If there’s anyone who can take some lemons and turn them into lemonade, it’s a Costa Rican woman and an Italian man who are madly in love! This spring, Pura Vida Adventures surf instructors (and gorgeous married couple) Michelle and Davide transformed an unexpected economic crisis into a life-changing opportunity for home ownership—quicker and more affordably than they ever could have imagined. In just 3 weeks, the duo renovated an abandoned school bus in Mal Pais into a hip new starter home, elated to finally put down roots on a beautiful jungle property they purchased in 2015.
The couple, who met and fell in love 10 years ago while surfing in Santa Teresa, had originally planned to break ground on a traditional home in 2020. After a successful start to the tourism season, they had hired an architect and applied for the necessary building permits. But when the global pandemic struck, and the notorious red tape for building in Costa Rica only got worse, they knew they needed to rethink their plans.
“We were waiting a long time to do it in the right way. But in these conditions, we couldn’t,” Michelle said. With Costa Rica’s tourism at a standstill for months, the prospect of living rent-free on their own land became more appealing than ever. They decided they couldn’t turn back.
That’s when they took a second look at the rusty old school bus that had sat on the edge of their property for the past two years. Although it was once the home of an Italian surfer friend, the bus now belonged to the termites and other wild creatures who had burrowed inside. Michelle was not a fan.
“I used to tell Davide, get this garbage off our land! It’s disgusting!” she said. “My goal was always to build a big, beautiful house here. Never did I imagine in my life that I would be living in a bus! In THAT bus!”
Encouraged by a trusted friend who had recently constructed a house nearby, they gave the bus a second chance.
“It had been here all this time for some reason. We came one day and started to imagine it,” Michelle said. “Then we decided we were going to make this bus our house. We started to dream every night. Davide couldn’t sleep for days. He was always thinking about it.”
Although the couple admits they feared the daunting project could strain their relationship to a breaking point, they worked together seamlessly as a team. Davide came to the property every day to help the construction workers, and Michelle cooked and made coffee for the team every afternoon. At night they would continue to dream together about their future home.
They began by cleaning out the entire bus (dead critters and all) and pulled up the termite-eaten floor. After that, the project kicked into high gear. It turns out that in Costa Rica, if your house is on wheels, homebuilding is a quite a breeze. In one week, they had electricity. Next came the water. Rather than wait the year or so to be approved for public water, they dug their own well.
Three weeks of nonstop construction later, the hybrid bus-house was ready—complete with a light-filled exterior bathroom made from green bamboo, a full kitchen with a brand-new stove (where Davide has been baking bread from his grandma’s recipes), a new interior concrete floor, and an expansive wooden deck, perfect for entertaining friends and sharing some of that amazing Italian cooking.
They lovingly now call the bus their “dream on wheels” and are proud to have made this incredible first step toward building a home together in the midst of a global pandemic. One day they hope to have bungalows on the property as well as that big beautiful house they had originally planned. But for now, life is just how they want it to be.
“I had always dreamed of a house like this,” Davide said. “When I woke up this morning, I told Michelle, Jesus Christ this is my dream come true! I am a surfer and I always dreamed of having a house like this.”
The bus has captured Michelle’s heart as well. One of the many charming spaces she’s created inside the bus is a cozy seating area with two colorful unicorn pillows she treasures, gifted to her by fellow surf instructor Lucie at the beginning of the pandemic. On a nearby table, she has arranged rocks and crystals that hold special meaning.
“I really love to just sit there when it’s raining here and drink my tea, and breathe deep and say thanks,” Michelle said. “I am so grateful. Even if it’s a not super fancy and expensive house, it’s part of our hearts. I love it.”
Living in a humble space closer to the land has also inspired a shift in consciousness for both Michelle and Davide. They feel liberated to be stepping out of the system by owning their own land and growing their own food. Citrus and fruit trees are abundant on the property, and they have recently planted tomatoes and cultivated an herb garden. “Next is the chickens!” Davide said with a smile.
“For me it has been a new awakening,” Michelle said. “All of humanity, including us, was just working and making money. But it’s not the principal thing in this life. And maybe with this situation we are changing little by little and awakening other parts of our life.”
As the beaches in Costa Rica slowly to reopen, Davide and Michelle will keep following their passion for surfing, blessed to have a new home close to some of the best local surf breaks. This November, Pura Vida Adventures hopes to reopen its life-changing surf and yoga retreat in Costa Rica, with two happy new homeowners on its surf instructor team.