Costa Rica is often found on lists of overseas retirement havens. Ex-pat communities catering to retirees are springing up around the country. Housing costs are reasonable, the cost of living affordable, the climate attractive, health care very good, and the democratic, popularly elected government stable.
Most ex-pats I met, however, are not retirees. They are young and middle-aged Americans working and living here.
The owner of a deli offering great sandwiches hails from Atlanta and has lived in the country four years. He spends days at his open-air cafe supervising a small kitchen staff and schmoozing with customers. Nights he housesits for migrators (a.k.a. snowbirds) while owners are out of the country. His cafe offers Wi-Fi, and while we enjoyed our sandwiches three middle-aged (ex-pat) men in shorts and T-shirts took advantage of the service. One was conducting a job interview, answering the interviewee's questions about life in Costa Rica.
The owner of another beachside cafe came from California and has lived in the country 22 years.
The owners of our cabin are also from California. The couple made Costa Rica their home 26 years ago.
The employee in the tour office grew up in Mississippi and has lived in the country about eight years.
Our kayaking guide is a native New Yorker.
A couple of realtors educating us about buying property in the area are ex-pats, one from California and the other a Florida native.
We met a woman originally from Hungary who recently moved to the area with her family. She is scouting locations for a business.
A five-hour horseback riding tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls included the ride, time to swim and enjoy the falls, lunch, and the opportunity to talk with others on our tour.
We met a Canadian couple that relocated to Costa Rica six years ago, following the man's sister and her husband who moved south a few years earlier.
Two thirty-something entrepreneurs were checking out the country as a base for their business, a technology company that creates aps for mobile devices.
Another California couple came for elective surgery. Costa Rica is becoming known for excellent health care facilities and reasonably priced procedures.
I have encountered ticos - they own establishments and work in the shops, restaurants, and other businesses, but I found the number of Americans surprising. Walk around a store, sit in a cafe, hang out at the beach, and it will not be long before American ex-pats wander by.
Gringos (people from non-Spanish-speaking countries) from nations besides the U.S. are discovering the region. Canadians, Europeans, and most recently Asians are making Costa Rica home, resulting in a growing, interesting and diverse population.
On my way home now, back to the cold, ice, snow and more cold...