Benefits of Being an Early Riser in Costa Rica

If there is one thing I could do in my sleep, it would probably be driving to the airport.  I don’t do much driving, but when I do it’s usually the 45min trip into the airport to drop someone off or pick them up.  I’ll do it anytime, but in particular I prefer to go early in the morning, the 5am or even 4am departures. I never imagined I’d willing type those words and stand by them, but a lot of things in Costa Rica actually facilitate and benefit the early riser.

One of things I dreaded most about growing up in Wisconsin was waking up in sub zero temperatures in the pitch dark.  I’ll never forget working construction over winter break in college, wearing four layers of clothes and working the first hour of the day in darkness before the sun would even rise.  How could someone will themselves out of their toasty bed at that time? That just goes against human nature. I don’t think any amount of coffee should convince scientists that early rising helps your health under those conditions.

Based on that trauma growing up, I never imagined I would embrace it in Costa Rica.  However, if you remove the temperature variable and give me a little bit of dawn to work with, I’ll make it the most productive moments of my day.  

Honestly, to really get anything done in Costa Rica efficiently, you should really complete it before 8am.  I learned this one day going to solicit internet service. I arrived at 11am and was directed to take a number and waited almost 45 minutes just to talk to someone.  Unfortunately, I was missing a document and was instructed to return the next day. The agent, seeing the look on my face as I glanced over to the line that would surely await me the next day, said the following: “If you can get here before 8am, there is almost no line and we can help you right away.”  Sure enough, the next day I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. I was hooked.

Speedy service was one thing, but there are other enhanced features rising early in Costa Rica.  For one, we can get some amazing sunrises over the mountains and the birds are so pleasant. Even in the city where I live, if you’re up early before the transit soundtrack starts, you’ll hear sweet melodies from a variety of birds in the area.  I have this beautiful yellow breasted bird that arrives every morning on the power line outside my office window just a chirpin’ away. If you live in the country or forest you’re in for a real experience with exposure to crickets, frogs, and infinite birds.  My favorite bird sighting was that of a red scarlet macaw that I saw at 6am.

Daylight is a precious commodity in Costa Rica.  Situated near the equator we only get about 12 hours of daylight and sunrise happens usually by 5:30am.  Even if you sleep in till 8am you feel like you’ve wasted an important part of your day. Especially in the raining season where it might start raining at 2pm and be dreary and cloudy the rest of the day.  Visitors are a little shocked to find out schools start at 7am, but it’s really a good idea to not waste daylight.

Crab in forest
                         Another early riser

I think the best part about getting up early though are the adventures you can have.  When I go on vacation, the best part is being in the habit of getting up early. Just recently I had the opportunity to sleep in a hammock just steps from the beach.  Every morning I had a chance to explore the beach and the nearby forest at its calmest. I paid attention to the crabs scouring the rocks for food. I spotted a squirrel high up in a tree that normally I wouldn’t have been able to spot and I heard the howls from the monkeys off in the distance.  It’s also a huge benefit as the weather is cool and fresh. By 8am you can feel the sun bearing down on you and the humidity begins to suck the energy out of you.

Early rising is much more enhanced in Costa Rica.  I could early rise in other countries, but I wouldn’t be very happy about it.  Here though I can’t seem to lose setting an early alarm. I’ve always wondered why Costa Rica wouldn’t just shift their clocks one hour ahead.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to have daylight till 7pm? When I take Costa Ricans to the United States during the summer, they have all kinds of problems where they don’t eat dinner till 10pm because they are accustomed to eating dinner after the sun sets.  

Needless to say, I don’t drive to the airport in my sleep, despite the early trips.  Our guests are often embarrassed to have us drive them at odd hours, but it’s really preferred.  Whether avoiding traffic, lines, weather or taking advantage of the calmness, wildlife, and sunrises the early riser always wins.  This doesn’t even include the coffee and gallo pinto that are also best enjoyed in the early morning.

turtles coming onshore
                     Rarely seen after 7am

The Rains Have Returned?

mountain range

Wednesday afternoon April 15th felt a little strange.  Something didn’t feel right.  Maybe it was the cloud formations in combination with the wind patterns but something didn’t feel right climatically.

In Costa Rica it really isn’t difficult to say what the weather will be: rainy or sunny.  What is difficult to predict is when and where it will be one of those two options.  You can travel a few miles down the road and go from sunny and clear to cloudy and rainy.  Sometimes you can look out your window and see (and hear) what appears to be a storm approaching however it may never arrive and just stall out where it is.

Weather patterns don’t enter from the west and exit east.  They just develop and expand for a few hours until their energy runs out.  That’s what made Wednesday afternoon so interesting.  It hasn’t rained in San Ramon since December and the rainy season typically begins sometime in April or May.  It really depends on where you are though in Costa Rica.  Some places it rains the whole year, other places only 9-10 months and some places only 4-5 months.

Rain cloud or normal cloud?
Rain cloud or normal cloud?

That afternoon as I was looking out my window towards the NE I saw the storm cloud.  Was it raining just outside of town?  Or was it just threatening?  Should I take the clothes off the line or risk being caught off guard?  I decided to play it by ear because something didn’t feel right.

I went back to work and after about an hour I heard the slight “tac—tac—tac—tac” noise that the rain makes when it hits the metal roof sheeting.  I jumped out of my chair and went into the backyard to confirm my suspicions.  Yes the clothes were being sprinkled on by big cool drops of rain, totally refreshing on this 80 degree day.  A few minutes later the “tac-tacs” on the roof would increase to a full blown snare drum so loud that you would have to yell to have a normal conversation.  For instance, imagine you are watching TV in your room and your mom comes in and starts vacuuming.  If you are lucky and have a two story house you can escape the madness by hanging out on the ground floor until symphony subsides.

Now some people may dread the idea that it is going to rain for the next 8 months but with so many droughts all over the world this is really a great blessing.  Everything in and around San Ramon has turned to a dirty, brown color and the wind has howled up numerous clouds of dust making it impossible to keep anything clean for more than a few hours.

That afternoon it rained for about an hour.  As I write this two days later it hasn’t rained since then and I haven’t felt the indescribable sensation that it might rain.  Maybe it is

Ready for the rain
Ready for the rain

something that you pick up unconsciously after living here for awhile.

I do know that the transition will be happening soon and I am looking forward to the greening pastures and the reduction of dust in my lungs.  I’m also hopeful the rains will allow Costa Rica to keep its streak of producing all its electricity renewably.

Without winter, it’s easy to start missing fall

Note: I grew up in Wisconsin, one of the colder places in the United States.  

Fall used to mean the beginning of the end.

As the mercury began to drop and the days began to shrink, it was a slow, steady countdown to the abominable winter that always awaited us.

For me, the leaves changing colors used to be the first signs of death. I always used to cringe upon opening the closet to look for my jacket and would curse in vain having to scrape the ice off my windshield.

The end of my high school football season was always a blessing in disguise, as it signaled the end of my required outdoor activities for the year. Winter was coming. Long johns, fires, lip balm, snow shovels… ugh.

To me, fall was just a little tease from winter, sprinkling in enough nice days with enough terrible days to remind us of the ever-approaching deep freeze. Even with the beginning of the holiday season and the weekly meetings around the TV to cheer on the Badgers or Packers, I always felt an emptiness, knowing these would be short-lived highs as there was no turning back the clock on old man winter.

But then I moved to Costa Rica.

It was never about the weather, of course; I wanted culture, language and sights. And living in a tropical climate was just a bonus.

Now that I live here year-round, I have developed an “outside looking in” perspective, and what I’ve realized is that if you take winter out of the equation, fall becomes the greatest cheesehead season there is.

How often would you see this in Costa Rica?

Not only is it a nice buffer between my favorite and least-favorite seasons, it has so many traditions attached to those subtle changes in the weather and carries so many childhood memories.

And that makes me a little jealous sitting on the sidelines in Costa Rica.

Living in Costa Rica has meant more or less the same weather every day. Consistently good and tropical with the occasional rain.

That is good enough for me to brag to friends and family that 75 percent of the year, the weather is better than in Wisconsin. For the other 25 percent, it’s not that the weather in Costa Rica gets worse, but rather the lack of fall.

Umbrella or no umbrella is the only change you’ll recognize here, and the monotony of that, to an experienced snow-shoveler, takes some time getting used to. When it is fall up north, it is the heart of the rainy season here. It is not by any means an apocalypse, but we receive heavy thunderstorms almost daily and the roads deteriorate faster than a stick of butter on an open stove.

I can’t complain about the heat and sun, but I do miss the climatic and environmental changes, along with the traditions of fall.

Every fall my biological clock gets flipped on its head. I don’t know what is more awkward, trick-or-treating in shorts or eating turkey without a wearing a sweater vest. The other day, I helped put Christmas ornaments on a palm tree.

Yes, a palm tree.

And Monday Night Football en Español? Well let’s just say I would rather watch the game on mute than learn how to say (much less explain), “intentional grounding,” in Spanish. Ex-pats have tried to bring fall traditions with them to Costa Rica and as much as they try, they just can’t be replicated.

I’ve stopped trying and am now figuring out how to fill the void. I think that’s part of the problem.

Nothing of great nature happens from September through November. Many people are flat broke from summer vacations and are trying to save money for the Christmas season. By law, they are required to receive a year-end bonus, but that doesn’t get paid until December.

There is also a lot of anticipation for the rains to end so the harvest season can begin and resupply the world with fresh coffee. Needless to say, there is a lot to think about during those rainy afternoons.

Once a sign of death, the beautiful September foliage now paints every hillside in my imagination. Grabbing that jacket from the deep ends of the closet? Duh, it’s gotta be football season. Scraping the ice off the windshield? At least I won’t have to mow the lawn anymore this year.

Maybe it’s easier to see the brighter side of fall knowing that I won’t be there for the ensuing deep freeze.

Last year my timing was perfect. I got to spend the better part of October and November in Wisconsin, and I felt shame. Like a corrupt politician splurging on a yacht with taxpayer money. The day before I headed back to Costa Rica, we received our first substantial snowfall of the year.

The pre-Costa Rica Dustin would have rolled over in bed and willed a profound sleep until May, but this year I was content as ever. I could have been the first one out making snow angels.

With old man Winter out of the way, I could finally embrace fall and usher in the onset of winter.