Housesitting: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Tineke sTwice 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.Magpie jays

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. variegated squirrel

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.Tineke s house

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.road to Tineke s

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.edible grazing for cows

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.Yippy I-O

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. 3 outta 4Yippy, 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;Strange bedfellows! 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. Dorrie - Dolly

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.

butterflyAnd 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.Bananas flowering and growing

Note:  The homeowner, a lovely Dutch lady, reimbursed us fully for all expenses incurred during our stay.

By Anita and Richard



  • Great story! Glad you are still having fun!
    Planning to be in Europe (somewhere) in the spring.
    Maybe we can meet up for a rousing repeat of “head and shouders, knees & toes” !!

  • I’ve sometimes thought about housesitting. It’s obviously not an unmixed experience but it might be worth it to stay in such beautiful surroundings!

    • This was actually the first time we had a less than really positive experience (other than a sick chicken dying…) so we plan to take our chances again because there are so many upsides to housesitting. I’m reading comments and horror stories from other housesitters and it sounds like we could have had it a lot worse…!

  • It sounds like you definitely had your hands full! I loved the photos of the cats and dogs. I adore them, but know how much work they are! How nice that the owner reimbursed you for all your expenses.

    • Going from a traveler’s life with few responsibilities to a houseful of problems was quite an adjustment (just like going back to our old lives!) but, like we wrote, there were many pros to balance out the cons. Since the whole idea of housesitting is to save money (or at least break even) for both the homeowner and housesitter we communicated regularly with the homeowner as the problems and expenses presented themselves.

  • I think like many others we have given thought to house sitting but have not yet taken the leap, mostly, I think, because we still own a home/business. My concern about house sitting is the obligation. Once we retire we want an obligation free lifestyle and being responsible for someone’s property sounds like too much obligation for me – although I continue to be intrigued by the concept. That last photo is really interesting!

    • It definitely is an obligation and a huge promise to the homeowner. We always try to plan no more than one to three months in advance and when we’ve scheduled housesits it has actually interfered a couple of times with opportunities that have come up. There are definitely trade-offs and living with no commitments and complete flexibility is a terrific lifestyle that you’ll love! P.S. I love (I’m not sure what they’re called…) what we’ve named the “banana blooms”!

  • Interesting to read about your experience. We’ve had casual thoughts from time to time about housesitting around the world. Glad that this experience had plenty of upsides to make up for the downsides.

  • There is a gentleness to the way you told your story that makes me long to be back in Costa Rica. Well told!

  • suzannestavert

    Those pets were so lucky to have you! I enjoyed reading about all of your adventures!

    • Our adventures were a little more than we had planned but we met some lovely people and saw a very positive side to Costa Rica (like the friendly vet who spoke great English!) beyond the beaches and restaurants that tourists and short-term travelers usually don’t have time to see. That’s what we like about traveling slowly.

  • I’ve never tried house sitting and your story makes me curious is I could stay put in someone else’s house. You made even this an adventure worth reading and chuckling along with you.

    • Since we’re traveling full time the opportunity to stay in someone’s home versus a furnished apartment or hotel is really something we appreciate! Usually we can count on much more comfortable furniture, a fully stocked kitchen, built in animal friends and acquaintances from the neighborhood all while we get to explore a new and unique area. It’s really worth exploring if you like the idea of living in different places and trying on an “alternative retirement lifestyle”!

  • Kristin Henning

    Ah, yes, this sounds all too familiar. But we are ready for more house sitting, probably this fall. Isn’t it interesting that all the onus is on the house-sitters to provide background information? Maybe owners should show pets’ clean bill of health. We’ve since combined our blogs into Travel Past 50, but you’ll find a couple stories here, if you’re interested: Cheers!

  • we recently started house sitting and have so many stories as well. It’s amazing the experiences you can have when you walk into something unprepared :)

    • This is our 3rd housesit since we’ve been traveling and each one has been completely different. The first one in Antigua was just watching a lovely house with no pets while the 2nd one in Costa Rica had 2 fabulous cats and 2 chickens (and one of the chickens died but, really, he was sick before the owners left…!) This 3rd one has us rethinking housesitting but we’ll probably try it again when we move on to Europe next year. It really is wonderful to stay in a house, settle into a community and exchange a service. Next time, we’ll definitely be asking more questions (any idea how to ask tactfully ???? ha-ha!). We’ll look forward to some of your stories.

  • what a gorgeous place in spite of the pet issues loved the cat pics cuddling with her friend :)

  • Sounds as if you had your hands full this house sit. But what a beautiful spot.

  • Sounds like you handled a lot more “caretaking” than you bargained for but did a wonderful job!
    Your flexibility is a real virtue!

    • This housesit was definitely more challenging than we had planned on! Maintenance issues will probably always happen (and we ran out of room to write about the broken water pipe after a small tremor!) but taking care of a sick animal was very worrying and a huge responsibility. She was such a sweet thing and we were so glad that she recovered.

  • What a fun adventure! It sounds more like zoo sitting than house-sitting! I remember seeing a lot of enormous insects when I was in Tamarindo but it thankfully sounds as though you missed that form of wildlife

    • We’ve never seen such a variety of creeping, crawling, climbing, hopping, flying, etc. life as we saw in Tamarindo! While I’m not squeamish I have a real aversion to spiders and, thankfully, we missed that season! All in all it was fun to see so many insects, birds, iguanas and squirrels!

  • Beautiful words and pictures. :)

  • I think I’m liking this story the best out of all because, of course, you took care of a sick animal. Those nasty ticks not being treated is so uncomfortable for the helpless animal. Sorry about the tire – I hate flat tires. Scary actually. Glad you were there and the photos are just beautiful! We had our annual 4th of July party here today. Nathan and Jen were married yesterday. They are so happy. Can’t wait to see you!!! Chris

    • This was by far our longest post but there were so many stories to tell about our stay in Tamarindo and the place we housesat, both good and bad. We were so glad that we were able to help Dolly feel better as she was so miserable when we first met her. It’s such a huge responsibility to take care of other people’s pets that we’ll definitely be asking more questions before we sign up for another housesit! P.S. We’re looking forward to seeing you all, too.

  • You are such a wonderful writer. I was enthralled by your description of the critters at your house sitting gig. Were you informed of any of the problems beforehand? That’s one thing that worries me about housesitters. I want to tell them everything, so there are no unexpected surprises. However, living in a developing country, there are always unexpected surprises, both good and bad. Where are you heading next? I’m looking forward to following your new adventure.

    • Thank you! The old saying, “Two heads are better than one!” certainly applies in our case as we take turns drafting and then working and writing/rewriting each post.
      As for the problems that occurred … we walked into the situation with very little warning, even after extensive writing back and forth. Luckily for us, we’ve owned houses before and know that Murphy’s Law always applies! However, it really scared us when the poor dog became so sick – it really is an enormous responsibility to care for someone else’s pet. Definitely we’ll be asking more questions next time!
      As for our travel plans…we’re currently in Panama. So much to do and see and there will be lots to write about but we’ll be following your adventures too!

  • You two represent courageous commitment to make the best of any situation. Kudos to you both!!!

    Moral of the story: the is a price on everything.

    Take care


  • I really enjoyed your story. Sounds like the pets and home were in great hands!

    • At times, throughout our visit, we would say, “This will make a funny story” so we’re really glad you liked this post. This housesit was a lot more than we had in mind when we signed up but we met some great people, enjoyed the area and the stay turned out to be a great experience

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