Pura Vida, Dura Vida Part One
Pura Vida. Literal translation, “Pure Life”. When googled there are a myriad of blog sites, memes, and images that seek to give definition to this well used term. Peaceful, calm, oneness, nature, happiness, well-being, are all words you’ll see associated with this salutation. But in my opinion words don’t begin to do it justice. One has to experience the Pura Vida for oneself to truly understand.
Dura Vida, on the other hand, translates literally to “Hard Life”. This life is rarely depicted in the glossy travel brochures and the colorful resort websites. It is, however, the necessary yin to the Pura Vida’s yang. The learning curve is steep and the mistakes can be unforgiving. Is it worth it? Only you can decide.
A beautiful young woman, a coworker at the hospital where I worked, is considering a move to Costa Rica. She asked if I could write a post about the pros and cons of my life here. Now I’m not going to sugar coat this as I firmly believe that this life is not for everybody, (we once had a woman call to inquire about renting our house and asked about the window shopping around town…errr, windows? shopping? No!). So with no further ado, let’s get on with it:
This post will focus on the cons, the “Dura Vida” as it were. I will follow up almost immediately with a post depicting the pros so as not to hold you in suspense.
Money. It isn’t as cheap as one would expect to live down here. Depending on the lifestyle you wish to choose, city or rural, you can live as lavishly or as simply as you want. Most expats like myself settle for somewhere in between. Grocery store food is quite costly, which is why many grow their own. Owning and keeping a vehicle running is expensive, gas, insurance, repairs, (see the section on infrasructure), and mandatory yearly technical inspection. If you decide to import your own car, be prepared to pay a ridiculously large tax on it. Housing is affordable, again depending on your taste and location, but the electric bill can be quite expensive if you choose to surround yourself with a lot of modern convenieces. You’ll want to research up-to-date data on the general cost of living for Costa Rica. But I’ll leave you with this often quoted nugget of advice, “if you want to make a million dollars in Costa Rica, bring two!”
Infrastructure, hmm, what can I say… Yes the roads and bridges have a bad reputation down here but in the time that I’ve been here I’ve seen vast improvements. These can be both a blessing and a curse. Where there was once a road strewn with potholes, or “elephant traps” as they are sometimes called, there is now relatively new pavement. We now have the new problem of cars traveling way too fast. What was once a crawl of bobbing and weaving amongst the potholes in a fashion that would certainly warrent a sobriety test elsewhere, it is now open to smooth sailing. Unfortunately the wildlife, domestic pets, chickens, cows, horses and the occasional ox cart have become unwitting victims to these improvements. These newly built roads are to be shared with pedestrians and bike riders as sidewalks or shoulders apparently weren’t in the budget. This calls for a sharp eye and focused attention, especially on rainy nights. I am tempted to buy and distribute reflective vests to every biker and pedestrian I see by year’s end! But alas, the road into my little piece of paradise remains a country dirt road, sometimes charming as we slowly meander our way to the beach, at other times maddening as the dust kicks up and chokes me in the dry season, only to become a muddy mess during the rainy season.
Government. Costa Rica has had a stable democracy for decades, unlike our neighbors Panama and Nicaragua. They abolished their military and put all of the funding into schools, and it shows. Costa Rica is considered to have the highest literacy level of Latin American. However, just as you might suspect, both local and national governments move at the speed of smell and have the potential for being corrupt. My husband once got out of a traffic ticket by charming the policeman with a granola bar and a warm coke. Hard and fast rules are open to interpretation and the inconsistency can drive a person mad. Any time the government is involved in approvals or granting permission you’d better be prepared to either stand over their shoulders and be the pushy gringo, or settle in for a nice long wait. At one point during our residency process we were told that our California wedding certificate, that had been stamped and certified by the Secretary of State of California no less, had expired. Expired? Really?
Healthcare. The country provides relatively low cost universal health care to all citizens and residents. We use the clinic now and again but would opt for the private hospitals for anything more than annual blood work and the occasional UTI. But again, it is a slow and tremendously overburdened system. Our neighbor has been waiting for heart surgery for about a year now. The private system, however, is world class with accredited hospitals and board certified physicians. This will cost you but it’s still a fraction of what you’d pay in the United States. Medical tourism is a booming and very successful business here.
Safety net. Remember that time when your car broke down and you had to wait an hour for the auto club to come and help you out? Or maybe that time when your plumbing backed up and you googled plumbers in your area? Yeah, well at least where I live that ain’t gonna happen. Your safety net consists of your network of willing and able neighbors and friends, your own initiative, creativity, and willingness to learn, and last but not least…those awesome youtube videos. My husband has gone from sales a marketing background to a mechanic (both quads and Toyota trucks), a plumber, a refrigerator repair man, a farmer and a builder. I have learned to cook from scratch, tend a green house, organize and maintain a temperture and humidity controlled dry room, kill my own spiders (most of the time), not freak out and want to move back to the States when I see a scorpion, and yes, due to an unfortunate breakdown, I now know what a leaf spring is. As I’ve mentioned before, the learning curve is steep but I have never met a country full of such generous people that are willing and happy to help out whenever they can. Some unfortunate circumstances have even led to some wonderful and long lasting friendships.
Weather. I know what you’re thinking, isn’t it always warm and balmy here? For the most part it is. The temperture is relatively stable and fluctuates depending on location. It can get refreshingly cool in the mounainous areas and very hot at the beaches. The main seasons here revolve around the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season is more popular for travelers and technically runs from December through May. The closer one gets to May, the thirstier the jungle begins to look. Water rationing is not uncommon as the water table begins to diminsh. It’s as if the forces of Mother Nature take the jungle to the absolute breaking point until she unleashes that first glorious rain, (which is when I’ve been known to run outside naked to dance amongst these beautiful drops of liquid gold!). The rainy season, or the “green season” as the tourism industry spins it, runs from June through November. It starts out as afternoon thundershowers with spectacular shows of lightening and majestic rumbles of thunder. As the season continues, the rain may increase to morning and evening showers, and finally culminates in the onslaught of true rainy season…can’t rain any harder, and then it does…where is all this water coming from and where is it going…kind of rain. This can last for the months of October and November which is when a good deal of expats decide to visit those out of town relatives. These are my pearls of wisdom that I will share with you about this time of year:
1. Yes it will be proven to you that water is the most destructive force in nature.
2. You better plan some indoor projects, maybe a craft or a giant puzzle.
3. You can take care of all those indoor home improvement projects that have accumulated while you were out surfing. (A not so veiled hint?)
4. Get a good, solid pair of boots and a rain jacket, (a hefty bag will sufice in a pinch).
5. The most important thing about this time of year is you’d better really like, (not just love but like) the person you choose to be with. (Scenes from The Shining come to mind.)
I’m sure over the years I’ve complained about other things associated with living here…isolation, my sense of purpose, my hair, but these are, in my humble opinion, some of the biggies. So now that I’ve given you my version of the Dura Vida, on to the Pura Vida!