When my husband and I visited Costa Rica for the first time we didn’t take a short vacation – we were there for three months, housesitting for an American couple upriver of Sierpe, a small town at the edge of Corcovado National Park.
The property was beside the Sierpe River and was surrounded by rice fields, and teeming with wildlife and colourful plants. We housesat from September to December, during Costa Rica’s rainy season.
A quick note on housesitting in Sierpe: If you come to Sierpe to housesit you’ll discover that there are many vacation homes. Build a reputation amongst the expats as a trustworthy house sitter and you could probably stay in the area for some time, doing back to back housesits.
Want to know more about living in Sierpe in general? Check our post Non-Tourist Guide to Living in Sierpe, Costa Rica
Over those three months we got a taste of local life along with a few surprises. If you’ll be visiting long-term or housesitting in Sierpe you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before you arrive.
Read on to learn about:
- Boating on the Sierpe River
- Creepie crawlies you should expect to meet
- Doing chores and cleaning
- Utilities: availability, reliability, and paying for them
- Keeping yardwork under control (hint: pay someone to do it for you)
- Partaking of coffee the Costa Rican way
- Moisture control (this is a big deal especially in rainy season)
Boating Around Sierpe
Although there was a dirt road into town the house sit included a boat to get to and from Sierpe. Driving the dirt road actually took longer than taking a boat to town. It wasn’t difficult to navigate the Sierpe River, it’s wide and gentle and there really wasn’t anywhere to get lost on the way into town.
The boat motor was a pain to put on and off – it weighted about 80 lbs. We would have liked to keep it on the boat all the time, but the old motor had been stolen just before we arrived and we couldn’t risk the new one coming to the same fate.
Once we got into town we docked the boat at a little marina owned by a guy named Coco. Not surprisingly, we called the place “Coco’s”. He spoke only Spanish, but he understood when we tied our boat up and gave him a few thousand colones.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: The Sierpe River often has submerged detritus in it – release the tilt-lock on your outboard motor as a precaution
Creatures in Our House
Housesitting in Sierpe, we noticed the separation between inside and outside sometimes got confusing for the local animal life. Here’s a list of creatures we’ve had in our house while we were in Sierpe:
- a scorpion
- a snake
- various creepy crawlies including cockroaches, beetles, spiders, and an absurd number of ants
It didn’t help that only one side of the house had a screen and we kept the door wide open to get airflow through the house.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: Keep a can of Baygon spray handy – there’s a special type for scorpions, cockroaches, and wasps
Chores and Trash
Since we didn’t have a dryer, we depended on the sun to dry our laundry. This wasn’t a problem even during rainy season because it usually rained in the evening and we could hang the laundry during the day.
When it came to waste, we separated our recyclables, our garbage, and our compost. The compost went into the river and we either burned or took our waste into town to dispose of. The park in town has public recycling receptacles and garbage cans.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: Ignore the stares of the locals and toss your garbage and recycling in the bins in the park – garbage bins outside houses are private
Electricity, Water, and Gas
Even at our house sit outside town we had town utilities including water (potable!) and electricity which were both reliable. Unfortunately, the internet situation was pretty crap. We had a cellular internet stick so we could only use the internet one at a time and it was unreliable and agonizingly slow.
The utilities were billed monthly and we paid them in town. We never actually received a bill – we would show up and find out how much the bill was at the same time as we paid it. Water was paid at the water company’s building, electricity and internet at the pharmacy in town.
The stove in our house used propane, from a big refillable cylinder kept under the cabinet behind the stove. When it was empty (it lasted about two months) we took it into town and had it refilled at one of the grocery stores. We carried it from the marina when it was empty, but when it was full it was a lot heavier and we had one of the grocery store employees deliver it by pedi-cart to our boat.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: Keep a container of potable water on hand – tap water could turn brown during heavy rain (that happened to us)
Doing the Yardwork the Easy Way
Plants grow quickly in Costa Rica (especially during rainy season) making landscaping a popular industry. The yardwork was a huge chore at the property and rather than bust our humps slaving away in the heat we hired a local landscaper to weedwhack the lawn and trim the hedges.
Jorge showed up with his own weedwhacker (we didn’t see a single lawn mower while we were housesitting in Sierpe) and wore long sleeves, long pants, an apron, a handkerchief over his face, a broad hat, and rubber boots while he “mowed” the lawn which took two days to complete.
He used a machete and a ladder to cut the tops of the hedges, and I’m pretty sure if we had tried we would have either fallen off the ladder or got tennis elbow from using the machete (or both). Paying for a landscaper was money well spent.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: Plants grow fast in Costa Rica – plan on cutting the lawn once a month to avoid becoming engulfed by the jungle
Roommates with 6 or 8 legs
Housesitting in Costa Rica we were constantly at war with the ants in our kitchen. Even though we cleaned up completely after each meal the ants would still appear. Our best strategy was to keep a spray bottle of bleach-water and spray them when we saw them on the counter.
Daddy long legs spiders made themselves at home in our home, making webs in every corner and crevice on the walls and ceiling of the house. We swept them away with a broom but they reappeared every day.
The floor needed to be swept every morning, because we’d track in dirt and also because dead bugs and gecko poop would appear on the floor overnight.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: If ants are invading your home, get some boric acid at the grocery store and mix it with sugar to bait (and eventually kill) your six-legged roommates
Our Adopted Friend
One of the nicest surprises at our house sit was a stray dog that came with the house. His (creative) name was Little Dog, and when we arrived he was already firmly convinced that he belonged at the house. He was a cute little guy and loved us right away (we reciprocated).
Besides providing companionship, laughs, and muddy tracks on the floor, he chased a snake away from the house, and barked at things that went bump in the night (or things that he imagined went bump in the night).
He even managed to chase out a herd of wayward cows who made their way onto our lawn (that certainly was a surprise when we looked out our window). Little Dog definitely made our stay more fun than we expected.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: There are a LOT of stray dogs in Sierpe – you’ll see them wandering in and out of restaurants and napping in the middle of the road
Costa Rican Gold
We didn’t have a coffee maker but we still wanted to have our morning cup of black gold, so we learned to make coffee the Costa Rican way – in a coffee sock.
A coffee socks is a cloth sack attached to a wire loop. You put your coffee into it, and pour hot water over it to percolate. There was a bit of a technique to master, and once we got used to it we made a damn good cuppa joe with that coffee sock.
We tried a few types of coffee, there was a range of quality and prices at the shops in town. From Rey (mass-produced, cheapest brand) to Rio Sierpe (expensive local coffee), we tried about four types. It was hard to hold back from buying every type of coffee whenever we shopped for groceries.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: Read coffee packages carefully when you buy – some types have sugar already added to the ground coffee
Challenges Particular to Rainy Season
The number one challenge housesitting in Sierpe, near the jungle, during rainy season was managing moisture. Even though it was hot during the day the rain contributed to the humidity big time.
To keep our dry foods from getting moldy (and from getting infested by ants) we kept our cereal, dry beans, rice, spices, and bread in the fridge. We also went a step further and kept them in ziplock bags in the fridge. In fact, the food we kept outside the fridge (chips, rolled oats) went into ziplock bags too.
We also read that our electronics was at risk from moisture, especially our camera lenses. Stories about mold ruining camera lenses scared us into action, and we kept our cameras stored in ziplock bags which we would heat in the sun to evaporate any moisture inside.
I had left my shoulder bag under the bed for the first two days after we arrived, and when I took it out there was already mildew starting to grow on it. Blech.
We kept all our clothing and towels and bedding on a shelf in front of a fan that we ran constantly. We also kept the fan in the bedroom running 24/7. Not great for power consumption, but great for preventing the bedroom from growing mildew or something else nasty.
During the damp times when it rained all day, we discovered that a white mold would grow on the grout in the tiled floor. We used the bottle of bleach-water on the mold spots, and it seemed to help.
Sierpe Housesitting Tip: If possible, bring some silica gel packets during the rainy season, for keeping your electronics dry inside ziplock bags
Our daily life housesitting in Sierpe was easy to adapt to. We had some welcome surprises along with a few challenges but nothing we couldn’t handle. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t need to be in the lap of luxury, loves wildlife, and enjoys seclusion you’ll have a great time too.
Oh, and it helps if you’re not too freaked out by finding frogs and crabs and bugs in your house.
Interested in housesitting? See our Infographic on How to Start House Sitting.