First Impressions

These are my first impressions of our experience and the place we now call home in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I am sure with time, these will change, but for now I will leave you with this slice of our new life as I see it.

# 10 Havaianas Flip Flops are a wardrobe essential for the most casual place on earth…
I love that we NEVER have to dress up – everyday is a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops kind of day. If you NEVER get out of your swimsuit, it’s a good day too!

#9 Many processes are very different, like banking and mail….
We had to pay our car insurance the other day. Instead of mailing a check or paying on-line, you must go to the bank to make your payment to the car insurance company. The bank is like going to the Secretary of State – a waiting game. It is a room full of tellers behind a glass wall along the perimeter of the room with seats in rows in the center of the room. You pull a ticket upon entering the bank and you wait for your number to be called. By the way, there is no home mailing service here either- can’t say I miss junk mail, but I do find myself dreaming of an Amazon Prime order from time to time. I have yet to see a post office, although I know they exist, they must be far and few between.

#8 Tico Time is a real thing…
While you will never meet a Tico without a smile or a helping hand, it is best not to count on them for punctuality. Rarely are people on time and you can’t count on things getting done when they say they will be done. Afterall, it might have been a great day to catch the surf and that is more important. This can be a bit annoying, but it is helping me realize most things can wait and this way of thinking is a sure path to pura vida.

#7 While generally more affordable than our life at home, Costa Rica is not inexpensive…
Our conclusion is that many goods and products are expensive and many services are very inexpensive. In an effort to save money, we try to shop and eat like locals, not tourists. We don’t buy products that are imported. We are learning how to cook and prepare locally grown produce and we don’t eat at the touristy restaurants, but we go to the sodas – a local restaurant. We notice our new lifestyle is also less expensive – we drive one car, not two. We don’t spend money on Starbucks, the movies, or umpteen kid’s activities. We work and do school from home, so we eat all our meals at home.  Our entertainment is spending time together in nature and being active outdoors. A few examples of the lower costs for services: a. men’s haircut $6  b. veterinarian home visit $30 c. house cleaning $3 /hour plus bus fare.

Tonight’s dinner: Gallo Pinto Empanadas served with homemade guacamole.

#6 We will never get tired of the sunsets…
Being close to the equator, the sun sets early, around 5:30 pm every day. Your days are often planned around this sacred time. Being on the Pacific Coast, we are in prime sun set watching territory. It is generally not a good plan to be driving the Costa Rican roads past dark, so there is no excuse not to park yourself on a beach, with a drink in your hand and within walking distance of home.

#5 Despite temps in the 90’s most days, we have not turned on the AC yet…..
Out of the direct sun, the air is cool and dry (at least now in the dry season December -April). We have a great breeze that blows through our house and our outdoor space is shady. Evenings are cool and comfortable here in Costa Rica – awesome sleeping weather! The night skies are clear and amazing for star gazing.

#4 Buying a car is not an easy proposition for an expat, but we succeeded…
You can’t rationalize the money you will spend for the age, mileage and condition of the car you will get…it will make you crazy. The only saving grace is that cars seem to hold value longer, so hopefully if and when we have to sell, we will recoup our spend. The roads and salt are not kind, so we pray we have good fortune. It is important that you know the language proficiently and know something about cars if you are going to negotiate a good deal – we know neither of those things.  We lucked out and found a nice family that was moving out of the area and we were saved from having to hire someone to accompany us to Liberia or San Jose. We got a 14 year old 4X4 SUV with 180K miles and a few scars from the Costa Rican roadways.  It met all of our requirements including extra seats, so we have room to pick up our parents when they visit.

#3 Canadians love Costa Rica…
I have met so many Canadians here! I was curious about the draw and did some research. I found this fun website: www.savethecanadians.org

Ok…I get it, after all, Michigan and Canada are neighbors and I am here!

#2 Paradise doesn’t mean everything is beautiful or perfect…
People call this paradise and it is, but my husband and I have decided that paradise is a sum of all the parts. There are positives and negatives to everywhere. I am in constant awe of the beauty but equally disturbed by the amount of trash I see. I love discovering the wildlife, but check our towels and shoes for scorpions (we have killed 3 so far). I look forward to hiking in the mountains and exploring the rain forests, but have too many mosquito bites to even count. I look forward to frequenting our local establishments for live music and adult beverages, but annoyed we have to set our house alarm and worry about petty theft.

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#1 Pura Vida except when driving…
I have already explained the way of life here as being slow, chill, no hurry, and no worries…..that is all true EXCEPT when you are behind the wheel. If you are going too slow, you will surely get the horn and will be passed on the curviest, most narrow roads imaginable. There are no sidewalks or shoulders, so I’m scared for pedestrians and bikers everyday here.

Pura Vida friends!

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Next blog: homeschooling the kids – please email me your questions in advance!

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Why Costa Rica

Central America offered us an affordable option for living abroad that Europe and other other parts of the world could not provide. Also felt very accessible to us and our North American friends and family. From there, we started narrowing it down based on our wish list. We wanted a place that was environmentally friendly – in 2016, Costa Rica derived 98% of its energy from renewable sources. We wanted a place that was safe and stable for our family -in 1948, Costa Rica abolished its military, leaving tax dollars to support healthcare, education and environmental protection. The literacy rate is 98% in Costa Rica. A public education is mandatory for elementary school children and college tuition compared to the U.S. is a bargain. Costa Rica provides universal healthcare to its citizens and permanent residents, as well as some of the best healthcare in Central America. Private healthcare is also available and is affordable and high quality. In the private hospitals, you can use cash and some health insurance policies from the U.S. The prices are a third to a fifth of what we might pay in the U.S. Medical tourism has grown in Costa Rica – dental procedures, hip and knee replacement and cosmetic surgeries being the most common.

We started exploring real estate and business opportunities in February 2016, which led us to the Northwest Pacific part of Costa Rica, located in the Guanacaste province. We visited in May and fell in love with the people, the land and the lifestyle we knew was possible for us in Costa Rica. We thought long and hard if we could make the changes we wanted and stay at home. While, we knew it was possible, we would be giving up the dream to live abroad, embark on a family adventure, learn a language and immerse ourselves in a different culture.

We settled on Playa Potrero, an equal part ex-pat and local community, accessible by foot or bike to many grocery stores, restaurants and a pleasant beach in the bay.

Since we are homeschooling the kids and Marc is a science teacher first and foremost, we can’t wait to explore this country’s diverse ecosystems.

Pura Vida!

The Journey

I love a challenge and planning a trip to a new place. Six months of preparation and one month of acclimating to a new home in a foreign land is both of these things, plus exhilarating and exhausting – my comfort zone. I am energized by the exploration of something new, so up to this point, things have been fairly easy and really fun. One month in, the transition period is coming to an end and now the hard work begins for me- preparing the mind, body and soul for the PURA VIDA way of life – the change I am seeking for myself and for our family. Pura Vida literally means Pure Life, but Costa Ricans demonstrate this is a way of living. Life can be peaceful, simple, and uncluttered with a deep appreciation for nature, family and friends. That pretty much sums up our family’s goal, but, since I am the author of this blog, I might as well confess now…I have the most work to do to live a Pura Vida life. My husband is practically there and always has been – its natural for him. Here are a few of my goals for my personal Pura Vida quest:
1. Let go of the need for control and perfection.
2. Find an identity that is separate from the work I do -relearn to live life and have fun!
3. Grant myself and those around me grace -letting go of the self-criticism and guilt that sometimes paralyzes me.

I haven’t used an alarm clock since I have been here. It is liberating to go to bed without the need to perform the ritual. Since we homeschool and don’t leave the house for our jobs, we can rise with the sun, which is a more natural and pleasant way to start your morning each day. Don’t be too jealous – it’s 6am most days, but it never feels that early, in contrast to my previous life. Since the sun sets early (5:30pm), we go to bed much earlier too. The mornings are the longest part of the day here and are best enjoyed with a walk on the beach when the tide is low. I am cherishing that we do not have a place to rush off to each and every morning and I am not caught repeating my former frequent phrase with the kids – “hurry up, we are going to be late!” Most days school starts by 9am, but we are very flexible, depending on the week’s opportunities and obligations. They average 12-14 hours of schoolwork per week, which paces them ahead of the standards and still leaves them time to enjoy their individual interests as well as have plenty of family time (sometimes more than we all can handle).

Tucker has decided he wants to focus his time and energy into becoming a better sailor and learning to surf. He sailed in his first competition this past weekend. He was the only minor in the competition and he showed great improvement by not coming in last place by the last round – that was his take on the experience. Abby wants to continue her passions of horseback riding and competitive swim, but while we have made some inquiries into both, we have not committed to either yet. She agreed to a “sabbatical” so that she could participate in a local theater production with her brother, Elliot. Elliot is happiest performing and making music, so the play was a natural fit for him. He also brought his keyboard and ukulele, which he is hoping to master.

As I told friends, family, co-workers and even strangers back in the U.S. about our upcoming move to Costa Rica, the first question I got from almost everyone was what are you going to “do” there. I know most of the times, it was out of curiosity of how we were going to pull of this crazy idea, but in contrast, I haven’t been asked once about what I “do” here in Costa Rica. No one cares about what you “do”. The American way of life seems to be focused on working and accumulating stuff and that is one of the striking differences from the Pura Vida way of living.

The last couple of years, I gave up cooking and we outsourced cleaning. Mostly because I was working a full-time plus hour job and Marc had reduced his hours to be the primary homemaker and he excelled. Now, we find ourselves in reversed roles. He is the only one of us that has a paying job right now and he has the added responsibility of managing the kid’s schooling. So, naturally, I am finding my way back in the kitchen and happily doing things like sweeping the house twice a day! You would not believe the dirt and sand that accumulates. When I fully adapt to this Pura Vida lifestyle, maybe I’ll only sweep once a day.

Lemons are plentiful and inexpensive here, so I have been experimenting with new refreshing drinks, in addition the daily smoothie I make with whatever tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, coconut, papaya, banana) is on the counter. Below are two recent favorites that I recommend when your days are hotter:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/iced-lemon-ginger-tea-200688
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/frozen-mint-lemonade-232650

I use only cane sugar or sub with honey. Happy Sipping and PURA VIDA!