My Tico Heart: Katya De Luisa; Homeless Housesitting
Home is where the heart is and my heart was definitely in Costa Rica. My comings and goings were alike a boomerang, no matter what direction I headed, I always returned.
This time, I headed to San Isidro del General; a place I’d always wanted to check out. While at the Thursday Farmers Market, I ran into “Grandma Rainbow” an 82-year-old late-blooming hippy, I’d met years before. She left conventional life at 78 and came to Costa Rica. She smoked her “medicine” pot every day, wore outrageously mismatched outfits, and always carried giant bags full of mysterious things. I was never quite sure if she had early dementia and after staying with her two months, I became sure.
Among the expats in San Isidro, there was a sense of community and sustainable living with a consciousness for protecting nature. I made several lifelong friends who are still my non-blood family. Most people lived on farms considerable distances from each other and the weekly farmer’s market was the meeting place to catch up. Once a year we had the “Women’s Gathering” where over fifty women of all ages, some with small children, would camp out at one of the farms for three days participating in workshops, singing, and campfire stories. I was part of the Elder’s Circle where the older women would give the young one’s advice on life.
Pedregosito was a small community outside town where several expats had organic farms along a pristine river. I rented a small rustic farmhouse in the middle of a cow pasture next to that river. Unfortunately, it had no road and you had to walk 200 meters down a slippery hillside path to the house. This took real navigation skills in the rain at night and during a particularly severe torment, I fell backward in the mud and toboggan slid on my backpack to the bottom where I splashed into the accumulated waist-deep water. My hysterical laughter could be heard all the way down.
At beginning of the dry season, the lightning bugs would swarm. At the dusk, the grass would light up with thousands of blinking bugs, then at dark, they would all start to rise up into the trees. Each evening I sit and watch this incredible light show.
San Isidro was a great town however, there wasn’t much demand for my work with dementia. Each month I’d spend time in San Jose generating income then return. During one trip to a Unity church gathering, a woman started crying. She explained her mother had passed away two years ago and she was here trying to help her 92-year-old father whose health was failing. She had just learned her husband, still in the US, needed a heart operation. She was afraid her dad would die while she was away.
Her parents, Richard & Margot Friesius, were renowned for creating the first Red Macaw rescue program in Costa Rica. Their successful breeding and release program is why the country now has flourishing wild flocks. I agreed to care for him while she was gone however, Richard wasn’t keen on the idea.
True to her prediction, a day after her departure, he caught stomach flu with non-stop elimination from every orifice. He was severely dehydrated and refused to go to the hospital. Finally, with hands-on-hips, I sternly gave him an ultimatum; go willingly in the car or kicking and screaming in an ambulance. He begrudgingly accepted option #1 and was admitted to the hospital for a week; then I caught his flu. Carol arrived two weeks later while Richard was on the mend.
The Flor de Mayo property had originally been a five-acre Lancaster Gardens, and the house was an expansive six-bedroom, old hacienda with rooms facing an indoor courtyard, all of which was now in severe disrepair. Shortly after Margot died, another non-profit took over the Macaw program and Richard kept 30 of his own birds. Carol decided to move Richard to her home in the states and she hired me to sort out 40 years of hoarded, “Stuff” and help pack. To Richard’s dismay, she found homes for his remaining birds and I organized a garage sale.
The week before Carol and Richard were scheduled to leave, I slipped and broke my hip on the tile floor. The Red Cross ambulance driver was a minuscule woman who couldn’t lift me onto the stretcher; luckily the house was full of people who helped. After x-rays at the Alajuela hospital, I was sent to San Juan de Dios in San Jose. At that hospital, I spent three days in the emergency orthopedic room waiting for an empty bed in a ward then I’d get operated on. Carol’s father offered to pay for a private hospital so again I was shuttled off to Clinica Biblica where they immediately operated. Three days later I returned to Carol’s with a hip replacement and the following day they left for the states, leaving me to caretake the house from my convalescent bed.
The workers used to come to my bedroom window to get their daily instructions. We tore down an old worker's quarters and built a manager and volunteer house. I designed terracing for the organic gardens and on the main house, we changed the roof slant, rewired the entire place, and redid plumbing.
The same month Richard died; I brokered the sale of the property he owned across the street. However, Richard had allowed the Macaw operation to continue working on those five acres. The manager was a very ill-tempered guy from New Zealand, who threatened Carol if she sold the property. However, his threatening of a woman didn’t extend to when the new owner showed up brandishing a pistol on his hip with two machete-wielding workers. He gave the Kiwi a month to vacate and the whole operation moved to Guanacaste within weeks.
With this new income Carol, who was still in the US, told me to oversee the renovation of the house and grounds. By now I was hobbling around on a walker but loved the creative excitement of redesigning the place.
Unable to live at the farmhouse in San Isidro anymore, I stayed at Flor de Mayo and became the property manager. The place was only five minutes from the airport so I created an urban organic farm bed and breakfast.
Carol, now newly divorced, returned excited to begin her new life in Costa Rica. We worked together on the finishing touches and then she opened for business.
The $20,000 commission from the property sale property gave me a new lease on life. I had asked for it in small bills and in my room joyfully threw it all into the air as the ceiling fan blew bills everywhere. I laughed and rolled around in it. I split five thousand between my kids, bought a GEO Tracker, and started a pet sitting service. The jobs started lining up back-to-back and I didn’t see the necessity of getting my own place. Everything I owned fit in the car and I became a homeless house sitter moving from job to job.
I loved the changes of scenery, the part-time pet therapy, and I had plenty of time to write my first book. Journey through the Infinite Mind…the science and spirituality of dementia compiled my twenty years of information I’d learned working with dementia.
My jobs were mostly in San Jose, Pacific beach areas, or the San Isidro del General area, in the latter I’d often long term caretake farms. One farm sit I stayed in a bamboo open house. One night awoke horrified to find my blanket covered with hundreds of Army ants, commonly called Ormigas Carnivoros, or Carnivorous Ants. I jumped up before they found their way beneath the covers and slept in another room only to find myself again attacked by the ants in the other bed. Finally, I got out of my tent, which no insect can find their way in, set it up in the living room, and slept inside. Slept in there the remaining three months of that farm sitting.
One early morning while driving up the mountain to a local organic farmers market, I came around a bend and the rising sun was directly in front and totally blinded me. I slammed on the brakes, causing the car to slide sidewise. I heard my tires go off the pavement onto gravel before stopping. I cautiously got out of the car to see I was just a few inches from having driven directly off a cliff.