Of treehouses, sloths, and the mighty mot-mot

Treehouse # 1 at Treehouses Hotel in Costa Rica

Treehouses Hotel in Costa Rica; photo by David Webster Smith

“There’s still enough light to walk down to the waterfall, says Mark, who, with his wife Lucy, manages the Treehouses Hotel in Costa Rica’s evergreen-and-wet Arenal area.

We’d arrived at 4 in the afternoon on a misty afternoon, and the sun sets here promptly at 6pm. “Look for the arrow made of sticks. It points to the tree where we saw a sloth yesterday.”

Mark, on sabbatical from his job as copy editor at the Honolulu Advertiser, is checking us in. His shorts reveal a tattoo on his calf: Dennis the Menace wielding a tennis racquet. “I played tennis in college,”” he explains. His wife Lucy, who quit her social worker job in Hawaii to make the move to Costa Rica, went to the same college I did in California.

“Are you a slug?” she asks me. I’m  not sure what to make of her query until  I remember that UC Santa Cruz’s mascot is the yellow banana slug.

Bejuca, the lab/Rottweiler mix, and Little B, a Chihuahua meets miniature schnauzer, weave between our legs as Mark tells us breakfast is served between 8 and 9 and that yes, the treehouses do move. “But don’t worry,’ he says.  “They’re secure.”

Treehouse Number 1

I’ll take him at his word. And later, as we climb the 25 steps to tonight’s lodging, each step a piece of a small tree sawed in half lengthwise, it does feel secure. In fact it reminds me of a fire lookout tower bolted to one tree and surrounded by dozens more. It feels secure, yes, but when I later try to put lipstick on before we go out for dinner, the intermittent swaying makes me wonder if I’m going to smear it across my face. Until I get used to the movement I feel a little seasick up in our treetop boat.

We’re in Treehouse 1, the highest off the ground at about 25 feet and also the most compact, with the main room dominated by a full-sized bed made up with clean white sheets that set off a bouquet of pink and red heliconia. Good thing we’re slim, because we have to squeeze by each other to get to the toilet, a little room off to the side with screens for windows and a pint-sized sink. A room off to the other side houses what’s known in Costa Rica as a suicide shower, with wires sprouting from the showerhead, which warms the water as it comes out. It’s tricky—you need to have just the right flow coming for the apparatus for the heating element to kick in. (We get hot water, but in the morning the water gives out. But hey, we’re in a treehouse. In Costa Rica.)

There’s also a loft, up a ladder, with a thin foam full-sized mattress. Kids would love it up there. The treehouses have a/c (which we didn’t need), a fan, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker (with coffee), a small place to hang clothes, and framed photos on the hardwood paneled walls of local fauna—sloths, howler monkeys, butterflies.

The hotel has three treehouses. Number 3 is closest to the road (you can’t see it but sometimes you can hear the trucks changing gears), but it’s bigger than number 1 and has a wraparound deck. If I return I’ll ask for Treehouse #3, further from the road than #2, bigger that our ‘honeymoon suite” unit and with floor-to-ceiling windows that make you feel  like you’re in the open air but still protected from bugs. There’s also a family of fruit bats that hang out by day on the front porch overhang (they don’t come inside unless you invite them). The lofts in Treehouses 2 and 3 are also more spacious and have two twin mattresses instead of the thin piece of foam in Treehouse 1.

Sloth sighting

The walk down to the waterfall is just 3 km round-trip, on a wide path that would accommodate a 4 x 4—the usual Costa Rica backcountry road—two concrete strips for the tires, nearly overwhelmed by the growth around and between them. Grey skies, with late afternoon sun edging some of the clouds with orange and gold.

We spot the stick arrow and follow where it’s pointing to a cecropia tree. And yes, there’s the sloth! A big ball of fur with a strange little face.  We watch it for a while but it doesn’t oblige with any tricks. Now don’t get me wrong– sloths are very cool little creatures, but watching one is like studying a mangy fur rug on a plank floor.

Further on, the path swings by a stand of giant bamboo, the hollow trucks arcing over the path a good thirty feet above us. Soon we could hear the rush of a river swollen with rain, and then we see it:  a  muddy torrent that doesn’t invite a swim but instead a gasp of appreciation for the force of nature that water is in this zona.

Up the hill from the river are a series of small waterfalls, cascading into man-made pools that might have invited soaking had they been a little clearer (rainy season makes all the waterways cloud up) and if either the air or the water had been warmer.

Mural at Treehouses Hotel; photo by David Webster Smith

Mural at Treehouses Hotel; photo by David Webster Smith

Breakfast with the birds

The next morning, there’s a full Tico breakfast: egg, gallo pinto (rice & beans), a tortilla, yucca fried up in a delicious latticework, juice, fruit, and cup after cup of coffee. We sit outside under the overhang of the common building (not a treehouse) and are entertained by a fiesta of birdlife that has come to feed on the sugar water and platanos.

We see brilliantly colored hummingbirds, red-headed woodpeckers, wren-like birds with bright blue feathers, regal mot-mots (“No one messes with the mot-mot,” says David after watching bird interactions for a while), and the dun-colored robin, which is, ironically, Costa Rica’s national bird.

  • By Biblio, November 25, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

    Swiss Family Robinson accommodations, the sloth I searched for and never found on my first trip to Costa Rica, waterfalls and beautiful birds…pretty nice!

    Te extrano, chimita.

  • By Brian van der Plugh, January 5, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

    This sounds so inviting that I am tempted to buy a plane ticket tonight. Your flowing prose is entrancing, and I see and feel what you describe. Many thanks for the welcomed departure from my cubicle.

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