Living consciously in Costa Rica {Part 2}

animal friendly signs in Costa Rica

It’s been almost 2 years since I wrote this post about becoming more intentional in my daily life here in Costa Rica.  Geez.  2 years.  Where have those 2 years gone?  Part of the problem has been, as a new business owner, working many many long 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week.  The other part is still just trying to feel settled into living in a foreign country where nothing seems “normal”.  And accepting the fact that it probably never will feel normal.

But then two things happened that triggered the memory of this list and that feeling that I needed to get my a** in gear as there was really no reason that I couldn’t be more sustainable at this point, living here in Costa Rica.

  1. During my visit to Tamarindo in June, I had dinner with Kevin at my favorite pizza place. To be totally honest, I was still a little hungover from the day before (not something I’m super proud of at nearly 40 years of age but my business coach was quite happy that I finally took a day off and enjoyed myself) so I just ordered a salad but the salad had a hardboiled egg on it. He asked me…why aren’t you vegan?

I really had no good reason to give him at this point.  Before, in Tamarindo, it was because getting to Automercado was such a hassle (and consumed my entire paycheck).  And even then, I couldn’t always find what I needed.  Now living in Quepos where everything is so easily walkable (and much cheaper taxis than Tamarindo) and with a weekly farmer’s market year round, I just didn’t have a good reason other than…I like grilled cheese sandwiches. Especially after finding the vendor with the freshly made sourdough bread at the farmer’s market and another vendor with the artisan cheese. That being said, while there’s still a lot of products that I can’t find, I’ve started to learn the workarounds and am now 99% vegan.  The only time I eat butter, cheese or eggs is if I go out with friends.  And even that is rare because I am still working more often than not…something I’m diligently working on reducing!

  1. As I briefly mentioned in a recent post, I happened to have a conversation with someone who told me that his actions have no impact on anything else in the world. To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. A BIG understatement. He proceeded to explain to me that it was just me and my “little clique of friends” who think that we need to be more sustainable in our daily lives.  At the time, I just couldn’t think of any response to tell him other than: “With that mentality, you probably picked the wrong country to live in”.  Okay, I admit, that may have been a little harsh.

But really, Costa Rica is an eco country.  It’s not perfect, it’s definitely got its problems of greenwashing.  But overall, the country as a whole is trying to make a difference.  The majority of the people here respect the environment and understand what’s at stake if we don’t.  When you go to Automercado and don’t have a bag, they try to sell you a reusable one.  All over the country are signs asking people to slow down in their cars because of animal crossings.  There are signs not to feed the wildlife. 25% of the land is protected and can’t be built on (compare that to just 8% in El Salvador of which 2% is primary forest).

animal friendly signs in Costa Rica

So here’s a quick update to the list I created originally in November 2012:

Positive Expressions – 2012 Needs Improvement – 2012 September 2014 Update
No car I have shipped a lot of products from the States here Still no car (although some days I really wish I had one), and now finding very nice “mules” to bring me items from the States
I don’t use the air conditioning in my home.  Fans and fresh air only Food choices – a lot of what I eat is not grown locally No air conditioning in my home now but my fans are never turned off (mold will grow rapidly if I turn them off). Most everything is fresh and local.
Preparing and sharing healthy, vegetarian meals with friends Since the move, started eating eggs and cheese again I’ve gone back to being 99% vegan (only eating eggs/cheese when I go out socially). And most items come from the Saturday farmer’s market and the local vegetable market
Supporting locals: restaurants and artisans Finding other ways to give back to the local community Working with a few nonprofits at reduced rates
Using my hemp napkins for water glasses (since the cold water melts all over the place) People should buy stock in paper towels as I’ve gone through more   rolls in 6 months than I did in a few years of living in California Still have my hemp napkins and my Circle of Life reusable bag that goes with me everywhere. A lot less paper towel usage since I have now just learned to live with the ants
Saved a garrobo from drowning in the pool A lot of ants have died on my watch (hence the extreme paper towel   usage) There’s very little killing in my house now that the ants have become roommates. It’s gotta be a gigantic cockroach or monster spider to get me to whack it with my shoe and even then, I sometimes still manage to let them live
Only doing large loads of laundry so as to not waste electricity and water Having to wash clothes more often, even when they haven’t been worn   because everything gets a funky smell here from the humidity With the fans and leaving my windows open at all times, there’s a lot better circulation in my home. Plus, I don’t have a dryer so everything is dried by the sun (even if it does sometimes take 3 days)
Buying local, organic, shade grown coffee Not being able to find much organic produce Some of the farmer’s at the feria are organic but most is still conventionally grown
Sharing the beauty of Costa Rica/Nicaragua with others through photos and writing Not being able to really spend time on my personal projects, writing   and sorting through the hundreds of photos I take each month Having hired an assistant, I’m working less nowadays which has freed up my time to both work on my personal projects.
Paying an above average wage to my housekeeper Getting back on the yoga mat With my new found free time, I exercise more and still pay a living wage to my housekeeper…now I just wish I could pay her to come more frequently!


My goal is to continue to provide you with updates on living more intentionally in Costa Rica.  I want this blog to not just be about the crazy backwards upside down not-normal things that happen here.  My hope is to lead by example and that by choosing to live simply, sustainably, ecofriendly — whatever you want to call it, we can each find the beauty of simplicity and pura vida in our daily lives.

Pura vida…Chrissy

My version of paradise

It’s been just over a year and a half now of living in Costa Rica. Here’s what I’ve learned…what I love and what I’ve learned to live with.

Let’s start with what I’ve learned to live with:

  • Your clothes will smell from June – October. They also won’t dry (unless you’re one of the few fortunate people to actually have a dryer). But even after you dry them, give them a day and they’ll be wet again. You may also find dirty hand prints on them…

[wpvideo zXkgyfn6]

  • The geckos will be your alarm clock. Mine wake me up between 5 and 5:45 every morning.  Unless the rooster wakes up first.
  • You may be told the following while on the phone: It’s really hard to hear you over those beeping noises. It will take you a moment to realize the “beeping noises” are the tiny cicadas outside. And all of your doors and windows are closed and your walls are made of concrete. Yes, they are that loud.
  • I’ve met tourists who also told me the birds were too loud. Really?  You’re kind of in a tropical jungle…is that something you really should be complaining about?  That’s like complaining that there are mosquitoes.  Or that the ocean is too loud.

[wpvideo GaNjItk4]

  • You will live with giant cockroaches. It doesn’t matter how clean your house is. They will be your roommates.
  • You change your Oral B electric toothbrush heads not based on a quarterly cycle but instead when a gigantic cockroach decides to hang out on it

cockroach on my toothbrush

  • You will also live with ants.  And if you can’t tell if you’re having an ant infestation or termite infestation, supposedly you can smush it and depending on the smell, determine which type of insect it is. (we can add that to the list of things I never needed to learn)
  • 2 day express guaranteed insured mail within Costa Rica is not guaranteed. Don’t pay extra for this service
  • Don’t be attached to your material items – they will probably get stolen unless you live in a guarded house. Even then, the guards can be paid off. And the police are paid off so don’t bother filing a report as nothing will happen. You will also never be able to sleep through the night again without taking some type of sleeping pills. And even then you worry that by being knocked out on pills, it will make you sleep through the next robbery (which is both a bad and good thing).
  • However…you might get an anonymous phone call from someone who thinks they may have your stuff and would you like to come and buy it back? Only when you arrive, you realize it’s someone else’s camera and laptop that were stolen.
  • You might also be advised to go to the local drug dealers house and just see if they have your stuff, then offer to buy it back. This was an actual recommendation for me to do after the first robbery
  • Your housekeeper will probably show up late. Or not show up at all. And not call.
  • You will not find coconut oil in the stores. If you see someone on the road selling it, stop and buy it. There are an abundance of reasons why coconut oil is amazing to have as a staple in one’s home.
  • Mango season only runs from May – November-ish. No, they do not grow all year round here. Yes, it’s a bummer.
  • The internet likes to go out frequently, especially when I’m on a skype call.  Which is why I always keep my phone handy to use its 3G as a personal hotspot. You may also have to wander around the house trying to find the best signal. While the router never moves, it seems like somehow the wifi signal strength does.
  • The electricity will go out on occasion and unless you’re fortunate enough to have a water tank, when the lights go out, so does your access to water. Fill up a pitcher as quickly as possible. And hopefully you’re not in the shower with shampoo in your hair.
  • Also, disconnect everything from their wall sockets (I’ve learned this the hard way and have already burned out 1 router and 2 laptop adaptors).  I now have a basket of broken, unfixable items at my door.  I’m hoping if I get robbed again, they’ll just grab that and go!  But I do hope they leave the basket…I really like it. + an added bonus that it’s resistant to mold.

broken items

  • Because you never know when the electricity will go out, you also need to have all your most important technological devices charged. At all times. Buy a MyCharge and keep that charged as well.
  • A 20 year old car will cost you $10,000. At least.
  • You will miss your grocery store and cry from an overwhelming inexplicable feeling when you go into the San Jose Wal-Mart (a store you never would have stepped foot into while living in the States).

Walmart in Costa Rica

  • You might go to a restaurant and they tell you they don’t have lettuce. Or bread. Or avocados.
  • Your local market will probably not have the food you’re looking for on any given day. Stock up when you find what you’re looking for. And know that you may have to go to 3 different markets to get what you need for dinner that night. I once had to visit 4 markets just to find 3 bananas (which were more black than yellow – thankfully I was just trying to make banana bread).
  • Most of your food will need to be kept in the frig or freezer. This is because either those gross black bugs will devour it or the humidity will ruin it.
  • You tell your neighbor you have a headache and he offers you a Percocet.
  • You’re having a really bad day and your friend hands you a cookie…if you don’t use drugs, always ask what’s in the cookie before popping it into your mouth.
  • Everything is held together by duct tape and super glue – even the airplanes.

duct tape on airplanes

  • I am still trying to open a business account at the bank where my personal account is. It’s been over 6 months now of dealing with red tape.
  • You will not receive mail as you have no real address (although this could be a positive). When you send mail, it can take weeks for it to arrive at its destination (even when sending domestically). And mail that is received at your local post office appears to be sorted by hand. Welcome to the 1950’s.

Costa Rica post office correos

  • But…I recently had a package put on a bus from a cacao producer in central Costa Rica to the “encomienda” in Quepos. All they wrote was my name and city on the box. And somehow, without a tracking number or an address (return or addressee), we eventually found the box in the warehouse.  It only took two return trips (the first 2 trips, I was told it wasn’t there when I knew it was).  So on the 3rd trip, I went into the warehouse to search for it myself and the employee finally walked over to exactly where it was and handed it to me.
  • Yellow lemons don’t exist (I will keep repeating that one until I die or until lemons start being mass produced here).
  • Procrastination.  I really have no words for this other than “mañana” (re-read the cacao and bank account stories above). Your contractors will often tell you “mañana”, every day. It can be days, weeks or even months before work actually gets done.
  • Learn to accept the national motto – which you will learn is not “pura vida”. It’s “make easy hard” (pura vida does come in a close second however)

The bright side:

  • It really doesn’t rain as much as everyone thinks and we’re not in a hurricane zone. But when it does rain…

[wpvideo 7yYsGBPp]

  • The weather is warm every day with only a little humidity (as long as you’re at the beach. Don’t go inland – it’s way too cold).  77F now requires me to find socks and drink hot tea.
  • The sunsets are spectacular
  • We have palm tree lined beaches and your choice of either black or white sand
  • The air is clean
  • There’s no daylight savings
  • Monday morning traffic is caused by cows, not cars.

cows in the road in Costa Rica

  • You’ll become friends with strangers as they turn into mules to bring you new items and avoid a visit to customs and their ridiculous “taxes”. That is, if your items ever actually arrive. Sometimes, they just “disappear”.
  • You can buy prescription meds without seeing a doctor. Self diagnosis can be interesting. And you’ll probably have to tell the pharmacist what dosage you need.
  • You can live near the beach for relatively inexpensive compared to other places in the world. A bonus is that there tends to be a lot of hot guys walking around with surfboards and no t-shirts. Who will also happily get you a coconut out of a tree.

getting a coconut out of a palm tree

  • You will almost always have blue skies and sunshine in the morning
  • If you can get over the noise, the birds are spectacular (over 800 species call Costa Rica home)
  • Not to mention the incredible wildlife that exists here. Costa Rica is about the size of West Virgina but is home to more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
  • There are so many different regions in Costa Rica to explore. Including cloud forests, rainforests (there is a difference between the two), volcanic zones, dry tropical forest (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron) and different climate patterns/seasons depending on where you are.

[wpvideo QIBVdFdm]

  • Over 25% of the country is protected land with an almost pristine coastline and vast jungle.

[wpvideo X46i41rE]

  • There will be muddy roads, river crossings and roads that become rivers (yes, this is a positive thing – not only is it exciting and adventurous but it also means there’s still a few somewhat untouched areas to appreciate)

River crossing in Nosara Costa Rica

  • There are lots of weird and interesting fruits and veggies – some I’ve never seen but have grown to like. A lot.
  • The water is safe to drink almost everywhere. **So please stop buying bottled water when you visit…We don’t have landfills for your plastic waste**
  • Markets will often give discounts if you pay with cash. Super helpful when shaving cream costs $12.
  • I have learned how to make my own peanut butter cups, vegan ice cream and pita bread. Next up on the list is pasta (I figure since my flour is frozen, fresh pasta will curtail the problem with the black bugs).
  • We grow coffee AND chocolate AND mangoes here – do I really need to say more?

Costa Rica is my happy placeYou put all of these things together, the good and the bad, and you get my version of paradise. It might not be yours. But it is mine. It is my happy place.

Sure, there are days when I feel like I’m having a total mental breakdown. But it is still 110% better than my life before in California. So I smile and laugh, knowing tomorrow is a new day. And there will most likely be blue skies, chirping geckos and fresh Dota coffee to wake up to.

Pura vida…Chrissy

The Lack of Fruits, Veggies and Big Box Stores in Costa Rica

There are 3 local “supermarkets” (really, pulperias) within about 50 feet of each other and about a 3 minute walk from my house.  They only have the basics.  The very basics.  Not even what I like to call basics+ (like maybe a jar of olives or a bottle of tahini).  They rarely have fruits or veggies.  When I say rarely, I really mean never. They don’t sell alcohol.  I’m guessing the liquor license is too expensive.

But that’s okay…because just walking another 15 feet or so and I’ll hit the liquor store.  They only sell alcohol and a few things like chips and small snack packs.  I’ve even been told they deliver!  Perfect  with the rainy season that we’re in the middle of currently. (yes, it has started to rain more)

Quepos reminds me a little of a small European town.  There’s the panaderia (bread shop) that I’m told is open 24 hours/day, the carniceria (meat shop), the flower shop, a few pharmacies and a hardware store on every corner.  Okay, I don’t remember there being that many hardware stores in Europe but there’s literally one on every corner here.  Hardware stores here are like wine shops in Italy. There’s also a lot more tiny supermarkets dispersed around the town.

And while I love supporting the local people, I just wish they could open one big store that would have everything I need.  There are days when I think…if only there was a Target or a Costco here in Costa Rica.  Well, specifically in Manuel Antonio.  I know there is a Walmart and PriceMart (a membership store like Costco) in San Jose but that doesn’t do me any good here.  The MaxiPali just outside of Quepos proper is technically a Walmart but it still has very little in the store that is of value to me.

It’s kind of like I went from 100 options to 1.  And while it’s nice to have simpler choices in my life, it’s also very limiting.  And often times, I go from 100 options to none.

Here’s an example: I was trying to find a new drying rack (because the one I bought last year at Do-It-Center in Liberia broke, what a surprise) but they don’t exist here.  To further prove that, my housekeeper was in awe of it when she saw it – it was like a totally new invention to her.  I have superglued it together for the time being but eventually it will break again.  Life would just be so much simpler with a big box store.  Never did I think I’d say that.  But there isn’t one here so I am now keeping a list of where I can buy certain products.

i.e. garbanzo beans at Super Iguana, rice paper and tahini at Super Mas, Toña at Super Joseth

I can’t find powdered sugar anywhere. Nor could I find chia…until one special day at Super Mas.  I found 4 bags!  And knowing that things like this are not often found here, I decided to get two, trying my best not to be greedy and just take all four.  However when I went to check out, the girl told me they weren’t in the system so I couldn’t buy them.  Now, normally in a situation like that, they’ll just say: Ah, it’s probably $5, how does that sound?  But not today.  I so desperately wanted this chia so I asked to speak with the manager.  There had to be a price!  It was on the shelf after all!

So one of the clerks took me upstairs to meet with the owner.  It’s a family owned store and I met with the owner’s daughter.  She explained to me that the chia was for her family and wasn’t supposed to be put on the shelf, hence why there wasn’t a price on the tag.  But she wanted to do something nice so she offered to sell me one.  And I told her that if she could get her supplier to bring more, I’d buy lots more.  And probably a few other people I know in the area would be interested as well!

It’s so difficult to find health food here.  I’m not kidding when I say that the three markets closest to me NEVER have fruits or veggies!  The closest Automercado is about an hour away, north of Jaco. So I’m SOL with trying to get there!  The local feria (Farmer’s Market) on Friday nights and Saturday mornings has some items but still not really what I’m looking for.

Yes, I know, I’ve been here almost a year and a half and I’m still complaining about the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica.  But I’m just not prepared to have a diet that is solely made up of high carbohydrate, low nutrient dense meals.  I need greens! I need color in my diet.  I’m putting this out to the universe and hoping by some miracle that I will find kale again…one day soon.  And more chia!

Pura vida…Chrissy

The House Behind the Guanacaste Tree

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal had one of the best articles I’ve read so far on the address system here in Costa Rica.

Here’s my own personal version:

I recently had to call DHL in order to give them my new address and redirect a delayed package that was going to the hotel.  When the woman asked me for my new address, I paused and said, “can I give you a tracking number for another package that has my new address?”  The woman agreed and once she opened up that tracking number, she understood why and said, “oh thank goodness you gave me the tracking number, I never would have understood the address if I hadn’t seen it”.  It’s not just that my address is in Spanish, but that it’s so bizarre and different from anything you’d ever see in the States.

My address is like all other addresses here – instead of using street numbers and names, it uses a point of reference (in my case, a nearby hotel) and then it’s xx meters south and xx meters west of the hotel. Most of the houses also have names – like: Casa del Sol, or Casa Blanca.  However, just to add to the problems that already exist here with the current address system, no one in town seems to know where my house is when I give them the name!  I even went to the post office and asked them if they knew where it was but no…they did not.  On a scratch piece of paper, I drew them a map and am hoping the mail carrier will figure out where I live if and when I receive mail.

Of course, to add to the address problems, I’m now terrified of being stung by a scorpion and not knowing if I’m allergic to them.  A friend tells me that I need to find the local number for the Tamarindo police and not to bother with calling 911 since they would be coming from a far distance.  Of course, either way, I have no idea how to explain to them where I’m calling from since there’s no address.  I just have to hope that all the points of reference I can use will work if I ever have an emergency situation. And hopefully, I’m not allergic and all that happens is my tongue goes numb and the site where the stinger went in hurts.  But in the meantime, I’ll look for that local number to the police station.

Pura vida…Chrissy

The Grocery Store

Going to the grocery store here often times gives me a headache.  The Automercado because it’s so darn expensive and the 2001 Market because it’s so disorganized and is lacking so many items that I need.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the layout.

Like the flour is next to the Top Ramen and the Chinese food.  And the tortillas are next to the jam, dulce de leche and chocolate sauce.  It boggles my mind as to how they created the store and what they were thinking when they did it or how they restock.  I needed baking soda but all they had was baking powder.  Two different brands of powder and like 15 bottles!  But no soda.  Fortunately, I now have my iPhone and I quickly googled substitutes for baking soda.  My choices were triple the powder or mix the powder and cream of tartar together.  You want to guess which one I ended up with?  Only baking powder because there was no cream of tartar.  Tartar sauce, yes.  Cream of tartar, no.

It seems so odd that they don’t have baking soda but they have tahini.  I needed the tahini to make hummus so I was happy to find it but still odd.  And I have yet to find a yellow “limon”.  Contrary to popular belief here, there is a difference between limes and lemons.  Limon refers to both types.  But they’re totally different.  Like you put a green limon into Corona’s.  You put a yellow limon into hummus.  But I haven’t found any lemons.  Even at the Automercado.

Some things also surprise me.  Like the eggs aren’t refrigerated.  They’re not even near a refrigeration unit.  The other day as I was checking out, I asked the cashier, “isn’t it necessary to keep eggs cold?”  She smiled and laughed a little, “No not necessary”, she replied.  I really think eggs should be refrigerated.

And just a quick update on the scorpion encounter.  I am now totally paranoid and any time I reach for my folded sheets, a towel or any of my clothes (hanging or folded), I frantically shake them out at arm’s length first.  I’ve also been told to always check my shoes.  Although, that’s not so much of a worry.  I only have 3 pairs of shoes that are closed toed and I haven’t worn any of them in the entire time I’ve lived here.  I also haven’t worn socks.  Every time I tell someone that, I smile.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Welcoming Challenges

Life gets a whole lot easier when you sell almost everything you own.  At the moment, I have no bills.  My room at the hotel only has a mini-frig and coffeemaker so I also really don’t have any cooking to do, or for that matter, cleaning up after cooking.  Because it’s a small room, I also have very little general cleaning to do.  I like to say my biggest challenge right now is trying to figure out how to keep the sand out of my room.  Part of the problem is that unless I’m at the restaurant, in a meeting or going into town, I am pretty much barefoot at all times.

What else do I find challenging?  Do I put on sunscreen first or bug spray?  Are the clouds going to clear out so I can hang dry my clothes on the line or will it start raining and I need to use the dryer?  Where can I purchase biodegradable softener?  Do I go to yoga or pilates?  While burning a citronella candle – why are there still mosquitoes flying around my legs in my outdoor office?

Probably the most serious challenge though is how to keep the ants out of Harmony’s food and water bowls.  For the first week, I was having to try to force feed him as I could only leave the food out for a few minutes before these tiny (almost microscopic) ants would show up.  Hundreds of them.  Both because of my own philosophy as well as the hotel’s, I’m trying to find natural solutions.  But at the same time, I have to make sure Harmony eats (and contrary to what most people seem to think, he won’t eat with hundreds of bugs in his bowl eating his food).  The one solution that has worked thus far is rubbing olive oil around the outside of Harmony’s bowl.  While I haven’t seen it, I can imagine the ants attempting to crawl up the bowl and sliding down as they try.

Life has definitely gotten a whole lot easier these last few weeks and I’m so very grateful for that.  Besides finally being healthy, it’s nice to have a little break from the hectic life I led in the States.

Pura vida…Chrissy