When you sign up for the Tico lifestyle, you agree to let go of certain … amenities. You could call this an annoyance. You could call this place uncivilized. Or you could look at these inconveniences as the raw, hard truths that few first-worlders typically see.
We arrived back in Costa Rica Monday after a lovely Christmas break, having spent three weeks enjoying all the comforts of home like air conditioning and dishwashers and clothes dryers. But I was prepared to face the heat and scrub the plates for all the other payoffs of living in a jungle paradise.
But that first morning, I got out of bed ready to brush my teeth. I turned the handle on the sink and … nothing.
And then I remembered – water rationing is happening now. The dry season (or brown season as Lee calls it) is upon us, coinciding unfortunately with the high tourist season. Less water + more demand = rationing.
Initially, fresh from my first world visit, I was annoyed. Expletives rattled around in my brain as I thought of all the things I couldn’t do right away – like get started on the mountain of laundry, or flush the toilet, or wash my hands, or bathe.
WHAT KIND OF PLACE IS THIS, where you turn the faucet and nothing happens??
But once I finished with my privileged person’s tantrum, I reframed my view of the situation. This was simple. This was real. At home, I turn on the water with no thought as to whether or not it will flow. It always does. And while that’s good, it means I take it for granted. I use more of it than I should because it’s always there.
Back in the states there is a good deal of hand-wringing happening right now about water shortages in California, and rightfully so. There is hand-wringing here in Costa Rica too – development is happening more quickly in this small village than the infrastructure can support.
But for now, it’s handled in the only way possible, and perhaps the most sensible way if you think about it. When we use up a lot of water, we have to wait. We have to be patient for more water to return.
The outages aren’t lasting all day, thankfully. During the night, the water authority shuts off the water to the whole town, allowing the tanks to refill. Sometime between 8-10 a.m., the water is turned back on. Meanwhile, we’ve stockpiled bottles of water so we can brush our teeth and wash our hands, and are lucky enough to have a pool so we can refill toilets if needed.
That’s another thing – I took for granted how much water we use for one simple flush. But when you have to walk back and forth with pitcher after pitcher of pool water to fill the tank (“Seriously? It’s still not full?”), the reality is harder to ignore.
And no one is protesting in front of the water authority building (is there even one?). No one is threatening to vote out the politicians. When we turn the faucet and the water doesn’t flow, that’s just how it is. We get on with our day.
Another eye opener here is the reality of all the trash we produce. At home, you simply hide your trash in the back lane like a child might hide a tooth under her pillow, and then the magical trash fairies come and haul it away.
But here, there is no public trash service. There is a dump, and I have to take my own trash there. I put it in the back of our Subaru and we drive with the windows down because of the stench. Then we roll into the filthy dirty landfill, careful not to run over any of the stray dogs or vultures, and we literally throw our bag of trash onto the heap. And then we give an employee two dollars for that privilege.
Nothing makes you want to recycle and compost like watching your trash join mountains of other trash, and being charged by the bag. So all of our organic waste, we throw it (gleefully) into the jungle. We recycle. And we try to limit our household waste.
Electricity is another area where we’ve had to cut back. Power is very very costly here. Our home has wall-mounted air conditioners in each room, but we rarely turn them on because the bills are so high. We have a dryer, but it’s an energy hog, so all our clothes go on the line outside.
Sometimes I long for the soft, fluffy goodness of a piece of clothing that has been dried in a dryer, rather than the stiff scratchiness of underwear that just came off the line. But even with taking these measures, our power bills have been several hundreds of dollars each month, so what choice do we have?
I swear, if I ever build a home it’ll have solar panels. Pay a few of these bills and you start to see the real beauty of natural energy sources.
So now I’ll step off my soap box. I’m not trying to preach. I’m not trying to paint Costa Rica as a place of negatives. Instead, I’m trying to change my perspective. Rather than being annoyed by all these things, I think it’s actually important to confront the reality of our consumption and our waste. And then I need to take what I’ve learned here and live a bit differently, no matter where I call home.