A Day in the Life of Living in Grecia, Costa Rica

cover grecia

So you’ve heard that living in Costa Rica is perfect, like being on a permanent vacation? Well, I’m here to keep it real. Here’s an example of what it takes to live here – or of what can happen occasionally. Sometimes every day.

This is a true story, and is pretty much a combo of “tico time” + “pura vida” + just plain real living in Costa Rica.

markTold by my pal, Mark, in his words:

1st DAY:

Yesterday, I went to Grecia to pick up some meds and a couple of things at the grocery store.   I went to my usual pharmacy and they had the meds ready (always good news!), total was $36. I pulled out my debit card, but their card reader machine had stopped working.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.33.13 AMSince I didn’t have that much cash on me, I walked over to my bank, Banco Nacional, and stuck my card in the ATM.  And… it stayed there.  

I heard a voice in Spanish telling me to go inside the bank.

Easier said than done. (Click here for more info on what banks are like here in Costa Rica.)

I walked in the first entry door, and got buzzed into the purgatory-type-room after the entry light turned green. And there I remained – STUCK.  This is a very small, vestibule-like “holding cell”, where you have to wait for a security guard from inside the bank to buzz you through the next door in order to actually enter the bank itself.

There was no one around to buzz me through, so there I stayed – trapped in no man’s land.

Meanwhile, the light had stayed green outside, and several other people now joined me in my small and quickly becoming sardine-like cell. 

We waited.sardines

And waited.

I had a brief happy thought, thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic.  

After about what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably only 3 minutes (which is a long time to be close and touching other people you don’t know), a bank official finally noticed us and buzzed us out and into the main bank area.  

I then went through a succession of people at the bank and eventually got my ATM card back.

I walked back through the lobby and got in line behind eight other people, now all waiting to use the ATM.

Finally got my money (and my card back!), so went on back to the pharmacy and paid for the meds with cash.

Then I hiked off to my favorite cafe, to get a couple of chicken salads, for me and my wife’s dinner that night. Except, there was no chicken to be had, at least none that was already cooked.  Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.15.30 AM

So, I waited another 30 minutes for them to grill the chicken….

Finally got my salads, and headed out to my car.  However, I soon realized I had forgotten where I’d parked my car!

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.27.24 AMThis is very easy to do in downtown Grecia, as one can never park in the same place every time – parking is pretty scarce (depending what time of day you are trying to park), it could be down any of several roads branching out from the downtown square.

I probably walked around Grecia for 8 blocks or so, looking for my car, all in the heat of mid-day. By this time I was sweating, and just wanting to get out of the sun and go home.

Eventually, I found the car and drove home.


2nd DAY:

This morning, I set off for Grecia to buy some guitar strings.  There are three music stores in Grecia (well, there’s one store that sells washing machines, couches, and refrigerators and ALSO has guitars, but officially it’s a “music store”).

No luck in Grecia getting the kind of strings I needed, so I knew the next stop was Alajuela. I hate driving to Alajuela.  But, I really wanted my guitar strings. 

The shop that was supposed to be in Alajuela – wasn’t.  No telling when it had closed.  

I happened to know of an old guy named Señor Guzman, who owned a shop and made guitars, by reputation.  

Well, my trusty GPS led me to some closed shops on a main street.  No way were these guitar shops.  My guess is that the GPS company never could find Guzman and just punched in coordinates which were “somewhere near” where he had to be. 

I asked two groups of Ticos where he was located and they gave me directions, but I think they really had no idea and were just being nice and wanting to help.   

Then I stopped and “talked” (this is how I’ve learned Spanish!) with a few Tico teenage boys, who actually knew where Guzman was located!  They offered to come with me and show me, so they hopped in the car and off we went. 

But I was having trouble believing where we were headed could possibly have a guitar shop.  We were driving in a very dusty industrial area, and finally turned onto a dirt road.  A couple hundred meters down was a fairly steep downhill “driveway” with some “steps” carved into the dirt.  These led to what appeared to be a small auto-wrecker shop which was primitive, to say the least. 

See this picture?  The Guzman place was 10x more primitive than this!

At the bottom was an elderly man with white hair who looked like he belonged and I asked him about Guzman Guitars.  He answered “aqui” (here). 

I yelled back in disbelief, “Aqui????”   

Si, aqui.” 

He waved me down, and we walked through his corrugated metal “garage” and into another similar space with a dirt floor.  He told me Guzman was gone for the day, but I could come back tomorrow. 

In this back room were about 50 guitars on wooden tables in various stages of construction.  I couldn’t believe he sold the guitars from here, and communicated that to the fellow, so he showed me a locked 10×12 room with a window where, indeed, there were finished guitars. I don’t think Guzman even sold guitar strings!

Now… Señor Guzman is written up online as having started making guitars in 1948, and is well known as a master craftsman in Costa Rica.  I must admit, this shop is not what I was expecting.  I suspect he MAY have another shop somewhere, but who knows? I DID however mark the spot on my GPS and I will return there some day to meet Señor Guzman in person.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.35.35 AMSo, I drove the teenagers back, and then found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on my way to Escazu, where I heard there is a store that sells strings. The traffic was so thick, it took almost a half hour to go about 0.4 km.  It was like driving in a major US city during rush hour, after a ML baseball game had just ended and people were leaving, and there was a major car accident to boot.  I was very glad I was in no particular hurry and could just enjoy the music from my iPod.

Finally, I did find my guitar strings (SUCCESS!) and headed back home.

Driving in the dark from San Jose, at the wrong time of day, was NOT my idea of fun – but hey, I had my guitar strings, and I was very happy to be get home safely.  One does not quickly run out of adventures (or to the store) in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!


That’s all for now folks!  If you’d like to hear more of these “day in the life of…”
stories, comment below and let me know.  
Cheers! — Jen

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30 Responses to A Day in the Life of Living in Grecia, Costa Rica

  1. You got it quite right. Living here is one part paradise and three parts theater of the absurd. That’s Pura Vida for you.

  2. Now THIS made me and Jim laugh out loud–unfortunately/forunately because we’ve “been there, done that”. At least you have the time to take it in stride, laugh, and go get a beer…………..and then the adventure continues!

  3. Good Morning Jen!
    This is Debra Morgan the granite lady from Dallas & looking forward to our trip to CR in May. I absolutely enjoyed the “reality check” of CR life. Yes please post more as we are thinking of a move there. Reminds me of Mexico or the middle east where materialism isnt the backbone of society so life is simplier…less is more right? YES!

  4. We have thoughts of moving to CR. This story was entertaining and reminded me of our time spent in Egypt, so I can relate to “day in the life” stories. My sense of adventure helped to keep “the inconvenience” at bay.

    • Exactly Holly – it is a big adventure living here in CR, and I’m so glad we’re here living it right now. Good luck to you on your adventures (and that’s cool you’ve lived in Egypt!).

      • Hi Jen:
        I love your humor. I tell folks if you can’t laugh, you might as well be a rock.(ha-ha)
        I’m 99% sure that I’ll be retiring to CR at a young-of-heart 62. I planned to work much longer but my body won’t hear of it.
        What advice do you (and also your readers here) have for a single, 62 year old woman with a lot of spunk, not nearly as much money and someone who needs mobility aids to get around? (Cane or walker).
        I don’t need fancy and don’t want to live near a Starbuck’s, I need to find affordable, accessible to the disabled housing. Any ideas for neighborhoods that might be easy for me to get around in independently?
        I can’t wait to meet you.
        I bought your book.
        I hope you like cats.

        • Hi did u ever move to CR? I want to. In next year or so. Good to see am not only single woman close to 60 that is craziest enough to over alone! Hoping to meet pple that are going over as friends! Not looking for a man just yet. Been alone and single long lo n.v g time. I am kimreynolds32@yahoo.com
          Do not hesitate to be in touch!also Andrea i too hve a bit of a time getting around due to back surgeries.i see your issue is not going to slow u down! Am looking for possible companion to move over with.a friend !just friends. Hve been into IL MAGAZINE got me excited abt CR!

  5. COMPLICATION NATION – that’s what a salesclerk at the Monge appliance store once said, after I was told to go upstairs and pay for my item then come back down, with my receipt, clearly stamped “cancelado” (paid.

    Yes, Costa Rica seems complicated, but I love every quirky, idiosyncratic twist and turn (and BTW – banks in France have the same entry system where one door closes before the next opens; it’s not just Costa Rica.

  6. This is great! Yes, please do share more day-in-the-life-of moments like this with us. My own family is planning our move in July of 2017 and I’m soaking up all the reality I can get so I’m better prepared upon arrival. We’ve spent plenty of time in Viet Nam and Thailand which offer some similar daily frustrations (or reminder depending on how you view them) and we’re excited to learn what the differences and overlaps are between the cultures 🙂

  7. Loved this story and would love to see more. Glad I just found your site, my husband and I have been to CR many times and are finally moving there this July with our son! We know it won’t be paradise in many ways, but at least are prepared for whatever happens. I think the benefits will soon outweigh the tradeoffs as we get settled.

  8. YES Jen, please do more “day in the life” stories. We live in the mountains of Western Panama, (Boquete) so they sound just like home.

  9. Hello:
    I bought your book & I hope to have a chance to read it in the next few days.
    I am looking to permanently retire to Grecia or a nearby city in @ 18-20 months (2019), after I turn 62.
    I would like to rent a 2-bedroom small home in the area, the top priority is that it be ground floor: I have physical disabilities requiring that I use a cane or a walker.
    Certainly you cannot see into the future but I have two questions regarding my plans, please:
    1. Has Grecia become so inundated with Ex-Pats that the cost of living (housing especially) has increased dramatically?
    2. Do I need an international lawyer to set up mt pensione visa or can I do it myself?
    Thanks. I look forward to seeing you in C.R. !!

  10. Hi Andrea, I’m the same age. My husband and I like to retire in Grecia as well.We are germans and live as a green card holder in US for 26 years.
    Why do you choose Grecia?
    Did you visit CR before.?

  11. Definitely out of place, for the guitars strings everthing he has to do it was from the first store where they sell appliances, walk 25 mts west and then 75 mtrs south the place is a library call “Dimi” they also sell guitar strings he could avoid all that extra driving

  12. I’ve been eyeing Grecia for retirement at 59.5 years old. Yippee! But Perez Zeledon looks interesting as well. Any comments on that?
    I’m all too familiar with the inefficient lifestyle, can handle it and will probably enjoy it. Bay Area efficiency has worn me out.
    Thanks for sharing! Will buy and thoroughly read your book

    • It depends what you want, climate-wise. Grecia can by hot in the town center, but up the ridges to Poas it gets MUCH cooler. Perez Zeledon is great because it is close to the beach, but you can find living arrangements in slightly higher elevation, but it is still warm… Thanks for reading my book, I hope you enjoy!

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