12 Life Lessons Learned by Living in Costa Rica

picstitch3 years ago this week, I jumped down the rabbit hole and hopped on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride…and what an adventurous journey it’s been.  While the picture above makes it look like I’ve had a super fun and “pura vida” life living here…that’s not exactly 100% true…

What I’ve learned from living in Costa Rica…

1.  $&^t happens everywhere.

Our grass might technically be “greener” here because it rains so much but if you look underneath the surface, it’s still got shades of muddy gray.

2.  Life is more about who you are, not what you own or how much money you have

I already knew this for many years before moving (I gave up my addiction to Coach purses and $100 bottles of Silver Oak wine long before moving to Costa Rica) but having been robbed twice and having a daily fear that it will happen again, it’s a good reminder that it’s more about who you are as a person, than what kind of car you drive, the sunglasses you wear or that your haircut cost $300.

3.  As a gringa, I may never fully understand the mantra of Pura Vida.

And I’m okay with that.  While I’m letting go of the rat race as much as I can, I think the concept of pura vida has some serious flaws to it.

4.  Not everyone will love you.

All my life, I’ve always been a well liked person. But living here, I’ve learned that I don’t need to get along with everyone and they don’t need to get along with me.  I’ve become super particular about the people with whom I associate.  Jim Rohn has a great quote that I keep coming back to again and again: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”   That’s pretty much my daily mantra at this point.

5. It’s okay to fail and Costa Rica will make you fail again and again.

Just get back up and brush yourself off.

6.  This is my life to live.

See this post here for a longer explanation.

7.  Work smart. Play often.

Life is too short to be in an office for countless hours every week.  Find ways to work more efficiently and you’ll have a lot more time to do other things you love.  There’s no good or sane reason to make easy hard (which by the way, is the real mantra of Costa Rica).

8.  It’s okay to say No.

Tico’s will almost never tell you No (they think it’s offensive to say no and for some reason, not offensive to not follow through on what they agreed to do – go figure).  But I have learned how to say No in a very big way.  I’m tired of being taken advantage of here and I’ve been faced with it time and again.  I might get fired or lose friends because I say No (ie No, I will not lend you money, No, I will not work for free) but I’m okay with that.

9.  You can’t always get what you want. Let me rephrase that – you will almost never get what you want.

Finding workarounds are a part of my daily life.

10.  Appreciate the small miracles when they happen.

The wild yellow lemon tree on the mountaintop, homemade peanut butter cups, rainbows, kale in my local veggie market, Lost Coast beers in the local supermarket

11.  You will find out who your real friends when are they borrow money from you.

And really, just don’t ever lend money to anyone because even if you think they’re your friend, chances are good you’ll never see that money again.  If you want to be kind and give someone money, that’s an option – just have the understanding that you’ll probably never see it again.

12.  In contrast to my life in California, a daily part of my life these last three years included being lied to, stolen from, manipulated, taken advantage of, discriminated against, disrespected and disappointed time and again…

While I’ve had to adjust and acclimate to this new way of living, I still have to maintain my morals, values and standards.  Not always easy but what other choice do I have?

Bonus lesson::  When you stand up for what you believe in, what you know is right, deep within your soul, you will often get screwed over, pushed down or disparaged.

Keep standing up.

Chrissy

15 facts about living in Costa Rica that you may not have been aware of

  1. It’s totally normal to drive and be drinking a beer or smoking a joint (not that I do either of those…I have no car!).
  2. When in a taxi and driving in the local area, seatbelts are “optional”.  You’re also supposed to sit in the front seat.
  3. Don’t be too attached to anything, you will get robbed.
  4. The cheese is dreadful. My intern from last year was from Minnesota…the poor girl was dying for some real cheese and my vegan mac and cheese really didn’t appease her.
  5. The bread at the panaderia’s (bread shops) is awful
  6. The milk is unrefrigerated
  7. The eggs are unrefrigerated and are also sold by weight and you can just buy one if that’s all you need (that’s just weird + all of the above make it so much easier to be a gluten free vegan)
  8. It is a very small country.  You will run into people you know all the time
  9. Your housekeeper will be late…or won’t show up…and won’t call
  10. It’s nice to always have clean dry towels on hand for your friends when they come over and are sopping wet from the rainstorm they just had to walk through (and which umbrellas are just useless during).  Having additional umbrellas to lend to friends is also a nice gesture. Although you may never get them back.
  11. Dryers, dishwashers and normal size ovens and frigs are really just for the wealthy people.  Having a small oven and a small frig are luxury items in many homes.
  12. Ants will live in your computer, they also eat onions (just FYI)
  13. Because of the ants, weird black bugs and overall humidity, everything must be kept in the frig or better, the freezer.  Your small freezer may look something like this:freezer
  14. Men carrying machetes in grocery stores is totally normal
  15. There is no Amazon here.  You cannot just order something and have it delivered next day.  You may be able to call a store in San Jose and negotiate with them to put the item on a bus.

Did I miss any? 🙂 Chrissy

A few quick updates…

February came and went and I just realized I didn’t put out a single blog post…and now it’s already the middle of March!  A lot has been happening since the start of 2015 and I wanted to send you a few updates.

So I moved.  Again.  It was kind of a lateral move for me, some things are better, some things aren’t as great (ie I lost my calming ocean view and a patio full of sunshine).

The kittens are growing.  I would venture to say Sunshine is full grown at this point, Lluvia is still pretty small in comparison.  Sunshine is full of love and always wants to be pet.  Lluvia also gives lots of love… she loves to be pet but more often her love is shown in the way of killing giant cockroaches and bringing them to me in the middle of the night.  She’s definitely a mamma’s girl.  I have a friend’s son staying with me right now, Travis, and while he tries every day to pet her, she remains curious but aloof.

imageSince I now live on top of the Manuel Antonio hill (one of the not so great aspects of the move), I’m venturing out a bit more to the local restaurants.  I often wondered why Falafel Bar was #1 on TripAdvisor for awhile… I get it now.  Fast service, not outrageously priced and good food.

Also got to enjoy a Lost Coast IPA at Barba Roja.  They didn’t have Great White, but it was the Lost Coast brand…which is close enough!  Gotta take what you can get here.

My friend/awesome tour guide and birder Johan Chaves took Travis and I on a tour around Manuel Antonio National Park.  It was a picture perfect day and there were so many amazing creatures to be seen.  Always in awe of what Johan can find, the tiniest little creatures and he’s able to spot them in the dense forest!  Normally the tour ends at the beach but he invited us to continue and we hiked up to Cathedral Point which had stunning views.  Most of the photos I’ve seen in the past were foggy and grey.  But that day was beautiful blue skies and an abundance of sunshine.

Cathedral Point Manuel Antonio

Speaking of weather, it’s been an odd summer.  A lot more rain than normal in January and February  and we’re seeing a few clouds this month as well.  But it’s still 90 degrees every day so I’m definitely not complaining!

Manuel Antonio beach

In contrast, did a one night trip to the cloud forest a few weeks ago and stayed at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve.  Cold, cold, cold (for this tropical beach girl).  But beautiful in its own way.  The mist floating through the tall trees, the warm fireplace and the view of the majestic Arenal volcano all create a quiet serenity.  The hotel is located outside of San Ramon, about 90 minutes from the airport in San Jose.  The local area reminded me very much of Sonoma County with green rolling hills and jersey cows (and as to be expected for the area, coatis everywhere…).

coatis in Costa Rica

So that’s been my life in a nutshell these last few weeks.  I’ll leave you with one last photo of some sweet monkeys playing in the trees…

monkeys in Manuel Antonio

Chrissy

Funniest Things I’ve Heard People Say in Costa Rica #2

As a follow up to last week’s post, here’s a few more things I’ve heard people say or seen on various facebook groups:

  1. I wish there was air conditioning in all of Costa Rica.
  2. At Pavas airport, one girl says: There’s a nice view on the second level.  Her friend responds: Is it air conditioned?
  3. Why are all the restaurants open-air?  Doesn’t anyone offer air conditioning?
  4. The waves are too loud and are keeping us up at night in our beachfront hotel room.
  5. There are Halloween crabs and/or geckos in my hotel room…they must be removed! (Note: these are two of the most harmless and timid animals in all of Costa Rica)
  6. From someone living in Costa Rica: What should I do with my kids during rainy season? (My thought to this one was: Really? What did you do with them when it rained in your hometown?).

And I’ve saved the best for last:

Costa Rica is such a beautiful island.

Sadly, that last one actually happens way more frequently than you’d imagine.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Funniest Things I’ve Heard People Say in Costa Rica #1

Not to make fun of the tourists traveling for the first time in Costa Rica but they really do have some funny questions and comments.  And as you know from reading my blog, I’m the first one to make fun of myself so I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here.

So here’s the first funniest question…next week I’ll post the rest.

Guests arrive at a hotel on their first day in Costa Rica during a torrential thunder and lightning storm.  Time is approximately 4:00 p.m.

Guest: Do you think it will stop raining soon?

Front desk concierge: No, I think it will probably be raining for the rest of the day.

Guest: Is it going to rain tomorrow?

Front desk concierge gives a look of uncertainty and replies: Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.

There’s no way to tell or know if it’s going to be raining the next day or when the current rainstorm will cease.  Sure, you can look up on the weather sites for the 10 day forecast but most likely, all you’ll see is 85 degrees and thunderstorms.  Even if there aren’t any thunderstorms that actually happen, it will still state that there will be.

The weather here is totally unpredictable.  But that’s what makes it fun.  Just wait until you’re hiking in the tropical rainforest and out of nowhere a rain storm begins.  Listen to the amazing sounds created as the rain tries to fall through the canopy of the trees.  Notice how all of the birds, frogs and crickets have gone silent.  And be happy that you’re in a warm climate so that when it stops raining, your soaking wet clothes will dry off quickly.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Celebrating the holidays in Costa Rica

holidays in Costa RicaSo here’s kind of a random question but stick with me…

If you owned a restaurant in the US, would you offer a Thanksgiving meal in October for any Canadians living in your area? (my guess is probably not)

Frequently asked question this time of year on Costa Rica Facebook groups:

What local restaurants are offering a Thanksgiving meal? 

This post is for both locals and for tourists visiting from the US.  One, if you’re an expat living here, make the dinner yourself.  Two, if you’re a visitor, don’t plan your Costa Rica vacation around a US holiday that you want to celebrate.

Costa Rica is not a US territory.  It does not celebrate a US Thanksgiving (or a Canadian one).  That also goes for other holidays.  Independence Day is September 15th, not July 4th.  It’s frustrating to me that expats are looking for fireworks on July 4th.

Last year, ICE (the electric company) had planned an outage for November 28, which just happened to be the fourth Thursday.  So many people complained that they wouldn’t be able to cook their Thanksgiving dinner that ICE rescheduled their work for another day.

Here’s the takeaway: if you decide to live in another country, learn what that country’s holidays and traditions are and celebrate THOSE days. Participate in the festivities of the country you are living in. If you want to have your own personal celebration for your country’s holidays, that’s great.  But don’t make local establishments change their schedules or prepare something special for you.  Does Thanksgiving really have to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November?  No…considering you’ve chosen not to even live in the US, you could technically celebrate it any day…or every day.

Chrissy

The return of the scarlet macaws in Manuel Antonio

Lapas For about the last week I’ve been waking up to the sound of scarlet macaws but haven’t been able to see them (their sound is very distinct and unlike the bird itself, not very pretty sounding). One particular day this week, at least 5 pairs flew over my home. It was 5:45 and I wasn’t fully functioning to actually want to take the time to count them all but from the photos, there was at least 5 pairs.

The endangered macaws (called Lapas in Costa Rica) have recently returned to Manuel Antonio because a local group has been bringing them back to the area and releasing them into the wild. Their efforts seem to be working.  And while these photos were taken against a gray morning sky, seeing the red macaws fly over the green jungle landscape near my home is such a stunning sight.  It adds another dimension of pure grace to an already beautiful location.Macaws 3

They seem to have a flight path over my home at around 5:30 a.m. heading from the northern part of Quepos towards the National Park.

On one particular day, I sat outside on my terrace as the sun was just rising, creating gold highlights on the tips of the dark green jungle landscape. The squawking of the macaws was followed by the screeching of about 30 parakeets and then the melancholy sound of a pair of toucans. What a beautiful way to start the day.  Now if someone would just bring me my morning coffee, it would be like I was on vacation on the Osa Peninsula.

Here’s two more photos of when it got a little lighter…Absolutely incredible, isn’t it?

lapas 2

Macaws

Chrissy

Costa Rica’s address system (Part 22?)

I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned the postal system here but I know it’s a lot. Finally however, I have made some rhyme and reason of it all. Or at least I understand better the PO Box system.

My US bank debit card was about to expire and I had to find a way to get a new card mailed to me.  Knowing that the mailman would never be able to find my house, I asked my property owner if it would be okay if I used their PO Box at the Correos (post office) in order for my bank to send me the card.  She was happy to oblige and sent me the address.  I was super confused though as this is basically the gist of what she emailed me: Apartado: 123-4567 (I’ve changed it to protect her privacy).

I wrote her back and asked her if I should include her name above the address and the city/province below. She told me no, that was not necessary…and here’s why:

  • Name (not necessary)
  • 123 means the box that belongs to her husband at Correos
  • 4567 means Quepos, Puntarenas, Costa Rica

I’m still laughing thinking about that.  I mean really, there is no way I could have a PO Box in the United States and just give out the number with no name, city, state or zip code!

That’s what it’s like to live in a small town…and country. And a few weeks later, the new card had arrived.

Pura vida…Chrissy

 

Birthday celebrations in Costa Rica

Last weekend was a number of celebrations… the “birthday” of Quepos/Aguirre County, followed by a private tour of Santa Juana Lodge, a new hotel just opening up (which I’ll write more about next week), and my birthday 🙂

fiestas in Costa Rica

October 30th is the day that Quepos/Aguirre County celebrates its founding and it was a fun-filled day of festivities.  It started at 8 am. and was supposed to go until 10 pm but we had a wild storm in the late afternoon and I have a feeling that the live bands either had to move indoors somewhere or maybe the festivities ceased… the storm really was that wild.  There was so much water that the stairs at my house became a waterfall with several inches of water flowing over them.  Not super fun walking down them in the dark.  But, as I had a friend visiting from Tamarindo and we had plans to go out, we managed the waterfall stairs (and ended up quite wet overall since our umbrellas were no match for the rain).

We had wanted to go for mojitos at Barba Roja but they were mysteriously closed so we went for happy hour at Arenas del Mar.  Since it was a Thursday, I thought I was safe from the dancing lessons they offer but no such luck, they had changed the day and I ended up on the dance floor with a few of the hotel team members.  Poor guys.  I wasn’t stepping on any toes but the only thing I can do with any expertise in either salsa or meringue is twirl and even then sometimes I twirl the wrong way.  But all in all, it was a fun night, crazy storm and all.

My actual birthday was a bit of a disaster but after nearly three years of living in Costa Rica, I don’t have very high expectations of things actually going the way I want them to.

The one thing that I did that day (that went totally right) was go for a hike with a friend who was in town from San Jose.  It was pretty rough terrain but totally worth it when we got down the mountain to the private little beach that only the cows (and a few bulls) seemed to know about.

Manuel Antonio beach with cows

Having a birthday during “transition” season means that a lot of places will be closed.  And that was the case with the restaurant in Dominical that I wanted to have lunch at.  They had a huge party the night before and to put it mildly, no one had cleaned up and the one team member that was there seemed quite hungover.  He invited us to return on Thursday when they’d reopen but not having a car makes getting to Dominical more difficult than it’s worth.

From there, the lunch place we found was just awful but it was sustenance.  We then traveled further south as I really wanted to go to Playa las Ventanas.  However when we arrived, the gates to the parking area at the private home were closed, the property owner wasn’t around and there was no place we could safely leave the rental car.  Ventanas is a beach that several friends have recommended as it has these really cool caves that you can walk through at low tide. But you can really only go when the property owner is there.

Dominicalito

We tried a few other beaches but that area is a huge National Park and they wanted to charge me $11 to get access.  I’m not paying $11 to go to a beach so we ended up taking a walk on Dominicalito and then drove back to Manuel Antonio to enjoy the sunset.

sunset in Manuel Antonio

Just to add insult to injury, I also thought I had met a really nice guy that day, who seemed atypical to the guys that I normally go out with…only to find out that he was just like the rest of them.  He may not have had the surfer body but he definitely had the typical mentality which included a long-term girlfriend. (but that is a story for another day)

So while that was all a bit of a mess, I am really looking forward to this new year.  I’ve got lots of great things happening and I’m super excited to share them with you all in the coming weeks and months.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Chrissy

 

A few quick updates

Remember when I was having that really bad week last month? Well, here are some updates…

The protein powder finally arrived – 2 weeks after I wrote the blog and a month after I had ordered it.  It was shipped next day so it was held hostage in Miami and then in San Jose by the Ministry of Health for 4 weeks.  I understand that vegetables are not very common here but please, I am not shipping in pea flavored cocaine disguised as protein powder.  And what was even more frustrating was none of it was even opened!  So they just sat on it for several weeks for no reason other than to get more money out of me (as I also had to pay the Ministry of Health a “fee”).

The accountant who wanted to charge me $500 for year-end tax preparation contacted me about 2 weeks after I told him that I would not pay that much and offered to do it for $300.  What would that mean exactly?  That he knew he was overcharging me to begin with and just wanted to see if I was a naive gringa who would pay it?  Just last week I had another similar situation where I was flat out told I would have to pay more than the Ticos pay for the same services.  This wasn’t a situation like…trying to get into the National Park at the resident rate or getting a resident fare on Nature Air.  In this situation, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had my residency or not (which, yes, is still pending), it was purely based on the color of my skin. To say I was infuriated would be an understatement.

I maybe shouldn’t have complained that there hadn’t been much rain…because we have had some intense storms and I ended up with several leaks in my apartment.  One in my kitchen through the light/fan combo which means I no longer have a light or fan in the kitchen (not great when it’s 80 degrees and 80% humidity inside the kitchen), one over my yoga mat (and that is the only place my yoga mat fits in my small house), three next to my coffee table, two dripping down the wall between my apartment and the studio next to me, five on the sofa and two on opposite sides of my bed. So I couldn’t even move my bed over a few inches to one side to get out of the dripping drops of water.

The owners had attempted a patch repair of the roof:

roof 1

But when that didn’t work, they then decided to construct a new roof over the terrace.  Which then led to more problems because of course there was limited funds and the workers didn’t always show up.  Plus, the municipality showed up because she didn’t have permits for the structure.

When we eventually tried to turn the light back on in the kitchen (just to check it), sparks flew, the owner grabbed her 3 year old son out of fear and there was the smell of fire.  Her husband told me…maybe another few days.  They did kindly offer me one of their other units that was available but I just figured, I’ll deal with the leaks.  At this point, I’m used to life being totally awry.  The roof was put on the next day and with the exception of one random leak over my sofa, it has now stopped raining in my house.

roof 2

My internet speed is still non-existent.  They finally told us (after calling every day for 2 weeks and being told “mañana”) that the “cable they installed to the house is only suited for 2mbs.  It can’t sustain a higher speed and they will try to do something to remedy that.” Who knows when it will be remedied…

I never went back to the bank.  I’ll do it at some point (probably the next time I need to make a transfer) but if you’ve read other posts, you know I really dislike going into the bank.

My computer died again, this time it just wouldn’t start.  Thankfully, after talking really nicely to it, it eventually worked.  Now just the period key doesn’t want to work without a little extra coaxing.

And finally, one of my clients actually paid me on the day I sent her the invoice. And since other clients still hadn’t paid me for September (and it was October 20), my bank account did a little happy dance when the money was received.

One of my friends in Canada recently asked me – how are you not a raging alcoholic?

Good question.  One that I think deeply about every day.

Chrissy