Living as an expat in Costa Rica has opened up an exciting new world, but for me at least, it was also an adjustment to living somewhat isolated from my old life. Recently, however, I was special enough to nab a visit from Mom. Flying in from Albuquerque, NM, she couldn’t wait to see all of Coco. (Not hard to do; it’s small.) Lucky for me, Sandy traveled with one of my brothers earlier this year when he moved to China, so she was already used to the idea of her adult kids living in out-of-the-way places. But even the city of Zhongshan has 2.5 million people! (Coco? About 3,000.) Mom adapted by comparing my little beach town in what’s considered the countryside of Costa Rica to her growing up on a farm. (“This reminds me of driving through Tennessee, but I never thought I’d see an entire crop of cantaloupe.”)
After seven months of living here, it was a thrill to see the town through a visitor’s eyes (let alone my mom’s!). I thought that some of her questions might resonate with other Costa Rican newbies. So, what did Mom want to know about?
Mom: Why is so much here done in dollars?
Daughter: Many places in Central America take dollars, especially the nicer restaurants and shops, where locals can’t afford to go. It’s a banking thing; as the colon goes down, they make more money by accepting dollars.
Mom: What are those cows doing in the middle of the street?
Daughter: [Laughing too hard to answer.]
Mom’s follow-up joke: Road-block!
Mom: What does Tico mean?
Daughter: Anything Costa Rican.
Mom: Is that the same taxi driver we had yesterday? [To non-English-speaking driver]: I knew I recognized you!
Daughter: Yup! There aren’t that many, so it’s not uncommon to get the same one. It used to startle me when I’d say, “mi casa, por fa,” and he’d just start driving towards my house before I could give directions. Now, I’m used to it!
Mom: Your house is the tiniest I’ve ever seen. It’s even smaller than what it looks like from the outside.
Daughter: For once I didn’t exaggerate! I have no idea how I can suddenly feel very comfortable living in a box, but I do. To be fair, I also have a huge deck, pool, trees and wonderful neighbors. What’s not to love?
Mom: That’s the widow maker? I thought it’d be bigger! You have to touch it while you shower? No. I don’t think you should do that.
Daughter: Without constant adjustments, my shower would be either cold or scorching hot! Yes, it’s sort of alarming that they’re called “suicide showers”!
Mom: Why do you sleep with a machete under your bed? For protection?
Daughter. Yes, but with the hope that just raising the thing above my head would send any thief running before I had to actually use it.
Mom: There really aren’t any street signs or numbers! How do people get bills?
Daughter: Delivery guys on bicycles hand deliver some bills, rolling them up and sticking them in people’s fences; others are paid at the grocery store. This is a huge improvement over just a few years ago, when you’d have to go wait in line at the “green house.” It was literally a private green house, where an old woman would slowly turn the pages in a big book, and mark you off as paid.
On Mom’s last day, my friend Kelsey helped me plan a trip to Palo Verde National Park for a boat ride down the Tempisque River. The main attraction? Birds, crocodiles and monkeys! We drove out to the small town of Ortega for a traditional lunch for four up in the mountains at the guide’s family’s house. Then we hit the water. The final question was mine!
Daughter: You didn’t seem that excited to see the monkeys, but then you had a great time!
Mom: I didn’t know they were so small and cute!
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