Say, “multicultural”, you are talking about María Schintu. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch mother and Italian father, she grew up in Liberia, West Africa, and was educated in an Italian, then British, then German school.
After discovering Tamarindo, she ran the successful Mandingo Sailing, before taking over the tourism business called Tamarindo Transfers & Tours (aka Tamarindo Shuttle).
Along the way she met her now-husband Frank Berrocal, and raised four children. THE Tamarindo News had a little chat with Schintu to learn it all.
THE Tamarindo News: Netherlands, Africa, Germany, here. Where do you say you are from?
María Schintu: When people ask me nowadays I say that I’m from Costa Rica because I have spent more time living here than anywhere else. When my first husband and I started looking for a country to raise our kids we wanted someplace tropical, with a mix of nationalities and politically stable. Liberia is a beautiful country but had been dealing with a decade of civil war so that wasn’t an option. So, in 1996, we purchased a 38-foot sailboat and took a twoyear sabbatical to go discover other countries and look for options to raise our two boys. We sailed from France to Spain, the Baleares, Sardinia, Sicily and ended up leaving our boat in Tunisia to head back to jobs in Germany. Imagine living in a floating playpen with two little kids, one still in diapers, no washing machine, no running water, no refrigerator, no TV, no internet. We were resourceful in every way. I am glad we did this because it really is a privilege reserved for a few people. While with my parents on Sardinia we received a package from grandma in Germany that had a real estate magazine with an article about Costa Rica. I read it and saw the pictures and was immediately sold. This was perfect; it filled all our requirements. It even had a place called Liberia! To me, that was a sign. In November 1997 I came here by myself for a week to check out a sailboat charter business that was for sale and the minute I set foot on Tamarindo beach I knew this was it. We sold everything in Germany and moved here in February 1998
TTN: What was it like running Mandingo?
MS: It was a fun 13 years. We met a lot of people, had a lot of repeat customers and I do miss going to the beach to greet clients and ask them how they liked it. We catered to a lot of locals (to the point that people called me María Mandingo) and a lot of celebrities like Del Piero an Italian football player, models whose names I don’t remember, a Senator from Georgia who came with bodyguards, and even former Costa Rican President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez. And, of course, our boat trip was included in the Tamarindo episode of the famous show WILD ON! from E! Entertainment Television.
TTN: Why did you transfer to a land-based tourism business?
MS: When Andree Hammerschmid and I divorced that business suffered as well so we decided to sell the boat and go our separate ways. Months later, I was asked to administer a transportation company called Tamarindo Shuttle. The former owner was leaving for Argentina and I was hesitant since I had just delivered my fourth child and wasn’t really looking to work for the first year. But, I could run the business at home at first, so I did it. You know how stuff just works out in life without one planning it? Well that’s what happened here. We could see the potential of expanding and tourists and local alike need to travel back and forth to the airport and also throughout the whole year people travel to Nicaragua either to visit or to get their passport stamped for a new tourist visa. So basically we have a lot of repeat tourists but also local people who recommend us and choose to travel with us. You generally deal with happy people because they are on vacation and when things go wrong we are always happy to assist and put our experience and knowledge to work. Plus, there’s really never a dull moment. The things you see, the people you meet are really enriching.
TTN: You have two grown sons and two younger children. How has raising them been different here?
MS: My two older sons Max and Lukas are 27 and 24 years, respectively and when we arrived here there only was as much as one supermarket where the Diria Casino is now, the one Banco Nacional that was located where Hotel Casablanca is now next to Pangas and one school called Escuela Tamarindo which was run by a group of mothers who organized everything from school calendar to hiring teachers from the US and Canada. Afternoons were spent on the beach and all the kids would play together. Tamarindo was a small town and we all knew one another and even the family’s dog’s names! Life was simple, there was not much choice in anything and you tried the make the best of it.Now with Daniel (9) and Isabel (8)we have a variety of schools, supermarkets, doctors’ offices or clinics, banks and even a mall and a movie theatre! Life is different but we still appreciate living nearby the beach and having all these amenities.
TTN: How do you balance family and work?
MS: In the beginning of our company I was all by myself taking reservations, dispatching vans, hiring drivers, invoicing and selling which was quite hard since my last child Isabel (my only girl) was only a few months old when we started. Soon we grew and looked for help and hired one person to take calls and answer emails. We then expanded our office staff and today we have one person in every position so it has become much easier for me to schedule time for my family.
TTN: What does Tamarindo mean to you? MS: Tamarindo was love at first sight and is my forever home. I have never lived in one place as long as I have here. All my four children live here and I cannot imagine moving away from here ever. I would not know where to go