Moving to Costa Rica: Settling In

Costa Rican Currency (Photo by Joan Kistler)

We have finally arrived, and we’re settling in. The worst part is over: sixteen days on the road from the closing on our home in Easton, PA to the day we flew into San Jose, Costa Rica. Throughout those sixteen days, we posted pictures and stories on Facebook documenting our journey, We looked so happy, right?

Well … to be perfectly honest, I had more than one emotional meltdown. At times, the small part of me that was scared to death overwhelmed me completely, and I ended up sobbing. The worst episode was the night before we flew. I hadn’t flown in an airplane since I was seventeen years old. It wasn’t the flight that scared me; it was the airport. There were too many unknowns. How would we get from the rental car return to the airport? It looked like it was a least a half-mile walk on the map. Could we get an Uber or taxi at 5 AM? Would anyone be there at that hour to help us figure it out? In my head were visions of us lugging two carry-ones and two suitcases each the entire distance and missing our flight. My head couldn’t accept my heart’s reassurances that said, “Just wait until you get there. You’ll figure it out.”

Of course, I didn’t have to figure anything out because the airport already had it all figured out. There was a skytrain that transported people to the airport from the rental car return. There were plenty of people around to help and signs everywhere. The airport wasn’t nearly as complicated as my fearful self imagined. We boarded our plan on time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the flight – especially the glorious sights from the airplane window.

The part of me that is fearful is an expert at taking the unknown, spinning a catastrophe, and then giving me crappy advice as to how to avoid it. There was no reason to feel so fearful. So much of this journey has worked out beautifully. Certainly, there have been challenges, like cockroaches in our hotel room and a lost phone, but there have also been surprises, like the wonderful recreation park near our new home and the NFL Network included with our cable TV.

The biggest challenge is the fact that English is a foreign language here, and I don’t know Spanish very well. Everything is in Spanish, and not everything is translated into English for people like me. I now have tremendous respect for native Spanish-speakers who were brave enough to relocate to the United States without knowing how to speak English. I am experiencing first-hand how difficult it is to be in another country and not know the language. Even though our new home is not located in an English-friendly tourist area, the Costa Ricans are so patient and helpful and kind as I struggle to speak Spanish. They genuinely appreciate the fact that I am trying to speak their language. I know that most Americans are not that way toward those in their country who do not speak English.

The next biggest challenge is the currency, which is also like another language. I love their money: it is as colorful as their country. The Costa Rican currency is the colone. Larger businesses might take American dollars and credit cards, but local small business typically take only colones. When they tell me how much I need to pay, I must look shocked and confused. “Dos mil trescientos veintisiete colones, por favor” (two thousand three-hundred twenty-seven colones please). Eh? All that for a few groceries?

That’s actually only a little more than four dollars.

But there is some real sticker shock. We wanted to buy a small microwave in Walmart. It was $176.00 for one that costs about $60.00 in the States. Familiar American products are very expensive. Foreign products are much cheaper, but … well … foreign. Figuring out what things are and how to use them isn’t easy because product names, descriptions, ingredients, and instructions are all in Spanish. And some products have proven very difficult to find – like decaf coffee. I’m seriously wondering if decaf coffee is a sacrilege in this country.

It’s been great to have a fresh vegetable vendor right next door to us – a very nice young woman named Janneth. She sells tomatoes, bananas, onions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and different kinds of squashes that we’ve never seen before in our lives. We don’t have to go far to stock up on veggies, and it’s very cheap. And our next-door neighbors, Magella and Andres, were very happy to sell us a really cool couch. We were lucky enough find someone bilingual to translate for us in order to do business with them.

Our really cool couch (Photo by Joan Kistler)

Our new home doesn’t have a hot water heater. That’s right, no hot water. The coldest water is cool and the hottest is lukewarm. Now, at first this really upset us because we thought to ourselves, “Oh God. No hot showers.” But we figured out that we can take hot showers through an ingenious invention – electrical wires around the shower pipe that heats the water. Now, seeing electrical wires in a shower is very disconcerting to those not used to seeing something like that. For that reason, this contraption is affectionately known as “the gringo killer.”

The Gringo-Killer (Photo by Joan Kistler)

All I have to say is, in the words of Dorothy, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” It has been only five days since we arrived, and we have found that our greatest survival tactic when it comes to settling in is PATIENCE. It is taking so much longer to accomplish the simplest things, which is aggravating every impatient molecule in my American body. I am finding that I can relax and enjoy myself much more when I focus not on the destination, but on the journey.

Stay tuned for the next update: Moving to Costa Rica: Culture Shock.

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