Costa Rica was ready to explode in nationwide outrage when New Zealand scored a tying goal after an uncalled foul in last week’s World Cup soccer cliffhanger in Qatar.
Fortunately, the refs reviewed the play, in which New Zealand’s Matthew Garbet wrapped his arm around Oscar Duarte’s leg like a boa constrictor — a foul you could spot from the nosebleed seats. The goal was annulled and the score remained 1-0 Costa Rica to the final whistle, giving Ticolandia the final open berth in the World Cup and plunging a nation into ecstasy.
My Tica girlfriend came running out of the bedroom, dancing and hugging and shrieking, “We’re going to the Copa Mundial!” And she is not normally a soccer fan.
The Costa Rican constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion, but judging from the fervor of the faithful, there’s a strong argument to be made that the national religion here is really fútbol.
I went to the bank at noon that Tuesday and the guard told me the bank was closed until 2 p.m. — because of the game! Surely it would be a violation of human rights to force bank clerks to work while a nation’s hopes and prayers hinge on a 90-minute game being played 8,500 miles away.
The bank eventually reopened, but hours later, Costa Rican TV was still airing live video of Ticos celebrating in the streets, in the bars and even in Qatar. You have to understand that in this country soccer is not just a game, it’s a national obsession.
Costa Rica’s World Cup history
As luck would have it, Costa Rica will face Spain, Japan and (yikes) Germany in the first round of play in Group E. Germany has won four World Cup titles — a second-place tie with Italy that is topped only by Brazil, which has won five.
The Ticos have never won, though they shocked the world in 2014 when they faced world champions Italy, England and Uruguay — the so-called “Group of Death” — in the first round of play. Against all odds, Costa Rica defeated Uruguay 3-1 and Italy 1-0, with a 0-0 draw against England. But the Ticos eventually lost to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
The FIFA World Cup is held every four years, and in 2018 Costa Rica also qualified for the big rumpus in Russia. Unfortunately, Team Tico was eliminated early by Serbia, 1-0, and by Brazil, 2-0.
But hope springs eternal. Costa Rica has long had the best team in Central America, backed by Keylor Navas, one of the best goalies in the game. After a stellar run with Real Madrid from 2014 to 2018, Navas now plays for Paris Saint-Germaine. Some lists place this native of Pérez Zeledón among the greatest goaltenders of all time.
Left-footed midfielder Bryan Ruiz is no slouch either. The captain of “La Sele,” aka “los Ticos,” currently plays for home team Alajualense, known as “La Liga.” Despite a few setbacks, including a broken foot in 2012, he remains among Costa Rica’s most reliable scorers. (He also had a hilarious cameo in the breakout Costa Rican comedy film “Maykol Yordan de viaje perdido.”)
Joel Campbell, born in San José of Jamaican descent, is a dangerous forward for the Costa Rican team. He has played in over 110 international matches, and he scored the winning goal against New Zealand on June 14 after just three minutes because he doesn’t like to waste time.
Celso Borges, born in San José to a Brazilian soccer dad, is also one to watch. He has scored 27 goals in 153 international caps.
Soccer for non-fans
If you’re reading this in English, and you’re not from Manchester or Liverpool, you might be from the U.S. or Canada, a fan of American football, baseball, basketball, hockey or even curling. And there’s nothing wrong with that. (But O! Canada has qualified for this World Cup for the first time in 36 years.)
Yet if aliens from space landed on Earth and wanted to challenge earthlings to a match in our biggest sport, we would have to teach them to play a game where they cannot use their hands, tentacles or anything but their feet. It’s easy to forget in a sports bar in the U.S. that soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world.
In 1970, when I was 7, my family moved to Durango, Mexico, and I noticed that our black-and-white TV often showed nothing but soccer matches. I couldn’t understand the announcer’s breathless interest in such a low-scoring game. But I soon learned that I would have to play soccer during recess at school every day, or else I would become a total pariah.
Soccer (universally known as “football” outside the U.S. and Canada) has been called “the beautiful game.”
The rules are pretty simple — each team tries to kick an inflated ball into the opponent’s net, where only the goalie can use his (or her) hands. Yet it’s typically a very low-scoring game, and the acrobatics needed to find the back of the net can indeed be a thing of beauty.
A game that anyone can play
This game can be played by urchins on the streets of any barrio, even with a ball made of wadded-up paper and tape. This game is the great equalizer among sports because any kid can play it with no equipment and no training.
The Brazilian great Pelé, whose 1,279 goals in 1,363 games (including friendlies) remain a world record, grew up in poverty. Since he couldn’t afford a soccer ball, he made one by stuffing newspaper into a sock, or else he played with a grapefruit!
Four years ago, in the run-up to the last World Cup, I met two diehard fútbol fanatics known for painting their faces and bodies in the red, white and blue of the Tico flag.
Juan Carlos Ruiz and Manfred Robert, both of Playas del Coco, go to all the World Cups where Costa Rica qualifies. Juan Carlos said he learned body-painting from a man who paints naked women. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he posed for a photo with Nobel Peace Prize-winning former President Oscar Arias, and got paint on his elegant jacket.
“The experience of a World Cup is … it’s better than the Olympics,” Manfred told me. “It’s like going to the Super Bowl, but every day for a month.”
Clear your schedule now
The Ticos will face Spain on Nov. 23, Japan on Nov. 27 and Germany on Dec. 1. And I’m going to make a prediction right now: These are not good days to go to the bank.
Special Places is located within the beautiful coastal resort town of Flamingo, in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With over 15 years of service dedicated to the rental and property management profession, we have an extensive list of rentals in the Flamingo, Potrero, Brasilito and Tamarindo Beach area. Whether looking to plan your next tropical vacation or searching for someone to manage your home, our goal is to provide our clients with the most efficient and personable service in the area.
** In accordance with public health recommendations, Special Places continues to work hard to keep our guests safe. These protocols include enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures for all properties under management **
We are very proud of our professional maid service staff, who provide regular cleaning for some 150 properties — and do it with a smile. A half-dozen maids provide full-time service at a single house, but all the rest rotate among a wide variety of properties from Matapalo to Playa del Coco.
Maids are responsible not just for cleaning but for staging the house, with everything in its proper place, and keeping track of inventory (so that, for example, new clients don’t check in and find there’s no toilet paper). At times, say on Jan. 2, there are so many checkouts and check-ins that the maids bring their sisters, brothers and mothers to get all the work done.
Full-time maids assigned to a single property assist clients with shopping, cooking and laundry, and they often form close bonds with clients. It’s no surprise that our clients often want to take their maids home with them.
Special Places of Costa Rica employs two full-time maintenance men who service all our properties, plus a handful of caretakers dedicated to a single property each.
These men will fix just about any problem that arises — leaks, electrical and plumbing issues, a door that scrapes on a floor, a noisy ceiling fan… you name it. They also paint homes and provide roofing maintenance.
Our maintenance staff are available 24/7 for emergencies like a burst pipe that causes a flood. Special Places of Costa Rica also enjoys a network of qualified subcontractors to handle swimming pool service, gardening / landscaping and repairs to air conditioning units & kitchen appliances.
Steven, from Potrero, is a rental agent for Special Places. He processes rental inquiries, checks on property availability, makes reservations and helps with check-in and check-out info.
Steven has worked at three hotels: as a bellman at Casa Chameleon in Las Catalinas, as a receptionist in the Sugar Beach Hotel near there, and as a receptionist at Jardín del Edén in Tamarindo. He has a bachelor’s degree in teaching English from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz, and someday he hopes to teach English at his old high school in Cartagena.
Steven likes to ride his Kawasaki 250 dirt bike in the Potrero Hills, around Las Catalinas and in Tempate. He’s also interested in cars and mechanics, and he’s skilled at repairing motorcycles.
Quote: “I think work is a very important tool that helps us to fulfill ourselves as human beings in life and to improve on what we already know.”
Born in Samar Province in the Philippines, Phem has a two-year degree in computer science from the Asian Institute of Computer Studies. She came to Costa Rica at age 19 to work for her aunt, who owned the Mariner Inn in Flamingo. She later worked for House of Rentals, then Special Places of Costa Rica when the companies merged. As a concierge, she books tours, rental cars, chefs or whatever clients need to make their stay enjoyable. “Whatever they request, you do it,” she said.
She enjoys “having a connection to people, meeting different people, helping people.” Her proudest accomplishment was moving from the Philippines to Costa Rica to explore better opportunities. She recommends that visitors to Flamingo try an ATV tour, a catamaran cruise, rappelling or whitewater rafting.
Quote: “I love Potrero. I live in Surfside. It’s quiet, safe, and people there are very accommodating, nice, friendly, always willing to help you. They’re open to anyone. I like that community. And the bars are within walking distance.”
Pascale, Kenny’s mother and business partner, is the head accountant at Special Places. She is responsible for all the accounting, billing and taxes, managing the maid service, setting work schedules and procuring cleaning products.
Pascale is from Antwerp, Belgium, where she and her husband had a food-service business specializing in poultry. But they often traveled to the Caribbean and Central America, and in 2009 decided to move to Costa Rica.
“We thought it was time to follow some dreams, so we sold the business and came to Costa Rica,” she said. They traveled to every corner of the country, but they fell in love with Guanacaste and decided to settle in Flamingo. They couldn’t find a house that satisfied Pascale’s handyman husband, so they built their own on the hills above Potrero in Pacific Heights.
She says her proudest accomplishment is “bringing two beautiful sons into the world.”
Quote: “The way we raised them, they were very independent. We taught them to work also. Of course, school came first. To us it’s white and black, and the gray doesn’t exist. It’s good or bad.”
Norlyng coordinates the maintenance of all Special Places properties, and she’s also in charge of Human Relations and is an assistant to Kenny Segers.
Born in Limón but a longtime resident of Matapalo, she previously worked as a receptionist at the Best Western Seis Playas Hotel. She also spent six years at the Wyndham Tamarindo, working as head of reception and as an administrative assistant.
Norlyng studied law for a year and a half at the University of Costa Rica in Liberia, but currently she is more focused on tourism. She is married and has two daughters, ages 9 and 2. Her interests include reading (the Bible, inspirational works and finance) and going to relaxing places.
Quote: “My philosophy of life is to live in the present and try not to worry about the future, to have clear objectives, to try not to stress too much and to act in the present.”
A native of Brasilito, Karolayn has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz. She is responsible for the billing, accounting and filing at Special Places.
She enjoys hiking and swimming, and her favorite local places are Playa Danta and Playa Conchal. Asked what activity she would recommend to visitors, she said riding a Banana Boat, an inflatable, banana-shaped boat towed behind a speedboat.
Quote: “The working environment here is very nice, very tranquilo. We get along really well, the management, the coworkers, and also the maids and maintenance people. Also, in my job I’ve learned a lot of things that in university classes they don’t teach. It gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.”
A native of Antwerp, Belgium, Kenny emigrated to Costa Rica in 2008. Having graduated from high school in Belgium, he studied economics and business administration in Costa Rica. Eager to go into business, Kenny left university to work as a property manager for House of Rentals in Flamingo, which he acquired not long after starting the job. House of Rentals grew into Special Places of Costa Rica, currently represented by offices in Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco, and known as one of the leading agencies in the area.
Kenny speaks and writes fluent Spanish, English and Dutch. He is the proud father of a Costa Rican son, Khael, who was born in 2016.
Passionate about his growing vacation rental and management business, Kenny is always looking for investments and opportunities. Hotel Pitaya Lodge (formerly Kakaos Lodge) is also under his management.
In 2020, he began building the first of several homes as part of a newly launched project development/construction company.
Juan Carlos works as a rental agent, attending to any questions about renting a property, explaining the options available, answering any questions and supporting the concierge team in extra services like tours or transport.
Juan Carlos was born in San José and currently lives in Potrero. He has worked for some 15 years in sales or customer service at hotels, including the Hotel Barceló in San José, the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio and the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara.
He also studied English at the Instituto Norteamericano in San José, earning a C2 certification in English. He has also taken several courses in administration.
Juan Carlos likes walking on the beach (“so I’m definitely in the right place”) with his French bulldog. “They’re very mischievous but very sweet, very good company.”
Quote: “I always say, ‘It costs nothing to smile.’ I always like to convey that people should be happy no matter what.”
Juan Diego, who was born and raised in Villarreal, works as a concierge. That means he helps visitors arrange tours and transportation, rental cars, airport pickup and dropoff, and other services.
Juan Diego studied sustainable tourism management at UNED, the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 2013. He has worked as an admin for the Dream Chaser catamaran in Tamarindo, as a receptionist at the Hotel Pasatiempo in Tamarindo, and as a concierge at the Hotel Dreams Las Mareas in El Jobo.
Juan Diego enjoys watching HBO series and movies, riding his bike, going out with friends and watching the sunset on the beach.
Quote: “I like concierge work because I get to help a lot of people, fulfilling the dreams of tourists who visit a beautiful country like Costa Rica that’s full of nature.”
José does property inspections, check-ins and check-outs for Special Places, making sure that properties are in great shape for new clients.
Born in Limón, he currently lives in Cartagena. He went to high school at Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Santa Cruz, and he spent seven years working as a waiter and bartender at the JW Marriotts in Hacienda Pinilla and Reserva Conchal.
He enjoys going to the beach, listening to music, watching movies and series, playing video games and spending time with family.
Quote: “If you’re afraid of dying, it’s better not to be born.”
A native of Nicoya who lives in Cartagena, Jhon works in accounting at Special Places, calculating reservation contracts, sales commissions and billing. He has been studying accounting at the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz for a year and a half.
His goal is to have an accounting firm of his own. His favorite hobby is artisanal fishing, usually from a boat out of Flamingo, and he once caught a 70-pound mahi-mahi. He also has caught marlin in Tamarindo and Quepos.
His greatest pride is a nearly 2-year-old daughter named Elizabeth Aitana.
Quote: “I think the most marvelous thing that’s happened to me would be the birth of my daughter. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Jason is a concierge and rental specialist with an interesting job — knocking on new clients’ doors to see if they need anything or would like to book any tours or other services.
Born in Limón and currently living in Huacas, Jason speaks flawless English. He has taken some university courses on websites and social media marketing. He is married, no kids, but has a cat named Kirara.
Jason previously worked as a database analyst at Western Union in San José, typically addressing charge-backs on credit cards and resolving other monetary issues.
Jason loves “adrenaline,” muddy offroad adventures, motorcycling, ATV, video games, surfing and skateboarding.
Quote: “You don’t have to be the smartest person to fulfill your dreams, all you need is to put in a little effort and be certain that you will achieve whatever you set your mind to.”
Gabriel joined Special Places as an accounting assistant at the age of 20. He was born in Liberia and currently lives in Filadelfia with his family.
He studied at the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Carrillo, with a specialty in accounting and auditing. He worked previously as an accounting assistant and secretary for a clinic in Palestina de Belén that serves disabled people.
Gabriel enjoys mountain biking, and for the past eight years he has volunteered at the Red Cross in Filadelfia, working mostly in strategic communication.
Quote: “We never have to give up on a dream just because of the time it takes to achieve it.”
Daniela works as an administrative assistant in Human Resources, helping with payroll, health benefits and insurance, as well as onboarding new personnel.
Born in Liberia, she now lives in Villarreal, and she not only has two dogs but also a horse. She adores animals and loves to go horseback riding in the country. She also likes listening to Latin music like cumbia and salsa.
Daniela has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Universidad Libre de Costa Rica (ULICORI). Before coming to Special Places, she worked as an HR assistant at the Occidental Hotel in Tamarindo, where she learned a lot about Human Resources in a real-world environment.
Quote: “Take risks, because everything good starts with a little fear!”
Carla works as an accounting assistant at Special Places and is also involved in property management.
She was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and raised in Ciudad Guayana, where she earned a law and accountant degree and worked as a lawyer and accountant. Since coming to Costa Rica, she has worked as a manicurist, masseuse, bartender, waitress and artist.
A gifted artist and something of a Renaissance woman, Carla also draws and makes earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Her varied interests include dancing, hiking, scuba diving, traveling and discovering new cultures.
Quote: “My motto is ‘I know that I own the weak and fragile body of a woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.’ ”
This property is not managed by Special Places of Costa Rica.
Accordingly, rental rates and availability for this property might not be current. Please submit an inquiry and will be be happy to verify the details and assist you with your booking.