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My Thoughts on “Moving to the Tropics”

For many years, I dreamed about moving to a tropical paradise. I finally made that dreamed happen when I moved to Costa Rica, only to realize that it’s not for me.

And even today, after the snowstorm of the year, I still wouldn’t trade my home for any place under the sun. Not for Hawaii, not for California, not for French Polynesia, not for Costa Rica, and definitely not for Thailand.

And I still think that you don’t need to live in a tropical paradise to follow a high-raw diet!

It’s also a myth to to say that living in a tropical country is necessary to live a healthy and active lifestyle. And fact, the opposite is true (and will be even more so in the future).

I know, I know. It sounds like a contradiction. What could be better than living in a country where your fruits can be picked fresh and ripe right off the tree?

Unfortunately, the reality is a little different. That’s what I found out by living in different tropical countries at different times throughout my extensive traveling around the world.

Costa Rica

I spent roughly two years of my life in Costa Rica, spread out between a few winters.

I got a pretty good idea of the fruits and vegetables that were available there throughout the seasons.

Yes, there is a lot of fresh fruit available. Yes, it is much cheaper than what you would pay for the same fruit in North America. And yes, the weather is great, most of the time.

But whenever I’ve never been disappointed by the variety and quality of produce that I could find in Montreal.

Part of this is due to fruits in Costa Rica being very seasonal. You will find papayas and bananas year-round, but even the mangos are fairly seasonal.

As for vegetables, that’s where it gets a little trickier. Typically, vegetables don’t grow very well in tropical countries, specifically greens, and the availability is limited due to this reality.

Vegetables such as kale or romaine lettuce, for example, just don’t grow well in these areas, and you won’t find things like this as often.

You’ll find things like cabbage and some lettuce, but nothing near the variety you’ll get in the organic stores everywhere in North America or Europe.

For me, the downsides of living in Costa Rica were too annoying to make me stays.

For example, throughout Central America, roads are not properly set up for walking or running.They can be dangerous if you’re not watching out, and Costa Rica specifically has high rates of accidental traffic deaths involving pedestrians.

You do get beautiful weather, a proper “tropical paradise”, and you get great fruit at a great price. But you do not get all of the modern amenities of North America that many people have grown used to and take for granted.

The crime rate in Costa Rica is high and vastly understated. Of course you can live there for years and never had anything happen to you (as was the case for me). But nonetheless, violent crime, home invasions and such things are a huge problem and not comparable at all with the low levels in Canada and other countries. Expats sugarcoat the reality, but the locals know better, and will tell you the truth: crime has never been worst.

Hawaii

Fruits of Maui. However, these goodies from Ono Farm are difficult to purchase...
Fruits of Maui. However, these goodies from Ono Farm are difficult to purchase…

Hawaii offers a beautiful array of landscapes and microclimates, and I find myself wanting to move here every time I visit. I love the Aloha spirit, the people, I love the water, and I love the islands.

But as most people know, the cost of living in Hawaii is much higher than in other parts of the country.

For someone living on a standard American diet, you could probably get by shopping at Costco, going to the farmer’s markets, and growing some of your food. For most people, however, if you’re going to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, it’s going to get expensive.

Hawaii enjoys an aura of “tropical paradise,” and expats rave about how great their life is. It’s almost like they try to convince themselves more than they try to convince you — maybe because reality is right in front of their eyes and they refuse to see it.

Hawaii was once a pristine, beautiful place. Nowadays, it produces more trash than it knows what to do with, and exports it abroad.

The Hawaiian culture has been destroyed, killed and assimilated. The Hawaiian language is gone, and is spoken only on Niau and in Universities. Hawaii is simply a colonized island where the conquerors have taken pillaged they could and more. The word “Americanized” doesn’t really describes accurately how much those beautiful islands have been disfigured by the tourism industry.

If you don’t believe me, simply check out books to discover what Hawaii was really like even just 50-75 years ago. But even then, the local culture was already gone.

What’s left is a semblance of culture: a folklorized, romanticized version of Hawaii, distilled in the word “Aloha” and all its declinations. But the spirit of Aloha has been gone for a long time. What Aloha now means is big money. And that’s what Hawaii really is: a dream that makes a lot of cash.

Everyone raves about the song by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Over the Rainbow. But all the sadness of Hawaiians is contained in the last song on the album:

Could you just imagine they came back
And saw traffic lights and railroad tracks
How would they feel about this modern city life

Tears would come from each others eyes
As they would stop to realize
That our land is in great great danger now

All the fighting that the king had done
To conquer all these islands now these condominiums
How would he feel if he saw Hawai’i nei
How, would he feel, would his smile be content, then cry

Hawaii, indeed, is a very sad place.

Other Tropical Countries

I’ve visited the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Fiji, the Philippines, and many others.

Yes, there’s good fruit. Yes, those places are beautiful.

But there’s always a dark side that the naive eye of the expat refuses to see. The political situation in Thailand. The lost youth of French Polynesia. The corruption and crumbling infrastructures of the Philippines. And the fact that you’re a foreigner, who simply wants to go there to take something, without thinking about what they can really contribute to the country, and whether they’re willing to truly understand and embrace the culture and be part of it.

Tropical Hell: The Future of Islands

If humanity is not able to stop global warming and we break the 2 degrees Celsius barrier, things will get out of hand. At 3-4 degrees warming, large parts of the world will become nearly uninhabitable, due to extreme heat waves that will make life outside, without air conditioning, life-threatening for many days or weeks of the year.

But unless a miracle happens, it’s almost certain that we’ll reach 3-4 degrees warming. Droughts, extreme weather events and unbearable heat will be the reality of those tropical paradises.

In the future that’s shaping up, the real paradise is up North.

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.