The Road Journey
Like riders on the subway, we held on to the straps provided, swaying back and forth as our hired driver tried to find a smooth path over the collection of rocks and potholes some called a road.
Our full backpacks bouncing up and down behind us, ready to burst open like ripened seed pods with the next jarring bump. With silent glances, we told each other that it would be all right as long as we kept moving forward.
Finally, we arrived at a large gate with a sign welcoming us to Finca Bellavista, a sustainable tree house community.
A bumpy ride, steep hills, the chance to perspire heavily doing almost nothing at all, wearing unflattering rubber boots everywhere should we encounter a snake.
These were inconveniences we gladly accepted for the chance to do something few people get to do: live, for a while, in a treehouse.
Our Tree House
Each of the dozen or so houses scattered through Finca Bellavista’s 600 acres of primary and secondary Costa Rican rainforest are designed and built to minimize ecological impact, so we expected few conveniences.
Elegantly blending into the surrounding environment, most houses are invisible until you come upon them, as if they too had simply grown upward from the forest floor along with the fecund tangle of vines, plants and trees.
We had seen pictures of course, but were unprepared for the actuality. Walking on a stone path up the steep hillside, our volunteer guide directed our attention upward.
There, ninety feet above us, encircling the trunk of a large tree, a large roundish structure hovered, UFO-like, amid the surrounding tree tops.
“Is that ours?” we asked, knowing but not entirely believing the answer.
“That’s part of it,” the guide answered. We wiped our foreheads and climbed more steps, arriving at a small house-like structure against the hillside.
The Inside of the Tree House
Inside was a gas stove, small refrigerator, dining table and a sink with running water; outside, a deck with reclining wooden chairs and an entrance to the adjacent bathroom complete with mostly open air shower.
A hanging bridge led to the structure we had seen from below. Here, one level looked 360º over the foliage below and the green forest canopy spreading out into the distance.
A wooden ladder led to a second level sleeping quarters, with a large comfortable bed, night stand with a low wattage lamp, a small bathroom and a sink with a conch shell water spout.
Its mere existence would have made it difficult to choose between staying in, enjoying the view and the feeling of living high in the trees, or participating in other activities available on the property.
Had we more time, we surely would have taken a zipline tour or a night hike guided by local experts, biked around the property or possibly even attended one of the beginner yoga sessions.
One morning, after fortifying ourselves with breakfast tacos cooked in our kitchen, we set off along one of the multiple trails through the forest. Birds flitted in and out of the greenery.
Butterflies frolicked on invisible bouncy castles, moving spots of bright color tracing erratic yet graceful waveforms all around us.
We scrambled over rocks and downed trees in the riverbed toward a distant waterfall and were rewarded with a clear emerald pool perfect for a refreshing skinny dip.
Down at base camp, over Happy Two Hours cocktails, we shared stories with people from Denmark, Canada, Germany and other places across the globe, forging in the mild language barriers something that — for the moment at least — felt like friendships.
Rum and fruit juice cocktails helped ignite an impromptu party with hula hooping, dancing and a limbo contest.
Watching the Super Bowl seemed to go against the idea of our largely unplugged vacation, but the fact that it was possible—much like how we felt about our tree house — made the experience too unique to pass up.
The Awesome Foods
Chicken, pork ribs, black beans, rice, mashed potatoes, eggs and tortillas, along with fruits and vegetables from the community garden, made for simple but delicious meals. Most days, having risen early, we chose to head back to our lodging soon after dinner.
We walked quietly, our place within the environment reduced to no more than what our headlamp beams carved from the darkness and the small patches of road they illuminated a few yards ahead.
Back on the deck of our tree house, we sat in darkness nearly absolute, partially clothed or not at all, letting the perspiration evaporate off our bodies.
Here, we could listen to cicadas sing their once in seven years song in accompaniment to the fireflies tracing bright contrails against the surrounding blackness.
We were amazed at the astounding ignorance of wanting to clear and burn this land, a fate narrowly averted through the efforts of those who bought it and were creating this unique place.
The knowledge that we would go back, had to go back, seemed like a questionable decision at best, as if our continued presence here would without question be of more value than going back to regular jobs and bills and cars and smooth roads.
But our driver returned on the day and hour promised, eliminating our last excuse to stay, and we said goodbye with handshakes and hugs and invitations to return that keep such moments from feeling final and unbearably sad.
Plus, another, different rainforest experience awaited us across the water. We would again meet new people, Howler monkeys would wake us up each morning, Scarlet Macaws would noisily drop empty husks outside our door and the ocean would lay within walking distance.
But as we again bounced our way down the road toward the new destination, holding on to the straps once more, the slogan on the bumper sticker we had purchased ran repeatedly like a mantra through our minds: I’d rather be in a tree.
If you go: www.fincabellavista.com. Directions are provided with confirmed reservations.
Author bio: Kelvin Woelk was born and educated in a small central Kansas town before moving one state west a few years later. Since then he and his wife Jen have visited many other states and a few countries, with more trips always on the horizon. Happiest when traveling, Kelvin also enjoys writing and photographing, playing ping pong, and sampling the wares from the many local breweries in Fort Collins, CO.