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.


Kudos for Kevin

KevinKevin’s been working with me for over two years and while we’ve had our share of ups and downs and growing pains within the business, he’s always been there for me and my company. So I wanted to give him some kudos and acknowledge what makes him so great to work with.

  • He rescues butterflies
  • He participates and is open to new experiences, stepping out of his comfort zone…taking yoga, water aerobics and even birdwatching at 5:30 in the morning
  • He does all the hard physical work- like climbing rocks to get pictures of ancient turtle traps while I stay safely on the ground.
  • When we travel, he fully immerses himself into the hotel experience- even trying out one hotel’s Hawaiian style bathrobe.
  • He’s open to trying new foods (you may be surprised at how many people I’ve met who refuse to do that). He even tried tofu AND spirulina…and liked both
  • Our clients love him
  • We travel well together. In other words, I don’t want to kill him by the end of the trip
  • He tries to make me fall. Alright that one is an inside joke but trust me, it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually quite funny.
  • He’s like a sponge. Soaking up new information and learning quickly
  • He’s got an amazing memory
  • He has a great eye for photography
  • He reminds me of our niche when I start to consider working with other types of clients and businesses
  • He chooses to do the most difficult projects first
  • I trust him completely

One of my most favorite discussions with him (which had to do with the inside joke of my clumsiness):

  • You need to be wearing your 4×4 sandals (him to me)
  • I’m glad my pain is your entertainment (me to him)

You had to be there to really appreciate the humor in that conversation.

I couldn’t manage this company without him and I’m grateful for his steadfast and loyal commitment.


I get by with a little help from my friends…

It’s been one of those weeks.  It actually started going downhill about a week ago when I decided I wanted to buy some bread and chose to go to a Panaderia that had been recommended to me by a friend.  I’ve pretty much given up on eating bread, not just for health reasons but because it’s really terribly made in Costa Rica.  I got a whole wheat ciabatta and it was hard on the outside and total air on the inside.  I can’t understand why there are bread shops if they can’t make a decent loaf of bread (and my sourdough girl at the farmer’s market disappeared a few months ago).

I realize bread is a silly thing to complain about but it’s just one piece of the abnormal puzzle that I live in.

So then came Monday/Tuesday and it was like one massive tropical snowball was hitting me.  First, I broke my Bodum coffeemaker…the glass part.  Fortunately, my first housekeeper in Tamarindo broke the original bodum’s plunger part so I had saved the glass (again, why you never, ever throw anything away).

Then, the Costa Rica tax year ends on September 30th, and I’ve been trying to find a new accountant as I wasn’t really confident in the abilities of the one I was referred to last year.  The one that I found wanted to charge me $500, twice what I paid last year.  Now listen, I have a tiny little business here that barely has any income or expenses.  The accountant knew that.  But I’m assuming he also knew I’m a gringa so might as well try to rip me off.

On the bright side, when I told my property owner of the problem, she told me she knew of an accountant that works out of his house, across from the church, in one of the 3 little homes near the little bridge. (yes, that’s how we give directions here).  She volunteered to walk me down there (with her two children) so I could meet him and discuss his services.  He turned out to be very nice and much cheaper than any of the other quotes I had received.  But he needed all my expenses printed out which is how I spent all of Tuesday afternoon (and yes, I said a little prayer for all the trees I was destroying in this “eco” country that requires paper copies).

And, just as a quick note, we were able to go down to meet the accountant because my housekeeper had canceled on me…again

We had also called ICE on Monday to try to increase my internet speed (as it was, it felt like I was on dial up from 20 years ago).  They told us it would take 24 hours to activate.  But of course, 24 hours later, that wasn’t done and I called again, had to deal with an incredibly incompetent woman who insisted that I only had placed the order 20 minutes ago (it was now Tuesday afternoon and my property owner had called ICE on Monday) and when I asked to speak with a manager, she hung up on me.  Then I called back and was told, by a manager, it would take at least 3-4 days to activate.  I swear, they can never get their stories straight.

Also, on Monday afternoon, I got a call from a friend, whose shipping account I had used, telling me that the vitamins and protein powder which had been stuck in Miami for the last 2 weeks would require a note from a doctor.  And he was at the doctor and the doctor wanted $85 for the “office consult” and to write the note.

Fine.  I’ll flipping pay the $85.  Then I’m told that another girl’s parents ships her vitamins all the time through the post office and she doesn’t even have to pay customs taxes or fees.  God help me.  I try to follow the rules and I get screwed.

Next comes trying to transfer the money to my friend’s account.  His account is with BCR.  My account is with BNCR.  BNCR will allow me to make transfers to other BNCR accounts but not to BCR accounts without a special code…which they tell me on Tuesday morning that I’ll have to go to immigration in San Jose to get the code.  I decide that’s crazy and to try to circumvent the waste of time in San Jose.  So on Tuesday morning, I go to the bank to see if they can put my online banking account into my company name, with my company’s identification number…as the entire problem stems around the fact that the online banking account is accessed through my passport number.  I get there, wait 45 minutes for a bank rep, I tell him what I want and he looks at me totally confused but is willing to try (normally, they just say no but I know this rep has a little crush on me).  We almost get through the process when he tells me that in order to set up the account, we’ll need to type my business debit card PIN code into the computer.  Which of course, since I never withdraw money from the debit card, I have no idea what the PIN is.  So, another waste of time which I will now have to find the piece of paper with the PIN code in my house and then return to the bank to try to set this up once again (and hopefully get the same rep).

Then twice in the last week, my computer has died.  You know, that scary blue “death” screen.  My entire life is dependent on having a computer and if this one dies, well, I’m pretty screwed.  I don’ t have any visitors coming until March…the computer has got to stay alive until then.

And last but not least, I just cannot seem to get my clients in Costa Rica to pay me on time.  All of my clients in the US and even those abroad who pay me through PayPal, all pay me by the due date or more often than not, on the day I send them the invoice. And I never have to ask twice. That is NEVER the case with the clients in Costa Rica and is a gigantic pet peeve of mine.  The work has been done, it’s been done well.  Now it is time to pay me.  I shouldn’t have to send reminders every month on the last day of the month.  I shouldn’t be wasting my time contacting every client here, tracking down payment.  The electric company doesn’t send reminders and yet they remember to pay their electric bill.  Geez, the electric company doesn’t even send bills!  At least I send a bill with plenty of time to pay.  And the other problem is many of them pay me through other banks which means 3-4 days of processing time before it gets into my bank account.  So when they wait until the last minute, it means I don’t have the money to pay my rent and utilities. Technically, the money is supposed to be in my account on the last day of the month.

On the bright side, I’ve got some really great projects that I’m working on for clients in the US and that’s keeping me {somewhat} happy and sane.

Emilio from Mini Price (my little Costco) offered to have the 42 pound bag of Fresh Step litter delivered to my house at no charge.

And a special note of thanks for a friend who’s been checking in on my all week.  I don’t know if it was a little birdie who told him or my less than positive facebook posts but somehow he knew I was on the verge of a meltdown and stepped up to make sure I was okay.

So I’m grateful for my friends this week who have helped me with the various problems that I’ve run into.  Mental breakdown avoided…at least for the moment.

(and I promise you all that next week’s post will be a little happier…but this is real life on the rich coast, thanks for bearing with me and letting me vent)

Pura vida…Chrissy

Community Management in Costa Rica

Working while at Jicaro Island Ecolodge

After the last post, I thought I’d write about something a little more lighthearted and fun.  I purposefully chose the title for this post just to shock some people who don’t understand exactly what my job is, while living here in Costa Rica.  I can hear them now…WHAT!!!  You’re doing community management there? That’s your job? Why in the world would you return to that god awful job that beat you down for 7 very long years?

Not to worry, everyone calm down…I’m not managing board of directors who think they’re running the world or crazy homeowners who call me names and scream at me all day.  Saying that there were pitchforks and torches at monthly meetings is really not too far from the truth.  But now, while I am managing “communities”, they’re all online and the people I interact with all want to live vicariously through what I post.

So what is it that I’m doing?  I’ve entered the new and ever-changing world of social media.  When I want to joke about my job, I tell people, “I play on Facebook all day”.  It’s somewhat true.  And while it is a lot of fun and I get to engage with lots of people who love the places I work for, it’s also a lot of work.

When I’m visiting the hotels and I meet guests, they always ask me the same question – what do you do for the hotel?  And when I tell them, you can actually see the faint hint of jealousy come across their face.  Which is almost always followed by the question: How in the world did you get that job and do you need an assistant?

The nice thing about my job?  I can work for anyone, anywhere and do it anywhere in the world.  I’ve chosen Costa Rica as my home base but as long as I have an internet connection and either my laptop or iPad, I’m good to go.

I have also somehow landed with honestly the best company to work for on the planet.  I’ve been working since I was 14 and over the last 23 years, have worked for many different companies.  But with the exception of this one and one other, the companies I’ve worked for have all been, in one way or another, abusive, harassing, unethical, chaotic, inefficient and just plain crazy.

In contrast, this company actually cares about its employees.  They want their team to succeed, both individually and collectively as well as both professionally and personally.  They listen and they really want to hear what we have to say.  They want our ideas.  They don’t go off and hide in meeting rooms all day and then never tell anyone what was decided.  And oh, decisions actually get made and things get accomplished.  That’s a new one for me.  They give their employees freedom and space to be creative along with the tools and support to get the job done and do it well.  Yes, we all work a lot and we work hard.  But the truth is, it’s not really work when you love what you’re doing and the people you’re working with.  And the icing on top, it’s a company that truly talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to sustainability.  Just this week, we were awarded with our second World Saver Award from Conde Nast Traveler.  I’m so proud to be able to work for a company that truly lives up to its mission and vision and is an inspiration and role model for others.

While I do wish we’d come up with a different title for me since every time I hear it, I cringe, thinking of my seven years of hell and being called, amongst other names, a nazi fascist…I’m alright with it for now.  Honestly, there isn’t anything that I can complain about in this job.

One final note: Whoever came up with the idea that a job requires 4 walls and a desk must not have been very openminded…or tan.

Pura vida…Chrissy