What do Godiva, Sandinistas, Heineken, Land Rovers, stray animals and real estate all have in common? Unless you know Christiane Goudsmit Pomes, not much. And the longer you know her, the more it all begins to make sense.
Chris lives in Costa Rica with her husband, Hans Goudsmit, and two teenage daughters. Because we rented our house from her, she was the very first person I met when I moved here. Our house is situated on a few acres behind her personal residence, along with four other homes, a hundred foot Guanacaste tree, three horses, seven dogs (including my little schnoodle), five cats and some confused chickens. Who lay eggs everywhere; except in the hen house.
I liked Chris the moment I met her. Her big smile and laughter is not only infectious, but genuine. And she can say “HELLO! How are you!” in five languages and mean it in every one of them. She has the gift of not taking herself, or anyone else, too seriously, and a frustrating or challenging situation just morphs into one of her many light-hearted, tickle-your-funny-bone kind of stories.
So, here’s the Lady Godiva story.
When Chris and Hans were first married, they owned and operated a high-end catering and take-out business. To provide their clients with top-of-the-line sweets, they used a local Godiva franchise as a source for some of their desserts. It didn’t take them long to realize that the quality from their Godiva supplier was not quite up to corporate standards. They discovered that he was passing off his own chocolate for the good stuff.
Upon discovering the chocolate fraud, they met with the Godiva home office in Brussels to report the problem. Based on their information, Godiva corporate was able to sue the fraudulent chocolatiere and win their case in court. As a reward for their help, the company gave the young couple the Godiva master franchise for Holland. In the entire country of Holland, they were the only people allowed to sell Godiva products. It didn’t take them long to transition from the take-out business and into the chocolate business.
Charming and persistent, Hans was able to convince the English ambassador in Amsterdam, a customer of theirs, to be a part of their first Godiva store opening. Because the ambassador was there, several city blocks around their new store were partitioned off for security. This made the entrance of their own Lady Godiva riding “nude” through the streets of Amsterdam rather dramatic.
Just hangin’ out with a few Sandinistas and prison guards in Nicaragua.
Their first trip to Central America was in 1989, just prior to getting married. They visited a friend in Costa Rica for about a month. In fact, it was their first trip outside of Europe. They loved it.
After five years of working their fingers to the bone, the couple sold their Godiva franchise consisting of two stores and high-tailed it to Central America. Adventure was calling, after all.
They arrived in January, 1995, in the middle of the Costa Rican summer. “I wanted to live on the beach. The idea was that if we could find something to do here, then we would stay.” They bought an old Ford Bronco and explored the area for several months, making their way to Nicaragua.
Thinking they might want to invest in some beach-front property in Nicaragua, they got acquainted with some local land-owners. After spending time with them, they learned that almost all the land was owned by friends and family of the Sandinistas, and they weren’t all that interested in, nor did they have much of a need for, gringo money. But, they were really nice guys and showed the young couple a nice time.
While touring the countryside of Nicaragua, they happened to bump into what was once a prison used during the civil war. Thinking the building they saw on the hilltop was of cultural or historical significance, they went for a closer look. Upon arriving at the gate, they were met by a young boy and invited inside, where they came face-to-face with soldiers holding machine-guns. Ever polite, instead of running for their lives, they accepted the invitation for a tour of the prison. Hans surreptitiously said what he thought was his final farewell to his wife, as they were led through the gates of the now ominous-looking structure by armed, angry looking men.
“As it turns out, they were just really shy!” Chris explains to me with a laugh. As they talked with them, the soldiers became increasingly warm and friendly. They gave them the grand tour of the grounds and were happy to have the company. Apparently, they didn’t get too many visitors. And since Chris and Hans were their ONLY visitors (probably ever) she jumped at the photo-op and now has some great photos of herself in the Nicaraguan prison, brandishing the machine gun of one of her new friends.
But this wasn’t the only time she made nice with armed Nicaraguans. After a peaceful dinner with friends in the capital city of Managua, they hopped in their car and headed back to their hotel. On the way, they confronted a bit of a road block: hundreds of Sandinista student protesters, armed to the teeth with machine guns. Looking into the barrel of the gun left Chris with little doubt as to what the protesters intended to use them for and was fairly certain the looks on their faces had nothing to do with being shy.
She reacted. “WE ARE FROM HOLLAND! WE ARE HERE TO HELP YOU! POWER TO THE STUDENTS! DEATH TO CAPITALISM! LONG LIVE THE SANDINISTAS!” she yelled in Spanish. Her friends, scared out of their minds, demanded to know what she was doing. “I’m saving our lives!” And, indeed, she did. The protesters lowered their guns and began to smile and cheer. It’s just really too bad they weren’t able to get any photos to commemorate the occasion. The one where they were almost shot by protesters for being dirty capitalists.
While Chris and Hans were exploring and making plans in Central America, their friends and family back home never gave up hope that they would return to Holland. After several months, Chris’ brother finally convinced them to come home; he found an awesome deal on a bar in Amsterdam that just needed a little elbow grease.
They flew home to become the new owners of an Amsterdam bar. After working their tails off to remodel the bar and get Heineken to sponsor their opening night, they had an amazing first night, which also happened to be Chris’ 30th birthday. “I had a terrific 30th birthday party!” Chris says. In fact, their opener was such a success, that Heineken bought the bar from them the very next day. They took this as their cue to again head west, and a few weeks later they were back in Costa Rica with a little more than they had before. Thanks, Heineken.
A treacherous ride with Land Rovers.
Upon returning to the area they decided that Costa Rica was where they wanted to put down roots. For several months, they rented a home from a German couple who lived in the area of Alajuela in the Central Valley. It was a guest house behind the larger residence where the landlord lived with his family. They got to know him pretty well and became good friends. Or so they thought.
Soon after, they were expecting their first baby girl and entered into the process of purchasing a home in Costa Rica. At the same time, they entered into a verbal partnership with their new German friend to purchase some used Land Rovers that he would then resell through his contacts in the area. As agreed, they gave their friend the money to purchase several cars to start the process.
The baby was born, the home was secured, and the cars were purchased. But after the Land Rovers arrived, their “friend” insisted that the cars were his. Entirely. He then proceeded to scatter them to car dealers throughout the Central Valley, completely on his own as the sole owner of the vehicles, in an attempt to put them out of their reach.
Just imagine a young couple, with a new baby, in a new country, only one of whom speaks the language fluently. Now imagine that this couple (the same one who made friends with soldiers and Sandinista protesters) goes to the car dealership, new baby in tow, to take back one of the cars that is rightfully theirs.
“We would like to test drive, oh, let me see…that Range Rover right there. Yes, that’s right, the blue one,” was about how it went. Chris smiled sweetly and stood by the salesman with her beautiful baby as her husband got in the car to test drive it around the parking lot. As soon as he was out on the road, she yelled, “That is our car! It was stolen from us!” She then jumped in her car and screeched off to follow Hans.
They are chased by police down the highway, but didn’t stop until they were at the Alajuela courthouse, the location of her newest friend and sympathizer to their situation: a local judge. They had already begun the legal process of regaining their stolen money and Chris and Hans had made friends with the judge in their case. As she rushed into his office, crying and sniveling about being chased by the police for trying to take back their stolen property, the judge took the baby girl to soothe her and reassured her parents that everything would be okay. They took the car home with them.
In the end, the judge made Chris and Hans “guardians” of all the vehicles in question during the course of the legal negotiations. They lost some money to the treacherous German guy, recouped most, and never, ever again touched the used car business.
Making the world a little better.
“It says a lot about a person when you see how they are with animals,” says Chris. She is passionate about the plight of abused and neglected animals, a sensitivity she says she learned at an early age from her mother, who also spent a lot of time saving abandoned pets.
When they first arrived in Central America, Chris and Hans drove around in their Ford Bronco with a box of abandoned kittens they found in a dumpster. Not to be discouraged by the little detail of flying back to Holland, they took the kittens on the plane with them. They were delivered safely to her brother, who agreed to adopt them.
As a realtor, Chris comes into contact with a lot of people, many of whom are animal lovers. According to Chris, she has adopted out over 200 pets over the years, many to clients. She and Hans have owned as many as 19 dogs at a time; they are currently at a record low of only six dogs and two cats.
And almost every animal has a story. Sheila is an old golden retriever she rescued from a puppy farm–she was used as the puppy machine and kept in a box. Bianca is a little white dog who showed up one day and never left. Bianca is now in love with the gardener, who has made her fat by feeding her part of his lunch every day. Rolfino was found in a field after he had been shot in the face; now totally healed but, understandably, a bit nervous. Cachi Flo is a little black dog who nobody wanted because she has a lopsided jaw and funny-looking teeth. Coby was also rescued, and Jocobo was born here. Chris says Jocobo is the only one without “issues.”
She and her husband are generous supporters of Zoo Ave, an internationally renowned animal rescue zoo in La Garita. She also partners with local animal rescue organizations and says she has adopted out quite a few pets through Facebook. “For eighteen years we have rescued hundreds of animals that were injured or mistreated in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and I am passing on the love and compassion for animals to my daughters. It’s a drop in the ocean, but if we all make a small effort, we might make this world a better place.”
Small is not the word I would use for the difference she has made.
Christiane Goudsmit Pomes is the Owner/Operator of La Garita Realty and is the only realtor in Costa Rica specializing in green properties and development. Her and her husband, Hans Goudsmit, are the designers, builders and owners of a green residential property development, Villas Pomes d’Or, located behind their residence in La Garita. For more information about renting or purchasing a home in Costa Rica, see her website HERE.
About the author: Hollie Niblett is the Content Strategist and Project Manager for Maya Creative Group in Costa Rica.