The reasons for making life changes and moves are as many as the people making
them. Some plan for years beforehand; others have change thrust upon them. Here
is an experience that has a bit of both…
Painter, massage therapist, singer Barbara Adams doesn’t follow the pattern of
most expatriates who settle here because she first moved to Costa Rica when she
was eleven years old. Barbara’s family decided to look at the country after her
uncle, who was in the Merchant Marines, tagged Costa Rica as the place he would most like to come back to.
This was back in the 1970s and the drug culture was spreading even into the quiet New Jersey township that had been home till then. The time seemed right for a move, but tragedy struck when Barbara’s step-father died from emphysema just a month before they were to travel.
Barbara Adams – Costa Rica masseuse
a month later, the family was installed in a rented house and Barbara placed in
a bi-lingual high school.
The initial visit started out as an exploratory ‘vacation’ and based on what
they saw in Costa Rica, Barbara’s mother returned to the U.S. to sell up and make the move permanent. The reaction of friends and family of “Are you nuts?” is maybe not so surprising when back in 1970, Costa Rica was usually confused with Puerto Rico or seen as one big jungle.
The only previous thought given to Costa Rica as a viable destination (apart
from the uncle’s recommendation) was the idea that the tropics would ease her
step-father’s emphysema. “With the humidity here, this would never have worked
out,” comments Barbara.
After high-school, she continued her studies in the U.S. completing a post-graduate degree in Creative Writing. Texas, then New York became workplaces over the following years, first in technical writing then as an executive copy writer for a construction management company covering major projects such as the restoration of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Guggenheim Museum. “I was a corporate cliché,” muses Barbara.
To all outward appearances, a success story: the fast lane, nice apartment in Manhattan, plenty of money, often broke but so what. And it might have stayed
that way when two back injuries requiring spinal surgery changed everything and
long hours sitting writing were no longer an option. Barbara came back to Costa
Rica in 1991.
Barbara Adams – The artist
It felt like coming home, but she was not without reservations. What worried Barbara most about moving back to Costa Rica was how to make a living. After a highly successful job with all the perks – limos, fancy hotels, great pay, her health crisis and the prospect of no income caused concern.
She lived with her mom for two months and immediately set out finding writing assignments that led to an editorship of a national publication. She also taught and worked in tourism. Two years ago, Barbara trained in massage therapy, doing a grueling intensive three-month course in Guanacaste province at the Kootenay School of Rebalancing.
She now has a popular consultancy in her home. “I always found jobs and I am thriving, not just surviving.” She started by looking in the local papers, The Tico Times and La Nacion and “by talking to everyone.” The community is small here and word gets about.
There have been no real surprises, although she emphasizes that, “there is no
comparison to the 1970s. It is like two different countries.” She praises municipal efforts in her neighborhood of Bello Horizonte, above Escazu for making positive changes in the infrastructure, spending the local tax dollars on improved water, electricity and sanitation. “I’m not political but I see that it’s not just business as usual – there are changes and commitments being made.”
An Average Day.
Barbara is a creative mixture of massage therapist, freelance writer, portrait painter and vocalist in a country and folk band. An ‘average’ day might start with working out at the gym, then back home to do inevitable house maintenance needed when owning a beautiful although older hill-top, wood-floored home. (Even living in Paradise needs upkeep!).
One to three clients come by every day for massage therapy and some afternoons Barbara helps as part of a women’s support group. Practicing piano and singing are daily features too.
Although she has no children to be educated, Barbara went through the school
system herself. Costa Rica officially claims to have literacy rates in the high
90%, but she sees the public schools as woefully under-funded and understaffed.
Private schools, on the other hand, are expensive but good. Her own schooling
at the then Costa Rican Academy (now American International School of Costa Rica) had a very open approach to formal education providing a fun if rather uneven balance. “It was great for the arts, but not so good for science,” she remembers.
It did mean that she is fluent in Spanish although Barbara reckons it takes most
people at least two years to really break into the language and feel at home with it, and it doesn’t get any easier with age! “My mother still goes to bed with Spanish grammar books”
A ‘relaxed’ Barbara Adams
What About Medical Services?
Barbara’s health concerns were serious. The verdict on her back in the U.S. was that further surgery might be necessary at some future stage. She has every confidence in the health care system in Costa Rica and would be happy to undergo surgery here if required. From personal and family experiences, she classifies the medical care as “excellent”.
Back in the 1970 ‘first’ move to Costa Rica, Barbara and her family did not consider crime or personal safety as important factors although Barbara and two friends had a scary experience when she was just fifteen. Some thugs pretending to be drug enforcement agents held a gun to her head and threatened the boy in the group. Once they realized the kids had nothing to take, the thieves left them unharmed. A scary and isolated incident. Apart from the basic care that applies anywhere,
Barbara does not worry about living on her own.Barbara says she is amazed at how sophisticated it has all become. “Just in the village (of San Rafael de Escazu), there is a ‘Boss’, and ‘Liz Claiborne’ in the mall.” She figures that life could be very expensive here if you go that route, but it is possible to live well with domestic help, a car and enough for entertainment on $2,000 a month.
Living in Costa Rica – Words of Advice.
“Talk to everyone. Ride that pink cloud of love that attracted you to here in the first place but don’t be gullible or act too soon. Move around the country and really watch what goes on. North American standards won’t work, that key won’t fit the lock here because the values and customs are different. Nowhere is a perfect paradise but for my money, Costa Rica offers a lot for free: a beautiful country, the people, the legal system. It’s a place where you can be independent to live as you choose”
Sitting at her desk in Manhattan after hours of daily commuting, Barbara says
she would fantasize about living somewhere with a view, a fireplace, big picture
windows, lots of nature and her family nearby. That wasn’t going to happen in
New York but the corporate dream kept her in the city. As the fates would have
it, her back problem forced her hand and here she is – living her dream.
Written by Vicky Longland – Vicky Longland has spent all her adult life in Latin and Central America originally
as head of the translation department for an international human development organization and currently working as a freelance translator and writer for several national and world-wide publications, specializing in people’s issues, the environment
To make a booking with Barbara, please call her on 2228-1049.
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