Look for the little things

Now more than ever, it’s important to find some rays of sunshine in your day. The restrictions have meant most of us are staying at home, and rather than gloomily mulling over things yet to pass, I’ve found it’s better to remain positive. Losing my job was a blow, but I have more time to appreciate the things that would only receive a cursory glance before.

With less people moving around, nature is already extending its boundaries. Our school, which closed three weeks ago, has reported jaguar paw prints 10m away from my now empty classroom. At home, the turkey vultures that circle this valley have started flying much lower. So low, in fact, their wrinkled pink heads and two-tone feathers are clearly visible.

Swallow-tailed kites, usually soaring on the thermals way above us, have started flyovers in groups of three. Their iconic split tails and monochrome colouring is striking, and for such large birds they are surprisingly graceful.

One day, Tom saw the swoop of a long tail outside as we were cooking together. The brilliant colours and red eyes were unmistakably that of a blue-crowned motmot. Sitting in the wind and trying to position its long tail comfortably, its feather sprayed upwards, showing a paintbox of mustard, turquoise and electric blue.

As I was washing up, some birdsong drifted through the open window that I’d not heard before. It wasn’t the harsh rasps and clicks of the grackles, whose black feathers shine like oil spills in the sunlight. It wasn’t the catcall of the tanned squirrel cuckoo. It was delicate, and spilled in phrases that gave the illusion of multiple birds singing together. Rather than running for my camera, I closed my eyes. I was content just hearing it.

Over breakfast, the sporadic lopsided flight of a giant Morpho butterfly caught my eye. It was about the same size as my bowl. Blue then brown, blue then brown, until it was out of sight.

Another day, I heard three emerald toucanets croaking nearby. Scanning the treeline, I could see boughs shaking in the breeze. Then, a sudden flash of a yellow beak and royal blue, followed by green feathers that burst into umber at the tail. Three of them hopped around hesitantly, until they disappeared back into the forest.

Although all the white flowers from December had blown away, some fuchsia ones recently popped up on the trees. Our resident tri-coloured squirrel, with plumper cheeks than when I saw him last, rustled the leaves before perching and gobbling up the remaining petals.

The capuchin monkeys that used to visit us, sometimes in a small group of three, or a large troop of around twenty, swung by earlier this week. The dogs barked at the pair of intruders, and they stopped to study us by our high windows before jumping away down the valley, using their long tails to balance on impossibly thin branches.

The small banana tree that sits above our house has sprouted mini green fingers. The waxy flower, once a rich purple, has faded to lilac and is peeling to the ground. There must be forty or so tiny bananas growing quietly, and I had never noticed them before.

Wild flowers, white and flushed with soft pink, sprung up out of the ground seemingly overnight. After just three days in the relentless sun, they began to dry up, curling their petals that were now fringed with brown.

The rhythm of nature continues, regardless. I’m finding solace in the fact that there is happiness to be found, if you only stop and look.

Chillout House

Walking past the striped hammocks and passing through the sliding glass doors, your eyes are first drawn to a hand painted white swinging chair. Then, you notice a growing tree placed in the centre of the room, and nearby stools carved from standing logs.

A painted sloth reclines dozily, and there are colourful chalked Costa Rican phrases (Que tuanis) above reception. A selection of cosy corners invite any visitor to throw down their bags and lay down for a quick siesta.

The hostel is surrounded by cloud forests

Chillout House is a hostel known for its recycling, encouraging its guests to separate their waste responsibly, but it also showcases a myriad of ways to lovingly restore items to surpass their former glory.

You’ll find the owner, Edith, buzzing around and fixing up her next creative project. From her hanging pineapple plants to her modernist lamp shades made from white rice containers, she is never short of ideas on how to spruce up her place.

A tea tree

Having spent two weeks at her hostel, it was clear that Edith epitomises the word ‘strong.’ Not only did she build the place with her own bare hands and a bucketload of grit, you’ll often find her dead lifting weights on the balcony.

The hostel used to be Edith’s family home. When she divorced, she lost everything except the bare bones of her house. Needing to work, she moved to La Fortuna to help one of her brothers at his restaurant. There, she began to formulate ideas for her own business.

After two years of hard graft and discovering her entrepreneurial spirit, in 2015 she decided to turn her house, which was being looked after by a friend, into a hostel.

Made by hand with love

Initially, her idea was met with disbelief. Some said that the location was too far from central Santa Elena despite it being only a fifteen minute walk.

Still, her new venture was difficult to envisage at that point. The place was empty and she had no furniture except for her own bed and a small bedside table. She said that her family weren’t totally on board at first, and instead she received pity rather than encouragement.

Yet, little by little, she began to acquire the things she needed. She asked around for any donations and told me that her neighbours couldn’t understand why she wanted their old pots and pans. Over time, she gained chairs, a fridge, then some beds.

This bed was transformed into a breakfast bar

When she was ready to open her doors to guests, her family still needed some convincing. Looking at the rooms, her daughters said that there weren’t enough home comforts to make it work.

However, the first group of guests were delighted. The growing reviews of her hostel were positive, earning her a high score and commendations on TripAdvisor. Where Edith saw flaws and improvements to be made, her guests saw quirky and creative solutions full to the brim with character.

Edith learnt how to upcycle through necessity

That is what makes the Chillout House so special. It is Edith and her family. Wherever you look, it is evident that a lot of heart has gone into forging the place as it is today.

I look forward to returning soon to see how the place evolves further, and saying hello to the adorable Alaska.

Alaska will be on hand for cuddles throughout your stay

Edith continues to be a trailblazer and you can find her new pop-up restaurant Qiao Pierde in Santa Elena (next to Restaurante Mar y Tierra). Currently serving crepes, it will soon offer the biggest burger in town!

If you would like to stay at the Chillout House, you can book through Booking.com, Hostelworld or Agoda.

Address: Barrio Valle Bonito, Calle #1 Monteverde Chillout House, Calle 1, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Price: varies depending on room and season, but around $15/night. This is great value for money compared to other places we’ve stayed in Monteverde.

Breakfast: various options available for 3,500 Colones each, including a continental breakfast, typical Costa Rican breakfast or a wrap. I highly recommend the pancakes and fruit option.

Kitchen: There is a fully stocked kitchen with a shared fridge and individual shelves for storing groceries if you wish to cook yourself.

Other services: laundry for $4/kg. Edith or her daughter Betsy can help you book ziplining tours, horseback adventures, night tours, or arrange your transport to the nature and wildlife reserves nearby. They can also book buses for onward travel.

Breakfast made by Edith