Living With The Jungle, Not In It

Costa Ricans have built their homes to accommodate the jungle, not keep it out. The kitchens are built outside with gas stoves and ovens around a patio, usually with a brick wall surrounding the area. A tin roof is above the cooking area in case it rains. There is a bar area for eating and also a table and chairs. The bedrooms are inside along with the bathrooms which use a septic tank. Apparently, most of the electricity is from renewable energy sources.

I am staying off a dirt road in a newer remodeled home about 3/4 mile from the town of Sámara. So it’s not like I’m out in the boonies. In two weeks, I’ve done battle with a relentless raccoon (they call them something different) who successfully opened the composting bin and was gorging on watermelon rinds. Another night, an animal was making such a racket, I went outside my room (I sleep with the screens closed and metal bars locked) to investigate. My flashlight discovered a huge armadillo rooting around in big pile of sticks for God knows what. What a prehistoric creature. I had never seen one before. He just waddled from pile to pile rooting around near the kitchen.  It was a hilarious sight.

Another time, I got up at sunrise and sat down at the kitchen bar area with my coffee and watched a porcupine sniff the ground for about five minutes. I wasn’t about to go near him but he was pretty cute.

And then there is the usual thunderous sound of about eight horses coming down the dirt driveway heading for an open field next to the house. Around here, horse owners just let their horses roam around free. Well there is food in the field near the kitchen  so the horses come. The owner gathers them up on the weekends  trying to get the tourists to take rides.

And of course, there are the howler monkeys. The first time I heard them I thought a horrible beast was coming to get me. They make a horrifying sound like a roaring jaguar, but they are the sweetest, most gentle of the four monkey species in Costa Rica. They come right up to the kitchen area, which is of course their eating area since it’s surrounded by trees, and make their terrifying noises at sunset as they enjoy their vegetarian meal.

There are so many opportunities to observe the beauty of nature without leaving the kitchen it is unbelievable. And I haven’t even talked about the secret beach!

As I noted in an earlier post, in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, Jei Wei Zhang concludes: “Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being.” Well-being was highest for those that connect with nature and perceive natural beauty.  For me, seeing all of these creatures in their natural habitat is stunningly beautiful.  And the Costa Ricans have gotten it right.  Instead of blocking out these sights and sounds, they put the most important part of the home, the kitchen, outside, and that is where they hang out in the evenings, along with bizarre armadillos, howler monkeys and who knows what other creatures.  Yes, I believe the way they orient their homes feeds into why they are the happiest people on Earth.

There may be downsides US folks don’t like.  For example, I live with a gecko in my room.  She’s not a problem and is quite pretty.  And there are good reasons for eating outside.  I left a cup of mango juice next to the daybed for about five minutes and it was filled with no see’ums.  An ant is crawling across my computer screen right now because the rest of the room is dark.  In fact, one can almost always see ants on the walls looking around for food. They are tiny ants that can get through screens.  But to me, it’s a small price to pay to see a howler monkey fall out of a tree (he was fine), a horse block the road so she could feed her baby, a cow walking aimlessly down the road toward the beach and an armadillo bury and unbury itself in piles of muck while I laughed out loud.  As Kurt Cobain sang, “I think I’m happy now.”  (In the end, I guess he wasn’t, but I like those lyrics.)Monkeys-5

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