Are you ready for the rain? You better be, because the so called Green Season is at the door. For Costa Ricans, it’s the season of invierno, or winter.
It’s been warmer than usual and there’s barely a breeze. A month ago I could barely eat out on my deck without having to hold everything down against the wind, and my hot food was cold before I could get it from plate to mouth. I’m happy to be enjoying breakfast and lunch out there again. Mornings are beautiful, but the change in temperature and wind signal that rainy season is slipping in. It’s been clouding up almost every afternoon, and I awoke to rain early last Saturday. Yes, winter is coming–such as it is in Costa Rica!
I moved back to Costa Rica in June of 2016, after being gone for 20 years. I’ve been back for two complete cycles of winter-summer-winter now, but climate change has been altering weather here gradually for decades, so I’ve had to adjust my expectations a bit.
Before the late 1970’s, the seasonal changes were much more predictable and well defined than they are now. After months of rain it would just cease, as though someone had flipped a switch when December arrived. It certainly isn’t like that anymore. This past January saw major floods and more than a few of us were wondering if summer would ever really kick in. It finally did, but things have definitely shifted.
By April, one started gearing up for the first rainfall that announced the start of rainy season. Within a week or two it was sunny mornings until around 1:00 or 2:00. Then the clouds moved in, and by 2:30-3:00, the sky would open up until around sunset, when the rain stopped, and a pretty pastel colored sky appeared long enough to allow a few minutes outside to chat with neighbors and walk the dog. Now, it’s sort of hit and miss.
Here it is mid May and while we’ve had several showers in the last few weeks, the daily afternoon rain has not set in yet. This means if you haven’t gotten ready, there’s still time.
What do I mean when I ask if you’re ready? Rain jackets and umbrellas are options, but there’s actually more you might want to consider. Back in the day, there was a flurry of household activity in April as people prepared for the upcoming 7 months of rain.
Plants, shrubs, and trees were pruned and cut way back—sometimes to the ground. Indoor house painting projects were finished up, outdoor white-washing and miscellaneous sidewalk, patio, gutter, and roofing jobs were completed.
Curtains, bedding, rugs, and sometimes mattresses were washed, dried, and/or sunned on concrete patios and lines as late in the summer season as one dared. Floors and patios were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, then sealed or waxed as appropriate. Doormats were put in place, and windows got a last good cleaning.
Any lingering traces of mold or mildew were bleached with sunshine, lemon juice, or “Blanquita,” which is just Clorox by another name. Everyone got their homemade boric acid bug killers ready, knowing that the first rains would trigger the instant migration of a wide assortment of creepy crawlers into dry houses.
Now, in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not just giving you a traditional history lesson here. I’m giving you a heads up on the kinds of things that still make sense for you to be aware of. In all likelihood there will be a precious few ‘full sun all day long’ days going forward. If you still have some of the above mentioned chores that need to be attended to, best get to them!
I spent a day last week doing some prep in my kitchen, because once the rains really set in, it’s hard to keep moisture from taking its toll on pantry items.
FYI, I have an entire blog post dedicated to Pantry stocking and care if you’re interested. https://homeincostarica.blog/2017/08/16/a-costa-rican-pantry/
First, I finished drying the last of my fresh herbs and packed them in jars. I transferred bagged spices to glass jars with tight lids, and put any boxed/packaged items like pasta or crackers into sealable plastic containers or extra zip top bags. When we have one of those 24/7 rain “temporal” events, even the cardboard boxes can get damp.
I made sure my herbs and spices were in good shape before tucking small moisture absorbing packets into them. I started using them late last year and found they really helped so I got more. (Amazon-link below) Even though my spice jars are glass with metal lids, moisture infiltration resulted in more than a few ruined spices. I also use the little packets in my bottles of nutritional supplements.
A few things went into the fridge or freezer for safer long term storage—these included dry fruits, nuts, flours, and spices like paprika.
Ants and other critters aren’t much of an issue for me in my 3d floor apartment, but I did saturate a few cotton balls with peppermint essential oil and tuck them in the back corners of some of the cabinets where I’ve had ants appear before, just in case.
A couple of weeks ago I started sunning and airing out my sweaters, jackets, shoes, and handbags. I don’t use them all regularly here in Costa Rica, but I need them for seasonal travel to other countries, so a little maintenance is necessary. I keep the heavier winter items in breathable but sealable storage bags and also tuck in cedar and vetiver oil sachets to deter moths and help keep everything from getting musty. There’s a good chance that when I pull these things out to pack in November or December, I won’t have the option of hanging them outside to freshen them up.
I wiped the drawers out with a spray I make from alcohol and essential oils to kill any mildew and repel any moths or mites. The fact that my nose got stuffy when I pulled things out was confirmation that even at the end of the dry season, some of the nasties were hanging around. I washed what I could, popped other stuff into the dryer for a hot air cycle, and misted everything else with my spray.
Leather shoes, sandals, and handbags get wiped down with a milder solution, dried in or out of direct sun as appropriate, and sealed with quality leather wax. I can’t emphasize how important this is if you have leather shoes; especially if you’re out every day in the rain. Cleaning them and applying a good shoe wax or waterproofer will help keep your feet dry on wet streets, and will prolong the life of your shoes. Even water friendly boat shoes will benefit. I realize most people don’t wax shoes any more, but if you’re living in the tropics, it matters. City dwellers and beach dwellers will have drastically different takes on this, of course, because if you live in flip flops, tennis shoes, or crocks, or can afford to replace your shoes each season, you won’t care about it.
If you commute, you might want to think about some sort of waterproof backpack or tote bag, especially if you use public transportation or walk any distances at all. I always had spare shoes in my tote or vehicle, a hand towel, and an extra umbrella. Nothing is as unpleasant as spending the day in damp shoes or realizing, as the rain starts to fall on you at the bus stop, that your good umbrella is back at home or work. I still keep extra tennis shoes in the trunk as well as one of those cheapo plastic ponchos.
I’ve experienced getting soaked to the skin enough times to know it’s no fun if you can’t get into dry clothes soon. And I learned a few things. Flip flops are difficult to walk in through puddles or up/down hills when it’s pouring. Tennis shoes aren’t. Ponchos can keep you (and your belongings) drier than an umbrella when the wind creates horizontal rain. Just sayin’.
I won’t get into the many kinds of rain here. If this is your first experience with tropical precipitation, you’re in for a treat! It may be so fine it’s barely noticeable, or it may look like water poured out of a thousand buckets. More on this topic here: https://homeincostarica.blog/2017/09/24/rain-buckets-and-hair-of-the-cat/
Last, but not least, have plenty of rainy day projects or activities to fall back on. Stock up on whatever you need now. I have a few DVD’s I can watch on my laptop even if there’s no power. Make a list of places you can easily get to when the outdoor activity must be cancelled or cabin fever sets in-especially helpful if you have kids. Plan your outings but be flexible. Importantly, don’t let the rain get you down.
Take advantage of sunny mornings and head for the beach when you can. It’ll still rain there in the afternoons, but you won’t mind it as much!
I grew up coming to CR for a month or two every year, but the first entire rainy season I spent here was miserable. I was living in the damper east end of town, to boot. By November, I thought I would lose my mind if it rained one more day. Nothing would dry on the clothes line, nobody had clothes dryers, and I was drying my underwear with a hair dryer. Mildew was appearing on the apartment wall, and my 2 pairs of shoes were falling apart from being wet all the time. Don’t even get me started on dealing with cloth diapers during the winter. Those were the days.
Eventually, I did get used to months on end of rain and now it’s no big deal. You learn to appreciate sunny days and make the most of the mornings. Carrying an umbrella becomes second nature, and you get in the habit of keeping an eye to the sky when you’re out. Late evening and early morning showers can be soothing music when you’re under the covers. Be forewarned: You’ll likely find yourself in bed earlier at night than you ever imagined!
I almost look forward to the afternoon storms, a cup of coffee, and some reading time as the aguaceros (downpours) come through. And how about the way the birds are out singing like crazy as soon as it stops? The air is clean and the foliage practically glows. I love seeing the amazing transformation of sparse, dry fields and mountains into lush landscapes of vibrant greens. And it happens virtually overnight.
Yes, I love the rainy season, despite the occasional inconveniences. Each season has its charm. By November, I’ll be anxious for the rains to end, just like every one else. But for now, I’m ready for mother nature to bring it on—and it’s probably only a matter of days before she does.
Regarding products I mentioned:
I use essential oils that I bring from the US to make my own products, like the drawer & surface spray. I’m happy to share my “recipes” with you upon request.
Two of the products I mentioned came from Amazon. Having orders sent to Costa Rica is iffy at best. Most of us have our orders sent to family or friends in the US who bring them down for us when they come. Following is how they are listed: