Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living in the Barrio

While many foreigners who came to San Ramon bought lots in ex-pat communities or land in the country, I bought a house in the barrio. Rather than be apart from the culture, I wanted to live in the center of the life that defines San Ramon, Costa Rica. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and have lived in urban settings most of my life. What seems scary or strange to some has been a wealth of authentic experiences for me.

I’m a 10-minute walk from the central park and the heart of downtown. While many foreigners fantasize about 5 acres separate from others, I had a different plan. By being connected to my neighbors and the flow of life here, I have been changed in ways both profound and simple.

I bought my house in the barrio 3 years ago after renting downtown, near the university for the previous 4 years. How else to learn about my new hometown and become part of it, if I don’t walk the streets and become the newest Ramonense (San Ramon person)?

I was the first foreigner on my street and when I moved in I was quite the curiosity. I felt a bit like an exotic animal at the zoo as my neighbors were happy to have me but perplexed that this guy from the USA bought a house on their block.

Life starts early in Costa Rica. When the sun comes up at 6AM, life begins. Unlike many urban settings, this barrio has the most amazing bird sounds you can imagine. The birds morning songs are followed by kids getting ready for school and family life beginning. A little upbeat Spanish music, the dogs starting their day and then the flow of my neighbors walking down the hill … parents with their kids in their school uniforms, adults heading to work … lots of bicycles, a few cars and motorcycles, but mostly people walking. (It still amazes me how the sexy local women walk in stiletto heels without falling or twisting an ankle. It must be genetic.) There is none of the angst and frenetic pace of North American cities.

Now, 3 years later, I am integrated and known by all. I have always been safe and protected as my neighbors have a sense that their property values will rise by me successfully owning a house on their hill. Most of my neighbors have renovated and upgraded their homes during my time here. Of all my neighbors, I am most grateful to Rosario Vargas who takes care of my house; cleaning and making sure that when I am out of the country my house is looking good, clean and safe.

While the natural world around San Ramon rivals anyplace in the world, it is connecting with my neighbors and friends that has allowed me to discover the true meaning of Pura Vida.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ithaca, NY Winter = San Ramon, CR Summer

I just finished my annual Thanksgiving in the USA. Nice to see family and friends and remember to be grateful for all that I have. The only bummer is the dark, cold winter weather and lack of people on the streets. After 8 years in Costa Rica, my body just doesn't like the winter in Upstate New York.

December starts the summer in Costa Rica. San Ramon temperature remains a comfortable mid-70's year round but summer means the rain has stopped for the months ahead. After months of rain, everything is green and colorful in December. With no daylight savings time, the steady temps are complemented by 12 hours each of daylight and darkness. Easy on the body and spirit.

After a hectic visit to New York State, I'm very ready for the slow, friendly, uncomplicated life I have in Costa Rica. As a former restaurant owner and chef, I look forward to expressing my creativity with the fresh organic fruits and vegetables from my new garden in La Paz.

During the unfolding world economic downturn, San Ramon seems like a good place to be. The last few years have been boom times for foreign travelers and investors in Costa Rica. Unlike the over development at the beach, San Ramon has maintained its own character and economy for over 100 years. I think this will be an interesting time for people everywhere as they re-evaluate their life, plans, and future. Affordable, peaceful, friendly, sunny San Ramon seems like a good life in these uncertain times.

Tomorrow I leave winter and arrive in Costa Rica for the beginning of summer.