Article written for a magazine geared to expats and people contemplating a move
|I wanted to reinvent my life more than I wanted to retire so at fifty eight I looked for a warm, gorgeous, stable, country with a good health care system and friendly natives. I got more than I bargained for in Costa Rica!
This little country has it all in biodiversity. It has a plethora of natural wonders including active volcanoes, tropical rain forests, waterfalls, hot springs, jungle, deserted beaches, great surf, and flora and fauna to knock your socks off! Costa Rica is an unspoiled paradise bordered by glorious coastlines on the Pacific and Caribbean. There is something for everyone and since tourism has become the number one source of income, the country is geared to Gringo needs.
I was desperate to get away from it all and a farm in the mountains was what I could afford. I built my house in a ruggedly gorgeous area overlooking the Pacific on one side and the Gulf of Nicoya on the other. Tropical dry rain forest still covers much of the area but I can also see white cows dotting verdant green pastures. Pine trees line some ridges and teak trees flow over many hillsides. During dry season, the intensity of the blue sky is only rivaled by the sun. In rainy season, we have weather. Sunny mornings give way to a build up of an ever changing sky full of clouds, mist, and fog. Sometimes the clouds settle into the valleys and I have the feeling of living on top of the world. It is November and the daily rains will give way to powerful winds and then constant sunshine for six months.
Learning may be the biggest advantage to retiring here. Acquiring a new language is great for the mind and having Spanish in your face daily quickens the process. In the beginning, I was shy but the Costericenses or Ticos as they are called, are a forgiving, polite, people. One day a man approached me carrying a shiny new chain saw. I was nervous and ready with my standard, “no, gracias”. He continued speaking and pointing to the saw while I shook my head not understanding. I had a saw. Finally in exasperation, he blurted out “you”. Much to my chagrin, I realized my worker, had given my saw to this man to repair and clean. I told him that I was really “embarazada” which only confused things since it means pregnant not embarrassed as I thought. When I asked him, “cuanta es?” he replied with an amount equivalent to two dollars. I thought I had misunderstood. Completely flustered, I gave him four thinking it made up for my stupidity. Recalling the look on his face, I’m not sure.
Little by little my Spanish improved and I ventured into the community. I fell in love with the culture. I love the heat, the rain, the agriculture that seems to soften the people. I grew fond of the disorder that exists, the colorful little houses, the loud and catchy Latin music and the engaging dances. I learned to see and accept the culture as it is. I saw men work exhausting hours for little pay and families that did without. I watched pets and animals die because there was no money for medicine. Despite hardships, the Ticos love to have fun and lots of it. Week-ends bring rodeos, motocross events, beach parties, church functions, and dances which follow most events. However life is slower in general and people are quick to say, “tranquilo”, when nerves get on edge. These people don’t like confrontation and I like the gentle aspect of their culture and the fact that they have no military. All this slowness and tranquility isn’t for everyone and “mañana” can drive type A personalities batty. Time as a concept is very different here and difficult to adjust to for many foreigners. Mañana can be tomorrow, next week, or anytime in the future.
I have rarely felt discrimination as a Gringo but Ticos will take advantage of our ignorance. We all over pay in the beginning and still think we get a bargain because most things cost less than where we came from, especially services. No one likes to be taken advantage of and when it happens to me, I’m upset but know it won’t happen again. It is all part of the assimilation process. You join in. Eventually you learn the value of things and the language.
In choosing to be part of this rural community, the demands are small and the rewards gratifying. I teach English one day a week, contribute a little money to worthwhile projects, and share my farm on occasion with groups of kids from town. Poverty is a problem but not as noticeable as in other Central American countries. Excellent organic coffee is grown here in the mountains and provides desperately needed work. The coffee cooperative donates a percentage of the profits to the schools. The country schools have no computers or books so I’m trying to find additional coffee markets. We hope to find schools abroad that will sell organic coffee for their fund raising and thus benefit the kids in both countries. Expats have started numerous projects to help their communities and this is one of the most rewarding aspects of living abroad. My dream is to start a free spay/neuter clinic to control the dog and cat population and a pet care program for the school children.
Buying real estate in Costa Rica can be risky business. There is a lot of information available on the internet and doing one’s homework is vital. Local people are cheated as well as foreigners by unscrupulous middlemen. Go to websites that have bulletin boards where you can ask questions and get answers. Ticos come to me frequently wanting to sell their farms. The whole mountain is for sale and fair deals for buyer and seller exist. Try to purchase property directly from the owner. Don’t rush into purchasing land because you think it is a great deal. There are hundreds of great deals.
Costa Rica is a small country but it has distinctive geographical areas with cultural and climatic differences. My mountain is my paradise. Beach is bliss for others or you may need the city life. Forty percent of foreigners who move here move back within a year. Coming to Costa Rica as a tourist for two weeks is very different from living here. Go to the internet to find the requirements for residency. Read about the country and the culture. Rent for as long as you can to see what life is really like and whether you can adjust. Then you can say, veni, vedi, velcro…I came, I saw, I stayed.