Los Santos, part I: The case for homestays at all ages

When rural tourism leader Jonathan Cerdas, presiding over a community hall packed with international visitors and their host mothers, announced that our “mamás ticas” would be sending us off to our activities the following morning fully breakfasted and carrying a snack in case we got hungry, a little wave of laughter rippled through the group of travelers.

“That’s right!” said Jonathan, noticing the reaction. “You’re like little kids again! Your moms are going to take care of you!”

I swear there was an audible sigh of relief. Set the cultural exchange aside for a moment: there’s a business idea here. Tired mothers or grandmothers, being mothered for a change.

Green Communities, the organization that – thanks to the experiential adventure initiative Travel with Ann – took me under its wing for 36 terrific hours last week in San Pedro de Tarrazú, reminded me of a lot of what’s good about Costa Rica. It also showed me that homestays, a staple of travel in one’s high school and college days, are quite possibly wasted on the young. We should all be doing them when we travel.

Moms and travelers work together to make dinner at the community hall.

Here’s why: when you stay with a family in your teens or early twenties, you’re still in the midst of being parented yourself. You don’t fully appreciate, or maybe even resent, the early nights, the restrictions, the “Eat your fruit!” If you’re 41 with a seven-year-old, all of this is like manna from heaven. My host mother, Margarita, and her husband, Emilio, welcomed us with the outsized kindness that rural Costa Rica is known for. An early bedtime was no longer an imposition: I went to sleep shortly after dinner every night, suddenly exhausted by the dark night of the small mountain town and tantalized by the twin bed. No clothes to pick up. No lunch to prepare. I relaxed more fully than on just about any vacation I can remember, because something very important was taken away from me: my responsibility for making any decision whatsoever.

More important than all of that, however, is the way that homestays unite cultures and support Costa Rican families. It was much more work for both Green Communities and Travel with Ann to coordinate all those homestays for the members of Ann Becker’s group than it would have been to stick everyone in a hotel – but the investment pays off in spades. The visitors know they are contributing to the local economy in the most direct way possible, and they gain more insight into Costa Rican life than they could in a month of hotel stays. The families get to watch people discover their beautiful town, delicious coffee and homemade food over and over, and take obvious delight in this process. Many of them build relationships that will last a lifetime; when I got back to San José, I almost immediately went to visit don Memo and doña Hannia, the papás ticos who changed my life when I was 21.

No matter what your age, think about a homestay the next time you travel (with responsible travel entities that know how to do it properly and compensate families fairly, of course). It’s truly a gift. And if anyone out there wants to create a “Mothers, We’ll Take Care of You As If You Were Toddlers” tour, I’m happy to donate the idea. As long as you take me along.

Travel guide extraordinaire Alex Alvarez and I (left) with Margarita and Emilio at their home.

Coming soon, Part II: why my visit to Los Santos changed the way I’ll view coffee farms. Forever. 

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! Each month in 2020 has a monthly theme, and February’s is marriage equality, so scroll back through the month to see several posts highlighting people and organizations working on behalf of this issue in Costa Rica. 





3 thoughts on “Los Santos, part I: The case for homestays at all ages

  1. I love the Los Santos region. One of my top favorite places in Costa Rica. Thanks for the great idea for a homestay the next time we visit! San Pedro is lovely. Did you happen to visit the coffee farm for Cafe Haug?


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