Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: 15 eggs — $2.66
After visiting the animal sanctuary, Rob and I decide to drive farther south… all the way down to the Osa Peninsula. We’ve been there before and are excited to return to the place where we first saw Scarlet Macaws flying overhead: Agua Dulce Beach Resort. It’s just a five-minute drive from Puerto Jiménez, which borders the Gulfo Dulce: the bay that separates the peninsula from the mainland. It is the only resort on the beach in this area that offers air-conditioning. We book an oceanfront bungalow that includes a wooden porch. Out front are two rocking chairs, perfect for relaxing, watching the sunrise.
I slop on a ton of sunscreen and immediately head out to the beach. The sand is soft, it feels like New Year’s Eve confetti underneath my feet. Mother Nature must have known I was coming and arranged for two macaws to fly overhead. This is exactly how I remember it, and precisely why the Osa Peninsula is so magical.
The two birds vocalize back and forth with each other, using sounds that are not unlike a tarot card reader after her fifth Camel cigarette. I sit on a piece of driftwood and notice a pile of shells. Some are brown, shiny and look like tiny Godiva chocolates. Others are cracked open resembling angel wings. This country is always reminding me to revere the small as much as the big.
“I’ve scheduled a mangrove tour,” Rob says while taking a seat next to me.
“I don’t have to swim there, right?” Whenever my husband plans excursions, it’s important to inquire whether I’ll need my floaty wings to survive it.
“No, it’s just kayaking. We’ll have to leave soon so let’s get our stuff together and head out.”
Kayak Tour and Adventure is located just five minutes down the road from Agua Dulce. We pull up in front of a house where dozens of kayaks hang from a metal frame. Another car parks behind us: a father, mother and two small children pile out. The mom has a soft-sided cooler stuffed with sandwiches, snacks, and water bottles. This is not unlike my sister’s purse. She is a mother of three and on any given day I can reach in and find gummy bears, various crackers (some packaged, some loose floating), and tragically squashed juice boxes. And forget about trying to stay clean in the backseat of her car; I once sat on a pancake that was covered in maple syrup.
As I watch the mother lather her children up with Coppertone Waterproof Sunscreen, I realize I brought nothing: no water, sunblock, or treats. Apparently, “let’s get are stuff together and head out “ means just getting our bodies in the car and physically there.
The father takes out his wallet and pays the guide, while little Jimmy cries because he’s hungry. I want to cry too. If my mom were here she would have packed a delicious bologna and mayonnaise sandwich and an UNO card game.
UNO was always available to my sister and me, my mother praying that it would shut us up long enough to give her a little peace and quiet. However, our family didn’t do fun outdoorsy stuff like kayaking that would have kept two kids entertained. My parents’ go-to was The Metropolitan Museum of Art to stare at broken Roman pottery vases. The only redeeming part of these trips was the Greek and Roman Art Gallery where statues are prominently displayed with their wieners broken off. This would put my sister and me into a giggling condition that could last for hours. Now I pass the torch to my nieces. Since I’m considered the “fun aunt,” I feel it’s my responsibility to take them to that exact same floor where they also lapse into uncontrollable giggling fits. Then we stare at the broken pottery vases because it feels like the thing to do.
Alberto, our mangrove tour guide, piles three kayaks onto a trailer and we ride a block to the bay in the back of his pick-up truck. Two dogs are playing in the water totally oblivious to us, and totally enjoying their morning. Other than that, no one is around. It’s the reason Rob and I enjoy doing our Costa Rican excursions so much: we are never just a number in a crowd of fifty other people. It doesn’t feel like a tour, but more like kayaking with a good friend.
Rob decides to share a two-man kayak with our guide so that his hands are free for taking pictures.
“Use my kayak,” Alberto says before handing me a life vest. “I make them myself and this one is my lightest and fastest.”
He’s right. Rob easily pushes me off into the water and whenever I turn, I end up spinning in a circle. I’m used to my old, banged up kayak that feels like a brick when compared to this one. I’m also used to inflatable kayaks that deflate at the most inopportune times.
“So you actually made this?” I ask.
“Yes. It takes a long time but it’s worth it. The top and bottom pieces are not only glued together but secured with rivets as well. They are very safe.”
“Safe like we’re not going to fall overboard?”
“Are there crocodiles around here?”
“So it’s good to stay in the kayak.”
Alberto doesn’t have to tell me twice. I’m all for staying inside the kayak. Hey, I’ll sit inside it on dry land if that ensures I will never encounter a crocodile.
I look down and the water is so flat, it reflects the sky like a watercolor painting. Maybe my parents had the right idea by dragging me to all those museums. Beauty can be captured in many different places. Sometimes it hangs on a gallery wall and other times it’s found while kayaking in Central America.
Our guide takes us down a narrow waterway and into a mangrove maze. The water darkens, shaded by the thick canopy overhead. I glance over at a tree and could swear the roots are moving. As I paddle closer I realize it’s a carpet of crabs.
“There are one hundred and fifty species of crabs,” Albert explains. “Just keep your eyes open, you’ll see them everywhere.”
As I peer into the forest, they’re hidden in-between roots, hollow crevices, and hanging off branches above my head.
“Can you eat them?” Rob asks.
“You can, but some are better than others. My favorite is the snails. If you cook them in butter, they’re delicious. They’re very small so you have to collect a lot. It was fun when I was a kid, but too much work now. As a professional tour guide here in Puerto Jimenez, the government has educated me, and the community on how everything here is part of a fragile ecosystem. And that thing such as crabs and snails should no longer be eaten.”
At first, I didn’t notice the snails, but now that I look closer they are everywhere. It’s a French cook’s dream. I imagine one in his white, poofy hat rummaging around the mangrove, collecting snails and singing patriotic French songs.
I paddle farther ahead and quietly glide through the waterway. Birds are stationed everywhere: blue herons, white ibis, and black hawks. Some are frozen like lawn ornaments; others cautiously turn their heads as we pass by. They are watching us closer than we are watching them. It’s creepy and exhilarating all at the same time.
As we head further into the mangroves, a fallen tree blocks our route
“Squeeze through,” Alberto calls from behind.
I lean back and lift the branches overhead. From this position I see a spider web the size of Cincinnati, and an equally large spider in the middle of it. As I slide underneath, I notice dewdrops hanging off the web, casting reflective prisms of light. It looks like an oily, New York City puddle: swirly mixes of blues, greens, and reds.
The arachnoid remains frozen as my face passes an inch from its belly. I keep my mouth shut, just in case he’s curious and decides to take a misguided leap. After I’m through, I carefully place the branches back down, not to disturb the spider or break his web. “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories, kill nothing but time,” is a common quote you will hear repeated in Costa Rica.
“Last time we were here we saw a pack of white-faced monkeys,” Rob comments.
“Yes, they are around. They cause me a lot of trouble,” Alberto replies, shaking his head.
“What kind of trouble?”
“A couple months ago, I walked into my garage and saw everything scattered all over. I immediately thought I was robbed until I realized my tools were still there, just thrown across the floor and around the room. I cleaned up, and in a couple days, the same thing happened again. The next night I stayed up late waiting to catch, what I thought, were kids playing a prank. But I couldn’t believe it! A pack of monkeys came in and started going through my toolbox. They picked up anything shiny, tasted it, and tossed it over their shoulder. The minute I pointed my flashlight on them, they ran away.”
“What did you do?”
“I installed motion sensors, so whenever they enter the garage, the lights turn on. It scares them and they immediately jump back into the trees.”
“Seems like you solved the problem.”
“Yes. But then I began noticing eggs missing from the henhouse. I thought my neighbor was stealing them so the next night I stayed up late waiting to catch, what I thought was, my thieving neighbor. But once again I couldn’t believe it. I saw a monkey reach in, unlock the cage, and tiptoe inside. He grabbed an egg, backtracked and locked the door on the way out! I almost called the police on a monkey!”
As he is telling this story, I’m thinking I should update my crime chapter to include monkey theft. It could prevent a lot of premature fighting between neighbors.
“I’m glad you didn’t get into a fight over it. I recently got an email from a guy who read my book, moved here, and was angry with me and his Tico neighbor over a…”
“A rooster?” Alberto says, finishing my sentence.
“How did you know that?”
“Are you the woman who wrote a book about moving to Costa Rica?”
“Yes, I’m her.”
“I’m the Tico neighbor!” the guide laughs. “This man moves next door and tells me that he read a book about a lady moving to Costa Rica. It inspired him to move here as well. After a week, he starts coming over and complaining about my rooster. I could understand why he was upset since my rooster is a little confused. He crows all night. He wanted me to kill the bird but I refused. To me, my rooster sounds beautiful. It made my neighbor so angry he went down to the municipality multiple times to complain.”
“So what happened to the neighbor?”
“Oh, he moved.”
“And the rooster?”
“He stayed,” he says smiling.
I can’t be a hundred percent certain that I was the author the neighbor was talking about, but it does sound a little suspicious. To think that by happenstance I would be in the middle of a mangrove tour with the notorious Tico-rooster-neighbor is hilarious. I’m glad that my books are bringing people closer together, only to have them move farther apart.
We take a break from paddling and pull our kayaks up onto a sandy bank. Alberto grabs his machete, cracks opens a coconut and slices a pineapple. It begins to rain; we are drenched in seconds. That’s a funny thing about Costa Rica: you rarely get a little wet when it rains.
We quickly finish our fruit and pull our kayaks back into the water. Although mine was built specifically for Alberto, it fits me perfectly. For once I don’t feel small but powerful as I zip through the water. Thunder claps overhead, and the water’s reflection turns from a watercolor painting into a muddy mess.
When I dreamed of moving to Costa Rica I didn’t foresee mangrove tours or carpets of crabs. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if what I was looking for really existed. Now I have experiences like this, streaming through the Gulfo Dulce on a kayak built by a local Tico. Flying past skipping fish and foamy algae that will soon by eaten by the creatures below.
The Osa Peninsula remains one of my favorite areas to visit. Traveling through a place like this is life changing, and alters the way you think. It can even clear the foggiest of heads, minds that have become compulsive hoarders of stress and worry. A lot of that anxiety gets washed away here, and what’s left is a radiant, clean slate. Granted, there may be a spider web or two, but it’ll be a clean slate nonetheless.
I smile once I see land ahead, take another deep breath, and continue paddling back to shore. Back to a life that looks nothing like it used to. A life I didn’t know existed, but one that surprisingly fits me perfectly.
Agua Dulce Beach Resort: www.aguadulceresort.com
Kayak Tour and Adventures: www.aventurastropicales.com