Living in Costa Rica

At the start of the new year, I was packing my carry-on bag for 2+ months of living in Central America with my boyfriend, my previously mentioned travel companion with whom I reunited this past summer. This traveler lifestyle undoubtedly presents its own challenges toward rebuilding relationships, but fortunately in our case, it was as if the stars kept pulling us back together.

We were looking at six and a half weeks in Costa Rica before heading to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. This new energy was so refreshing after my extremely unpleasant travel assignment at an inpatient rehab hospital in Connecticut — my only negative experience as a traveling SLP to date.

It was a blessing in disguise when that travel assignment got cut short. The facility was not a good fit (I took it on and stayed against my instincts) and the work environment was so harmful and unhealthy for me. Thankfully, my recruiter and staffing agency had my back and worked hard to find me a new assignment nearby, but the opportunity opened up to take a long break in Costa Rica — a place I had not previously traveled to and I was very interested in getting to use my Spanish again. I had also been working very hard with my boyfriend on a video project that’s super important to us, so I embraced this change in environment.

Our pending trip to Costa Rica suddenly felt real and I experienced this wave of joy and excitement. I was ready. By the second week of January, I had moved out of the Airbnb I had been renting and was so grateful to have connected with a very generous friend of a friend who offered my vehicle a safe parking space in their driveway until we would return to the states much better than leaving it unattended at the airport for more than two months.

I was feeling all sorts of gratitude — everything had worked out. And I was ready to experience life in my first Spanish-speaking country. The week of our travel date had also been the coldest in New England all winter. As a native Michigander, I’ve always liked the snow, but the lack of sunshine and outdoor time lately really got to me.

We arrived in San Jose/Alajuela on a late Thursday evening after three flights and limited sleep. From there, our driver from the hostel greeted us and gave us a brief history and sociocultural tour of San Jose during our 30-minute ride. That was also when I realized Costa Rican Spanish is pleasantly beautiful to listen to and the pronunciation is easier to understand than other Spanish dialects I’ve heard in the states. (Maybe less coarticulation? Cue my inner speech analyst. Ha!)

We spent a couple days in San Jose to rest up before our day-long journey out to a remote surf town on the Nicoya Peninsula. We explored a small, unexpected Chinatown in San Jose and I remember being taken aback at this small, family-run cafe when hearing and conversing with some friendly Chinese folks in both Cantonese and Spanish (not English) — it was a new experience for sure.

One particular moment sticks out in my memory. The owners of the cafe had a young girl and boy, and the girl, who was a few years older than her brother (their grandmother told me), kept running around the cafe and excitedly coming up to our particular table. She wouldn’t say much; just a lot of giggling. At one point, she brought me her baby pink headband from her collection behind the counter. It had a big bow with colorful hearts printed on it. She was pointing back and forth between the headband and the small, turquoise heart-shaped earrings I was wearing. She had this look of awe and wonder on her face and excitedly uttered, “Corazones!” It was like this moment of pure joy and connection over something so simple. I felt so happy.

While wandering through the streets of San Jose, we came across an elderly tico (what the local men call themselves; women are known as ticas). He was holding this glass plate with one hand and smearing oil color onto it so effortlessly with the other, explaining his painting process from start to finish while a crowd formed around him. I felt so inspired to get to observe this artist in action — way better than any art museums we had passed up that afternoon.

The next day, my boyfriend and I boarded a coach bus from San Jose, then a ferry, then the bus again to arrive finally in Santa Teresa. It was a long day of traveling without air conditioning (we are spoiled in the states!) and the weather was hot and sticky. We did get to catch a great view of the sunset while on the ferry. It’s the little moments in life. And when traveling to a new place, I swear all of our senses get heightened. I was definitely able to be more present and enjoy myself, even when tired and sweaty!

When we arrived at our destination, we were starving, so we prioritized stopping for a meal. Black beans and white rice with a side of plátanos, or plantains, are a staple here. We both ordered a traditional Costa Rican meal called “casado vegano,” which also came with sides of fresh veggies and potatoes. Casado plates and all their variations became a common meal we would either cook ourselves or order at sodas, which are these tiny, family-owned, open-air restaurants that serve only traditional Costa Rican food and are usually very inexpensive (less than $5 USD per meal with the exchange rate).

Our hostel for the three weeks or so in Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen was a mere two-minute walk to the beach. There were some paved paths but mostly dirt roads that cut through the jungle. In fact the main street through town is unpaved and motorists would kick up a lot of dirt and dust, which bothered me in the beginning of our stay and I kept having nosebleeds from the dry air. Finally I purchased this bandana and donned the ninja look, or I would just opt to walk down the beach to get to places, like the grocery store, the co-working office, and yoga classes.

The first few days of this Costa Rican beach adventure felt like a vacation, a weekend getaway. It didn’t take us long to get into the groove of living like a local. We would shop for fresh produce at our local market, cook often at our small family-style hostel, start to pick up on the local dialect, and (sort of) adapt to having only cold water for showers.

The people here generally have this really laid-back energy and positive attitude. Maybe it’s the sunshine, the ocean, and the slower pace of life here? I really appreciate how environmentally conscious Costa Rica is too. I can imagine myself living here for a long time. I even almost completely forgot about returning to doing travel therapy in the U.S.

By the end of week two, I did start to miss my family and feel frustrated. It felt as if everything was testing me and robbing me of my inner peace. Temperatures here were now 90 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity (and not much better in the nighttime). It was uncomfortable to sleep, even with an overhead fan. The air pollution from all the motorists using the dirt roads seemed to be getting worse (maybe more visitors now). My prickly heat rash all over my skin was threatening to return in full force and there was no knowing when my nosebleeds would return. Thankfully, after a few days, I was able to reground myself once I gave myself permission to settle into my emotions.

Finally, we decided to leave Santa Teresa and spent a week in the artsy, hippie town of Montezuma. We did a lot of hiking and climbing at nearby Montezuma Falls, as well as Cabo Blanco. Montezuma was an overall positive memory and I would definitely return. It was even slower paced and more tranquil with less people, compared with Santa Teresa.

After Montezuma, we took a taxi boat off the peninsula and stayed for a week at a co-living/co-working hostel in Jaco, which allowed me to be productive toward meeting an editing deadline for our video project. Jaco was a big shift from the tiny town of Montezuma we had just experienced, but still nothing like either of us had expected. There was actual nightlife here and we were surrounded by English speakers, for better or worse.

On the bright side, we did have a consistent space to finish up our big video project. I definitely see myself enjoying a return trip to Costa Rica (probably without also bringing such an intense project along), but for now, I am all beached out. Next up: Mexico, and then back to the states.

Until next time, may you have the opportunity to experience something new and remember to hold onto those precious little moments that make your heart happy.

With love,