Costa Rica: Home is where you make it

During our first few weeks in Costa Rica – before our friends came to visit us – Brandon and I would wake-up early, around five, to surf or do yoga. Most afternoons we would relax, soak-up the sun, and reflect on our recent travels.

A little more than five months ago, before we left the States, I would say Brandon and I were outgoing, social and open-minded people. We were always up for an adventure and liked being outdoors. Besides working and surfing, our evenings and weekends were usually jam-packed with gatherings, including birthday parties, baby showers and weddings.

When it came to spending money we were frugal – as we were saving for this trip – we didn’t really want or buy more than we needed (except for the occasional splurges on yummy dinners). Overall we lived a simple life – a life of quality, not quantity, surrounded by friends and family.

The life of a traveler seemed like a life of adventure, pilgriming, rocking-and-rolling, carefree of all responsibilities. Brandon and I were pulled, like a magnet, into wanting this freedom – away from the 9-5. We weren’t ready for children; we longed to understand more about the world and ourselves.

So, after two years of talking about it, planning where we would go and then finally saying our good-byes, we jumped beyond our scope and landed in South America – far from our safe, simple and quiet lives behind the little orange curtain of Southern California. The reality we grew to know and understand so well disappeared. Just like magic, everything we thought we knew to be true about this big messed up world changed forever – and it changed us for the better. Things have become clearer now than ever before about what we want out of life. For this, we will never look back and regret our decision to sell everything we owned and leave our old lives behind.

There truly is nothing more exciting than a good adventure filled with fear, laughter, drama, mystery and anticipation.

During our travels through Ecuador, Peru and Chile, Brandon and I absorbed little life-lessons from watching how people of different cultures live, interact, and play. Sometimes we mingled or made friends with these people, other times we just sat back and observed.

Our journey was filled with many adventures. It was better than we predicted and imagined – it was just what we needed. It was unfiltered and real. What we witnessed and experienced – which may be different from what you see in our photos – has been captured in our minds and hearts forever. No one can ever take that away from us. (Sure, we would have captured it on film, but no one in their right mind would bust out an iPod or camera in most of the places we traveled.)

Brandon and I understand now that the beauty and freedom we had surrounding us growing up were things we took for granted.  

The gutters, sidewalks and beaches weren’t plastered with trash – plastic and glass bottles, food wrappers, cardboard, old shoes, syringes and condoms.

Commercial buildings didn’t have rebar around the windows, and banks didn’t have guards standing outside with pistols. The city walls weren’t covered in graffiti, and the streets weren’t dirt and swarming with starving, mangy, tick and flea infested dogs. I didn’t live in a tin house, and neither did any of my friends. Our eggs and mayonnaise were refrigerated – shoot, our family had a refrigerator.

And, in my K-12 days, I didn’t have to wake at three in the morning, get out the door by four, just to walk three miles, in second-hand shoes that were too big for my feet or a uniform which was too small for my body, to the bus stop to wait for the bus, hoping it would come on time, just to ride it for two more hours to get to school. I didn’t have to wait until lunch to get my first and only meal of the day. I didn’t have to make lanyard bracelets or carve wooden figurines and sell them on the corner, or work on a bus with my father helping him collect coins from passengers, for 15 hours a day during the weekends, or even after my homework at night. I didn’t have to be in the house before sunset or have five locks on my front door because I lived in an area infiltrated by gangsters, drug-traffickers, and child-traffickers or corrupt police.

No, this was and is not my life, but it is the life of millions of people throughout South America. Shoot, I am sure it is life of millions of people living around the world – including the U.S.

What I can tell you is this, witnessing the happiness between a family that shares a 500 square-foot dwelling, with four cement walls, a tin roof, a couple hammocks and maybe a light bulb hanging from the ceiling was humbling. With minimal ‘things’ – only the essentials – these people were happy dang it.

We all know that our ‘things’ do not define us, or make us who we are. However, we can easily be influenced and become consumed by them. It’s definitely happened to me. So, do we miss all those expensive ‘things’ Brandon and I worked so hard to buy and fill our apartment with? No. Well, I’m lying; we do miss our big plush comfy bed and I do miss quality cooking knives and utensils. Ah, the finer things in life.

When we landed in Costa Rica, walked out those double doors at the airport, felt the thick dewy moisture hit our skin; we looked at each other and just smiled. We made it. We are home.  

Arriving in San Jose we were much more comfortable making our way through the airport, filling out the forms and getting through customs. Considering we speak pretty good Spanglish, we felt like professionals at this travel stuff now.

Before this trip, renting a car and driving in a Latin American county seemed like a crazy idea. But now, a piece of cake, a luxury, a special treat for all of the sweaty, hot, wet and rusted buses we rode through shantytowns and along winding roads. Driving? No problem! We were excited.

Costa Rica has the most beautiful and clean coastline of any country we’ve ever visited. The people and government seem to take good care of its beaches, waters, countryside and roads. The drive was beautiful.

Then, about three hours later, we found our selves in the middle of a horrible lightening and thunderstorm. Following directions we found online, we drove off the Pan American Highway, into the stormy night, down bumpy muddy roads and even had to cross a river. It was probably the most intense time we’ve had on the road. We hadn’t seen another car in more than an hour, there were no streetlights, and the shrubbery must have hid the street signs. Staying calm continued forward, hoping to land in a town.

Finally, two hours later, we started to see wooden signs nailed too trees directing us to places in Nosara. We were able to get a signal on our cell phone and called our landlord, June. She rushed to meet us. Phew… we made it.

Nosara, known for its white sandy beaches, is located on the Pacific coast in the Guanacaste region of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Surrounded by a lush, green jungle and rolling mountains, Nosara has been designated a wildlife refuge and is protected from development and deforestation by Costa Rican law. It has three distinctive and unspoiled beaches that stretch 12 miles along the coast: Playa Guiones, then Playa Pelada and Playa Ostional.

We chose Nosara for two reasons. First, because the main beach of Playa Guiones has one of the most consistent surf breaks in all of Costa Rica – and in the world.  Second, it is home to the Nosara Yoga Institute, known worldwide for its instructors and accreditations. A couple other added bonuses were its reputable Spanish school and many opportunities to volunteer.

The casita we have been renting costs $600 a month and is located about four minutes from Playa Pelada, and about a mile from Playa Guiones. The cost includes utilities, a weekly maid and gardener. And, the casita came fully furnished with a little kitchenette stocked with pots, pans and a blender – whoo hoo – a blender! (You can see it here:

Oh, and we adopted a kitty – or he adopted us! Two days after we arrived he showed up at our door screaming for food. We took him in, gave him tick and flea medicine, and named him Dude. This little lover keeps us company, and guards our place.

It only took about a week, after stocking our apartment with food and exploring the area, to realize just how expensive living in Costa Rica has become, especially in Nosara, which we like to call the Beverly Hills of Costa Rica – where the elite live, and a retirement community for the rich.

The cost of living is almost more expensive than living in Southern California, no joke! We spent a little more than $3,000 USD in the first month on rent, food – cooking mainly at home – and an occasional rental car so we could explore. The costs of going to the Yoga institute and the Spanish school are ridiculously high – Californian prices!!! So, we nixed those activities.

Suring has been our main focus and main daily activity. Playa Guiones has been fun, more for me then Brandon, because it can be small and mushie. I LOVE my new board and just being out in the warm 80-degree, crystal blue, salty water. It’s unreal. Plus, there are a lot of yogi-surfer girls out surfing each day. These girls, with their tan, ripped bodies, inspire me to work harder to become a better surfer. It’s been great!

Brandon on the other hand, and Jon, when he was here, really like surfing Playa Ostional because it’s a better wave – steeper, faster and during a good swell, barreling. However, Ostional is a good 30-minute drive from our house, meaning he hasn’t made it there often, just when we have a rental car, or one of our crazy Italians neighbors go.

As you can guess, Nosara is tucked away, far from the rest of the country. And the small communities and beaches within are spread really far a part from each other. With no transportation, other than our mountain bikes, we’ve been feeling a bit trapped. At least we have lots of monkeys to entertain us… (Island fever!)

In the beginning we made a huge effort to introduce ourselves to local business owners, surfers and our neighbors in the small towns of Guiones and Pelada.

Trying to make new friends and get in with the locals, we attended a couple parties too. But, the people aren’t what we expected. It is so Americanized here. Everyone speaks English, not allowing us to practice our Spanish. Most of the Tico’s (native Costa Ricans) stick to themselves and don’t associate with the gringos. (We didn’t experience this in other places we’ve visited though). Here, they happily say ‘hola’ when we walk by, but for the most part they just stare at us. Even worse, there are a lot of drugs floating around – and they are cheap, really cheap. Come to find out, the people we’ve met, who we thought we might become friends with, party a little to hard for us. And, like any small town, there is a lot of drama.

So, we’ve stuck to ourselves for the most part.

To keep busy, we’ve handed out a lot of Brandon’s business cards and even advertised his barbering services on local businesses Facebook pages. Considering there is no barber in Nosara, a few establishments offered Brandon a place to cut hair. We thought the phone would eventually start ringing… crickets.

Six weeks later… Today, Brandon has a few clients, however, the business hasn’t been consistent. Plus, the country is in a low-season (Apr-Jun and Sep-Oct). Meaning there are not a lot of tourists and most businesses are getting ready to close until November. We just didn’t realize how dead it would become during these months.

This was not what we expected, nor was it what we were looking for. We had changed, our expectations had changed and Costa Rica changed too.

Good thing we met Cassie and Charlie Madison, an awesome couple from Nashville, Tenessee, who lived about half a mile down the road from us, which is close considering how far everything and everyone is from each other. They recently returned home after living here for three months.

Charlie and Cassie quickly became part of our everyday routine. Cassie and I surfed and excersized together regularly. We had dinner parties, where we would laugh for hours, mostly because Charlie is one of the funniest dudes we’ve ever met. Good times.

Eventually our good friend, Christina, made her way down to stay with us for a while. Then, Brandon’s best friend Jon, came for a short visit. Having our good friends here was so refreshing. Man we miss our friends!



During this time of reflection and relaxation, Brandon and decided what we really want out of a home and community. Although we are strong believers that your home is where you make it, Costa Rica may not be the place we want to make our home, permanently.

Brandon realizes he misses working. He misses going to a barbershop, cutting hair, talking with his clients, and being a part of a community. And, at least in the States his barbering businesses were constant year round. Lately, Brandon and I have thrown around the idea of opening our own barbershop – we just aren’t sure where yet.

Otherwise, returning and working in the corporate world is just not for me, it may never be again. I love to write, but not so much that I want to pursue a full-time career in journalism, or public relations. I really enjoy coordinating events and parties. Maybe I can expand my current skill set and focus on events. That might be fun?

Regardless of when, or if, we ever go back to the States, our slate has been wiped clean. We can begin where- and however we want, creating a new version of the American Dream, not the one society has clearly outlined for us. What ever it is we decide to do, where ever it is we plant our roots, we made a commitment to each other that travel will always be a part of our lives and our childrens lives.

For now, we are looking forward to spending the rest of the year in Costa Rica, and seeing our friends and family who are coming to visit in December, but as of right now, we have no intentions on starting a business or staying here permanently.

For more pictures of our adventures, visit our Facebook Fan Page.

Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.

7 thoughts on “Costa Rica: Home is where you make it

  1. So happy for you both…I felt exactly the same way and I hope with all my heart you succeed where I eventually could not. I spent 1/2 my life overseas and do not regret one minute of it, but ultimately, I had to return, circumstances and life happen…you just go with it. BUT as an old lady with a vagabond gypsy blood history… go until you no longer can. REAL life (the kind you are told to do) happens all too soon and much to fast. It will drag you into the commonplace oblivion and you will always wish you had continued all that you could. Keep going and keep checking it out… much love from a vagabond from way back.

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