Living abroad: 10 Scenes from my Life as an Expat in Costa Rica

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One week. After one year, five months and four days of living abroad in Costa Rica, one week is all I have left of my life in the rainforest. Beyond that week lies a future filled with unknowns.

The pending end of this chapter of my life is a natural time to reflect – well actually any time in the rainforest is a natural time to reflect – and my mind these days is a typhoon of thoughts, a flood of feelings.

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A lot of bloggers I’ve met use their blog as a place for cathartic release. For me, Something In Her Ramblings isn’t that. Instead it’s been a place for me to share all the beautiful, eye-opening, life-changing places that make life worth celebrating, even when your home is a damp, lonely jungle.

As I look back on all I’ve blogged about during the past chunk of my life I realize I haven’t dedicated much space on here to sharing what it is actually like to live in Costa Rica. That’s probably because for most of my time as an expat in Costa Rica it quite frankly wasn’t fun.

Though the recent dry months and new relationships have changed things as of late causing me to leave on a conflicted note, in reality I spent most of my time here lonely, wet and miserable.

rainforest mist at arenal hanging bridges

Life in Costa Rica was incredibly mundane, but my blog was a place to escape. I spent weekends escaping San Ramon de Tres Rios to curate stories and weeknights prolonging my escape through my writing. I hope that in some way the words I’ve written and pictures I’ve shared have been a small escape for you as well.

Now that I only have seven days left to live here, the landscape of my life in Costa Rica has been infused with bittersweetness by the forces of nostalgia. I want to dedicate at least this one post to celebrating it.

Life as an Expat in Costa Rica

Above all else, life in Costa Rica was simple. Living in the rainforest, the complex backdrops of my life in the United States and Europe shrunk down measurably, and at times it felt that the settings of my life here were no larger than a room. One claustrophobic, humble room that felt nothing like home.

But these simple landscapes did become a home, and today I want to share with you ten scenes from my life as an expat in Costa Rica. These scenes are neither glamorous nor luxurious. They are mundane, basic and raw. With the exception of the last one, no tourist would ever wander through them. However, these are the backdrops of my life abroad, and the most useful tools in telling the real story of what it was really like to live in Costa Rica.

 Room

scenes from my life in costa rica as an expat- bedroom

This is the room I called my own while living in Costa Rica. It is located in a house on a rainforest base where I live and work. When I arrived it was a terrible orange color, but I painted it aqua, put up my San Francisco Giant’s poster, filled the side wall with my favorite inspirational quotes and, one night in a furry of doubtfulness, took a Sharpie to the wall and wrote my favorite quote of all time “make it great.” I discovered this Steve Jobs quote during a similar furry of doubtfulness in Madrid.

There’s very little insulation in my rainforest home, so I ran a dehumidifier nearly constantly. My room was too small for a desk, so I didn’t do much here besides sleep in bed and read, but this room became my tiny escape when the rains were too violent and going got rough.

As I leave Costa Rica I’ve learned to appreciate the power of a small space to become a sanctuary and rediscovered a love for reading with another 30 books under my belt.

Kitchen

life in costa rica as an expat- kitchen

This is the kitchen in the house I share with three other co-workers in Costa Rica. It’s one of the most gnarly kitchens I’ve ever had (the small stove and microwave in the hallway of my flat in Madrid is the only one that out ranks it), but despite its grody exterior, it’s probably the kitchen I’ve used the most in my adult life.

Living in Costa Rica completely changed my eating habits. In Florida or even Madrid fast food was a part of my weekly routine. Since a trip to the nearest grocery store or restaurant was a one-hour round trip journey that involved a long walk and a bus ride, I learned to plan my meals out in advance. I also learned to eat fewer carbs and incorporate the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that are found in local markets.

As I leave Costa Rica I’m a few pounds lighter than I was when I arrived and I definitely feel a lot healthier. 

Office

my life in costa rica as an expat- office

This is my office and the desk where I spent the past year and a half working as the Marketing Manager for an experiential education company. I learned so much in my marketing role in Central America, from how to manage cross-cultural communication conflicts to new social media strategies to marketing analysis and time management skills.

Since my room was too small for a desk and we didn’t have a table with chairs in our house, I also spent many evenings up here working on this blog and researching how to grow a following.

As I leave Costa Rica I am a stronger, more well-rounded professional.

Balcony

life in costa rica as an expat- balcony

The balcony of our office offers the best views of our rainforest base. My desk is next to a window that looks out at the balcony and the glorious, verdant view it provides. Often times life in Costa Rica felt like life anywhere else, dominated by work and basic, daily chores. Sitting at a desk in Costa Rica after all is truly not much different from sitting at a desk in the Bay Area or Orlando. However, in quiet moments I would look up from my work at the view from the window or take a phone call on the balcony and be reminded of what a beautiful and unique place I called home.

As I leave Costa Rica I have a newfound respect for the quiet beauty of nature.

Reserve

my life in costa rica as an expat- rainforest hikes

Fast food is not easily accessible from my rainforest home, and neither is a gym. Lucky for me our base backs up to a water treatment facility. This reserve has dozens of trails to explore. While living in Costa Rica I developed a morning routine of walking or running a 30-45 minute loop in the reserve. This was the place I collected my thoughts. I thought through the best ways to tackle work, planned trips to places like El Salvador and Cuba, wrote blog posts in my head, and, on the worst days, thought of all the reasons I should leave and weighed them against all the reasons I should stay. I am proud to say that I always came to the conclusion to stay and completed my contract.

As I leave Costa Rica my mind is healthier from all the thinking I did during the thousands of steps I took along these trails.

Bus

scenes from my life in costa rica as an expat- bus

I didn’t have a car in Costa Rica so I rode the bus. Costa Rica is well connected by bus, however from my rural location there wasn’t always a set schedule, so some days I would have to wait an hour just to begin my journey into town. This was especially frustrating for me after having lived in Madrid where the metro is extremely reliable and comes every few minutes. My home in Costa Rica was a 20-minute bus ride to the nearest town of Tres Rios and 45-minutes to the capital city of San Jose.

It really changes the way you think when it will take you at least an hour round trip to get groceries- and that’s if you hit the buses at all the right times. At first it was extremely frustrating to have to spend so much time just to get anywhere, but I slowly became accustomed to long travel times and learned to allow for extra time when planning to go anywhere and bring a book along for the ride.

As I leave Costa Rica I’m more patient and will never take owning a car for granted again.

Streets

my life in costa rica as an expat- streets of tres rios

These are the streets of Tres Rios. As you can see, they are not so glam. Tres Rios is a small town in Costa Rica’s Cartago Province. The town’s one claim to fame is that beans for a blend of gourmet Cafe Britt coffee are grown here, but other than its just a basic tico town.

I made weekly trips here to go to the grocery store, Mas por Menosrun errands or ocassionaly grab dinner at a local soda. I also saw ten Oscar nominated films (and a few others) at the Cinepolis movie theater at the edge of town in Terramal, a local mall. Costa Rica may be known as a great destination for ecotourism, but malls are all the rage with locals.

As I leave Costa Rica, the colors of my favorite cities such as Los Angeles and Paris seem that much brighter.

Grocery Store

scenes from my life in costa rica as an expat

This is where I bought my food. Are you dying with excitement? It’s a thrilling scene, I know. Grocery stores in Costa Rica are surprisingly similar to those in the United States, probably because a large percentage of them are owned by Walmart. I found them to be much more Americanized than those in Europe.

Food prices in Costa Rica are either on par or more expensive than prices in the United States, a fact I didn’t expect to be true when I envisioned life in Central America. Some food items, such as cheese, are much more expensive in Costa Rica. A bag of cheddar will run you $6. A small wedge of Brie, $8. Anything fancier than Brie, don’t even think about it because it will wind up being 1/20 of your monthly paycheck.

As I leave Costa Rica I can’t wait for the day when I live in a place where buying cheese isn’t considered a splurge.

Starbucks

my life in costa rica as an expat- starbucks

I wrote so many blog posts here, sitting at this very table at the Starbucks in Curridabat. I actually wasn’t that big of a Starbucks aficionado before moving to Costa Rica, but after a few awkward instances where I tried to bring my laptop and work at local, family-owned coffee shops only to find myself greeted by a lack of space, no wifi and a flood of strange glances coming my way, this Starbucks became my go-to weekend work session hangout. It’s also one of the only places I was able to find iced coffee, my staple, in the country.

It took me a really long time to make friends in Costa Rica, and so for about a year, like the true nerd that I am, I spent virtually every Saturday and Sunday sitting here, taping away on my Mac, writing posts, updating SEO, scheduling social media posts, sending out pitches to various destinations and publications.

Dozens of venti iced cafe lattes later, my hard work paid off. When I first moved to Costa Rica average monthly pageviews on Something In Her Ramblings were under 3,000. This past month, they surpassed 12,000, and I’m proud to report that I grew more of a following on a new Facebook Page and Instagram account.

As I leave Costa Rica, Something In Her Ramblings, is reaching more eyes than ever before.

Weekend Escape

Where to Stay in Jaco

I truly don’t think I would have survived my time in Costa Rica if, early on, I had not met a hotel owner in Jaco, the closest beach town to my rainforest home, who befriended me and graciously offered his space up to me as a weekend escape. I spent weekends here walking along the beach, surfing, reading poolside, and mingling with colorful expats. The time away from the rainforest gave me the space I needed to collect my strength and gear up for another week.

As I leave Costa Rica I know to never underestimate the power of a weekend escape.

***

My journey in Costa Rica is nearly finished. As these scenes illustrate, it wasn’t always an easy ride, but it was a rewarding one, and I’m grateful to be leaving Central America a stronger person in so many ways. Thank you to all of you who have followed my adventures in the land of pura vida. I may not know exactly where I’m heading next yet, but I promise there will be many exciting adventures ahead.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Michelle Philippon

    Great post, Lauren!!! Hard to believe it’s been a year. Looking forward to grabbing Starbucks (or Dunkin’ Donuts) when you’re back stateside!

    1. Lauren

      Thanks Michelle! Hope we are having a coffee + blogging date stateside soon!

  2. Mike

    This last post is very touching It’s been quite a journey for you. I wonder what your next chapter will be.

    1. Lauren

      Thanks! I can’t wait to see what the next chapter is either!

  3. Ted

    I really enjoyed getting an insight into your lifestyle in Costa Rica. Thanks for the full tour. Glad you had the refuge of your weekend retreat to keep you in the game. Would you consider another contract in Costa Rica if it weren’t in the rainforest?

    1. Lauren

      Thanks Ted! This was a cathartic piece to write. I think my days in Costa Rica are over for good but never say never, right?

  4. Daniel

    Good info and Costa Rica is nice place too, but Costa Rica is the most expensive place. Please tell also best ways to enjoy Costa Rica on a budget.

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