“300 meters before the Mariposario,” I would explain to the pizza delivery guy. It was the easiest point of reference as he’d be coming from the closest major town which was about a thirty minute ride (by motorcycle).
I didn’t always live near the Mariposario. In fact, when I first moved to Calle Millón, I lived in the ecolodge 300 meters after the Mariposario. That’s how it works–no addresses, only landmarks. Over the last year, I have been shuffling up and down Calle Millón in this small town nestled between Volcano and Lake Arenal. El Castillo is a village. Everyone knows each other and word travels fast. Calle Millón is the only paved road in this village town and by paved, I mean partially paved.
During my year living in El Castillo, I had three different homes. Calle Millón started at the center of El Castillo and then went up a hill. The downhill living experience differed from the uphill living experience. I started in the middle. I was certain that nothing would change every time I would move but, as time went on, I was proven wrong.
I knew I was getting close to the Mariposario when I would see butterflies fluttering above my head but, signs for the Mariposario were utterly unavoidable. Founded by a retired engineer named Glenn Baines from the U.S., the Mariposario is a rainforest regeneration project and I only know that because Glenn made sure every sign announces that fact. Glenn also owns the small house at the bottom of Calle Millón where his volunteers stay. On my walks, I would see a teenager with blue hair, a twenty-something-year-old with dreads, or a disgruntled Italian millennial smoking and it was clear to me that they were all volunteers–most likely “finding themselves”.
During the first half of my stay along Calle Millón, I met Bruno. And..yes, I’m going to talk about Bruno. He had this air to him, like he was a neighborhood shaman when; in fact, he was a guy from France who decided to capitalize on said individuals who are on an introspective journey that brought them to the jungles of Costa Rica. He had these deep eyes that look like he’s done/been through a lot of shit. The best part about Bruno was his warm and welcoming Venezuelan wife. Sharing space with her reminded me of home–her smile, her arepas, her “conchales!” Meanwhile, I quickly came to learn about Bruno’s shoddy Ayahuasca retreats that none of the locals co-sign.
As I moved up the hill, even further from the Mariposario, I took a long hike to Flo’s house. Flo is from Albania. She met her husband while completing her undergrad at Madison-Wisconsin. Jason is an average Midwest guy and he also happens to be a gym teacher. Anyway, they decided to drop everything and build their dream home on four acres of land at the foothills of Lake Arenal and the beginning of Monteverde. As we walked back from Flo and Jason’s home, I finally saw the folks who lived in the huge white house that looked like a hotel.
A blonde lady waved from a distance. I couldn’t tell if that was her actual face or if it was some kind of lip filler treatment. But, nevermind that. Her partner wobbled toward the fence and introduced himself. A heavyset bald guy, he reminded me of those guys who go to America’s worst restaurants and have a show about it on the Food Network. Sure enough, he went on to tell us that he owns twenty-four restaurants across the U.S. After exchanging basic introductions, he invited us to dinner in their mansion.