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Owner of La Mansion Inn hosts GALA for Costa Rican Coast Guard

For the first time since the formation of the National Coast Guard Service of Costa Rica representatives of the private sector of the Canton de Aguirre hosted the 13th Anniversary of the Nation’s Coast Guard during a Gala Dinner at the La Mansion Inn in Manuel Antonio.

The Costa Rican Coast Guard has come a long way since its inception 13 years ago but still has very long way to go and needs the support not only from San Jose but also needs the moral support of the private sector” said Harry Bodaan, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of the Canton de Aguirre and Owner of Hotel La Mansion Inn and continued “Few people realize that the Costa Rican Coast Guard does incredible work not only to protect the environment but does tremendous and hazardous work with drug interception operations under the most difficult and harsh of circumstances. In a country without a military, it is the only elite maritime force that stands between the transnational drug cartels and the Costa Rican people and patrols an ocean area that is 13 times the size of Costa Rica.  They deserve our support, respect and admiration and work against a difficult enemy that has unlimited resources at their disposal which can easily corrupt public officials at virtually every level in government”.

The guest list of the Gala Dinner Event included the Director of the National Coast Guard of Costa Rica Commander Martin Arias, the Commanders of all the Costa Rica Coast Guard Stations, the Commander of the Quepos Coast Guard Academy and several international naval officers and special invited guests.

Vacations that continue

It seems that Trip Advisor has become one of the most essential forms of marketing, most definitely in the Hotel and restaurant business. As an employee of La Mansion Inn I am honestly thankful for the great feedback and honest reviews we receive on a consistent basis. Mind you, there always seems to be that small percentage of the tourist community that, despite every effort and constant attempts to give them exactly what they want, always seem to complain about something. I have definitely learned when reading about hotels and possible destinations, to ALWAYS focus on the majority. The minority quite often seems to represent unrealistic and obscure issues.

What trip advisor has done for us and (I’m sure every other hotel seeking to offer the very best), is that it gives us a constant reminder through consistent feedback of the impact a great vacation really has upon people. It is so easy (at least from my personal perspective) to forget that with each and every individual tourist, there is an ongoing impression that lasts long after they leave. Day after day new tourists arrive in our town, and in our hotel. This gives us a continual presentation of fresh faced tourists ready to relax, ready for vacation.

As I re focus, I remind myself that each and every one of these individuals represents a world of work, stress and perhaps anxiety. They come walking through our doors ready to leave everything behind them for a short time to enjoy a sanctuary in paradise. Even upon their return home, it is the memory of this experience that manages to live on, providing them with fond memories and a positive, refreshed mentality, looking forward to their next vacation and a return visit.

For all those who have come and enjoyed your stay here at La mansion Inn, we truly hope that your experience here managed to leave that lasting impression giving you the ability to take a slice of paradise back home with you. We always appreciate and enjoy all your feedback through Trip Advisor.

 

Keep in touch! And we will see you again soon!

 

 

April 12 GALA at the Mansion Inn

More than 160 well-wishers from all walks of life came out the help celebrate the birthday of Harry Bodaan, owner of the La Mansion Inn and President of the Chamber of Commerce at a spectacular Pool Party hosted at the Contempo Club. Amongst the many guests were Isabel Leon, current Mayor and former Mayors Oscar Monge and Alex Contreras. Besides close friends, guests included a virtual “Who is Who” in the Canton including key members of local government and law enforcement, other governmental institutions and key business leaders.

Entertainment was provided by the famous Columbian Singer Gregory Cabrera, Costa Rica’s own Roger Morales and Nicaraguan Guitarist Marvin backed up by the local talented dancers Kenneth Morales and Allyson Maykall. Select Wines, Champagne and other libations flowed freely all night accompanied by sumptuous hors d’oeuvres.

Asked about the key reasons for the Party, Harry Bodaan responded “I have so many reasons to celebrate; I could not help myself plan this party. The hotel is doing well, I have great friends and staff, I survived cancer, I am happy with my life, we continue to support local projects and our Canton is on the right path with some great projects being planned by the Municipality and Chamber for the people of Quepos that includes a Sports Park for the kids of the Quepos area, parking facilities in Manuel Antonio and facilities for the Feria de Agricultor. We also are proud to have helped initiate a Water Sewage Treatment Plant Survey for the Quepos area. The morning of my birthday I joined Mayor Isabel Leon, City Council President Jonathan Rodriguez and the City Council at a ground-breaking ceremony for the brand new “Red Social” building in the Acumulada area of Quepos that will be tasked of taking care of children while their parents are at work thus keeping them of the street and protected. Besides Quepos is currently in the World Spotlight because of the First International Bill Fish Tournament at Marina Pez Vela and, according to Forbes Magazine, Manuel Antonio National Park achieved status as “One of the most Beautiful National Parks in the World”. Local Law Enforcement is doing an excellent job and I am in process of buying them a new facility so they can finally live and work as human beings instead of feeling like second-class citizens. I am enormously grateful that God allows me to continue to help make a difference and I am happy so many of my friends could join me for this festive occasion”.

REMEMBERING LA MANSION INN

I recently returned from a fabulous vacation In the coastal town of Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. I must say, one of the many highlights of my Costa Rican vacation was the actual hotel experience itself, and after writing this short review I knew it had to be posted here on the La Mansion Inn Blog.

Many times on vacation, the Hotel serves as nothing more than a place to sleep and grab a quick bite in the morning before going out and enjoying the country we came to see. However, when staying at La Mansion Inn, there definitely seemed to be a very genuine and natural blending of the Hotel with Costa Rica itself. Where the hotel ended and that one of a kind Costa Rican experience began was most definitely a fine line that was well blurred in the most creative and unique fashion. I still remember our first morning. waking up to the most incredible ocean vista from the balcony of our room.

The rainforest stretched out directly in front of us, merging into some beautiful beachfront which we could see curving around the beautiful blue oceanfront, showing off the world famous Manuel Antonio National Park. We knew the views were to be spectacular, but honestly arriving at night, tired and limited with what we could see, in my opinion was a fun bonus.  I was actually a little reluctant to go downstairs to a stuffy hotel area for one of those self serve breakfast buffets that most hotels seem to offer. However I was hungry and looking forward to tasting some of the local coffee.

Arriving downstairs I was directed towards the breakfast area and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised! The breakfast area was an open air deck split down the center with a long narrow pool of water ending at the far side with a dolphin style water fountain which created some beautiful ambient sound. Beyond the end of the fountain was the most fantastic continuation of what I had been enjoying from my hotel room. I was so glad I had come down for breakfast! We took a seat, relaxed and absorbed the incredible view of the surrounding jungle and immense ocean disappearing on the horizon. The breakfast experience continued that morning to my surprise with the most friendly table service offering a delicious meal and that Costa Rican coffee I had been waiting for.

Another unique feature I noticed was a type of empty “stage” area that sat completely empty to my left. Above this was a nice clean cut metal looking sign attached to the wall behind saying “IMPROV”. I was curious about what this might mean and when it was taken advantage of.  As breakfast ended we returned to the room, with plans to get changed and take a stroll up to the hotel rooftop “Sky Lounge”, where we could meet with some friends who had already eaten breakfast. As we arrived back at the room, we noticed a small card that had been slid under the doorway. It was an invitation to a VIP reception in the evening.  That feeling of enjoying a vacation in true luxury most definitely seemed to follow us at each moment during our stay.  We had the most amazing time that day, relaxing on the Sky Lounge, taking a dip in the pool, and then receiving a personal chofer driven ride from the hotel to the Manuel Antonio beach. It was a fantastic day. We would have quite possibly passed out in our rooms that evening, but we were still holding on to those VIP invitations, and we had definitely learned not to pass up what this Hotel might be offering.

The reception was absolutely lovely. A glass of white wine, an opportunity to meet with some of the hotel staff, and my opportunity to ask all the questions I wanted about the area and become familiar with the town. The VIP host was incredibly pleasant and I even enjoyed the opportunity to chat with other guests that had just arrived. Just as I thought the evening might be over, the doors to the breakfast area were opened and we were encouraged to go through and take a seat in the same area we sat that morning. The first thing I noticed (besides the incredible array of stars bursting with light against the jet black sky) was that same “IMPROV” sign, now beautifully lit up. We sat there and were entertained by a wonderful selection of performances put together by two local dance groups. To say it was extremely “raw” and “real”, Is possibly the best two words I can think of that describe it.  These improvisational shows didn’t seem over rehearsed or fake in any way. It was great to watch the locals showing off their talent and to realize that this was exactly what La Mansion Inn was doing – Providing an arena for the local Costa Ricans to show their talent. What a great opportunity for them and a surprising treat for us!

La Mansion inn most definitely brought together that High end classy, distinguished feel and that down to earth friendly atmosphere and made us feel so comfortable and well taken care of without pretension or pointless ostentation. This has definitely become one of those hotels we will come back to on a regular basis. Thank you!

The Jungle Community of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

 

It’s “todo bien” this, and “como no” that, always  followed by “Pura Vida!” Everyone knows each other – lots of hugs and other forms of warm greetings. But after all the chillin’ it’s all about business here, with tourism being numero uno.

 

At the top of Hell’s Hill, not far from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is “La Terraza” – an outstanding restaurant with an open patio (the new normal), overlooking an ocean dappled with mini islands just offshore.

After the first storm I encountered upon my arrival in Quepos  – apparently tied to the tail of the hurricane that struck New Orleans a few days prior – the weather calmed down and began to feel rhythmical. Mornings are consistently sunny, while in the afternoon things get questionable with thunderstorms that can be momentarily intense yet very manageable.

It is still hot and intensely humid; that sensation never seems to lift. It’s all about life inside the sauna here in Manuel Antonio, in late July 2012.

Eventually I broke down and purchased my new uniform: Flip flops, classic rubber baby, for $8 a’ la Rite Aid, and a sarong which cost me a whopping $11 US from a vendor at the entrance to the park. But hell, I was desperate; even a one-piece bathing suit is suffocating here.

In this heat and humidity you might guess it’s a bit tough getting motivated. Another angle on Pura Vida: Just chill, because with the slightest movement you will soon be drenched in sweat, glorious downfalls of pure white water oozing from every one of your pores from head to toe. And you will feel exhausted from it all! So chill baby, chill…

That’s when one understands the important significance and influence that climate and environment has on the culture of a people. It’s refreshingly obvious.

Hanging out on the beach today, where service happens in the sand on lounge chairs surrounded by Coconut and Banana trees, I met Ryan and Marta from Tri-Cities Washington.  They gave me the skinny on the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant there – the “accidents” and  “the cleanup process” that according to Ryan who worked as a general contractor, “would take over 150 years just to get to a safe spot.”

“We sure won’t see it in our lifetime, you can bet that,” he said. Marta sat beside him and nodded with a defeated and sarcastic expression. “Yeah, you can tell everybody back home that you met two glowing, radio-active people,” she added.

Marta explained how her own father, an engineer on cleanup duty, had to wear hazard gear each time he went out into the fields surrounding the plant. I was shocked to hear about these accidents at this nuclear plant, and why I’d never heard about it. “They try their best to keep it under wraps, but the locals know what’s going on,” Ryan said with the air of a spy.

“Kind of like Erin Brockovich?”  I asked them.

“Exactly,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Marta said.  “I’m really dreading going back; I don’t even like my job anymore.”  A lawyer specializing in contracts, Marta worked for a large engineering firm, the one involved in the “cleanup” of the Hanford Nuclear Plant.

Marta explained that one of the top computer techs responsible for in-house security measures had been found with over 1000 rounds of ammo stashed in his office, and subsequently he’d been fired. It happened last week, the day before Marta left for vacation to Costa Rica.

“It was really creepy. Everybody was scared he was going to come back and kill us all. The company put file cabinets in the hallways – just in case we needed someplace to duck and hide if he returned on a shooting rampage.”

“Yeah, as if a thin piece of metal and some papers is enough to save you from an AK 47 Riffle.” Ryan said in disbelief.

“And one of my colleagues was sent home because she had open-toed platform shoes on.” Marta added eyes wide open.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you can’t run in those shoes. It’s too hard. You can’t run for your life in high heal shoes.”

What a crazy world we left behind, I said. “Pura Vida is all one can say.”

“Yeah, Pura Vida,” Ryan answered and Marta nodded as they said good-by and headed off the beach and back up the path I call Hell’s Hill that leads to the main road.

* * * *

Hell’s Hill has now been baptized Hell’s Highway. This ex-hill should be a training route for the marines the grade is so severe. This steep driveway looks more like the 405, after you’ve had a few days to climb up and down this, this, you-know-what. With my apartment situated smack in the middle, I’m forced to climb and descend this highway twice a day, just short of 1200 steps round trip. I know; I’ve counted.

Let’s start with the small guys carrying big loads. Armies of ants that defy logic regarding what they are able to support on their backs.  You can see them from a distance: big clumps of oddly shaped green leaves and twigs moving across the highway at top ant speed! I have to broad jump just to pass by that intersection – daily.

Next are the lizards of all shapes and sizes that sunbathe, always in the same spot, and their numbers are staggering. You can’t see the small ones, zillions of them, because they are so well camouflaged against the pavement.  You only notice them when you almost step on one, or when you frighten them.

Suddenly it feels like something from a horror movie under your feet as the ground comes alive and starts moving rapidly beneath your unsuspecting body. It just gives you the shivers for a moment.  It’s very startling. But they are all harmless, and it’s just the visual, constant startling of your senses that gets your attention.

In the trees above, monkeys play, and sloths do what sloths do. Not much. Pura Vida!

Walking up Hells Highway tonight, I could hear Jordan’s music. He comes to play on Tuesdays and Fridays at the restaurant La Terraza. He’s also a nature guide at Manuel Antonio. I ran into his tour the other day. I spied on him, a few feet from his group. He was a good guide. It was cool to see him in playing in the restaurant that same night.

Jordan was playing Eric Clapton’s song ‘Here in Heaven’ as I rounded the corner on Hell’s Highway, drenched and exhausted, with my computer in my backpack eager to get some work done.  It was heaven to finally reach the patio and set up my office with a 180-degree view of the ocean, despite the humidity.  After about an hour the sky changed, and dark clouds moved in fast.  We were perched on a bluff above the ocean, with a clear view of angry waves.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an enormous gust of wind flew in through the patio like an invisible energy wave from beneath the hillside sending dishes, glasses and flower vases flying, crashing to the ground. The lights went out and instantly rain fell in massive sheets as the wind continued to whip through the delicately constructed structure. I dove on top of my computer, grabbed the tablecloth for cover and ran for the bathroom. Inside I carefully dried it off and wrapped it with layers of paper towels and put it in the backpack.

It wasn’t a hurricane but it felt like one. Exciting, but I didn’t make it home for over an hour even though my house was a five-minute walk down Hell’s Highway.

 

Politics and Culture in Quepos, Costa Rica: Interview with Harry Bodaan

Harry Bodaan, owner of La Mansion Inn and President of the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Tourism for the Canton of Aguirre, shares stories of his life experiences that brought him from Holland to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, and the fascinating people he met along the way.  This interview provides great insight into the current economic and political scene in Costa Rica, and the goals Bodaan has for the future here in the “happiest country on earth.”  (Part II of III)

 As a native of Holland, can you give us a brief background on how your career evolved?

Bodaan: [laughs] That’s an oxymoron. You’re taking a 40- year history and asking me to be brief? Basically, I met my wife in Frankfort, Germany and then I left for the United States where I got married. I worked for Hilton Hotels as Food and Beverage Director, and worked my way up to General Manager. In the early 80’s I ended up in Washington DC, as General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the National Press Club. During an average week, we had as many as 10 thousand visitors.

Isn’t that a big switch going from Hilton Hotels to the National Press Club?    

Bodaan: No, because everybody eats and everybody drinks, although the Press Club was big–more than 40 thousand square meters occupying the top two floors of the National Press Building a few blocks away from the White House. We offered no less then 10 press conference rooms and people needed to eat and drink. We had bars, restaurant facilities and banquet rooms. But the job soon became something more.

You mentioned that you established relationships with over 300 international leaders.  How did that come about?

Bodaan: At the press club we had 35 committees that I was interacting with and one of the most important was the Speakers Committee. Their task was to invite movers and shakers from all over the world to come and address the National Press Club.

After the White House and Congress, the National Press Club is the most sought after forum in Washington DC, if you want to make an address.  Back then it was not unusual to have a press conference with as many as six hundred journalists present.

It was very exciting; I literally met hundreds of heads of states, ministers, and kings and queens.

What were the circumstances that brought you to Costa Rica?

Bodaan: It was a very important time in history for Costa Rica.  During that time President Oscar Arias came to speak at the club, to address the US population about the injustices in his country by the CIA, and he spoke to Congress. Over 18 months, he came to the NPC three times, and we got to be acquaintances.

This was the time of Oliver North, John Poindexter, and the Iran Contra Scandal. The CIA operative John Hull was lending his landing strip in Guanacaste for the re-supply planes. These planes were used to make shipments to the contras in Nicaragua. This was the most tumultuous time between the US and the Costa Rican government because President Oscar Arias had the airstrip blocked by the Guardia Rural and the planes could not land anymore.

The last time Don Oscar came to speak at the club, he invited me to visit his country and so I took him up on his offer. At that time there were only 17 hotels in Manuel Antonio with a total of 163 rooms; that was it. When I saw Manuel Antonio, I fell in love with the area and hoped that I would retire here some time in the future.

But you moved from Washington DC to  Moscow before settling in Costa Rica.  How did that happen?

Bodaan: After almost 12 years at the Press Club in Washington DC, I had become a friend of the press attaché of Russia.  I had helped him with the advance planning for some of the speaking appearances of their heads of state, like Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Because he knew me and because of our friendship, I would get notice of their upcoming visits before anyone else did. I remember the time Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin came to Washington; I got to know them personally, and was fortunate to be able to socialize with them.

Fast forward. What better way to show the rest of the world that Russia was serious about Glasnost and Perestroika than to start an independent press club in Russia modeled after the National Press Club in Washington DC?  I was selected to organize the club infrastructure from scratch which I slowly brought to fruition at the Radisson Slavijanska facilities in Moscow, the IPCC.M.  When the International Press Center and Club, Moscow Club had reached 1000 members after about three years, I left Moscow to pursue my other dream in Costa Rica.

What did you do when you got to Costa Rica after such an exciting and ambitious background? It must have been quite a culture shock.

Bodaan: It was, but I joined a friend and his wife; they were building the El Parador Hotel – a 160-room hotel located just down the street which at the time was under construction. While in Moscow he had called me for help with the start-up of this project, and I later joined him as a minority partner. After five years I started my own place, La Mansion Inn.

You continue to be very involved in politics.  What are some of your civic duties and responsibilities here in Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Well, since about four years I am the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry of Tourism of the Canton de Aguirre. I am also Advisor to the Mayor, and I am part of the Special Advisory Council to the Minister of Tourism (Comite Mixto) and Chairman of Sister Cities International for Quepos. We have a Sister Cities Agreement with the City of Fort Lauderdale. I also head of the Security Committee for the Chamber and am the Coordinator of the Quepos Law Enforcement Task Force.  This is important, and if you ask people of the canton what is the primary concern of its citizens, it is security. I’m happy to say crime rates are at the lowest level in ten years and law enforcement is doing a great job.

 It seems odd that Manuel Antonio is so up-scale, while Quepos appears economically depressed. These two inter-dependent neighboring areas are so dramatically different. What is the reason for that?

Bodaan: Yes, they are so close, and yet light years apart. The reason goes back generations– back to the time when the United Food Company came to Costa Rica. People in Quepos think that the people in Manuel Antonio don’t care about them, however nothing could be further from the truth.

Manuel Antonio is a tourist area, and Quepos is quite the opposite.  But what people have to understand, is that for Quepos to improve, people are going to have to pick themselves up by their boot straps, nobody is going to do that for them. They have to unite.

Going back to the United Fruit Company, decades ago, they came here from the United States and built enormous banana plantations. People came from all over the country to find jobs here.  The United Fruit Co, which was taken over by Palma Tica, provided work for literally thousands of people, and the company took care of them, you know, like modern slaves.

People lived in compounds and they were fed through the company cafeteria. They received minimum wage but at least they had a job and were taken care of.

Over the decades people got used to not thinking for themselves. It’s not the same as it was for people in San Jose, even though they are Costa Ricans – but the people and the coastal mentalities are completely different.  The same phenomenon took place on the Caribbean coast. That’s where the large Banana plantations were. So, over the years people have gotten used to hand outs. If you had a problem, you talked to your supervisor. If your wife was sick, the company doctor would care for her. If you needed a loan, you got an advance on your salary, etc. etc.

Even today, people are talking about this problem, but they are not moving to resolve it, and there is a sense of feeling helpless on the part of the people in the area of Quepos. Sometimes I feel they act like children, because it seems that they are waiting for someone else to solve their problems. Now they turn to local leadership and the Chamber [of Commerce] for example, to solve their problems for them, but as I said, they lack initiative. They don’t realize that if you want help, you first need to help yourself.

Downtown Quepos seems small for such an important area. What is the population of this area and what are the major industries that support the region?

 Bodaan: Right now in Quepos proper, we have about 8-9 thousand people, but the population is very spread out. The canton Aguirre covers an area of about 493 sq. kilometers, almost 340 sq. miles, and has a population of about 28 thousand. The mayor of Quepos is truly the mayor of the entire canton region, and most are employed in the tourist industry, agriculture, fishing industry and Palm industry.

Palma Tica, the second largest employer in the Canton de Aguirre (after Tourism) has 1,500 employees. The third largest industry is Martec (commercial fishing), with 250 employees. They generate about 23 million dollars in income for the region.

What is the average income of people living in this area of Costa Rica and how does that compare to neighboring countries?

Bodaan: Most people are getting at least minimum wage, and on an annual basis the per capita income is about eight thousand dollars.  In San Jose, it’s up to about 11 thousand per year, which is the highest of any of the seven Central American countries.  So the economy is quite strong here.

Three or four years ago, just before the economic crisis, we had over a billion dollars in new investments for the canton of Aguirre. The investment climate is quite good. Now, as a result, we have 180 rental houses as well, some of which fetch as much as $15 thousand a week in rental fees – although many of them are illegal.

 

$15 thousand per week is expensive, and they are illegal? Who owns these properties?

Bodaan: When I say illegal, I mean they are not registered. Many are ex-pats who have come here and built their million-dollar dream house and then they decide to rent them out. Take a look at Trip Advisor and double source it, you will see and incredible amount of houses for rent. Yesterday we had 124 listed on Trip Advisor alone.

 As President of the Chamber of Commerce, what is the process of getting things done?  Is there a lot of bureaucracy or do things run pretty smoothly?

 Bodaan: For anything to work, I always split things in three. If I ask the local government to be of assistance on a project, and the federal government, we need to have the support of the private sector as well.  You need all three components for things to work.

If, for example, the private sector needs something and we have the support of the federal government but the municipality is against it, it’s not going to work. For that matter, if the local government wants something done and it has the support from the federal government but not the private sector, then that too is not going to work. You need cooperation from all three to get things done.

Is there an issue or situation the local government is facing now that will help illustrate how this ‘trilogy’ comes into play?

Bodaan: We keep seeing examples of this. It’s no secret that there is a large movement right now of the transnational drug trade in this country. Tons of cocaine is being shipped though our country, and one-way to combat crime is to install a Camera Surveillance system throughout the region. The private sector came up with a 200 thousand dollar system that would be strategically located in 16 positions throughout the area and the private sector was on board to help.

But when we turned to the local government, but they did not have funds for that, nor was their willingness on their part to go forward with the idea.  So, we condensed it from 16 cameras to 4 cameras in key parts of the city. The cost was 65 thousand dollars, and the private sector was willing to cover the cost. We set up a meeting with the federal government representatives, and they cancelled three times, even though we had a firm commitment from the private sector.

This is a perfect example, because we had support from the private sector, and the local government, but the missing like here was the federal government.

Do you think they did not want to participate because they are connected in some way with the drug trade, or are they getting bribes from some unknown source?

Bodaan: Perhaps, we don’t know. According to reliable sources 63% of the Mexican municipalities are infiltrated by one of the seven drug cartels – why not here?  Is is a lot easier here than in Mexico. You know a lot of money is floating through Costa Rica right now.

You have another project to build a parking lot that would help the city generate revenue. Can you tell us about that?

Bodaan: Oh that is another example of how we need the three components for it to work. Building a municipal parking lot is one of our missions.  I took a rather large Municipal Delegation, 17 people, to our Sister City, Fort Lauderdale to learn about how we could generate more revenue for Quepos. We met with the budget director of the Municipality of Ft. Lauderdale to discuss various sources of income. One of them was parking and parking fines.

Ft. Lauderdale takes in about 12 million dollars each year in parking fines. One of the things we wanted to do here was set up a Municipal Parking Facility. The Mayor of Quepos at that time was in favor of the project. But the Mayor that replaced him was not, even though our proposed parking structure would bring in about $100 thousand per year to offset the municipal budget, which is currently running at a deficit.

But who would pay those fees? If the locals are already working at minimum wage, where would the income come from? 

 Bodaan: No, no, it’s not that. Those who have a car can afford 500 colones ($1) to pay for parking. And currently, we have a big problem of congestion in Manuel Antonio.

The plan is to build a municipal parking lot in downtown Quepos where the tourists could safely park their cars and then take a shuttle bus that would be paid for by the parking fee – basically to whisk people to Manuel Antonio and back.

That was the plan but it never went anywhere because someone was against it. It seems like a logical solution to a big problem.  The city was short $40 thousand dollars to pay for the project, so the private sector stepped up and offered the municipality to raise the shortfall. But even then nothing was ever done.

 The new Marina will certainly generate tremendous income for Quepos and the canton of Aguirre.  Can you tell us about that project?

Bodaan: Harold Lovelady, from Texas, started the marina project. He retired from the IT industry, and wanted to dock his boat here, because Quepos was once known as the best place to fish in the world, and he brought his boat but there was no place to dock.  He wanted to build a marina for 5 or 6 boats, and the plan took off. That was about 10 years ago. Now it’s a mega project that once finished will offer 306 slips for boats –all different sizes to accommodate sport fishing boats and larger yachts – the type of mega yachts you see in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s about a third of the way done now. It’s been taken over by a Costa Rica/Nicaragua conglomerate that took the ball and is running with it, so there is no longer any financial interest from the United States.

They are building this beautiful marina which will help me, as president of the chamber, achieve my goal, which is to double the per-capita income within the next 5-7 years

That seems awfully ambitious, is that possible in such a short time?

 Bodaan: It’s already happening. Costa Rica is one of the most advanced economic areas of the region. The per-capita income is increasing due to the I.T. Industry, Free Trade Zones, On Line Gambling Centers and number of Foreign Call Centers that keep expanding around San Jose.

Yes, you mentioned that Amazon and American Express are here. What   other companies are based here?

 Bodaan: Citibank is here, and Intel, which has almost 5 thousand employees. And the largest export product of Costa Rica, which no one ever guesses, is microchips, which is a two billion -dollar industry. This is helping Costa Rica tremendously.

In addition, I believe President Laura Chinchilla is doing a wonderful job for the country. Last year alone she attracted more than 2.1 Billion dollars of foreign investments to the country. You know she just came back from China, and she just secured more funds. On top of the 65 million dollars received for the National Stadium, she secured another 25 million for the National Police Academy. That is in addition to the nine million dollar donation for discretionary spending. So slowly but surely, the US influence here is waning, and the Chinese are basically taking their place.

How do you feel about that? Is the China influence a good thing for Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Well, it’s not for the United States. But in world politics and concerning the global economy I believe it’s good. You know, it will make it a more balanced playing field.

What do feel is the greatest obstacle, or challenge Costa Rica faces in these times of global economic stress?

Bodaan: Once again, my biggest fear is that Costa Rica follows the example of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, where the divide between rich and poor is becoming bigger and bigger which has caused unrest amongst the masses resulting in changes in government and anti-Americanism. Last week in the Tico Times, there was an article about something I’ve been talking about for years: The top 20 % of Costa Ricans earn almost as much as the per-capita income of the United States. The top 20% of Costa Ricans earn close to $45 thousand per year, whereas the average income in the United States is $48 thousand.

Now, on the other hand, the bottom 20% earns less than $400, so there is an incredible difference, which is problematic. Therefore, my goal as president of the Chamber is to level that, whereby every middle class Costa Rican can afford his or her own house, his or her own car, just like the US.

Are these goals shared by people with money in Costa Rica?

Bodaan: Unfortunately, a lot of people who own those big expensive houses don’t give a damn about the local economy, so they don’t participate in anything and they don’t contribute to the tax base.  A lot of these funds are paid off shore, so a lot of the money never makes it to Costa Rica.  I’m not asking for much, just for some money to help the school, to help the kids, to help the educational system.  But somehow, there seems to be a considerable number of ex-pats who leave the United States and leave behind their social responsibility.

Sadly, this is the problem we are facing. You can’t blame kids for wanting an iPhone, jeans or sneakers. But the parents cannot provide that, so what you see is a large percentage of high school dropouts. The kids get into drugs or prostitution to get what their counterpart gets in the United States.

For this reason, my advice for American families is to take their kids to Costa Rica. If you have nagging children, come on down and see what kids have here. What little they have to enjoy their life with. And yet, Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries in the world.

 

In Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, an Unusual Blend of Philanthropy and Luxury Raises the Bar in Paradise

Situated atop the rainforest canopy with a 360 degree view of the Pacific ocean, the five star boutique hotel “La Mansion Inn” is not your average luxury retreat, thanks to its owner Harry Bodaan, whose motto is: “Come as a Guest, Leave as a Friend.”

This spectacular hotel is located a few kilometers from the entrance to the national park of Manuel Antonio. One of 20 national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio gained additional notoriety this year when Forbes Magazine placed it among the “top 12 most beautiful national parks in the world.”

With sophisticated charm, the 23 room La Mansion Inn features a fully appointed Presidential Suite, four penthouses, junior suites and

deluxe rooms elegantly equipped with all the amenities one could wish for in this jungle paradise.

Each residence offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the rainforest with double sliding doors that open to a private balcony. On the rooftop, the Sky Lounge sits like a cloud above the ocean, where guests can lounge in the pool while sitting on underwater stools at an elegant canopied b


But there is much more to the La Mansion Inn than meets the eye, much more than the first class service, the contemporary 
ar, or relax in the hot tub that mimics an infinity pool.

architecture and surrounding beauty of the rainforest and warm ocean breezes. There is a humanitarian element, and deep sincere caring on the part of the owner – Harry Bodaan – and the staff that supports this distinguished hotel.

Thanks to Bodaan’s philanthropic efforts, the hotel sets a standard of community service that is exemplary, and many employees participate in non-profit activities. Bodaan himself is responsible for organizing the Traveler’s Aid Program, designed to assist local visitors in distress; anyone victimized by crime or hardship. 

“I initiated the Traveler’s Aid Program whereby any tourist who is robbed and left with nothing can come to La Mansion Inn and we will put them up for free,” says Bodaan.

 

“We help these people by giving them access to computers and telephones, so they can contact their families and their banks to cancel credit cards and important documents. We even give them money for bus tickets and such, whatever they might need,” Bodaan adds.

Truly, this good-hearted service from a five star deluxe hotel seems above and beyond the call of duty. But for Bodaan, it is fundamental to one’s social responsibility, and it appears he has a life-spring of empathy for humanity exemplified by the emotion he expresses when describing his innate desire to help people in need.cess to computers and telephones, so they can contact their families and their banks to cancel credit cards and important documents. We even give them money for bus tickets and such, whatever they might need,” Bodaan adds.

“I believe we are all here to help people. That’s what we are supposed to do in our lives, to make things better,” Bodaan states with dignified compassion.

The program Bodaan designed is paid for by donations from the guests who visit La Mansion Inn. On a strictly voluntary basis, a dollar–per–day gift to the Traveler’s Aid Fund is proposed to guests. “If a visitor stays five days, that’s a five dollar donation which is not much, and most people are happy to give.” Over the course of a year, the fund has potential to grow significantly.  But according to Bodaan, crime has dropped  in recent years, thanks in part to efforts from the local municipality of Quepos, the capital of the province of Aguirre, situated on the southern Pacific coast just a few miles from La Mansion Inn.

 Bodaan, who is active in local politics, is proud of the recent accomplishments regarding public safety: “I’m happy to say the crime rate is at its lowest level in ten years.”

When the funds from the Traveler’s Aid Program are not accessed, the money is distributed to other local social organizations and non-profits that need assistance.

“There are many other programs we support: Kids Saving the Rainforest, and the local schools. We help provide computers for the classrooms; we raise funds for the Mono Titi Alliance, which helps save the squirrel monkeys…”

And the list goes on, and on.

“The Traveler’s Aid Program pays for itself,” Bodaan explains. “The problem is that we currently have only about five or six hotels that participate in the program. Can you imagine how much revenue could be raised if all 87 hotels [that are in the area] participated, and the benefits that would bring to the community?”

Bodaan, originally from Holland, built La Mansion Inn following an illustrious career in the hospitality industry that began a few decades ago when he was general manager of food and beverage for Hilton Hotels after immigrating to Washington DC from Europe. Later, as director of the NationalPress Club, Washington DC, he met “world leaders, prime ministers, kings and queens,” managing as many as ten thousand visitors per week. After 12 years in that arena, Bodaan was recruited by the former Soviet Union to open the first International Press Club in Moscow, modeled after the Press Club in Washington DC, a position Bodaan held for three years.

It was a long and circuitous route that eventually led Bodaan to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, where his intention was to retire.

“It’s ridiculous, because I came here to slow down, but I’ve never worked so hard in all my life.”

In addition to the Traveler’s Aid Program, Bodaan has taken his staff under his proverbial wing building strong relationships while mentoring those with ambition. He has taken his employees to Europe and to the United States “to help familiarize them with the world.” He encourages his ‘professional family’ to become involved in outside projects to benefit their community, and volunteer for social causes.

Bodaan – who also serves as President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Quepos and Chairman of Sister Cities International Quepos – seems to personify the humanitarian spirit. It is this extra element of community service and sincere compassion for humanity, coupled with five-star elegance and sophisticated style that separates La Mansion Inn from any other first class property in the paradise known as Manuel Antonio.

“It’s all about building relationships, and bringing people together. Like I said, our motto is: Come as a Guest, Leave as a Friend.”

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