Thursday, January 24, 2013

Costa Rica, Where the Streets Have No Name

First off, let me start by saying that the Costa Rican lifestyle must be starting to stick. I woke up this morning with a great idea for a blog post, "The Top 5 Things that You Didn't Know about Costa Rica." I scrambled to type up a short list of fun facts on my smartphone. Would you believe that I actually came up with 11?!

Well, fast forward to this evening and my original idea seemed way too ambitious. Plus, who wants to be overwhelmed with so much information in just one blog post?

So, in light of my newfound laziness, I've decided to just pick one fun fact and talk about it here. Let me tell you about Costa Rican addresses, or rather, Costa Rica's lack of addresses.

Did you know that Costa Rica doesn't have traditional street addresses? Most of the roads are unnamed, making it muy difícil to assign street numbers. So how the heck do you find anything? You use a combination of local landmarks, rough distance estimates, and cardinal directions.

Por ejemplo, here is the address for Epson, the printer company, in Costa Rica:

In English, the dirección is: 100 meters south and 300 meters west of the American Embassy, San Jose, Costa Rica. Well, that's helpful, as long as you know where the Embassy is!

Does someone actually measure the number of meters in these addresses? Of course not! The rule of thumb is that 100 meters is approximately one city block.

Want to see a couple more? Here's the address for Unilever, another international corporation:

Translation: From the cross in Belén's San Antonio district, go 400 meters west and 800 meters north.

And here's my favorite! It's the address of a local potato chip company:

The company's located in Ciudad Colón. To find it, head to the old folks home (Hogar de Ancianos), then go 100 meters south, 400 meters west, and another 100 meters south. Apparently, the initial southbound road that runs next to the old folks home doesn't go through, since the directions tell you to go south twice.

Now, I haven't seen it with my own eyes, but rumor has it that some addresses are given in reference to landmarks that don't exist anymore, like the old fig tree.* Talk about confusing!

All I can say is that if it weren't for Google maps and our trusty GPS, we'd be totally lost. I think that the Costa Rican government should give each citizen a GPS, then implement a new address system using latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. On second thought, maybe I should be careful what I wish for... do I really want to say numbers like N9° 56' 37.84", W84° 7' 23.89" in Spanish?! Aye Dios mio!

* The old fig tree (Antiguo Higuerón) is marked on Google Maps. It's coordinates are N9° 55' 52.02", W84° 2' 48.07".

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Our First Trip to the Escazu Farmer's Market

Oh boy, today was the day that we've been waiting for! On Saturday mornings, there's a weekly farmer's market (feria) here in Escazu. It's located in Escazu Centro, the old town, near Iglesia San Miguel in the main square.

I knew that the produce prices at the grocery store were outrageous, so we've been holding out all week on buying any fruits or vegetables! The feria didn't disappoint us.

I had done a little research online and came prepared with plastic bags and plenty of small change (the coins here range from 5 to 500 colones, or $0.01 to $1 USD.) We also practiced our numbers in Spanish, just in case the prices weren't labeled!

All of the vendors were very friendly and patient with us, and it felt great to be buying produce directly from local farmers.

So how'd we do? For about $5, we scored 4 lbs of tomatoes, 2 lbs of carrots, 2 lbs of onions, 1 lb of peppers, 4 bananas, a bundle of spinach, and some cilantro! Muy bueno!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Our New Apartment in Escazu, Costa Rica

Ahhhhh, home sweet home... or at least our home for now. Jim and I are happy to report that we've found a wonderful apartment here in Costa Rica!

We're living in Escazu, an affluent suburb just west of the capital San Jose. We chose this neighborhood for several reasons, not the least of which is its proximity to Hospital CIMA (where I plan to deliver our son) and my new OB/GYN. It's also a very convenient place to live, as every amenity we could ever need is located within a few miles. We can even walk to several banks, cafes, and grocery stores.

Panoramic view of Escazu
To me, the only real drawback to living in Escazu is that it's Gringo Central. The area is a haven for wealthy American retirees as well as medical tourists. Now, as a gringa, I of course have nothing against my fellow norteamericanos. But the sheer number of expats living here has left an indelible mark on the neighborhood, raising the cost of living and clearly influencing local commerce. What do I mean by that? Well, if you look down the main boulevard, you'll find a McDonald's  KFC, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, TGIFridays, Tony Roma's, and Mrs. Fields. There's also an Office Depot, Starbucks, and Walmart nearby, as well as the Multiplaza shopping mall with Lacoste, Oscar de la Renta, and Calvin Klein. Not exactly an authentic Tico experience.

In the end, we decided that the higher prices were worth the convenience, especially now that I am 8 months pregnant. We also felt very safe and secure in this neighborhood.

So, on to the details on our new apartment! We are living in a furnished 1-bedroom condo in San Rafael de Escazu. It has a covered parking spot and is part of a gated complex with 8 units. We're on the top floor and have a nice view of the neighborhood streets as well as the local mountains in the distance.

Our favorite feature is the patio-turned-living-room, which is a big, bright, open space. The north side of the room is all windows, letting in tons of light and a wonderful afternoon breeze. It's like sitting outside, but with a couch and flat-screen TV!

The kitchen is also great too. It's relatively small, but well-appointed with an American-sized fridge, gas stove, microwave, and drip coffee machine.

We also have a cozy bedroom with a wall of floor-to-ceiling storage space.

The apartment is less than 550 sq ft, but feels very spacious and open thanks to its high ceilings and many windows. It's just big enough for us... and hopefully a baby too!

While we don't have a guest room, we are happy to offer you a spot on the living room couch (which is actually a sofa bed) if you'd like to come visit us here in Costa Rica!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our Big Plans for 2013

Happy New Year, all! 2012 was a wonderful year for us. Really wonderful, in fact, a dream-come-true kind of year. We left our professional jobs in January and made the transition to "underemployment," or working below our expected employment potential. Instead of long hours, constant stress, and never-ending business travel, we traded our big fat paychecks for a big fat lifestyle. Now we feel like we're living our full life potential.

One of 2012's biggest lessons has been realizing that we can successfully live a frugal, nomadic lifestyle. It's actually easier than we originally thought; most days, it feels downright normal. It might seem like we're on permanent vacation (and compared to being chained to a desk, I guess we are), but much of our time is spent doing pretty uneventful things, like taking dogs for a walk, cooking dinner, grocery shopping, and reading books. It might be more fair to compare our lifestyle to semi-retirement than a vacation.

Coming back to the States after 7 months of traveling has been an interesting experience for us. Even though we've both lived in Phoenix for 10+ years, it didn't feel as much like home as we had anticipated. Sure, we know how to get around, have a great network of friends and family, and are familiar with the local hangouts, but it doesn't feel like we belong here any more than a "foreign" country. This visit has been another wonderful chapter in our nomadic journey, which is still very much alive and kicking.

Which brings me to some exciting news: our plans for 2013! It's going to be an eventful year for us, starting next week, when we board a plane for COSTA RICA!

But, wait, there's more... we're also EXPECTING A BABY! Yes, you read that right. I'm currently 31 weeks pregnant with a little boy.

If you count back the weeks, you might be surprised to learn that I've been pregnant since June. In other words, I've been pregnant almost the entire time that we've been traveling. Remember that doctor's visit in France? That was actually my first ultrasound appointment. Since that time, I've been receiving exceptional medical care all around the world, including France and South Africa.

We have decided that, rather than staying here in the United States, we would like our son to be born in Costa Rica. There are several reasons for this. First, Costa Rica is a well-known medical tourism destination, offering affordable, high-quality care to norteamericanos. There are also immigration benefits to delivering in Costa Rica. Our son will be a dual Costa Rican/US citizen (due to jus soli, or "right of the soil") and Jim and I will be eligible for permanent residency. This opens up many opportunities for us, not only now, but also in the future. Lastly, Costa Rica is a lot closer to home than you might expect. It's only a 5-hour flight from Phoenix or from New York. They're on Central Standard Time. And, most importantly, Costa Rica has a large, established expat community that's already paved the way for newcomers. Would you believe that there's even a website for having a baby in Costa Rica?

So, friends, I'd like to propose a New Year's toast for 2013: may you be blessed with new adventures, fulfilling life experiences, and the courage to follow your heart and your dreams!