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Living in Costa Rica: Adapting to a New Life

Traveling to Costa Rica can seem like paradise dreams and a vacation life. Why wouldn’t it be? With its tropical beaches, jungle paradise, and coconuts for days. But let’s not be naïve, every place on Earth takes a bit of adjustment as glorious as it may first seem.

The things you have to get used to in Costa Rica are by no means difficult, they are actually fun in a way and all part of the adventure. You just need to have an open mind, be relaxed, and be up for the change. It is then that you will come to love the quirks of Costa Rica and all becomes your new normal wondering how you ever lived any differently.

Creepy Crawly Critters

You will see things crawling and flying through your home that you never even knew existed. The size of them may have you wondering if you’ve fallen into a scene of Jumanji. But for the most part, they are harmless. You are more scared of them than they are of you.

And scared you probably will be at first. I have had tarantulas with their long legs sticking out from under my fridge, scorpions, spiders that are as big as my palm at times, and an iguana sharing the bathroom with me.

Toads using my doorways as their freeway, frogs leaping from one curtain to another, even one in my toilet which came to be a bit of shock. But none are out to harm and you just let them be on their way or assist them out the door.

Plenty of centipedes and millipedes, bugs flying violently at the lights in the evenings, dragonflies, the dreaded cockroaches, and the sounds of geckos above you in the night. You haven’t seen a grasshopper until you have seen the ones in Costa Rica.

Displaying an incredible size and their distinguished-looking design resembling somewhat of a dapper formal party attire and neckpiece. Often you don’t even need to leave your home to learn about the bugs of Costa Rica, they are right there in your home.

The “cleaner ants” that come through your home can take you by surprise on their first visit and invoke some serious fear. As if some invasion in a horror movie is about to take place and you don’t know how you are going to battle the army of them.

To Ticos they are welcomed, it is time for the seasonal cleaning and just them go about their work, just be warned, do not get in their way or it does sting. They can last hours to a day or two, but they then march on out on their merry way to the next home.

Goodbye Long Soaks in the Tub, Hot Water and Beware of Killer Showerheads

I’m not saying no more bathing! But bathtubs don’t seem to be a common household fixture in Costa Rica, especially outside of the cities. Goodbye long soaks in the tub and bubble bath dreams.

Hello, cold showers in some parts of the country especially if you are renting. Many of the more rural and non-tourist destinations function just fine without hot water. I know myself I have been living without it for over a year and some days I am grateful for it and can’t wait to cool off.

In other places, I have had my day of reckoning with what is come to be known as the “suicide shower.” I remember so vividly being alone in my new place, coming face to face with the fear and shower of death. I know many of us have taken that leap of faith and said our potential last words to the shower gods.

The trick is to not keep making eye contact with it and when in doubt don’t touch things. Get in do your scrubbing and get out. It just looks a lot worse than it truly is. I always have made it out alive and like all things in Costa Rica, it just becomes another part of daily life here.

However, if things do look a little off, perhaps bare wires that really could be getting wet, then it’s better to reach out to the landlord and feel silly than your other option…

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

There is no spring-forward, fall-back, or late-summer nights here. Every day darkness returns by 6 pm, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is. No more evening walks on those warm summer nights that many enjoy after dinner depending on the safety of where you are living.

Or for those that don’t like to drive at night things have to be cut short and planned accordingly.

But actually, it becomes a positive aspect of Costa Rica and one of the many great things to get used to. The sun rises early and you want to be up and out to enjoy the day, it just makes you feel good.

You won’t find yourself sleeping in and let’s be honest you really don’t have a choice unless you have blackout curtains and earplugs.

Chickens, Chickens, and More Chickens!

We all know chickens very well and probably haven’t thought twice about them. But moving to Costa Rica, they may become a part of your daily life depending on where you are in the country.

You don’t need to live out in the campo to have chickens becoming an extension of your family. I don’t even own any chickens but they seem to parade around as if they live here with me.

I feel like they have become some sort of outdoor activity to watch. Running around, watching their ongoings like a telenovela amongst them all.

Now don’t rely on their cock a doodle doos to advise you on the time, you will hear them all day long.

They tend to make themselves known when you are making those important phone calls. Chickens just become a part of life here, they are everywhere it seems, and you develop a strange love yet annoyed relationship with them.

Getting Lost and Deciphering the Addresses of Costa Rica

Do not expect to always have a clear address written out for you that you can so easily put into your GPS. Addresses may involve the color of the house, what it is beside, or so many kilometers after a prominent tree that isn’t even there anymore.

10 km west after the big mango tree on the corner of where the Pura Vida soda used to be isn’t quite GPS friendly. It may be a slight exaggeration, yes, but only slightly. Costa Rica does not have a consistent address system in which houses are numbered with street names throughout the country.

Within parts of the urban areas yes, at a snail’s pace you may see it evolving as in San Jose but in general, you are looking for the casa amarilla in the village, or Avenida 3 y 4, Calle 6, or 100 M. Oeste del Mercado Municipal. 

And do not assume things to flow in a consistent grid pattern as you try to uncover your destination. Pull apart the address piece by piece and have fun along the way striking up conversations with people testing out your Spanish and your patience.

The Untamed Roads and Drivers

That brings up another fun and interesting thing to get used to in Costa Rica, the driving techniques of those on the road and some questionable decisions people make. 

Whether it be the remarkable sights of how much one can fit on a single moto, from the number of people and animals to the random items that are being zipped down the roads. There is always something making you take a double look questioning yourself if you in fact just saw that.

From boxed-up big screen TVs being bravely held onto, moving furniture and chairs strapped to someone’s back to chickens in bags hanging off the handlebars.

An obstacle or traffic going a bit too slow, that is not about to interfere with those traveling by moto. Up onto the sidewalk or weaving in and out, there doesn’t seem to be much fear or concern. Cars and trucks are just as free-spirited, so be cognizant of all motorized vehicles here.

Signaling before a turn, I think not, you may see someone driving with their four ways on and that’s their way of letting you know, they might decide to eventually turn one way, or just be going slow. Your guess may be as good as theirs.

You learn to enhance your defensive driving techniques by avoiding a herd of cows, dogs running out, or potholes that could be used as a small wading pool.

It is all part of the privilege that visiting and living in Costa Rica brings. Whether it be giving up some of our favorite foods and vices to creating a game out of trying to uncover them somewhere in the country.

The peace of hibernating some days during the rainy season while the country comes back to life with shades of green and unrivaled beauty.

Or the untamed roads and dark death-defying winding routes to monkeys trying to drink from your pool. They are all the unrivaled qualities that make us come to love the country that Costa Rica is.

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