Shoes! I’m all about the shoes. It started with Bonnie in Brooklyn. We were best friends growing up in the projects in the 1950s. Post WWII, our families were struggling to build foundations for new starts. Money was scarce; our parents worked hard, yet, we were given weekly allowances, which we saved until we had enough to go shoe-shopping at E.J. Korvette’s bargain basement. We bought samples for a dollar; the jeweled shoes brought glamour and joy.
Over the years, I have continued my quest for unique shoes. When preparing to move to Costa Rica, I erroneously thought I was giving up the shoe thing. I gave most of them away and then started re-building when I realized my mistake. Starting with the least important, here are the nine essential types of shoes to include in a move to Costa Rica:
9. Crocs for gardening – I don’t garden, but if I did, I would want Crocs. They are ugly as sin, but a lot, really, a whole lot, of people like them. I like that my son went to school with the guy who invented them. While a student at University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School of Business, smart kids learn how to market stuff. Tyler’s classmate hit it right with Crocs. I would say, like most products in the world today, you can get a knock-off that will work, but the original is still the best. Bring your own Crocs from home. They will cost more here, and the quality may be inferior. Of course, here in Costa Rica, there are fabulous gardeners who work hard and well tending your garden. They know the terrain, weather conditions, and they do magic with a machete. Bring Crocs for your gardener. Mostly they prefer to wear boots in case a snake in the grass tries to bite them. Bring Crocs to wear in the garden while checking on your gardener’s work.
8. Hiking boots – Depending on the area, time of year, time of day, and weather conditions, I suggest full coverage when walking through tall grass, the favorite daytime habitat for snakes. There are several varieties of poisonous snakes in Costa Rica, the most deadly being the fer-de-lance or terciopolis. If you have a sturdy pair they can double for construction boots in case you decide to build your own house, or if you get lost while hiking, you can construct a shelter.
7. Rain boots – The rainy season is May through November. It can rain torrents for days on end. Gringos tend to have big feet compared to ticos, so bring your own rain boots. A funny thing happened at the Alajuela Feria the other day; a shoe vendor was hawking his wares, trying to entice us into his booth, where he had men’s shoes displayed on racks. I pointed at my husband’s feet, and explained that he wears a size thirteen. The Spanish speaking shoe vendor’s jaw dropped, then his face lit up as the two of us had a good laugh. I turned to Don and explained in English, and he joined in the laughter. Bring your own!
6. Cowboy Boots – these come in handy if you go horseback riding. I rubbed the skin off the inside of my calf a few years ago. A tico was riding his horse on the beach in Marbella. He saw me perk up at the sight of him galloping on the stretch of wide-open, deserted, smooth sand, and asked me if I wanted to ride. I did! Being an experienced rider, I jumped on the horse in my bathing suit and flip-flops without giving it a thought. The horse took off at a full gallop, and no amount of pulling back on the rope reins or shouting had any effect whatsoever. It occurred to me that he simply didn’t speak English, but at the time, my Spanish was lacking (as though that would have stopped him). I gave up and decided to just hang on, enjoy the ride, and wait for the horse to get tired. When we got back to the owner, I dismounted, thanked the smiling man profusely for the ride, and watched as he rode away in full control. It was only after he was out of sight that I dared look at my stinging legs. There was no skin left on the inside of my calves! It was worth it, even though it took months to heal. Next time? Boots!
Oh yeah. The other reason to bring cowboy boots is for the annual Atenas Chili Cook-off. My team, Roca Caliente, dresses the part; boots and cowboy hats!
5. Water shoes – If you are going swimming at a beach with a rocky entrance you will be happy you brought water shoes, especially if you just had a pedicure and your feet are extra sensitive. I didn’t have any once when visiting the luxurious Los Suenos Resort. I had been treated to the deluxe pedicure which includes a thorough treatment of sloughing off dead skin and getting down to the tender, pink layer. It wasn’t until I was in agony at the water’s edge of a Guanacaste beach the next day. The beach itself was made of coral and crunched up shells, and the inelegant entry I made into the water embarrassed me, not to mention sent shards of pain up my legs. Once in the water, I shouted to my companion to bring my flip-flops. I always thought water shoes were dorky and didn’t want to own any. I have changed my tune on that. Besides, they now come in colors such as hot pink, lime green, and electric blue. Dorky is the new cool!
4. Wedgies – Shoe people know what I’m talking about; especially “height-challenged” people. There are times when high heels are difficult, yet you need a shoe with height because otherwise your pants will drag on the ground.
3. Running Shoes – especially if you are actually a runner. There are running clubs all over the country; Hash House Harriers has a group in San Jose. My first and last experience with Hash House Harriers, “The Beer Drinking Club with a Running Problem”, was in Hawaii sometime in the 1970s. I was young, feisty, fit, and confident. Most of the club consisted of military guys stationed in Oahu. I was a flight attendant for Trans International Airlines, laying over on the way to the Philippines. I told Marc, who invited me on the run, the only thing I dreaded was coming in dead last. He assured me that I would. Determined to prove him wrong, I ran with all my might. As I stumbled over the finish line, I looked up at Marc: “Am I last?” Lips pursed, head bobbing slightly, he said: “Yup! Let’s go drink beer!” Forty years later, I have never again run with the Hash House Harriers, but I encourage you to! www.costaricahhh.com
2. Flip-flops – They come in many forms and can be worn to almost everything. Along with the “no shorts” rule in the city of San Jose, I tend to wear proper (closed) shoes in the city. Other than that, they can be worn anywhere, with any outfit. Stock up before coming, especially if your feet are on the larger side. My shoe arsenal has flat ones in a variety of colors, stacked ones with rhinestones for more formal occasions, sturdy ones for walking on rough terrain such as rocky roads, and gold lame with jewels for the holidays.
1. And the number one type of shoes to bring to Costa Rica: Stilettos! Huh? Really? And to think, I gave away dozens before moving to Costa Rica. I didn’t know. Before moving to Costa Rica as a full-time expat, I spent most of my time at the beach community of Nosara. The beach lifestyle is mostly barefoot; flip-flops are the shoe of choice, with the occasional donning of running shoes if you are going running on roads instead of barefoot at the beach.
My husband and I moved to Atenas, a Central Valley community not far from San Jose. On my first outing to the town, I saw women in dresses or nice jeans with blouses and on their feet – stilettos! My jaw dropped as I watched them maneuver the uneven sidewalks and streets riddled with potholes, cracked cement, tree roots, uneven brickwork, crazy staircases, wooden ramps, and the occasional horse-dung pile. I didn’t see myself going to that extreme, but certainly if we drove to a restaurant or house party, I could make it from the car to the destination, couldn’t I?
Determined to re-build my stiletto stash, I found a shoe boutique in town, purchased a modest pair, and made a dinner reservation at the nicest place in town. The gravel road leading to the restaurant was hazardous, so we made a plan: I carried a large purse which housed my lipstick and the shoes. I wore flip-flops to the edge of the smooth walkway leading to the restaurant. My husband, Don, promised to be Prince Charming and place the shoes on my feet before entering the restaurant. There were two problems: it was dark, and the never-been-worn shoes had four straps with tiny little holes for the prongs to fit into. They were factory tight. As dexterous as he is, he had trouble lining up the connections. He pulled out his iPhone, turned on the built-in flashlight which he handed to me to train on the straps. He donned his reading glasses, got down on bended knee, for better leverage, got those shoes buckled up, wiped the sweat off his brow, and off we went. We entered the dining room of what we were told was a five star restaurant, and saw that we were the only guests, other than the huge dog sleeping in the corner.
I proudly strutted to the table in my new shoes, crossed my legs with my foot sticking into the aisle to show off the ‘choos’, ordered a martini, and enjoyed the moment to the fullest. The dog perked up when he heard the “click-clack” coming across the tile floor; I‘m not sure he had heard that sound before. This was mostly a gringo place; most gringo expats do not wear stilettos. I have since discovered the tico places where my shoes and I fit right in. Next thing you know, I’ll be zip-lining in stilettos!