“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes all that’s required is to simply turn around. This morning, letting the dogs get their exercise, and me keeping a vigilant eye for skunks or snakes, this was my view:
Nothing special today, not even any parrots or monkeys in the trees nearby. And then, for no reason at all, I turned around, and this view took my breath away:
If I hadn’t changed my perspective, I would have missed the most glorious sunrise — the photo doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.
Sometimes just changing the way you look at something brings a whole new meaning to the situation. If it’s one thing we’ve learned from living in Costa Rica, it’s that you really have to consciously change your perspective in order to adapt. Instead of getting mad that the cows are blocking the road, we try to find the humor in the scene and remind ourselves this is way better than bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Plus, it’s infinitely more entertaining to watch them show you who’s really boss in this neck of the woods.
Lonely Planet just released its Best Destinations for 2020 – and yep, you guessed it – Costa Rica made the list. Not surprising, given the diversity of wildlife, abundance of beautiful jungles and beaches, sports activities, fabulous year-round climate, cleanliness, etc. But living here is not for everyone. Yes, like every place in the world, there is crime (most of it petty theft), endless red-tape bureaucracy, corruption in the government, and everything moves at a snail’s pace. Still, Costa Rica remains one of the safest countries to visit. (If you’re living in the U.S. and think you’re so safe there, think again; that a National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin even exists should tell you something.) So people living or visiting Costa Rica can choose to focus on the negatives, or switch their perspective.
Recently, we had to say “hasta luego” to dear friends, two couples around our age. Ironically, both couples are from New Jersey, and small world, ended up meeting us and each other. “A” and “B” are friends with my cousin, who referred them to me when they mentioned possibly relocating to Costa Rica. We shared our blog and experiences and advice with them, and we quickly became good friends. They moved here about a year and a half ago, feeling like all the signs were pointing in this direction. They did it right — living in Air BnBs around Costa Rica, testing out different areas. Their last stop was on Langosta Beach, not far from us. We were thrilled they were living closer, and we took every advantage to spend time with them. They loved living on the beach, but were taken aback (as were we) of the high cost of living in this area. A and B also took advantage of their new-found freedom, and took several trips all over the world. One of their trips was to Panama, where they felt the lower cost of living was more in line with their expectations. So, last week, we bid them farewell as they head back to the States to spend the holidays with family and then move to Panama. We will miss them dearly, and hope that they will return to Costa Rica someday.
Then, at a charity event in November in Tamarindo, we made friends with another couple, “C’ and “D”. They asked if they could share our table for 4, we hit it off right away, and again, sought every opportunity to spend time with them. They own a condo in Tamarindo, have been coming to Costa Rica for about 4 years. Like us, they fell in love with the country and the people immediately, and come down when they can, renting their condo out the rest of the year. Now, they are both retired and tired of the cold weather in the Northeast. Three times in the last month, they postponed their return flight home — both of them saying they really didn’t want to leave. Eventually, this week, they did fly back to Jersey, but only long enough to pack their bags, and then head off to Australia for an extended vacation. We could see the wheels turning in their heads every time they talked about getting out of Jersey, maybe spending six months in Florida, six months in Costa Rica. We were sad to see them finally leave, but at least, we know they will be back.
Both of these couples felt the tug of the advantages of living here, but couldn’t/not ready to make the full-time commitment. Yet, there are so many North Americans living here; the U.S. consulate in San Jose even has a full-time Social Security employee on staff. Nevertheless, living here in Costa Rica is not for everyone. It really does require a mental adjustment — that “mañana” attitude can make you crazy, if you let it. The electrician said he’d be there Monday — you didn’t think he meant THIS Monday, did you? Don’t forget, there are 4 Mondays in a month – he will show up on one of them – MAYBE. This goes for all deliveries and handymen. You either a) learn to be patient, b) learn to live with the broken appliance/hole in the wall/three-legged stool, etc. or c) become very handy yourself. Fortunately for us, Gary is extremely handy, and can fix almost anything (except plumbing and I don’t like him playing with electricity). Necessity really does become the mother of invention here. One of my next blogs will be on the many cooking substitutes I have had to come up with because I can’t get so many ingredients here (or can get them but for ridiculously exorbitant cost).
It’s so easy to fall into the routine of complaining, as evidenced by the many ravings and rants by expats on Facebook pages. Many whine – yes, that’s the only word for it – about the lack of goods or services. But you learn to make do, or find new ways of doing things. We wanted to buy a sewing machine, but didn’t see any good quality ones here for sale. Then, we discovered one of the women at the weekly open market does sewing. Now, we bring her everything for fixing and hemming, she does a wonderful job, we’re helping support her, and it’s quite affordable. Last week, she hemmed two pairs of martial arts pants for Gary, took the lining out of one and adjusted all the seams, for about $10.
Yes, it’s not so easy to find everything you want or need, and you might have to drive 50 miles or more to get it. Tiger Balm works wonders when Gary’s back is acting up, but we can’t find it in this area. We had to wait until a friend was going to San Jose (the capital of the country with lots more stores and amenities, but a 5-hour drive away), and he brought back two jars for half the price of the not-as-good equivalent we were buying here. I used to miss the 7-11 two blocks away in Queens when I needed some missing ingredient. Now, I have a 25-minute walk to the little supermarket in the center of town, and I look at it as good exercise with fresh air, an opportunity to greet neighbors and practice my Spanish, and a chance to peek down little lanes and alleys that we miss when driving by.
You can spend your time here missing all your friends. I could be missing the comraderie and chit-chat with my colleagues in the office in Manhattan. But now, my morning walks let me commune with new furry friends. And we are able to keep in touch with most of our friends via Facebook, so we don’t feel so disconnected. This has also forced us to make new friends here; again, everyone lives so far apart but when you do get together, it makes those moments even more special.
A few nights ago, we watched someone’s YouTube video of streets in mid-town Manhattan, highlighting all the Christmas decorations — the store’s windows, the light display at SAKS Fifth Avenue, the tree at Rockefeller Center. We used to look forward to seeing those sights around the holidays. But we don’t miss the crowds or the cold, and now we look forward to the rodeo in town.
For entertainment, in New York, we used to have cable TV, with over 500 channels (most of them useless), Broadway plays, choice of a dozen movie theaters including IMAX, productions at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Now, we have Netflix from Mexico, and YouTube — that’s it. But I have discovered a treasure trove in the one little bookstore in town, and Gary is always tinkering around to find ways to get other online movies and shows. Forget the Academy Awards – this wasp trying to drink my tea was way more fun to watch.
The Ticos have a saying which you will see displayed everywhere in Costa Rica: Pura Vida. Literally translated as pure life, it means everything from hello, goodbye, have a great day, all good here – it’s an attitude, a reflection the easygoing lifestyle here. This attitude takes a while to fully absorb – especially for those who are used to watching the clock, being punctual, extremely organized, always rushing and busy, expecting perfection.
Living here really does require a shift in perspective. But if you can do that, then you can be happy, no matter where you are or what your circumstances are. Abraham Lincoln said it best: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses”.
PERSPECTIVE was first published December 2019.