I could easily have thought of 10, but why does every Top 10 list have to have 10 things in it? Okay, so that might have been a dumb question. Still, in no particular order, because all of these are equally awful, here are my 9:
- The weather. It’s March and I’m in a tank top and shorts. I wouldn’t actually need the tank top and shorts, but I don’t write in the raw. Yesterday was the same. Tomorrow will be the same. The rains vary, the foliage varies, the wildlife varies, the seasons change, but the clothing never varies because the temperature doesn’t vary. 80 doggone degrees +/- every day. Who wants to live in a place where the temperature is always comfortable? You will never develop strength of character in a place where you can live in a tank top and shorts every day of the year. You will never be as hardy as an Eskimo or a Minnesotan. It’s even warm when it rains, and that’s just wrong.
- The people. Ticos aren’t crabby. They don’t treat you rudely. They are frustratingly, infuriatingly polite, like they’d all had Zig Ziglar’s customer service training or read Dale Carnegie’s books or something. Admit it, sometimes you just don’t want people to be nice to you. You’ve read books and listened to podcasts and gone to seminars teaching you how to handle crabby, rude people and you don’t get to practice any of it! If you live here, you will have wasted all that time and money.
- The food. No matter where you go, healthy food is in your face. Fruit stands sell tree ripened produce. Beans and rice are part of every household diet. Organic and home made food is highly valued. It’s enough to make you crazy when all you want is a banana that was picked green, treated with sulphur, transported 2000 miles and displayed still hard and green so you can get it home without squishing the darn thing.
Here, you buy a banana and you have to eat it in a day or it’s going to go bad. Here you can’t buy a dozen bananas and watch them slowly ripen over the next two weeks on your counter. What, for crying out loud, is the rush? And the pineapple makes a mess when you cut it because the juice runs all over the counter and down the fronts of the cabinets and makes puddles on the floor and it’s so sweet that it takes you longer to clean up the juice than to eat the thing.
- The views. People who live here run out of adjectives while walking on deserted beaches at sunset. You simply wear out linguistically always saying fantastic, breathtaking, beautiful, amazing, stunning, awesome, incredible. Real estate agents sound like they’ve never heard of a synonym finder.
The problem is, everywhere you look, there is something to look at. If you live here, you might just wish for the good old days of being on I-80 in Nebraska where you didn’t always have to be staring open-mouthed at the scenery. On I-80 you can read a book while you’re driving. Here, you’re in the book.
- The wildlife. I’m talking about the plants and animals, not the expat parties. Let’s face it: sometimes you want to sleep in. You really don’t want a flock of 25 squabbling parrots and a tribe of monkeys screeching and howling all around you at 5:15 in the morning. Nor a laughing falcon whose cry is anything but laughable at that hour.
Costa Rica is wildlife. Because it’s a bridge country in Central America, it got the loudest combination of North and South American animals, and too many species of everything. 500,000 species all together. We’re not playing games here! Endemic species, meaning things that aren’t found anywhere else, include certain species of frogs, snakes, lizards, finches, hummingbirds, gophers, mice, cichlids, and gobies among many more. I don’t know what a cichlid is, but who cares? It’s endemic. 894 species of birds, including 54 of hummingbirds and 6 of toucans. 193 species of frogs. It goes on and on, and they all seem to think they have to attract mates by boinking, bonking, yelling, howling, screeching, singing, pecking, shrilling, and dancing. Not so different from a frat party at a major university. And then you want to take pictures of all these things, so now you’re spending way too much time looking at them through a lens when you could be just watching them on TV.
- The ocean. There are many, many better places to go in the ocean, like Huntington beach, CA. For starters, you have a lot more company on the beach there. Humans are social, like sea lions. We need people all around us grilling and slathering on coconut oil and rolling over and over to make sure everything gets equally sunburned and playing loud music. Here, you and your sweetheart may be the only ones on the beach. So, so lonely. If you stripped and walked a while au natural, no one would even be there to post your picture on Instagram or Facebook. What a total waste of social media.
Then there’s the water itself. In Huntington Beach, you go into the water, play for a few minutes, and know it’s time to get out because you’re blue and shivering. Here you never know when to get out. It’s too comfortable. You might end up playing in the surf or shallows for hours and thinking it’s only been a few minutes. So you’re thinking you have a whole day ahead of you to do your errands and suddenly its lunch time.
If you’re paddle boarding, you might take a break and jump in for a refreshing swim. You don’t even get to wear a wet suit here, and everyone knows the human figure just looks better sheathed in shiny black rubber. I mean, look at seals. Coolest looking creatures on earth.
- Too many people here are in good shape. I think it’s demotivating to always have good role models around you. It makes you not even want to get out of bed, no matter how loud the parrots and monkeys are. You’re always seeing people whose BMI is good, whose legs are strong, whose bodies look like someone takes care of them. People like surfers, whose shoulders are wide and whose waists aren’t. Or hikers, whose calf muscles look like living things. Or average Ticos, whose height and weight come right out of the “excellent” column on the charts.
\When you live here and go back to visit the U.S., it’s always so refreshing to realize that a LOT of people are heavier than you and more out of breath when you step off the airport escalator together. There are two ways to feel better about your own level of fitness: a) get in shape, and b) hang around with people who are in worse shape than you. ‘b’ is easier. Here, ‘a’ is your only option.
- You’re always working puzzles here. Always learning new ways to solve problems. Always figuring things out. Who’d want to go to another country where you actually have to fire up your brain and create some new neural pathways? All that stuff about neurobics and keeping your mind in great shape until you die is fascinating reading for book groups, but really? Who does that stuff in real life? I mean, once you get into your fifties, you pretty much know everything you need to know, so it’s time to start the long, slow process of dying and that’s a lot more synchronized if your mind goes mushy at about the same pace as your abs and pecs.
For starters, there’s the language thing. They speak Spanish here. Doesn’t that suck? Why on earth doesn’t everyone on earth speak English by now? Then there’s the power company, and the internet company, and the complex water system, and driving on roads that aren’t clearly marked and don’t have enough signs, and figuring out where to get a turkey for Thanksgiving and how much to pay for mangos and which ones are the best avocados and whether or not the combination of swell height and periodicity will kill you when you surf and what you are supposed to do when 3 million army ants march into your house for lunch and is there a good local substitute for every ingredient in your favorite recipe?
The good news is that lots of people here speak some English. You can just hang out with the same kind of people you’ve always hung out with. Really, you don’t have to get to know Spanish speakers except to kind of point and grunt and say one or two badly pronounced nouns so they will know where to clean and what weeds to pull. Most Ticos, even if they don’t speak really good English, have learned to understand really bad Spanish.
- Some of your new acquaintances will be interesting, and you might feel like you aren’t. They travel, they learn, they have different political and religious viewpoints. You may find that uncomfortable until you learn which people to avoid and which house parties to attend. Or until you decide that ‘different’ can be a good thing and those are the people you can learn the most from, which is quite the adjustment.
Or you may simply realize after a while that you were a lot more comfortable sitting in the same row of seats in the same clubs and houses of worship as you have for the past 50 years, listening to the same homilies, hearing the same news anchors, participating in the same conversations among people who have talked about the same topics using the same words and sentences their whole lives. Let’s face it, that’s pretty comfortable. Predictable is comfortable. ‘Interesting’ can be uncomfortable.
There you have it. Can’t say I didn’t warn you. I really, really want to add #10, but that would be too predictable, unless I did it in Spanish, on a deserted beach, breathing hard from a run in the warm surf with an eccentric friend, drinking fresh coconut milk that I just bought from a friendly Tico, while white faced monkeys stare at me and the temperature tops out at 80 degrees. Sigh. Tough life. Think twice before you commit.
Written by Ron Snell. I liked this article so much that I “borrowed it”! Well written, Ron!
Ron is right at home in Costa Rica. Born in Peru and raised in the Amazon jungle, he thrives on tropical fruits, new cultures, wildlife, and seasons defined more by rainfall than snow. Having lived in several countries, he’s an inveterate explorer and an inquisitive writer. His 3 books, It’s a Jungle Out There, Life is a Jungle, and Jungle Calls, have sold over 100,000 copies. The only thing he doesn’t like about Costa Rica? His 3 kids and 8 grandchildren don’t live next door. He lives here with his wife, Tammy, who is a writer and Spanish teacher.
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