The Costa Rican Meltdown Hour

It’s inevitable.

If you spend enough time in Costa Rica it’s bound to happen.

The meltdown.

There will be a moment where you look around at your little paradise and want to pull your hair out. I’d read about it so affectionately described by Nadine Pisani in The Costa Rica Escape Manual , but had been lucky so far. A few tasks that I had thought would be lengthy had turned out to be quick and efficient, such as increasing the internet speed in the house. However, other things that I had expected to be easy, weren’t.

I’m so used to the conveniences and instant gratification that the United States commits to delivering, that it’s rendered me with the inability to accept the things that I cannot change and impatient with the things I can change. Therefore, my own meltdown followed an unexpected sequence when I missed the train for the simple reason that I misunderstood the man when he told me the schedule. After that, it was a snowball affect. I began to doubt my capability of being able to handle the differences between this country and my own. I started to feel less brave and more like someone who had unrealistic expectations about what life would actually be like here.

The source of my meltdown stemmed from my three L’s of Costa rica:



(Cost of) Living

Let’s start with language.

I was drawn to this country for the sole purpose of learning Spanish and I still felt like I couldn’t understand anything. This was exceptionally frustrating considering I had felt like I spent a small fortune studying Spanish the first 5 weeks I had arrived.

I didn’t understand the man at the train station…so I missed the train and had to wait almost an hour for the next one. Taking the bus would’ve rendered me stuck in traffic for an hour also, so there was no difference.  I wasn’t going anywhere important, but I was so mad I couldn’t see straight. The distance I was traveling was less than 15 miles.

An hour to go less than 15 miles. 


Which brings me to Logistics

Train to San Jose at the Heredia station.

What I’ve learned is that the efficiency of things will often depend on if it’s a government run entity or privately owned entity. The privately owned entities are much more efficient.

Take going to the movies for example. Some of the costa rican movie theaters are up to date with the world of pre-purchasing your ticket online. You can even reserve your seat and pre-order snacks as well. Ahh…the modern world….

Trying to buy your bus or train ticket online in this country? Forget it! It doesn’t exist! You have to physically go to the bus station to buy your ticket for the limited amount of buses that they offer. There isn’t even a way to know if the seats are sold out.

No seat? No problem! You can stand.

Yes. You are allowed to stand. For a short train ride to San Jose or Alajuela from Heredia, this is no big deal and isn’t out of the ordinary. But a standing 5 hour bus ride from San Jose to Sámara is a different story.

If your taking the public bus on the weekend make sure to go to the bus station a day in advance to buy your ticket.

Sounds simple, right? Wrong. If you’re going to San Jose from Heredia just to buy a bus ticket for the next day, you need to dedicate at least  4 hours to catch the bus, buy the ticket, and ride the bus back through the traffic.

San Jose is only about 7 miles from Heredia.

The traffic is beyond ridiculous and there doesn’t seem to be anyone working on a solution.

Public transportation is, however, one of the most affordable things in Costa Rica. Unlike other things.

Cost of living.

If anyone told you that it’s cheap to live in Costa Rica, they’re lying. Wages are low and groceries are high. Sure, some things are cheaper than others, like fruits from the market.

Farmer’s market every Saturday in Heredia.

When I arrived I told myself that I wouldn’t buy imported things. I could live without cereal, couldn’t I? I remember wanting to make simple no-bake oatmeal cookies for the family I was staying with and the horror when I saw that peanut butter was $8 for 16 ounces. I can buy 80 ounces for that cost in the states. When I had heard that Costa Rica was expensive it was from tourists who had visited tourist destinations, buying things at tourist prices. Or so I had thought.

The truth is, Costa Rica is expensive for everyone in every part of the country.

Dealing with the meltdown

Sweating on the bus from Nosara to San Jose. No air conditioning.

So there I was in tears and ruminating about all of the things that I found infuriating in this country just because I had missed the train. I was also accompanied by a slew of self-defeating thoughts.

Now 4 years of studying psychology and 2 years of training to be a professional counselor, you would think that I would be able to eliminate and combat these thoughts. However, I began to think;

Why am I here?

Why did I think I could learn another language?

Why am I wasting my time?

Then it spirals

I’m a loser.

I can’t make friends in this country because I can’t speak the language.

I’m too scared and shy to talk to anyone.

I’m still single.

(Ok, so that last one is a joke. I like being single)

My point is this. Those problems that you left on the plane can catch up to you when you least expect them. I’m shy in the states. I worry about what I’m doing with my time. I question my choices when I’m home. Costa Rica didn’t create those doubts, I did.

You have to rationalize your negativity to eliminate it. Or you can choose to continue your meltdown. What did I do? I took out my cellphone and started writing this post. Before I had started writing I had been prepared to tell you about all of the horrible things about Costa Rica, and how it’s Costa Rica’s fault that I’m having this meltdown, but upon making my choice to write I utilized my time rather than wasting it twiddling my thumbs waiting on the train.

And that was the problem at hand: the train. NOT all of this other stuff that I had generated by becoming upset. I had created those problems, thus leading myself into a meltdown about things that had nothing to do with what was happening in this moment.

So what if there’s traffic? I like that the cities are unique and don’t have freeways running through them. It’s unique. So what if things are expensive here? you just have to accept it and move on. I was still pretty upset at my lack of Spanish speaking abilities, but I could make a choice to give up or keep going and trust that learning Spanish (and writing) will serve a higher purpose someday.

So eventually I took a deep breath, hopped on the train, and went towards my destination.

-Sweet C

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