Family Ties in the Heart of Costa Rica’s Blue Zone

We wrapped up our time in Costa Rica by spending a few days with a family in Hojancha, the heart of this Blue Zone of the Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. Here, we met three generations of Blue Zone residents and, by staying on their family farm, we were able to see both how life was and now is for this very friendly and extremely welcoming Costa Rican family.

And as with our previous experience of “staying local”, on the coffee plantation in Monteverde, we were able to experience life and be welcomed into an environment which is completely different from the tourist spots most often visited by foreigners. Prior to arriving in Hojancha, we spent a few days in Nosara, a famous surf/yoga spot on the Pacific coast. We stayed with a friend in a lovely house near the sea, surrounded by beautiful birds and howler monkeys, but it was very clear that we were foreigner visitors staying with foreign visitors, quite a contrast to living local.

In Hojancha (pronounced Ohancha in Spanish), we lived in a recently built one-room casita which sits just between the cow barn and original family home. The original house was built by Alfonso, the family patriarch, some 70 years ago, just before he and his wife Carmen married. They raised 5 children in this small house and even though now it’s not exactly in the best of shape, it holds so many memories for the family that they have no intention of tearing it down. They built a more modern (and slightly larger) house right next door to the old one about eight years ago.

This old house, to me, was a symbol of family ties in this Blue Zone. In Monteverde, we saw how Hermida and her 15 siblings take care of their parents, and in Hojancha we noted that, out of Carmen and Alfonso’s five adult children, two have taken on the responsibilities of living (and working) on the family farm.

One morning, William, the son who manages the livestock, was saddling up his horse, used to round up the cattle, and he casually asked me, “want to ride my horse?”. Why not?

The next day it was time to milk some cows, a first-time experience for me, in spite of our 2-week work-stay on a dairy farm in Okinawa earlier this year where the main duty was dealing with what came out the cows’ back side.

William told us how special it was for him and his siblings growing up together in their small house. With the parents and five children all living together in a small 2-bedroom house, everyone was very close, literally and figuratively. It was sweet to hear him reminisce about bedtimes in the old house and how all the children would be speaking out loud back and forth to each other in the dark. Carmen’s recollections of those days were more about work, work, work. She said the only time they ever left the farm was once on Sunday to go to church. Otherwise it was work from morning to evening.

William and Carmen share memories in the back kitchen of the old house.

These were bonding times for sure, and this was evident to us when the family got together for a weekend barbeque to feast on chicharrones (fried pork belly/rind, a very typical Costa Rican dish).

In the US, and other wealthy nations, families with enough money (or credit) tend to build big houses. In my experience, this can make it harder to stay connected as a family unit. Each person is able to do his or her “own thing” and, in effect, gets lost in the big space. Giving each child his or her own room is considered proper and almost a birthright for many children growing up in the wealthy, modern world. But being intentional about building a smaller house, especially when children are young, could set a good foundation for strong family ties.

Beyond what we saw in the family of our own hosts, we saw lots of evidence in the Hojancha area of families spending time together in face-to-face communication. The mecedora (a rocking chair) is a typical feature in Costa Rican homes, with multiple mecedoras almost always situated on the front porches of homes. And they are not just for decoration! We noticed many families, including our own hosts, sitting on their porches chatting the evenings away. Yes, actually speaking face to face – not looking at iPhone screens!

Strong family bonds were on display for us in Hojancha, our last stop on this segment of our Blue Zone inspired journey. We next will spend a couple of weeks working on building our own family ties in Texas before heading to Asia for the remainder of 2018. We will start 2019 in Loma Linda, California, America’s Blue Zone, and look forward to further learning as we complete our longevity tour next year.

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