Costa Rica Adventure:
Article by Kim Schneider
Photo by Kim Schneider
An iguana munches on a hibiscus leaf.
Jaguars still roam this remote peninsula just a few degrees north of the equator, as do 375 kinds of lizards, 400 species of birds, endangered monkeys, tapirs, sloths and 6,000 types of insects.
But our first thought while flying over this rain forest of plenty is that we've somehow fallen into an episode of that old '80s television show "Fantasy Island."
Our destination bed and breakfast has no phone, and we aren't sure how anyone will know that we've arrived. But as our pilot points to a spot of brown in the midst of a towering jungle cliff, he revs his engine.
We picture a diminutive assistant yelling the Spanish equivalent of "the plane! The plane!"
And sure enough, our doors open to find a four-wheel drive vehicle pulling up to pick us up at the airport -- well, the tiny landing strip wedged between an ocean lined with black volcanic sand and a tropical jungle lined with coconut trees.
Showy macaws soar near the tree line, squawking loudly and settling one bet.
|Photo by Kim Schneider
Kayleigh Schneider, 15, lounges in the pool halfway up a jungle cliff, part of the The Lookout Inn lodge, an 11-acre complex in Costa Rica.
The owners of the Lookout Inn, it turns out, weren't risking much when they offered a "scarlet macaw sighting or your room free" guarantee. What we wouldn't see much of, turns out, is people.
We'd ventured to Costa Rica, my husband, Karl, and I, with our 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter on what we figured might be our last major family vacation. We scored four frequent flier seats out of Detroit, then set out to plan a jungle immersion trip so adventurous and memorable the term "family vacation" still could be cool.
Before landing on this remote airstrip, we already had floated down one of the world's Top 5 rafting rivers, ricocheting through rapids whose names aptly translate to "cemetery" and "pingpong" in the dialect of the local Cabacar Indians.
We made like monkeys at the base of an active volcano -- soaring across the tree canopy on one of the zip line tours the country is so famous for. And we quickly got into the mind-set of the friendly Ticos, the affectionate nickname for Costa Rican natives. Our motto became "Pura Vida!" or something akin to "Life is great!"
This leg of the journey was included for the wildlife riches and also to fulfill my daughter's request that a little luxury oceanside R&R (preferably in a hammock, with a virgin pina colada in hand) be included in our trip.
Owner Terry Conroy greets us with a hearty handshake and knowing grin. He has been helping to fulfill such fantasies since 1996, when he opened the small inn he runs with wife, Katya, and her 8-year-old son, Luis.
Home away from home
Our home for the next four days would be their complex of 11 acres, built into a jungle cliff and accessed by more than 300 steps that go from beach to main lodge.
Guests sleep in one of three solar-powered inn rooms, guest cabins with their own hammocks, or the open-air tiki huts that we chose for the adventure and the view.
The huts are open to the jungle and roaring ocean below, outfitted with only a netted bed and a table and a few hooks upon which to hang your belongings.
Mosquitoes were conspicuously absent. But the view from the similarly open-air shower might be the butterflies or hummingbirds regularly flitting past or a scarlet macaw couple squawking loudly in an almond tree.
The food served here is gourmet, grown in the jungle or at a local organic farm and prepared by an accomplished chef in an open air kitchen with an unforgettable sunset view. But even the luxury R&R would come with an "it's a jungle out there" twist.
One afternoon, we were memorably summoned from the swimming pool by a breathless staff member who urged us to grab our camera and follow.
A boa constrictor was swallowing a chicken. We watched until just the yellow feet were sticking out, and then weren't.
|The Schneiders, from left, Karl, Kayleigh, Kim and Chris take a dip in a jungle lagoon under one of the many waterfalls in Costa Rica.|
The next day, we'd find ourselves panning for gold with a gold miner who spoke little English and was carrying a machete. Turns out, we had no need to worry about Chino, whose kindnesses began before we ever reached the gold-rich sections of the river and learned to "pan." En route, he would pick various fruit or a coconut, slice it with the machete, then wait expectantly for our reaction.
Our trip's finale would be the exhausting but exhilarating 10-mile or so hike (in humid, tropical heat) into Corcovado National Park. We followed the fresh prints of a mountain lion, en route spotting dozens of white-faced, squirrel and spider monkeys -- most toting tiny babies on their backs -- along with anteaters, the raccoon-like coati and another boa constrictor, this one napping in a tree.
During the 1 1/2-hour return trip by land taxi, our taxi driver spotted a sloth in a tree, cuddling its baby. We stopped and watched the sloth and its almost imperceptible movements. Another mile down the road, we spied a toucan. And more monkeys. And then a family of coatis, including a dozen babies, crossed the road.
As my son leaned out the window to catch the action, a wide grin spread across his face as he uttered words we never thought he would say: "What are we going to do on our next vacation?"
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Contact Kim Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.