It’s just shy of three months since we left Costa Rica. Many people still ask us what it’s like to be back, if we’re happy to be back, and if we’ve acclimatised yet. There’s no quick or easy answer to all of that, as we’re not dealing with something as simple as changing from one temperature to another. As anyone will tell you, moving to an entirely different country (outside of North America) involves more than a physical location. Costa Rica was more than just a place, it was a way of life, and an experience that has changed the way I live now.
Almost right away, we missed some things, though most of that was due to the roughly 40 degree Celsius shift in temperature. Other things soon made themselves known, each time with the all-too-familiar pang of loss and regret.
But like when we moved down to Costa Rica, this is just something we’ll have to get used to.
Now just to be clear, there are two parts to this: things I miss, and things that I should miss but don’t (at least, not yet). I’m splitting it up this way just to avoid some of the obvious questions that are bound to appear. C’mon, I know you guys a little bit, y’know...
Things I Miss
As I’d mentioned a few times before, Costa Rica has fresh fruit. I know that sounds like an utterly silly statement, but unless you’ve been to a tropical country, you have no concept what fresh fruit is really like. None. Even the best organic produce you get at your local hippie market doesn’t hold a sniff to the stuff I got at the farmer’s markets in Costa Rica. The "reject" bananas (the "good" ones are all exported) were sweeter and lusher than any banana I’ve ever had here, the strawberries were worth killing over, and the papayas so good that I might never be able to eat them again (seriously).
I live in Calgary, where it barely rains. We get a nice green spring, but usually by mid-July everything’s starting to dry out. When fall hits, the primary colour is brown. We get white in the winter, at least when the snow is covering the aforementioned brownness.
In Costa Rica, it’s green. Always. Everywhere. Even on the tops of volcanoes, it’s green. There’s no effort for it to be green — that’s just the way it is. It happens naturally. No additives, no preservatives. It’s overwhelmingly green. There’s no comparison for the green. And now that brown has fully set in up here, I find myself missing it more than ever.
Volcanoes (but not earthquakes)
Speaking of volcanoes, I’ve had a thing for geology since I was a kid, and love seeing volcanoes. Especially at a distance (the active ones, any way). I’ve been fortunate to see a few volcanoes, notably in Hawaii, but also in Costa Rica (and went up Poas just a couple of days before a 6.2 earthquake levelled a nearby town). There aren’t any decent volcanoes in Canada, all of them are either dormant or entirely extinct.
Speaking of earthquakes, I rather like Calgary. It’s extremely stable. Not necessary free of tremors, but far enough to avoid anything nasty. I like that.
Price includes taxes
One pet peeve I always had with the North American pricing system was that the price you see is rarely the price you pay. Taxes are thrown on top, and usually service fees on that, too.
In Costa Rica, IVI (the tax) is rolled into everything, including your restaurant menu prices (divided into two columns). There’s no question what something costs, even if the price is in $USD (which it sometimes is, depending on how deep you’ve dived into tourist areas). I miss that kind of transparency.
Sun in the morning
Although it bugged me at the time, I now officially miss sun in the morning. The sun is still rising here, and when my alarm goes off it’s still dark. It’s something I came to appreciate a lot, as it really made things much nicer. That said, I’m going to be very happy for the late evening sun come June...
Not wearing pants
Costa Rica, duh, is warm. So I rarely ever wore pants — shorts were my mainstay for a year and a half. I hate wearing pants. I hate wearing shoes (instead of sandals). And I really, really, really hate wearing socks.
Monkeys (and wildlife in general)
No, I’m not saying I don’t like seeing deer, or moose, or anything else common in our northern tracts. But I do miss seeing wild parakeets, vibrantly colourful birds, and especially the monkeys roaming the treetops. There’s nothing like monkeys up here, save for zoos.
Driving with the window down ... all year
I only realised this last weekend, but man I miss driving with the window down! You can’t do that up here when it’s 20 below! (Well, I suppose you could, but then you’re just asking for trouble.) There’s nothing like being able to go down a street at any time of the day or night, with the window down. That kind of fresh air is just amazing.
Dos Piños (and ice cream)
Dos Piños is the major dairy producer in Costa Rica, and makes pretty much everything that you can make from milk. Of particular note were their ice cream products. I don’t know what it is, but Costa Rican ice cream (Dos Piños and Pops, at least that I found) is fantastic. It’s wonderfully creamy, and not filled with a lot of crap (which seems common in North American ice creams). It got to the point where I was having one a day, on walks with Jason and Ed.
A "batido" is (more or less) a blended fruit drink. Not with ice — just fruit, mixed with either water or milk. (Milk was my favourite version.) I know I can make them here with whatever fruit I get my hands on, but as you already know (from my first item), it’s just not the same without fresh Costa Rican fruit. I liked batidos for the fact that it was fruit, it was tasty, and often filling. It was a great alternative to syrupy drinks, or even a coffee if I wasn’t in the mood.
You’re from Canada? So am I!!
This one sounds silly, but it’s true — there’s nothing like finding a fellow Canuck (or insert your own nationality, I’m sure the same is true of other countries) when you’re abroad. I’ve been fortunate to have this happen in a few places, and even made some friends that way. It’s not to say that I can’t make friends with my fellow Canucks up here, but meeting someone abroad and sharing your experiences is very different than striking up a conversation while on a bus.
Last, but probably most importantly, I miss my friends. The people I knew well, who I worked with, the ones who lived near me, the ones who shared in the experience, the people who asked how I was and were a significant part of my life, and especially the ones so kind as to drive me to and from work every day. I feel exceedingly distant from them now, not just in distance, but because I might never see some of them ever again.
Things I Don’t Miss (Yet)
Now you’re probably wondering why some things didn’t appear in that list. Well, there are a few things that I don’t miss, at least not yet.
I have never liked the heat, at least not for long periods of time. Once in a while, for a couple of hours, I can hack. Even full days are a bit much for me, and dragging that out into weeks? HA! Not a chance. Strange as it sounds, I’ll take the cold over the heat any day.
Just so long as I can visit the heat once in a while...
The constant temperatures in the valley
The Central Valley in Costa Rica is consistent in the way you can’t even imagine. 27 degrees Celsius is the daily high, and 15 degrees is the daily low. Every day. Every. Single. Day. (It does vary a little bit from time to time, but the mode is pretty much 27/15.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking: that sounds heavenly! You never have to stare at weather forecasts! But you also never get to see seasons like we do up here. I missed fall and spring (and especially winter). You can handle only so much perfection before you start to go a little wonky, lemme tell ya.
I know, I know, again you’re thinking I’m totally batty (and maybe I am). But I don’t really miss the beaches. That’s not to say I don’t like beaches — I love ’em! But going to the beach was never trivial, and involved far more effort than I care to think about. So much so that, well, now I look back and I think that while I’m glad to have gone, I don’t really have any burning desire to visit another one anytime soon.
Okay, first off, I loved Imperial. Truly. But Costa Rica has a limited selection of beer, and about half of them are pretty darn close to the same thing with a different label. Up here, I can lose hours staring at a beer menu (yes, there is such a thing as a beer menu), or standing in the refrigerated room at any of the billion-or-so liquor stores in Calgary, trying to decide what to try next. That’s a level of selection I missed dearly while I was in Costa Rica, and am very happy to have it back.
Before you freak out, there’s a really simple reason why I don’t miss Costa Rica coffee: we brought a lot of it back home with us. When we run out? Well, that’s another blog post...