Jungle Notes – Beginning in Tamarindo

Jungle Notes – Beginning in Tamarindo

In my previous column, I explored the powerful impact of the physical environment on mood, perspective, and attitude. With my recent travel writing jaunt still fresh in my mind, I enjoyed delving into the powerful dynamics of human-environment interaction by comparing and contrasting various hotels and resorts in small villages dotted along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. My ongoing travelogue, Jungle Notes, encompassed three of my biggest passions in life – travel, creative writing and psychological research. The five-week trip took me across two coasts, through five villages and eight different hotels, each with defining characteristics so unique that I could cross national borders.

My trip ended in Tamarindo on the country’s northern Pacific coast, 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 small boutique hotel nestled high in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean . Los Altos de Eros is ranked the number one small hotel in the world by Trip Advisor. Looking back on my time there, I can easily see why. At Los Altos de Eros, my attention turned inward as I embraced the beauty of silence, stillness, and solitude. At Captain Suizo Hotel, I felt myself expanding outward in harmony with the rhythm of the jungle and the vast expanse of sea that surrounded me. I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the shore and marveled at the raw wildness of the jungle. I rose early with the sun and mingled with the many creatures that shared my surroundings.

Hotel Captain Suizo recalled lyrics from Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata, favorite songs from the Broadway hit Lion King. Here I reflected on our fragile and beautiful planet, where all living things are united through a complex exchange of natural resources. Upon entering the lobby of Captain Suizo, I was immediately greeted warmly by Francisco, with babies Alice and Sophie in hand. In addition to his many other important functions, one of Francisco’s main duties at the hotel is to feed, raise and protect the two local baby monkeys. Sophie rested on top of his head, her tiny human fingers clutching at his thick mass of curly black hair, while Alice, the more timid of the two, slept peacefully in his arms, safely nestled in a blanket.

Alice was discovered without a tail; it’s the unfortunate consequence of her mother’s untimely electrocution – an all-too-common occurrence in Tamarindo when howler monkeys climb electrical wires. A baby monkey without a tail faces a cruel obstacle, as the tail is an integral tool used for climbing and locomotion. Captain Swizo saved Alice during her childhood. She practices her climbing with Sophie and both grow 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 built a lasting bond and rely heavily on each other for play and companionship.

Such was my welcome at Captain Suizo, where raccoons lounge on sofas in the lobby, squirrels eat bananas and iguanas lounge by the pool. Captain Suizo welcomes all creatures of the wild, great and small, healthy and sick, into his protective folds. This was indeed the intention of the Swiss owners, whose vision included an eco-friendly beach hotel where humans and animals could live together in harmony. I have never seen a raccoon sitting on a person’s lap, 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, we borrow it from our children.” When a tree unexpectedly fell in front of the hotel in April 2006, the monkeys lost their natural bridge that allowed them to enter the hotel area, forcing them to cross the dangerous road. It took four tries, but the owners were finally able to build a replacement bridge that the monkeys use today. The first man-made monkey bridge was born. This is the spirit of Captain Suizo.

There’s always something going on in Captain Suizo’s outdoor lounge. Maybe it’s feeding time for Alice and Sophie, friendly raccoons who enjoy a late-night snack, or Missy, the apricot-colored cat, also known as “the queen,” who lounges atop the front desk, while Sibu, the beautiful cat, chasing geckos and grasshoppers. Captain Suizo’s territory is overflowing with wildlife and the sounds of the jungle are vibrant and captivating. It’s clear that the owners have chosen their staff to reflect their love of wildlife; every member of staff has an affection for animals and has a story to tell about the countless creatures that have passed through the hotel’s doors. There is the story of Brocholina, the chef’s tricolor cat who is affectionately called Garfield because she likes to eat and sleep, and Coco, the beloved raccoon who was friendlier than any cat and mysteriously disappeared one day. Legend has it that Coco was desired by many due to his sociable nature and was therefore stolen from the hotel grounds.

After my stay at Hotel Captain Suizo, I transferred to Los Altos de Eros for the initial leg of my trip. The owner of Los Altos de Eros clearly has a special talent; the man has created pure magic through a service philosophy that makes guests wonder if the staff is clairvoyant. At Los Altos de Eros, staff members anticipate and fulfill guests’ needs and desires before guests even realize those needs exist. Perhaps that’s because the owner views and treats his full-time staff of 28 like family, and the staff in turn treat guests the same way.

The five-room horseshoe-shaped villa surrounds a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean 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, hummingbirds and clusters of lush tropical flowers. A soothing sense of silence permeates the premises, relaxing the mind, body and soul. Imagine a five-room hotel with 28 full-time employees! The staff to guest ratio allows for highly personalized and attentive service, leaving guests feeling incredibly pampered and satisfied.

It has a stunning outdoor yoga studio and a world-class spa. Osa, the local dog, likes to bark at the monkeys and accompany guests on the famous one-hour tour around the hotel’s scenic and hilly grounds. It is best to do this walk early in the morning before the sun gets too strong and Osa retires for his morning nap. During our five nights at Los Altos de Eros, we never once felt like we were staying in a hotel, but rather a wealthy friend’s private estate. Meals are shared at a large communal table in the outdoor dining area overlooking the pool, allowing guests to interact and build lasting connections.

It’s truly amazing how a travel experience can change so drastically based on the ambiance of a particular hotel, the personality of its staff members and guests, and the rhythm and pulse of the surrounding countryside. My experiences in Costa Rica were deeply enriching and soul-enhancing. Like ships passing through the night, I have crossed paths with so many wonderful souls on my journey – people I will always remember but most likely will never see again.

There was Francisco, the monkey keeper at Hotel Capitan Suizo, whose smile melted my heart, and Jessie, the waitress at the Almond and Coral Resort with dark soulful eyes and an appreciation for life’s simplest pleasures. There was Jose, the driver from Rosa Blanca, who talked about family values, and Elizabeth, the petite Aussie, who had lost her relationship with her only daughter and was traveling the world alone, reminding me of myself in her dear solitude. Kitty, the stray cat who sat next to me one rainy day in Playa Guiones, offered me company when I finally wrote the first chapter of my first novel. There was Valerie, the dance choreographer from New York looking for answers about life and love, and Chantal, the divorcee 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 himself second, offering compliments and praise while downplaying his own stunning achievements. These unique and colorful souls shaped the tapestry of my journey and my memories of the time we shared will live forever in my heart.

#Jungle #Notes #Beginning #Tamarindo

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