Apr 21 2013

On Integration: Living in Costa Rica

by Tom Bunker

Marcia at Corrida de Cintas in Llano Bonito (She only sits on horses)

This is a follow-up to my previous article describing how Marcia and I ended up here. Now that we have lived here for over 2-1/2 years, we are enjoying our new lives and community. Throughout this article, you will see some photos of examples of daily life. Like everyone, I have my opinions and what works for me may not suit you.

Probably the key principal in our approach to Costa Rica is that we really want to live in Costa Rica. For that reason, I don’t want to live in a tourist area or an “expat community.” I really hate that term and like to consider myself as a legal resident, never an expat.

There used to be a few gringos here. Now there is only one other couple. They are very nice people, but are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We see them from time to time, but their lives revolve around their religion and keep them busy.

Pura Vida – Resplendent Quetzal

Before you get the impression that we’re some kind of hermits, We do know other Americans and sometimes attend events and group tours. We also visit tourist areas, we just don’t want to live in one. I have little patience for those who complain or expect things to change or don’t understand why more people don’t speak English. People who isolate themselves from the real Costa Rica are missing some great experiences.

Oxcart Parade at Patronal in Zarcero

We live in the small community of La Palmita, a few kilometers south of Zarcero. At 5,800 feet, the temperatures here are mild to cool. The area has a lot of dairy farms and organic farming and there is always a good supply of cheese and produce.

We live very much like our neighbors do. We are not on a strict budget, but often spend just over $2,000 per month. We do have disposable income that allows us to travel when we want, which can make our monthly expenses much higher. However, our low overhead means that we can leave the county and have fixed expenses here of less than $500 per month.

Traditional Dance in Laguna

Our house is a 3 bedroom tico style house. We don’t need or have air conditioning. We also don’t have a water heater or clothes drier. The shower head has a built in heater and that’s the only place we have hot water.  Our rent is $240 per month.

Families here tend to stay close to each other and help each other. For example, our landlord’s house is just north of us and one of his son’s lives in a house that shares a wall with him. That is followed by a daughter’s family and then us in a separate house. Just south of us is a grand-daughter’s family followed by a daughter-in-law. Her son lives up the road a bit. Two of the landlord’s brothers live a stone’s throw away. We know other extended families and the story is similar. For some odd reason, many of the Ticos in the area have relatives in New Jersey or have lived there themselves. I can’t imagine moving from here to New Jersey.

Independence Day Parade in Zarcero

Everyone has been very welcoming and we are invited to birthdays, weddings, baptisms,  holiday meals, and other special events. All of the taxi drivers, bank employees, and shop owners know us. We are also the only gringo members of the local senior’s group (Grupo Adulto Mayor). We can’t walk two blocks without stopping to shake a hand or kiss a cheek and exchange pleasantries.  This really feels like home now.

English is rarely spoken here and my Spanish is improving. There are still some times when I have no idea what is being said and then I usually ask if what I think they said is correct. If all else fails a shrug and a smile always works.

Bicycle Event in Zarcero

There always seem to be some kind of event going on in one of the small communities around us. These are always free, but offer the opportunity to buy food and drink. Bingo is very popular and of course, dancing. There is always a danger when trying to make sweeping statements about a group of people, but I think its safe to say, “Ticos love to dance!”

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