A few of you have asked where, exactly, we are in Costa Rica. After traveling here in April and visiting 6 bilingual schools all over the country we settled on one in Playa Samara. This is on the Nicoya Peninsula in the northwestern state of Guanacaste. Those surfers of you out there may have heard of it. Interesting fact we learned since moving here is that the Nicoya Peninsula is a Blue Zone. Guanacaste used to be part of Nicaragua. Indeed, we are only about 3 hours from the Nicaraguan border, which will be quite useful on our border runs to start the clock over on our 90 day visa. We are also just under two hours from the closest international airport in Liberia (hint, hint). Compared to other places we looked, we practically live on the runway.
One of the things we liked about this town, different from other parts of Costa Rica that we visited, is that we could actually tell where the town was. In many other parts, you arrive in a “town” but what it feels like is an increase in the roads leading off into the jungle. I found this surprising and different from other Latin American countries I had visited with more colonial influences like cobblestones and town squares. To be sure, these can be found in CR, we just never did. However, what I didn’t (couldn’t) appreciate about Samara in the two days we were here was what it feels like to live in a touristy town. Now, let me be clear. This is “touristy light”. There are no high rises or big resorts. In many respects, it still feels like a small fishing town with all the things that make life easier: grocery stores, a hardware store, banks, a gas station, etc. There are one or two paved roads and many more that are not. There is a centrally located, immaculately mowed soccer field (a must for any Tico town with more than 50 residents). There are exactly two touristy strips with small restaurants and hotels. The rest of the town is comprised of little Tico neighborhoods with an abundance of chickens, dogs and children milling about. All of that I love. Sometimes the dirtiness of the streets around the souvenir shops and restaurants with empty beer bottles, trash, etc. can be a drag. It is also in these spots that I feel most like an interloper. While Ticos are by and large friendly, this friendliness seems to wear a little thinner in the parts of town most heavily visited by tourists, which is totally understandable. Less welcoming, but totally understandable.
As you can see from the map, Samara is on a little cove. The beach is protected by a reef, which makes the surf perfect for little kids.Interesting fact, though. I learned today that we should avoid the northern part of the beach where the river empties into Playa Samara at high tide. Why? Crocodiles. What?!? This river is literally on the beach. You can walk right up to it. The kids are fascinated and terrified by this knowledge. I have to admit, I am too…but not enough to actually check it out.
Now, we don’t live right in town. If you look on the map and follow the road marked “150” away from the beach, we’re off the road that veers left just past where the 150 crosses the river. Road 150 is paved, our road is not. It looks kind of far on the map, but in reality is only about a 5 minute drive to town. I was initially nervous about having to drive to the beach and being “far” from town. I suspect this was born out of an aversion to driving after having to the contend with I-80 and its ever-increasing traffic over the years. This was what I contended with on the road today. They definitely made me late, but it was hard to feel very upset.Having been here for several weeks now and getting a fuller sense of the town, I’m starting to see the benefit of being a bit outside of town and having a little retreat. It feels nice to be tucked away from that and not worry about theft. It’s great to leave the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition. What was once a feeling of “missing out” that we are not right on the water is now a growing fondness for the jungle and the relative quiet. I say relative because the animals here are quite noisy. This morning we were awakened at around 5:30 to what sounded like a howler monkey war right outside our window. It’s amazing how loud they are! But it wasn’t really annoying. We’ll see how long the feeling lasts.
As we settle in, we’ve started to explore our immediate surroundings more. The kids are starting to range a little further on their own.
Here they are, tramping off in the jungle with the property owners to recover Maurice, the parrot, who tends to fly off. Another day we drove a few minutes up the hill to hike to a waterfall. Normally you can swim here but it had rained heavily the night before, as evidenced by the muddy water. We were told by some locals that it would not be wise to swim that day. No kidding. Along the way we saw many of these cows, which are all over the place, even in town. We’re obsessed with these cows and their adorable floppy ears. Django refers to them as “holy cows”. Can you see the babies lying down and the one that’s nursing off to the right? So cute. We also stopped at a”soda” (family owned restaurant with traditional food). This was the view from our seat.To state the obvious, it’s ridiculously gorgeous here. And very rural. I’m finding out that the kids love being out in the country even more than I thought they would. I’m also settling in and feeling enjoying this all a lot more. This is recent. Just a week ago I was still feeling very much like we needed to do something interesting and exciting all the time. The picture below is from just such a day.
Yes, that’s Django passed out asleep on a cooler. That kid can seriously sleep anywhere. On this day I was obsessed that we needed to get out of the house and “do” something. We paid $100 to sit in an open boat on wooden benches for four hours of whale watching. Now, to be fair, we did see a whale and her calf, a whole school of dolphins and a sea turtle swimming (no, I don’t have a single photo of any of it). It was very cool. Actually, incredibly cool. Especially the dolphins. Amazingly, I was more excited than the kids. After several hours in the heat, they just didn’t want to do it anymore. And interestingly, they’ve never talked about it again. I’ve heard much more from them just about things that they’re observing from our daily doings. Lesson learned. For the rest of the week we hunkered down and enjoyed where we are. Suki arranged the shells she has collected as a decoration for our outdoor table. The kids played with a cardboard box, a rope, a wire spool and a hammock for HOURS.
We also befriended some visitors who had kids of similar age and whose hotel pool we swam in A LOT. Their pool was also surrounded by a bunch of vegetation that hosted lots of animals like this iguana. I didn’t even know their skin could be turquoise! He was beautiful but a little overly familiar. I also had a close encounter with this howler monkey baby who was very interested in the photos I was taking of it. It got so close its mother became concerned and started advancing. I backed away. Quickly. Can you imagine the headline? “Expat’s face eaten by angry howler monkey mother”. Ok, maybe that wouldn’t have happened but I wasn’t taking chances. Here they are reuniting.
So this is where we are. It’s surprisingly different from what I thought it would be but as I start to let go of those expectations and really look around, it’s not hard to love it. It’s definitely not all good or all relaxed but it’s pretty great.