Ohhh Craigslist. Home to creeps and trolls, and also where I go sometimes to shop or find housing.

In my article, How to Find a Place to Live in Costa Rica, I talk about how it’s easier/better to find a place to rent by walking around and looking for physical “for rent” signs than it is to find something online. But I’m an introvert who is repulsed at the thought of calling a bunch of people, so I don’t follow my own advice.

So picture a poorly written, vague Craigslist ad with a blurry photo advertising a studio apartment in a town I’ve never been to in the middle of nowhere, and then picture me responding to it and suggesting a viewing day and time.

The response:

Hi erin,

I’ll call   to confirm our meeting  today, Friday at 1;30 pm,  main entrance

iglesia in san isidro ,heredia. If for some reason I can’t talk TO YOU ,

I’ll be waiting there in a big beige ford crown victoria. From the 90’s.

They look like new york taxis !! adrien

I was intrigued.

As I pass the bridge that marks the edge of San Pablo, the town at the base of the mountain, the road begins to narrow and wind upwards. Foliage thickens and greens multiply in a million different hues. Fuschias, yellows, oranges, purples – colors are popping out from all around and the sky blazes a more brilliant blue. The sun shines bright while the air cools and tiny moisture droplets hit my skin, invigorating all my senses.

The closer I get to San Isidro de Heredia, the more alive I feel.

yellow flower tree, Corteza Amarilla, costa rica

Yellow flower tree, Corteza Amarilla – my favorite.

I pull up to the iglesia, church, and see the big beige Crown Vic occupied by a tall grinning older man with wild, disheveled white hair and a wrinkled threadbare button-up shirt blowing open in the breeze. He yells out of his window in a singsong voice “follow me!”

Wondering if I’m starring in an after school special or a Costa Rican version of Alice in Wonderland, I follow this scruffy stranger further up the mountain to a slipshod gate hidden behind towering bamboo, tropical corn plants, and cold climate evergreens. He opens the gate to reveal a modest property surrounded by a small stream with a few houses that look like they’ve been pieced together with leftover construction materials and pieces of art.

A turquoise crowned motmot is tick-tocking its tail on a branch over the trickling stream. Yellow and blue butterflies flutter by.

He leads me to the “small studio” from the ad. It is actually a tree house.

I was home.

treehouse kitchen

The kitchen in my treehouse

Adrien was originally from Switzerland, but considered himself a man of the world because he’d lived in so many different places. He was an artist and under the influence of Mondrian (bright colors, geometric shapes), he had constructed all the houses on his property. They were not built to any building code for sounds structure, but rather to an outdoorsy artist code for aesthetic. I loved it.

I had hot water from a hot water heater in all the faucets, but I didn’t always have running water. I had a gorgeous view of the Costa Rican wildlife all around me, but no way to keep it out of my house. I had high speed internet, but I didn’t always have electricity.

Spiders would build webs on the ceiling at night. Birds would attack my windows at sunrise. Mice would sneak around my cabinets.

costa rica mountain view

The view from the crapper, complete with soundtrack of bubbling brook and tropical chirping birds.

Besides being in a perfect climate living next door to my best friends, the thing I enjoyed most about my time in San Isidro were the daily challenges like dealing with leaks, figuring out how to live without running water, or fighting off an unwanted creature encroaching on my space.

hard rain in the costa rica mountains

We dealt with a lot of droughts, but when it rained, it rained hard.

I even enjoyed the time my dog Mocha disappeared.

Well, enjoyed it after the ordeal was over.

Mocha was always by my side and didn’t walk very well. One day she wasn’t there. I looked all over the property. Anxiety increasing, I started screaming her name “Mocha!” My neighbor, Alejandro, heard and came running “what’s the matter?” “I can’t find Mocha!” I’m scared because she could have easily hurt herself to the point that she couldn’t walk back to me, which meant I had to find her in the Costa Rican wilderness. I felt really small.

Then I hear her bark. It sounds like she is in the pasture next door. I run over the bridge and off the property to the farm next door and stop abruptly, the grass is shoulder height. “Ugh, ticks,” I’m thinking as I scream for Mocha again. She barks in response and this time it sounds like she is back on our property. I run back and can’t find her.

Disregarding my fear of ticks, I run back to the farm and push through the tall grass, following her barks. I come to the edge of the steep creek bank and I see her. She is on the edge of the water, barking, and trying to get back up the steep muddy wall on the opposite side.

I’m panicking a bit. The creek is narrow and sometimes water comes rushing down, raising the water level to way over Mocha’s head. I have to get her out of there before that happens or before she hurts herself trying to get out.

Alejandro and I come up with a plan. Since Mocha can’t walk well, much less climb a 30-foot wall of mud, I’m going to climb down and make her a harness out of her walking harness and a rope. Alejandro is going to pull her while I push her. All 70 pounds of her.

Did I mention that the creek also smells like poop? Before we execute our plan, Alejandro and I suit up in long sleeves and pants to protect ourselves from the poop, ticks, rusty barbed wire, and crazy plants growing all over. I wonder how I’m going to get out of the creek after we rescue Mocha.

I descend the mud wall into the creek with the drive of a madwoman rescuing her baby from under a car. “NO! GO AWAY!” I have to scream at Mali because she is scaling up and down the embankment and jumping all over me and Mocha, putting herself in the way. “Play time in the creek is AWESOME!” she says to me with her eyes. I fight off a fit of the giggles, trying to be very stern, while I eventually get Mali to leave us alone.

Mocha is smart, she knows I’m there to help and cooperates as I hook her into the harness contraption. I lose my grip on her slippery body half way up the bank. In slow motion, with panicked eyes and paws grasping at earth, Mocha slides back down the muddy bank. Mali jumps all over her, excited for more play time in the creek.

We got Mocha out on the second try. Alejandro and I had a weird rash for the next few days, I had sore muscles, but no one was hurt. That was a good day.

My time in San Isidro is filled with wonderful memories like that. The perfect climate, perfect friends. I highly recommend living in a ramshackle cabin in the Costa Rican mountains next to your best friends, at least long enough for some adventures.

my two dogs looking down off the porch of the treehouse

Mocha and Mali on guard on the front porch of the treehouse.

crazy construction in costa rica

With each earthquake, these stairs would get more and more shaky until one day we couldn’t use them anymore.

my bedroom in the treehouse

A perfect studio treehouse in Costa Rica.

dog on the roof costa rica

Mali, my Costa Rican rescue mutt, having a blast out on the roof of my neighbor’s house.

funky octagon-shaped house costa rica

Inside The Octagon studio apartment. This house was on the ground and that’s just dirt underneath the tile floor. I had to move here after an earthquake cracked the support beams under the treehouse and turned it into a jungle bounce house.

san isidro de heredia church

The church in San Isidro de Heredia always looked so pretty against the sky.

vegetable and fruit shop san isidro de heredia costa rica

I would buy fresh-from-the-farm fruits and veggies at this shop everyday.

san isidro de heredia costa rica street

The town had 3 bars: La Tenampa strictly for the old guys, and Cool Bar and Las Vegas for everyone else.

main street, san isidro de heredia, costa rica

Main Street, San Isidro de Heredia, Costa Rica

rainy day in heredia costa rica

There was always blue sky somewhere, even on rainy days.

rainbow san isidro de heredia costa rica

For over half the year, a rainbow would rise in the east as the sun set in the west.

sign in costa rica: to be old and wise, first you must be young and stupid

The residential streets that climbed into the mountains surrounding downtown were littered with inspirational messages painted on wood. This one says “To be old and wise, first you must be young and stupid.”

inspirational message painted on wood sign on street in costa rica

The worst prison is a closed heart.

inspirational message painted on wooden sign along costa rican road

Sentiment about how ungratefulness is the worst defect because you don’t appreciate the efforts of those who came before you. Just a little light roadside reading.

me and my friend's kid checking out neighborhood bulls

Getting too close to a neighborhood bull with my sobrina.

childrens museum costa rica

My neighbors, family, at the Costa Rica Children’s Museum which is just 20 minutes down the mountain.

veggie eggrolls

My neighbors, family, got creative at lunch everyday.

bright color plants costa rica

Bright colored plants grew everywhere like weeds.

wasp nest costa rica

Bugs were aplenty. Check out my photo essay on all the bugs and creatures here: http://www.delapuravida.com/2013/creatures-crept-through-my-house/

comforting my dogs

Mocha getting older, liked a good comforting cuddle puddle.

ash from turrialba volcano over the cemetery in san isidro de heredia

Ash from Turrialba Volcano looms over the cemetery in San Isidro de Heredia.

I left San Isidro just a few weeks after Turrialba Volcano started erupting on a regular basis. Volcanic ash is partly responsible for its beauty, but is deadly when it first comes out of the volcano. I also hear that a construction company tapped into the town’s water supply and they’ve been living on extreme rations. I hate that this beautiful town full of nice people is dealing with all this crap. I’m grateful to have lived there before it all happened, though.

Have you ever found a home in an unlikely place? Comment below, I want to know!


Thanks for reading my post about my perfect little Costa Rican mountain town, part of my Leaving Costa Rica series. Next week I write about my move to one of the most beautiful jungle beaches in the world, how not to find a house to rent at the beach in Costa Rica, and a dumb accident. Stay tuned, subscribe here.