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How To Save Money Traveling in Costa Rica: Part II, the Food Edition
In part I of my How to Save Money Traveling in Costa Rica I gave you the basics. Now, I’ll teach you how to savor delicious Costa Rican food* without draining your bank account.
- Eat at the sodas. If you only follow one tip from this guide, let this be it. What’s a soda? Sodas are little fast food style restaurants that offer casados, plato del dia, empanadas, natural juice beverages and more. You’ll see signs for sodas in just about every part of Costa Rica. For $3-6 dollars, you can get yourself a casado: a traditional dish with rice, beans, salad, your choice of meat, plantains, etc. Side note: casado (married), is a play on words for the idea that rice and beans always come together or are married.
- Skip American style fast food joints and restaurants. While you’d be surprised to learn that Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are actually much tastier in Costa Rica, they aren’t as cheap as you’d imagine. Imagine my surprise when I went to Subway the other day and paid $11 for a crummy salad. A sandwich from Quizno’s can run you $6. Do your wallet and taste buds a favor: eat local whenever possible.
- Buy fruits and vegetables from market’s and road side stands. The produce in Costa Rica is amazing and cheap, cheap, cheap! To get the most bang for your buck, buy from mercados or road side sellers. Many items are sold by the kilo (2.2 lbs) so be careful that you don’t order more than you meant to!
- Do your grocery shopping at Mas X Menos or Maxi Pali and pass on imported goods. When I first got to Costa Rica, I went to Mega Super and Auto Mercado a lot. They looked the most like grocery stores in the US and had products I was familiar with. You’ll pay a hefty fee for those imported goods, however. Instead try local versions of your favorite cereals, snacks and treats from lower cost grocery stores. I promise you on the whole, they taste the same! If you must have some American brand items, look for products like Oreos that have nearby factories for a lower price point.
- Watch out for menus that leave out taxes (impuestos). Most restaurants list the prices with taxes included. Others hide the cost and gratuity in the fine print. Always take a careful look before you decide to dine.
- Cook and dine in! If your hostel or hotel offers a kitchen, take advantage of it. Dining out in Costa Rica is less expensive than the US but it can still run up your tab quickly. Try these or your own recipes and enjoy cooking with your travel buddies.
- Split a dish. If you’re trying to watch calories and your wallet, why not share a meal with a friend? There’s no harm in asking if a restaurant will let you split a meal. This is a great option for when you want to enjoy a pricier dish!
- Choose hotels or hostels that offer a “free” breakfast. Of course, it’s not really free but it’ll save you money. Often, you can find hotels with complimentary breakfast at the same price as hotels without included breakfast. It’s my opinion that unless the hotel is dirt cheap, they should at least offer some kind of bread, fruit and coffee in the morning. If you make it a point to always choose a budget friendly hotel with breakfast, you can save a good $5+ per traveler every day.
Keep reading for my next installment: Part III, Hostels and Hotels.
*FYI, if you like spicy, you’re gonna have to whip out the hot sauce. In general, Ticos are a lot like their food: hearty and traditional. There’s no 5 alarm salsa in this country.
How to Save Money Traveling in Costa Rica: Part 1, the Basics
If you haven’t been to Costa Rica yet, this bio-diverse paradise better be on your bucket list. If you’re a repeat visitor, you know just how addicting this country can be. And you’ve probably realized traveling here isn’t as cheap as many initially think. The great thing about Costa Rica is you can soak it all up as a budget traveler or live it up in luxury resorts. Since I’m more into exploring the natural side of the rich coast, I’ve taught myself a few money saving tricks along the way. Some I learned the hard way but you don’t have to! Whether you’re here for a week long vacation, months of volunteering or perhaps long term, the following advice is sure to keep your wallet fat and your heart content.
- Travel during the green season. Some folks call it the rainy season but green better describes just how beautiful this country becomes when the clouds open up. The green season generally lasts from May to November. You can expect showers in the afternoon, ranging from pelo de gato (sprinkling rain) to aguacero (downpours). The idea of a little rain scares some travelers so the tourism industry does everything they can to get you down here in these “off months.” Hotels are cheaper by as much as 50%. Tour guides may offer special rates and places are less crowded.* I recommend September and October only to Costa Rica veterans or adventure lovers. Things can get pretty wet! Try heading to the Caribbean cost if you must plan your vacation in those two months.
- Take the bus. I’ve seen a couple travel books say to avoid Costa Rica buses, that they’re dangerous and hard to navigate. No way! For people without a ton of luggage or money to burn, buses can save you tenfold. I recently took a bus from Manuel Antonio to San Jose for about $8. A taxi driver offered something like $120 to bring myself and 2 other people to Chepe (that’s San Jose’s nickname, remember it). While the taxi ride would have been a bit faster and more comfortable, the price difference was not worth it! For that amount of money, you could spend a couple extra days at the beach. I recommend the site the busschedule to see time tables. You can always ask your hotel for information as well or hit up tripadvisor.
- That brings me to: ask questions. You’re in a foreign country. Even if your Spanish is great, you don’t know everything. Costa Ricans, generally, like to help and take pride in their country. Showing a little humility will go a long way. Just remember when it comes to directions, it’s best to ask a few people to get a consensus. Or try the walk a block and ask again approach. Many Ticos don’t like to tell you no, fearing they will come across unhelpful.
- Know the currency. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone order food in Costa Rica and not know how much money was owed. This is a fabulous way to get ripped off. I’ve even seen a man slap down a 10 mil colones bill (about $20) for a $2 smoothie and not know how much change he should receive back. To keep things simple, know that 500 colones (quinientos) is about $1. 1,000 colones is around $2. $2,000 bill is about $4 and so on. Familiarize yourself with the current bills before taking off to CR. You might hear people say pesos from time to time but the currency is colones. Download a currency converter app or do the math in your head. No matter what country you are, there will always be people looking to take advantage of the naive.
- Speaking of naive, watch out for taxis. I want to preface this point by saying I’ve had great taxi drivers in Costa Rica especially in Frailes. Most are hardworking people just doing their job. However, ripping off tourists does seem to be a past time for certain taxistas. That’s why I recommend taking taxis cautiously. When leaving the airport, go in an official orange taxi and make sure they put on the meter (you can say, “ponga la maria, por favor”). Avoid taxis that offer a rate instead of using a meter. Why? Because it always works in their favor. When leaving a major bus terminal, walk out a bit before taking up the first taxi offer. Some of those guys have rigged meters and prey on loaded down, tired travelers. If you ever feel uncomfortable, get out! Or better yet, take the bus. Remember to make sure you receive correct change and always have coins and/or small bills to be polite.
Stayed tuned for my part 2 installment! Hope you learned something new. Please share any tips of your own in the comments.
*Note that students have 2 weeks of summer vacation referred to as Quince Dias during the end of June/beginning of July. You may find hotels, buses, parks and beaches more crowded during this time.
My Trial Run of the Spending Fast
I could make a hobby out of shopping if I wanted to. I’m pretty good at finding deals and comparison shopping. And I’m definitely better at saving money while out and about than I used to be. However, lately, I have realized that I am at a pivotal point in my life where I need to become more financial savvy. Doing some research on the internet lead me to this blog post where Anna of And Then We Saved outlines how to do a spending fast. I believe she “fasted” for a whole year! My plan is to start with 2 weeks an initial trial and then reevaluate. After 2 weeks, I’ll adjust my plan for a more long term spending fast.
Anna advises that you create a list of wants and needs as well as make a public declaration of your spending fast. So, I’m using my blog to do just that.
Copies for exams and review guides
Small snacks like crackers and fruit
A few bucks to refill my phone’s minutes
Clothes, jewelry, shoes
Blended coffee drinks
Taxis to la violeta- I can just as easily take the bus and then walk
As you can see both lists are fairly short. Remember, I’m only trying this for 2 weeks and then reevaluating each list to fine tune a long term plan. I live with host family in Costa Rica so that means 3 meals a day are provided for me as part of my stipend. It also means I have less money to spend, which may actually work to my advantage. I encourage all my readers to try out this spending fast too! What do you have to lose? Certainly not any money!
A Young Southerner’s Take on Paula Deen’s Words and Her Supporters
Usually I post things on this blog about my experience in Costa Rica. But something’s been bothering me, really bothering me, so much that I wanted to write about it for my readers (even if it’s “off-topic”). A few days ago, the news broke that the Food Network would be dropping Paula Deen from its network after her racism controversy. I’ll make this clear: I am not a fan of Paula Deen. I don’t wish her any ill will but I just don’t like her TV personality. I don’t think she’s a real cook and I don’t like the backwards image of Southerners she plays up for money. It’s embarrassing to me as a Southerner and member of society.
I wasn’t shocked to learn that Paula Deen had admitted to using the n-word. I was disgusted by not shocked. My eyebrows raised when she didn’t deny using racial jokes nor condoning pornography in the workplace and being impressed by the use of a group of African American male servers donned in antebellum type uniforms. My eyebrows shot to the roof when I visited Action News 5’s Facebook page to see throngs of people pouring in to downplay, condone and even applaud Paula Deen’s acts. I literally felt sick.
Here, I take apart some of their pitiful excuses for an argument in favor of racial epithets.
”I’ll support Paula Deen 100%. Walks like a duck, talks like a duck you call it a duck!”- Glen Haley
I’ve heard people say there are “black people” and there are “n*ggers.”I believe this statement is referring to the same idea. You can’t pick and choose who your words hurt. When you call someone a “n*gger,” you’re damaging an entire race of people and more. Would you have the guts call this little boy the same thing, Mr. Haley?
“I do not have to accept it and who among us has not used that word. What Negro has not used that word. Mountains out of molehills.”-Marcia Searcy Williams.
Actually, Ms. Williams, I’ve never used that word and I never will. While you may surround yourself with people who make light of and use racial slurs, there are just as many people who don’t. Secondly, I don’t know if you’re aware but it’s 2013 and most folks object to the use of the word “negro.” When you use language like that you bring us back to a time when our fellow human beings were beaten, lynched and raped simply for having dark skin.
“HEY she’s not running for office so why dig up stuff in the past. I don’t think she should have to apologize for something said 20 years ago if so we all need to apologize……..”-Donna Goolsby Hill
According to Ms. Hill, only politicians should be held to high standards with it comes to our speech. We all see how well that idea tends to work out. I argue that anyone in the public eye should be aware of the influence their words and actions have on society. And if I said something offensive 20 years ago, I’d readily apologize for it. Hurt can last longer than we often imagine.
”She has the right to say whatever word she likes, It is a free country. When I went to school blacks called us white people “crackers, honkies” and whatever else but we HAD better not of called them the N word. WTH!!! Get over it, whites will always be called honkies, blacks will be called the N-word, mexicans will be called beaners and spicks.”- Natalie Burns
Sure, it’s a free country. You seem to have a 4th’s graders understanding of the first amendment, however. The first amendment does not protect you from fall out and criticism over your language. Deen admitted to using hate speech in the workplace which constitutes a “hostile work environment”and is actionable in a court of law. I’m sorry people called you ugly words in high school but two wrongs don’t make a right. Retaliating with more racial slurs only says to people you’re okay with that kind of language. I’d go on but it seems you truly are, anyway.
“It is 2013. Get over it, it’s a word. A word that I hear black people using towards themselves and others on a daily basis. If the word really offended them so much, they wouldn’t use it, have it in rap songs, or support rappers.”-Mandy Turner
Yes, it’s 2013 and that’s exactly why we need to leave the n-word and other words like it in the past. Whether African Americans use the word is not important. First of all, there’s a marked difference between a marginalized race using a slur to weaken it’s power and change its meeting. I realize some folks think the word shouldn’t be used by anyone and I while I tend to agree, it’s not really something for me, as a white female, to decide for the African American community. Why would you want to use a word that you know hurts and offends people? Because it gives you some feeling of power and quiets your insecurities for a moment, I suppose.
“So its offensive when my grandma says ‘Niggra’? (yes thats how she says it)…”- Lizz Clayton
One word: yes.
I know I’m on my soap box but I think it’s an important one. Yes, Paula Deen and her supporters make Southerners look bad. But you know what’s worse? They make the human race look bad as well. When you use racial slurs, you’re not only damaging that race, you’re offending society as well. Discriminatory speech stifles our ability to work together as for a healthier, more productive humanity. And while some people may be okay with status quo, I’m not. So, to Paula Deen and her supporters, I say do us all a favor, put a stick of butter in your mouth and just shut up.
It’s Mother’s Day in the United States. Mother’s Day is celebrated during August in Costa Rica and they do it big, y’all. It’s a national holiday and I hear whole hogs are eaten in even more rural parts of the country. The US may pass on that ritual (although, who knows) but Mother’s Day is still pretty important. Some people may turn their noses up to the Hallmark sentimental side of it but I think it’s vital that our country and the world honors women who fill the role of motherhood.
My Costa Rican dichos video got a fair number of hits and I started thinking about why I love dichos so much (bear with me, I swear this all has to do with Mother’s Day). First of all, it’s a lot easier to throw in a dicho when you’ve got something to say but just can’t quite string a whole sentence together. Secondly, using dichos shows people that you’re familiar with their language and culture, something that generally gets you a little further in this country. But I think my real enthusiasm for them comes from my own upbringing. My mom was the first story-teller I knew as a child. She’d read me stories before bedtime, of course, but I also remember just the magical way she’d recant events—long and slow with peaks and valleys throughout. When I was a prickly teenager, I used to say, “Gah, Mom, just get to point!” I was irritated by what I saw as meandering. Since then I’ve come to realize that the way my mom built up her stories was often more important than the “point,” after all. Some of what made her language so enchanting was her colorful use of expressions. A few were commonplace, sayings you’d heard more times than you could count. Others were more rare, so stirring that you’d feel an involuntary smile stretch across your face as you contemplated its meaning.
Now I use both Costa Rican dichos and Southern sayings interchangeably in my life. I’ve complied a list of some of my favorites taught to me by mother.
10. He/She can’t walk and smoke a cigarette at the same time. This person is dumb, really dumb but more inept than lacking in intelligence.
That girl has no idea what’s going on. She can’t walk and smoke a cigarette at the same time!
9. Cute as a bug’s ear.Someone or something that is just darling. I don’t know too many bugs that have ears or visible ones but that’s what makes this expression so fun.
Well, aren’t you just as cute as a bug’s ear!
8. Water seeks its own level.People like people that are like them (similar idea to “birds of a feather flock together.”) We look for people that are on our “level” or place in life. I always muttered this expression about every ex love interest or boyfriend.
Bill and Amy went out for a while but he left her for a girl he met at the bar. Water seeks its own level.
7. Crazy like a fox.Someone who appears nuts or deranged but knows exactly what he’s doing and often, gets what he wants.
Joe was crazy like a fox. He kept ahold of his mom’s old property and sold it to developers for millions.
6. Mutton dressed as lamb. I don’t think this saying originates from the South but we use it anyway. It describes a middle aged or older woman who dresses very young for her age and not in a good way.
Angela looked very young from behind with her long hair extensions and miniskirt but when she turned around the whole look was mutton dressed as lamb.
5. All the bells and whistles. An item with all the latest features. My new iPhone 5 has all the bells and whistles.
4. There’s no “there” there. A person or place with nothing to it, without substance. Emily is a nice girl but there’s no “there” there. I couldn’t find anything to talk about with her.
3. As sharp as a tack.Someone smart and shrewd. Elizabeth solved the Rubik’s cube in minutes. That girl is as sharp as a tack!
2. Strong enough to tack the top of your head off.What an image, eh? Usually used to describe a coffee or alcoholic drink that is quite potent. That mixed drink may look girly but it’s strong enough to take the top of your head off!
1. Playing possum.Being mischievous usually to get out of doing something. I’ve heard other people use this saying to talk about someone or something feigning sleep/death. I prefer the even more figurative version myself. Madeline said she’s doesn’t have any math homework but I think she’s just playing possum.
There are plenty ore but that was a sampling of my favorites. What expressions do you use frequently? Are any on my list new to you?
*Post dedicated to Ellen S. Rardin, world-class story teller.
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden: A Quaint and Tranquil Oasis in San Jose
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is located in the Barrio Tournon of San Jose. My boyfriend and I were able to find it using Nokia maps and went a pie, saving ourselves a cab ride. The garden itself is right in the hustle and bustle of city life, a little green oasis right in Chepe. It has a sort of shabby chic feel with overgrowing plants and trees wrapping themselves around the worn down little house that makes up Spirogyra. Fees were reasonable, if a bit high for such a small place, at about $7 for foreigners and $4 for residents/citizens. I did notice a list of fees ranging from $1 to $5 for use of cameras but the staff said nothing of it so I keep my mouth shut. My boyfriend and I were greeted, given a field guide of butterflies and their host plants and sent on our merry way in the garden. Upon entering, you see many plants labeled with numbers that coincide with information on your field guide. I’m not much of a botanist and the fluttering of butterflies was too alluring so I quickly abandoned that part of the guide. My boyfriend and I spent our time admiring the mariposas, attempting to identify them on the guide and checking out some butterfly friends’ like dragon flies and turtles. The flora and fauna were quite enchanting, giving the butterflies places to hide and flit while making their way around the garden.
Turtles waded in a small pool and water flowed from a small waterfall. I found myself a bit disappointed there wasn’t more information on the butterflies themselves. I would have liked to see some information on the varieties and their representation in Costa Rica. I felt like I’d been let loose in a friend’s garden to explore without any real guide. Behind the garden are a few trails into the woods which back up to the zoo but don’t really lead to anywhere. Despite the lack of information and small surroundings, I enjoyed my experience at Spirogyra Butterfly Garden. Any place that gives you a chance to escape San Jose smog and reconnect with nature is to be celebrated. I would love to see the garden offer an audio guide and some interactive displays to illustrate just what a lovely collection of butterflies Costa Rica has!
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Barrio Tournon, Opposite El Pueblo
Open Daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Home is Other People
I have a tendency to fret over things. Okay, it’s more than a tendency. It’s a strong predisposition to ponder, mull over, scrutinize and ruminate over nearly every facet of life. I’m fairly certain there’s a part of my brain that just won’t work if there’s nothing to contemplate incessantly.
And while, some might see such a fact as a character flaw (at times, I do too) I try use this fixation as a way to carefully evaluate my life and seek out my feelings about my surroundings on a regular basis. During my travels to the States for 2 weeks and arrival back to Costa Rica, I had a lot of time to think and observe. You’d think I would have had enough of pondering with all the quiet time I get as the sole native English speaker in a town of 300 people but apparently not. As I watched people arrive home with relieved sloping shoulders and rounded backs strapped with bags full of new treasures in the airport, I felt a shaky and uncomfortable feeling rise up within me. I pressed it down like trash overflowing a waste basket when it rose again days later. It stirred in my stomach while I ran the same errands and took the same routes I had always taken back home, before moving away. I felt the same but disjointed from my surroundings, like some kind of appendage that couldn’t be snapped back into place. The feeling wasn’t exactly bad. It just was.
It wasn’t until I took the bus back from San Jose to La Violeta this evening that I realized the source of the emotions that had been brewing. Laugh all you want but something about the country music brings out the therapist in me. Shuffling through the music on my iPhone (just can’t quit you, baby—the iPhone lives on in Costa Rica), I quickly passed over Miranda Lambert’s “House That Built Me.” As soon as that song begins, my eyes well up like Niagara Falls and I turn in a weepy fool. For those of you who “don’t do” country or don’t know the song, Miranda writes about going back to her childhood home which is now owned by a new family. She sings in the chorus, “If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave/ Won’t take nothing but a memory/ From the house that built me.” I didn’t even have to hear the song to realize that I’d been feeling adrift not because I’m far away from my childhood home but because my definition of “home” is changing. For me, and I’d imagine for other people in similar situations, home is no longer a specific place on the map, with exact longitude and latitude. No, home is other people. Home is a skype call with my sister while my little host sister and a student chime in with giggles and questions. Home is the hilarious and memorable conversations I have with Daniel in both Spanish and English. Home is a warm embrace from my host mother after a couple weeks away. Home is knowing that no matter how far I am from my family their love and support gives me the courage to find myself happy and flourishing just about anywhere on the map.
What the First (Full) Week of School Looks Like in Rural Costa Rica:
It looks like 2nd grade sweeties working hard on birthday calendars for the new school year:
Or a messy desk, whose piles of paper grow by day:
Maybe hours spent pouring over grammar books for your adult students, trying to explain the quirks of your native language (and realizing you have a “thing” for polka dots):
It’s a new weather chart complete with sparkly clouds and neon letters:
Or your little host sister playing teacher with a 1st grade student:
Mr. Dino & el Gatito!
You might see a tour bus full of Ticos coming to discover all the great things La Violeta has to offer (and your students shouting, “buuuuus!”):
Or maybe you’ll receive a freshly picked flower from a 1st grade student:
You’ll see a dark sky and green wildlife on your after school walk through the mountains:
It might look like valentine’s day crafts ready to go for hands-on time with my little sponges:
But most of all, it looks like a lot like this: smiles, love and laughter.
When Things Fall Into Place
Sometimes you have a streak of good days where things just seem to fall into place and you wonder how you got so darn lucky. I’m starting to think maybe Costa Rica’s Pura Vida attitude is permanently glued to me.
Friday afternoon, I went with my host father and little host sister to San Jose. They had to run some errands and I needed to do some work for my visa, which is turning out to be a wild ride but tranquila. Luckily, my amazing Field Director, Flynn, was about to run my errands with me and we got our translator fee’s paid as well as dropped off my official documents at the lawyer’s office. Since our trip was big (and fast! in Costa Rica!) success, we celebrated with some insulin spiking treats at Sweet Sensations in San Pedro. Yes, I did eat ALL of this cupcake-brownie-sundae. Thank God for walking everywhere.
Afterwards, I made a run to Mall San Pedro where I discovered 2 adorable new stores thanks to Flynn. My dreams of a fuller wardrobe were inspired but wallet is already crying. That night, Dany came into San Pedro and I made us a salad and spaghetti, which he at least pretended to really enjoy! I got to spend some time chatting with Meggie, Mary, Liz, Flynn and Ramya that evening and we made plans to check out the Feria Verde the following morning.
Little did I know, I’d fall in love at the Feria Verde. We all traveled there as a group and I was seriously impressed by what the market had to offer. From coffee to pesto to clothing, the feria had a little of everything. Even though I said I was also going to get coffee and a snack, I ended buying iced coffee, a rica empanada, a new pair of drop earrings with the evil eye, a lime green wrap sweater and brick red dress. They were all very reasonably priced even for this second year volunteer. I’m definitely planning on going back next month! Here’s a group shot of us at the market (falta-ing Flynnster and Liz).
After the market, Meggie, Liz and Ramya all headed out to begin the school year at their sites. Mary, Flynn and I stuck around. I browsed the LibroMax book sale at the mall (scored nothing but did borrow a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns from the WT office library). I also bought a long striped blue and white dress from Pague Menos which wasn’t needed but dang, if isn’t cute. I wore it out to Olio, a yummy tapas place, with Mary and Flynn that night. (We were actually a group of Mary’s and machas since Flynn’s first name is Mary.)
I made it back to La Violeta by Sunday afternoon. Now I’m getting myself reading for the first week of teaching. This year has some unexpected changes for me that I’ll blog about once everything gets settled and figured out. Nonetheless, I have a great feeling about this year and looking forward to helping my little English language learners in my newly painted lime green classroom.