We made our way from Tamarindo to San Jose on our travel adventure and mini-dream of living in Costa Rica. Our plan is to begin working so we can begin living our "pura vida" dream and make some more money and eventually head to South America. We arrived in San Jose and it wasn't exactly what we imagined it would be. San Jose is a city of only 350,000 people and most of the downtown area was dirty, crowded and seedy. Where do you start?
View of the San Jose Valley
Looking for an Apartment
Scouring newspapers, online ads and flyers posted around town, we started looking for an apartment to begin looking for work as an english teacher, customer service rep, or any other job that would allow us to work a little and save to get to the next place.
We drove around town to see what area would be a best fit and found the rent prices much the same as the US. We were honestly getting a little discouraged. The main ex-pat suburbs of Heredia, Alajuela, Santa Anna and the super-expensive Escazu, had few options for us in our price range. Living downtown in the ghetto didn't appeal to us and even though we found a few places, they were in shady neighborhoods. After a couple of days of searching, we figured if we didn't find anything we should just move on.
The Alta Vista Apartments
Hope for Housing
We finally got in touch with an American who owned a small 6 or 7 unit apartment complex between Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon. Colon was a bit further from the city where the jobs were but, we figured that the price was right and we could always commute. We met Chris the prospective landlord at his house out near Alajuela where he has some acreage and some other stand alone units. Chris was a great guy! Quiet, accommodating and laid back. We followed him to the Alta Vista apartment complex in cars to check out the place.
Our New Apartment
Our New Apartment
The Alta Vista Apartments are perched on a high hill overlooking the valley below. In fact it's a good 1000 feet above the populated areas below and the views were incredible. The apartment was a small studio sandwiched between two apartments on the bottom floor. The apartment was simple, the bed was nothing more than a 3 inch foam pad on a frame and other than a refrigerator, nothing else but a heat plate for appliances. There was a communal washer and dryer for clothes outside, yet at this point the view made up for any crappiness the apartment offered. The price was 160 US dollars per month... you can't beat it in San Jose!
We told Chris we didn't know how long we would be there and left it open to when we would leave. He let us do a month to month rent with a handshake. There was free internet and power included in the price and we figured once we got work, we could move out into something better.
Our Office / Den / Kitchen
Looking for Work for the Next Month
San Jose has many U.S. based companies that have outsourced their customer service to Costa Rica. We figured this might be a good place to work and the fact we speak fluent "Merican", we would be a shoe-in for any supervisor positions. The reality is that it pays so very little, it would be hard to live in Costa Rica on this salary.
Well, we never found work. The cost of living in Costa Rica is ridiculous! You can't live comfortably on salaries there. Teachers were making around 400 dollars per month and even with cheap rent, there was no way we could pay our bills back home and we saw our dream of living in Costa Rica slipping away.
Jamie and Patrick
The People of the Alta Vista Apartments
There were a few highlights about living in the Alta Vista Apartments. We met some great people at the complex! Our neighbors were the best part.
Jamie and Patrick lived behind us in the stand alone apartment. They are from the U.S.and have been living in Costa Rica for about a year. Jamie works as an English Teacher and Patrick worked at the same school as an IT guy. He was also going to school online to get a degree in IT. They were really cool people and we enjoyed their company and great advice on Costa Rica and the San Jose area
The Bodybuilding Gangster
Vince is a bodybuilding New Yorker who lives upstairs in the best apartment of the complex. Full panoramic views of the valley below and on the top floor, Vince has lived in the complex the longest and waited some time to get this place. Vince was great! We loved our almost daily interactions with him. We would sit and shoot the bull for hours in between us looking for jobs. He has been living in Costa Rica for years and loves it. If you didn't know better, you would think he is a New York mobster on the lam, however Vince was the nicest guy you can know.
Max was our neighbor right above us. He was a really nice guy from the U.S. who retired is now living in Costa Rica where he has for the last 20 years. I think Max is around 80 and if we couldn't pick a better person to have above us. Quiet as a mouse. I think Max was lonely however, he would come down and stand in our doorway and talk to us for hours too. At times telling us the same stories he had already told us. Neither Vince nor Max worked and loved to talk our ears off.
The neighbor to our right was a Costa Rican womanizer who had a different woman in his room almost nightly. This Casanova would wine and dine girls in his apartment and close the blinds for "other activities" that could be heard as if we were in the room with them. However, he was a really nice guy who would give the shirt off his back to help you.
Pepe The Grouch
Another guy who lived next to us was from Panama City, Panama named Pepe. Pepe has a daughter with a Costa Rican woman and hates it here! He has been living in Costa Rica for at least 10 years (same age as his daughter) He longs for Panama and seems a bit grouchy and antisocial at times which is fine with us. Makes for a great neighbor. We hardly ever saw him. Pepe keeping to himself was good, since we couldn't handle another chatty person talking to us all day.
Every once in awhile the guy who used to live in our apartment came over to visit the neighbors. He was a strange person. When we moved in, we found little plastic pyramids, and one big one, stuffed in a cabinet that had copper wires melted into it. Being that Shelly and I are both psych nurses, we immediately realized that this guy was talking to someone who wasn't there and answering the voices in his head. He also had some paranoia. We found out from Vince that this guy would try to pass everyone these little pyramids "for protection". He believed they kept the aliens away and would spend hours alone in his house melting everything plastic, and molding them. No wonder all the neighbors wanted to talk to us for hours. Can't imagine they had much in common with this guy.
The Sunsets Of Alta Vista
Sunsets and New Opportunities
The highlight of living in the Alta Vista Apartments were the incredible sunsets every day. We're not joking... EVERY day! We had views of the west and we were highly perched over the valley, making our views of the sunset truly amazing. It was a daily thing to go on our balcony and watch the sun go down. It's the simple things in life that can be the best part of your day. Between chit chatting with neighbors, searching for work and re-arranging our pyramids in our room to keep the aliens away, the sunsets were the main thing we would look forward to.
Our Panamanian neighbor Pepe told us of the great opportunities and the large city of Panama City. We hung out for about a month in the small complex looking for anyway possible to make money and decided to leave. One of the issues with Costa Rica for us was that there was very little "culture". San Jose has been "Americanized" and has lost its culture and "pura vida" attitude. Nothing like Tamarindo. We weren't really that excited about the food. The local eateries called "Sodas" offered up filling plates of rice and a pork chop for about 5 dollars US. Not a bargain and not that tasty really. Pepe says the food in Panama and spicier than the bland food of Costa Rica.
The Farmer's Market
Living in Costa Rica
The actual downtown area of Ciudad Colon has a great farmer's market where we would buy our veggies, meat and cheese for the week. It was nice to interact with the locals there. Ciudad Colon still has the small town feel that San Jose has lost. We would enjoy driving into town to people watch, shop and go to the market every week. It was the highlight of our week. This was one of the only times in the month we stayed in San Jose where we really got out and socialized with the locals.
From meat and cheese to the vegetables and homemade sauces, the market had it all really. The Ciudad Colon Farmer's Market was a great place to shop.
Change in Perspective
Pepe convinced us that our opportunity to work in Panama City would be much better and we ended up giving up our dream of living in Costa Rica and heading down south to Panama. We told Chris we would only be there until the end of the month, which he was fine with and our time will never be forgotten in the Alta Vista Apartments. We didn't do much in San Jose but, we learned a lot about living in a foreign country and looking for work. It's not easy sometimes.
Life is much like our time living in Costa Rica. You push and push to get things done and make something out of nothing. Sometimes life doesn't work out and you need to make the best of things. You need to find the simple pleasures to overshadow the failures. We were running into brick wall after brick wall. However, we kept our heads up and maintained a positive attitude. Our perspective was one of enjoying the kooky neighborhood, amazing sunsets and farmer's markets.
It's easy to get focused on the negative aspects of life. To dwell in what's not working. Changing your perspective is all that more important in these times. Find the things that make you happy and look forward to them. These are the things that get you through.