If you put the word “rancho” in a translator app, you will probably see that the word is translated as “ranch” in English. But when I say we now have a “rancho,” I don’t mean we have a ranch.
As is true in each culture, there are words that the local culture has given special meaning to. And that’s what Costa Rica has done with the word “rancho.” Here it means an outdoor, covered sitting area where people can sit, relax, eat, snooze, chat, etc. They are most often found on rural properties, and they symbolize connection with friends, relaxation, togetherness, and family values.
Some months ago I began to think about having a rancho on our property in the foothills of Volcan Turrialba. As we talked about it, several things emerged as necessities in its construction. You can watch for those aspects in the photos that follow below.
One requirement was size. It needed to be big enough for our whole family to sit and eat together. There are 12 of us now, and who knows how many more may later join us. We wanted all of us to be able to enjoy a meal together or space to play board games with the grandkids.
We also wanted it to be outfitted with electricity and running water. Our property has beautiful 240-degree views of verdant green mountains and valleys, and we wanted to be able to work in the rancho and enjoy the outdoors and the views at the same time.
If a group is going to eat, you need water to clean up, wash dishes, etc. So, a sink with a faucet and drain moved onto the requirement list.
We wanted it to be Costa Rican in style and feel. There is something very special about the way Costa Ricans live the pura vida life, and we wanted the rancho to express this. This included using rough logs for the pillars and the railings, a pitched roof covered with red roofing, and a traditional ceiling of caña brava (a type of small bamboo).
A hanging lamp of some kind would be necessary in case we wanted to sit in the rancho in the evenings.
A combination stone/concrete floor would be easy to clean and would give a rustic look.
Brenda’s special requirement was that it needed to be able to house a good-sized hammock, the symbol of tropical relaxation.
Gutters and adequate drainage were called for as the rainy season brings strong rains and lots of water.
Once we had these ideas in our mind, we started to ask our neighbors who could build such a structure for us. One of our neighbors suggested a man who did regular work for him. He claimed that Bernal could do about anything. We took him at his word and had a conversation with Bernal about building the rancho. He said he and his brother could do it on Sundays since he worked for the neighbor during the week. We agreed upon a very reasonable price for labor, and we began to plan the purchase of materials. Bernal did all the purchasing of materials, always providing receipts for every purchase, and a running financial accounting of the funds.
Our gracious neighbor offered us four eucalyptus tree trunks as posts. Since we would need eight, Bernal offered to cut down one of our tall pine trees on the property. So, all the support posts are rough tree trunks from our property and the neighbor’s property.
The stone and concrete floor was the first thing built. Then came the support posts. Then came the support beams forming the framework for the roof. Then the roof appeared, along with gutters and drain pipes. The “pila” (outdoor sink) and plumbing were installed. We were fortunate because the water line runs from the road to our house about a meter from the rancho, so tapping in was easy.
Next was the electricity. Again, the line runs about 15 feet from the rancho, so an electrician was hired to do the work of connecting, installing breakers, outlets, lamp, etc.
The caña brava for the ceiling was a challenge. Caña brava grows wild on people’s property in the area, but with so much agriculture prevalent these days, it is more difficult to find than in the past. These small, rock-hard bamboo shoots have to be cut down with a machete, hauled to the building site, and then stripped of all green or fresh growth with a knife, down to the bare bamboo. Then they are cut to size and nailed onto the underside of the wooden framework of the roof. This was fascinating to watch. Such precision. Bernal was a master at it.
Once all of the caña brava was in place, it was time to stain all the support posts, framework, and caña brava brava for protection again the heat, general humidity, and heavy rains that come. You can see in the photo below what color we chose and how good it looks.
There are just a few minor details left. Bernal will build a wooden countertop that connects to the sink so we have a food-preparation area. He needs to do a little more finish work on the sink area, and he will build a half-moon-shaped step outside the front entrance to step onto before stepping into the rancho. This should cut down on mud and loose grass in the rancho.
We are already using it and loving it. There is usually a breeze, and it is wonderful to sit there and snooze or read or chat or eat. It’s a great place for me to edit Brenda’s books!
In the early stages of deciding to do it, we wondered many times if we would actually use it or if it would just sit there. The answer is clear – we are spending much of our time there already, and the enjoyment we are receiving from it only encourages us to use it more. We can’t wait for the whole family to be there under the roof, enjoying a meal and time together.
By the way, a new book is coming soon. Stay tuned for the announcement in an upcoming blog post.
Until next time . . .
This is Paul, a Part-Time Expat turned Full-Time
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1 thought on “What’s a Rancho?”
It is SUCH FUN to use!