Life in Costa Rica – Budget Style
Sometimes I wonder if I woke up in heaven.
Here we are in this little coffee-growing pueblo of San Agustin in the mountains overlooking the General Valley of Perez Zeledon, three hours south of San Jose, and an hour bus ride to the sweet city of San Isidro. We were drawn here to stay in Finca Fruicion, a permaculture education center that is growing an intentional community on this beautiful land.
In the title of this writing I say “budget” because we are somewhere in the spectrum between camping and modern home living. We choose a lifestyle that is close to nature as well as very comfortable. We discovered two years ago that we could retire early here, adapting to a much simpler and much preferred lifestyle that what we had in the States. Our living costs are a fraction of what it cost us in the states, and significantly less than what we were spending in Oregon living in a trailer. Local produce is inexpensive, but some produce and most packaged foods are imported, so food can be no cheaper than in the States, depending on what you eat. Bus transportation is an amazing deal, roughly 1000 colones ($2) per hour of travel. Bus travel is usually quite comfortable and safe, although on occasion if the bus fills up we might be standing for a time as the bus rocks back and forth on winding roads! We’ve enjoyed very much refraining from renting a car, and using taxis when we need them. It’s far less than costly than renting or owning a car.
We are so grateful to have a bus (which is rare for many remote communities) four days a week, as we have chosen (for now) not to buy a vehicle that requires much maintenance and also uses fossil fuels, something we are wanting to limit as much as possible in our lives.
We are living outdoors most of the time; even when we are sleeping we feel we are outdoors, with our large screen windows. We don’t need much space, and the only doors we need are for one bedroom privacy and security. We use a compost toilet, delivering our bio-goods back to the soil, with no need for septic maintenance. The farm has solar showers, and we also have an electric-heated shower in our rented home. Julio is bulding another solar shower for the farm, and we will definitely have one in the house we build. We bought a super-comfortable orthopedic mattress in town that we cover in an allergy cover we brought from the states. We are living rustically and comfortably at the same time!
I still remember what an amazing feeling it was to let go of so much material “stuff” when we moved from Massachusetts to Oregon two years ago. We whittled our belongings down to what fits into our adorable trailer home we will return to for the summer. I felt so free, not tied down by the physical, and ready to follow our hearts, leading us here to finding a second home in Costa Rica. I’m still enjoying that feeling of freedom….
The first thing that we loved about Costa Rica when we first started coming here four years ago is the weather. In the higher altitude areas that we have most enjoyed, the temperature is 60’s-80’s F year round, with refreshing breezes and cool nights. The second most important things are abundance of water and food; we grow year round here, and the fruit and vegetables are delicious! The third is the sound environment; I listen to the birds and insects all day and night, and as a sound healer I appreciate the relaxing effect on my system. I also fell in love with the people here immediately, very sweet, happy, and peaceful. There is no military in Costa Rica, and no violent history. Everyone watches out for each other, their family, their neighbors. The neighbors see everyone as their friend, and they can’t imagine living anywhere else.
We wake up to the crow of the rooster at daybreak, and stretch out on our deck, enjoying an ever-changing landscape of clouds and sunrise lighting across the mountains and valley. After some tea and “crumpet”, we do our morning “Do In” yoga routine and morning invocations. The rest of the day is a flow of email and phone check-ins, work projects, wonderful walks, visits with our neighbors, meetings about the farm, and hanging out. I plan to do get into more gardening; I enjoy pulling yucca and helping plant seedlings. We are making great use of our hang-out space here, with our outdoor office space!
Twice a week we take the bus into San Isidro; our bus stop is only a 10 minute walk from our casa, and it’s a beautiful ride on a well-groomed dirt road over the mountain ridges with gorgeous pastures and forest on either side, down to the Pacuare River, up to La Angostura, and down through Quebrada Honda to the highway, with another 10 minutes into town. We enjoy a wholesome breakfast and/or lunch in town, choosing to eat meat (chicken and fish, mostly) in town and cooking vegetarian at home. We do our banking, food shopping, social networking, exploring, and hanging out until our 2 PM bus back home.
We’ve had some great gatherings here at Finca Fruicion, a permaculture education festival called “Earthworks” in December, a sound healing workshop in February, and some firecircles, yucca-pizza nights, and music time. We’ve enjoyed sharing our gifts of solar engineering, healing, and community building to this farm and the visitors.
Life in the tropics has been very sweet, entertaining, and sometimes challenging. We decided to turn our annoyance with the cockroaches into an amusing game of catching these super-fast critters and giving them to the chickens in the morning; it’s quite a treat for them and entertaining for us! We have to keep our kitchen clean at all times, and keep ripening veggies and fruit in mouse-cockroach-proof containers. We had a visit from the infamous army ants that had the kitchen floor crawling with 100s of 10000s of army ants that took down cockroaches and broke them up into transportable pieces to fortify the nomadic troops. They were gone within hours, leaving us a cleaner house!
The hardest part about tropical bugs has been the super-tiny sugar ants that get into absolutely anything! They eat into plastic bags, and they are small enough to climb up jar and bottle threads – honey and olive oil and everything else! We need waterproof containers to keep them out, or put stuff in the refrigerator. I gave up and I store our chips, rice, and cookies in the freezer! My partner Julio found a great recipe of 1 c water, 2 c sugar, and 1 tbsp boric acid that has had a successful impact on lowering the population of food-eating and wood-eating ants.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are very few stinging insects in Costa Rica, at least in this area close to the Pacific. There is a healthy balance of nature here; the birds and bats and other critters take care of the mosquitos. I’m really enjoying hanging outdoors at night with no mosquito repellent, something I couldn’t do in Ipswich Massachusetts! We watch where we stand on the earth, as fire ants and other stinging ants can be quite painful and annoying if we disturb their homes! We respect nature.
We are enjoying the animals here – the wild and the domestic: toucans, parrots, hawks, soaring buzzard, peaceful grazing cows and goats, the egg-laying chickens, and interesting insects such as the one we call the headlamp beetle whose two eyes glow in the dark. We have yet to see snakes here, but know they are around and must be respected. We visited the Osa Peninsula this year, the most biodiverse region in the world, and got to meet peccaries, capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, as well as the familiar howler monkeys. We missed seeing the elusive large tapir, that is almost extinct in other regions, but felt its presence in this wild place. We’ve seen small crocodiles in various smooth-water locations at a distance, and understand why you can’t swim in lakes around here. One of the stray cats that hang at the farm adopted us, and we enjoy affectionate Jasmine and her mousing skills.
Our Tico (Costa Rican) neighbors are quiet, often staying at home. They like to dance at the annual fiesta, with good food and super loud music! Every one that I’ve gotten to know a bit has been friendly and curious about us gringo foreigners, several interested in longer conversations at the local pulperia (convenience store) and offering us to visit their ranch. We have gotten to know a few of our pueblo neighbors, and we are grateful for our workable Spanish and the opportunity to improve with practice. Finca Fruicion and one other rental property house the only gringos in the area. They find us interesting, and are always available for a friendly chat at the local pulperia (convenience store).
We connect with all the elements – embraced and fed by mother earth, cooled by mountain streams and waterfalls, inspired by the big sky, and fueled by the sun. There’s a hum of peace here, a sacred lush current of sound and good vibration.
The sun sets early here near the equator, and by 6 PM we eat by candlelight, connect with the stars, and are ready for reading or a movie and to bed by 9 PM, to arise by 5 PM the next day. It feels so good to be following nature’s cycles!
Pura Vida! (Pure Life!)