Position: Travel Writer
Jessica Tyner is a native of Oregon, USA and has been a writer and
editor for ten years. A graduate of Ooligan Press, the nation’s only
working book publishing graduate program, she completed her master’s
degree in London while interning with The UK-US Fulbright Commission. Ms.
Tyner’s background includes editing and marketing for a kitsch coffee
table and graphic novel press, writing several guest columns for
journals and magazines, teaching writing courses at universities in the
US, UK, South Korea and Costa Rica, and publishing poetry in a variety
of journals. Currently, she is a writer for Word Jones and a travel
writer with Mucha Costa Rica. She lives in San José and enjoys yoga,
classic films and campy horror movies, discovering new literatures and
A Bit more...
On Christmas day I boarded a flight from my hometown of Portland, Ore. to Costa Rica. Winters in
the northwest are , as anyone who’s been there knows, dreary and gray. It rains a steady drizzle nine
months out of the year and all of us in Ory-gun hold out for those precious weeks of sunshine. Don’t
get me wrong, I’ve lived abroad before – albeit in London and Seoul. In the UK, the weather behaves
like a more intense Portland (and when Portlanders think it rains too much, it does). South Korea,
on the other hand, has the most vicious winters I’ve ever known (freezing to the bone and somehow
colder than Wisconsin) and those humid summers with oversized muggi (mosquitoes) and monsoons
that have everyone walking around in flip flops thigh-high in black street water. I’ve traveled, not
particularly extensively, but have seen a fair amount of Europe, Britain, SE Asia and perhaps more of
North America than I care for. My family is from the Cherokee Nation and, like most displaced Indians
(Native Americans, American Indians, whatever your preference), many summers were spent on tribal
land in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Really, this can all be summed up into one simple statement: I
thought I knew what I was getting into.
I flew into Liberia where the little open-aired airport is reminiscent of Maui and I was shuffled through with little more than a glance at my passport. I spent three days in an un-air-conditioned attic spilling over with my Tico boyfriend’s family who spoke no English. And I, of course, speak no Spanish. There was one trip to the beach – complete with a flat tire that took two hours to fix – where I swam to a small rock island a mile away and was subsequently lectured in Spanish about how dangerous it is (I guess those years as a lifeguard were for naught). Then finally – the move to San José.
Granted, I have not experienced the rainy season yet. But for all this city lacks – culture compared to other cities, upscale lounges, eclectic restaurants – the weather is absolutely divine. I found a small three-bedroom house in Moravia complete with cas and mandarin fruit trees in the backyard. We bought a Tico-style washer and dryer and even after two months I still enjoy the process of washing and hang-drying clothes. The house is decorated solely from Pequeno Mundo with two faux-leather black modern couches (I never thought I’d buy fake leather in my life), a dining table that seats six and a liquor cabinet stocked with my favorite, Glennfidich, solely because there was a pricing error at Wal-Mart. I’ve become (somewhat) used to the “Huevos Guy” – the man that, every morning starting at 5:30am, drives his van directly in front of the house selling eggs on a loudspeaker. I’m used to the ridiculous prices that are so similar (or in some cases much higher) to the US. I’ve accepted that Wal-Mart is considered high-end grocery shopping and I must admit their hot food is great.
I love the fact that everyone takes the bus. In Portland, busses are usually frowned upon and often a haven for the homeless (the electric train and trolley, however, is acceptable). It’s somewhat freeing not having a car – or car payments, insurance payments and fluctuating gas payments. I’m addicted to the fresh fruit smoothie stands that are on every corner. The cost of medical care here is exceptionally better than the US. I got an x-ray for $20. I’m looking forward to enjoying the natural beauty of the country in the months to come.
Things I haven’t been able to adjust to include just how people with an average – or even above average – salary live here. For the most part, the cost of living is the same or higher as what I’m used to. My gym membership is twice what it was in the US, food costs the same or more and car rentals are double. As a writer, I take my work with me. I currently have clients in Chicago, Portland and Philadelphia. I edit the English translation pieces of a London arts and culture journal. I actively publish poetry and short fiction in the US and India. With my trusty Skype US number it makes no difference.
People say Ticos are the friendliest people in the world but I’m still waiting to encounter that. It may be a blanket statement, but for me South Koreans were the friendliest. The driving here is unbelievably aggressive and the bars on every window and doorway more than hint at a prison and fearful country. I still miss hot water showers but am trying to get used to washing my hair in freezing water – after all, I’m in the capitol, not the coast so the mornings aren’t particularly warm. As a Portlander, the lack of recycling saddens me. There are no addresses or street names. Even for someone who is used to giving directions such as “turn right at the big Taco Bell” it’s a magical feat if I get to my destination within an hour of the right time.
I’d venture to say everyone has a similar picture that pops into their head when they hear “Costa Rica” – idyllic beaches with turquoise water. Untouched rainforests with sweeping canopies offering zipline tours. Horseback rides along the sand and through the jungle. Huge butterflies and gourmet coffee. Swaying hammocks, scuba diving to discover coral reefs and snorkeling with leatherback turtles. And
these things do exist – and in many places, just as you imagine they do. The butterflies are gorgeous, the beach is picturesque and I even have a handmade hammock tied between the fruit trees in my back yard. But there’s a big difference between holidaying somewhere and living there – even en paraiso.
My adventure has just begun. After a rocky start, I’m finally ready to discover what this country’s made of. In one of my many instances of overloading myself, I decided it would be a great idea to get my TESOL certificate while I’m here. After all, there’s nothing like working 50+ hours a week as a writer and taking a 30 hour a week course that requires practicum teaching on top of that. I already knew I didn’t like teaching (trust me, anyone who has a master’s degree in writing has tried teaching) but it seemed like a good fallback plan at some point in the past. So, my practicum teaching is over. I can work and write from anywhere in the world – why not have it be from a black sand beach, in the shadow of a volcano or in the middle of one of those amazing cloud forests everyone hears about? I’m taking this on straight-up DiCaprio style in “The Beach.” Wrong country – wrong continent – sure. But that opening scene with the snake blood was awesome (too bad I love snakes) and who doesn’t want to take a leap from a towering waterfall? I’m in the land of waterfalls. Oh, but here, they call it canyoneering. So bring on the pura vida, Costa Rica. If I’ve figured out your bus system and senseless streets in eight weeks, a jungle is nothing.