Several years ago my friend Mark had visited Costa Rica with his friend Seung. They’d rented a car and I distinctly recall him telling me how terrible the roads were here. 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!
Spanish Immersion Program in Costa Rica
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 Español and live with a local familia. The school also offered surfing lessons which I couldn’t pass up.
Homestays Reveal My Privilege
Upon arriving at the Jimenez casa in Quepos (just outside of Manual Antonio National Park—famous worldwide for it’s endangered squirrel monkeys), I really started thinking about how fortunate (or spoiled) we are in the States.
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.
Now granted, I love this kind of stuff—I love making my house feel like a home with cool tchotchkes and niceties like candles and framed photographs sprinkled about, but of course none of it is a necessity. The entire house felt like an unfinished attic.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or judging them, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say it took some getting used to. 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, and just one mini sized fridge. There was no oven—just a few burners in a portable camping type stovetop.
My room was upstairs and as bare bones as you could get—just a bed and one small armoire. Seriously there was NOTHING else in it. No bedside table. No lamp. No pictures. No rugs. No nada. Just a bed and some windows. It felt sort of like a cabin you’d rent in the woods somewhere. There was a wastebasket outside my bedroom door—well, it was actually 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 bathroom probably made me the most uncomfortable—kind of like an outdoor bath you’d find in a campground with the requisite cobwebs in the corners and a makeshift shower stall. There seemed to be some odd rigging for hot water with actual electric cables leading right to the shower head. This electrocution-trap-waiting-to-happen did not sit well with me.
There was also a dirty, wet towel sitting just 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. And, of course, there was no A/C and it was 90 degrees at least here. This brought me right back to my freshman year in my hot and sticky dorm.
My host madre y padre were Wilma y Jose Ramon Jimenez. They barely spoke any English—which was fine by me as I think that’s when you really “learn” a language when you must speak it all the time. Ah—hence the word immersion! The only problemo was they were really quiet and didn’t speak all that much to me.They had two sons and one daughter-in-law living with them. It turns 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 really fun to be out with some locals—albeit kids about 12 years younger than me. But I did learn from her and her friends some interesting things about Costa Ricans I would not have guessed. Jennifer told be about the unimportance of marriage here. Most Costa Rican couples tend to live together and never get married. It was not very important here to be joined by holy matrimony. It was too costly and just not a necessity here. Jennifer didn’t plan on it and neither did my 40-year-old teacher at Spanish school who’d been with her ‘spouse’ for 14 years. I wrongly assumed most Latino cultures were very catholic and therefore marriage was high on the list. But although the majority of Costa Ricans are catholic, many are not religious and rarely attend church. I also learned that it is quite a liberal country—this attitude reminded me of Quebec, Canada or some parts of Europe where most couples are also not married and just happily live together. Not sure if many in the States realize how conservative and puritanical our country still is.
Costa Rica is getting cooler by the minute.