Quite a Welcome: Puerto Viejo

After my whirlwind trip to the States, I rested for a whopping one and a half days in Coco and again raced off – to the east coast of Costa Rica. I was going to meet up with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen for at least eight years – and hadn’t traveled with in 10.

From Coco’s nearest airport, Liberia, I hopped on the little commuter flight to San Jose (the first time I’d actually had to jump on the scale with my luggage before boarding). A few hours later, after an embarrassingly squeal-filled reunion with Maren on a busy street corner, we literally ran to the bus stop and barely made the last one out to Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast. That evening, we checked into our cabina, El Nido. The cabin was approximately five times the size of my little house in Coco, and the grounds were peaceful and lush. Continue Reading »»

First trip back home

On November 6th I headed back to the States for my first trip home since the Big Move. The plan: LA, Albuquerque to see the fam, weekend in Vegas, and then back to LA. In 10 days.

I couldn’t believe that I was actually feeling nervous about the whole thing. Feeling skinny enough, pretty enough, stylish enough? The whole comparison thing is moot in Coco, where no one cares one lick if you wear the same cotton dress for a week. I didn’t know if I was ready to make appearances in cities where I used to be skinnier, better dressed and more employed.

Continue Reading »»

October (Post-Robbery)

After Mario’s dramatic welcome, I spent October getting used to my new little house and the infamous “barrio.” I spent exactly one week sleeping at one neighbor’s house, working from another neighbor’s computer, before moving back home. My brand-new AC unit allowed the hole Mario used to rob my house to be filled in with cement, so I felt safe. When the cops brought my sneakers back to me, I was repulsed and told them, “Ew, you can keep them, I’ll never wear them again.” Then I reluctantly told them I’d accept them but would only wear them to kick Mario’s ass, and they sped off. But soon I was wearing them every day. It’s not like I could go to the mall and buy a new pair.

Mundane chores became my source of constant entertainment. For every time I learned the hard way that I can’t shower outside if there’s even a slight hint of a breeze (the curtain is diaphanous at best), I had the experience of washing my hair in rain water and drying off with the view of a rainbow as big as the entire sky.

I finally had grocery stores I could walk to (what’s a 30-minute hike in the blazing sun?), and I met trustworthy cab drivers to take me to Spanish class four days a week. My neighbors started calling in the mornings for a walk around the neighborhood or jog on the beach. Friends’ dogs took turns hanging out on my stoop and barking at strangers. Even the wildlife seemed part of my protective shell. I fell asleep at night to melodious frogs, and my favorite iguana, a skinny green guy with a long black tail, stopped by several times a day.

Martini Mondays on the stoop brought everyone together, and I finally killed my first scorpion. (Admittedly, he stayed squished under a phone book for three days before I got the courage to sweep him out of the house.)

Then on October 20th, my life changed completely. I got a phone! You have to be a resident to get a phone chip, so this was a big deal. The neighbor I was walking with every morning kindly arranged it for me. Finally, I was going to have a social life after two months in Costa Rica!

The next day, one of the chickens marched through my yard proudly showing off the cutest five baby chicks I’d ever seen.

First Six Weeks

Since I’m playing catchup, I’ve cut and pasted journal entries from my first six weeks in Costa Rica. And by journal entries, I mean Twitter updates. Short and sweet: enjoy!

August 10: Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in my new oceanside villa, the second blondest chica in a world of Ticos.

August 13: Went kayaking, swam with an octopus, and narrowly missed being stared down by an eel today. Then I polished off a few beers, clearly.

August 24: High from zip lining!!!! The three-year-old in my group may or may not have been a LOT better than me.

August 28: Spooked about living in a scorpion den. Four in one week! But just saw three monkeys.

August 29: Octopus, snorkeling, swimming, porcupine fish, secluded beaches, cervezas, sea urchins, hiking, driving the boat FAST, a perfect day…

September 1: Looking forward to another party in la Casa Hormiga Borracha.

September 2: Being randomly audited for no reason while living in paradise thousands of miles from all of your papers that are in storage suuuucks.

September 12: Poorest time of my life, yet enjoying bottomless bottles of champagne poolside in tropical Costa Rica. Recessions are for suckas.

September 16: Boy captain and his three ladies played with dolphins, a seahorse and a sea turtle. Sun, open ocean, two fresh tuna for dinner. Sheer joy.

September 16: My town doesn’t have a gas station. Starting to feel like a country bumpkin and loving it.

September 18: Torture is having a hangover when the water’s out.

September 18: Plan A: good night’s sleep before going on boat tomorrow. Plan B: watch a scorpion scurry under my bed and realize I might never sleep again.

September 18: Vaulted like an Olympian off and back on my bed to get water. Ambien, I need ya, buddy. Costa Rica, I thought I knew you.

September 18: It’s cool, I’ll just sleep in my clothes. With a live scorpion under my bed. Piece of cake. I’m a brave chica in the jungle. Here me roar.

September 18: Must believe that the scorpion has not crawled INTO my bed, cannot crawl into my bed oh, horrors that tail all curled up ewwwwweeeeek.

September 22: Is it really bad luck to kill a spider? Found the sucker from last night, and he’s grown a bull’s eye.

September 22: Was totally fine w the gigantic spider in my room until it became the middle of the night, and it became human-flesh-eating, sleep-preventing.

September 22: Green, chlorinated hair, red sun-burnt shoulders… just call me la Navidad.. hot.

September 23: My spider is trying to talk to me, “Why’d ya move me outside with a broom, b*tch.” How’d he get back in? And find “his” spot above my bed?

September 23: My new pet spider is so cute. He wiggles his legs around when I come into the room.

September 23: Nature, take it down a notch. I’ve accepted my new pet spider, Boris, but the snake? Too much.

Meet Mario

My neighbor Mario robbed my house but gave me a new life.

I fled Los Angeles for tropical Costa Rica last August, but it took a bit longer than I originally thought to take the LA out of the Angelena. And it took the surprise of, the morning after my house got robbed and ransacked, finding the neighborhood twerp at the local grocery store — rocking my women’s sneakers.

After a thrilling, luxurious six-week “vacation” in a mostly American suburb outside of Playas del Coco, my biggest frustration was feeling removed from the “real” (so cliche, but you know what I mean) Costa Rica. My four-bedroom house with ocean views was a nicer place than I could’ve ever imagined living in at that time, almost a year after I lost my job, started the freelance struggle and exhausted my savings. But I wanted the real deal.

So I moved suddenly to the heart of Coco, into a darling house about the size of an SUV. And then disaster struck: Day four, I came home from a dinner of fried plaintains and ceviche to find my little home completely ransacked. My beloved Mac PowerBook was gone, and every book, paper and piece of clothing was strewn on the floor, an obvious attempt to find my passport, which I’d hidden so well that even I couldn’t find it at first. Muddy footprints covered the place.

After a long night of drinking and crying, my brand-spanking new friends drove me the 30 minutes to the nearest O.I.J. (F.B.I.-ish) station. It was simple enough: the robber had left his sandals under the hole in the wall he’d climbed through after pushing in the AC unit (there were bars on all the windows and three locks on the door, including an iron gate)  — and taken my computer, external hard drive, expensive power tools, favorite necklace, and two pairs of women’s sneakers.


The drama had barely begun.

Zip-lining in the now famous Nikes.

On the way back into town, we stopped by the local supermarket to buy some beer and then wait at my house all day for O.I.J. Strangely giddy after our somehow empowering visit to the investigator’s office, we pulled into the tiny parking lot of Luperon. And who was lazily sitting outside reading the newspaper? The local thief — in my woman’s Nikes!

We were all over the place, squealing, backing up the car, whipping out cell phones. One of my friends jumped out to wait on the other side of him in case he ran, the other one called her Tico husband to call the police. Helpless, I hid behind my police report, trying not to be seen.

The cops arrived a short minute or two later and brought him down to the station. We had caught the neighborhood thief! In the small town of 3000, word spread within the hour that he was finally behind bars. We laughed and jumped up and down, too jittery and emotional to even think straight. He, of course, told cops that they were his shoes; I produced photos of me zip lining in that very pair. I really thought we had him.

I did eventually get my sneakers back, although he was out of custody the next day. (No fingerprints were found at my house, and him wearing my shoes 15 hours after the robbery wasn’t enough for a search warrant. Mario wears socks on his hands instead of gloves, because who sells gloves in the tropics? To fit through the small space, he often covers his skinny little beanpole body with oil. Slippery.) My computer and external hard drive, which carried years’ worth of photos, email accounts from past jobs, writing files, a book proposal… were long gone. But I wear my Nikes almost every day, often running by his house in the morning with some of the neighborhood dogs, waving, “Hi, Mario!” Because I do, actually, have a lot to thank him for.

Before he stormed into my house, I had been living in Costa Rica with no phone, car or TV, only my computer, which I used to write stories for my work at magazines and email friends, and also to Skype my loved ones. Suddenly, I was stripped of even that. But I had gained a spot in the community — my neighbors started speaking to me in Spanish, others congratulated me on catching Mario, and I bonded with my new friends who jumped at the chance to help their new neighbor.

Would near strangers have helped me so graciously and generously in any of the other places I’ve lived? I’m not sure – but the fact that they did here added at least six months to my planned three-month Costa Rican sabbatical. So, Mario, you suck, but thank you.