Sleeping in a stable: My dream trip to paradise turned into a nightmare

when JUliet Owen-Nuttall and her husband Daniel watched a show about new life in the sun, sold everything and flew 5,416 miles to start over in Costa Rica. Here, 48-year-old Juliet from West Sussex tells how their TV dream became a real horror.

It was a wet and miserable February of 2015. I was lying in bed with my husband, Daniel, when there was a program on TV about moving to paradise in Costa Rica.

For the next hour or so, we were dazzled by the stunning scenery, endless sunshine, and a carefree community smiling in greeting.

I was freezing, approaching forty, and since we both worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, at our window cleaning business, we were disappointed by the relentless grind of our lives.

As I was looking at sunny scenes on TV, something in my head just clicked and I thought, “There must be more to life.”

Inspired by the documentary, we scoured the internet for businesses and properties for sale. We found an equestrian company on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica that looked perfect as I grew up riding horses.

I thought, “I can do it” and had visions of myself driving along a beautiful beach with the wind in my hair. We wanted a complete life change and a change of pace – and this was it. Or so we thought.

We spent all our savings of £29,000 on the horse riding business and in December 2015 we put all our belongings into storage and packed our bags. Although we were afraid of so much traffic, we were also very excited.

Julia, Daniel and horses

Juliet and Daniel moved to Costa Rica with the intention of running an equestrian business (photo: provided)

However, as soon as we landed, something went wrong. We received an email from Eve*, the woman we brought our new business from, saying that all eight horses had fallen ill and had to be slaughtered.

She quickly assured us that she would help us find more horses, so we settled into our Air BnB in Playa Chiquita and just hoped we could get it sorted.

However, every time Eve and I dated, things seemed a little off. We went through weeks of phone calls and meetings to try to find a solution, but it was futile. It was like a brick wall – and I felt terrible.

We finally consulted a lawyer. When Eve found out about this, she accused us of intimidating her for answers.

I just didn’t know what to do. We had nothing left to keep us afloat because all the money we had left went to attorney fees. The company was on leased land, and all we had to show for our investment was a few pieces of equipment and a few saddles.

A couple driving along the coast of Costa Rica

The couple imagined themselves driving along the magnificent Caribbean coast (Image: provided)

My sanity was in free fall at this point. We were in paradise, but there was nothing to enjoy. We sat on an idyllic beach with the white sand stretching endlessly in front of us and the waves lapping gently at our feet, but we just felt so stressed and anxious about the future.

Finally, an American friend lent us horses for our company – but having no money for accommodation, the only option was to pitch two tents in his stable. It was a smelly, disgusting and depressing place to live.

I frantically tried to keep things tidy, but everything I put away immediately became infested with cockroaches and bugs, and my clothes were covered in mildew. There was no hot water or proper electricity, and since it was the dry season when the city turns off the water, we only got an hour a day of brown, undrinkable water.

We filled a five-liter canister with stable water, and that was all we had for washing, bathing, and cooking. It got so bad that we ended up washing ourselves in this stream full of mosquitoes.

The couple had to live together on the barn floor

The couple was forced to live together in a barn, in smelly and disgusting conditions (Image: provided)

We were dirty, tired, bitten and living on rice and beans. Sometimes Daniel would go in search of plantains, bananas and coconuts, but we often went hungry and I lost weight very quickly.

Because the horses were next to us at night and we could hear them peeing and pooping – the smell of ammonia was awful. It was complete and utter misery.

We lived like this for four months – far from our dream of a new life in the sun.

Daniel and Julia

Juliet and Daniel arrived on the island in high spirits but their relationship quickly soured (Image: provided)

We felt such defeat that we didn’t even tell our families what happened, but we lost everything. Sometimes it seemed to me that the only way out was to end my life.

The stress also affected our relationship, and Daniel and I stopped talking to each other. When we talked, we argued about money and blamed each other for the situation we were in.

After weeks of living in a stable, Daniel walked the streets desperately knocking on doors asking people if they wanted help in exchange for accommodation. Finally, an American woman who ran eco-houses offered us a bungalow at the back of her property with a proper bed, kitchenette and bathroom in exchange for taking care of the house.

Julia in the barn

Julia had to get used to living among animals (Image: provided)

We packed our things, put everything in a wheelbarrow and moved in within two hours. It was quite basic but felt like a luxury.

However, by then I got sick. I had a lot of stomach ache, I was losing weight quickly and had a constant fever. I was very scared.

When we moved to a new house, my health deteriorated and I couldn’t get out of bed for a month. There was no medical service nearby, and we didn’t have the money for it anyway. I tried the juice of the local noni fruit, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and it helped a little.

After four months, I was feeling well enough to fly back to the UK for the urgent medical treatment I needed so badly.

Julia has lost a lot of weight

Juliet has lost a lot of weight and her physical health has deteriorated dramatically (Image: provided)

I moved in with my parents and visited my family doctor, whose doctor did an internal examination – he told me to go straight to the hospital. Turns out I have a massive infection in my uterus that has been there for months. I was warned that I might never have children naturally, which was a huge shock to me.

Although everything seemed hopeless, the worst was yet to come as my dad, who had prostate cancer, died at home on January 11th.

What’s really sad is that when he was downstairs taking his last breath, Daniel and I were arguing over Skype because he told me he wasn’t coming back to the UK. He took care of the animals and helped in the extension of the eco-house.

It was a real blow. I went through trauma and severe depression. Our relationship ended and I lost my dad.

Daniel later told me that after we finished talking on the phone that day, he went surfing, sat on his board, and just cried. He realized he didn’t want to lose me, so he came back two weeks later for Dad’s funeral.

Julia, Daniel and their baby

In 2019, the couple were shocked to discover that Juliet was pregnant (Image: provided)

Julia, Daniel and their baby

The trio are now back in the UK where they have recovered from their questionable adventure (Image: provided)

Then we sat by the seafront in Brighton and talked about what’s next. We decided we might be able to salvage something, and I agreed to go back to the place that almost killed me.

But our plans were thwarted again just four months later when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I knew I had to come home to be with her.

This time Daniel was with me and we returned home to the UK for good.

Amazingly, when our nightmare in paradise ended, good things began to come our way.

In 2019, I found out I was pregnant, and in June of the following year, our beautiful daughter Lyra was born. Mom also recovered from cancer.

Now I work helping other women as a fertility therapist. My experience has made me realize how amazing the UK is in terms of our NHS, social care and 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 have been traumatized for a long time. He couldn’t go to the supermarket; just looking at a pineapple would make him dizzy. And he couldn’t eat rice for two years, bananas for four. If a sandy tropical beach came on TV, we’d both panic. I couldn’t even think about airplanes.

Do I regret going to Costa Rica? i did for a long time. I was very bitter and upset. But not anymore. One day I will travel again.

As Sarah Ingram was told

*Names have been changed

Do you have a story you want to share? Please contact by emailing

Share your opinions in the comments below.

MORE: I left my husband and kids at home to go on hot dates in Costa Rica

MORE: Love Interrail? These European countries are giving away free train tickets this summer

MORE: ‘Slow travel’ is gaining ground – here’s everything you need to know and what it looks like in 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *