The kids had a week off of school at the end of October. We decided to use that time to find a new place to live come January, when we have to move out of our place with the goats. We love the beach and the jungle and the kids love their school but we were bleeding money fast. We needed to find a more affordable way to live. We went through all kinds of ideas. For a week or so I really thought we might become WOOFers in Argentina or some other country. Everyone in our family loves being in the country and wants to be on a farm? Great! Let’s move to one where our housing and food would be taken care of in exchange for work. This idea eventually faded away as we realized that Costa Rica is really where we want to stay for a number of reasons: safe drinking water, infrastructure, safety, proximity to the States for my work trips, etc. And WOOFing in CR is not such a great deal. Most farms want you to pay several hundred dollars a month plus feed yourself for the privilege of working 6 days a week. I suspect this is in response to past workers who came to work but really just partied or wanted a cheap vacation. Regardless, we needed to figure something out. I scoured the internet for ideas, direction, information. Through this I found a couple of blogs written by Americans who were living in the Central Valley with their families.
The Central Valley is where three-quarters of the country’s inhabitants live. It extends from San Ramon in the west to Cartago in the east. The capital, San Jose, is there. It’s also not really a valley but a plateau. To drive in and through the Central Valley is to go over windy mountain roads dotted with coffee fields and villages. It’s also a place I snubbed on our exploratory visit here in April for no real defined reason. Suddenly everything that didn’t once appeal was a virtue. It would be great to be near more people because there are more services. Never realized how useful those are! If we need something we might be able to get it without having to drive an hour. If our car has a problem (which she does, constantly) there are multiple mechanics, ensuring better prices and higher standard of work. And, wonder of wonders, it’s SIGNIFICANTLY cooler. The bliss of not sweating every moment of everyday.
I contacted the writers of the blogs, inquiring if I could send them some questions via email. Both of them suggested we come visit within a couple of emails. One even offered us a place to stay. I almost cried. Maybe I did cry. It was so nice that someone was extending an offer of help, let alone hospitality. It felt like a stark contrast to any experience we had had thus far.
Our first stop, Grecia, was roughly a four-hour drive from Samara. We headed out in high spirits, listening to music, laughing. When we passed Nicoya (an hour from our house) Matt whooped. This was the farthest he or the kids had been since we arrived. It felt like we were on a grand adventure. We saw a sign for Monteverde ice cream and knew we had to stop. Monteverde, in the cloud forest, has some of the best dairy in the country. It’s also nonexistent in Samara. There actually is no quality ice cream there, so of course we needed to get some now. As we pulled into the restaurant we encountered many life-size dinosaur sculptures whose purpose there we never could determine.
The kids didn’t care why they were there, the T-Rex just freaked them out.
There was also a little playground. It reminded me of ones I had a seen in Europe as a kid, in that they were made of plain metal and of questionable safety. The kids were in heaven.
Heading out, full of fat and sugar, Django drifted off to sleep and Suki contentedly stared out the window. We were about an hour from our destination when our temperature gauge suddenly shot up and Matt said we needed to pull over immediately. We needed to let the radiator cool down for a bit, a long process in a tropical country. Matt pulled a blanket out of the back and spread it on the side of the road. Suki and I explored our surroundings with Pepe. Suki eventually settled down to relax and gaze at the sky. The delay felt typical of our time here and inevitable. I marveled at my lack of concern. Could it be that I was adjusting? Could I actually be relaxing into our new environs? In that moment, it sure felt like it. It turns out our trusty mechanic had failed to securely fasten the radiator hose when he replaced it after our original hose split 25 minutes after we picked up the car from him the previous time he had worked on it. With a leaky hose, the radiator had run dry. Once Matt replaced the water and tightened it down, we were on our way.
We arrived in Grecia and reveled in the coolness. We also reveled in the ticoness. Picking up supplies, going out to dinner, driving around, the only people we saw were ticos. It felt we had left the tourists behind and entered Costa Rica. This is, of course, an exaggeration because there are lots and lots of expats in Grecia. There are, however, many more ticos and it feels like the expats need to adapt to the culture there rather than create it, which is what it feels like in beach towns catering to tourists.
The family in Grecia was so welcoming and helpful. They showed us around, answered questions, made suggestions and were just generally great. In fact, everyone we met in Grecia was helpful and wanted to talk us into moving there. We drove around with a real estate for a whole day looking at houses. There was a lot more to choose from for cheaper than we had found at the beach. We did a little sight-seeing. We went on a hike to Los Chorros, a local (big) waterfall. This was the first time we had been around water that felt too cold to get into!
The cooler weather didn’t mean there weren’t still the fuzzy caterpillars. These suckers are nasty. Apparently, none of them are deadly. However, both Suki and I have encountered them and just brushing against their spines is so stingy it sends you rushing to the internet to confirm that you’re not about to go into anaphylactic shock.
I tried to capture how it matched Matt’s shirt but I don’t think the photo does it justice.
We also visited a nearby town called Sarchi, the center of handicrafts and where nearly everything is painted in the intricate flower painting for which they are famous. Originally painted on ox carts, the paint has now been applied to nearly everything a tourist could want. We visited a factory called Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro that has been there since 1920.
All their machines are run off the power generated from a single giant water wheel. When they engage the wheel all the machines turn on simultaneously! Very cool.They also have artists painting on site. The whole operation is pretty incredible and totally worth visiting.
We loved Grecia so much we almost felt like we didn’t need to go to our next stop, Atenas. We had been there in April and it had given us a seriously unpleasant vibe. However, we felt we should go check it out since the next family we were visiting seemed to be enjoying it. I’m so glad we went.
This family was also incredibly generous with their time and hospitality. We spent a very pleasant couple of nights with them in their beautiful hilltop home.
They have a son a little older than Suki with whom the kids loved playing. The woman of the couple showed me different neighborhoods she thought we might like, suggested a real estate agent, invited me to a yoga class and shared the location of the best soda (traditional restaurant) in town. We also had a great couple of nights of visiting and getting to know one another. We had a wonderful time. We had such a different impression of Atenas this time around with people to helping us along the way. We suddenly felt very torn about which town made more sense. However, it didn’t feel like we needed to make a decision right then. We now knew the lay of the land in both towns, we had made friends in each and we suddenly felt like we had options. It was a great trip.