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Hawaii living
Old 01-19-2011, 10:22 PM   #1
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Hawaii living

As my wife and I get older and more and more intolerant of cold weather, we dream more and more of living in Hawaii, or at the very least having a place there to escape to for long periods of time. We were thinking of waiting until I ER'd (5-8 years- 8 years all of our kids will have entered college and we'll have more freedom to travel) or went to part-time (3-4 years) to look for a location, but with real estate the way it is, I'm starting to think we should purchase now in anticipation for the future. Would have to rent it out until we have more time to spend over there, and want low maintenance, lock and leave condo. We have been to Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Oahu, at east twice each, really love all of them for different reasons but think we'd like to look on Oahu. Part of the reason is that I think we would less likely experience island fever if we did, say, spend 4-6 months there at a time. Honolulu is big, crowded, etc... and although we actually enjoy the vibe there, would not want to live in the city. Plus, if, God forbid, I get an inspiration to w*rk in ER I think I could find that opportunity in Honolulu living on Oahu. Don't really want the place to be in a total tourist setting, but would like to be able to rent it out as a short term rental until we are there more than a few weeks a year. Our price range would be 400-600K, prefer close to water but would not rule out upcountry locations with views.... Ideal living would be without need for a car, but I'm not sure that is possible unless in Waikiki/Honolulu. Just looking for thoughts and advice on communities to look at on our next visit within the next 6 months to Oahu, or thoughts about living anywhere in Hawaii in general, coming from the mainland. I know some of the regulars on this board live there now... thanks ahead of time.
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Old 01-20-2011, 06:41 AM   #2
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My wife and I have lived in Hawaii since 1971 and like it very much. However, we've never had a condo, and the areas where we've lived, Kaimuki and Waimanalo, though nice, don't have condos. So I don't think I have any useful information for you. Prospectively, welcome to Hawaii!
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Old 01-20-2011, 02:55 PM   #3
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As my wife and I get older and more and more intolerant of cold weather, we dream more and more of living in Hawaii, or at the very least having a place there to escape to for long periods of time. We were thinking of waiting until I ER'd (5-8 years- 8 years all of our kids will have entered college and we'll have more freedom to travel) or went to part-time (3-4 years) to look for a location, but with real estate the way it is, I'm starting to think we should purchase now in anticipation for the future. Would have to rent it out until we have more time to spend over there, and want low maintenance, lock and leave condo. We have been to Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Oahu, at east twice each, really love all of them for different reasons but think we'd like to look on Oahu. Part of the reason is that I think we would less likely experience island fever if we did, say, spend 4-6 months there at a time. Honolulu is big, crowded, etc... and although we actually enjoy the vibe there, would not want to live in the city. Plus, if, God forbid, I get an inspiration to w*rk in ER I think I could find that opportunity in Honolulu living on Oahu. Don't really want the place to be in a total tourist setting, but would like to be able to rent it out as a short term rental until we are there more than a few weeks a year. Our price range would be 400-600K, prefer close to water but would not rule out upcountry locations with views.... Ideal living would be without need for a car, but I'm not sure that is possible unless in Waikiki/Honolulu. Just looking for thoughts and advice on communities to look at on our next visit within the next 6 months to Oahu, or thoughts about living anywhere in Hawaii in general, coming from the mainland. I know some of the regulars on this board live there now... thanks ahead of time.
I chose Oahu because there is more to do than the outer islands. On the other hand the outer island are less crowded and generally more scenic.
You are correct that Honolulu/Waikiki is the only practical place to live without a car, the bus system in Oahu is quite good you can get anywhere in about twice the time as a car. Not so good on the outer island.

DangerMouse and her husband bought a condo near Waikiki she would be a good resource. Over the years I've toyed with getting a condo, but the experience of my ex girlfriend with owning vacation rental condo's and other have made me gun shy.

Housing and condo prices in Honolulu stabilized last year, my assessment was up .5%. However, while prices appreciated here quite significantly during the boom, they dropped less than warm weather places like AZ, FL, CA, NV. So there are two ways of looking at this either the intrinsic value of real estate in Hawaii is higher than the other warm weather state, or we have further to fall in the event of a second housing correction.

Feel free to shoot me a PM, when you come to Oahu, I'd be happy to give you the perspective of retired mainland transplant.
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Old 01-20-2011, 03:40 PM   #4
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You are correct that Honolulu/Waikiki is the only practical place to live without a car, the bus system in Oahu is quite good you can get anywhere in about twice the time as a car.
Just a technical note: "Honolulu" can refer to "the City and County of Honolulu", which is the entire island of Oahu, or the Post Office destination Honolulu, or the much smaller downtown area of Honolulu. Waikiki is within Honolulu in the first two senses.
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Old 01-20-2011, 03:50 PM   #5
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As I recall Nords posted a lengthy post or two about living and visiting Hawaii that was very informative:

here is one such thread

Retire to Hawaii
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Old 01-20-2011, 03:54 PM   #6
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As I recall Nords posted a lengthy post about living and visiting Hawaii that was very informative.
(FAQ archive) E komo mai Hawaii!
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Old 01-20-2011, 11:39 PM   #7
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Have you looked at Hilo on the Big Island? There is less of everything compared to Oahu, but there may be enough there for your purposes. It is a big town instead of a city. I like the downtown area with its mom and pop eateries, one almost full sized grocery store, plenty of condos, and good bus service to the outlying mall that has a WalMart, Sears, and Home Depot. As the county seat and with a university branch and a community college, there is some economic activity that isn't tourism based. Be aware of mold problems in unattended rooms if you are planning to snowbird. The rain numbers worried me until I found out how warm the rain is. Being wet is not cold there, that is why umbrellas are not common. If you have a car, you can choose your year round climate including temperature (by elevation) and precipitation (wet to dry since the rain that hits the huge mountain comes from the same direction 10 months of the year).
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Old 01-21-2011, 12:53 AM   #8
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I was in escrow last yr on 2 different vacation properties on the Big Island but eventually walked away from each. I have a couple comments to make on part-time ownership on the Islands: First, I would point out that the cost of maintenance for a non-HOA house in Hawaii will be higher for various simple reasons such as the damage from salt air, need for someone to properly monitor property when you're not there, difficulty in supervising people who work on the house (gardeners, etc.), and so forth. Secondly, as for condos in nice developments near the good beaches, like yourself, I was attracted by the property prices that the market took them down to but what I ultimately could not get over on the condo that I walked away from was that the HOAs in the "nice" developments are currently extremely high and probably in danger of needing to be increased henceforth due to the inundation of REOs and foreclosures. In financial terms, the economic cost of the condo HOA that I walked from was slightly greater than half the nominal cost of the condo itself - I felt that my condo was a steal at $500k but the $1500/mo HOA made the PV cost of the condo closer to approx $750k which sobered me quickly from that perspective.
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Old 01-21-2011, 01:49 AM   #9
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Moderately off-topic, so I'll keep it short: Have you considered the San Francisco bay area? It's geographically convenient---not in the middle of a big ocean The climate is Mediterranean; hot and very dry summers, mild winters (nightly freeze a few days per year) with 2-3 weeks of rain, year round light winds. You can choose your preferred temperature range simply by moving in increments of 20 miles further towards or away from the coast which will decrease or increase the temperature by 10F for almost any given day.
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Old 01-21-2011, 09:15 AM   #10
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Thanks for all the input so far-- lots of food for thought. Jacob, we've lived in the San Francisco area, so it is not as exotic... or tropical for us. Also, I want to be a better surfer and the California water is just too cold for me!
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Old 01-21-2011, 01:14 PM   #11
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We did buy a condo in the Diamond Head area last year with the plan we will move into it in the near future. It is currently rented. You sound like you have similar thoughts to what we had with regards to requirements. However, once you start looking you will realise how horrendous some of these properties are. If your intention is to rent on a casual basis and live there occasionally you will be shut out of some properties. Personally we did not want to buy in a property that allowed short term rentals because the wear and tear and care factor changes considerably. Also these places are more likely to have foreclosure and HOA fee issues.

We only considered Honolulu because I think it would start to drive me nuts the slower pace on the other islands. Also I don't like to be held to ransom by inter island fares. They aren't bad at the moment but who knows how bad they will be in 10 years.

For us we wanted to be able to walk to the beach, walk to decent coffee shops and restaurants, we did not want to be on the main strip of Waikiki. We wanted 2 bedrooms and parking. We did not want to pay $800 a month in HOA fees. We wanted our own washer and dryer. I probably looked at every complex between Downtown and the Gold Coast.
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Old 01-22-2011, 01:06 PM   #12
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I hear you on the cold weather, but is that your primary criteria? The reason I ask is that spouse and I moved here somewhat reluctantly but then came to love living here. When we returned to the Mainland (military transfer) we expected to "get over Hawaii" within a few years but every time we returned here it felt like coming home. In addition to the weather we love the multicultural society, the beach lifestyle, and the easier access to Asian travel.

However many people move here for the weather and immediately encounter other obstacles: insularity against short-timers & snowbirds, lack of familiar Mainland cultures, lack of seasons, lack of access to impromptu "pick up and go" travel, five-hour flights to the Mainland, language/culture barriers, expensive Mainland foods, and even loneliness. Some object to "strange foods" or $4/gal milk. Living in close proximity to critters has been a problem for others. Vog, hurricanes, and earthquake are also unpleasant surprises. Rock fever is endemic among military here (although perhaps just as many others love the lifestyle) and many eventually decide that there are other Mainland locations with adequate weather. Even retirees here struggle with caring for aging Mainland family or wanting to be closer to their (Mainland) grandkids. If you're "commuting" to the Mainland even 3-4x/year, those five-hour flights get old in a hurry.

In other words you'd hate to move here, buy a place, and then spend the next couple years realizing that it's been a mistake.

Of course if you're a diehard surfer then never mind! None of that other lifestyle stuff matters because you'll be spending most of your time on the beach and in the water. Just figure out your favorite breaks and then pick any property within a 30-minute drive.

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... but with real estate the way it is, I'm starting to think we should purchase now in anticipation for the future.
I'm not sure there's any rush. In the next 5-8 years you could still find a bargain. Over the last two decades our rental home has appreciated at almost exactly the rate of inflation. However that started at $277K (1989), zoomed to $425K in one year, then spent the next decade cratering to about, oh, $277K in 2000, spent the last decade getting up to $600K, and has since retrenched to about $550K. I wouldn't be surprised by flat values for another five years. A better bet would be to find 2-3 areas where you'd like to live and then buy a place that's been neglected/abused and is selling well below market.

The problem is that your current location renders you essentially clueless about the details of the Hawaii real estate market. You could spend a lot of time on the web to get more info but you'd still need to spend a few hours at open houses. You could work with a realtor, but they've seen a bezillion Mainland customers and know exactly how to put you through the high-pressure sales meatgrinder. They'd whip you into a frenzy of artificial urgency and you'd overpay. You should consult DangerMouse about her run with realtors before her memory of the experience fades to a warm hazy glow... and overall she had a pretty good experience.

So you might want to casually keep an eye out for areas where you wouldn't mind living, and then rent for a year or three. During that time you could get to know the neighborhoods, visit a few open houses every month, get to know the realtors, and eventually swoop down on a bargain.

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... and want low maintenance, lock and leave condo.
... but think we'd like to look on Oahu.
... would not want to live in the city.
Don't really want the place to be in a total tourist setting
Our price range would be 400-600K, prefer close to water but would not rule out upcountry locations with views....
Ideal living would be without need for a car, but I'm not sure that is possible unless in Waikiki/Honolulu.
Well, you've certainly narrowed down the options. Unfortunately you may end up having to make compromises.

If you want to be "near" but not "in" Honolulu then you're looking at pretty expensive stuff around the periphery-- Kahala, Diamond Head, Hawaii Kai, Manoa. Farther west toward Kaimuki has good neighborhoods among the "other", but you'd be looking mostly at high-rise living. You could do a lot with Da Bus but you'd still want a car to haul your longboard to the break.

If Honolulu is important but you don't mind commuting then you could try the Pearl Harbor area: Red Hill, Foster's Village, Aiea Heights, Salt Lake. Condos vary dramatically in price but are especially thick on the ground around Aiea/Kaahumanu Ave, Pearl Loop, and Salt Lake. You'd go into town for surf (Ala Moana) or out toward Ewa.

If you don't need to be tied to Honolulu then you have more options. Kapolei, Ewa Beach, & Makakilo have more condos/townhomes and the south shore surfing is excellent (White Plains Beach at Kalealoa). There are cheap/decent condos in Makaha, which also has excellent surf of course, but there's a strong locals-only vibe on the breaks there and kooks would be actively persecuted. You'd find cheaper real estate but not so many choices, and the HOA fees could still easily be $500/month.

Another semi-urban option would be Kailua. It ain't cheap and it doesn't have as many good surf breaks but it's big for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and windsurfing/kitesurfing. But if you're going to live up there then you definitely don't want to be tied to Honolulu.

If you don't mind being a good 60-90 minutes outside of Honolulu then you could look at the Haleiwa area of the North Shore. You'd be able to buy a condo or home (for big bucks) and rent it out at ridiculously high prices during the winter surf season. The problem is that you might want to actually be living there during the winter surf season.

If you haven't already then I strongly recommend that you sign up on HawaiiThreads.com and re-post your questions there. You'll get a whole new set of answers (some of which will overlap this thread's answers). Read about others there who've tried to move to Hawaii, and you also may discover a few obstacles that you hadn't thought of. While you're at it, start reading the Star-Advertiser and look at their real-estate articles.

In conclusion, I think your best option is to spend your visits here learning the neighborhoods and going to Sunday-afternoon open houses. Don't engage with a realtor, just familiarize yourselves with the local areas and the real-estate standards. When you move here you should rent for a year or two in your chosen area to see if you're acculturating while you're keeping an eye out for bargains. By then you might not even need/want a realtor.

I recommend Franko's Maps for figuring out the names/locations of the surf breaks. This guide is focused on surfing but they offer other guides for diving and for general Oahu activities.
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Old 01-25-2011, 02:38 PM   #13
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Sorry to come so late to the party. My "story" sounds like what you are proposing. DW and I bought our place in early 80's and rented it out until we moved in 2007. We chose Oahu for most of the reasons you and others have suggested. I loved visiting the Big Island, Maui and Kawaii, but couldn't imagine living on any of them for more than a few weeks. I'd definitely get rock fever, even though Hawaii and Maui are larger than Oahu.

We never had any problem keeping our place rented out, but it's not a money maker when you do it long distance. You'll pay 4.5+% of the gross to the State and 10% to a rental agent (State law requires a rental agent for those living out of State). So, at best, we looked at our situation as "place holding". i.e., we knew what our entry fee was at the time of purchase and if we did decide to move from the original place at some point (we did do that, by the way) the place we bought would grow in value and allow us to "trade" for what we really wanted. That too is pretty much exactly what happened.

Regarding living expenses. Compared to where we lived on the mainland, prices are easily 30 to 50% higher. Last time we stayed on the mainland for a couple of months, we were paying $1.79 for milk. Here, at Costco, I think we paid $4.31 (plus tax!!). So, yes, it can be very expensive.

The main "trick" about living in Hawaii is deciding that you really want to do it and that you are willing to pay whatever "price" to do so. We have two cars, but we could ditch them both and use THE BUS and save literally thousands of dollars per year. At this point, we don't feel that we need to do so, but it is one of our financial back-up plans. There are many more "tricks", but suffice to say, you have to be very flexible (e.g., buy frozen or dried blueberries instead of fresh).

Nords probably said it best about moving here for the weather. The weather, for the most part, is wonderful, but YOU are still you. Whatever issues and baggage you have will always be with you. So, if you don't adapt well, Hawaii may not be ideal. We are only now feeling "at home" after 3 years. Financially, I'm very adaptable, but the culture and overall pace of life here (oh, and the insane traffic "system") can be a challenge to some. The best advice I've heard is to assume you are moving to a "foreign" nation - because, in reality, that is what you are doing.

One thing you might notice upon moving here is that while most people are very friendly in a superficial way, you may not be immediately accepted as a "friend" or even regular social "contact" by the people who live here. They have been burned too many times by making friends who eventually can't live in Hawaii any more (military transfers, rock fever, financial failure, etc.). So you may feel a bit isolated at first. Probably the best approach is to join social groups such as clubs or a church. These offer a better opportunity to form bonds with local people since they are partially based on more than simple one-on-one relationships. We have felt very accepted within our social networks, but have not bonded well with neighbors (no problems, mind you, just not much bonding).

To your specific questions, I'll add my $.02 worth. In your price range, a condo may be the best fit. You can leave the maintenance (outside) to others and rent out the property without worrying too much whether your renters will keep the yard nice or not. Our first place was a town house in a complex that included all external maintenance from grounds to roofs. Our current condo is high rise and has a spectacular Pacific view. Both places are in your price range but are small (1100 sf currently, 1300 sf previously). Both excellent neighborhoods. So, it can be done. To get a single family dwelling, you either face an older neighborhood with the maintenance issues or a new place far removed from the hub of Honolulu.

Before we moved in 2007, we did sort of a trial run and rented a place for 5 weeks and "pretended" we lived here. We found grocery stores, a church, eating places, etc. We saw what prices were, checked on cars/insurance, appliances, THE BUS, etc. I strongly recommend you spend a similar stretch to explore Oahu and see where you might like (where you might fit in) and what your life might be like if you lived here. NOT making it here can be an expensive and depressing experience.

I would NOT count on finding a j*b here if you need one to survive. While our j*b market is better than many, full time is nearly impossible to find because of State mandated benefits. Most small businesses can't afford to pay $9/hour AND benefits. The "real" j*bs go to local people - it's not prejudice (as such) nor a cultural thing (for the most part) - it's simply that YOU may not be here for long and full-time empl*yment will go to folks who are going to stay put!! The rest of us - if we need or want a j*b - get the part-time, crappy hours that fill in for others. Just the way it is.

You might read a couple of books (my favorite, well-worn book is Toni Polancy's SO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN HAWAII.) She gets into the cultural issues (without prejudice) as well as the financial issues. I learned a lot.

Best luck with this big decision, lightspeed.
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Old 01-25-2011, 03:00 PM   #14
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We have felt very accepted within our social networks, but have not bonded well with neighbors (no problems, mind you, just not much bonding).
Right --- our experience, too, about the bonding. Folks here are extremely polite, but often rather clannish. This doesn't bother me in the slightest, since I'm not one to go about bonding with people, anyhow, but my mother, who lived here for 20 years (until her death) was an outgoing midwesterner who expected to make friends easily, and she never did manage to get on close terms with locals here (with the exception of a local Chinese family who took a liking to her).
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Old 01-25-2011, 04:16 PM   #15
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Thanks for all those insights, especially into some of the cultural issues. Both my wife and I have lived up to a year in foreign cultures and understand how difficult in can be to feel accepted, so I hope and think we know it is better to assimilate and accept local cultures rather than bringing "American" culture and attitudes to another society. In that regard, I find what Koolau said about feeling accepted by neighbors very interesting. This almost convinces me more to find our place sooner, not just because of real estate opportunities but it would give us more time to spend extended periods of time there before commiting to moving out there for the better part the year. We are moving there because of weather--- but that's only a part of it. We are active people and are more so attracted to the vibe and potential ocean-centered quality of life we can pursue there. The vibe in busy Honolulu if not working will always be better than the vibe in our small-medium town while working. I love being able to run for an hour or swim in the ocean before 7am, then paddleboard or surf later in the day, all year long (without running in cold rain or on icy roads or putting on a wetsuit). Sheesh, if I could do that where I live now, I may even be able to tolerate w*rking.
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:52 PM   #16
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Some object to "strange foods" or $4/gal milk.
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Regarding living expenses. Compared to where we lived on the mainland, prices are easily 30 to 50% higher. Last time we stayed on the mainland for a couple of months, we were paying $1.79 for milk. Here, at Costco, I think we paid $4.31 (plus tax!!). So, yes, it can be very expensive.
We pay almost $4 a gal for milk here in MS. Too bad we don't have some of the nice similarities to Hawaii.
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Old 01-25-2011, 10:59 PM   #17
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(State law requires a rental agent for those living out of State).
I haven't checked the law or the Landlord-Tenant handbook lately, but IIRC the technically nitpicky requirement is a "local representative". I've been doing that for Mainland friends who still own their Oahu real estate. Usually it means I get the first call for the leaky plumbing.

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One thing you might notice upon moving here is that while most people are very friendly in a superficial way, you may not be immediately accepted as a "friend" or even regular social "contact" by the people who live here.
Absolutely, and even 20 years later there may be lingering suspicion that you're going to sneak back to the Mainland to spend time with your kids/grandkids.

My mother-in-law equated "pidgin" with "low intellect and deafness". That went over really well. My father-in-law tends to refer to everyone more that 10 years younger than him (including me) as "kids", and he has a number of quaint WWII racial attitudes that shouldn't even have survived the passage of the federal civil-rights legislation. That didn't get him invited to many parties here either...

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We pay almost $4 a gal for milk here in MS. Too bad we don't have some of the nice similarities to Hawaii.
Cheap SPAM?
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Old 01-26-2011, 02:14 PM   #18
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Old 02-04-2011, 01:49 PM   #19
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Hi Lightspeed, before make a decision how about a vacation in beautiful Costa Rica, did you ever think about, much cheaper as Hawaii and with the next Tsunami maybe they get washed away, PURA VIDA from Costa Rica
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Old 02-04-2011, 01:53 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caribicjewel
Hi Lightspeed, before make a decision how about a vacation in beautiful Costa Rica, did you ever think about, much cheaper as Hawaii and with the next Tsunami maybe they get washed away, PURA VIDA from Costa Rica
Thought about cental america but harder for us to visit and more worried about adapting to a less familiar culture!
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