Moving to Costa Rica: The Not-So-Good Stuff

Photo by Joan Kistler

My promised next post was supposed to be “Moving to Costa Rica: Figuring Out Work.” Since we’re still figuring out work, that post will have to wait. For this post, I’ve decided to come clean. I’ve been posting all good stuff about our move to Costa Rica, but the truth is it hasn’t been all good.

Believe me.

When we first got here, the weather was perfect. The temperature was always between the mid-sixties and low eighties. Now, it’s not-so-perfect. The end of the dry season brings higher temperatures, and the beginning of the rainy season brings higher humidity. The intersection has resulted in the middle of the day being unbearably hot and humid. That’s how we discovered the brilliance of “la siesta.” It’s just too dang sweltering to do anything but nap.

It’s peaceful here, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. The neighbor behind us has a chicken coop. I thought that roosters crow only at sunrise. Nope, they crow whenever they feel like it even if it’s 3 AM. They are just like barking dogs. Speaking of barking dogs, one of our neighbors has a yippy little dog that yips incessantly. It yips at every little sound. It starts yipping when it hears the little squeak the gate makes when I open it to take Jackson for a walk.

So far, I’ve resisted the urge to yell, “Oh shut up, will you?”

Trash is picked up every night, but recycling is picked up only once per month. Sadly, bags that are left out for trash are often thrown out into the middle of the street, torn open, and inspected for anything useful. Once we found our recycling bag torn open and its contents scattered about in a nearby park. Many of the Ticos are very poor, and this is how they survive, but it makes a disgusting mess. To deal with this issue, we hired someone to pick up our recycling and take it to the recycling center every couple of weeks. We take only a small bag of trash out every night, and if our street is a mess, I go out with a broom and bucket and clean it up.

There are often homeless people napping on the sidewalks, and when we go downtown, we are panhandled most of the time. In the grocery store, women have asked us to buy them a few necessities, and on the street, we are often asked for coins. Yesterday, one guy was pretty persistent. I don’t think he knew any English except for “One dollar!” So, I gave him one dollar (a 500-colone coin). The locals see dollar signs when they see Americans and Europeans, and they aren’t wrong. Tabatha and I aren’t rich, but compared to what many Ticos have – we are. We don’t mind helping people out, but being frequently panhandled can be a bit unsettling.

We were delighted with the supersized avocados, but not so delighted with the supersized rats. One rat decided to mosey into our house through our front gate while we were eating lunch. We swear, it looked right at Tabatha as if to say, “Hola! Que hay de comer?” (Hello! What’s to eat?). First, we screamed like a couple of frightened children. Then, we chased it around the house. It left droppings everywhere. The poor thing was obviously terrified. We trapped it in the bathroom and enlisted the help of our neighbor Mayela. She arrived with her specialist equipment for rat elimination: a broom. Unfortunately, she couldn’t save us. The rat was hiding inside a hole it dug in the wall.

I deduced that it was far better to let the rat come out of hiding and find its way out of the house. I didn’t want it to starve to death inside our wall because then we’d have to deal with the distinctive aroma known as “rotting rat carcass.” First, I created a barrier so that the only way the rat could go was out. Then I opened the bathroom door and waited. Eventually the rat came out, but when I saw it, I gasped. That spooked it, so it ran back into hiding. It came back out a few minutes later, and I held my breath while it scampered around, eventually discovering the way out.

It didn’t take long- thank goodness.

Speaking of our neighbor Mayela, she is a gem. We love her. She is like our “mom away from home.” But just like a next-door mom, she can be a bit intrusive. She regularly rings our doorbell, or stands at our gate yelling, “¡Upe!” (Yoo-hoo!). It causes quite a commotion because the dog starts crazy barking and bolting to the gate. It’s quite disruptive when we’re in the middle of an online Spanish lesson, or talking to someone on WhatsApp, or in the bathroom. To deal with this issue, Tabatha and I devised an ingenious plan. We created a “Do not Disturb” sign (post image). We explained to Mayela that when this sign is on the door, we are working, so we can’t come to the door. We plan to use this sign not only when working, but also whenever we want some privacy.

Two days after we got here, a water main break disrupted the water supply for the entire city for a couple of days, and the water supply is sometimes cut off for maintenance. The electricity blips off and back on regularly, so the electric company occasionally turns off the electricity in sectors for a couple of hours to prevent brownouts. We’ve learned to invest in a surge protector with battery backup. And the plumbing in our house? Not-so-good. We’ve had a major sewage back-up into our shower. It was so gross. We’ve learned to use the smallest amount of toilet paper necessary and to use drain cleaner monthly to avoid clogs.

The truth is that no matter where you go, a city is a city and people are people and life is life. The problems we may hope to escape in one place often show up in the new place, and/or we may end up with new problems to replace the old ones. To live here more happily and healthily, we’ve needed to make some attitude adjustments and lifestyle changes.

That’s not easy, and we’re just getting started.

Do we regret moving to Costa Rica? No, we don’t regret it. To be happy anywhere is a choice and that choice often involves hard work. We have chosen to be happy here, and we will do the hard work that requires.

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