Henny likes Tai because he has a good heart, although she says he can be as stubborn as a mule at times and doesn’t take things like holiday insurance seriously. Tai is an Indian prince from Mumbai. He has been dating Henny, an aristocratic artist from Gloucestershire, England, for five years, off and on. The problem is, Henny prefers Pablo, the opera singer from Buenos Aires who strokes his face when he performs and whose mother is on her eighth marriage. Pablo, besides having a great voice, is very intelligent and taught himself German in five months.
He gives Henny good critical advice about her art and understands her. The thing is, Henny always envisioned herself marrying an Indian.
Henny Acloque, Tai Khan Palanpur and Charlie Taylor, a Guinness World Record holder for rowing the Atlantic, have just been on a grand tour of Costa Rica, minus the menservants. They particularly wanted to see a resplendent quetzal. Tai and Charlie flew out from England, Henny from Argentina, where she was staying with Pablo. I joined them for their visit to the cloud forests of Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica.
The first day, we hit the canopy for some ziplining at SelvaturaAdventurePark. Tai is afraid of heights and doesn’t appear too keen on the idea of zipping through the treetops, but braves the fear for Henny’s sake and steps up first from our group of 15. After swirling “like a flying saucer,” as he says, in the middle of his journey across the wire and getting stuck and then rescued by one of the guides, he rides with his legs wrapped around a guide’s waist for the remaining 12 cables.
Charlie has done this before and says he doesn’t get the same rush out of it as he used to. This is understandable considering he used to be a captain in the British army and crossed the Atlantic in a rowboat with 13 others in 33 days. He speaks very well and has impeccable manners.
Henny, an arachnophobe, sees a giant spider’s web attached to one of the trees as she zips past; it gives her the horrors. She says she isn’t sure what she fears more: falling out of the harness or coming face to face with an arachnid. Thank goodness she took the Imodium.
After the canopy tour, we head back to our cabins at Arco Iris Lodge in the town of Santa Elena, which has very much the ski-resort feel to it, minus the snow. Henny tells me she is going to break up with “Tai-Tai,” as she calls him. Charlie calls him “Potato.” Tai calls Henny “Sweetie Pie,” “Pumpkin” or “Sausage,” depending on his mood. I find myself in an awkward position, because I like both Henny and Tai and would rather be kept out of it. Poor Tai.
Charlie has been with Tai and Henny for their entire time in Costa Rica, so is pleased when I ask if he fancies going out for a drink after dinner. Tai and Henny retire early to their cabin, Henny to read her book on the history of Spain, Tai to sleep off the trauma of the flying-saucer incident in the canopy.
Charlie and I go to a local bar, where we drink Nicaraguan rum while arm-wrestling girls. On the dance floor we meet some people from the canopy tour earlier that day, but they ignore us after I try to impress them with the moonwalk.
After three hours of sleep, Henny wakes us up at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast before we take a tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in the hope of spotting the elusive quetzal. Charlie is still feeling somewhat inebriated and keeps grabbing Tai’s bottom. Tai gets annoyed and shouts at him to stop it. He says Charlie’s breath smells of alcohol and that he should take things more seriously.
Henny particularly wants to see a quetzal because her nature-loving parents came to Costa Rica 10 years ago and saw one.
Our guide, after hearing a whistle from one of the other guides farther along the trail, ushers us around to where a group of people is staring up at a tree. We each get to look through the mini-telescope and see the magnificent green-and-red bird perched on a branch. It makes Henny’s day.
We return briefly to Santa Elena, where Charlie and I walk around the supermarket, buy a small bag of chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and visit a trade fair, where a man shows us an eco-urinal that doesn’t require flushing and thus saves water. Sausage and Tai-Tai visit an orchid farm. We then reconvene and go for lunch at a pizza restaurant, where Tai reacts badly to the pizza base – apparently he has a wheat allergy and shouldn’t eat bread. Henny warns him all the time, but he doesn’t listen. Maybe he will listen now, Henny says. Charlie sits and tries putting some beach shells on a green piece of string for his girlfriend back home. He has only just started seeing her but is clearly smitten. It turns out his girlfriend is my sister’s best friend. Small world.
We return to our cabins for a 20-minute siesta before going horseback riding. Tai doesn’t come because he still doesn’t feel too well and once had a bad experience with a horse when it bolted with him clinging on for dear life.
The ride takes us through the forests and open hills of Monteverde, and we have a great time. The guide seems at one with nature and is forever grabbing berries off trees and eating them as we trot.
That evening, we all (except for Tai) eat a bit of leftover pizza and head out for drinks. Charlie decides to check his e-mail before we leave, and Henny starts to get annoyed because we are waiting in the cold for him. We decide to leave and let him find us in town. He arrives 30 minutes later and is annoyed because he was wandering around town trying to find us. I imagine that sort of disloyalty wouldn’t have gone down well in the army. Henny apologizes and all is forgotten.
We retire early to bed and get heads down before setting off early for the ride back to San José. Charlie drives us, which is good because he used to be in the army and is good at transporting people safely across dangerous terrain. His surfboard is in the back, so space is limited and I am crushed up against Tai. We listen to Ibiza house music and a bit of reggae. Tai’s friend from Singapore calls to boast about a Learjet he has just bought.
That evening, we stop off at Hotel Del Rey, a notorious hotel and casino in an area of downtown San José known as Gringo Gulch. Henny wants to see what it is like. We get chatting to a Russian lady at the bar who says Henny is not a commodity. Tai takes offense and demands that she apologize. Henny tells him to leave it, and they disappear to play blackjack together.
It’s nice to see them bonding together over the chips.