by Jeni Giles Evans
While staying in San Jose, my husband and I met another couple who had recently flown in from a quick visit to the US. We were enchanted to discover that they lived in a remote jungle community on the Osa Peninsula, a place we have not yet visited. Although they were quite friendly and willing to talk, we noticed that their warmth increased after discovering that we live in San Ramón—not in town, but in a cabin in the mountains. They “approved” of our choice of a place to live, but were quick to tell us that too many expats are not experiencing the “real Costa Rica” because they live in Escazu or Atenas. Ok, I let them get away with it, but I would like to dispel that myth right here and now.
How can we judge anyone else’s Costa Rican experience? We all have our own reasons for coming here, so what I want from my experience may not have any relation to what you want. If I like living on a mountainside and if you like living on a beach, is either one of those places NOT Costa Rica? Are the Ticos who live in San Jose not real Ticos because they don’t live in a jungle with the monkeys?
Two of our friends chose to live downtown in San Jose near Sabana Park. They are city folks from the US who came here for the health care. They have no interest in living with the monkeys or giving up their concerts and plays and city noises. They vacation where they can see and hear the wildlife and the surf and throw their toilet paper in the trash, but they return home to an adorable two-story house on a quiet street near the park. They are learning Spanish and how to cook gallo pinto and to live with razor wire and locked gates. Contrary to their life in the US, they are walking more and using public buses and taxis. They no longer think in terms of how much they accomplished in one day, and instead they contemplate how many neighbors they talked with and how much further they managed to walk before tiring and what new foods they have tried. Are they not experiencing Costa Rica?
We have other friends who live in Central Valley communities popular with expats, such as Grecia and Atenas. Some of them knew little or no Spanish when they moved here and lived hurried lives with long commutes and little time for family and friends. They worked themselves into a state of unhappiness and poor health at jobs they hated. Some of them had done very little traveling outside of the US, but they heard that life was slower paced here and they took a chance on a whole new lifestyle. They are finding their way here, learning what they really love and how they can make a living at it. They are eating fresh fruits and vegetables bought at ferias instead of from cans at the grocery store. So, some of them have “American” plumbing and can flush their toilet paper, but they are learning to live with the scorpions and army ants. Some of them are using the bus, but others are negotiating the Costa Rican bureaucracy and are buying cars and houses and learning how it’s done here. Their daily experiences are helping them to learn the language. Is this not the “real” Costa Rica?
Life on the Caribbean for some of my friends means daily walks or horse rides on the beach with their dogs (in contrast to my hike up the side of a mountain) and sipping wine on the beach in the moonlight. From her bedroom window, one of my friends can see only jungle canopy all the way to the ocean. It’s Caribbean cuisine and snacking on roasted cacao beans, babying new orchids, and kayaking for them. Are they living the “real” Costa Rica?
We live in the Central Highlands on the edge of the Central Valley. We wanted a community that was still predominately native Costa Rican, but we liked the fact that there were enough expats here that we could learn from their experience while our Spanish skills are still in the elementary stages. And yes, our neighborhood is all expats because we chose a place where the rent was all-inclusive for the sake of convenience. It is also beside the highway and a short walk to the bus stop, so it’s easy to get into town. But we talk to the Ticos we see at the bus stop. We struggle through our limited Spanish to ask about their families and to tell them about ours and about how we love this country. We are navigating the CAJA system, exploring the country by bus, discovering natural remedies, growing avocados (or trying to), and having our boots repaired instead of throwing them out and buying new ones. And may I just add, I handled that last one with absolutely no English and no receipt for my boots or for the down payment—something I would never have done in the States. Are we experiencing Costa Rica?
Sí, por supuesto, we are all experiencing the varied offerings of this lovely country. Beaches, jungles, mountain villages, and cities—we’ve got them all, and it’s all Costa Rica!