A Trip to the States
I stared back at the TSA agent who had just smiled these words to me. I was confused, partly because I didn’t know TSA agents could talk and partly because I could not connect the celebratory word to anything I had said or done. I smiled and nodded understanding that I should, but ignorant as to why.
We had to change planes in Fort Lauderdale and we had just been whisked through customs, rechecked our check on’s and were now going back through a security check to reenter the terminal.
As I headed toward the security x-ray machines I glimpsed my photo bound inside my open passport, the agent had just returned it to me, and I understood. My portly passport picture had been taken about 3 years ago as we prepared for our move to Costa Rica and it showed me at my heaviest weight ever, about 45 pounds heavier than I am now.
Congratulations indeed and…Welcome back to that place where everyone is wound too tight, rude, wasteful, and self absorbed. At least that is the country I thought I would be returning to.
We have lived in Costa Rica for two years now and this was our first trip back to the U.S. in over a year and a half. We had left to seek out a more simplified lifestyle; one less rushed, less stressed, less filled with stuff. We did not leave for political or religious reasons, or of a thought that the U.S. had begun to sink and we needed to abandon ship.
But still, we did leave thinking there was value in a more stress free, less stuff filled life. So coming back after two years of living in puravidaville I mentally prepared for the reverse culture shock of reentry.
The reality was that most of the negatives in my mind were artifacts of a working life, one in which I was stretched and stretched to the limit. In the end, it wasn’t that USA’ians were so wound tight, just that I needed to be unwound.
Even though I did not experience the reverse culture shock I was expecting there were some things that surprised me, things I noticed, were new, and/or had forgot.
From restaurants to grocery stores and everything in between one of the most striking differences between Costa Rica and the U.S. is choice. There literally is shopping and eating on every corner – at least in McKinney (a suburb of Dallas – where we were staying while in Texas).
The size of the super stores like Target and Walmart (enter Walmart rant here) is staggering. It would take trips to 20 different stores in Costa Rica to accomplish the same amount of shopping one could do in these stores – and the prices, so much lower than in Costa Rica. We stocked up on the things that are expensive in Costa Rica– shaving products, sunscreen, and the like.
In addition to the Mega Stores there were grocery stores to fit every person’s bent; Aldi, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and your standard Tom Thumbs and Albertsons.
Restaurants too! Any flavor you can think of there was a place that served it. It was all overwhelming, and pretty awesome, and it is no wonder how I was able to efficiently have 40 extra pounds on me when I lived there.
I admit it, we ate out a lot on our trip, especially in Dallas where we had favorite haunts that we had frequented before our move. Everywhere we went, regardless of time of day, these establishments seemed to be filled with people.
In Costa Rica eating out is less of a sport and we only do it a couple of times a month. It is not uncommon, here, to be the only guest in an establishment – or to have only one or two other tables filled.
The same goes for shopping, it seems there just is not as many people consuming in Costa Rica.
Coins are Small
This one might sound odd, but after living in Costa Rica and using the local coins here, the U.S. quarter now seems very small – in size. It is the oddest thing – I have used quarters all my life, they were always the same size. Now though, they just seemed tiny because I was used to the larger Costa Rican coins. They seemed the size of nickel.
I had forgot about this little tid-bit of life in North America. Plans made well in advance were trumped by work, kids, or just about anything else that might come up. I remember I used to be like that and I don’t even have kids.
I once was warned that if I cancelled one more dentist appointment I, in no uncertain terms, would be fired as a client. This just doesn’t happen as much in an environment where most people are retired… and want to hang out with each other.
We had multiple cancelations and no-shows throughout the trip.
God I Love Cars
Did you know there is a new Corvette model, one that from the back looks like a better Batmobile? Did you know you can now get side mirrors that have blind-spot indicators? Of course you do if you live in the States. In Costa Rica a car is considered “nice” if it is less than 10 years old.
Our first stop – Dallas – had the best examples of cars. In Dallas a nice car is part of the “see, I am successful” equation. It’s a shame, but man did I love seeing the excess.
I had not driven a car in over a year and a half and was able to get my driving fill as everything in the sprawl of Dallas is twenty minutes away. Oh, and I also drove us from Dallas to Portland, Oregon – that cured any missing-driving I might have had.
It wasn’t just the new car models that got me – it was the new (to me) options. Side mirror blind-spot indicators – why didn’t I think about that? Heated and cooled cup holders, really? Onboard WIFI – that sounds disastrous, but wow.
Upon our return to Dallas, a couple of days before we were to fly back to Costa Rica, our planned airport picker’uper had an emergency; it was only a bit more to rent a car for two days than to take a taxi. This combined with the fact that when we flew out we had to leave my brothers house at 3 a.m. to arrive in time for our flight made renting a car a no brainer.
It was easy to decline the extra insurance. Harder was saying no to the $350 a day Maserati. I swear I saw the Maserati’s headlight wink at me as we passed it exiting the parking lot in our Chevrolet Cruze.
I Could Live Here
One of the most shocking revelations on our trip was there was a few times where I found myself saying, “I could live here.” First driving through the mountain towns of Colorado, then staying in downtown Boise, Idaho and finally spending time with a friend in Bend, Oregon with its laid back vibe and beautiful views.
Please remember, I dream. I have always. No matter where we travel – then and now – I grab the free real-estate magazines – you know, to check prices and dream. I did that just about everywhere we went on this trip and seeing the prices in these places put the kibosh on any dreaming. Costa Rica has spoiled us with million-dollar views on a budget.
… are not as self absorbed as I remembered. We were in Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin, in addition to my hometown of Dallas. The best example I can give of patience, restraint, and stateside pura vida happened in Colorado.
We were flying from Portland to Wisconsin. What better route than to go through Denver? Well, mom was paying for the flight so we chose the cheapest flight, which happened to be one with a connection at DIA. About 20 miles from the airport the pilot notified his passengers that he was requested by the tower to circle for a while, as there were storms.
A while turned out to be an hour. The next communication was that they were shutting down the airport because of “weather” and we were to head on over to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We ended up landing in Cheyenne and sat on the tarmac for a bit. The bit was at least three hours as a few of the passengers requested and were allowed to exit the plane. Apparently there is a three-hour rule that allows passengers to leave – so they did.
Finally we were allowed to land at Denver International. You can imagine the chaos of thousands of peope trying to get to their destinations. Jen and I looked at each other and agreed we would be staying in Denver that night (as it turned out, for two more nights).
The amazing thing was the composure of the people in the customer service line for Frontier (our airline). Clearly people were missing important events; one lady was headed to a wedding were she was a participant. There was no way she was going to make it – rightfully she was upset, was crying, but not shouting and carrying on.
While we had more flexibility in our travel than most, we were going to miss seeing family who drove from Michigan to Wisconsin to see us. We ended up rerouting and instead of flying to Madison we flew to Milwaukee and got to Wisconsin two days later, rather than three and were able to at least have lunch with Jen’s family that drove to see us.
Still, the composure of those who lives were affected by weather, which turned out to have been a tornado, was something I did not expect. This story also demonstrates why it is helpful to fly direct or fly a bigger airline. Direct because once you get there – you are there, whether you are late or not. And a bigger airline has more flights – should you miss your connection you won’t have to wait two days to get to your final destination.
All in all I did not experience the reverse culture shock I had anticipated. Instead, I had a great time visiting family, friends, seeing new places and experiencing new things.
Once we landed in Costa Rica and grabbed our luggage and hugged our friends who were picking us up, we exited the airport, merged onto the auto-pista and pointed toward Grecia. There in front of us were the mountains of the Central Valley. I had my window partly rolled down to feel the cool fresh air. As the short ride progressed I felt my body relaxing from the stress of a long trip and as we climbed the final mountain ridge to our house all I could think was, it’s good to be Home.
Until next time,
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In addition to writing on this blog, Greg has written for other online publications and has written two popular books about living in Costa Rica:
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