Some of you may know that I'm not much of a fan of creepy, crawly, slithery things yet here I am in Costa Rica which is one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet. Being recognized for this bio-diversity of course means that there is a tremendously large number of species of insects, reptiles, mammals, plants, etc. And no matter where you are in the country, you risk having chance encounters with some of these creatures from time to time (there are 140 species of snakes in Costa Rica, 23 of them being venomous).
So we recently had a bunch of yard cleanup completed in our backyard (which is part of a dry forest). Now, despite the massive cleanup, I know that there is still a good chance of encountering "stuff" whenever I venture back there. I learned in our very early stages of being here that it's always best to have your guard up when out working in the yard (or even just hanging out in the great outdoors for that matter). Every morning as I'm getting ready to head out into the backyard, I slather on my SPF50, grab my sombrero, put on a pair of socks, rubber boots (a very classy look) and go grab my trusty machete.
This morning was one of those typical mornings where I had a plan and knew what I wanted to get done in the 4 hours before the sun would start getting too hot to work outside. I grabbed my machete, a rake, and a wheelbarrow and headed down into our recently excavated property. Should be pretty easy and straightforward, there won't be anything out there that can get me...it's just dirt, some branches and a few weeds here and there.
Much to my surprise as I started moving a little bit of dirt near an old log, all of the sudden right in front of me was a very bright red snake with yellow'ish and black stripes coming out of a small burrow. It immediately started slithering to try to hide. So, of course, I did what anyone would do and grabbed my phone to take a few pictures. I honestly would have preferred that it just leave instead of trying to hide right where I was working. So of course I took my rake and gently moved the dirt a bit more (being careful not to hurt it). That's when it came from its hiding spot (where I got a really good look at it) and it started heading in the opposite direction of me. Eventually finding a place to hide underneath another log that was close by. It wasn't a large snake by any means, perhaps about eighteen inches long, and its head was about the size of the tip of my pinkie finger. But nonetheless not being a fan of snakes, I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a few beats when I saw it, not just because it was a snake but because I was quite certain what I saw was the venomous Central American Coral snake.
Once the snake had safely gone to a new hiding spot, I posted one of my pictures onto a Snakes of Costa Rica Facebook group in hopes I would get confirmation of the species. The tricky thing with these snakes in particular is that there are the "real" Central American Coral Snakes which possess a lethal dose of neurotoxic venom, and then there are other snake species (False Corals) that possess very similar colors and patterns but are completely harmless. Sure enough, within minutes, I received several messages confirming that this specimen was in fact a true Central American Coral Snake...holy crap...
A lot of people's first instinct would be to take the machete and kill it; however, these snakes are actually of tremendous medical importance, and truth be told, they aren't out to get you (there is another species of snake here that takes that spot). They will slither away and hide as they don't want anything to do with you...and in this case, this species of snake is known to eat other snakes...so how bad is it to have one on our property as long as it doesn't bother us or cause harm.
*Here's a wee bit of information about this snake species and take note, this one is a little creepy, it's super colorful and vibrant (it actually looks very beautiful) but given the right circumstances it's venom can pack a heck of a punch. It's venom has the potential to cause severe neurotoxicity and respiratory failure if a bite is left untreated and it's also considered to be one of the most toxic venoms of any snake on earth. It's also interesting to note that the Central American Coral Snake (or Micrurus Nigrocintus) is a snake that is part of the Elapidae family (which also includes Cobras, Mambas, and Taipans - all of which are deadly). While the coral snakes look beautiful, they are a "do not touch" if you ever encounter one. The good news is that I did not get bitten and turns out that Coral snakes are apparently a very shy and timid snake so encounters that lead to bites are supposedly quite rare. These creatures, no matter how scary or creepy all have an important role in the eco-system of this beautiful country and the world in general so it's vital that they be respected as much as possible.
Each day there are new and exciting experiences here (some better than others), but it's all what you make of those experiences. For me, this experience was a good reminder that it's important to always be on your toes and aware of your surroundings (similar to my experiences going into Mechanical shops and live Railyards - your head needs to be on a swivel looking out for potential safety concerns; the same applies when working in the outdoors in a tropical country; it's just a different kind of safety concern that lurks out here...
...just another wonderful day in paradise!
*Note: I'm no snake expert, this is simply information that I have read prior to and after having encountered this snake for the first (and hopefully last) time.
Early on in the year I had posted some information about the cost of living in Costa Rica and since we are almost at year-end I thought it would be a good idea to provide you with an update to see where those costs are today. I hope that anyone who may be thinking about whether or not an adventure like this is something that they can do financially might take an interest in seeing what these regular expenses can be like. Arguably, coming from Canada we have an incredibly high cost of living (which varies considerably depending on where you are in Canada). Not unlike Canada a similar concept applies in Costa Rica...wherever you decide to settle down in the country needs to be a serious consideration as costs can vary considerably (if that's important to you of course).
Before I jump into things, it might be a good idea to put a few disclaimers to the information being provided.
These costs are based on our experiences and purchasing / lifestyle habits
We are located in the province of Guanacaste, and more specifically just outside of the tourist hotspot of Tamarindo, so you can expect the cost of goods and services to be higher than many other parts of the country
We only purchased a vehicle in November of this year, so our cost of gas does not reflect a full picture for the year, neither does any type of vehicle maintenance since we haven't needed any yet
We own our house so there is no monthly rent factored into our monthly costs shown below
We are a family of two (zero kids) and not here full-time
Monthly average spend on basic requirements (all costs shown in USD)
Groceries: $560 (includes alcoholic beverages)
Cellphone service X 2: $5
Entertainment / Dining out: $144
Propane (bbq/pizza oven): $10 (refill of 100lb tank twice per year)
Total average monthly costs (not including the "additional" category listed below): $1,190 USD
Some of the additional expenses to consider (but not limited to):
Insurance (car, house, health)
Other expenses (tools, gas, furniture, repairs, general house/property stuff, pool supplies, etc)
Property / Corporation taxes
Border runs /trips outside the country (as a non-resident on a tourist visa you must leave the country every 90 days or less depending on the visa stamp provided to you upon entry)
Travel / touring the country
Remember, these are our average monthly costs for the essential stuff, groceries, utilities, internet, phone, HOA, etc. The costs will vary depending on your individual situation. If you move down here expecting to consume all of the brand name foods that you've grown to love in Canada or the USA or wherever you are from, then your costs will undoubtedly go up significantly (assuming you can find all of those items). Also, if you can't live without A/C running 24/7 expect a nasty surprise in terms of your electric bill. Generallly speaking, electricity is not super expensive here, but as soon as you throw A/C into the mix (as well as a clothes dryer), you'd better be ready for the potential sticker shock when the bill comes in.
For what it's worth here are my two cents...
I think that many people move here thinking they will just bring their North American lifestyles with them which I guess is fine (to each their own), but doing so pretty much defeats the purpose of coming here. You are moving to a foreign, developing country, either you learn to appreciate and adapt to a new and different way of life or be prepared to pay the price and perhaps end up regretting your move (people will not adapt to you...you need to adapt to them). If you aren't willing to adjust from your sacred 1st world problems / privileges then you might want re-think what you're intent is. Living in Costa Rica isn't for everyone, yet so many people get wrapped up by the beautiful beaches & tropical lifestyle that they don't even consider the true reason they are making the move. Every day is not "happy hour" at the beach bar filled with endless 2 for 1 guaro sours or cervezas.
....if you've ever dreamt of doing something like this, make a plan and stick to that plan as much as possible (of course a little flexibility doesn't hurt, and if you can predict the next global pandemic maybe try planning around that as well - don't make the mistake we made), otherwise stick to your plan. Most importantly be realistic and ask yourself if this is something you and your family really want to do. It was a passion of ours for years, we made our plan, we did it and are loving every minute of it.
...till next time
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Up until now I really haven't had a need to head up to Nicaragua but since my visa was set to expire in Costa Rica in about seven days and god knows I was in no mood to fly to the wintry cold of Canada, it was time to try one of these so called border runs. Now a lot of people would probably hop in their car and drive up to the border, park their vehicle and walk across, do the song and dance and come back...I didn't want to fuss around with that, I wanted to do this as simple and efficiently as possible, so instead, I a border run through a local tour company Native's Way Costa Rica. This was by far one of the best decisions I've made since I've been here. For a mere $65 USD, this tour company picked me up just outside of my gated community, did all of the leg-work to make sure the entry and exit of Nicaragua would go as smooth as possible including the various taxes that would need to be paid. Sounded pretty slick and almost too good to be true but what the heck?
I booked my trip for December 11, as they only do this group border run on Sundays. The tour starts in the morning by picking up other clients in the Playa Langosta and Tamarindo area. My pickup at the soccer field in Villareal was scheduled for 7:10am with a disclaimer that they could be up to ten minutes late. I arrived at the pickup point at 7am just to make sure I wouldn't miss it. At about 7:15 I see a Mercedes Benz passenger van heading my way, and sure enough it was Native's Way coming to pick me up, right on time. I board the van and off we go. We made our way up towards the next town over (Huacas) where we stopped and picked up a few other clients. Then we hit the road towards Liberia, with a stop at the intersection to Playa del Coco and then a stop in Liberia proper, and finally a direct shot to the Peñas Blancas border crossing. The ride up to the border was pretty much uneventful and the scenery was not all that different than that of what I've been accustomed to in our part of Guanacaste (the one difference I noticed though was the amount of banana plants as we got farther North.), they seemed to be everywhere. I kind of want to try growing a banana plant now!
As we approached the border crossing we came upon a gigantic lineup of cargo transport trucks, it had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about three miles long, just truck after truck after truck, many of which looked like they had been camped out there for days. To be expected I guess, as the road we were travelling on was the Pan-American highway which pretty connects the Americas together and serves as a major roadway for truck cargo traffic...I couldn't help but wonder what kind of goodies were in some of those trucks, just knowing how far south some of them had likely originated, and what some of those countries are known for...
Anyways, we pulled up to the Costa Rican exit at about 10am where our guide requested all of our passports so he could go get the exit stamps done and pay the subsequent taxes.over to the gate attendant. A few minutes later the guide comes back and we proceed to a parking area where we were instructed to leave our bags in the bus and only take our passports, wallets, vaccine / COVID information with us from that point, only brining the bare minimum so that we wouldn't have to pass through scanners. We made our way to the first stop which was just two Nicaraguan gentlemen and had to show them our passports and our COVID info. Neither of the gentlemen seemed to really give a crap about what they were looking at in our passports and COVID information...I'm sure it was all just a loose formality as a result of government bureaucracy. After that quick stop we proceeded to a small sanitario (sanitary) booth located just before the lineup to the entrance of the Nicaraguan immigration building. At the booth you either had to show a recent PCR test or your vaccine card, the attendant then stamped a little piece of paper with the date, handed it to you, and that was it. As the group of eighteen of us were taking our turns going to the sanitario booth, our guide told us all congregate to the left side of the immigration entrance (the right side of the entrance was the maze of people standing in line just waiting for their turn to get into the office and go through the immigration process). Once we had all finished providing our COVID info, we were taken directly into the immigration building, handed our passports to the guide again (that was a little scary considering my passport was brand new and I wasn't too keen on giving it up too easily...but alas, I had to give it to the guide). Our guide walked away past the immigration kiosks and into an office while we all waited patiently to see what was next. About fifteen minutes later, he came back with batches of the passports we had handed to him, handed them to a particular immigration officer, she stamped them and then we were whisked away across to the other side of the building which was the Nicaraguan border exit...stood in line there for another ten or fifteen minutes, got our passports stamped with an exit stamp and then we each got our passports back. As our guide was handing us our passports he told us we should immediately head over to Costa Rican immigration because there were long lines of people to get into the country...I thought to myself "oh great this is where things will slow down and what was a pretty smooth border run would get spoiled"...but nope...there were maybe five people ahead of us in three different lines...so less than ten minutes later we were getting our new Costa Rican visa stamp. It's important to note that when entering Costa Rica as a tourist, you must have an exit ticket as proof that you will be departing the country within 90 days, and you must know where in Costa Rica you will be staying. It's hit and miss whether or not the immigration officer asks for this information but you need to have it. In my case, I was asked where I was going and that was it, and he proceeded to stamp my visa for 90 days - Woohoo!
All in all, from the time we arrived at the Nicaraguan immigration building to the time we left and we're crossing back into Costa Rica, we spent no more than maybe 40 minutes in Nicaragua. I was blown away by how quickly everything happened...meanwhile, the folks that were just showing up to the border crossing on their own, were likely not as lucky as they couldn't simply bypass the long lines, I can only imagine how long of a wait they had to endure.
Once we had all gotten through the Costa Rican immigration process, we boarded our lovely Mercedes Benz van and away we went heading back home. I was dropped off at the soccer field in Villareal, and made my way back to my house by 2pm...the entire trip from start to finish was right about seven hours...incredible!
It was actually a very uneventful trip (which is good), any snag with anyones passport could have caused massive delays at the border...people have asked if we got to see some of the sights of Nicaragua, and check out some shops...nope, there was nothing of the sorts in the immediate area, and really, that was far from being the purpose of this trip. Next time, perhaps we'll spend a few days in the country and check things out, but for now, the trip did exactly what it was intended to do - renew my visa.