Más que Palabras: Experiencing Small Businesses in Atenas

Courtesy: David J Roman

By, David J Roman

In last week’s issue of DasTor, I shared about small businesses in Antigua Guatemala I observed while on my 2-month, 10-country expedition through Latin America. This edition will feature businesses of Atenas, Costa Rica. After 34 days and more than 5,000 miles on the road, I had revved my motorcycle for the last time, passing a wrought iron security gate that swung aside to reveal a steep, plant-lined driveway. Perched with a panoramic view of the valleys below, my host’s hilltop home became a place of reflection, learning, and trade.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

Paul Furlong is a die-hard adventure rider. A processional racer in years gone by, Paul has taken up an expat’s life with his wife and daughter in the scenic Mercedes barrio of Atenas, Costa Rica. He married a Tica (woman from Costa Rica) he met while riding through Central America with fellow adventurers. Since then Paul has earned a living giving motorcycle tours from Texas to his home country, teaching defensive pistol craft, and installing large, energy-efficient appliances.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

I found Mr. Furlong via his Moto Tours Central America website while planning for my own moto tour because I wanted to research the sale of vehicles in Central America. I soon found myself showered with great tips, contacts, and potential buyers for my bike. Not only that, but Paul offered to let me stay at his house until the transaction could be completed. It was in the context of such overwhelming hospitality that I shut down that 250CC motor for the last time, walking to the door determined to repay the Furlong family’s kindness.

Fortunately, I found ways to help and learn in the process. Paul and I developed a good cadence of philosophical discussion, administrative support, preparation for the moto sale, and fellowship with family and friends. We would reflect on past adventures and current viewpoints as I helped remove technology roadblocks he faced (computer, website, gate antennae, etc.). He recently started a large energy-efficient appliance distribution and installation business, and during my stay we investigated a residential area that had high potential for new clients.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

The experience I had with Paul Furlong’s ventures and other businesses of Atenas unlocked additional travel opportunities and enriched my understanding of the local motor vehicle market. Costa Rica imposes substantial import taxes, which causes vehicles and parts to be very expensive. On the other hand, labor costs are relatively low. A local mechanic helped us locate the materials and tools we needed to re-wrap my Yamaha’s stator which had had failed in El Salvador. Though the materials need for the job were just as expensive as those available in the United States, the total bill was just over 40K Colones (around $80 USD at the time), a fraction of what such work would cost States-side.

After cleaning, repairing, and tuning the bike, we called an abogado (lawyer) Paul already knew. He declined to conduct the sale because he was unsure of the entire process and regulation governing such   transactions. Thankfully, the 3 gentlemen who came to buy the moto knew an abogado that knew the relevant law. We drove in their truck to his office downtown then carried out the sale without issue and in full compliance with Costa Rica’s standards.

My long-term assets account reduced and cash on hand increased, I met with my friend Isaiah McCoy, a world-class CPA from Miami who was in Alajuela to visit his fiancé and her family. Their friends invited me to join them for a comedy event at their church, and we had a wonderful time discussing the acts over tacos and jugos de tamarindo from what we jokingly called Tico Bell. I look forward to returning there in November to attend Isaiah’s wedding.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

The abundant hospitality I received from friends and strangers alike was amazing. An understanding dawned on me, perhaps described best with words written by Henri J. M. Nouwen: “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

It causes me to wonder: if I perceive unnecessary borders or find myself dissatisfied with apparent injustice, what have I to do but set to work all the more dutifully at the truly free trade of kindness, unfiltered by short-term economic expectation or social motivation? Such industry at large would surely realize William Schurz’s visionary words which form a cornerstone quote for us at Thunderbird.

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