destination: san isidro del general, costa rica
i picked the city of san isidro del general in costa rica for my first stop. why? well, partly because it’s a sleepy little mountain town where you can rent a room for about $10 a night. this is important. because it means that even with the $400 roundtrip plane ticket, spending four months in costa rica would be less expensive than one month in my place in san francisco.
not that i was exactly living the highlife in sf. with the housing crunch in that city, $1,600 a month gets you a studio in the tenderloin, where homelessness, drug addiction, and crime are rampant. i’ve seen people literally shit on the street there, and the sidewalks, streets, and tenement buildings in the neighborhood have the smell of piss permanently baked into them. trading that for rainforests and monkeys sounded kinda nice for a change.
by leaving sf i would be able to cut my expenses significantly, which would let me reduce the time i spent translating down to two or three days a week. that was enough money to keep me fed, housed, and over-caffeinated on strong costa rican coffee, with enough left over to put money aside for professional cover design and editor expenses (which i would need later when i went to publish).
the other reason i chose that location? because it has fuck-all going on there except for frequent rainstorms and good coffee. in short, it’s the perfect place to get lots of writing done.
a self-imposed-isolation with a view
duration: 3 months (july 2 – october 1, 2016)
plane to san jose, then take a cab to the bus station. oh, and if you go, be sure to not do any research on the currency beforehand, so that you don’t know they use us dollars as well as colones, the local currency. that way, when the cab driver asks for “treinta dolares” ($30) you get confused and hand him 30 mil colones (about $60), like i did. this is what i call a “stupid tax,” which i ended up paying for not doing the proper research. lesson learned.
from the bus station, it’s about three hours by bus. bus travel in costa rica is interesting, because many of the roads are small, two-lane roads that wind their way through the mountains. this can make passing slower moving vehicles difficult, leading to lots of accelerating, decelerating, and near-misses as your bus pulls into the oncoming traffic lane to pass other vehicles. if you get carsick, take dramamine. if you don’t like seeing your bus almost crash again and again, take a strong drink.
i spent three months in san isidro, churning out about 800 pages of manuscript while i was there (yeah, did i mention the book is fucking massive?).
the only downside? going a little stir-crazy from being on my own for so long. for the most part, my only contact with people during this time was the occasional interaction at the supermarket or a restaurant using my shit spanish. but a friend visited for a few days, during which we traveled to san gerardo de dota and manuel antonio, which was a nice break from writing everyday.
i have to say, the writing went better than i expected. i had good outline of the plot (i’ll never again make the mistake of starting a book without knowing where it’s going), and while i took some detours along the way, the book ended up largely where i wanted it to go. i was able to average about 50 – 100 pages each week, depending on how much translation work came in, and was consistently able to hit 20 pages a day on days that i dedicated exclusively to writing. i didn’t completely finish the book, but i got close.
- every day is an adventure in a spanish speaking country when your spanish sucks.
- drink way too much coffee.
- write way too much. really throw yourself into it, because there’s not a whole lot else to do here …
- speaking of which, make friends with the lizards in your place. watching them try to eat moths that are far too big for them will be your only entertainment when the torrential rainstorms cause the internet to go down and you can’t watch netflix on your computer.
- reassure yourself that leaving everything behind to travel to the mountains of costa rica to become a writer was a wise career move, and not the dumbest fucking thing you’ve ever done. this is important, because if you let the self-doubt and panic set in, it will drag you screaming and hyperventilating into a dark place in your mind as it eats you alive.
- oh, and there’s a waterfall or something around here that’s supposed to be pretty. maybe check that out too.