Pura Vida

Life in full circle

Paradise—With Limitations

Living Pura Vida, with agony and ecstasy

I came back to Potrero, Costa Rica, on October 27, a few days after an earthquake and very heavy rainstorms. As usual, it is agony and ecstasy. Everything is green and lush, and animals seem to be flourishing. Each morning, the howler monkeys greet the day with a great noise. Many species of hummingbirds, songbirds, parrots, and jays fly around my yard. The air is cool, for Potrero, only about 87 or 90 during the day, and down to 80 at night, and the breezes are fresh and consistent.

On the other hand, my first days back were difficult because the earthquake had dislodged a giant Guanacaste tree about 100 meters east of my house, and in the heavy rains it fell into the telephone and power lines, snapping a line of four poles in two, for about 150 meters west. Hot wires and transformers were in the road. The electric company came quickly, to restore power, but when they did so, there were explosions in my house because a power surge blew up every single surge protector and the breaker boxes. Ten days and $1,500 later we have power and a new ground system. My car worked well at first, but is now dead because a heat sensor is corroded. It will take a few days, a week, who knows, before the car can be used.

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The strain of the wet season is evident everywhere—rusted screens, corroded sensors in my car, rusting gates and windows and even the washing machine. The roads are slick and muddy, but still full of potholes, no change. Will they ever pave the roads in this town? Not in my lifetime, I think.

In many ways, the struggles here are similar to the struggles in New York after Sandy. The difference is population density and infrastructure. Not so many people suffer here, as in New York and New Jersey, but there are fewer resources for help.

My friends here are also having their ups and downs. One friend has giardia, and her house is infested with ticks. One friend is building a fancy equestrian facility, and she is filled with happiness and enthusiasm. One friend lost his job and is struggling to make ends meet for his family, while another works two jobs to support her sons.

My Tico and Nico friends are delighted that Obama won re-election (as I am!) but many gringos seem disappointed. I don’t understand why people with Red State attitudes would become expats in a socialist country, yet this seems to be a common theme. Maybe they don’t realize that Costa Rica has been a socialist country at least since 1948? Or maybe they like the benefits of socialism without knowing the origins of their benefits? Why do I get into arguments about Obamacare here in Costa Rica with people who use the Caja (social security system) for their doctors?

At any rate, I am back. No address, no postal deliveries, no Amazon prime. No Whole Foods, no paved roads, no movies or theater or music or cultural events beyond the bands that sing at the bars. My goal is to work on and get a rough draft of my book about the phenomenon of happiness in Costa Rica completed before the summer of 2013. The days are exactly 12 hours, between sunrise and sunset, and with few distractions, except the struggle for survival, I think my goal is reasonable. Fortunately, I plan to study Costa Ricans, not expats. It will be far more agreeable!

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D. is a psychiatrist and book author. She and her husband David Barash have written about sex, war, and human nature.

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