Life in Costa Rica

Aug 10, 2019 | Maria Ruiz, Travel

by Maria Ruiz

Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.

“Do you know what street we’re on?” I asked Ted.

“Haven’t the slightest idea. I can’t see any signs either,” he replied.

We were driving through San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, on a hunt for a laboratory to x-ray me for a dental problem. The dentist in Jaco had written down the address: 500 meters south from the cathedral.


Maria and Ted’s house in Costa Rica

When I first read it I thought he was kidding. “No, that’s the address. If you have a problem getting there, just ask anyone.

Ted was convinced it was a hoax. Now I was beginning to agree with him.

“How can a capital city not have any street signs?” He just nodded.

We parked the car near the cathedral and started walking down the street. This was one of the busiest thoroughfares in San Jose, filled with shops, offices, and labs. I spotted a book store and said “Why don’t you go ask in there? They will surely know what street this is.” I pointed toward the door.

Ted nodded and walked to the store. Inside, we could see a young man moving around, arranging books. An older man sat at the register by the door. Ted entered and walked to the older man. “Excuse me. Do you know what this street name is?”

Both men shook their heads.

“What? How long have you been here?” Ted asked as he shook his head. He was having trouble believing them.

“Almost thirty-five years.” replied the old man. “I’ve never needed to know.”

“Can you help us?” I asked as I passed him the written address.

“Oh, sure. You’re not far, just one street over, next block. They have a big sign over the door.” he said as he passed the paper back.

We left, both of us amazed at how simple life was for the people of Costa Rica, with a capital where none of the streets were named and where directions were given using the landmarks nearest the wanted building.

Going down one block and turning right, we found the right door and soon finished our appointment. During the x-ray, Ted asked the doctor if it was hard to find places.

“No, not for us. Last year the post office wanted to put up signs and number the blocks but we voted that down. No reason to spend the money for that.”

Costa Rica seemed to function that way for as long as anyone could remember.

We were finishing upgrading our new home. The couple who started building the house had to leave before it was finished. In fact, we had little more than outside walls and a roof. The open holes for the windows were in place but there were no doors, floor, or kitchen and bath fixtures. In the next town over, Quepos, there was a large hardware store and several of the sales persons were contractors available to hire.

They promised to come on Tuesday.

One of the jokes told by people who have lived in small, third world countries is: “Did you ask him which Tuesday he meant? This week, next week, or next year?” It might be six Tuesdays before they finally show up.

This week, the main carpenter showed up. He took his electric saw out of the bag, wiped off the blade and found the end of the cord. There were three wires sticking out, with no plug on the end. He stuck the wire ends of the cord into two of the slots on the outlet. He grabbed a piece of molding, turned the saw on and cut the proper length. Equally as fast, he cut all the moldings needed and stacked them on the floor.

I asked why he didn’t just put a plug on the end, especially as he worked at the hardware store that sold plugs.
He just shook his head, pretending that he didn’t understand my Spanish.

The workers who had originally poured the concrete for the floor had just poured it in lumps and bumps all over with no one trying to smooth it out. Now, we had to hire a team to come out with hammers and sledges and beat the lumps and bumps until it was smooth enough to lay tile. I guess that’s a way to keep employment high in a country where the average school grade completed is about third.

Now we had a problem. Property in Costa Rica can only be owned by a foreigner in partnership with a citizen. Most people used their lawyers, but the couple that sold it to us had forgotten to have one of the papers signed. I wasn’t sure where they had moved to but a neighbor told us it was in El Coco, along the northern coast of the country. I needed to send them the papers—I found it in a legal book—which they would sign, and send them back to us.

It sounded so easy but where was the post office? There wasn’t one. You just went to the bus depot and gave it to the driver going to that town.

Ted and I were really worried about handing a needed part of our title to a stranger, a bus driver. That it would get to the proper person, signed, and returned seemed very iffy.

But with no choice, I tied the book shut, added a cover paper with the name of the couple in El Coco, and gave it to the driver. I noticed as I was leaving, they were loading several cages into the bus, which contained two pigs, one small calf, and several chickens.

The next week, the postman delivered the signed book back to us. I had tried to stop the postman to ask him where the post office was but again, my Spanish was so bad, he just stared at me, then pulled out and quickly drove away.

Eventually the tile floor was laid, the kitchen built, the bath finished, and we even got hand-carved doors leading out to a hot water spa under the stars about fifty feet from the beach.

What could be better?

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. She just recently relocated to California. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Her blog can be found at


  1. Another adventure!
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God’s blessings

  2. I think about the incredible visit with you and Ted in your WONDERFUL house on the Pacific in Costa Rico! Unbelievable that was about 20 years ago. Thank you again and again! V

  3. Maria’s article brought back my own memories of asking Puerto Vallarta citizens about a main street. I went in & out of shops and no one could tell me it was only one block over!
    Costa Rica house challenges must have required a lot of patience. It looks beautiful.

  4. I love your travel stories. The bus driver/postman story is great.

  5. Fascinating story of home building. Unbelievable. Best Wishes, May


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