Costa Rica Riches – Costa Rica, Central America

Several years ago my friend, Mark, visited Costa Rica with his friend, Seung. They rented a car and I distinctly recall him telling me how terrible the roads were. Well, it appears not much has changed since then. Let's just say that on my bus ride from San Jose to Quepos, I wished I'd worn a sports bra. Ouch!

Before I left on my trip, one of the things I decided to do was enroll in a Spanish Immersion program in which I would take lessons en EspaƱol and live with a local familia. The school also offered surfing lessons, which I couldn't pass up.

Upon arriving at the Jimenez casa is Quepos (outside of Manual Antonio National Park – famous worldwide for its endangered squirrel monkeys), I started thinking about how fortunate (or spoiled) we are in the U.S. Their home had everything they needed and yet probably less than 1/8 of what I had. The floors were plain old concrete. There were no area rugs. There were no lamps or any other lighting except simple florescent bulbs in the center of the ceiling and there were none of the "extras" we have to decorate our homes. No art on the walls (besides the few small religious cards of the Virgin Mary and Jesus randomly hung where there happened to be nails), no bookshelves, no end tables, vases, no pretty paint colors on the walls, etc.

Granted, I enjoy making my house feel like a home with cool tchtochkes and niceties like candles, framed photographs sprinkled about, but I know none of it is a necessity. The entire house felt like an unfinished attic. I'm not complaining or judging them, it took some getting used to, though. There was no dry wall – just the beams and rafters. The kitchen was an amalgamation of various tables covered in cut up contact paper acting as counters. There were no cabinets, no real countertops, one mini-sized fridge. There was no oven, a few burners in a portable camping type stovetop.

My room was upstairs, bare bones – a bed and one small armoire – NOTHING else. No bedside table. No lamp. No pictures. No rugs. No nada. A bed and some windows. It felt like a cabin you'd rent in the woods. There was a wastebasket outside my bedroom door – a box with the top cut off with a plastic bag in it. It took me a day before I decided what it was for as there was no trash can in the bathroom.

the shower/death trapThe bathroom probably made me the most uncomfortable, similar to an outdoor bath you'd see in a campground with the requisite cobwebs in the corners and a makeshift shower stall. There was an odd rigging for hot water with electric cables leading to the shower head. This electrocution-trap-waiting-to-happen did not sit well with me. There was also a dirty, wet towel sitting outside the shower stall on the concrete floor that did not look like a place I'd want to put my clean wet feet post bathing. A subtle mildew odor filled the air. Of course, there was no air conditioning and it was 90 degrees, at least. This brought me right back to my freshman year in my hot and sticky dorm.

Jimenez FamiliaMy host madre y padre were Wilma y Jose Ramon Jimenez. They barely spoke English, hence, immersion! The only problemo was they were quiet, didn't speak much to me. They had two sons and one daughter-in-law living with them. It turned out that Jennifer, the daughter-in-law, was one of the teachers at my Spanish Language school. She was 22 and had been living with them (and dating their son) for five years.

She graciously invited me to join her y una amiga para una cerveza (o dos) that night. It was fun to be out with some locals, albeit kids about 12 years younger than I. But I did learn some interesting things about Costa Ricans I would not have guessed – the unimportance of marriage. Most Costa Rican couples tend to live together and never get married. It's not important here to be joined in holy matrimony – too costly and not necessary. Jennifer didn't plan on it and neither did my 40-year-old teacher at the Spanish school who'd been with her "spouse" for 14 years.

I wrongly assumed most Latino Catholic cultures placed marriage high on the list. Although the majority of Costa Ricans are Catholic, many are not religious. I'm not sure if Americans realize how conservative and puritanical the U.S. is.

Costa Rica is getting cooler by the minute.

To read more of Lisa's travels, go to