Sleeping in the stable: My dream trip to paradise turned into a nightmare
As JUliet Owen-Nuttall and her husband Daniel saw a show showing new life in the sun, sold it and flew 5,416 miles to start over in Costa Rica. Here Juliet, 48, from West Sussex tells how her TV dream turned into a real horror show.
It was a wet and miserable February 2015 and I was in bed with my husband Daniel as a TV program about moving to paradise in Costa Rica was on.
For the next hour we were dazzled by the stunning scenery, the endless sunshine and the carefree community that welcomed us with smiles.
I was struggling with a cold, approaching 40, and since we both worked 12 hour days, six days a week in our window cleaning business, we were disillusioned with the relentless drudgery of our lives.
As I watched the sunny scenes on TV, something clicked in my head and I thought, “There must be more to life.”
Inspired by the documentation, we searched the internet for businesses and properties for sale. We found a horseback riding business on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica that looked perfect as I grew up horseback riding.
I thought, “I can do that” and had visions of myself riding along a beautiful beach with the wind blowing through my hair. We wanted a complete change of life and pace – and that was it. Or, so we thought.
We spent all our £29,000 savings on the equestrian shop and in December 2015 we put all our belongings into storage and packed our bags. Although we were afraid of such a big move, we were also very excited.
However, things went wrong as soon as we touched down. We received an email from Eve*, the woman we brought our new business from, stating that all eight horses had become ill and needed to be slaughtered.
She was quick to reassure us that she would help us find more horses, so we settled into our Air BnB in Playa Chiquita just hoping we could work things out.
But every time we hooked up with Eve, things felt a little strange. We tried for weeks with phone calls and meetings to find a solution, but it was to no avail. It was like a brick wall – and I felt terrible.
Finally we consulted a lawyer. When Eve found out about this, she accused us of harassing her for answers.
I just didn’t know what to do. We had nothing left to support ourselves since all the money we had left had gone towards legal fees. The shop was on rented land and all we needed to show for our investment was some bridles and some saddles.
At this point, my sanity was in freefall. We were in paradise but there was nothing to enjoy. We were sitting on an idyllic beach, the white sands stretched out endlessly in front of us and the waves were gently lapping at our feet, but we just felt so stressed and scared about the future.
Eventually, an American friend lent us a couple of horses for our business – but with no money for accommodation, the only option we had was to pitch two tents in his stable. It was a smelly, disgusting and depressing place to live.
I tried desperately to keep order, but everything I put down was immediately infested with roaches and insects, while clothes were covered with mold. There was no hot water or real electricity, and because it was the dry season when the city shut off the water, we only got brown, undrinkable water for an hour a day.
We filled a five liter jerry can with water from the barn tap and that was all we needed for washing, bathing and cooking. It got so bad that we ended up washing in this mosquito infested creek.
We were dirty, tired, covered in bites, living on rice and beans. Sometimes Daniel would look for plantains, bananas and coconuts, but we often suffered from hunger and I lost a stone of weight very quickly.
Since the horses stood next to us at night and we could hear them pee and poop, the smell of ammonia was terrible. It was utter and utter distress.
We lived like this for four months – far from our dream of a new life in the sunshine.
We felt so failed that we didn’t even tell our families what had happened, but we had lost everything. Sometimes I felt like the only option was to end my life.
The stress also affected our relationship and Daniel and I stopped talking. When we spoke, we would argue about money and blame each other for the situation we were in.
After weeks of stable living, Daniel walked up and down the streets frantically knocking on doors and asking people if they needed help in exchange for shelter. Finally, an American woman who ran eco-lodges offered us a bungalow at the back of her property with a real bed, kitchen area, and bathroom in exchange for housesitting.
We packed our things, put everything in a wheelbarrow and within two hours we were moving in. It was pretty basic but felt like luxury.
By that time, however, I had become quite ill. I had severe abdominal pain, lost weight quickly, and had a constant fever. I was really scared.
After we moved to our new lodge, my health deteriorated and I was unable to get out of bed for a month. There was no medical care nearby and we didn’t have any money to pay for it anyway. I tried the juice of a local fruit called noni, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and it helped a little.
After four months I was feeling well enough to get back on a plane to the UK for some urgent medical help that I so desperately needed.
I moved in with my parents and went to see a GP whose doctor was doing an internal exam – he told me to go straight to the hospital. Turns out I had a massive infection in my uterus that had been there for months. I was warned that I might never have children naturally, which came as a huge shock.
Although everything already felt hopeless, things were about to get worse when my father, who had prostate cancer, died at home on January 11th.
What’s really sad is that while he was downstairs breathing his last, Daniel and I were arguing over skype because he had told me he wasn’t going back to the UK. He took care of the animals and helped build the eco-lodge business.
It was a real hit. I was traumatized and severely depressed. Our relationship was over and I had lost my father.
Daniel later told me that when we djed that day he went surfing and sat on the board and just cried. He realized he didn’t want to lose me, so he came back for Dad’s funeral two weeks later.
After that we sat on Brighton’s seafront and talked about what to do next. We decided there might be something we could salvage, and I agreed to return to the place that nearly killed me.
However, our plans were dashed just four months later after my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer – I knew I had to return home to be by her side.
This time Daniel was with me and we finally got back home to the UK.
Oddly enough, when our nightmare in paradise was over, good things started to come our way.
In 2019 I discovered I was pregnant and in June of the next year our beautiful daughter Lyra was born. Mom also recovered from her cancer.
Now I work to help other women as a fertility practitioner. My experience has shown me how great the UK is in terms of our NHS, our welfare and our legal system. We don’t have the weather and the beautiful coastline, but we do have the infrastructure to keep people safe.
Both Daniel and I were traumatized for a long time. He couldn’t walk around the supermarket; Just the sight of a pineapple would send him into a spin. And he couldn’t eat rice for two years, bananas for four years. If there was a sandy tropical beach on TV, we would both panic. I couldn’t even think about airplanes.
Do I regret going to Costa Rica? I did that for a very long time. I was very bitter and upset. But not anymore. One day I will travel again.
Like I said, Sarah Ingram
*Names have been changed
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https://metro.co.uk/2023/03/09/sleeping-in-a-stable-my-dream-trip-to-paradise-became-a-nightmare-18254661/ Sleeping in the stable: My dream trip to paradise turned into a nightmare