Friday, July 29, 2011

A married man, it's what's for dinner!

I LOVE food. I believe food is one of the best pleasures in life, so today, I wanted to talk a little about typical food in Costa Rica.

Small family run restaurants in Costa Rica are called "sodas". As common as a McDonalds in America, these little restaurants offer the majority of food options when dining out. Typically, they will be very small places, with maybe 5 tables, sometimes attached or next to the owners home.

Dining out in Costa Rica is not at all like in the States. You will not have an hour wait or be given a pager for when your table is ready. Depending on what time of day you arrive, you may be the only patrons in the place or there might be a table or two of other diners. There is usually no menu. This can be frightening to first timers, so let me explain.

The "casado" is usually the only thing available at a soda. A casado, which means "married man" is a typical home cooked meal that a married man would eat with his family.
It usually contains a choice of meat - carne (beef), pescado (fish) or pollo (chicken) and the meats are usually slow cooked in a delicious sauce. Along side the meat is usually frijoles and arroz (rice and beans) and a raw salad with a light dressing, and fried platanos (fried plantains). The meal is usually served with a fresh blended fruit juice, called a refresco, mixed with your choice of leche (milk) or water.

A casado typically runs about 2,000 colones which is about $4. The soda ambiance is very homey and it's a lot like having a home cooked meal from grandma, there's a lot of love in these dishes! Even though the meal is basically the same, the meals at various soda's all taste different, due to each family using their own traditional passed down recipes. They are muy delicioso!

Costa Ricans differ from Americans when it comes to food. They are not obsessed with labels like "diet", "low carb" and "fat free". Their portions are smaller and although the meals are not all low carb or low fat, they are very balanced nutritionally. Rice, beans, fruits and vegetables are the main component of most of the meals cooked at home. Costa Rica has a bounty of local exotic fruits, many that you can pick and eat right from the trees...for free. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and most families in Costa Rica eat very little meat and dairy products. Costa Ricans also tend to have a very active lifestyle, hard physical work and the love of being outdoors keeps everyone moving, so obesity is low here. Most American expats report losing 10 lbs effortlessly within the first few months of living here. The Pura Vida diet?

There are many other food options available throughout Costa Rica, depending on what area you live in. Larger towns, like nearby Tamarindo, offer Mexican, Sushi, Italian, and even American favorites like BBQ. The bigger cities, like Liberia and San Jose, do have some fast food places, like McDonalds, although I have yet to eat at one since living here. I will take a casado over fast food, anyday.

My favorite part about eating in Costa Rica is that meal time here is sacred. Meals are slow cooked and really enjoyed, a time for celebration, conversation and precious time spent with friends and loved ones. Meals here can last hours and hours. When dining out in a soda or any restaurant in Costa Rica...a check will never be brought to your table after the plates are cleared away. You will never be rushed out of a restaurant so the table can be "turned over". You will be given as much time as you'd like to linger after a meal and the bill will only be brought to you after saying the magic words

"La cuenta, por favor" (the check please)...

Comida, just another wonderful part of la pura vida!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Costa Rica?

Long stretches of deserted beaches, jungles full of wildlife, majestic volcanoes, crystal clear waterfalls, breath taking sunsets and star filled evening skies...I have always felt as if the country of Costa Rica was calling my name.

When people had asked me why I was leaving, I had not really known what to say. I had just felt this need to leave, to do something different, to reconstruct my life. For years I had been able to see the road ahead of me and while it wasn't unpleasant, it had somehow become impossible for me to accept the life I was living as a vision of my future.

I longed for something more...

I have always loved change, the way it moves me, teaches me and forces me to grow and this move would be the biggest change, thus far, in my life. Although my reasons for moving were mostly personal - the more I read about Costa Rica, the more sure I became that this magical place just might be the perfect place for me.

Happiness - The Happy Planet Index says that Costa Rican's are the happiest people on the planet. I have found this to be true. "Tico's" are open and warm, their culture is centered around family and friendships.

Peace - Costa Rica has no army, it was abolished in 1948. It is one of the oldest democratic countries in the world. The former president won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts of bringing peaceful political solutions to surrounding countries in Central America.

Lifestyle - A very common misconception is that Costa Rica is a third world country. Costa Rica is a second world developing nation. It offers every modern convienence that the US has - internet, cable, cel phones, shopping malls, etc. My quality of life here didn't change at all in those ways, it just costs less.

In the US time equals money, but in Costa Rica, you need less money, which equals more time.

Education - Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate. Even in the most remote corners of this country, public education is available. More US expats live in Costa then in any other country in the world, which means there are many options for high quality, low cost, US accredited private school education. Giving my children a good education as well as the opportunity to become bi-lingual and to experience a different culture was very appealing to me.

Pura Vida - "Pura Vida" is the law of the land in Costa Rica. The literal translation means pure life. It's an attitude, a mantra, encompassing a way of life. It can be used as an adjective to describe something "excellent" or someone who is "full of life" and is also used here as a greeting, a good-bye or even to mean thank you.

In December of 2010, after selling everything and quitting my job, I left everyone and everything I'd ever known behind - to begin a whole new chapter of life in Costa Rica.

I am so happy that I did. I wake up everyday, surrounded by beauty and full of anticipation and the joy of discovery. Costa Rica is everything I dreamed of and so much more.

Pura Vida!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Playa Avellanas

Tucked away on the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica is the sleepy little surf town of Playa Avellanas. The Guanacaste province, nick-named the Golden Coast, is renowned for its beaches and Playa Avellanas is one of the most gorgeous beaches, not just in the region, but in all of Costa Rica.

Miles of coastal wildnerness meet the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, soothing it's residents and beckoning visitors here each year. The town is made up of a mix of young and old, long time locals as well as ex-pats from all around the world. Some live here year round, some for only part of the year and then there are those who came just to visit and never went home. Every day just before sunset, you will find surfers, local families and tourists, hanging out in the hammocks under the trees in front of Lola's Restaurant, relaxing with a cerveza and watching the children play in the waves alongside Lollita, the 400 pound mascot of Avellanas.

The roads leading to Avellanas are all unpaved and during the rainy season, a 4x4 vehicle is required to get here. Avellanas has no bank, no grocery store and no shops, but we don't mind - for most of us who live here, the main attraction lies just off shore.

Playa Avellanas is a surfers dream; offering point breaks, beach breaks and reef breaks. You can find both experienced and beginner surfers in these waters just about every hour of the day. Our beaches are full of life, but are never crowded.

A night stroll on the shore near Lagartillo will give you a breath taking view of the stars and you may even stumble upon one of the Eastern Pacific Green Turtles flipping up sand building a nest on the shore (totally amazing). You can read about local efforts to save these endangered giants here.

Little Hawaii, Avellenas' famous break (located just south of the river mouth) packs extraordinary offshore waves that can reach up to eighteen feet, making it not only a local favorite but a coveted destination for experienced surfers from around the world.

Playa Negra, Witch's Rock and Ollie's Point - which were made famous in the movie Endless Summer II - are all within 30 minutes of Playa Avellanas, giving endless options for those searching for that perfect ride.

For those of us who call Playa Avellanas home, pura vida is all about enjoying nature, family and friendship, majestic beaches and epic surf.

Pura vida!