After two months living in the mountains of Cartago, Costa Rica, at an elevation of 1,200 meters (4,000 feet), we changed scenery for the hills west of San Jose with a magnificent view of two volcanos from our backyard. We chose the new rental house for its location offering us a relatively short drive into the city while being just over an hour away from the Pacific Ocean. Our new house in Atenas sits on a hilltop at an elevation of 600 meters (2,000 feet), and the weather difference from the previous house was dramatic. Our days were warmer, the breezes stronger, and we seldom needed to get bundled up at night.
There was also another major difference, the bugs. So many bugs — “bichos” in Costa Rica. Several species of ants created vast highways through the house, yard, and beyond. Their tenacious labor was mesmerizing. While we respected them for their industrious attempt to remove all dead insects, and every single morsel of food from our floor or counter, we had to strike a balance. After several attempts by Kimberly to rid us of ants inside the house, we reached an unspoken agreement with the tiny – and not so tiny – creatures. We left them alone in the backyard and patio, but the kitchen counters were off limits. The floor of the house remained a contested area. We would periodically observe a large, dead bug or stray chip slowly moving across the floor with a bevy of ants under it.
Then came the scorpions. I remember these intrusive, intimidating creatures from my childhood, but Kimberly had never seen one. Fortunately, we only encountered two during our stay. Unfortunately, one was under the pillow of one of our guest beds and our guests found it on their first night. Welcome to the tropics, sleep tight and don’t let the…never mind! The best advice was to shake out clothing, shoes, linens, and towels before using them. It’s all part of the adventure, right?
One of the two volcanos in our backyard view decided to give us a true Costa Rican welcome by having a minor eruption [click here for video]. For the remainder of our stay, on clear days, we could see small clouds of volcanic ash emanating from the crater at a distance. Volcanos are a defining characteristic of Costa Rica. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Costa Rica has over 200 identifiable volcanic formations dating back over 65 million years. Today, however, only 100 or so show any signs of volcanic activity, while just five are classified as active volcanos. We felt privileged to be able to view two of these magnificent, fiery giants right from our house.
Our new place offered us an ideal location for exploring the Pacific coast. We enjoyed visiting a variety of beaches; not just for their beauty, but also as a scouting mission for next year when we plan to cross the Panama Canal and return to Costa Rica by sea. As we sat relaxing under palm trees and relishing the ocean scent we so missed, we could picture ¡Pura Vida! anchored just off the beach. We discovered that Costa Rica is not a popular cruising destination and, with the exception of the sport fishing fleet, has a remarkably small yachting community. For us, this means we can look forward to having idyllic and isolated bays all to ourselves next year. The downside is that we will have to plan carefully our re-stocking and mooring locations.
Whether with guests or local family, we were continually on the move during our final two months on land. We visited several waterfalls, animal sanctuaries, beaches, and volcanic thermal hot springs. We even drove all the way to the Nicaraguan border to renew our visitor visas. Costa Rica does not allow you to extend your ninety-day tourist visa, but you can leave the country and return immediately to get a fresh stamp in your passport. We therefore, broke our personal record for the shortest official stay in a country by being in Nicaragua for less than an hour.
In addition to adventure and relaxing getaways, we discovered some educational activities. Our favorite of these tours were coffee and chocolate plantations. These small, organic farmers gave us a glimpse into the fascinating and complex world of coffee and chocolate production. Of course, the highlights of these tours were the tastings; not just of the finished products, but of many of the intermediate stages as well as historic concoctions. We learned so much on every tour about the history, economy, and evolution of two of the world’s most valuable crops. We enthusiastically recommend the Toledo Coffee Tour where Gabriel gives a humorous, passionate, and introspective look at his family’s relationship with coffee production and the land. We also loved the Choco Tour. Alex, the proprietor, will teach you more about history than you expect, all while making you laugh and making your taste buds dance.
Costa Rica was a land of “firsts” for us. We tried so many new things. It was our first extended stay on land since we sailed away from New Orleans four years ago. It was our first time living as locals in a another country. It was our first time truly connecting with our Costa Rican family for an extended period. It was transformative. We saw whales up close for the first time. We realize that we like living on land for short periods of time, but we also missed the sea terribly. We think our future travels will include brief periods of land life, maybe a month at a time, every few years. We also know we will definitely return to Costa Rica soon for some more fun and adventure with family and friends.
Our departure from what has become our second home was bittersweet. We said farewell to so many people we love. It was reminiscent of sailing away from a beloved anchorage knowing all your close friends are staying or headed in a different direction; slowly watching the shoreline vanish in the distance with every inch of forward motion we make. Departures are part of our nomadic life, and they are the gateway for new adventures, but leaving a much-loved place has not gotten easier over the years. Our solace is that we are returning to another favorite place, Panama, where old friends await us, with even more sailing friends on the way.