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Our Stay in Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Here is an overview of my and my husband's month-long stay in Playas del Coco during October 2018.

One of our first days we were exploring and found this special beach that was uninhabited by others most of the time. Our Canadian neighbor called it Gringo beach, but we later found locals called it Playa Iguana.

How we got around: On foot and bicycles. We rented bicycles through our condo host which gave us about a 15 minute ride to Coco where there were larger grocery stores, as well as a small vegetable and fruit market on the halfway point. There were a few other stores for goods that were all pretty small and specific. In the opposite direction of town, we could walk to the beach in about 15 minutes. I tried riding my bike to the beach one time and the route was downhill. The bike was really basic and didn't break in time, and I skidded all the way downhill right into a palm tree. A local fisher saw me and chuckled and after that I just walked to the beach every time.

The bikes were $45 through our host, a very nice lady from Nicaragua. This was definitely worth it even though the bikes were as basic as you can get, because we stopped back at the shop a few times to get some parts screwed in and tuned up. In a lot of areas in Costa Rica, you can buy a used bike for under $50. If you have no bike knowledge whatsoever it might be a bit of a gamble because you may have to tune it up or assess different parts.

Fun story involving transportation and availability of products: There was one time when we had a list of things that we could not for the life of us find in all the bigger stores in Coco, including coconut oil and a computer headset. So, we decided to make a day of it and go to Liberia. Liberia is only a few hours away, but it took all day to ride the bus because the time tables are pretty unreliable. In short, you can attempt to find the time table online or see what's posted in person, and the best bet is possibly asking the driver the day before or observing the bus pattern the day before, but it might not run like clockwork. After Daniel's teaching session in the morning, we immediately left to go to the bus station in town by bicycle. We locked the bikes up somewhere - I think actually, the same storefront/house that we rented them from - a few "blocks" away from the bus stop. We took the bus a few hours, got off on the side of a busy highway and walked maybe a little under a mile from there to the Walmart. The Walmart looked more or less like any other Walmart, with a big fence around the parking lot and police officers outside. We made our way inside and scavenged the store only to find no coconut oil, nothing else on our list except for headphones, which we were uncertain were of sufficient quality.

Once we reversed the whole trip and got them home we realized they wouldn't work with my computer. We set a date within the week to go back and return them. We were told they normally don't do returns but since we were confused Americans they would give us store credit. As for the headphones, we ended up finding a sufficient pair at one of the super-small stores in town. By the way, although I quit my job upon leaving the U.S., I was able to get hired with GogoKid while abroad and the whole process required nominal input and took less than a week. If you're looking for online income that enables you to work from anywhere consider applying!

How much our trip cost: I am writing this about a year and a half after the fact but I did my best to recall the flight charges and other expenses. I am ignoring all the costs associated with emptying the apartment but we did have to terminate our lease, which I believe was around $1800. We took the bus in Portland to the airport, which was a few bucks. We lived super close to a bus stop and it took us straight to the airport after one transfer. We flew from Portland, OR to Liberia, CR and that flight cost somewhere between $300 and $500 after baggage fees. We had planned on getting a taxi but ended up getting a ride from a kind soul we met on the plane so that part was free. As for our lodging, we paid $800 for the month of October, plus $20 for the hostel on the first night. Our internet and other utilities we included. Then, we rented bikes which was our primary mode of transportation, and those were $45 each for the month. They were normally $90 but we got them through our host and rented for the whole month so we got a deal. Other than that, I wouldn't consider our other expense to be too much out of the ordinary as far as food and other necessities.

Total per person= $900 (lease termination) + $5 (bus) + $400 (flight) + $400 (condo) + $10 (hostel) + $45 (bikes) = $1760.

Note: I didn't actually pay any of the termination fee, because Daniel took full responsibility for it the way our situation unfolded. So, in reality for me it was $860, and all on credit.

What we ate: Lots of pineapples, lots of mangos, lots of fruit, white rice, and beans. I learned how NOT to be a vegan. In an effort to eat less meat, I gave myself no restrictions on other kinds of food. Not that restrictions are a good thing, but before I knew it I was eating entire pineapples and mixing white rice with mangoes for breakfast and my blood sugar did not like this. Also, the desserts and pastries in Costa Rica almost certainly are made with margarine containing trans fat and other hyper-palatable chemicals that are banned in other countries. We would pass by a panaderia (bakery) and think that because it was homemade it was made with quality ingredients, but this was not always the case.

Another interesting feature of getting groceries in Costa Rica as an American was seeing which foods are really rare in Costa Rica but prevalent in America. For example, to get peanut butter you had to go to this special store that was catered toward tourists. The store was kind of like a whole foods and all the goods were more expensive there. We learned to live without some of the things we considered staples. Alternative flours and other niche/paleo ingredients that are now commonplace in America, for example, were really hard to find. Items labelled as organic were almost nonexistent but buying fruits off the side of the road is always a good bet. Lychees are called "mamon chinos" - "suck it out" for the way people suck the seed out. There was also always a truck full of oranges at this random fork in the road that were most certainly not cultivated with pesticidal assistance.

We literally ate out about three times and it was a fried chicken stand, and a small buffet style outdoor restaurant, so we only spent a few dollars each time. I think one of the reasons was that it was always raining and we were being careful about our health. A lot of the popular places in town were bars or waffles places. I think we bought some wine or rum a few times. Most dinners were beans and rice, with salad or vegetables - whatever looked fresh. I made some cookies with banana and coconut as the base and smeared them with dulce de leche - an amazing caramel-like spread. Like I said, I was having blood sugar concerns during this leg of the trip! Who we met: In our group of condos about 2/3 of them were vacant. More on that in the economic observations. There was a Canadian retired couple who were sort of "stewards" of the condo complex. They owned maybe two of the units and were looking to get another. They lived in one, and typically drank like fish and the wife smoke cigarettes and video chatting with family to pass the days. They were in charge of some of the cleaning service for other units and also the landscaping maintenance. They became our friends as we were some of the few that spoke English. We got together for a few potlucks and had a great time chatting. Another retired Canadian couple spent a time for a few weeks in the condo closer to ours and we had a dinner or two with them as well. We would often run into the first Canadian couple when we went to the beach closer to two as there is this ex=pat bar called Bambu that a lot of the English speakers went to.

Daniel made really good friends with the landscaper and they played guitar together a few times. He taught him some traditional, mostly religious music and they had some good chats. We also made friends with the vendor at the fruit stand, who seemed interested in learning English. There were many other kind people in town, like the man at the bike rental who helped tune us up a few times, but ultimately there were'nt any many young digi-nos like us.

The husband of the Canadian couple was friends with many people in town. I think they had lived there 11 years. (They still didn't speak any Spanish though.) He had a friend who was kind of like a guide and would take him around on different hikes. We came at the beginning of the rainy season, so we were able to go with him and his family on a waterfall hike. It was amazing, and we climbed story after story of waterfall after hiking into a very subtle location. Most of my pictures and contacts from this trip were lost in unfortunate circumstances, but I have some pictures of us at the waterfall below.

Economic/social observations: One thing that really stuck out to us in this region was the amount of vacant and abandoned buildings. Sometimes there were construction projects that were abandoned halfway through building. Apparently after the 2008 crash a bunch of investors pulled out of various construction projects in Costa Rica. This was not nearly as prevalent in the other areas of Costa Rica we visited. There was one abandoned construction project right behind our condos, and we could see it pretty well and also walk over to it. We could see that even the electrical was complete, and there were wires hanging down from the doorless concrete housing structures. Apparently it had been that way for ten years. Also, the law in CR is that is you make a home on any land and stay there for a certain period of time it becomes yours. We asked why there weren't squatters inside, and there are a few reasons.

Houselessness isn't as much of a concern in CR. The community is really familial and most everyone has a lot of family around. People don't pay mortgages because their family homes have been owned and up-kept for generations. We did have a wandering drunk who gathered trash and would always try to engage with us. A lot of the companies that own the land of the abandoned projects would pay a small price to have the land maintained. This prevents squatters from staying very long, as they are kind of like a security.

Obviously the Ticos have a really tight knit community and its difficult to make real friends who don't want to simply see what money they can get out of you, especially as white Americans. Even if you speak very good Spanish, people will be skeptical of you if you act with different customs. The Mexicans from the hostel, for example, were probably more integrated because Mexican culture is more similar to CR culture. Even so, it probably took them close to year to really gain peoples' trust and integrate.

With the tourist industry only expanding, a lot of the old ways of life are disrupted and people have to look at the ways they can benefit from it. That's natural, and there are many means of doing so. Of course, some of the most "successful" restaurants are the ones owned by foreigners who had lots of capital to begin and pay the Ticos their $2/hour minimum wage while they are still responsible for getting food at the same prices the tourists do. Some fruit stand and restaurants have special "Tico prices" that are much less than what tourists will be charged.

We had a great time staying in Ocotal but after a month we were ready for a change of scenery. Time to journey across the country!

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