Costa Rica has open-air markets and many open-front stores. I know that my Spanish is good enough to enjoy myself here when I can leave my South American husband behind and take off to buy something just because we are out of it. I don't worry about walking into a market and being a helpless consumer at the mercy of somebody who can put something over on me...not that it doesn't happen back home in the U. S. A., to be sure.
Last night our hotel manager and his wife took us to the Puntarenas Agricultural Market which is outside of town, on the way up the hill towards Esparza, which we have visited. It is simply huge, with outdoor parking and an open-air hall about the size of the Safeway supermarket at Campbell and 22nd in Tucson. It is shaped like a rectangle but open on one end, so that you can enter one side, walk through, turn with the foot traffic and emerge at the other end. That is what we did. There are many little stalls with the same produce, so you might not want to buy the first things you encounter. I even saw some plants that I have not seen before; I mean, I am familiar with mangoes and papayas from growing up in Guam, but there is one type of squash that looks like a zucchini but is round instead of long; there is another edible plant that looks like betel nuts from a betel palm tree--something that unfortunately grows all over Micronesia--but the fruits are larger than betel nuts and you cook them somehow, once you get them off the large cluster that they grow on.
I refer pejoratively to betel nuts because they are a mild intoxicant that people chew. Over time, they turn your teeth and gums blood red and create a very unattractive appearance. On Guam, you will often see a person who looks good looking; then they smile at you and their mouth looks like it is full of blood. I really dislike betel nuts, but they are a fact of life out there and there is no possibility that they will ever fall into disuse.
But anyway, how much are you paying for these Agricultural Market products? Well, first think about this: they are all organically produced. The products are clearly labeled and even the trash cans have signs saying "Organic Trash." I am as sure as I can be that the fruits and vegetables are suitable for consumption if you are looking for organic produce.
We paid 525 Costa Rican colones (their unit of currency) for a full "head" of bananas, the eating type, which comes to $1.04. That's pretty cheap, I think. There were about twenty bananas all told.
We bought a bag of sweet Malaguena oranges, which contained about a dozen and a half, for $1.98 in American money, or 1000 colones. Whole papayas are 600 colones each; we bought two and paid 1000 colones, or $1.98.
A double-size plastic carton of strawberries was on the expensive side: 2000 colones, or $3.97 American.
There were the huge Costa Rican eggs on sale as well; you can get 30 eggs for 2500 colones, or $4.96. A package of 15 eggs runs $2.98. I also saw white eggs for the first time since I arrived here; they are 1500 colones for a kilo, or $2.98.
For those of us who don't deal in kilos, like me, that amounts to a hefty 2.2 pounds. The 1-kilo-weight bag of white eggs had at least forty eggs in it, but I was unable to handle it and count them, although the Tico vendors seemed to derive some amusement from my note-taking.
Our host, Bryan the hotel manager, explained that if you ask, or if you can tell by looking, you can choose double-yolked eggs (doble yerna) among the various packages.
Taking our knowledge of kilos to the other produce, you are getting large, ripe, perfect organic tomatoes for about two pounds for a dollar; garlic is the same; mangoes are the same.
Finally, watermelon is even cheaper! It is 450 colones per kilo, and they weigh it out for you. That amounts to 89 cents for every two pounds!
Bryan's wife comes to the market every weekend and buys fresh produce for the coming week, making it even cheaper than the typical (low) supermarket prices in Puntarenas and in Costa Rica in general. This makes a great difference to the lifestyle possibilities of the pensionistas, retirees from America and Europe who choose to live in Costa Rica.
I met a couple from Tennessee there who are vendors; they looked Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch and were quite noticeable among the vending stalls. It turns out they are Mennonites who live in a little community among the residents of Esparza, and they sell baked goods at the fair every weekend (among other activities, I’m sure). They were very friendly and open, but I must respect their privacy and not mention their names. If you get to the produce market on weekends in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, you will recognize them immediately. Say hello to them; they are very, very nice. Buy some of their organic home-baked whole-wheat bread.
To leave you with useful information, one thousand Costa Rican colones is about two dollars, and one kilo is just over two pounds. Currency converters abound on the Internet, though, and you can probably download an "app" for it for your cellular phone.
But just a reminder: you are never going to use your American cell phone outside the United States. Follow my previous instructions to get on the phone abroad: buy an unlocked international phone from Amazon.com or a similar website and have it activated when you get where you are going.
If absolutely necessary, you have to know what frequencies the telephone signals are broadcast on; for example, for Costa Rica you need a cell phone with a 1200-frequency signal. Other countries may differ!
If we ever return to Costa Rica, I will have to arrive with my own phone, though--my husband is using the one I got. I might as well give it to him and start over; it is a bone-simple "brick" type cell and I would like a smart phone anyway (and by now he knows the number). The only other caveat I have about Costa Rica is that I have been told that Blackberry phones don't work well here, although I have not verified that independently and generally speaking, I consider Blackberry a very good product. In that case, if I want a smart phone I will have to go with something such as Samsung, Nokia or an IPhone.