Housesitting: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Twice a day flocks of brilliant green parrots flew by overhead, sometimes alighting here and there among the verdant trees on the property and sometimes continuing on to the neighboring trees. They screeched and gabbled and the air reverberated with their riotous cacophony. Like clockwork, at dawn and dusk, the air was also filled with the guttural calls of the howler monkeys. A few iguanas lived on the property including one dignified male who measured at least two feet long from head to tail. Butterflies, in a profusion of patterns and hues, alighted briefly on the flowers and we rushed to take pictures before they fluttered away.
A variety of other birds visited us from time to time including the beautiful and regal Magpie Jays who squawked like shrewish crows in a deafening shriek. And hummingbirds, always there were hummingbirds flitting among the flowers. Tiny frogs hopped about along with enormous toads, both of which occasionally wandered into the house and had to be scooted back outside gently.
During the day, one of our favorite visitors, the variegated squirrels, would climb down from the trees, sprint in a funny little run-hop a few feet to another tree and climb back to a safe perch. And at night there were a multitude of stars spread across the firmament, lightning bugs blinked randomly about and, to the north and east heat lightening arced in brilliant flashes.
We housesat for several weeks on a property six miles outside of Tamarindo, Costa Rica on a parcel of land approximately one hectare (2.5 acres) located at the end of a long dirt road that branched here and there as it delved into the countryside.
The homestead had a variety of palm, banana, mango, lemon and bamboo trees, as well as several enormous trees which spread broadly providing welcome shade. Flowering plants and bushes were scattered about the property which was fenced all around and secured with a gate half of which hung drunkenly, twisted and totally useless.
And here begins the first story, this one about the marauding cows and horses, who visited several times over the course of the first few weeks, trying their best to graze on the thick grass and delectable, flowering edibles.
We would tramp about, with Yippy barking enthusiastically but ineffectively in his unaccustomed role as a cowherding dog, and finally funnel them back out onto the road. Not especially fun during the day but a whole different game when this had to be done two times in the dead of night with only the light of the stars and a couple of travel flashlights. We would peer around the property here and there at looming shapes that would suddenly break into slow trots, urged on by Yippy’s hysterical barking, in any direction but where we wanted them to go! A couple of nocturnal bouts of this entertainment led us to the inelegant but practical idea of closing the working side of the gate and driving the car into the breach left by the inoperative side of the gate. And once again, our nights were undisturbed and the problem was temporarily solved.
And the car…we had agreed to rent the car for a nominal sum so that we could run errands, grocery shop and visit the beautiful beaches around Tamarindo. We were looking forward to the experience as we hadn’t driven a car since we left the States in September of 2012. It was a nice looking Nissan with 4-wheel drive and … two totally bald rear tires. In Costa Rica the roads are in notoriously bad shape: paved roads have no shoulders, abrupt drop-offs and deep potholes. And the dirt roads? They are washboarded, rutted, and fissured with fractured stones working their way up to the road surface. Tire life expectancy of a tire is none too long in this part of the world and so, you guessed it … a flat tire. Jorst, a highly esteemed German expat and tire fixer extraordinaire, arrived within fifteen minutes of our distress call - we were told later that this was not common – but we were duly impressed! He performed the requisite tasks for the nominal fee of $20, an astonishing price for roadside assistance. Of course, we were a little leery of driving unnecessarily as we still had one American Bald Eagle on the driver’s rear. So, after some back and forth with the homeowner we sprang for two new tires ($175). Problem solved.
Our housesitting gig included looking after the property and house, maintaining the swimming pool (which started out a bit murky but which we coaxed into a sparkling blue) and the animals. The four pets were friendly, well-natured and very mellow. Yippy, the inept cow dog and wanna-be watchdog (also not a successful occupation), was the alpha animal. There were two cats; the younger cat, who we nicknamed Queen Calico, was regal and rather stand-offish except with Yippy with whom she had a rather strange fixation; flirting and rubbing herself sinuously around his legs, curling herself around him seductively when napping and lavishing his face with licks and laps. Actually, we enjoyed watching this strange affair! The second cat was a tabby we called Fat Cat or Big Mama and she would scold us with long plaintive meows first thing in the morning and throughout the day if her food dish was empty.
And the last player in the ensemble was Dolly, a sweet, golden-colored medium-sized matron with a cataract clouding her left eye and comical ears that flopped over at half-mast.
It was easy to imagine her in a nursing home, inching her way behind a wheeled walker in a confused daze, peering about with no clue as to where she had been going. It was not her age but her hygiene that created the initial issue; to put it mildly, she was highly odoriferous! We looked at each other the first night of our arrival with a “How are we going to make it through five weeks with this reeking creature?” expression on our faces. And, to further add to her unimpressive introduction, the next morning we found out she was incontinent as well. The following week we ended up taking her on the first of four visits to the vet after the hair around her tail and rear end fell out in big clumps almost overnight and the skin became angry-looking and inflamed. She received a giant dose of antibiotics ($100) to treat a massive ear and skin infection, parasites and the ticks that she had hosted. And (oh praise Jesus!) an antibacterial bath! We were instructed to bathe her twice a week with the medicinal shampoo, a ritual that transformed her into a soft and sweet-smelling critter. As for the incontinence problem? Since the house was open aired with only grills and gates that covered the doors and windows we moved her bedding (freshly laundered) about ten feet to the covered porch so that her ancient bladder could awaken her at night and she could totter off into the darkness to relieve herself. Another problem solved.
And so, we finished the last days of our home and pet caretaking gig sitting on the covered patio, watching the birds, listening to and enjoying the fresh scent of the rains with Dolly stretched out dozing on one side of the big work table, Yippy underneath at our feet and the two cats curled on pillows napping on the chairs; our little adopted family. We’d had a Costa Rican rocky road this housesit and solved even more problems than the ones we wrote about here but we’ll miss this place with all its downsides because, it turns out, there were a lot of upsides, too.
Note: The homeowner, a lovely Dutch lady, reimbursed us fully for all expenses incurred during our stay.
By Anita and Richard