I am grateful to be living in Costa Rica because this beautiful tropical nation inspires me daily to take control of my health. Having just returned from a trip to Canada, I am reminded of why being in a first-world country makes it so easy to perpetually be carrying a few extra pounds. Fast food is convenient and inexpensive, both in relation to money and time, which might otherwise be spent preparing healthy meals. Much of the “daily grind” of the so-called “first world” involves visiting vast shopping centers that are filled with unbelievably huge selections of everything we need (and, of course, so many things that we don’t). Being there makes my head spin, and the next thing I know, I’m grabbing everything that catches my eye.
Life in Costa Rica happens on a smaller scale in more ways than one. There are less stores; less options on the store shelves; less fast food restaurants per capita. There is also less garbage in my trash bag at the end of the week, less junk fashion filling up my closet, and less useless desire clogging up my mind. Because, as much as I’d like to think that I’m a strong person, I know that if I see a logo or hear a name mentioned enough times, my temptation is bound to peak as much as anyone else’s.
Since moving to Costa Rica, though, I have lost a significant amount of weight and gained the energy, the desire, and the will to exercise daily. And I’m not special or unique. I know that this same shift has happened in the lives of many of my expat friends and neighbors who, like me, used to succumb, far more often, to the unhealthy lifestyles that surrounded them back home. But when they moved to Costa Rica, their mindsets changed over time. They, like me, were inspired by nature, fresh food, and community in Costa Rica. These three things have inspired thousands of migrants from all over the world to live their best lives in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s Lush, Pristine Nature
Nature is a broad term which resonates with Costa Rica in many ways. And it is the idea of nature being everywhere around us here in Costa Rica that is a constant reminder to me that I am one with nature and nature is one with me. Sounds airy-fairy, right? But imagine that you are sitting outside on your terrace, sipping your locally-grown, roasted, and brewed coffee, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle; where the fresh air is filled with colorful birds and butterflies. And now imagine that you’re sitting on a street corner concrete patio, sipping on your coffee from a paper cup, with cars and busy people streaming past you, each of them dripping with single-use trash and incessant noise. For me, it’s an easy choice as to which “fantasy” inspires positive feelings and which one I could do without.
Surely, there are perks that come with living in the developed world over the developing world. However, nature is the perk of our still-developing region of Costa Rica that I don’t want to be without now that I’ve lived so close to it. There is nothing like the restful sleep that comes with living in my mountainside Ojochal home. My neighborhood is quiet at night, with only the sounds of frogs, crickets, and the burbling of the nearby river to lull me to sleep. Fresh breezes blow through my large, screened-in windows, which I keep open all year so that I can enjoy the clean, humid, and oxygen-rich air that the tropical forests in the foothills of the Costa Ballena provide.
And when I wake up each morning, naturally, without an alarm, at just after 5 am to the sun coming up over the misty mountains, and the birds beginning their daily song, I feel so energized and inspired to lace up my running shoes and to hit the quiet, dirt roads that wind up and down the mountainside. With hardly anyone else on the roads, except for my fellow trekkers, morning walks or runs in our Costa Ballena communities are an attraction-filled pleasure. Think giant electric-blue morphos flopping past you, or peccaries scurrying across the grass, or even a troupe of howler monkeys crossing the jungle’s canopy above you. Compared to having a loud beep-beep-beep jolt me out of bed while it’s still dark and cold, it’s easy for me to understand why, in Costa Rica, I feel so much more motivated to exercise than I did in Canada.
Fresh Foods in Costa Rica
As much as I loved eating poutine and pizza while on holiday, I know that junk food would be so much more a part of my regular routine if I were living in Canada again. That’s not to say that there aren’t unhealthy options here in Costa Rica. But even if I go to a fried chicken restaurant in my home community on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I know that the chickens they use in their meals are locally raised and produced. Our neighborhood Costa Ballena restaurants that make quick and easy fried foods cook it fresh on site. And there are always a number of salads, rice, beans, and grilled or roast meat options to choose from instead or to compliment your meal for a more rounded nutritional profile. Western fast-food restaurants are often lacking in salad options — especially when you are craving a fresh, locally-grown assortment of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. This means that many who lack the time or energy to cook their own meals are missing out on a balanced diet.
When it comes to drinks, we are looking at many of the same issues when it comes to having healthy options in Canada and countries like it. Coca Cola and Pepsi have a stronghold over global markets that also include Costa Rica. However, there is a large and growing market for alternative beverages that are being locally-produced, right here in the Costa Ballena. We have a number of small “micro-brewers” of things like kombuchas, ginger beer, and craft beer. Plus, there is always a fresh supply of some type of daily juice blend at the local soda (small local restaurant) with wildly delicious flavors unlike any you will experience in a traditional fast-food establishment. It may still be filled with sugar but buying it will have lasting positive effects on the local community that makes and sells it.
Being surrounded by friendly, peace-loving locals and like-minded expats who were also wanting to get away from a mass-consumerist lifestyle gives me daily inspiration. Many of the people around me doing great things with their lives, volunteering their time at an animal sanctuary or teaching English at the local schools. Most of my friends and neighbors spend portions of their day digging in their gardens, growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and preparing delicious and fresh meals for themselves and their loved ones (pets included!) They are getting exercise by walking around their yards, picking papayas, citrus fruits, and coconuts directly from the trees in their gardens. And when we meet up at the end of the week for a well-deserved cerveza, we share in the stories of where we went, what we grew, or what wildlife we sighted along the way. To have active and engaged people around me makes me want to be a more active and engaged person, too. We are the company we keep and I feel blessed to be in great company in Ojochal, Costa Rica.