Dreaming of a Beautiful Jungle Retreat

As I’ve mentioned before, moving to Costa Rica meant us stepping out of our anti social bubble to experience new things.  So when Liz (a real estate broker) called to ask if we wanted to join her and & her husband David for the night at a house in the jungle, we said yes without hesitation!  We were ready to have our own Costa Rican Jungle Adventure after reading so many others online.

Liz told us the huge house was surrounded by jungle in a city named Platanillo.  The plan was to stay at the house one night and the next morning we would go for a easy hike to a nearby waterfall, then head down to the beach.  Platanillo is a short 15 minute drive to Dominical beach and only 30 minutes from our house so this all sounded perfect.

They had recently listed a beautiful house in the city of Platanillo that was surrounded by jungle and was 15 minutes to the beach.  We naively assumed it was the same house (based on Liz’s description) and dreamed of a peaceful night of food and conversation followed by a fun adventure the next day.

Unexpected Guests

Based on my conversation with Liz about the trip, I was under the impression that it would only be them and us staying at the jungle house.  So, when we met them at the grocery store parking lot we were surprised to see people in their back seat.  Because Liz had not mentioned that anyone else was going, we were curious about the additional guests.  We followed their car up and down the beautiful mountains from San Isidro (Perez) to the town of Platanillo.

Welcome to the Jungle of Costa Rica near Tinamaste

Cloud covered mountains of Southern Costa Rica near Tinamaste

We turned and slowed drove down a  long and steep driveway.  Even with the brakes fully engaged our car slid down the driveway, barely stopping at the end.  YIKES!  The sliding was due to moss growing on the cement because it was still the rainy season.  Liz immediately yelled out of the car window and let our host (another unexpected guest) know he needed to sweep the moss off the driveway.  Liz is a no nonsense kind of a lady and lets people know what she is thinking, usually with a lot of passion and a raised voice.

David introduced us to their additional guests.  Marilyn, a retiree in her 70’s who was looking at Costa Rica as a possible new home to retire to.  Colin, Marilyn’s son, came on the Costa Rican recon trip to help his mom out.  They are from Canada and Marilyn was looking to escape the cold winters there.

Welcome to the Jungle, We’ve Got Creepies and Crawlies

Liz introduced us to Willy, the caretaker and our host  for the property.  Throughout this post I reference the house as Willy’s for ease.  Willy is very fit Costa Rican man, who is trim and compact, standing at approximately 5’ 4” .  He is covered in tattoos, has a lip piercing and wears a bunch of jewelry.  He also has very long dreadlocks that are sun bleached, all of which are not a common thing for Costa Rican men.  I loved his style, it suited him.

As Willy showed us around the house I realized this was not the modern peaceful  jungle house we were expecting.  The house is an open air house which means there is not glass in the windows.  Most open air homes in Costa Rica have a cut out window but no glass or screens to cover them.  This house did have screens stapled over the homemade window frames.  There were sizable gaps and rips around the frames.  I am not a fan of the creepy crawlies and the thought of having spiders, scorpions, or snakes as roommates really freaks me the F out!  I know, I moved to Costa Rica, what should I expect.

After calming myself down about the possibility of creepy crawly roommates, Willy pulled out his phone to show us the various creatures that have crept into the house through those holes.  OMG, they were bigger and scarier than I had imagined!  He described the bites and stings that he experienced wrangling those creatures back outside.  I did not want to be rude but, I really wanted to go home.  I decided I needed adventure in my life and there was a good chance I would not die, so I stopped being a baby.  

Holes in the screens

Hole in the screen door

The Jungle House

Willy occupies the lower level of the home and rents out the upper level along with a few small cottages that are on the property.   Guests may use the kitchen and bathroom if desired and you can even use the washer, for a pretty hefty fee.

Our Costa Rican Jungle Adventure

House Rules

Willy’s living room fit what I would envision for a hippy beach kind of a place, which explains his personal style.  It has 3 surf boards against the wall along with a skateboard, a guitar, a old TV with a small boom box on the top.  CD’s are strewn all over the corner of the room and on every table and counter there was some sort of marijuana smoking device.  The only thing missing was a peace sign tapestry and maybe a VW van with flowers on it parked outside.  

Willy's living room

Living room

Willy walked with a bit of a limp and occasionally used a cane,  which he had carved a pipe into the end of.  He was proud of his pipe creations and showed us many others he created out of everyday items.  

Homemade Pipes

Willy’s Homemade Pipes made out of a cane, nunchakus, and a sling shot

Let me Show you to Your Rooms

Liz and David stayed in one of the cottages and  Marilyn, Colin and our family stayed in the 3 bedroom apartment above the main house.  Willy led us all out of the front door, along the side of the house.  I spotted an adorable homemade broom that looked like it belonged to The Wicked Witch of the West.  The dried sticks of the broom were held to the wooden handle with an old extension cord (Costa Rican creativity).  The broom laid upon a large collection of empty liquor bottles.  In the yard there was a homemade fire pit made of bricks but instead of wood in it, there were piles of empty beer cans and bottles.  


Bottles & Broomstick

After passing the piles of past parties, we were led up worn wooden stairs that hugged the outside walls of the house to our apartment.  The upper level is not as finished as the lower level is.  The ceiling has insulation foam boards stapled up to metal slats that you can see outside through in some spots.  My creepy crawly alarm was going off big time but I decided to just put on my adventure glasses.  That is, until Willy showed us the huge banana spider living on the deck outside the upper living room.  I would not be sitting out there to watch the sunset, glasses or not! NOPE!

Other than the ceiling and spider the place is a cute cabin type style apartment.  Marilyn and Colin had a room to themselves with a shared bathroom between.  Our family got the biggest room that had a large private bathroom.  The bathroom had a modern toilet and a bidet toilet next to it.  Our room had a Queen size bed and a twin bed next to that.  

Costa Rican Jungle Adventure

Willy’s kitchen upstairs

What are the Vegans Going to Eat?

After putting our stuff away in the apartment we went downstairs to help with the preparation of dinner.  Being vegan you never know what you’re going to get when someone says they will provide the food.  You tell them all the things you do not eat, but as time goes on you realize that most people still don’t understand the depth of what being  vegan means.  Because of past experience, I have learned to always have backup food with me.

I made a potato casserole that morning and decided we would eat that along with the salad and fruit Liz mentioned bringing.  I am very picky about artificial additives and other ingredients in my food so I read every label.  Many of the sauces, and packaged foods in Costa Rica have ingredients I will not eat.  Liz, like most people here, uses those sauces and foods.  The salad she made had one such sauce on it so the potato casserole was our main meal.  We had a little papaya for dessert but kindly refused all other offers of food.  Liz was nice about it but you can always tell that people just don’t understand why I am so “picky”.

Luckily for us I had been baking and dehydrating all kinds of snacks over the past few days and brought all of those snacks along.  They ended up being our main sustenance over the next 24 hours.

Homemade snacks

Homemade snacks: granola bars, flax crackers, dehydrated fruits & veggies, and banana chocolate rollups

Sleep Tight and Don’t let the Bugs Bite

After dinner we had a nice chat with Marilyn and Colin while watching the others contribute to the empty beer and liquor pile outside.  The kids were very tired and we could not put them to bed in a strange place alone, so we all went to bed a bit early.  Liz said we would get up early to hike to the waterfall and then head to the beach.  We figured we would all be well rested.

I had a hard time going to sleep.  I was not in my comfort zone and I felt uneasy about the possible creepy crawlies.  Our bed situation contributed to the sleeplessness.  Each bed had a clean, thin, bedspread to cover the mattress.  Willy instructed us to sleep on the bedspread and to use the even thinner sheets laying on top for our cover.  Hmmm, weird, it is backwards but we went with it.   We decided to push the beds together so Kairi would not fall off then try to get a good night’s sleep.

My cover was a fitted sheet but it worked out because it folded under my feet and over my shoulder which helped me feel a little more secure.  Plus, Kairi and I were in the middle of the boys on each end so we were protected!  As I slowly fell asleep I tried to push the thoughts of what I had seen on Willy’s phone out of my head.

Grossing out the Vegan

We got up at 5:30 and based on the condition of the kitchen the night before, I wanted to get in there before anyone else woke up.  I needed to hand wash and sterilize a pan and bowls for the oatmeal we brought for breakfast.  Many vegans and probably even some meat eaters will understand this.  I have a really hard time when someone cleans up the blood and skin of the meat they cut up with the same sponge that is used to clean the dishes and counter.  I saw a little blood pooled in the bottom of the tub of soap that they were washing the dishes with.  For me that is HORRIBLE!

Kitchen drawer

Dirty kitchen drawer

Dirty Kitchen Counter

Dirty kitchen counter

I would not use the soap they used the night before so I washed the pans, bowl, and spoons with my hands in cold water.  I then sterilized the pan by boiling water in it for 15 minutes.  Then I boiled new water in the pan and sterilized the spoon and bowl.  After I felt semi-confident (sort-of but not really) that the dishes were clean I cooked the oatmeal.  We all shared the one big bowl to eat out of and refilled it twice.  Luckily, I was able to do all this before anyone else woke up.

Sterilizing our dishes

Sterilizing our dishes

Eating our shared oatmeal

Eating our shared oatmeal

Should we Stay or Should we Go

We were starting to have doubt about the hike and getting to the beach by lunch as planned.  We wanted to make up an excuse so we could leave and go to the beach on our own.  I thought one way to get out of this situation was to use Kairi as an excuse.  Kairi has balance issues and even walking on cement that is a little uneven is a challenge for her.  We decided we would determine if we were going to ditch them based on how difficult the hike was.

I explained to Willy that Kairi has balance issues and asked if the trail was too difficult for her?  He said, no and that it was a very easy hike on pretty level land.   I decided to push it a little further and ask if my flip flops were ok to wear on the hike. Marilyn chimed in and asked about her sandals too. He insisted that everything was ok and not to worry.  I figured if he thought a woman in her 70’s wearing sandals and a skirt, me with my flip flops, and Kairi with her balance issues could go, we could put on our adventure glasses and stick it out.    I resisted the strong urge to figure out another excuse to leave and decided to we needed to adopt the Pura Vida lifestyle.   We chilled out and waited until everyone was ready.

This is an Easy Hike?  

The short 5-7 minutes drive to the trail had beautiful farm land with rolling hills and cows everywhere.  The farm lands disappeared as we entered more dense jungle.   We parked on the side of the gravel road then followed Willy into the jungle.  I should have realized something was not right when we crawled (Aaron lifted the kids) over a barbed wire fence, through thick greenery that covered the ground.

Hills of Platanillo Costa Rica

Hills of Platanillo Costa Rica

Well I guess an easy hike varies depending on the person and their past experience! Marilyn was the first to comment that her sandals and skirt might not have been a good idea.  We laughed and agreed that this might be a bigger adventure than we expected.  Willy led the way through the thick green vine covered ground that was ankle high to an opening  that revealed a dirt trail.  The trail was much easier to walk on than the greenery that could have housed who knows what type of creature beneath it to bite our bare toes.

Because we were still in the last month of the rainy season, the trail was a bit muddy and slippery.  My sandals are hiking sandals but I kept slipping every time the ground had any kind of incline.  The trail was so narrow in some spots that only one foot could fit along the edge at a time.  From that edge, the mountain went straight down for who know how far.  The hill was thick with trees and at the bottom was the river.  YIKES!  I worried the whole time about Jaden, Kairi, myself and Marilyn.  Everyone else had nice tennis shoes on that did not give them any trouble.

What is Asleep in that Leaf 

The trail inclines and uneven ground are a challenge for Kairi, so Aaron often carried her on his back.  She weighs 70 lbs but because of her floppy muscle tone, she feels more like carrying 100 lbs.  The high humidity that was causing us all to pour sweat was double on Aaron, which the bugs liked and we did not bring bug spray (duh, I know!).

I glanced down at the dead leaf covered ground and noticed a large scorpion curled up inside one of a leaves sleeping.  He had dark brown legs and a large light tan body.  I would guess that the leaf, with him in it, could fill the palm of my hand.  I bet once stretched out to his normal size is probably 4-5 inches long.  OMG, I yelled ahead to warn Aaron and Jaden to watch where the stepped.  I was officially Freaked the Fuck out now (yes, I said it).


Beautiful Waterfall

My creepy crawly alert kicked into high gear!  I started having scary thoughts about what else might be around us.  I decided to relax, put my adventure glasses back on (why did they keep falling off), and enjoy the adventure we were on.  Plus, I figured that the machete Willy had with him would come in handy if need be.

We continued the “quick” hike down a muddy hill that several of us almost slipped on.  Luckily earlier in our hike Willy saw that Marilyn and I were struggling to not slip and broke some bamboo walking sticks for us.  We were all so hot that when we crossed a shallow river, that was cold and refreshing, we wanted to just jump right in the little pools on each side of the crossing, but we pushed on.

We walked through the last narrow trail that ended at a cliff drop off where the massive waterfall was in perfect view.   Someone had built a homemade rope and stick hand-rail that led down the cliff to the bottom of the waterfall.  We each took turns going up to the railing to admire the beautiful waterfall.  After the steamy, nail biting hike the mist from the waterfall felt amazing.  A beautiful turquoise colored pool was at the bottom of the waterfall.  We might have hiked down to go swimming at the bottom had we done this hike alone.  Everyone was anxious to turn around and head back, so that is what we did.

El Encanto Waterfall near Platanillo, Costa Rica

El Encanto Waterfall near Platanillo, Costa Rica

El Encanto Waterfall pool, Costa Rica

El Encanto Waterfall pool, Costa Rica

Quick Swim

On the hike back to our cars, Liz decided to jump into each of the small pools on either side of the river that we had all admired earlier in the hike.  Jaden joined her for a swim around each ice cold pool.  They enjoyed their quick swim and Jaden got to slide down the rocks a couple times.

Happy Ending to our Costa Rican Jungle Adventure

After the hike we followed Liz and her group down the mountain to Dominical beach.  It started raining a bit and their group did not stay long.  We decided a little rain was not going to stop us from playing in the waves.  We relaxed on the beach to recover from our Costa Rican Jungle Adventure.

The rained picked up and we were starting to get really hungry.  We had eaten all of our snacks and were starving!  Dominical beach has several restaurants that offer vegan dishes, yay!  We decided to eat a restaurant called Cafe Mono Congo.  We enjoyed our time alone and laughed and talked about surviving our adventure.  I am proud of us for sticking it out when we wanted to bolt.  We will remember Our Costa Rican Jungle Adventure forever.

Vegan Burrito at Cafe Mono Congo, Dominical, Costa Rica

Vegan Burrito at Cafe Mono Congo, Dominical, Costa Rica

Jaden on swing at Cafe Mono Congo

Jaden on the swing at Cafe Mono Congo

I love stories, do you have an interesting adventure that you would like to share?  Comment below.