If you have been following along with the No Phone Challenge blog series you know that I’ve been telling some stories about the experiences I’ve had over the past several years that have inspired the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge for Mental Health Awareness. In this post, I’m going to tell the story of another seed that was planted in my brain during a 2 month stay in Costa Rica in late 2020 and early 2021.
Costa Rica was one of the first international destinations to open up to US travelers after COVID-related travel restrictions started to lift. I had some friends from one of the mastermind communities I belong to that were heading down there. So I took the opportunity to meet up with them and try on the digital nomad / work from anywhere lifestyle for a bit.
For much of the trip I was staying in an AirBnB in a relatively remote, small, surf town on the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula called Santa Teresa. There wasn’t even a paved street in town. It was a tiny town surrounded on all sides by either ocean or rain forest with only one road leading in and out.
Everything was going according to plan. I had my phone as well as my laptop with me. Cell coverage was spotty but there was Wi-Fi in some of the coffee & juice shops and I was able to communicate as much as I needed and get at least a few hours of work done every day.
Then, one day while walking on the beach amongst some tidal pools, I slipped and fell into the shallow water. My phone fell out of my pocket, hitting a rock and landing in the ocean. The screen was already cracked before this accident so I guess the fall and brief immersion in the salt water was enough to damage something important. Anyways, the phone was completely dead.
I tried to see if I could potentially get the phone back online myself. I went to the market and purchased a bag of rice and put the phone in the rice overnight to try and absorb the moisture. The next morning I was optimistic. The rice hack had actually worked for me once before after another water immersion incident. I eagerly tried turning on my phone. Nothing but a black mirror stared back at me. The phone was completely dead and beyond any sort of home repair hacks.
Getting your iPhone repaired or replaced in a small town in Costa Rica is not the same experience as getting your device fixed in the US. As you will see as you read on, what can be a minor inconvenience in the US can be a major project from where I was sitting. First off, there are zero Apple Stores in the entire country of Costa Rica. There was exactly one general phone / tech repair guy in the town I was staying in. The good news is that this made my decision process about what to do next with my phone very simple.
I walked down to “Tecnocell Santa Teresa” with my phone. The tech repair shop was little more than a shack on the town’s “main street” (which was itself just a dirt road that ran parallel to the beach). It was tucked between some surf shops, a fresh acai spot, and an amazing, open air barbecue joint. In addition to doing phone repairs, they were the town’s primary shopping destination for all sorts of new and reconditioned “tech devices” ranging from cell phones to fans.
My Favorite Tech Repair Shop – “Tecnocell Santa Teresa” (Costa Rica)
I introduced myself to Juan, the owner / operator / salesman / repair person of Tecnocell Santa Teresa. Juan wasted no time in setting expectations. He explained to me that very few iPhones are sold in Costa Rica and that parts are hard to come by. Furthermore, international mail & shipping was still largely offline because of the pandemic. This meant that even if you could get a package shipped to you from the US, it could easily take a couple months to arrive. The bottom line was that any needed components would have to be sourced in country from the very limited supply of reconditioned parts that various tech repair shops have cannibalized from old phones.
The truth of the matter started sinking in. This was going to take a minute. I was going to be completely without a phone for a bit. At the time, I thought that “a bit” would turn out to be a couple days. Maybe three or four at the most. That estimate turned out to be little more than wishful thinking.
Juan told me to come back the next day. He needed some time to pull it apart and assess the damage. When I got back there the following day he told me there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that he couldn’t repair the phone with the parts he had there in the shop. There was one component that was fried and he didn’t have that replacement part in his personal inventory. The good news was that he was able to source the part from a different shop. So he could have the part shipped to his shop and then repair my phone once it arrived.
Juan had worked his network to source a reconditioned part that had been salvaged from another old phone. He had located the part at another independent phone repair store on the other side of the country. However, it would take several days to get to where we were.
The shop that had the part was actually going to give it to a bus driver who drove that route east to west across Costa Rica. However, the bus driver only drove this route that ran through Santa Teresa a couple days per week. Apparently, this bus driver had a little side hustle of dropping off items on her route. For in-the-know businesses it was a (much) cheaper and quicker alternative to UPS or Fed-Ex. They would slip her a few pesos and the item would be loaded on her bus and taken to its destination (as long as that destination happened to fall on this particular east / west bus route).
At the time, I was pretty frantic at the prospect of spending several days being completely “cut off” in a small town in a foreign country where I didn’t even speak the language. If I could have, I would have driven all day back and forth to the store that had the part that I needed. I would have picked it up myself and rushed it back to town so that the repair guy could get my phone fixed. However, I didn’t have a rental car. This happened during that period of COVID where there was a big shortage of rental cars. So there were no cars to be had for weeks.
And so, I was stuck waiting. As I mentioned previously, I did have a laptop. So when I had wi-fi I could at least get on the social media messenger apps as well as email. However, much of my business and personal communication was being done on WhatsApp and other messenger apps that, at the time, wouldn’t operate on my laptop unless my phone was turned on, connected, and in the vicinity. My phone was none of these things at the time.
Meanwhile, the ETA for the repair guy receiving the replacement part kept getting pushed back (as ETA’s tend to do in Costa Rica). It was something to do with the bus driver taking a few vacation or sick days or something similar. In truth, whilst I never really got to the bottom of it, I was more than aware that I’d be stuck waiting for a few more days at least before I could get reconnected.
I would stop by the store daily to get status reports from Juan on the efforts to source and ship the parts to us along with all the complicated logistics that went along with the effort. I came to find out that this tech repair shop had no real set hours. The sign on the door that listed the shop’s “open hours” seemed to represent something more akin to the range of time during the day when Juan wasn’t at home. Not necessarily the time he was at the shop.
I got the opportunity to get to know Juan a bit as time went by. For example, during one of my daily check-ins I discovered why the store’s hours were so erratic. It was because he would shut the store down in the middle of the day to go surfing. I admitted to him that I had gotten frustrated a couple days when I would make the long trek in the tropical heat, on foot from my AirBnB all the way down to his store. I asked him if there was a specific time that he went surfing every day so I could know to avoid coming at those times in the future. He said no. It depended on the prevailing tides across the street at Santa Teresa Beach. However, he kindly offered to email me every morning and tell me what time he was planning on surfing so I wouldn’t come then. After considering the offer I decided to decline. Now that I knew why the shop was randomly closed I kind of liked the mystery of not knowing whether or not the shop would be open or not when I arrived.
Going forward, if I arrived at the tech repair shop and it was closed, I wouldn’t bother to go all the way back to the other side of town (where my AirBnB was) only to just have to make the trek again later. Instead, I decided to find something else to do to pass the time until he came back from surfing. I’d go to the local fresh acai joint, or go get some work done on my laptop at a cafe. After a few days of that routine I just gave in to the local vibe. I decided that the absolute best thing to do during these periods was to go surfing myself.
I had never surfed before but that wasn’t a problem. Although this was a small town it was a fairly renowned surf spot. So, it’s exponentially easier to track down a good surf instructor than it is to get an iPhone repaired. I quickly found a good teacher who, along with his wife and dog, ran a surf shop just a couple doors down from the tech repair shop.
The surf instructor would bring his dog along to our lessons. Like many of the locals, the dog also surfed. During our lessons the instructor’s dog would alternate between playing with the packs of wild dogs that would hang out on the beach, and surfing. When the dog wanted to take a break from running around on the beach he would signal his human that he was ready to catch a wave. Then the instructor would put him on a short board and paddle him out into the surf. Once he found a good wave the dog was on his own. He would ride the wave all the way into shore. Furthermore, the dog clearly surfed much better than I did which was more than a little embarrassing. He seemed to be giving me a mocking side eye as I would try and stand up next to him. I would generally crash spectacularly into the surf as he cruised by, smirking at me.
In any case, after a few lessons I was on my own. When I stopped by the tech store for an update and found it closed I would just walk next door, rent a board and go out on my own while I waited for the shop to reopen.
In regards to my phone repair, one drama seemed to lead to another. The repair that was supposed to take “a couple days, a few at most” ultimately took the better part of a month. At one point the phone was partially fixed and back in my hands for a few days. Then it died again and had to be returned back to Tecnocell. The reconditioned part we spent days waiting on was no good. Now we were back to square 1, sourcing the same part again and getting it scheduled on our bus driver / delivery woman’s route.
On and on we went. Things got a bit nerve wracking when it was getting close to the date when I was scheduled to leave the area and my phone was still in pieces in a box at Tecnocell. I communicated this deadline to Juan who promised he would have the phone fixed before I had to leave town.
D-Day arrived. I had a van scheduled to pick me up at zero dark thirty the next morning to take me to a different part of the country. So this was my last chance to get my phone fixed before I left.
I stopped by the shop probably three different times that day. The part I needed arrived at the shop that afternoon. I was there to watch the bus stop in front of the store and have the driver toss the bag containing my part out the window to Juan as her passengers debarked. That was the good news. The bad news was that Juan still had to execute the repair.
The scariest point was when I stopped by at the end of the day at the time he told me to come back and his assistant had told me that he had left early and was gone for the day. This time he wasn’t surfing. Apparently he was playing in a local soccer match somewhere just outside of town. “Don’t worry”, she said. He took the phone home with him. He had planned on finishing the repair at home that evening and getting me the phone in the morning. The information about me needing the phone that evening because I was leaving way too early the next morning to meet up seemed to have gotten lost in translation.
His assistant seemed pretty uninterested in my “crisis”. However, she gave me Juan’s cell phone number and told me to sort it with him. This was easier said than done with no phone and limited Spanish language skills.
I tracked down an Israli friend I had made who was living near my AirBnB. He used his phone to contact Juan on my behalf. Juan told us he was definitely not going to come back into town that night after his match. However, he said that if I came up to his house (up in the hills outside of town) after his soccer game, I could pick up the phone there later that night once it was fixed.
Now, assuming Juan’s ETA was correct for once, all that there was left to do was to figure out how to get up into the hills that evening to pick up my (hopefully) operational phone. My Israli buddy kindly offered to take me up into the hills to Juan’s home on the back of his moped.
It was a dicey ride going up the steep, slippery, dirt hills to get up to where Juan lived. Especially on a moped designed and powered to be used by one person on relatively flat surfaces. When we finally arrived I was a bit shaken from the ride, and Juan wasn’t even finished working on the phone. He said that he was almost done with the repair (for real this time). For once his estimate was accurate. There was just enough time for celebratory beers in Juan’s front yard before I said my goodbyes to Santa Teresa.
So ended my no phone adventures in Costa Rica. Although this particular no phone experience was a blessing in retrospect, I can’t say that it always felt like a blessing in the moment. At the moment, with no phone, I wasn’t always as patient and understanding as I would have liked. I admit that I was definitely much more grateful for the experience after the fact.
It was certainly a challenge to go from being fully connected 24 / 7 to going almost cold turkey off of tech for the better part of a month. It’s jarring to all of a sudden lose the device that’s your automatic translator, your map, your photography equipment, your library, your entertainment platform, your business & personal communication tool, and your security blanket, among other things.
I remember at one point that I even briefly considered the viability of crossing the entire country back and forth via ATV. At the time, ATVs were the only vehicle readily available to rent. The town I was staying in had all dirt roads and they were mostly very rough terrain and some of them very steep. So the majority of the residents, if they had a vehicle, had ATVs. So they were easy to locate for either a daily or long term rental. So, one day when I was especially frustrated about not having my phone I contemplated whether it would be a good idea to rent one of the ATVs to take it cross country to get the part myself. However, that would require spending several hours driving an ATV on major freeways. I took this idea all the way to the point where I walked over and chatted with the ATV rental guy about the idea (he thought I should try it). Ultimately, more reasonable heads prevailed and I put the kibosh on that plan.
So here’s the good news. I’m not suggesting that you give up your phone for a month, a week, or even a day. I’m just suggesting that you consider taking the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge and become more intentional about your phone use. Just try turning your phone off here and there a bit throughout your day. You will be surprised at how the challenge increases your productivity, balance, and ability to remain present. You will likely also feel a generalized improvement in your mental health. And, together we can all help raise awareness for the mental health crisis that we as a society are currently facing.
By the way, in conjunction with the launch of the “No Phone Challenge” for Mental Health Awareness, Legendary Life has also launched a mobile app that incorporates several independent modules aligned with Legendary Life’s mission of helping people identify, pursue, achieve, and maintain their “Personal Legends”. Examples of modules include: New Minimalism, Quantum Time Hacking, Gratitude, Journaling, Affirmations modules for both adults and children, and of course the “No Phone Challenge” module (which ironically you use by tracking your progress with your phone). Check it out here. Available to download for free from the App Store and Google Play Store.
#LLNoPhoneChallenge #NoPhoneChallenge #LegendaryLife #LiveYourLegend