Well, I’ve been in Costa for nearly two straight months now — this is the longest continuous time I’ve ever spent outside of Canada — and I think it’s high time to answer the two most often-asked questions that I get: What do I like about Costa Rica, and what do I hate?
I’ll answer the latter in a separate post, but like all reviews, there’s reason to start with the positive stuff. Of course, these are not in any order whatsoever — they’re just as they come to mind.
It’s hard to go to any country and not enjoy eating differently than you do where you came from. Much of the food here is Spanish-influenced (kind of obvious), but draws heavily on Peruvian, Mexican, American (you wouldn’t believe the number of KFC outlets here), Italian, and then a hodge-podge of other cuisines. There’s a lot more seafood, especially when you’re on the coasts, and healthy portions of chicken and beef. And fresh fruit.
It’s not spicy, but there is a fair bit of fat as a result of oils, which is sometimes a bit hard to get by. But it’s fairly easy to avoid the deep-fried stuff.
The biggest problem in Calgary when it comes to fruit is getting it fresh. And I mean fresh, as in the originating farm is less than 100 kms away. And here, it’s probably less than 10 kms. I’ve never had pineapple this fresh, papaya that is outstanding, and absolutely wonderful strawberries. And unlike back in Canada, there is no "season" — you get this fruit year-round.
It’s no Big Rock, no Sleemans, and certainly no Guinness. But in this heat, lighter beers are much more appreciated, anyway. Especially when they’re cheap. Your average bottle of Imperial (the most popular beer in Costa Rica) is 4.8% alcohol (by volume) and costs less than a dollar at the store. How can you go wrong with that?!
... And Getting It Anywhere
And wine, and liquor. No stupid rules like back in Canada — the grocery stores sell beer right next to the legs of lamb. Like it should be. The only place in Canada you can do that is in Quebec, which is a real shame as the heavy restructions on alcohol are likely part of the reason why people drink — it’s a taboo, rather than a normal part of life.
The only place you can’t get any alcohol is at the football games. It’s an absolute no-no, and searches for booze are pretty strict on entrance. But then, we North Americans aren’t used to seeing riot police in regular attendance, either.
A note on the weather: to a Canuck, the seasons don’t change much in Costa Rica. It goes from warm and dry to warm and wet. (Or hot and wet to hot and dry, or just plain hot and wet, depending on where you are in the country.) People here start to haul out jackets when the sun goes down, but I wear shorts as much as I can (only the air conditioning at the office makes me think otherwise) and I almost always wear sandals.
The heat, combined with the plentiful rain, means the leaves never fall from the trees, so the trees stay green year-round. (There is one tree I’ve seen that is losing its leaves, but there seem to be new green ones sprouting already.)
Costa Rican Coffee
Okay, I don’t drink coffee — yet (I’m determined to try, soon), but all I have to do is smell it to know the coffee here is outstanding. But this is also a coffee-growing country, so you have to expect it. All I do know is that Alex, Mark, and Jason have all raved about the coffee.
And yes, when I do get around to having my first cup of joe, I’ll be documenting it. You folks don’t wanna miss that...
The Beaches and the Ocean
We are about 90-100 kms from a the beach. Not just any beach — a good beach. Given, that 100 kms takes about 2.5 hours to drive, thanks to the rather poor road situation here (see the Hate list for more info). The ocean is also warm, like a nice warm bath. Not like the oceans on either side of Canada, which will deliver a pretty decent chill up your spine, no matter what time of year it is.
There is nothing like walking under the thick canopies, listening to countless birds, monkeys, insects, and who-knows-what-else while rain trickles down from above. That is, if you can get past the creepy-crawly things that live there. Not everyone can hack the spiders, snakes, huge beetles, millipedes, and mosquitoes. Personally, I love it. The closest I’ve come are the coastal forests in British Columbia. But these are, well, foreign to me, and offer such a different experience.
I’m used to magpies (which I hate), robins, sparrows, crows, hawks, and if I’m really lucky, we might get some finches. All fairly typical of western Canada.
Down here? Buzzards, toucans, birds of nearly every colour, and songs that we’ve never heard and that seem to change nearly every day. This is something I never tire of.
I grew up with crickets chirping out my window at night. Alberta is devoid of crickets. Or at least where I am, there aren’t any to be heard. Once again, when the screen door is open (which is most nights), I can hear not only the chirping, but also the croaking of frogs out in the lago.
I love monkeys. (Yeah, probably because I’m related to them. I’ve heard the joke. Next...) It is very easy to find wild monkeys in Costa Rica. Howlers are easy to hear at a distance, and if you’re lucky you’ll be chased by capuchins looking for a banana.
No-one really rushes here. The insane drive that most North Americans are attuned to doesn’t exist down here. There is no urgency (which is also not a good thing), no heavy pressure, and a much more laid-back attitude. While you might hate it at first, you slowly get sucked into it. It’s actually nice, once you get used to it.
It rains here nearly every day (we’re in the rainy season at the moment), sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours. But at least once a week, we get a good thunderstorm. A rip-snorting one that rattles windows and knocks out power. I grew up to those kinds of storms, too, and Calgary just doesn’t get good thunderstorms.
It’s hard to find someone who’s a real jerk. (And you know it when you do!) Most people here smile on mere gaze, and if you’re carrying a cute baby (like we regularly do), you’ll have people walk right up to you and chat you right up as if you’re a local. They’ll even ask to pick your child up and show it off to whomever’s around. It’s a little odd, but it’s still a wonderful thing.
Things You Won’t See On The Hate List
These are things I don’t hate, but perhaps not necessarily love. Still, they’re worth calling out because — believe it or not — I’ve been asked about all of them.
- Rain. Believe it or not, I actually don’t mind it here. It’s not cold, and even in the heaviest part of the year (which we’re in), it’s not really terrible as one might think.
- Heat. I don’t dig heat, I admit that. But I’m acclimatising. I don’t sweat (as much) and I don’t complain about the heat (as much).
- Lack of skilled help. This should drive me crazy, given that I need to find skilled help, but in the end I’m actually looking forward to the training aspect