QUEPOS, Costa Rica — Boarding a DC-3 in San Jose, Costa Rica, I headed for Quepos on the Pacific coast. This $10 Lacsa commuter flight over mountains and jungle is the best way to get to a place of remarkable beauty.
The welcoming committee turned out to be passengers waiting to fly back to San Jose. In the time it took to throw baggage off and load more on, the plane was gone.
My suitcase was tied on top of a Jeep taxi and I was directed to take a seat inside. Passengers and luggage secured, the vehicle bounced forward, weaving drunkenly on uneven roads. The driver, a gregarious fellow, spoke rapidly in Spanish that no one understood.
Quepos was founded by a banana company that provided its 10,000 residents with a bowling alley and a hospital, but not much else that is in evidence. The Catholic church and most houses are badly in need of paint. Green grass seems in short supply.
A grocery, hardware store of sorts, restaurants, an old hotel and the remaining walls of a prison (inmates burned it down last year) make up the essentials of the "business district."
Climbing Into the Hills
The taxi headed out of town, climbing into the hills. Mango and banana trees shade the curving roadway and bougainvillea splashes purple blossoms over the ground. Frangipani, tamarind and almond trees add to the jungle landscape. Parasite orchids decorate their smooth branches, a chorus of oddities in nature's game plan.
A turn onto a gravel road, wheels spinning in loose rocks, motor whining at a suddenly steep grade, and an elegant white mansion appears at the top of the rise, the Hotel La Mariposa.
The hotel opened in 1971, the creation of two young American entrepreneurs, David Tucker and Garth Kistler. The main building, the one I dubbed the "mansion," was built first. Stairs lead to the second-floor lobby for registration where a panorama of Pacific Ocean lapping against a curving sand beach awaits.
Captivated, I was drawn to the edge of an open-air veranda to gaze in earnest. That could be the Mediterranean Sea out there, I thought, and the rock in the distance Capri.
So compelling is the sight that I was only vaguely aware of people dining nearby at tables, or the crescendos of a Beethoven symphony playing on the sound system.
Tucker and Kistler discovered the view while standing in the tall grass of this agricultural land. "We had to keep jumping up to see it," Garth laughs. David, who handles the business matters, dryly adds: "But the little old lady in Santa Barbara (California) who owned it knew what the property was worth."
Within three years 10 villas would cling to the hillside below the mansion, each facing the ocean and jutting over the jungle. They have white stucco walls, red Spanish tile floors, furniture and doors painted in vibrant shades of blue, green and orchid, rooms Garth designed to be as colorful as jungle birds.
Although the mansion is linked to the outside world, the villas have no telephone, radio or TV. Instead, you hear the rustle of palm fronds as the wind slips through, or the distinctive trilling song from a canary-size bird on a balcony railing.
From somewhere in the blanket of trees below, monkeys chatter and occasionally a dog barks. At night there are long stretches of time when a sound is not heard, and a star-filled sky seems close enough to touch.
Small Green Frog
The first morning at La Mariposa I was awakened when something landed on my head. Sitting bolt upright, I discovered that in leaving the balcony door open I had invited in more than the breeze. A small green tree frog felt welcome, too, providing an unusual wake-up call for the rising sun performance.
Slipping on a bathing suit, I headed for the beach. The three beaches are all nearly deserted. The nicest one is part of Manuel Antonio Parque Nacional, reached by wading across a saltwater stream. It costs about 40 cents to enter, which almost guarantees privacy.
I walked alone along the beach for 15 minutes before choosing a spot to sun. During the morning the only other sun worshiper was a tiny sandpiper, and he seemed more interested in picking among the ocean's discards.
Behind me the jungle offered shade from the open heat of the sand, not the white sand of picture post cards but a soft gray, easier on the eyes.
Rather than walking up the hill to the hotel I waited for the city bus that comes by the beach on the hour. To stave off hunger and thirst, I bought a banana and a coconut with a straw in it from a young boy at a roadside stand. This 5-cent purchase made both of us happy.
It costs $125 for two ($90 for a single) a night in La Mariposa villas, breakfast and dinner included. Open all year, the busy season is December to Easter and again during July. Preferred by Costa Rican diplomats, its hideaway status makes it a favorite of celebrities.
One well-known TV personality from the United States asked Kistler not to let anyone know who he was. "Well, who are you?" Garth asked. It's that kind of a place.
For reservations, contact Hotel La Mariposa, P.O. Box 4, Quepos, Costa Rica.