Leisure with children
First, we tried to hire a babysitter for the children, but we quickly realized that it was almost impossible. No one wanted to move out of the city away into the forest. So, we took care of the boy ourselves, always coming up with different forms of entertainment.
The boys loved it in the new house. This was their first house without a bathtub, so we bought plastic tubs, where Robert and Michael Jr. could splash around gleefully.
It was around this time that their interest in music reached new levels. We gathered all the pots, pans and other things in the house, and the boys drummed on them excitedly (our nearest neighbors lived far away, so the noise didn’t bother anyone).
It was also around this time that they started to understand spoken stories and take in their meaning. Before, they would rely on pictures and illustrations rather than words.
When we arrived, the boys received new toys, cubes and erasable markers. We believe that children’s creativity and artistic manifestations should not be limited to a white sheet of paper, so we allowed them to draw all over the tiled kitchen floor.
Michael Jr. and Robert could color the tiles for hours. In fact, Helen and I would often join in with their games. And once they were done, the boys would receive clean rags and learn to clean up after themselves. It was like a new interesting, yet educational, game for them.
However, it was hard to entertain them in the evenings. Locals would normally go to sleep at around 8-9pm, and the place was deserted. The complex territory had an equipped spacious recreational area with a pool: we often played there during the day, but in the evenings, it was pitch dark there with no illumination.
Despite our best efforts, the boys wouldn’t go to sleep until very late, often staying awake until as late as 3am! One time our neighbor even criticized us for forgetting to switch off our lights, and they were on all night. When we told her that we didn’t forget to switch them off and that, in fact, we simply go to sleep very late, it absolutely bewildered her. So, we simply tried to leave the eco-village in the evenings.
We found a small park nearby, where we could go for long walks. There were no children’s playgrounds. And this wasn’t a regional problem, but a national one – even resorts and tourist towns had hardly any areas for children to play.
Sometimes we would go to Puntaneras, where we could walk around the city, play on the beach or walk along the seaside. But the drive would take 1.5-2 hours one way, so going there every evening was problematic, as we would get home late at night.
Beach vacation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is surrounded by oceans on either side, and the country’s shoreline exceeds 1,200 km, so there are plenty of beaches. This was where we saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. But after Mexico’s crystal-clear sea and snow-white beaches, we were disappointed. The shore was covered with fine brownish sand, while the water itself turned out to be very cloudy and grayish-green. You could barely see your own feet when you went in ankle-deep.
While large sandbanks, plenty of plankton and fish made it not ideal for swimming, the place was perfect for fishing. On countless occasions we saw locals walk into the water with fishing rods and come back an hour later with a fair amount of fish. Large beautiful pelicans would already be waiting for them – the fishermen often treated them with tiny fish. We would often visit the beach to watch the birds, since everything nature-related in Costa Rica was phenomenal.
By the way, we had a nasty incident on this very beach. The New Year was approaching, and we knew that there would be no celebrations in the area, so on December 31st we decided to head to the beach. Helen went for a swim when she suddenly felt like something stung her underwater. Since the water was too cloudy to see through, we had no idea what it was – a jellyfish or some other sea creature.
By the time Helen reached the shore, her skin was covered in blisters from her chest to her knees. The pain was so intense that she was beginning to faint. We knew very well that there were no hospitals nearby – only a few first aid stations, which were always closed on workdays, let alone Sundays and on New Year’s Eve. No one answered our calls at the first aid posts, so we tried to remember everything we knew about first aid in cases of jellyfish stings.
We decided to pour apple vinegar all over Helen’s blisters again and again. Soon the pain began to subside. But the redness and rash got inflamed the following day and took a long time to go away. Though the pain was gone by the third day, her skin took around 1.5 months to recover. Fortunately, there were no marks left.
Perhaps, the eastern coast of Costa Rica is more suitable for a beach vacation, since it’s washed over by the Caribbean Sea. But we didn’t have time to go to that part of the country; besides, we didn’t come to Costa Rica for a beach vacation.
We visited plenty of beaches, but we didn’t lose hope that we would find a truly special and beautiful place. It turns out that there was a snow-white beach – Playa Blanca – just an hour’s drive away, so we decided to go and check it out.
Getting to the beach was not easy. The entire coastline was built up with houses and hotels, so only residents and hotel guests had access to the beach; access for other cars was closed off with a swing gate.
Luckily, there was a free-access public beach nearby – Playa Mantas – which was also quite clean and beautiful. If you walk along the coast, you can reach Playa Blanca. The path was rather tough, since we had to walk on rocks and even climb over a small bank. But the efforts were worth it. Playa Blanca turned out to be an incredibly picturesque place. The soft, snow-white sands and crystal-clear waters make this place a jewel of the pacific coast. It was rather strange to find this beauty here, since it’s surrounded by ordinary beaches with cloudy waters and gray-brown sands on either side.
As we were relaxing on Playa Blanca, we got caught in a tropical rain. The downpour started suddenly, so we were forced to return as fast as we could. The road back was dangerous, and with the rising waters we had to move along the uneven, slippery rocks, hidden about half a meter in the water. Locals were helping tourists get out of there, advising them to go deeper into the water to maintain their balance. So, we were walking up to our chests in water. Michael was carrying the boys, while Helen was holding the bags with clothes, camera and other gadgets.
Robert and Michael Jr. were scared and began to cry. But by the time we reached Mantas Beach and hid beneath a tree, the boys calmed down and watched the rushing water with interest, very proud that they managed to cope with their emotions like adults.
Superstores and markets
We first went to the local Walmart right after we arrived. We decided to buy some food on the way to our new home, since there were no large stores near the eco-village.
Fun fact – this was the first Walmart in Latin America where you could get a loan for your purchases right away. Queues to the loan offices were massive. This was the first time we ever saw so many people wanting to buy food on credit.
The prices immediately caught our eye. Despite the country’s relatively low economic level, the prices were high. We were used to cheap yet good quality groceries in Mexico, so we were hoping that things would be at least as good in Costa Rica.
But the quality of the food left much to be desired. Even seasonal fruits and vegetables were absolutely tasteless, which was peculiar for a region with such rich nature and warm climate. Local cheeses, dairy products, some meats and even pastas tasted horribly. This was completely unexpected for us. Living far away from restaurants, we were expecting to cook at home a lot.
In hopes of finding better quality and more delicious food, we visited a few markets, but all we found was more disappointment. When we heard that locals had special fairs on specific days, we thought we would find a large selection of food there.
But it turned out that the market consisted of 15-20 small stands, where all the farmers laid out pretty much the same things. Fish was laid out on wooden stands despite the heat, while fruits and vegetables looked battered and stale. Yet still we bought some tuna and some other groceries, but they turned out to be spoiled, so we had to throw them out.