In my previous column I explored the powerful impact one’s physical environment has on mood, perspective and attitude. With my recent travel writing jaunt still fresh in my mind I have enjoyed delving into the powerful dynamics of the person-environment interplay by comparing and contrasting various hotels and resorts in small villages sprinkled across the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. My ongoing travel feature Notes from the Jungle encompassed three of my greatest passions in life- travel, creative writing and psychological exploration. The five week journey led me across two coasts, through five villages and eight different hotels, each with defining characteristics so unique I might as well have been crossing national borders.
My journey ended in Tamarindo on the Northern Pacific coast of the country, where I spent four nights at Hotel Captain Suizo, a jungle paradise on the beach, followed by five nights at Los Altos de Eros, a tiny boutique hotel nestled high in the mountains overlooking with Pacific. Los Altos de Eros is rated the number one small hotel in the word by Trip Advisor. Reflecting back on our time spent there, I can easily understand why. At Los Altos de Eros my attention flowed inwards as I embraced the beauty of stillness, quiet and solitude. At Hotel Captain Suizo I felt myself expanding outwards in harmony with the rhythm of the jungle and the vast expanse of sea that surrounded me. I fell asleep to the sound of the waves meeting the shore and marveled at the raw wildness of the jungle. I rose early with the sun and mingled with the many creatures who shared my surroundings.
Hotel Captain Suizo called to mind lyrics from the Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata, favored songs from the Broadway hit Lion King. Here I reflected on our fragile and beautiful planet where all living creatures are united through an intricate exchange of natural resources. Upon entering the lobby at Captain Suizo I immediately received a warm welcome from Francisco, with babies Alice and Sophie in tow. In addition to his many other important functions, one of Francisco’s primary duties at the hotel is to feed, nurture and protect the two resident baby monkeys. Sophie rested on top of his head, her tiny humanlike fingers grasping his thick mound of curly black hair, while Alice, the more timid of the two, slept peacefully in his arms, safely ensconced in a blanket.
Alice was found without a tail; this is the unfortunate aftermath of her mother’s untimely electrocution- a phenomenon all too common in Tamarindo when howler monkeys climb across electrical wires. A baby monkey without a tail faces a cruel obstacle, as the tail is an integral instrument used in climbing and mobility. Captain Suizo rescued Alice during her infancy. She practices her climbing with Sophie, and the two are growing stronger and more confident with each passing day. Sophie was found struggling alone in downtown Tamarindo. Skinny and malnourished, Sophie provided a good example of the plight of howler monkeys when separated from their group. Sophie and Alice have developed a lasting bond, and rely heavily on each other for play and companionship.
Such was my welcome at Captain Suizo, where raccoons relax on couches in the lobby, squirrels dine on bananas and iguanas lounge poolside. Captain Suizo welcomes all creatures of the wild, large and small, healthy and ailing, into its protective folds. This was indeed the intention of the Swiss owners whose vision entailed an environmentally conscious beach hotel where humans and animals can live together in harmony. I have never seen a raccoon sit on the lap of a human, a monkey with a full time babysitter or a cat playing with a raccoon. That is, not until I entered the enchanted world of Captain Suizo.
The owners of Captain Suizo live by the following philosophy: “we did not inherit the planet from our parents but we are borrowing it from our children.” When a tree fell by surprise in front of the hotel in April 2006, the monkeys lost their natural bridge which allowed them to enter the hotel area, forcing them to cross the dangerous road. It took four attempts, but the owners finally succeeded in constructing a replacement bridge that the monkeys use today. The first man-made monkey bridge was born. This is the spirit of Captain Suizo.
There is always something happening in the open air lobby of Captain Suizo. Perhaps it is feeding time for Alice and Sophie, friendly raccoons enjoying a late night snack, or Missy, the apricot colored cat also known as the “queen” lounging on top of the reception desk while Sibu, handsome stud cat, chases geckos and grasshoppers. The grounds of Captain Suizo overflow with wildlife and the sounds of the jungle are vibrant and captivating. It is clear the owners have handpicked their staff to reflect their love of the wild; each and every staff member has a fondness for animals and a story to tell about the myriad of creatures that have passed through the doors of the hotel. There is the story of Brocholina, the chef’s tri-color cat who is affectionately referred to as Garfield because she loves to eat and sleep, and Coco, the beloved raccoon who was friendlier than any cat and mysteriously disappeared one day. Legend has it Coco was coveted by many due to his gregarious nature, and therefore was stolen from the hotel grounds.
Following my stay at Hotel Captain Suizo, I transferred to Los Altos de Eros for the home stretch of my journey. The owner of Los Altos de Eros clearly possesses a special kind of talent; the man has created pure magic through a service philosophy that leaves guests wondering if the staff is clairvoyant. At Los Altos de Eros the staff members anticipate and fulfill the needs and desires of guests before the guests even realize those needs exist. Perhaps this is because the owner regards and treats his 28 member full time staff like family, and the staff, in turn, treats the guests the same way.
The horseshoe shaped five room villa surrounds a beautiful infinity edge pool overlooking the Pacific and the surrounding jungle, where rolling green mountains fade into a smoky sky. There are howler monkeys in the trees, frogs and lizards roaming the premises, humming birds and clusters of lush tropical flowers. A soothing sense of stillness permeates the premises, relaxing the mind, body and soul. Imagine a five room hotel with 28 full time staff members! The staff to guest ratio allows for highly personalized and attentive service leaving guests feeling incredibly pampered and satisfied.
There is a stunning open air yoga studio and world class spa. Osa, the resident dog, enjoys barking at the monkeys and escorting guests on the famous hour long walking loop around the scenic and hilly hotel grounds. It is best to take this walk early in the morning, before the sun gets too strong and Osa retires for his mid morning nap. During our five night stay at Los Altos de Eros, we never once felt like we were staying at a hotel, rather a wealthy friend’s private estate. Meals are shared at a large community table in the open air dining area overlooking the pool, allowing guests to interact and develop lasting bonds.
It is truly striking how a travel experience can change so dramatically based on a particular hotel’s ambiance, the personality of its staff members and guests, and the rhythm and pulse of the surrounding village. My experiences in Costa Rica were deeply enriching and soul enhancing. Like ships passing in the night, I crossed paths with so many wonderful souls during my journey- folks I will always remember but most likely never see again.
There was Francisco the monkey sitter at Hotel Captain Suizo whose smile melted my heart and Jesse the waitress at Almonds and Corals Resort with the dark soulful eyes and appreciation for life’s simplest pleasures. There was Jose, the driver from Rosa Blanca who spoke of family values, and Elizabeth, the tiny Australian woman who suffered a severed relationship with her only daughter and traveled the world alone, reminding me of myself in her treasured solitude. Kitty, the stray cat who sat beside me one rainy day in Playa Guiones, offered companionship as I finally wrote the very first chapter of my first novel. There was Valerie, the dance choreographer from New York City, seeking answers about life and love, and Chantal, the divorced woman from France who taught me that sharing the same language is not a prerequisite for friendship. David was a humble Psychologist from London who put others first and his own self second, offering compliments and praise while minimizing his own stunning accomplishments. These unique and colorful souls formed the tapestry of my journey and my memories of the time we shared will live forever inside my heart.