Translation of an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung by Stephanie Giovanni
August 7, 2008
At the Lookout Inn in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park, the guest lives in intimate contact with nature
Nestled between jungle and the ocean, at the edge of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, lies the Lookout Inn where man and monkey meet.
Pot holes and boulders litter the road to Carate on the Osa Peninsula. Hidden bends, barely negotiable transverse slopes and numerous stream crossings complicate the 45 kilometer drive from Puerto Jiménez. Therefore, when my taxi driver abruptly stopped after one and a half hours and about two-thirds of the distance, I suspected the worst - an engine problem, a mud slide, the sudden end of the dirt road! “Look, a boa”, Federico cries and allays my fears. Her head is turned toward the sun and her three to four meter long, sinuous body blocks our way. Only after having been photographed and upon my return to the car, does she deign to slide across the road and disappear in the undergrowth. A half an hour later, the boa constrictor is forgotten, replaced by the excitement of arrival at the Lookout Inn.
“Hey, kid”, I am greeted by a lean gentleman in a torn t-shirt and a white headband, knotted in the back. Kid? “So, you’re going to stay in the ‘Monkey House’ for a week?” His eyes sparkle. “Exactly”, I reply forcefully, to hide both my dismay and my nervousness. The website describes the Lookout Inn as “…for the extremely adventurous who want to experience the jungle at close range.” Idyllically located away from the other accommodations, the Monkey House is perched on the Inn’s mountain side. Sufficient cause for a big-city Jane on her own, who never met a monkey outside of a zoo, to feel a little apprehensive. “You’ll love it!”, enthuses the gent as if reading my mind. He then sticks out his hand, introduces himself as Terry Conroy, the owner, grins and grabs my arm. “But first, I have to show you something else!”
Terry drags me down some wooden stairs in the direction of the pool, gardens and the ocean. Plants with flame-colored flowers line the steps. Screeching macaws circle above our heads. Halfway down, the staircase forks and we take a left. Terry starts to proudly explain his latest project, the so-called Spa. “Just look at the view - practically an open-air yoga platform over the Pacific! Oh, and the bed, it’s suspended on ropes - a swinging bed! Isn’t that fantastic, kid?” Behind the bed, the only continuous wall faces the hillside. The rest of the wooden structure resembles a covered terrace with views of the beach, covered with palm trees. Shower, toilet and wash basin are located on an adjacent patio. Instead of walls, hibiscus, fig and banana trees defend from prying eyes.
Even the entrance is unusual. Although each of the nine accommodations is unique and offers fabulous vistas from unglazed window frames, the Spa dispenses with a doorway altogether. Only a chain restricts the unwanted visitor from entering the shady forecourt with its small cool pool.
For the time being, this wellness oasis is Terry’s most recent coup. His kitchen isn’t large enough to provide for more than approximately twenty people, he says, and he wants to protect the privacy of the guests on the eleven acres of grounds. Strict building codes and regulations also limit random construction in the protected rain forest on the peninsula. Therefore, at least for now, this region is safe from mass tourism as seen in Northern Costa Rica.
After Terry’s tour, finally entering the Monkey House for the first time, I am out of breath: a wooden staircase of at least forty steps leads to my eyrie, a catwalk much loved by the white-faced capuchin monkeys. The structure is diagonal to the hillside and overlooks the main lodge and the other cabins. I remain standing in the doorway and it seems as if I had stepped on a stage. Everything is open and the wall with the entry is like a backdrop. Only the wooden handrails interrupt the view of the Pacific and the rain forest. A desk, a sofa and two easy chairs of indigenous wood allow the luxury of relaxation and observation. After a few days of studying their habits, I know that the monkeys prefer to feast on the abundant berries and bananas in the mornings and evenings, whereas the coati can be found at any time poking through the foliage with their white snouts.
Happy hour at the Lookout Inn begins just before sunset. The guests meet at the bar in the main lodge and exchange stories of their latest adventures. The more of Katja’s (Terry’s wife) excellent margaritas are consumed, the wilder the stories get. An ER physician from Toronto and his lawyer and dentist friends, who like to fortify themselves with a joint before embarking on their extensive hikes, reported an attack by howler monkeys. “They pelted us with figs and branches”, he said. “And all we were doing was watching them jump from bough to bough.” With the first night at the Monkey House on my mind, I turned towards Terry somewhat skeptically: “Has a guest ever been attacked at the Lookout Inn? Do snakes and scorpions invade the huts at night?” Terry sipped his drink. “The most dangerous thing is me when I’ve had a shot of vodka too many.” A mischievous grin. “Don’t worry, kid. Trust me, the biggest danger here is falling coconuts.”
Digging for water instead of gold
And Terry should know. Now in his mid-fifties, Terry, originally from New York State, has lived in Carate since 1996. At that time, he and his then girlfriend began constructing their dream house, while they lived, without running water, in a hut in the garden, which now houses some of the employees. It was a gold miner from California, who had helped with the planning, that came up with the idea of a hotel, not Terry himself. So, instead of digging for gold, Terry dug for water, and instead of a noisy generator, he installed a solar power system which, among other things, enables guests to use the wi-fi operated internet - the only access to the outside world.