by Steve Johnson
Hi Guys. I’m the new weather reporter from San Rafael de Heredia, (actually, Concepcion de San Rafael), which, given the microclimates here, is practically on another planet. My story about retiring here is a bit unusual, and I thought some of you might be interested. Retiring to Costa Rica was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
I came here as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1968 and was sent to the village of La Cuesta near the Panamanian border. There I met Maria de los Angeles Ramirez Mora who was teaching first grade, we fell in love, and got married in the church in her hometown of San Rafael de Heredia. We moved to the States at the end of 1972 and when I retired in 2009 we moved back.
After my Peace Corps stint I wanted to stay here so bad, but I was fairly clueless as to how I might make a living. How clueless? — I remember when I went to Manuel Antonio Beach in 1969 I walked from Quepos (back then the road was just a muddy jeep track through the jungle) and as I walked along I racked my brain about how I might make a living. I spent the entire day there and was the only person on the beach. You can imagine my surprise when I returned 30 years later to find that that muddy jeep track had become the Riviera of Costa Rica. So you see, I had no vision, whatsoever. These days, of course, there are a few more people on the beach.
Costa Rica was very different back then. For one thing, not many expats. For transportation I rode a horse, walked, or took the bus (there were three buses a day). For a village of 500, there were two pickup trucks, a car, and two motorcycles. No running water, no electricity, no telephones. Families were very large — the population of La Cuesta consisted of 110 adults and 390 children. The closest hot shower was in San Jose – an 11-hour bus ride, or 50 minutes by plane — back then roads were so bad (or nonexistent) every little village had an airstrip with daily service to San Jose. Small planes landed at La Sabana, which was very convenient. The highway over the Cerro de La Muerte went up to about 11,000 feet elevation (and it still does), but the plane flew around it, so the bus actually went 6,000 feet higher than the plane. Today you still see a lot of the old Land Rovers on the roads, but back then they were the most common car — the government classified them as agricultural equipment and they could be imported, therefore, duty free.
Things, including real estate, were dirt-cheap. My monthly living allowance was $74. In order to keep myself from spending money, when I went out I made sure there was no money in any of my pockets. I ate at a boarding house for $20 a month — all I could eat, steak twice a day, and everything cooked on a wood stove. After we got married we rented a one-bedroom house for $21 a month. For $5,000 you could buy a good-sized farm with a house on it.
There is a neat video on YouTube about Costa Rica in 1947 which you can watch here:
I’d say Costa Rica in 1968 was more like it was in 1947 than like it is today.
So I’ve fulfilled my dream, but ironically, soon after arriving here we came to the realization that it was the worst mistake we’d ever made in our lives. How could we have been so blind, and stupid? But after five years we’re still here. More about that in another article, so stay tuned!