What I wasn't expecting in Costa Rica
I've never been anywhere like Costa Rica. A tropical country, just above the Equator that has multiple micro climates. No number of YouTube videos, guide books or David Attenborough documentaries can properly prepare you.
So I thought I'd put together a list of the things I wasn't expecting! And maybe it'll help anyone else who decides to travel to a part of the world that is so geographically different to your own.
1) it's quieter than I expected. We're currently staying in the rainforest. As an avid Attenborough fan I was expecting to be woken up by a cacophony of bird song from an incredible range of tropical birds each morning. If anything I was actually worried about just how noisy all the wildlife would be. Instead, the dawn chorus back home, where we just have sparrows, blackbirds, wood pigeons and the occasional stray seagull are FAR louder.
2) it's a colder than I thought a tropical country could be. To be fair we've only done the capital San Jose, which is in the central valley and at the tail end of a tropical storm (Bonnie) and Monte Verde, which is about 5,000 ft above sea level. But, as a write this, there's a heatwave happening back in the UK and the irony is not lost on me that we've travelled 5000 miles to experience temperatures that are about 10 degrees C less than at home.
We even have heaters on when inside our apartment. Granted when you go outside it's shorts and t-shirt weather but we can't leave the house without also taking a light jumper and rain coat to ensure we're covered for when it gets, well, cold and wet!
3) it's very damp. This is something I probably should have been expecting, after all it's rainy season and, even in dry season, it can still rain most days. But you get so used to your perfectly climate controlled home in the UK that living somewhere where damp is constant is one of the hardest things to get used to. I'm hoping that we've actually just been a touch unlucky on this so far. The hotel in San Jose was super damp but was on the ground floor and next to the pool. The apartment we're staying in in Monte Verde was most likely unlived in for a while now it's low season. After being here a few days and using a combination of ventilation, heating and general activity, have managed to get it a lot better. But I'm still missing perfectly dry sheets and being able to breathe in air that's not saturated with water.
4) people don't smoke here. Not that I want them to, but I had this sort of image in my head of, well, people in Central America smoking. After all, tobacco was a major export from Costa Rica back in the day. We've asked about this a couple of times and it sounds like it's basically too hard to smoke here! It's pretty much banned everywhere so the opportunities to smoke are very limited.
5) the food is yummy. Honestly, the number of blog posts and articles I've read about how 'plain' Costa Rican food is made us decide we'd need to drag around our own bottle of hot sauce just to make things tasty. Instead, the food is delicious. A really good mix of flavoursome ingredients, good use of herbs and subtle spices and so incredibly fresh. We were invited to dinner at a Tico home last night (Eduardo from a previous post). The range of food and accompaniments was fantastic, every one a fresh taste explosion. My favourite thing of all though was a drink they'd prepared. It looked disgusting. Truly disgusting. But I could have drunk a bucket of the stuff. I wish I could now drink it at every meal and every time I'm even a little bit thirsty. We tried to get the recipe and discovered it's a mix of lemon and lime (though the limes here are different - not as sour), fresh peppermint (again different to ours, sweeter and less pungent), a little sugar and then water, all blended together into a sort of green pulpy mush. Addictive stuff! Which leads me to number 6...
6) the tap water here is drinkable, because it's mountain spring water. Considering in Europe I always drink bottled water, and in the UK we know how many times our tap water has been through the 'system' it's fantastic to be able to be so far from home and able to drink the tap water without any fear of 'digestive complications'. My skin is also incredibly soft, in particular my hands which are usually so dry in UK water. The last time it was like this was a week in Wales where we were in the mountains, had no mobile signal and drank and washed in mountain spring water. Actually, some definite parallels between Wales and Costa Rica!
7) speaking Spanish is essential. You can get away with speaking just English but you will miss out on a lot of stuff if that's the case. We also saw our (already polite and friendly) waiters become a lot more friendly and relaxed if we used Spanish, even my basic Spanish. They truly appreciate the attempt. Possibly because most tourists here are from the USA and (from what we've seen so far) just don't bother. They go with English from the start. Not even a 'hola' or 'gracias' along the way. It was thanks to being able to do some Spanish that we ended up spending the evening with a Tico family and learning so much more about Tico life here.
8) the people are super chilled out. Whether you speak the language or not, you won't get blasted for not trying because the culture here is to avoid conflict at any cost. Remember this is a country that abolished its army back in 1948, just three years after WWII and despite being surrounded by almost constant Central American conflicts. You can see this 'relaxed' nature come through in many different ways. To give you an example, we've seen a few times now where a car will stop on the road to chat to someone on the pavement. They don't pull over to do this. They simply stop on the main thoroughfare and anyone behind them has to wait patiently until it's safe to pass. And during this whole time not a single car horn is beeped. You also experience it in different ways, like although a lot of things here are commercialised, there's no hard sell. At all.
Overall, I think there's a lot I can learn from Tico life, and being more chilled and patient is one of them. It's only been a week though so I'm not quite there yet...
Pura Vida everybody!