One of the highlights of our trip to Costa Rica was staying with a Tico family in Sitio de Mata — a small farming community just outside the city of Turrialba. We had planned to spend several days exploring both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and Turrialba was a natural stopping point en route from point A to point B.
As a family of seven, we typically rent a house through VRBO or airbnb and this was no exception. After reading several traveller reviews, we settled on a family run bed and breakfast. We knew the family lived on site, breakfast was included, the husband was a chef, and the views were great.
When our three teenage boys and two elementary age girls heard we would be interacting with a family they didn’t know, who didn’t speak their language, eating food that was unfamiliar, they weren’t particularly thrilled. Later, one of my boys confided, “I didn’t think I was really going to like this leg of the trip, but figured I’d just have a good attitude and get through it.”
After initial timid introductions, the kids warmed up and we were all surprised how much everyone ended up loving that part of our trip.
Here are a few reasons why: The house was roomy and set up well for guests. There were three large suites so everyone had a comfortable place to sleep and retreat to when needed. The rest of the house was one big wide open space with lots of windows sectioned into a game area (with ping pong and pool), a family room with large couches and tv, and a spacious eating area. My favorite space was the outdoor covered patio with lots of seating, hammocks, swings, bird watching and breathtaking views.
The arrangement of the space really lent itself to interacting in a very casual, relaxed, non threatening environment, which proved key to overcoming the language barrier. And, we can’t forget the baby chihuahua that fit in the palm of our hand. What child isn’t mesmerized?
For me, the most rewarding part of travel is really getting to know the locals. I love to speak with them, see where they live, what they eat, how they spend their time, etc.
I’ve always wanted my kids to practice Spanish, but just going to a foreign speaking country doesn’t mean they are naturally going to have lots of opportunities to speak the language — especially when they can just rely on me to do the talking. Sure, we go to the grocery stores and restaurants and they practice a few phrases, but then the connection is over. Here, living with natives, while swinging in hammocks, going on hikes, eating meals, playing pool, preparing food, all sorts of conversations were happening — naturally. I loved every single minute of it.
Each in their own way, my children expressed that speaking Spanish is fun. One son said, “When I’m sitting in a classroom at home speaking to a non native, it’s hard to catch the vision and get enthused about speaking Spanish. But, here, I can see the practical application.” Before the trip, I introduced our ten year old to a Spanish language app. She was mildly interested. Once she decided to speak to her knew Tico friend, that app became priceless. While Jimena was gone to school, Lucy practiced Spanish with the app so they could converse in the evenings. To see her eagerness to communicate in a different language made my heart swell. We all felt the exhilaration of speaking in a different tongue and immersing in a culture that was not our own. Mission accomplished!