Saturday, 27 February 2016

Monkey magic

Considering we've been trekking through dense, sometimes boggy, always humid rainforests, we've all escaped relatively unscathed bite-wise, with the mozzies typically favouring Andy's sweet young blood rather than mine or Mum's, which is another perk of having a younger fella I guess  ;-)

So it's kind of annoying that it's in Arenal, at our villa teetering high on the side of a mountain, waaay above the treetops, that we all get bitten to buggery.

Every one of us gets caught out by the blood-thirsty critters: I end up with a painful stinger in my butt, Andy cops another set of volcano-sized erupting bites and even De Mama with her armadillo-strength pain threshold succumbs to the black stinging wasps. We end up tweezing out black splinter-like stingers from various body parts like a particularly unlucky family of flea-bitten baboons.

On the dot of 10am Leo arrives as promised, looking a little glassy-eyed having left San Jose at 4am to reach us at the house. The last teeth-juddering leg of the journey on that hideous dirt track seems to have woken him up, and it's with clenched jaw that he patiently concedes that his suspension is going to take yet another hammering on the return trip.

 I inform Leo that we've been without wifi since the previous afternoon and he nods his sympathetic understanding and immediately turns on the hotspot on his local phone, allowing the three of us to hungrily feed off his unlimited data package. We are like vampires being handed a pint of the blood of a beautiful virgin bride, such is our desire to cram our brains with (largely pointless) information - from shots of the dinner of some random ex-colleague to the status update by a girl I bonded with drunkenly in the loos of some club or other last summer - so accustomed are we to mindless scrolling that we're barely registering what it is we're even actually looking at. The annoying part is, I KNOW a lot of it's a complete waste of time, but like virtually everyone else on the planet I'm now a slave to social media. The stunning mountains and valleys of Arenal whizz past, never to be seen again by these we're all face down in Facebook. 

Leo previously estimated that the road trip to Matapalo, which is on the Pacific side of the country would take around 4 hours, so we get increasingly fidgety in the car as the 4-hour mark comes and goes, then 5....6......

Seven long hours later, having crossed the country from the north towards the border with Nicaragua down to the south-west coast, we turn off the main highway and meander down increasingly smaller turnings until we eventually arrive at a small wooden sign bearing the name matching my reservation : Jardin De Los Monos.

 The name means "Monkey Garden" and as if by magic a cheeky white-faced Capuchin swings between two palms in front of the car as we pull into the drive. The immaculate B&B  is the property of proud owners Lettika and Gijs from The Netherlands, and the pretty blonde Lettika is waiting for us at the gate, pointing up to a couple of sloths dozing contentedly above our heads.

Before we even get the suitcases out of the boot we've seen monkeys, sloths, a solitary cow grazing at the roadside, several large iguanas on branches and both of the owners' pets - a black dog with big brown eyes and a chubby friendly-looking cat. Such is Lettika's attention to detail that I wonder for a minute if she's carefully positioned this menagerie of animals at their various posts in anticipation of our imminent arrival, as we arrive at precisely 5pm as our GPS accurately predicted 2 hours ago when I emailed her.

Immediately I know that my booking app has come up trumps yet again, as the beautiful house has instant kerb-appeal and is set just a few metres back from the dark-sanded beach. The casa is constructed in upmarket Costa Rican style - termite-proof wooden beams, whitewashed walls and pitched beamed ceilings in the rooms, only 2 of which are available to rent, the rest being the stylish Dutch couple's open-plan living quarters, which gives an exclusive boutique-hotel feel.

Lettika ushers us to the beach to catch one of the stunning sunsets that the Pacific side is celebrated for, and we half-skip half-run in delight to the beach to watch it, waving to the lazy sloths overhead on our way past. It is so hot and humid that we're all sweating with the exertion of running those few metres and slump on some sun-bleached driftwood to get a decent view. 

A flock of delicate plovers scuttle in and out with the tide and Andy is silhouetted against the red and orange backdrop of the dipping sun as he throws sticks for a pair of playful pups who dart in and out of the waves to retrieve them. 

As darkness falls we head back to the house and only now have time to fully absorb all the tiny details of the couple's handiwork - from the silky orange sheets on the huge king-size beds to the heliconia placed artily in vases with carefully-placed shells around them, it is evident that the couple are perfectionists, which makes the place feel both special and kind of intimidating in equal measures, and I'm aware of Lettika's watchful stare as we ruin the feng-shui by flipping our cases open and fling wrinkly clothes haphazardly over our shoulders in our eagerness to settle in. 

Once showered and into lighter clothes, she takes our breakfast order (which we already know will be delicious) and gives us "the tour." The couple saved for ten years to fulfill their dream, and as someone who often dreams of a new life abroad I feel envious of what this couple my age have achieved. The picture-perfect house is surrounded by a garden full of exotic plants which they've managed to make look groomed but authentic - the whole place is like something out of Vogue Living magazine and they are right to be as house-proud as they clearly are. 

Lettika points out a sweet little frog peering down at us over the guttering of the roof above our heads, and the entire evening continues in that vein - each one of us pointing heavenwards at regular intervals, oohing and ahhing at the wildlife as though watching a particularly impressive firework display, the most impressive creature of the night being the pyrophorus beetle, which is basically a neon-lit cockroach with a futuristic ability to turn on illuminous green headlights and a bright orange turbo-powered undercarriage. I kid you not, this thing is like something out of a sci-fi movie and in our combined 138 years none of us have ever seen anything like it. We are totally gobsmacked.
Mum opts to stay in the comfort of her veranda hammock as Andy and I jump in a taxi to the village's best fish restaurant. The cabbie Olivier is veering from side to side as he drives slowly down the sandy road and I wonder for a moment if he's stoned, before I catch sight of the literally hundreds of purple-and-orange crabs scuttling, pincers aloft, to avoid being crushed under his tyres. They are everywhere, as far as the eye can see. It's a pretty awesome scene. 

We enjoy a delicious meal of lobster, fresh fish and cheesecake washed down with two ridiculously expensive bottles of wine, priced especially high just for us blatant gringos, before the taxi driver pulls up to take us back to the house. It's the first time we feel totally chilled as this trip has been pretty full-on and weirdly I find it hard to summon up any sort of hard feelings at being ripped off on the cheap plonk, which is rare for someone as characteristically vocal as myself.

We pay the driver and instead of going straight to bed decide to take one last late-night romantic stroll along the beach, dodging the multitude of curious side-stepping crustaceans who detect we're a tad tipsy and head for the undergrowth to avoid being made crabmeat.

Back in the room we drift off to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing nearby, the experience bittersweet as we know that our time here is drawing swiftly to a close...

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