Thursday, May 7, 2015

Five Major Misconceptions

Thanks to the glory of technology, I'm able to easily stay in touch with friends and family back at home while I'm away. People are always curious to ask me about my life in Costa Rica, and sometimes they are really surprised by my answers. So, this blog post will be dedicated to clearing up the biggest misconceptions about life in Costa Rica.

#1 - It's Always Hot
Depending on where you are in the country, there might be some truth to this. Coastal towns tend to have relatively warm weather all year around, rarely getting colder than 70 degrees. However, only 10% of Costa Rica's population lives on the coast. The other 90% lives in the mountains or the central valley (where I live). The the central valley's climate is much more mild, in fact the average temperature sits in the around 72F and lows are in the 60s. Only in the "summer" (February-April) will the temps get up in the 80s, still having cool nights. Once you get up in the mountains or volcanos, temps can be as low as 45F at night. People are always shocked to see pictures of me in Costa Rica in jeans in a leather jacket, but it's the reality! Bottom line, if you're coming to Costa Rica and plan on visiting more than just the coast, you might want to bring a jacket.

#2 - I Live in the Jungle
A lot of people are under the impression that I live in the jungle surrounded by monkeys and toucans, but that's not the case. Although there are many wild places like that in Costa Rica, the place I live is not one of them. I live in Heredia, one of the hub cities that makes up the greater San Jose metro area. The San Jose metro is a lot like american metro cities. San Jose itself is mostly a concrete jungle with a spattering of green in the few parks throughout the city. The hub cities surrounding San Jose (Heredia, Cartago, Moravia, Escazu, etc.) are smaller cities surrounded by suburban neighborhoods. The only nature around my house consists of perfectly planted trees and grass in the neighborhood parks. There are animals around, but just squirrels, common birds and insects. This may seem boringly ordinary, however the beauty of Costa Rica is that nature is never far away. With a car I can be in the mountains in 15 minutes and at the beach in one hour, completely surrounded by wildlife.

#3 - It's Cheap
Wrong. Totally wrong. Many people think that Costa Rican prices are as low as ones in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama, which isn't the case. If you want specifics, scroll back to my blog post "The Price of Living in Paradise" where I dedicated the entire post to comparing prices between Costa Rica and the US. Although a small handful of things (like fresh local fruit, bus tickets and phone plans) are cheaper here, the majority costs as much or more in Costa Rica than in the US. Unfortunately, the working wages don't compensate for the inflation. For example, minimum wage here is about $2.50. So the reality is that I've really had to be careful about my spending this year. Luckily with my naturally stingy nature, I was even able to save a little bit of money.

#4 - Everyone Has That "Latino" Look
Many people have a preconceived idea of what a tico (a Costa Rican person) looks like. Most people think that they all have carmel brown skin, black hair, and dark brown eyes. Although some of the population has this profile, many ticos have a very different one. Many Costa Ricans still have the characteristics of their Spanish ancestors. This means pale skin, brown or blue eyes and a range of hair color from brown to blonde to even red. Yes, you heard me correctly. Red-headed ticos exist. Did I just blow your mind? Additionally, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica there is a large afro-caribbean population that settled there well over a century ago. Due to their influence and mixing, many ticos are black, or a black/white or black/latino mix. The reality is that Costa Rican looks are actually quite diverse. A Costa Rican may be black with dreadlocks, olive-toned with dark hair or pale with blonde hair and blue eyes. Don't believe me? Just take a look at these pictures of me and my Costa Rican friends. Is that what you expected them to look like?

#5 - It's a Third World Country
Central America has a world-wide reputation for being poor and undeveloped. While there are poor and undeveloped areas of Costa Rica, most of the country lives pretty comfortably. Costa Rica has a strong economy (although it's still recovering from the 2008 recession) and an unemployment rate of only 7.9%.  Just like the US

most people here own smart phones, cars, and the latest electronics. Their universities are known as the best in Central America and they have developed some of the best methods for renewable energy. Costa Rica may even be more developed and financial stable than some U.S. cities (cough cough Detroit).

To sum things up Costa Rica can be cold, is not all jungle, is expensive, has a diverse population, and is well-developed. Anything you're still unclear about? Please feel free to ask! Until then, pura vida.

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