Costa Rica was my home for one year. We are currently back in the United States visiting family before we embark on a round the world walkabout trip in July. I was very happy in Costa Rica. The decision to leave was difficult because Chris, the kids, and I seriously considered making Costa Rica our permanent home. Even though we became involved in small town drama and the ATMs would run out of money for days and there were times I could not find olive oil (or dandruff shampoo) anywhere in town for weeks, in the end I came to understand what happiness really means in this tiny country.
I realize that some aspects of our happiness were independent of living in Monteverde, Costa Rica. For example, the fact that I was a stay-at-home-mom and Chris was working out of the home while we were living in Costa Rica contributed significantly to our happiness, but had nothing to do with geography. Below are some features inherent to Costa Rica, and specifically the small, highland cloudforest town of Monteverde, that I will miss the most because they did impact our happiness there.
10) Wind and Rain
We moved to Monteverde in June 2013 which was at the beginning of rainy season. The rain was falling as we drove into town our first day, and continued on a daily basis until mid-December. As the rains stopped, the winds picked up. I am talking about strong, harsh, whipping-your-face winds that threatened to blow me off the face of the mountain when I went on on my morning runs. When people think of Costa Rica, they think of heat and humidity because it is in the tropics. All bets are off in Monteverde, which is located at an elevation of 5,000+ feet above sea level. The winds and the rain cool it off very nicely. Most importantly, the winds and rain are my lullaby at night. Through out the rainy season and the windy "transition" season, these staples helped me fall asleep at night in a town where our house offered no insulation from the noises outside, including barking dogs, passing motorcycles, and the music from the bar down the street. In March, when the dry season signaled the end of the winds and rain, I found I could not sleep as well without my lullaby. Without the constant background noise, I could hear every little noise in the middle of the night. I really missed the winds and the rain our last few months in Costa Rica.
We did not have a car in Costa Rica. I loved it. We walked everywhere. We walked to the grocery store, the farmer's market, our favorite restaurants, and to visit friends. The kids walked to the school bus stop. We lived steps from the bus station and the post office. Whenever we were going somewhere that was too far to walk, such as the kids' guitar teacher's house, we took taxis. All that walking had a positive impact on our health, sense of community, and stress levels. I never missed having a car. In fact, after the walkabout, I would like to settle somewhere that I don't need a car to get around. Anyone know of a place like that?
8) Children's freedom
One of the most culture shocky experiences we had when we first moved to Costa Rica was when we realized the amount of freedom children have here. We saw children younger than our children's age (11 and 6 years old at the time we moved) walking to town and to school. Of course Kara and Tristan quickly used this as ammunition to convince Chris and I to let them walk everywhere on their own. It took a few months of adjustment, but eventually we did give them a lot more freedom than we would have ever given them back in the US. They walked to the nearby "Super Liquorera" (supermarket/liquor store). They would meet us for lunch after school at our favorite restaurant in town. They would go buy supplies at shops in town on their own. They would walk to the school bus stop without me. This was one of the greatest aspects of living in a small, safe, low-traffic town where every body knows everybody. We will all miss this not only because of the convenience ("Hey, can you go get me an onion from Super Liquorera?"), but also because we know that recreating this aspect of our life in Costa Rica is not likely possible in most places in the world.
7) The forest/nature
We lived minutes from one of the most beautiful and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. We would go hiking in the cloud forest at least once per week. The kids went to school in the cloud forest. Kara had her lunch stolen from a "pizote" (aka coatamundi) several times during the school year. This was apparently a daily occurrence! Each morning, I would awaken to the morning chorus of birds and howler monkeys. The inspiration and happiness I derived from living in Monteverde will be difficult to parallel.
6) MFS Library
The Monteverde Friends School Library was a 45 minute walk from our house. We would visit the 24/7 volunteer-run library at least every month. This library houses the largest collection of English language books in Central America. You don't know what you got till its gone.
5) La Feria de Agricultor and my CSA yogurt
My weekly saturday trip to the Feria de Agricultor (farmer's market) was the social highlight of my week. Not only that, each week I had the privilege of purchasing mostly local and mostly organic produce. Our fruits and vegetables intake went up dramatically after we moved to Costa Rica. We rarely ate processed foods, mostly because many of these foods (granola bars, frozen meals) are not available, and if they are, they are prohibitively expensive. I also obtained fresh-made organic yogurt, homemade bread, and organic, local veggies from our CSA. I will miss eating food that I bought directly from the farmer, who was usually the guy selling produce to my favorite restaurants.
4) Coffee! and coffee shops
I have turned into a coffee snob because Costa Rican coffee is the best in the world. Move over Starbucks. In the US, I used to drench my coffee in International Delight creamers. I would not touch that stuff now. Milk and sugar is enough when such a magical liquid is gracing your cup in the mornings. And the coffee shops here became my second home. I will miss Cafe Orquid and Choco-Cafe. I did much of my writing for my books at Orquid. I laughed and cried with many friends at Choco Cafe. With the exception of the occasional tourist, no one ever bought a coffee "to-go" here. The concept is foreign in the Tico world. If you are going to drink a cup of the most delicious coffee in the world, you are going to sit and enjoy it with a friend.
3) View from my front porch
Words won't do it justice, so I will attempt with a picture.
2) Burger night
Almost every Friday night, our friend Greg would host Burger Night at the Monteverde Butterfly Garden. Not only did he make the best meat and veggie burgers in town, the event provided a wonderful venue to socialize with other families in the community. The kids would run around with their friends and we could sit and have adult discussions with our friends. When we lived in the USA, we all led parallel social lives. Burger Night was a weekly reminder of our new social structure of a much more integrated family.
1) The people
I will miss my Tico and expat friends. There are so many of you that I cannot mention everyone. But if you are reading this you know who you are. Meeting you made our experience in Monteverde wonderful. You helped us build wonderful memories during that year. And for that, I thank you.
Have you ever lived outside of your home country and then moved away? What do you miss the most? Let me know in the comments section.