No matter where you live, there are life’s ups and downs; struggles and rewards; difficulties and eases of living. Living in “paradise” doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns. Once upon a time, my husband wanted to move to Florida. My family has lived there for decades, but I have never wanted to actually live there. It took my husband several visits and many years to understand why. When you go on vacation, it’s easy to think “wow, I could live here”. However, at that point in time, you are on “vacation brain”. When considering moving to another country, you have to take your “vacation brain” and convert it into “practicality brain” in order to consider the reality aspect. When you move within your own culture or country, your location may change, but you also may experience the same “stuff”: same type of employment, same laws, same media, same government, same accesses, same basic environment and same familiarities. We have moved to a whole new culture.
Costa Rica is very much of a “make do with what you have” world. Reminds me a bit of how my parents described the 1950s or how the Cleavers, the Bradys and the Flintstones (haha) lived. They did not rush out to buy “new ones” every time something looked worn, weathered or broke. There are “repuestos” everywhere here. These are replacement or part stores. Some of them look like salvage and junk yards, and some are repackaged items like older model phones, chargers, coffee pots, etc. It’s a way to find pieces and parts to things you need at a reasonable price. Especially for the locals. They depend upon them two-fold: this is how many make a living, and this is how others can afford to continue to operate. My grandparents didn’t like to “waste anything” and that is how we live here. It’s funny, but living with what you have and “making do” ads a different dynamic to life. It takes away the stress of worrying someone is going to “ding” your car, or “break your good stuff”, or “ruin something you just spent a lot of money on” and adds the value of “I fixed it!” or “it’s working again”….values that sadly, many don’t experience anymore.
For some of us, the “making do with what you have” is due to necessity. Accessibility is the key factor here. If you are here on vacation, or are here as a retiree, you may never notice. However, if you live here and run a business and/or drive a car, patience isn’t just a virtue. We had a mechanical issue with one of our boats. We thought that we had the spare part and hubby spent the day trying to install/replace it. After trying to install it twice and unable to get all parts to fit, we realized it was the wrong part. A manufacturer’s expert happened to be in town and took the part with him to look for a replacement. No luck. After two weeks, six cancelled bookings and three anxiety attacks, we are back in business. I can’t tell you how many times my hubby said “if we were in the U.S., we could’ve had that part in hours”. So yes, accessibility is the most noticeable void here. However, it’s a Catch-22. The charm of the lifestyle here is the simplicity. We don’t have fast-food chains, no Lowe’s or Home Depot, no Target, no malls or department stores…no shoe stores. There is a Wal-Mart an hour from here, but it is a dismal Wal-Mart. It is small for a Wal-Mart and it’s stocked like a cross between Wal-Mart and Costco. Not that it has bulk quantity items, but the display of the grocery and electronic sections remind me more of Costco. You don’t have all of the “American selections” and there are many things I still don’t find.
As to our boat repair, the repair team took parts of another similar part and repaired using various pieces. He and his team “made do with what they had”. Not only is a new part expensive, but shipping a used replacement part from the U.S. is very costly and also takes 1-2 weeks to get here.
Visited the pharmacy again this week and have to say I LOVE the pharmacy here. Of course, there are a few of them, but I have chosen the original pharmacy in Tamarindo and the prices are cheaper as it’s not in the “center” of town. The ability to get medicines here are great. Some are very inexpensive, and others are exorbitant. My husband’s blood pressure medicine runs about $13/month. My hormones and my daughter’s birth control pills are about $20/month. Migraine pills? No…they ARE expensive. The migraine tablets cost about $30 for two pills. However, it is nice that the other drugs are reasonable and don’t require a prescription. Drugs requiring prescriptions are antibiotics, narcotics and psychotropics. Most pharmacies have a pharmacist, which is technically a doctor. The pharmacist has the ability to prescribe something you may need for you. Purchases can also be based upon quantity needed. That includes things like ibuprofen. If you have a headache and only want two tablets, then you can buy only the two. If you are traveling to Costa Rica or are not a resident, the one thing you cannot get? Tamiflu. Don’t even try. Just like all countries, Costa Rica gets a limited supply and their medical system reserves the supply just for them. Dr C. (my pharmacist) says that too many times, visitors are sure they have food poisoning when they actually have the flu. Most of the flu experienced in Costa Rica is brought in from the USA.
Besides medicines, there area a number of other things you have to purchase at the pharmacy. The pharmacies are “behind the counter everything” shops. Saline solutions, make-up, lip balm, everything is behind the counter.I went in this week looking for ammonia. I have not been able to find it anywhere. Dr. C said I probably will not find any. No one purchases it anymore. Due to the fact that ammonia can be used as a base for certain drugs, no one purchases it anymore. The amount of paperwork the store/distributor has to go through to purchase and register the product is not worth the hassle. Pharmacies and stores here also don’t sell isopropyl alcohol…rubbing alcohol. Same reason. The alcohol sold here is an ethanol based alcohol. Yep. Tequila is 60% and Costa Rican “rubbing alcohol” is 70%.
If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall that we’ve had “water problems” in the house we are currently living. Well, not problems with the “water”, it has been more of a problem learning how things are done. The water bill, (or so I was told) is due between the 18th and 22nd of the month. Each month, I go down the street to pay the water bill at the local elementary school. There is a lady there who is available for a week after school between 4-6pm and accepts payment for your water bill (factura). Payment is only accepted between 4-6pm and only for the week she is there. She works for the local water company and creates all of the facturas in duplicate and stamps a copy for your receipt and keeps the other copy as evidence of payment. In December and January, we had a few issues: 1) Our water was cutoff as the payment is actually due on the 15th of the month; 2) we ran out of water and had to fill up our water tank in its entirety; and 3) the pool maintenance people left water running in the runoff section of the infinity pool which overflowed hundreds of gallons of water, overbearing the pump on the tank causing it to break. SO… this month I was expecting a wallop of a water bill. Not only the problems we have had, but add in the fact that we have a pool, it’s dry season (so wehave to water the plants now), we have a commercial ice machine, etc. So, I withdrew $150 to pay the bill. (The other caveat to the water bill is you don’t know how much it’s going to be until you get there.) As the last bill was about $10 and some change, I was prepared for a doozy. Well….$14.50. I was shocked. Happily shocked. I can tell you…I don’t understand it, but not looking that gift horse in the mouth.
On the flip side, electricity is NOT cheap in Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s energy rates are also billed at different rates during “peak hours”. Peak hours are 10am-12:30pm and 5:30-8:00pm. In 2016, a study on the cost of electricity in Central America listed the average cost per kWh (kilowatt) as 13.48 cents, while in Costa Rica it was 18.47 cents. Costa Rican electricity is run by a MONOPOLY, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE). Although the largest percentage of energy consumed in this country comes from renewable resources, the priced paid by consumers for the clean energy is apparently the most expensive in Central America. The paradox to this is that the cost of clean energy to consumers discourages the replacement of energy from oil for the automotive and industrial sectors of the country. Why is it so expensive? From what I have read, it seems to be from poor state planning (yes, there are government deficiencies everywhere) and the fact that the country’s energy is run by a monopoly, preventing competitive pricing. However, as of November 2017, Costa Rica had run 300 days on 100% renewable energy. . In contrast, the U.S. meets about 15% of its energy needs from renewable resources. The United States still relies primarily on fossil fuels, with coal and natural gas making up most of the energy market and nuclear energy accounts for about 20 percent.
So how expensive is electricity? We don’t have central A/C. I have not been in a home that does have it. Each room has it’s own unit. This is done due to the cost. We do not run the A/C during the day when we are home. Nope. Never. We live with the sliding glass doors open so that the breeze can flow through the house. If we leave home and leave the dog, we will turn on the unit in the main room where he is, but that is the only unit we put on. However, in the evening, we put on the unit in the bedroom along with the ceiling fan. So other uses of electricity are the ice machine, refrigerator, outdoor freezers (2), washer & dryer (don’t dry anything but sheets and towels) and the oven (the stovetop is gas). Our electric bill runs $360-$375/month. Basically, the same price we paid for a three-story home in Virginia with two A/C units. We continue to look for ways to economize. Regardless of the price, I am happy knowing the resources we are using are renewable. Hopefully, one day they can get the price down so this mid-life woman can more affordably keep her cool….