In two weeks, I will have been in Costa Rica for three months. Because a passport-entry visit is legally limited to three months, this means that some action is required on my part.
The officially required action is that I leave the country, but I am permitted to return after an absence of at least 72 hours. This is often referred to by local ex-pats as “the turn-around” and is generally looked at as either an opportunity to visit another country in the region, such as Panama, Nicaragua or Cuba, or as just a necessary annoyance. There are, as well, “alternative” means of renewing one’s permit, and alternative methods are frequently employed, especially by those who fall into the ‘annoyance’ camp.
This is the most important turn-around occasion for me, as there are other factors besides simple legal necessity. For one thing, after three months I should have a pretty good idea of whether I hate it here and want to get out. Also, I have a paid for, non-refundable reserved seat on a flight to Los Angeles that departs San Jose on April 2nd, with or without me, so if I were planning to go, that would be frugal man’s the time to do it.
So, ‘do I hate it here and want to get out?’. The answer is no. However, I cannot say honestly that I am loving it here and want to stay, either. There are certainly things that I am enjoying: the wildlife, obviously; the warmth of the weather; the comfortable ocean water; the low cost of living; and of course, the freedom to set my own schedule each day rather than invest my time in a corporation at an unsatisfying rate of return.
The most disappointing aspects to life here are the noise and the social isolation. If I were wealthier, I could afford to sequester myself in a quieter atmosphere, but that is not immediately possible. As I write this, a large diesel flatbed is idling noisily outside my gate, a nearby car, parked by the hardware store, is honking repeatedly, regular traffic is bouncing quickly over the potholes, and a pack of dogs are barking almost continuously somewhere back behind the house. There is really nowhere to go in town that has a serene atmosphere. Cafe Rico is sometimes pretty good, but in almost three months, all but four times I have tied to go there it has been closed. Noise is something that I will either adjust to, or I will not.
Social isolation is not something for which I can lay responsibility on the town or the town’s people – the responsibility is, naturally, mine. Some may see that as a pitiably accurate self-criticism, but I see it less darkly, rather, as an important bit of self-awareness. Though I invested an unfortunate amount of time and energy resisting the idea in years past (and sometimes still do), it has long been apparent to me that I am seldom satisfied with what passes for popular social interaction. I find that there are far too many conversations taking place that are comprised of exclusively of cliché, innuendo and sit-com regurgitation. I realise that small talk of this sort is often a necessary step in getting to the good stuff, but I have little patience for it, which slows down my progress. Add on the fact that many of the people I meet are just passing through town, on vacation, and the process of getting established slows even further. For me, developing new friendships is simply something that takes time, and demands patience. Patience has never been one of my stronger assets.
I didn’t come down here with a particularly clear idea of what I wanted to do, though I had numerous ideas. It’s become clear to me, though, that what I value most is the freedom to explore my literary aspirations without the inconvenience of having to continue to fund an urban lifestyle that that provides depressingly little satisfaction. Vancouver-boosters are forever using the term “livability” when promoting the city, but having to sacrifice 40 (or more) hours per week to pay for ridiculously inflated real estate tends to undermine livability as I define it. Here, there’s no requirement to keep up with those who set the pace in the race to keep up with the Joneses.
I’m not under any illusions that I’ve retired to my final resting place, but neither have I established any clearer idea of where that might, in the end, be. Anything could happen before Easter, but it seems likely that I’ll stick around here for a while yet.