Living in Costa Rica: 3 month update
As I look back on these past few months, I can't believe that our family has only lived in Costa Rica for 90 days. That's it?! It seems like months of memories and life lessons have been crammed into only 3 months. We've grown as individuals, but most importantly we've grown stronger as a family as we've tackled this learning curve hand-in-hand.
I would be lying if I said it has been all smiles. Tears have been shed, loneliness darkened a few of my days, and a feeling of being utterly lost in a new culture cost us a lot of patience and a few dollars. However hard some days were, it doesn't even compare to all of the good we have experienced.
When I sit on our porch and watch the heavy clouds roll across our valley and listen to the birds and insects whistle in the background, I can only describe it as pure bliss. The peace and relaxation that has overcome our daily routine has been by far the best part of our move to Costa Rica. And while we have learned a lot in these 3 months, our journey has only begun!
A House of Sparrows 3 month update
Hello dry season
The dreary weeks of nonstop rain are behind us and we finally have beautiful sunshine! Before we moved to Costa Rica, we always visited during the rainy season so we were used to afternoon showers and limited sun. So when we moved to Dominical in October, the wettest month of the year, we were prepared for mud and overcast. But after almost two months of almost nonstop rain, it was wearing me down.
I felt trapped at home, stuck inside while buckets of water fell over the rainforest. I was so excited to get out in the jungle and explore our new home and was bummed to be indoors so often. But like a flick of a switch, it all changed overnight.
Mid-December we felt an immediate change in the weather. It was weird how abrupt and distinct the seasons switched but we definitely did not complain. The sun took charge and a cool summer finally showed up. With the dry season upon us, our family heads to the beach several times a week and goes on daily walks to explore our new home. Costa Rica is beautiful no matter what time of year, but I can now see why the dry season is so much more popular for tourists.
While it hasn't been completely rain-free, we are in a rainforest after all, it has for the most part its been bright and sunny. It was a welcomed change and has brought some of the most beautiful sunsets we've ever seen!
Meet el Gringo!
For the first month our family didn't have a car. We had a rental for the first week then went without wheels for way too long. Our casita is located on top of a dirt road that takes about an hour to get to the next bus stop. We needed a car, and fast!
Most people don't realize that Cost Rica is expensive relative to other Central and South American countries. There are high taxes on anything imported (close to 50%) so cars are ridiculously pricey. In addition, its hard to find a decent car because of the road and weather conditions in Costa Rica.
Luckily, a local we know had a friend selling a car for a decent price and it was in a pretty good condition. It had some bumps and bruises, needed a new A/C but so its been a great, little car! We called it our Gringo and its taken us all the way to Arenal and through pretty treacherous roads around our house.
Our Spanish is improving
One of our family's goals was to be fluent in Spanish before we left Costa Rica. We've always wanted to learn another language and now that we live in a Spanish speaking country, we've thrown every effort in trying to become fluent. Ryan and I hate feeling like tourists or outsiders in Dominical so we are practicing our Spanish daily and we're doing pretty well! We can carry on conversations, ask for directions and order our meals all in Spanish.
In addition, we've learned some Costa Rican slang. For example:
Que-que which means cake and came about from locals trying to say "cake".
Tuanis is Costa Rican slang which is used when someone asks how you are doing. It translates to cool, fine, or doing well and is similar to the well-known phrase pura vida.
Mae is Costa Rica's way of saying dude, or bro and you'll hear that term a lot when talking to locals.
Learning to cook the Tico way
I love to cook and especially love to cook new, foreign dishes. Costa Rica has a very different flavor profile than Tex-Mex which I'm used to but our family loves it.
Rice, beans and tropical fruit are at the forefront of Tico cuisine and with the help of the markets and the locals, I've learned a few cooking techniques and dishes for our family. With some of the worlds best produce at our fingertips, we try and cook what is local and in season. Its allowed us to eat healthier and cheaper!
I often make Gallo Pinto with fried plantains which is a Costa Rican staple and one of my favorite meals. I'll be putting together a recipe for you soon!
Celebrating the holidays
I was pretty sure the holidays were going to be the hardest part of our move to Costa Rica. But surprisingly, it wasn't. I love the holidays and have never been away from my immediate family for Thanksgiving or Christmas so I was worried I was going to be bummed.
While Thanksgiving and Christmas were quiet this year, it was some of the most memorable times we've had in Costa Rica.
Thanksgiving in Costa Rica
Thanksgiving was interesting and tried my patience. I had it in my mind that we were going to make a traditional, thanksgiving meal for our family. I wanted to cook a turkey, make my grandmother's cornbread stuffing, cook a sweet potato/yam casserole, and bake several pies. Yeah, I was out of my mind! Expat newbie mistake.
While I was able to find a butterball turkey, it was way too expensive and there was no way our family could eat it all. So I opted for a roasted chicken. Cornbread dressing? Nope! I couldn't find sage or cornbread anywhere I looked. Homemade pies? No pie pans in sight.
It was looking to be a very non-traditional dinner until I found canned yams and marshmallows! So at least we were able to have one dish that made Thanksgiving feel a bit more like home. While we didn't have our typical meal and we weren't with family, it was still a beautiful day with Ryan and Milena.
Christmas in Costa Rica
There is something quite magical about how Christmas changes once you're a parent. Putting Milena to sleep on Christmas Eve, I was so excited for her to wake up to her gifts in the morning. I wasn't able to sleep well because I couldn't wait to see her smile.
It was a nice morning spent with one another opening gifts and watching Milena play with her new toys. While it was quiet, there was no rush or stress to clean, cook or meet up with anyone. We had the day to ourselves to do whatever we wanted.
It was supposed to rain but to our surprise, the day ended up being sunny so we decided to head to the beach and take advantage of the beautiful weather. Well, what we didn't know was that almost every local was spending the day at the beach as well. Our favorite beaches were packed and it took us quite some time to find a spot somewhat to ourselves.
It was busy, but there was a happiness and feeling of community we had with all of the locals. Milena played with some of the kiddos and we sat and relaxed while taking in the very different Christmas we were having. I had never experienced a warm Christmas, let alone at the beach, but it was my favorite Christmas so far.
A visit from home
For New Years and Ryan's 30th birthday, we had family from both sides of our family come into town. It was the best two weeks of our time in Costa Rica! We loved getting to show our families our new home and taking them to hidden spots we'd found.
Milena also loved it as she had some of her favorite people with her. They all brought gifts and showered her in love which made Ryan and I smile ear to ear. During the two weeks we had fun and memorable New Years and celebrated Ryan's big 3-0!
It was an unforgettable time with them all and it was the worst saying goodbye. Tears were definitely shed but more importantly we were able to all share some incredible memories with one another.
One of the hardest parts of our three months in Costa Rica has been the loneliness. Ryan works during the day so for most of the time its Milena and I. She and I explore our neighborhood, go swimming and run to town every now and then but some days I can feel a little stir crazy. There aren't playgrounds or mom & me classes in our town so its hard meeting other moms and kids.
Before we bought our car, there were some days I would just break down to Ryan telling him I just needed to get out of the house. It was always raining and I felt stuck and alone. While that was a hard time, luckily it passed. I think I was just dealing with culture shock and missing my family at home.
First trip to the hospital
I often tease Milena on how clumsy she is. That girl falls, hits her head, and scrapes her knees more than any other toddler I know... And she got it from me apparently.
The day Ryan's family left for Germany, I decided to chase Milena around our porch in a game of tag. She was laughing hysterically, my monster voice was Hollywood worthy, and my mind was off of family leaving. Then my giant, size 10 foot had to kick the wooden fencing at full speed. Crunch went my second toe.
I knew it was broken the moment the pain swelled through my foot and into my gut. No tears were shed but Milena quickly grabbed her doctor kit and came to assist me while I moaned in agony on my bed. Have I mentioned how sweet and caring my girl is? One proud momma here. Anyways...
I've broken toes before. Actually, I broke my pinky toe just a month ago the night before our trip to Colombia. So now that the pinky toe finally healed, I had to break another toe on the same darn foot. Being clumsy is the worst.
After a day of hobbling along on a bruised swollen foot, Ryan and I both thought we should head to the doctor to make sure I didn't break more than just a toe. My foot ached and my second toe looked nasty. But to our luck, the local doctor didn't have a functioning x-ray so he advised we headed 40 minutes south to the Cortes hospital. In short, it took over 4 hours and a lot of broken English to learn I badly fractured my toe in the joint and I would need a cast. Seriously.
So here I am, sitting in a bright orange, foot cast in the middle of the rainforest. Trying to get around with crutches in Costa Rica is near impossible and I can't enjoy the beach for three weeks. I feel the cast is a bit dramatic so we will see if I keep it on for that long. But through this whole ordeal, we at least got to experience a Costa Rican hospital and know the routine. And hopefully its our last visit.
Living among the wild
Wild and Costa Rica go hand in hand and when we moved here I knew I would have a hard time living among giant insects and dangerous reptiles. But after we've seen nearly every nasty and poisonous critter in Costa Rica, the fear and disgust I once had is subsiding.
During the rainy season, many of the spiders and insects came into our casita to escape the rain so we became used to finding giant bugs under shoes, towels, in cabinets, etc. Now that the dry season is here, we rarely find things in our house but the amount of critters outside has increased tenfold. Spiders are everywhere and walking into their webs is a daily occurrence. We've run into several scorpions, had a small invasion of giant praying mantises, and even had a very poisonous snake in our back yard. Yay!
I'm thankful the bugs are no longer inside because we were slowly losing our war with the ants. However, now that they are all on the move it makes me nervous for Dallas and Milena. I've been a helicopter mom lately to ensure no one runs into anything nasty because Milena already found a giant tarantula outside our front door that I passed right by. Mom fail.
Good news is that we have a big lizard that chills on our porch that we've caught several times eating tarantulas. Needless to say, that lizard is our new best friend!
Almost every visitor to Costa Rica will hear the phrase pura vida. Its synonymous with Costa Rica and can truly be felt when you meet the locals. Simply meaning "pure life", this belief in living a life of pure happiness and no stress influenced our family from day one.
Costa Rica is a country of smiles and simplicity, a stark contrast to our hometown we have quickly learned to slow down and enjoy life. Living in the fast-paced life of Dallas, we have had to adjust our attitude in Costa Rica with service time, traffic and even conversations.
I take a step back and look at how we lived in the States and how much stress and negativity fueled our lives. It was draining.
Our family feels so much more free and uncluttered in Costa Rica. Sometimes when we talk to friends or family back at home, they will ask us if something is wrong because of how chill we are, and we simply respond with "pura vida". We try and live stress-free, drama-free and at peace with our new surroundings and its refreshing.
Life is so incredibly short, and our worries usually never materialize. Why should we focus on anything that doesn't bring us joy or make us better people? This new mindset has been the most rewarding and beneficial part of our move to Costa Rica. I hope as we continue to learn more about our new home, the culture of pura vida will remain at the root of our family and we can carry it home with us.
These past three months have been full of rewarding memories, life lessons and a whole lot of beach days. As we look forward to the new year, we can't to see what Costa Rica still has in store for our family! Pura Vida!