This week I thought I would give you a tour of the house we’re staying in and discuss some of the idiosyncracies of Costa Rican living. I’ll show you around our place, describe a few things and throw in some interesting tidbits of information (you may or may not want to know!).
So let’s begin in the kitchen, where some days I feel like all my time is spent! The kids are eating non-stop it seems. Bananas, pineapple, carrots, apples, mangoes, strawberries. All day long, a little person enters the kitchen, opens the fridge door and emerges with yet another piece of produce. “Mom, can you cut this please?” Xavier is loving rice & beans, a Costa Rican staple; though he enjoys it doused in ketchup (not traditional!). I like it because I can hide other veggies and small pieces of meat in there and he doesn’t seem to notice. He just shovels in spoonfuls of rice and often asks for seconds. Another favorite as of late is tortillas. Clint and I have become quite adept at making them from scratch using corn flour. Yet again my kids put their own twist on the dish and enjoy the tortillas with cheese and jam. Strangely delicious!
The kitchen is simple and definitely small by North American standards; but it is functional and has everything we need. A blender, coffee maker, rice cooker, a gas stove (my personal fave) and a fridge full of fresh produce. As you can see, the fridge and stove are actually quite large and are most definitely geared towards gringos. Tico fridges tend to be smaller and i’ve been told, most Costa Rican homes do not have an oven.
There was also a microwave but seeing as we don’t use such an appliance and it was taking up so much of our already limited counter space, it has been re-purposed as a side table in the living room! See photo below, holding Clint’s coffee and dualing as a work space. The stools from the kitchen are also multi-purposed as a computer stand!The couches and decor are typical Costa Rican style. Note Jesus on the cross above Clinton, below the clock. There is another, similar religious ornament hanging above the front door. These are also common as Catholicism prevails.
Lineth asked me the other day what our religion was; and when I informed her we don’t really subscribe to any denomination she was surprised. I attempted to elaborate about my Buddhish ideologies but she was not familiar with the philosophy and I was challenged to explain all that in Spanish! The conversation arose because this week is Semana Santa (Holy week/Easter) and apparently is the week for Costa Ricans. Bigger than Christmas even. The people are coming in drones to camp at the otherwise empty beaches and/or neighbours houses are filling up with family members who do not live in this area. It is quite the spectacle, especially for those who are camping. They bring everything but the kitchen sink it seems. And oftentimes the car is so full of people that the trunk is overflowing with gear, tied down with ropes and the rest of their stuff goes on the roof of the car. Chairs, mattresses, brooms, tents, TV’s, even a full on BBQ. You name it, I’ve probably seen it in or on top of the car this week. Tica’s are obsessed with clean floors. I watch Lineth clean ours and she brooms and then washes the floors three times in a row. While at the beach yesterday I watched a woman sweep her campsite for 30 minutes before she was satisfied enough to then set up the tent. A campsite!
But I digress. Allow me to introduce something even crazier: the suicide shower!
There are two bathrooms and showers in this house. Can you guess which one has the suicide shower?! If you chose the dodgy shower head on the left with wires sticking out and a hole in the wall to allow for such a retro-fitted operation, you’re right! Basically a suicide shower heats the cold water inside the large shower head using an electric heating coil. You turn on the water, the water fills the shower head, completes the circuit, and you get hot water. There is also a nob on the outside of the shower head to adjust for water temperature. Push the knob to the left you have hot water. Move it to the right side, you get lukewarm. The knob in the middle is your standard cold shower. I highly suggest should you ever experience the suicide shower to select your water temperature prior to turning the water on. Shocks are known to happen!
Most homes in Latin America don’t have hot water. I.e cold showers are the norm. Hot water is considered a luxury in these parts and usually limited to American style homes and (some) hotels. If you’re lucky, sometimes in the late afternoon after the sun has been bearing down all day you can turn on the shower and have 15 seconds of warm-ish water. Otherwise, it’s just cold. It’s a bit of an adjustment initially, getting used to the cold shower experience. I have actually become quite fond of cold showers. When it is consistently hot- above 30 degrees most days- cold showers can be very welcoming. Even in the early mornings before it gets really hot outside, the cold shower is refreshing and brings on an alertness I would not have expected!
So the suicide showers freak me out a little and for good reason! Therefore we tend not to use the second shower, hot water or otherwise. Rather we stick with the cold showers which we have all become accustomed to anyway. Plus the ensuite bathroom is nicer. The ensuite bathroom is pretty standard and also has the only cupboard in the entire house. I found this odd at first, the lack of storage. After some pondering, I think it is simply because people here do not have a lot of extra. Even for us- since we are in fact living this minimalistic in motion lifestyle- all of our clothes fit into the blue “dresser” below. We each have a drawer and that is all. The cupboard merely stores some extra sheets, our backpacks and running shoes, the kids car seats and an extra TV we’re not using.
One last thing to mention about the bathroom [Warning: this may seem strange if you have not traveled to a developing country] toilet paper cannot be flushed. Yes, you read that correctly. Only number 1 and 2 down the loo. Otherwise, everything else goes into the garbage bin. It was weird at first, mostly because we are so conditioned to just wipe and flush. There were times in the first couple of weeks where I would forget and haphazardly drop the paper into the toilet and end up scolding myself. Obviously, once the paper is in the toilet, there’s no taking it back. You just hope that when you flush it doesn’t plug the pipes. I’m happy to report no terrible tragedy has occurred from my lapse in rule recollection.
The kids sleep in the second smaller bedroom which has one bunkbed and a single bed. It was hard to get a photo due to lighting so I skipped it. And that’s the house. The front entrance opens onto the living room and kitchen. The bedrooms lie behind that, on opposite sides to one another with a wide hallway leading to the back laundry area that is also an exit to the outdoor patio. The lavadora is pretty standard for Costa Rica. From what I’ve seen, most places have this type of set-up. There is a spot to attach a hose to the top of the washing machine. Pop the clothes in, fill with water, add detergent, turn the dial to desired time for cleaning and the machine goes into spin cycle. Usually I wash once with soap, then a second cycle with baking soda. A trick Grandma Roana taught me when we were staying at Jasona’s in Miramar. When the clothes are washed, you place them into the drum on the right which spins around at mach speed, effectively wringing out the excess water. Afterwards they go onto the clothes line outside where they can literally dry in minutes. The whole process is actually extremely efficient and energy conserving. I have seen drying machines in CR (which cost a small fortune) but I feel they are really not necessary.
An additional feature of the house is that it comes with two air conditioners; one in each bedroom. We use the A/C sparingly as we’ve heard it can run upwards of $400/month in electricity if used daily. Since we are acclimatized to the hot weather now, we may use the A/C a few times a week during the day for maybe an hour. I will sometimes turn the A/C on in the kids room at naptime to facilitate better sleep. Once the room is cool, i’ll turn it off (about 30 minutes or so). Our electricity bill for March was $75 so I’d say we were reasonable about our energy usage. Water costs $10/month. All bills must be paid monthly at the local bank. It is a strange process at first, but again fairly efficient. No paper waste for bills. And seeing as addresses are basically non-existent, there is nowhere to send the bills to anyway. We were able to check our statement online so we knew what to expect before going to the bank.
While the house is basic, by North American standards, it meets all of our needs. We have everything we desire in terms of comfortable living. This would not be suitable for everyone, but we’re happy! What really makes this place amazing, is the yard and patio. The covered area is great for playing, especially when it gets really hot midday but also when it’s raining. There is a hammock, a swing, an outdoor BBQ, a long bench to sit on and beautiful green grass and fruit trees.
It is really interesting to go from the standard of living in North America to Central America. Things are just different here. Not that I feel our standard of living has gone down; because in fact I believe our lives have been enhanced by our accessibility to fresh foods, the ability to be outdoors most of the day (with the real benefit of loads of Vitamin D) and our proximity to nature and the beach. We have simplified our lives and maximized our well-being. Pura Vida and Feliz Santa Semana!