Chris Kneifl hadn't been planning on saying the words — not now, at least — but he couldn't have stopped himself if he'd tried.
What better time could there be? What better
Here they were, still in sight of their rented tree house high in the Costa
So there, in the rain
“We were just spending time together,” said Kneifl, 36, a Spanish instructor at the University of Oklahoma, “and it was a beautiful setting, and I spontaneously proposed to my girlfriend. ... I didn't have a ring with me. It wasn't really planned.”
But it was perfect. Two and half years later, he and wife, Christina Chumard, are happily married and filled with fond memories of their holiday in southern Costa Rica.
Chalk up another win for Finca Bellavista.
Dream becomes reality
In 2006, Matt Hogan, originally of California, visited the South American country on a surfing trip. He loved the area so much that he returned with his wife, Erica Hogan, of Oklahoma City.
They purchased a 62-acre tract of land with the idea of creating a sustainable tree house community that would blend into the forest and cause
The Hogans didn't speak Spanish. They didn't have a place to stay. The early days of their
They also didn't know anything about constructing or managing a housing development, and despite its exotic nature, that's exactly what Finca Bellavista is. Erica Hogan describes it as “the world's first true arboreal tree house community, master planned and built from the ground up.”
In truth, not everyone there lives in tree houses, although there are eight on the property, which now consists of more than 300 acres. In all, there are 26 structures. Plots sell for $55,000 or more, and tree or stilt houses cost $35,000 to $150,000.
The land is heavily forested, but it is largely secondary growth; most of it has been cleared at some point. The base camp is located at the site of a former gravel pit; a small community took root there after the pit was abandoned, but fire drove residents away sometime in the 1980s.
Finca Bellavista (roughly translated: Beautiful View Farm) is accessible through an old logging road. When the Hogans purchased the property, it was advertised as a lumber site. Now the same trees that would've been chopped down serve as roosts for the tree homes and support an extensive network of zip lines. Foot paths are available for those who don't like heights.
The houses rely on
Several are available for rent, including the Hogans' own home, Mis Ojos Miran La Catarata, a two-level structure nestled atop three trees. Rates for various properties range from $80 (for a one room “jungalow”) to $260 a night (for a four-person tree house perched 90 feet above the ground, along with an attached casita).
Kneifl and his future bride stayed in Mis Ojos, which rents for $250 a night. One night they arranged to meet the Hogans for dinner at base camp; Kneifl and Erica have been friends since childhood.
“Thirty minutes before we were going to meet them, it started storming,” Kneifl said. “There was thunder and lightning and a downpour. ... We resigned ourselves to a quiet night in the treehouse. But right about the time we were supposed to meet them, we heard them zip lining through the night and the rain with backpacks filled with wine and food. It was amazing.”
That transport system is one of Kneifl's favorite things about the Finca.
“There's one spot on the zip lines where you're about 150 feet off the ground, standing on this platform they've erected,” he said. “When you step off that platform, you're 150 feet in the air, and you just have to rely on the equipment. ... You're literally flying through the jungle. It's an adrenaline rush.”
It's not for everyone, though. Getting there requires some effort. Visitors fly into San Jose's Juan Santa Maria International Airport. From there they can rent a vehicle and drive about five hours, or they can catch another flight to one of two regional airports about 30 minutes' drive from the Finca.
“You have to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there,” Kneifl said. “Once you're at base camp, you have to walk or take zip lines. You have to walk on trails. You want to have a good aerobic base. You want to be in shape. And you want to be a nature lover.
“You won't have constant Internet access. You won't have Wi-Fi for your phone. You're really living in the animals' environment. In our country, animals live in our world. There, you're in their world.”
That's not to say there's no online access. In fact, one resident lives there year-round and telecommutes each day, doing his work while looking out on monkey troupes and butterflies. Nor does it mean there's no room there for older folks or the less physically fit.
“My grandfather is 83 years old,” Matt Hogan said, “and when he comes down to visit, he doesn't leave the base camp, but there's a lot for him to do there.”
Business and pleasure
At present, the Hogans are in something of a transitional state. They've worked hard to build the tree house community, and projects, many involving infrastructure, never end.
Their simple dream has turned into a series of
They're working to
They also hope to establish a nonprofit, probably in Oklahoma City, to further their ecological goals, educate local children and allow American children, particularly those with special needs, the opportunity to experience the Finca's biodiversity.
To do that, the Hogans will have to separate themselves from the business side of the Finca. They realize that a clear distinction will have to be drawn between their commercial and charitable enterprises.
That could mean a lot less time in Costa Rica and a lot more in Oklahoma. They won't stay away too long, though.
“The Finca is such a special place because Matt and Erica are there,” Kneifl said. “I can't overstate that. There are a lot of beautiful places you can visit in the world, but they won't have Matt and