Wrench. The tool. The one she needs to turn on the shower because the handle is missing. It’s late, and she has to wait for the maintenance manager to make his way back to the property – not an easy trek when the Pacific licks your doorstep; streets are streams. It’s rainy season in Costa Rica, which translates to mud. Tourist season is still a few weeks away.
Her fluent Spanish does not include the word for “wrench.” She doesn’t need the faucet fixed; she already knows that isn’t possible. She just needs to borrow a wrench; she will manage the rest.
Pantomime works. The experience has now inscribed “llave ingelsa” into her mental dictionary. English key. Wrench.
This is Sarah, nearly three years after she helped us open our cozy Belhaven, NC, bed and breakfast. This is Sarah at her best – the person you want in your boat if you are shipwrecked on a deserted island.
She tells me of the day a mischievous troop of capuchin monkeys made a mess of her kitchen and the night a bat slid into her 100-square foot casita and bounced around for hours before it found its way out. And the time her only pair of flip-flops got caught in a rogue wave, and she had to chase them down or suffer the consequences of walking barefoot to town on gravel roads – after work – to replace them. As challenging as some days have been, the only unkind thing Sarah says about living in Costa Rica is, “It can be frustrating.”
I name the marketable skills Sarah has stuffed into her backpack: Flexible to withstand constant change; comfortable with approximations; undaunted by visitors who don’t respect closed doors. Her physical strength is obvious. The terrain is challenging, and many places worth going are not accessible by car. Less obvious is her inventiveness. Things break splendidly where heat, humidity and salt air form a trifecta for atmospheric corrosion. Technology works intermittently. She lists the workarounds she has improvised to coax more life out of dying appliances. There is no Amazon delivery service, and the nearest Walmart is a day away.
Welcome to paradise, where luxury is a dry towel untouched by mildew.
The Happiest Place on Earth is Not Disney World
The Happy Planet Index has ranked Costa Rica — a Third World economy – in its top spot, based on a harmonious equation: wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and ecological footprint. The upshot? Using natural resources efficiently, people live long and happy lives.
In Costa Rica, nature is Commander-in -Chief. Without human interference and management, the jungle will tear down concrete and conceal evidence of human existence. Just this year, archeologists uncovered one of the largest-ever ancient Mayan cities – a huge network of plazas and pyramids – hidden under the lush canopy of Guatemala.
With only .03 percent of the world’s land mass, Costa Rica has managed to preserve 25 percent of its country. It is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, and within Costa Rica, the remote Osa Peninsula has the largest portion of preserved land – 60 percent. This is where Sarah lives and works at the Hotel Jinetes De Osa, a rustic beachside retreat on Drake Bay.
Her commute is a 185-step climb up and down a steep incline, surrounded by flora and fauna. Her schedule is dictated by the tides and the sun. Her diet is dictated by what is locally produced, raised or caught in the sea. “This is what it’s like to live in balance with nature,” Sarah tells me.
Family is everything here. Even those unrelated by blood or patriotism work together like family, celebrate like family. There is no sense of “not my job.” Everyone leans on everyone else. This is a place where getting even small things accomplished takes relay-race trust – a value far greater than precision.
It’s hard to live here, but it’s harder to leave. Imagine Adam and Eve willingly vacating the Garden of Eden, where everything is perfect, almost perfect, at the top of the Happy Planet Index.
You can’t possibly know the wealth of knowledge you will gain the instant you step off the water taxi into the warm surf, baggage over your head. Timing your debarkation with the waves, the captain yells, “Now!” Hesitate, and you risk being hit by the boat.
This is the price of paradise. This is Sarah three years later.