointed us out as, "the Acer guys."
I remember that as one of the first High Tech companies to open in Costa Rica, and the very first call center, Acer was something special. It was a high paying job for the kids who worked there, and something of a status symbol.
People wore their badges outside of work, and it was a pride thing. And I was big poppa, the founder and leader. Man those were heady times. We were pioneers, and there were times when it was rough... challenging. Costa Rica had never had a company like ours before, and I think it fair to say that we impacted the culture as well.
My team from the States were a bunch of young, wealthy (by Costa Rican Standards) "tech gunslingers." We rolled into Costa Rica with a California style party attitude, lots of money and a fun loving spirit. Many broken hearts were left in our wake, and I was responsible for a few of them myself.
But it was the work that was most important. We partied hard, spent weekends (when we could), at the beach and generaly just lived it up when we could, but we got the work done. We would hang out at strip clubs and discos until two in the morning, and roll into work by 7am. We faced enormous technical challenges in linking two call centers and two cultures (three if you count the conservative Chinese owners of Acer). We had system failures (swapping our first telephone system after less than a month), and problems with recruitment (Finding enough English speaking employees). But we got the job done.
And we got it done right. By the time I left Acer in '97, the call center was over 450 seats and taking tens of thousands of calls a week. We had also helped to create a new industry in Costa Rica, with Intel and others following us in opening new Operations in Costa Rica.
In September of 1996, I married my girlfriend of two years, Lourdes Maribell Calederon Castillo, and started work on building a family.
I cant believe I have been married for nearly 10 years, or that it has been 12 years since I helped to found the Technology Revolution in Costa Rica.
Today Costa Rica host call centers from Dell, Sykes, HP, Western Union and a number of other companies, including numerous Sports Books and Online Casinos.
Without us taking that first leap, it might never have happened, and I certainly would not be running The Utopia Group.
Who knows if I would be married and have the beautiful children I have been blessed with.
Today I am a little bit grayer. And a little thinner, though not by much. But I am the same old David, with a little more responsibility. Life changes us in many ways, but I would like to think that it has not robbed me of my sense of adventure.
Today I run a small, but by all measurable standards, successful business. I am well respected in my community and I have a still beautiful wife and wonderful children.
Jean Carlos is a young man now, almost 15 years old. Elsie is 8 going on 20, and Apollonia is 2 1/2. We live in a small but comfortable home in Heredia, Costa Rica. I am a Soccer Dad, with my son playing goalie for the Junior La Ligua team. We have a dog, Romeo, who we rescued from the Animal Shelter as a puppy, and I work hard to build the business and keep beans and rice on the table. All and all, it's not a bad life, though I do miss some things about the U.S.
Less than 5 minutes into the game, and Germany has already scored. Not looking good for the Ticos. This is a while differen't level of competition to what they are used to. They are however a good team, so once they settle down, I am sure they will play better.
I have never seen a country so fired up about a game.
13 Minutes in and Costa Rica just scored their first Goal! The country just had a collective heart attack!
Update: 18 Minutes in, Germany scores its second goal of the day. Score CR-1 Germany-2
Note: If you are a soccer fan, and own a Palm Powered handheld, this application (Free) is pretty cool. It allows you to follow the world cup action on your palm via wireless connection.
Update: (10:50am Local Time) It's halftime and the score is still 2-1 in favor of Germany.
Update: (11:19 Local Time) Germany scores third goal of the day. Score Germany-3 Costa Rica-1
Update: (11:31 Local Time) Got to be proud of my little adopted country! Costa Rica just scored their second goal. Score Germany-3 Costa Rica-2
Update: (11:45 Local Time) Germany scores again and with only four minutes to go, it looks bad for the Ticos. Score Germany-4 Costa Rica-2
Well they gave it thier best shot and in my opinion played a gutsy game. Final score Costa Rica-2 Germany-4. Nothing to be ashamed of.
I am absolutely convinced, that if Nicole lived in the U.S. she would already have achieved superstar status.
The young woman practically causes riots when she appears in public here in Costa Rica (Just kidding), but she does turn heads, even on women.
The publication of a slightly risque video on the Internet, reportedly caused bandwidth problems throughout the entire country for a bit.
Before the so called sex video (which it really wasn't), Nicole had this all Costa Rican (As opposed to "All American") image of the innocent girl next door. Not surprisingly, he video may have changed her image, but has not apparently hurt it.
I think she is incredibly sexy, and I also think, based on what I have heard and seen... That she is incredibly smart. Lets hope that Nicole continues getting the fat modeling gigs. She is one who I definitely don't want to see go away.
By the way. Her sister is no slouch either.
I saw Nadia last week at a photo shoot, and she was just as gorgeous as Nicole.
I have never seen these young ladies parents before, but I am sure their MAMA, has got to be one of the best looking women in all of Costa Rica. DAYUM!
Both girls are successful models and Nadia is often seen in commercials here in Costa Rica.
Nadia also was one of the first to come out in defense of her sister when the video appeared on the Internet. It was one of the only times I have seen either of them pissed off.
Anyway, if you are wondering why so many guys come down to Costa Rica every chance they get, its because beautiful girls like Nicole and Nadia do seem to grow on trees down here.
I know a few myself that would give the Aldana sisters a run for the money, not that such a competition would matter.
The only thing guys need to start worrying about, is how far Costa Rica goes in the World Cup. That event is going to get Costa Rica a lot of coverage around the world, and the not so well kept secret of how beautiful women are here in Costa Rica, is going to become a NON secret.
To the beautiful Aldana sisters, Pura Vida ladies, you are prime examples of why Costa Rica has achieved a worldwide reputation for beauty, and I am NOT talking about Rain Forest.
Busy week ahead. I hope to meet with the representative of a group of Angel investors this week. I have been working since the completion of the Guatemalan project on an idea for a new company focused on wireless technology. The response to my initial executive summary has been encouraging, but there is still much work to be done.
The truth is that after five years, I have grown tired of the original charter of Grupo Utopia. To be sure we have acomplished some incredible things on the small investment we started the company with. GU has become synonymous with high technology leadership. We have forged relationships with some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Intel, Oracle, IBM, Motorola, Palm and HP, and we have created a buzz about wireless technology and high technology in general. We have also created a strong brand...
So why start a new company?
There are many reasons, but the primary one is to seek a level of investment that will allow me to develop some exciting new concepts. With the ownership structure of GU, it would be hard to raise sufficient funds to do so, without long and drawn out negotiations with existing investors. I plan to refocus GU on Call Center Consulting, while structuring the new company to be 100% focussed on wireless and associated technologies.
This week, I have two interviews appearing in the local business press. This picture is from one of the Interviews.I am frequently consulted about trends in Outsourcing or wireless technology.
Both subjects are hot right now, as Costa Rica struggles with more competition from other countries in the region, as an outsourcing destination, and as ICE (The National Phone Company), is finaly working to make their three year old GPRS wirless network a "real service."
RACSA, ICE's official Internet subsidiary has also put together plans for the launch of a Metropolitan Area network of wirless hotspots, more than likely 802.11B or G.
So wireless is about to take off in a big way in Costa Rica, and we want to be there to take advantage of the trend. Five years ago, Grupo Utopia installed the first, "Public," wireless network in Costa Rica, at the Palma Real Hotel, and then we stood by and watched the market explode with public access points at almost every major hotel here. We made ZIP off of our Pioneering efforts. We will NOT miss this opportunity!
I have never been a believer in LUCK. I believe in Destiny. The two interviews appearing this week were not planned, they just happened, as I got a call from a reporter friend who was in the process of writing them. The timing is perfect...
All I can say is the girl has quite a few floating arround out there. This one starts out with another famous Costa Rican Model, Hazel Caraval (Pictured on the Right), and then later Nikki. All I can say is WOW! Hazel got it going on!
Now this is not exactly porno guys, but there are some naughty thong shots and what not, so probably not a good idea to open this at work. The video is a bit dark and hard to view in parts, but one thing is clear, these are some beautiful woman, even when just waking up in the morning.
I have no doubt that now that the genie is out of the bottle, that there will be lots of interest in any other videos that exist. So stay tuned.
I have always thought Nicole was super hot!
After taking a look at this video, Hazel is even hotter. At least that is my opinion. Oh Nicole still has the sexy, girl next door look, but Hazel... Like I said, WOW!