The beauty of the south of Costa Rica, Uvita and Ojochal specifically, was astounding. The brilliant iridescent blue Morpho butterflies, the wild giant jungle foliage, the toucans and macaws, the lush soaring mountains. I was in awe of the beauty and the majesty. The jungle actively overtaking everything in its path. The monstera leaves bigger than me. The trees breathtakingly tall. The markets, or feria, were frequent and offered many of the things we wanted. We always felt like locals, running into friends at the Friday eco feria in Dominical. And we had made friends for all of us, so easy to be around, so much a part of our lives already. Community was easy to find, astonishingly. I had followed a woman on Instagram on a similar Canda-to-Costa-Rica path and we met one day at Playa Ventanas. From that interaction we met other friends and through another friend we met other friends and suddenly I had an entire social circle. It was dreamy.
But the housing – elusive. People first said “wait ’til after Christmas!” and then “wait until March!” and then “by June things will pop up!”. And the schools – full. And the car situation – oh lord we had spent enough to buy a car on rentals. (It was $3500US/monthly for enquiring minds). I knew the amount of money we came with wouldn’t sustain us forever and my monthly income was lessening but thought we’d find opportunities and new ways of creating income. So far none of that had materialized either. Was community alone enough to keep us there?
I started a new arm of my business during this time also, in case I wasn’t stretched thin enough! But I’m amazing at distracting myself from what truly needs to be done, even though I was starting to get a sense that I might have been in full blown distraction mode for longer than I care to admit, I just couldn’t put it aside yet. And the new work was fun and brought awesome friendships into my life, plus a much needed boost to my income. Had to try to pay for those rentals cars, y’all!
** “why didn’t you just buy a car?” I know many of you are asking this and we asked ourselves too. Because we effed up. We thought we’d have time, we’d be able to rent for a bit and find all the right housing/schooling/community stuff and by that time be ready to purchase a vehicle. Ahh hindsight truly is 20/20**
Surveying our reality, it seemed like there was something off about our experience. Like we were circling what we desired but just couldn’t fully line it up. It was defeating watching as all of our new friends seemed to ‘get it right’. Buying land and building houses, or securing long term rentals. Everyone seemed to have a totally reasonable nest egg or assets or investments or other responsible adult ways of handling their finances. I kept feeling like a child, someone with more faith and excitement than rationale. I now felt silly for believing that I could leap and be securely caught and taken care of. Who doesn’t have a back up plan? Who doesn’t have a steady stream of income?
And beyond that I just didn’t feel like I was “getting it”. Each day had so many beautiful parts but still felt empty. Was it just because we were so unsettled? Or was all of it just not truly in alignment for us? It felt like a catch 22 to even try to decide which was true anymore, and did it actually matter when we just felt so out of sorts?
There was something remarkable happening within me and I couldn’t quite understand it yet. At the time it just felt like complete angst. I was so angry with myself for making choices that seemed now to be not at all well thought out. And I was so uncomfortable to be in this quasi-living limbo and yet ineffectual to change any of it. That process was necessary though as it helped me move from a two decade chapter to what’s coming. To give me the foundation of understanding that actually what matters to me now isn’t the thrill, the adventure, the joyride. It’s the security, the stability. That a deeper sense of joy and peace will come from simplicity and safety.
I kind of liken it to being in your twenties and partying and staying out until 4am and stilll having the energy to get to class or your job the next day, no much worse for wear. Your mascara is still on from the night before but you’re feeling on top of things and meeting friends for a drink by evening like it’s nothing. Trying to still operate that way in your 40s suddenly feels rough. The shine of late night antics no longer holds the same appeal. Suddenly the saying “nothing good happens after midnight” feels entirely true. Cozying up on your couch in front of a fire with a book or a movie actually sounds like the very best thing that could happen.
This is what this kind of transition feels like.
Steve and I chatted and wrung our hands, trying to weigh out the known and unknown. We went back to what our original purpose in coming to Costa Rica was. We had wanted to find a sense of normalcy for our kids and to feel like we could grow into a community. But how do you qualify normalcy? We decided that we’d make school the priority and hope the rest would fall into place. It was a gamble, giving up the friends we’d already made for something we couldn’t be sure would work out, but gambling was the name of the game.
Beginning of February we found ourselves making the 6 hour drive back up to Tamarindo. I watched as the hills flattened out, as the foliage all died away, as the landscape went from green to brown. The temperature gauge on the car crept from 26 to 36 and then eventually to 40. The air was hot and dusty, breezy but certainly not refreshing. Our first week was spent in a condo while we planned to enrol the girls into a school we had interviewed months before and check out some housing options.
I truly went with the best of intentions. I told myself that maybe I could be surprised by loving living in a condo. Maybe I would welcome the busyness of Tamarindo after the the quiet spaced-out-ness of Uvita. More options at hand, easier to buy what we needed perhaps. Maybe I’d like the myriad choice in restaurants and the two-for-one happy hour.
But I was kidding myself and I knew it. I kept on a happy face because what other option did I have? We couldn’t see our way out of where we were so making the most of it felt like the best way forward. And for a time it was ok. The girls mostly loved school – Gracie completely immersed herself into new friendships and the beloved routine of school work. Lily was apprehensive each day, sad at drop off but then aways happy by the end. They did archery and horseback riding, learned Spanish and had dance parties. Each day we’d drop them off and then sort of look at each other wide eyed, what now? With this bizarre temporary feeling to everything we just couldn’t get into a feeling of truly living. Plus we had been a solid full-time family for two years, the contrast was stark and not entirely welcome.
We had looked at some long term rental condos and it was completely not going to work for us. Thankfully our week in the Tamarindo condo Airbnb made that abundantly clear; no easy access to outdoors for our kids was never going to work. We were outdoor people in an outdoor paradise! If you recall my last blog Saved By Grace you’ll know we did find a great option at the very last minute.
So we made it our mission to just make it work. Each day was totally fine – a rhythm of its own; take the big girls to school, go home and have coffee, plug into a bit of work, go in the pool with Edie, get her lunch and then a nap. Wake in time to do the pick up, feel a burst of liveliness as we listen to their school days and all head off to the beach together. Play in the waves and maybe catch the sunset, back to the house for supper and a few rounds of Crazy 8s and then to bed.
Some days we’d go to a restaurant for dinner, Thursdays we’d go to the night market and listen to live music and eat yummy food. We’d sometimes meet up with our lovely neighbours at the beach or pop to each other’s pools for a dip and visit. On the surface these were all wonderful experiences and yet none of us were enjoying it anymore.
I knew there was something deeper when a new friend of mine who was in the same situation, a Canadian expat living in CR, let me know she and her kids were heading back. I didn’t feel the normal “why?!” but instead a sense of relief and recognition. I knew then that what I was desiring wasn’t even where I had travelled so far for. What was missing?
The daily goings-on of a life truly lived, one where we were productive and engaged and for us, creating. We felt like we were in a perpetual Ground Hog day, everything from the people we saw to the food we ate to the weather was the same day in and day out. Nothing was clicking, I felt like I was still circling something great but couldn’t get there. And I knew also that I was blocking myself in so many ways. If I could just choose to stay put here for a time I could initiate more meaningful friendships and maybe embark on new work. We could buy some little things for the house that made it feel more like a home. I could work out the best place to get organic produce and cook with more enthusiasm. We could try to make the girls room work a bit better for them, having all three of them sharing the space was making everyone squirrely. We could do all those things if we just decided to. But it felt like the adventure had ended weeks before and we were still hanging on to false hope that it would be something it wasn’t. Everyone said ‘give it a year at least, you can’t go back to Canada yet’. I didn’t have the calling for it anymore, there was no attachment to that tropical life. It felt like I was failing at living out a fairytale.
This sounds dramatic when I read it back to myself. It’s an odd sensation – knowing I’m living out a dream I held close for a long time, to live in a tropical foreign country – and yet feel like I’m walking out of step with my ideal timeline. But as I said, there was actually a much greater longing below the surface, it was one I wasn’t ready to acknowledge.
We took the girls to a resort for a weekend and we had a family meeting. Checking in with everyone’s hearts, what was it everyone wanted to next happen? We had started a tradition – when we’d go to look at one of the dozens of potential rental houses we’d hop back in the car, count to three and then everyone would shout out yes or no. We did that with this too, stay or go back. The notion to come back to Canada was unanimous. We knew we had a couple more weeks of school already paid for and then two sets of friends visiting all through the month of March. There seemed no point in planning a quick return and in reality, a return wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
— TO BE CONTINUED —