Living In Costa Rica: Changes I've Made, Struggles I've Faced, And Lessons I've Learned So Far
Updated: Jul 8
It's been eighteen days since I moved to Costa Rica. I'm still amazed by how quickly life can change in just a couple of weeks, or days or even moments. My days look drastically different than they did last month.
Every day used to feel like the continuation of a never ending trip on "It's A Small World". A constant headache from perpetual noise. An aching desire for stillness in my mind. A hunger for newness. An internal plea for adventure. Desperation gripped me until I made a drastic move and jumped off the ride. I didn't know how deep the water beneath me would flow, and if it would catch me in a soft, warm embrace- or deliver a cold shock to my system, bringing me back to life. Now that I'm on the other side, I can see that it was a little bit of both.
Every day for the past few weeks, I've been waking with the birds outside my open window between 6:30-7 am. I've developed a lovely morning routine with a limited amount of coffee and (most days) a healthy, hearty breakfast. I sit outside, soaking up sunlight and the constant mountain breeze. I breathe slowly. I listen. Moment by moment, I feel light and healing within. I rarely find myself on a couch, because I'm too busy writing under the sunlight or exploring my surroundings. I casually stroll through the streets of Atenas, a safe city brimming with expats and holding the title for best climate in the world (or as our Uber drivers love to repeat, "el mejor clima del mundo"). I'm eating street food and learning another language and taking in the most awe-inspiring views every day.
But it isn't always smooth sailing...
We've also had quite a few uncomfortable experiences as well. The mosquitos in our first home were so severe that my husband spent several days laid up with a swollen foot; an allergic reaction to a plethora of stings. I, too, spent my days itching all over, trying to find relief with menthol, ice, and long dips in the cold pool. No amount of OFF could deter these resilient bloodsuckers. We've also seen a fair share of spiders, centipedes, an ungodly number of ants and scorpions as big as your hand. But would we wake up to the sounds of birds every morning we weren't surrounded by their food source? Would we breathe such fresh air if we weren't enveloped by the habitat that houses the bugs that bother us? Would I trade a few insects for my old, monotonous, concrete life?
Aside from the insects, we've had a difficult time adjusting to the lack of transportation in a place we are entirely unfamiliar with. We're living in such a rural area, Uber drivers often decline our requests for a ride. We've spent half an hour just waiting for a driver to accept our request. This has taught us to slow down. Which I can appreciate. I've spent so long rushing through life. Trying to get to the "next thing." and for what? So we practice patience, and never plan for a "quick" trip into town - instead finding ways to enjoy the time we spend simply waiting.
The most important lesson so far...
Is that when your soul finds it's peace, struggle becomes but a minor inconvenience. Before, I was so unhappy that if one little thing went wrong, it would ruin the rest of my day. An unexpected bill or a broken decorative item or being woken early by a vomiting feline could put me in a bad mood that would last throughout the day. My soul was not at peace. My heart was beating just to survive. Not beating to live. Since coming here, that mindset has been slowly shifting.
A few days ago we took a day trip to Playa Bajamar, a beach that boasts of black sand and looming caves. We didn't know anything about its location, and assumed there would be plenty of places to stop, eat and either call a taxi or catch a bus back home. That assumption couldn't have been more flawed, and we realized this as the last half hour of our Uber ride to the beach was along an unnamed, unmarked dirt road with nothing but marshes and the occasional Tico home. The Uber driver tried communicating to us that it might be a difficult time making our way back to Atenas. He just kept repeating "caminar hacia el centro de la ciudad" (walk toward the center of the city). We had no idea where that was, but shrugged it off and made our way to the desolate shore -because, well, what else could we do?
Bajamar did not disappoint. The black sand glimmered in the sun like diamonds. We explored the gigantic, mysterious caves, which I was a bit too afraid to walk too deep into. I've seen enough creepy crawlies in my home to know there are much bigger predators waiting inside the cavities of the rock. These massive, towering boulders had a way of making me feel small but in a compelling and curious way. The ocean waves had a strong pull, reminding me to be courageous- but not too audacious. The sun filled my soul with healing light. The cool breeze was like a fresh breath of life. And the journey that followed taught me to embrace the unknown and trust myself to find little slices of magic along the way...
When the sun started making its way toward the horizon, we knew it was time to find a way home. We were about an hour and a half drive from Atenas, and Uber wasn't finding us any drivers in the area. Our only option was to start walking. Surely we'd find the city center within a couple of miles, right? Perhaps one of these Ticos with a pickup truck might be willing to haul us into town (fingers crossed). So our feet got to work and our thumbs would stick up whenever we heard the crunching of rock under tires. To our dismay, nobody wanted to pick up a couple of sweaty, sandy gringos (And I can't really blame them for that). After a mile or so, we found a little pulperia on the side of the road, so we stopped for water and directions. The lady behind the counter didn't speak any English, so I did my best to ask her if there were any taxis or bus stops in the area. With an apprehensive look, she shook her head no. I asked if it was a long walk into town (I didn't dare ask how long, in fear the distance might overwhelm me). With a nervous laugh, she said it was indeed a very long walk into town. This wasn't the reassurance I was looking for.
At this point I could see that Dave was getting nervous. I know how earnest he is in his allegiance to keeping me safe, and the sun was setting rather quickly. We looked at the map with uneasiness after realizing it would likely be dark by the time we made it to anything that resembled a town. And even if we did find one, we weren't sure that there would be Uber drivers or buses available. We had no way of knowing how we would get home, but something inside kept pushing me forward, telling me to stay calm because "everything is figure-outable" (my new favorite aphorism). I knew that if we just kept walking and stayed together, we would find our way back home. In the shallow end of my thoughts, I prepared myself to walk all night- in a foreign country, with only the moonlight and little data left on my phone- until I inevitably made it back home. In the deeper end of my cognition, I found a more intuitive voice that told me something unexpected would happen if I just kept kept pressing forward, if I stayed on track, and if I didn't let the fear or the unknown rule me. The adventure, reward, or lesson I'd find would make the journey worth it. And it did. The visceral voice deep inside had a way of seeing the magic before it even happened. I've recently been practicing quieting the voices of those from my past which do not benefit me. I've learned how to pick out and amplify my own inner voice, which was previously drowned out by those from society, adversaries, and even my own family; telling me that it was not safe to listen to my own intuition. They worked so hard to keep that voice hushed and hidden deep within, that I never realized the power it held if it could just be given the space to speak and be heard. This entire experience has been great practice for doing just that. For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I can hear myself again. And she knows so much more than I give her credit for.
After just a few miles, we noticed a sign that read "Artisanal Pizza" outside what appeared to be an outdoor kitchen surrounded by hand-painted signs, hammocks, picnic tables and roaming cats. It had this light, cozy cottage feel that immediately drew me in. I saw a small child rocking back and forth on a colorful hammock. I saw a man standing near an open kitchen. So I called out a Spanish greeting and asked in broken Spanish if he knew how to contact a local taxi. His response was "you speak English?"
YES! He spoke English! Although the language barrier has been much more of an experience than an obstacle, in this particular uncertain moment it felt good to have someone with whom we could communicate with ease. We explained our situation and he insisted that we sit down and enjoy a slice of pizza and a cup of fresh juice while he made some calls for a ride. He even brought us some kind of delightful strudel-like dessert. And to our surprise, just as we started chowing down on his outstanding artisanal slices, rich with fresh garlic and local cheese, Pura Vida magic happened and an Uber Driver, about 15 minutes away, accepted our ride request. We had just enough time to relax, refuel and rehydrate before making our way back home. We thanked the kind pizza chef for his hospitality after pressuring him to take money for the food he'd provided (seriously, the locals here are so pure-hearted). Our ride arrived just in time, and the sun retired as we made our way around the mountain bends back to familiar territory.
Had we not stepped into the unknown, we might never have experienced the kindness of a pizza chef, the goodness of his flavor-packed food, and the magic that happens when you trust yourself. I can't put a price on the experience we gained from seeking adventure and trusting the process. It baffles (and slightly irritates me) that a quick trip to the grocery store was enough to set me off for so long. Now I'm finding ways to appreciate difficult hikes down long dirt roads in exchange for unexpected magic. Living is worth the struggle when you find what keeps your soul burning.
Costa Rica has welcomed me with both tough love and open arms. I'm not here to tell you about how wonderful life has been since moving to paradise. I don't have a desire to be the typical Expat who raves about all the good, failing to disclose the bad. My goal is to be authentic, and to share what I've learned and am continuing to learn. How the struggles and discomfort are shaping me and building my character. How inconvenience is forcing me to slow down and enjoy the very short amount of time I have on this giant, spinning globe. That life is full of amazing, magical surprises and adventures, if you're willing and brave enough to seek them out. So seek out struggle if it means you might find magic on the other side. Find yourself braving uncomfortable situations to experience the richness of life. Dare to shake up your life, despite what the voices of your past are trying to tell you. Dare to drown them out and follow the only voice that matters: yours. Go the distance. Trade convenience for experience. And never, ever stop living merely to exist.
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