The Ups & Downs of life in small town Costa Rica
We arrived in Sámara, Costa Rica from Brooklyn, New York after traveling seven hours (five flying and two driving) yet it felt like went about 7 decades back in time. Our family had been yearning for a slower, simpler pace of life; wondering if we too should hipster out and buy a farm upstate to make our own goat milk soap. Then the cards fell as they should and now we find ourselves in small town Costa Rica. While my husband takes a 4 month intensive massage course, I manage everything else: our 3 year old and his schooling, our rented house, my freelance jobs. I often complain, in a joking way, that I feel like a 1950s housewife. In New York, we managed a pretty even split of home and parenting responsibilities, but here, my husband is gone all day and studying most evenings leaving me with childcare and housework in a place lacking many modern conveniences. Moving to paradise was a culture shock at first and I was counting down the days till I could return to my sterilized 15th floor apartment with Amazon at my fingertips and my previous non housewife status. Thanks to my sunset and beach bonfire Instagrams my friends are all convinced I’m having the time of my life. Yet nothing is simple in our new simplified life. I can’t even begin to capture in photo the absurdities I’ve encountered. The following musings begins to sum up some of the frustrating, strange, and funny experiences I’ve had in small town Costa Rica.
Yogurt - Every morning, my son Noam eats yogurt with granola and tropical fruit. Unless we are late for school and then it’s a granola bar on the back of the bicycle. Weekly, I go to the Iguana Verde, my local market, for provisions. Once there was no plain Yoplait yogurt so I asked the guy, “Hi, where is the yogurt?” He said, “Oh yes, No yogurt” I said, “Ok, fine. Will you have it tomorrow?” He responded, ‘Let me check” and a minute later added “Next week.” Me: “Next week?!?!?” One can’t be in a rush for things here. Sloooooooooow down is the mantra.
Scorpions - One night Noam and I arrived at home in the dark after a fun sunset on the beach. I opened the door in our dark house and said, “Hurry, get straight to the shower. We are all sandy.” When I flipped on the lights, there is a scorpion sitting in the middle of the entrance! Noam was waiting for me in the bathroom already. I tried not to scream and calmly said, “Noam, get over here. See this? See this thing? It’s a scorpion. It’s very dangerous. Don’t ever touch it because it stings and will really hurt. OK, back to the shower”. I scooped it up, set it back outside, and continued with the evening freaked out AF but not gonna show it. I later googled that the scorpions in Costa Rica are not lethal so that’s a plus.
ATM - I miss AutoPay! Here 99.9% of everything is paid in cash. Everything! Which means I am constantly at the ATM and there are only two! This also means there is always a long line. And guess what? Sometimes after waiting for 20 minutes in line, the ATM runs out of cash! Now what?... Mañana.
Bike - Upon arrival we knew we would need bikes and a bike seat. So we just go to the bike rental, right? Ha! You can’t just get whatever you want when you want it in Costa Rica. There was not a single child seat to be found. “OK,” I thought, “I’ll search on the Samara Facebook group and see if someone is selling one.” Nope. Ah, my neighbor tells me is is going to the nearest big city this week and will have a look for me and could bring some back in his truck. Finally, we make friends who have two spare bikes both with a baby seat. Damn, thank god for good Karma!
Washing machines - I have a whole new appreciation for the modern washing machine and when it’s time to finally buy my own I will gladly hand over the money for it. From what I’ve heard, we actually have a top of the line washing machine at our apartment here but it’s impossible to ever get the clothes totally clean. Sometimes I take my clothes out of the washing machine and I can still shake dirt off of them. Huh? So, ok, we are always a little dirty, but this is what living an au natural life is all about, right?
Rug - Ugh, no matter how much I sweep, the bottom of my feet always feel gritty. Gross. Dry season is great for tourism but it also means dusty season. I need some small rugs. “Where can I find some small house rugs?” I ask my new mom friend. “Sometimes there is a guy who comes into town and sells them. He walks around the streets carrying them. You can get them from him.” Me: “OK. Got it. Thanks.” Me thinking: Really?! I just have to be standing in the right place at the right time to get some rugs!? What happened to instant gratification and free 2 day shipping. Eventually I did run into him and he was selling hammocks too! Get it while you can!
Ants - My three year old thinks it’s amazing that ants love candy because he ALSO loves candy. They have something in common. Wow….hum. Living in nature means living with bugs. A diverse ecosystem is healthy. Hence I’m constantly hounding him “Don’t drop anything on the floor or ants will take over!” I’ve learned how to make an eco-friendly ant repellant for when they do find that one cookie package with a pin size hole. We have learned to embrace the ants in the house but only the ones that don’t bite. It is doing wonders for my nervous system.
Horse - Wild horses are part of the community here. They roam freely on the beach, in open pastures, soccer fields, your front yard and even your child’s pre K school ground! Just before coming here, a Brooklyn mom I spoke to at the playground was going off on one of the local play areas she said gave her kid coxsackie because their toys were not clean. She would have a heart attack here. On Noam’s 5th day of school, as I dropped him off under the veranda, a teacher exclaimed, “Ah look, it’s a Caballo (translation: horse). Let me run in and get some carrots so the children can feed it.” There is no need for planned trips to the petting zoo. Wild horses just show up at your school.
Nice clothes - (see washing machine above) When preparing for this trip I got all fashion blogger crazy and imagined I would be this resort wear maven with white flowy dresses and exotic skin sandals. Um, all that stuff went right back into the luggage never to be seen while we are in bohemian chic…. dry, dusty, sandy.... Samara. This place is for real adventures like walking on dirt roads with potholes and huge rocks, biking next to horses and cows, always ending up at the beach, and carrying your toddler who has just rolled around in above mentioned dirt. No bras, quick dry shorts, loose tank tops, flip flops, and Keen shoes are the uniform de rigueur and it’s wonderful. Although, I have managed to pull together a few looks that function in this climate and have still a hint of fashion appeal.
Prepared Food & Electricity - I miss prepared food and food delivery, a lot. This is part of the 1950s housewife dilemma. I can’t get out of the kitchen! Finally I found a solution by stocking up on tamales that a local woman sells. I save them in the freezer and voila I have frozen fast food. Sometimes, as in every other day, the electricity dims and sometimes it just goes out. Sometimes it’s romantic...but what about the 20 tamales I just put in the freezer ?!?!?
The language barrier is a whole other musing which raises the overall musing quotient exponentially. Communicating in a new language leaves a lot of room for error. Ideally I would know Spanish by now but all the speaking in body language is way too much fun. While here I learned a new word, saudade, which has no English translation. The best sense I can make of it is homesickness. Wikipedia describes it as a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. In this foreign paradise, I sometimes feel homesick for my parents, and the jean weather in NYC but I know I will feel homesick for this crazy place, too.
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