Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!
This weeks postcard comes from Liisa Vexler, the writer behind the fab blog Family Freedom Project and a published author behind a book of the same name. Liisa is a Canadian writer and author specializing in the health sector. More recently she writes about her passions, travel and lifestyle. She lives with her husband and two boys ages 7 and 9.
Welcome to Postcard From, Liisa! So, you and your family are expats – where do you live?
We live in a two-bedroom condo across the street from Pacific Ocean in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
I bet that’s a lovely change from the Canadian winters! What’s the weather like?
It’s always hot in Guanacaste, our province. Temperatures range from a low of maybe 27C in the evening to 33-35C midday – all year round. From May to early November there is occasional rain, with the most rain coming in September and October. It’s more humid during this season. The rest of the year there is not a drop of rain and it’s dry. No need to pack long-sleeves, not even for the evening.
Sounds incredible. So, what is it like?
Before the surfers began to arrive at the beach here in the seventies, there were only a couple of families living here. There was no local school or community. The surfers kept coming and the tourist industry was born. Haphazard, unplanned development continued until around 2007 when authorities banned development along the beach.
Today in Tamarindo, you will find a couple of streets, some bits paved, some not. A mix of restaurants, tour sellers, souvenir merchants and surf shops line the streets. A recent count had about 50 restaurants in town – way too many for a town this size. There are people carrying surfboards all over, some Costa Ricans, but mostly tourists. You will also find a community of local residents.
It sounds like a great place to live! What do you do for fun?
My kids surf, hang out with friends, play basketball, soccer, and other regular kid activities. We spend a lot of time at the beach hanging out with other locals or random tourists who happen by. My basketball-loving husband has found a men’s league made up of expats and Costa Rican locals and I enjoy yoga overlooking the ocean.
We love the openness and slow pace of life that exists here.
We have also done a good amount of travelling within the country with the kids and with other families. We have visited volcanoes and hot springs, cloud forests and rainforests, the city and the beach. We have monkeys in our backyard daily and have been on guided night tours searching for snakes and frogs.
Have you travelled elsewhere in Central America?
We spent several days in Granada, Nicaragua. It was the trip that opened our eyes to the possibilities of travel with the kids. They were 4 and 6 and we could see them absorbing so much. That trip inspired the European trip we took a few months later when initially we thought they might be too young.
In two months we are headed to Panama for five days, where we will visit the Panama Canal and attend a wedding in a beach community.
What’s the food like?
Rice and beans are the staple at every meal. Luckily, we really like this, although I did hear my son’s saying they don’t want it for lunch anymore… so maybe it is getting old. We eat tons of local fruits and vegetables that we get at the market on Mondays and Saturdays. We live in a beach town so fresh fish is everywhere and costs less or at most the same as chicken.
To be honest, at home we eat similar meals to what we ate in Canada: pasta, burgers, chicken and veggies – not too exciting. However, as I mentioned earlier, Tamarindo is known for its abundance of restaurants. You can get falafel made by Israelis, pasta and pizza homemade by Italians, empanadas and beef prepared by Argentinians and so much more. I love eating in restaurants here. My favourite is Dragonfly Bar and Grill which serves lovely fine fusion-style food in a casual, yet elegant setting. You must try the black bean hummus served with plantain chips as a starter and the passion fruit cheesecake for dessert. What you have in between is easy – it’s all good!
Oh, and you didn’t ask about drinks, but I’ll offer one anyway. Have a Michelada. It’s a beer of your choice, you specify the brand, served alongside a salt-rimmed glass filled about ¼ full with lime juice. You pour your own beer into the lime juice. It’s delicious, refreshing, and the flavour is quintessentially Costa Rican.
Have you had any embarrassing moments adjusting to life abroad?
Do you know that in Costa Rica kids are supposed to sit in booster car seats until they are twelve years old!? I was stopped and thought the police officer was trying to extort money from me by threatening to give me a ticket for my 8-year old son who wasn’t sitting in one. Luckily, he was too lazy to do the paperwork even though I kept laughing at him. My lawyer-friend filled me in on the law later that day.
Have there been any disasters?
In my book I tell the story of my friend’s son who fell off a cliff and rolled about 30 ft onto the road. He didn’t move for a few moments and then pulled himself up covered in blood from head to toe. That was a disaster. But it could have been worse.
In general, though we have many things go wrong here – no water or power now and again; our car breaks down on the pothole ridden roads, etc. However, we have learned to go with the flow way more than we ever did in Canada. As the Costa Ricans say, Pura Vida – or, pure life. It doesn’t matter. Life is good.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning to visit?
I always recommend that on your first visit to Costa Rica you hire shuttles to take you from place to place. Driving here is treacherous and annoying, especially when you don’t know your way around. There are no shoulders on most roads and streets have no names. We live “on the road to Langosta Beach”.
The cost of a shuttle is often equivalent to the cost of a rental vehicle here because of mandatory rental car insurance which is not quoted at the time of reservation. It is more pleasant to remove that stress from your trip and enjoy the ride(s).
What’s the most useful Spanish you’ve learnt?:
“Una michelada por favor” and “Pura Vida”.
And finally, have you read any new books on your travels lately?
I should also mention my book, The Family Freedom Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Living Abroad with Kids. From Dream to Plan to Reality.: Find Your Freedom.
NB – all images are owned by Liisa Vexler