Since moving back to the US after a year of living in Costa Rica, I’ve been inundated with questions, most often along the lines of, “What is living there like?” Most simply, life is very quiet. My adopted stomping grounds, Coco, is a fishing village of 3,000 people on the Pacific coast, just an hour south of Nicaragua. Maybe a visual walking tour will give a better idea of everyday life in the pueblo. My only request: no comment about my usage of the present tense. Seriously, no comment!
In Manhattan, I lived in the heart of downtown for years. And in Las Vegas? I lived right on the Strip. But in Coco, I chose a tight-knit barrio off the main drag. Walking into town is easy (albeit hot) during dry season and a pain during rainy season, when I often get covered in mud. On the way, I pass Milanes, the fisherman’s bar. When we go, we stand out like a sore thumb, but beers are cheap, and we don’t have to worry about anything but listening to the ranchero music, often via microphones passed around to the customers who know every word. Here, Cheryl toasts with white wine, probably the only one they served all night! Except the two or three they served Lisa and I…
Keep going to reach the new gringo-oriented Auto Mercado supermarket, in the shopping center I frequent the most. There’s also a pharmacy there, a modest salon for my pedicures, the only ATM in town that takes my American debit card, and the eyeglass store, where I recently got new contacts. (They took six weeks to be delivered.)
The main drag is simple: no stoplights, and only one turn-off to the left and later, one to the right. There’s a sushi boat we go to all the time. There is either cream cheese or cheese in every roll but one, which I order once or twice a week. I’m not sure why raw fish is such a foreign concept in a fishing village! Right upstairs is a huge fish freezer where the catch is brought in straight from the ocean.
A bit farther down lies Coconutz, our favorite afternoon place for beers, always Imperial, of course. The hotspot is often packed with laidback retirees, who we all recognize. If there are enough of us, we get a thin-crust jumbo pizza, cut in haphazard-looking slices. Farther down, after a few stores selling souvenirs ranging from wooden animals to hammocks, are the only two night-time establishments, Zi Lounge and Lizards. They are right across the small road from each other, so finding friends is easy. You just do a walk-through of both places to find everyone. Keep walking, and you pass some more dive shops and sodas (where you can buy rice, beans and meat combos, called casados, for a few bucks), and you get to the beach.
Four days a week I go to Spanish school, which my teacher, Patricia, has set up in the courtyard of her beachfront home. One day the largest crab I’ve ever seen entertained us, and she’s even had a boa constrictor stop by. The enormous lizards are always very loud, and it’s hot, with only a fan keeping us cool.
The barrio itself, where I lived, is so special to me. There are no street names or house numbers in Costa Rica, so my address is about a paragraph long and starts with, “the neighborhood near the anchor at the entrance of town.” My first house was one-room, and I showered outside. Out my window and across the small dirt road is Lisa’s house, so we’d shout to each other from our windows as we worked from home. (I didn’t have even have a phone, cellular or otherwise, for my first three months.) On the other side of her house was Denise’s. We literally lived on top of each other, so we always knew who was walking her dog, leaving for work, had stayed out late… More often than not, we’d meet up on Lisa’s stoop in the very early evening for wine and girl talk. (It gets dark every night at 5:30 pm.) Bedtime is early, as the whole barrio gets going by about 5 am every single morning, either to get the fishing boats ready, head off to work, or simply because the roosters, chickens and howler monkeys are very, very loud.
I’ve been gone less than two weeks, and I miss it so much already.
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