Getting to Nuevo Arenal without a car is no easy task. It must be obvious upon our arrival at Lucky Bug Bed and Breakfast that it has been five hours, a taxi and two bus rides since San José. So when my girlfriend and I attempt to check in and tour the spacious grounds, Monika Krauskopf, Lucky Bug’s delightful owner and operator, will have none of it.
“Oh no, you must be starving,” she says in slightly German-accented English. “Sit down and have a bite to eat first.”
Hospitality has been a Krauskopf trademark since before the family built the bedand- breakfast in the shadow of north-central Costa Rica’s highly active Arenal Volcano in 2006. A native of Germany, Krauskopf, her husband, Willy, and their triplet daughters moved to Costa Rica 13 years ago from the northern California town of Mt. Shasta, where they ran Willy’s Bavarian Kitchen.
Setting up shop a few minutes east of Nuevo Arenal, they founded Restaurant Caballo Negro on five acres of pasture in the TilaránMountains.
Soon, however, the family’s enterprises expanded when a sealed plastic bag showed up on the side of the road. Inside was a dog, which the family adopted and named Bella. After noticing more and more animals without homes, the Krauskopf triplets, Alexandra, Katheryn and Sabrina, all 20, began selling their art to finance further rescue and shelter efforts, and the Lucky Bug Gallery was born.
Bella, now one of more than a dozen dogs and cats residing at Lucky Bug, follows us as Krauskopf shows us to our rooms, nestled in the hills behind the restaurant and gallery, which abut the highway between the nearby towns of Tilarán and La Fortuna. As we make our way through the lush gardens, past the waterfall and dock on the private lake, we encounter three extraordinarily tame chickens, which also reside on the premises.
“We have everything here,” Krauskopf boasts, adding that the less tame wildlife includes ducks, toucans, frogs, butterflies, monkeys, an anteater, an otter, an iguana, a turtle and a sloth.
The bed-and-breakfast consists of five rooms, each with its own decorative wildlife theme. Upstairs are the Frog, Turtle and Butterfly rooms, each with a king bed featuring a wrought-iron headboard reflecting the room’s namesake animal, fashioned by Alexandra. Also on the second level is the Flower Room, smaller and with two twin beds. Downstairs is the Sun Room, big enough to fit four people, with two twins and a king bed.
The bathrooms are spacious, with hot showers and ornate tile work that fits with each room’s respective theme. The rooms also have tile tables, which are for sale, alongside a bountiful collection of local handicrafts and the Krauskopf daughters’ art, in the gallery.
We select the Butterfly Room, one of two rooms upstairs with a balcony. While it boasts no view of the volcano, Lucky Bug more than makes up for it with gorgeous vistas overlooking the lake and verdant gardens.
In the morning, awakening to the sound of toucans in the nearby trees, we go to retrieve the eggs from the chicken coop for breakfast. We see only one, but when we walk up to Caballo Negro, Krauskopf offers to go get more.
“Sometimes you have to shoo them off,” she says, returning minutes later with three more eggs in hand. “Still warm,” she points out.
She personally fries them up for us, and soon we begin breakfast. The eggs, served with toast, boast vibrantly orange yolks. Next come pancakes, garnished with fresh banana, mango and pineapple. All are delicious.
Though we heard their calls at daybreak, the toucans are gone by the time we finish breakfast. Discouraged, we head over to Lucky Bug’s trail, which takes walkers for a short jaunt into the adjacent rain forest.
Our hopes to catch a glimpse of poison dart frogs, howler monkeys or the resident sloth – rescued by the family from the middle of the road – are let down, and we emerge with nothing but muddied shoes.
Next, I decide to take the family’s kayak for a spin around the small private lake. It’s stocked with rainbow bass, Krauskopf says, and guests who bring their own poles are welcome to fish. The record so far is one guest’s four-kilo bass, which the family cooked up at Caballo Negro that night.
“They love that, when they can eat their own fish,” Krauskopf says with a grin. My aims, however, are more modest; I’m hoping only to see the large turtle Krauskopf says inhabits the lake. But a downpour begins the minute my oars hit the water. I begin to wonder if today just isn’t my lucky day.
ArenalVolcanoNational Park is only a few minutes away, but with the cloudy skies, we elect to spend the afternoon perusing the gallery and drinking coffee on a tiled table overlooking a small pond out front, before beginning the return trip to San José. While Krauskopf says the economic downturn has hit the gallery and restaurant harder than the bed-and-breakfast, a number of cars come and go this Sunday afternoon, many filled with tourists or residents whom Krauskopf greets by name.
“I love my job,” says the gregarious German. “There is something when you wake up in the morning happy, because you enjoy what you’re doing.”
Her passion shows, whether in the gallery, restaurant or bed-and-breakfast. She personally selects all the art sold in the gallery, knows the artists by name and can commission nearly any item you want. She supports the community by selling works crafted by local street kids, and benefits the children’s hospital with a massive piggy bank filled with coins from a fee imposed on noncustomer bathroom use.
Krauskopf also has a real estate license, which she pursued four years ago on the advice of friends.
“I didn’t like real estate agents before,” she acknowledges, but considering the connections she had made in the area and the knowledge she had accumulated, the move made sense. She doesn’t doggedly pursue deals, she says, rather letting people and deals come to her.
A similar attitude is on display in running the restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, which rely largely on word of mouth from satisfied customers. Bigger signs, she was once told, don’t necessarily mean better – often the opposite.
While we are waiting for a taxi, Krauskopf beckons us back one last time.
“Toucans!” she alerts us.
Sure enough, a fiery-billed aracari sits on the tree outside the restaurant. Suddenly, it comes even closer to perch on the small feeder right outside the doorway. Then, two more join in, munching on leftover pineapples and bananas, completely oblivious to us as we stand agape, mere feet away. Luck, it would seem, was ours after all.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Lucky Bug Bed and Breakfast is a few minutes west of Nuevo Arenal along Highway 142 between Cañas and La Fortuna.
Rates for the four double-occupancy rooms, with a king bed or two twins, are $69 during low season and $79 in high season. Rates for the larger room, with both a king bed and two twins, are $100 during low season and $120 in high season. Rates include breakfast but not taxes. All five rooms may be rented out together for a group.
For information and reservations, call 2694-4515, e-mail [email protected] or visit luckybugcr.com.