STARLA Landon has found the two things that could distract you from her balcony view of Manuel Antonio’s crescent Pacific coast line – penises and vaginas.
The oversized stone genitalia are carved onto replicas of archaic Zukia statues that support the balcony’s handrail with their hands over their shoulders. They’re just one of the unique touches that sets Starla’s home, called Star La Landia, apart.
She rents the full-service inn as seven separate suites, or in its entirety, to bands of travelers who crave originality in their jungle outings.
It is billed as the “private, intimate adventure,” and hits that mark with champagne bubble baths and furnishings inspired by prehistoric jungle civilizations and Spanish architects.
The house, like the shoulders of the northern sunbathers on the beaches about a kilometer below it, is freckled, but with details secreted into columns and bedrooms and draped around the ample buttocks of statues.
THE living room is two-tiered and, like most of the house, tinged with leafy sunlight and the kaleidoscopic stainedglass patterns scattered adorning the tops of walls. Along with the primeval mood of the decor, light, space and foliage are obvious themes of the house’s architecture.
Starla said she wanted it to look like a Spanish castle, and its imperial disposition is evident in the slate floors and carved columns. She studied architecture in Spain and worked for resorts in South Florida as a landscape architect. Costa Rican architect Francisco Rojas, known for his structures that mesh with the natural world, helped her design the house.
Before she unleashed her imagination on her house’s design, Starla owned 400 acres in the Savegre river valley and planted them with certified, disease-resistant coconut palms. She exported them to South Florida when its plantations were ravaged by lethal yellowing in the 1990s.
The plantation and her home there were swept away in a deluge during Hurricane César in 1996. She sold the land and bought her home in Manuel Antonio shortly after.
Two trees jut through the three levels, encased in glass and iron frames from their roots to the balcony they shade. Their encasements allow rainwater to trickle from their branches to the soil.
THE house is notched into its steep hillside on an edge of a development in Manuel Antonio. From the trees around which it was built, to the preservation of the slope, the house is integrated with the wilderness. Decorative stones set in the walls were salvaged from the sand used to mix the cement. Wildly curvy wardrobes and an entertainment center are cut from the tree-choking fingers of the strangler fig, the columns are carved into stylized guaramo trees.
Stone floors, high ceilings, stained windows and breezy, open rooms keep the house cool in the 90°F heat of the day, but ceiling fans and air-conditioners do the job as well.
A pool in the living room is fed from the mouth of a huge mask on the wall above it, and is the holding tank for the irrigation system. It is not chlorinated, rather, it is drained slowly and refilled throughout the week and waters the organic garden at the foot of the hill below.
The vegetables grown there, and the shrimp that Starla’s husband, Saul Segura, catches in the nearby river, park on dinner plates after a detour through one of the two full kitchens.
A stay there can be as private or as pampered as guests wish. Starla and Saul cook three meals a day or leave guests to their own culinary adventures in the kitchens. Masseuses from the neighboring Sea Glass Spa make house calls with their varied styles of muscle tenderizing and hot stone treatments.
The showers are cascades from conch shells and slate ledges, the sinks are ceramic bowls set in rough-cut four-legged stone beasts, and the bathtubs are full and wide for bubbles of soap and liquor.
BEYOND the balcony’s handrail, wildlife topples out of the forest, thrusting upward from the hills to the far-away peninsula that hedges the bay on the northern rim of the beach. Closer to home, sloths are known to grapple with the foot bridge linking the driveway to the regal front entrance and monkeys slink between the branches, some overhanging the balcony.
If the distractions of the house are not enough to entertain you, Starla plans a menu of daily excursions with Iguana Tours. Those range from cable swinging canopy tours, jaunts in the mangroves in a covered boat, jungle treks, sunset sailing, horseback riding through primary rainforests, sea kayaking and white-water rafting on the Savegre and Naranjo rivers.
Bilingual guides lead the trips and a professional photographer will memorialize your open-mouthed splashing down the rivers’ rapids.
Suites start at $150 per night for two, $350 for the honeymoon suite with the private balcony. Guests who arrive between May 1 and Nov. 30 receive a 10 % discount.
For more info, see www.starlalandia.com, call 777-5271 or fax 777-5200.
By Plane: NatureAir (220-3054) and SANSA (221-9414) operate 30-minute flights between San José and Quepos near Manuel Antonio ($45 each way).
By Car: Drive three hours south west on theInter-American Highway
, then turn south along the pavedCoastal Highway
. At Villas del Parque turn right, follow the road to the end to parking lot. If you have a 4×4, you can continue to the hotel; if not, leave the car at the parking lot just before the end of the road.
By Bus: Buses to Quepos and Manuel Antonio depart regularly from San José’s Coca-Cola Terminal. In Quepos, buses leave every 20 minutes for Manuel Antonio.