It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Home sweet home

The dog next door doesn't bark at night, which is a blessing, but during the day he barks at everyone who walks by. And a lot of people walk by. In the morning they're going to work, in the afternoon returning, and in between they walk to the store on the corner, walk to visit friends, or simply walk and talk—or sing. Thanks to Fido we know when everyone goes by and I'm sure someday we'll appreciate it.

Despite Manuel Antonio being a popular upscale destination, it won't surprise you to learn we're not in luxury accommodations surrounded by deep jungle with a view of the Pacific. Instead, we're in a  studio apartment in a Costa Rican neighborhood (or, as the locals would say, a Tico neighborhood). It's a street of middle class and poorer homes, most with tin roofs like ours. The house two doors down has three floors and a swimming pool and between it and us is a tin shack owned by an American slumlord and rented to a Nicaraguan family. You might say it's a street in transition. And come to think of it, the word street may mislead you. Let's call it a road.

The road (there are no road names or house numbers) begins at the highway next to the Super Joseth and follows a U-shaped route down an incline and around the end of a shallow green-filled canyon, then up again back to the highway. It is narrow, rough, and potholed and because of the rains usually muddy. It's noisy. There are no sidewalks and the houses crowd the road. But there are flowers and greenery and sometimes monkeys, and we like rubbing shoulders with the locals.

Our ground floor studio consists of one large room with tiled floor, a tiled bath and shower, a hall with storage, and a small kitchen with a four-burner electric range we're still struggling to cook on. Used to gas, we find it impossible to gauge cooking temperatures. We have two big rear windows looking out onto jungle (I took the banner photo, above, through one of them) and two looking onto the street, which gives us a nice cross breeze. We have air conditioning, as yet unused, and an overhead fan. Our landlords, Rodney and Eric, are super. We considered the upstairs studio, with a balcony view of the Pacific and a bit more charm, but the kitchen has only a hotplate and microwave and for a ten-week stay that just won't cut it. Besides, we'd have to give up our jungle view; we already know the Pacific.

Like all Costa Ricans our neighbors worry about security so every house has bars at the windows and most have wire fences and big locking gates, as does ours. Violent crime is not a problem here, but theft is; mostly, we're told, thefts of convenience. The bars and the fencing feel like overkill and we find it ugly and a nuisance to deal with, but nobody asked us. Shops, of course, have the same disquieting barriers.

It's much too early to make definitive statements about life in Costa Rica but so far we've found the natives friendly and helpful, but not especially curious or outgoing. And as Rodney told us the first day, "they're not service oriented." So far our limited experience reflects that.

Most of our shopping takes place down the hill in the town of Quepos, a more typical, less touristy town with some decent restaurants and lots of small shops along ragged streets. There's a Pali supermarket with lower prices than the nearby Joseth and a far larger inventory; the bus (25 cents each) stops right outside.

A fair number of American expats live in the two communities and we've already met a number of them. They're friendly and curious about our stay here and willingly answer questions. Unlike the many British expats we met in France, who seemed to hate France and/or the French, these Americans claim to love Costa Rica and many have been here for years.

Dina, at Jungle Juice

We met a lovely Costa Rican woman yesterday, in a juice shop she and her cousin and his girlfriend own together. Called Jungle Juice, it's a clean, modern place with wonderful smoothies of every imaginable flavor and—ta da!—French crepes. It's near the bus stop in Quepos and we're sure it will be a regular stop. Dina, who's originally from San Jose, speaks English like an American and gave us all kinds of tips about where to eat, drink, and visit. On Sunday she's participating in a local triathalon and we hope to be there to cheer her on. I'm sure Fido will wake us in time.