Life by the beach
It's always been a dream of mine to live by the sea. And, for the last few weeks that's exactly what we've been having a go at - seeing how it would feel to live here in Coco rather than just be a tourist (as much as you can while knowing there's a plane ticket still at the end of it).
Interestingly, taking that approach has had a remarkable impact on both our mindset and our behaviour.
I will explain how but, first, let me ask you a question - how much touristy stuff do you do near your own home?
We lived in London for 5 years and in all that time I didn't even visit any of the free museums never mind pay for the expensive tourist attractions. The last week before we left London I decided it was time to finally take advantage of everything that had been on my doorstep all those years. All the stuff that people travel thousands of miles to experience but that I'd completely ignored. It was amazing. It was like a whole new version of the city I'd been living in.
Why hadn't I done it earlier? I think partly because when you live somewhere, as opposed to being a visitor, you want to normalise things quickly. To settle in. Running around getting all excited about things doesn't fit because you can't keep it up for too long (and neither can your wallet!). Plus, if you're living somewhere then there's no time pressure. You don't have that "We have to do this now!" feeling that comes from knowing you're leaving in a few days and not knowing if you'll ever return.
I think the only time we visit touristy areas near home is when friends and family visit. We take them to the best places in our area and they may marvel at how we 'have all this on our doorstep' and you think, quietly, "yeah but we never go there!". Somehow that just isn't 'done'.
And, interestingly, that's exactly what happened here.
Before we arrived, I got all excited about the things we could do in Coco. There are catamarans and sunset sailings and snorkelling. You can do ATV tours. You can ride horses along the beach. You can visit volcanoes, do hot springs, soak yourself in volcanic mud. There are new waterfalls and treks you can find. There's zip lining, canyoning, rappelling. You can even do a day trip to Nicaragua as you're closer to the border.
And how many of those things have we done? Nada.
In the last three weeks we have stayed in Coco, and only ventured away from Coco three times - and then only to the neighbouring beaches, which were fantastic.
So what have we been doing?!?!
With a mindset of 'living' rather than 'visiting' our behaviour has been totally different for the second half of our Costa Rica adventure. Instead of doing every activity going we've just walked around Coco nearly every day. We've been up and down the beach. We've swum in the pool. We've become used to the heat. We know when it's the best time of the day to go out and when to stay in (ie we are no longer the 'mad dogs and Englishmen' who go out in the midday sun!). We're now at the point where people recognise us and shout and say hello. The street sellers no longer bother us much. We've ended up bumping into people we've had conversations with and striking up new conversations. We've even got things like the local supermarkets down - we know which ones to go to for what, and which ones to avoid. We know which bank machines work with our UK cards. We know where to go to buy home electronics (okay that's an easy one). But we also know where the locals go to buy their fish - all because one of the guys we struck a conversation up with randomly took us there (put it this way you definitely can't find it on google maps!).
We've even started to be given food! We went to a steakhouse for dinner one night down the road. The owner/head chef started talking to us about where we are from (all places do this btw, it's not a case of order food and shut up, waiters, chefs, owners, they all come and chat). When he discovered Ali's Scottish roots, he got very excited as we were the first people from Scotland to visit his restaurant (ok so I'm not Scottish but Ali grew up there and Esme is like half Scottish!). He even had a Scottish flag up which he made us take photos of holding. He then invited us to sign his 'wall'. This is where all his special visitors come from :-) Here's Esme leaving her own message, but also check out the art that greets you as you walk in!
Ever since that evening, every time we walk past he shouts out 'Hello Scotland' (in Spanish) to us and we wave. The other evening, walking back from town he called Ali in and gave us a Costa Rican dish they'd prepared wrapped in banana leaves. For free. It was delicious - pulled pork with a sort of potato, cauliflower, veg mash, all flavoured with the banana leaf (which was a similar taste to a vine leaf). We'd eaten in this restaurant just once, over a week ago. Can you imagine that happening in the UK?!
In short, we feel like we're becoming part of the community. We have been welcomed in with open arms. It's going to be difficult to leave it.
Now, before you think we want to move here, we don't. But it is brilliant for so many reasons, and it's worth knowing what they are so we can see what does actually work for us.
One, the weather. You can just walk out in a t-shirt and shorts and go where you want without having to pack a coat, jumper, umbrella etc to prepare for multiple weather systems on the same day.
Two, everyone walks everywhere. You can't help but bump into people as we're not all cocooned in our cars. It also means that getting your steps in for the day is easy peasy and we are doing that very unusual thing of being on holiday WITHOUT putting on weight!
Three, it's a small town, laid out with one main road and a couple of other key streets. So not only is everyone walking, you're all walking the same streets, which makes it easy to recognise people and say hello.
Four, the food and drink is brilliant. The meat in particular is stunning quality - and huge! A chicken breast here is the size of about 3 at home! You should see the avocados too! The only 'downside' (if you view it that way) is the lack of choice. We're spoilt with our UK supermarkets. Here you get limited choice (unless it's rice or beans) and anything imported is crazy expensive. But that means you eat local produce, which is not only better for you it's better for the planet too.
Five, the wildlife is amazing! There's so much to see - varieties of birds, iguanas and more - all on our doorstep (sometimes literally!). I'm like a kid in a candy shop with my camera.
Six, tourism doesn't dominate here. A surprising one perhaps considering that Costa Rica is leading the way in eco tourism, but in Coco this isn't as massive as it is in Monte Verde or La Fortuna. One of the reasons why somewhere like Coco works is because, while it welcomes tourism, it doesn't dominate the town. Instead I think it's strengthened it. The beachfront has been developed for instance so there's a walkway and things like a skatepark, a football court, beach volleyball etc. There is an outside gym but unfortunately that's sort of rusted away already! There are a few tour operators here and lots of tat shops yes but the locals don't worry about those. They know where to go and the tourists don't get in the way of that. You also get some fun 'art' aimed at tourists too!
Finally, it's the Pura Vida way of life. Friends, family and community are all an incredibly important part of this. You see this a lot when you walk down the beach - entire families out together, sitting under the trees having a BBQ, or playing in the sea or on the beach. They do things together here and they live in and respect their surroundings.
Every evening for instance you can see families gather on the beach as they go out into the sea to fish for the evening meal which they'll then cook on the beach.
My favourite though was this family. We spotted them as we walked along the beach, all digging out holes in the sand. What was this strange custom? We couldn't not know so we went over to find out.
Turns out they were all searching for these little beasties...
Every member of the family was involved! From the three year old with their spade and eagerness to do anything in the sand, to the papa who was expert at spotting the little bubbles of air in the sand and digging in quickly with his arm to bring out a fresh pink shelled mussel.
All these things together - the weather, the sense of community, the beautiful environment they live in - make this place brilliant. So why would it not be for us?
Well, it turns out I actually do like some change in the weather. Perhaps not to the same level as you get in the UK but I'm struggling with the fact it's sunny and 30 degrees celsius every day. The rain is a happy relief. Who knew?!
I also like getting cold water out of the tap (which you can't get here). And I like more choice than you get here in terms of food etc. It's beautifully simple fare, it's delicious, but I'm used to more variety. I do like the idea of incorporating more local produce into my diet though, so will be seeking out more local suppliers near home.
On the wildlife element, I LOVE seeing so much wildlife out of my window but we also had a conversation with someone who lives here and he has to check his shoes every day for scorpions. That sort of put me off.
Finally, there's the community aspect. I have to admit that I don't feel too connected to my community at home. My lifelong friends all live a long way away from me. So community is something I'll be looking at more as something that's missing from creating that 'Pura Vida' lifestyle.
Additional note - Ali does NOT agree with my sentiments on this matter! He loves the consistency of the weather, the simplicity of the food here and generally the whole Pura Vida lifestyle. If the opportunity came up to stay here he would. So you may or may not be seeing one or both of us back in September! :-D