They were star-crossed lovers in paradise: a boy and a girl living in tiny Turrialba. They met, they fell in love. But their families despised each other. Their rivalry was long and bitter. The two adolescents knew that their families would never accept their love.
So it was, in June of 1942, that José Joaquín Durán, 14, and María Fonseca, 13, ran away, into the woods of Espino Blanco.
“Their families searched for them,” said Guido Garrita Ulloa, standing by the plaque that narrated their story. “And when they found them, they all became friends.”
“How long were they missing?” I asked.
Garrita frowned. “Oh, only a couple of days.”
“And their families? Was it like a feud? Was it a violent conflict?” I pictured the Hatfields and McCoys of central Costa Rica, waging bloody guerilla warfare in the tropical foothills.
“Oh, no,” said Garrita. “Nothing like that. They just didn’t like each other.”
What could possibly be more Tico? Two families have a bloodless grudge, their children fall in love and run away, the families bond out of love for their children and all are happily reunited. In a future nature preserve. Adorable.
“Keep going?” he asked, gesturing toward the moist, earthen path that cut through the rain forest.
The Wagelia Espino Blanco reserve is a peculiar patch of land: The road is steep and winding, and most newcomers will struggle to get there without Waze and a decent 4×4. The lodgings are simple cabinas, beautifully built but rustic. There is a restaurant, bar and sizable outdoor theater, but the reserve is a fair distance from town, so there’s not much night life, or even much socializing.
So why stay here? Because it’s magical. Garrita gave me a tour of the property’s footpaths, a dizzying maze of stone steps, worn tree roots and wet gravel. Droplets tumbled from the massive leaves above. The landscape is as lush and diverse as any in Costa Rica, with the added bonus of espinos blancos — hawthorns, one of the rarest tree species in the country.
“These are called ‘ladies’ lips,’” said Garrita as he pinched a red flower between his fingers. “Because, well, they look like the lips of a woman.”
They did: The flowers looked comically voluptuous, as if taken from a Warner Bros. cartoon.
Garrita then showed me a large billboard illustrated with the many plants and animals of Espino Blanco – from anteaters to toucanets.
I imagined this was the perfect place for an unconventional wedding, or a convention of birdwatchers. Social animal that I am, I couldn’t see staying here more than a day or two, yet I could easily see my naturalist friends lingering for weeks. The fresh air and tranquility are almost overwhelming.
The lodge doesn’t have the beaches, ziplines or epic waterfalls of other private reserves, and there is no five-star service or personal footman. But the lodge offers tours and even massages – and above all, it’s a perfect escape from civilization, a place to experience nature undistracted.
Toward the end of our walk, we stumbled onto the biggest surprise of all: a row of placards covered in Spanish stanzas.
“Is this poetry?” I asked.
“Why, yes,” said Garrita proudly. “Many poets were born in Turrialba. They wrote lots of beautiful work.”
The display took me by surprise. Costa Rica’s poetry scene is fairly obscure, and if any place in the country is known as the “city of poets,” it’s San Ramón. But as I scanned the blocks of free verse, I couldn’t help smiling. I didn’t fully understand the Spanish at the time, but I loved that the proprietors of this place were celebrating local letters.
I took a snapshot of one poem, which I later found to be dark but beautiful. Here’s an attempted translation:
“I don’t want to die this week. Or this month. Or this year. My fingers still tremble when I feel the hand of death resting on my sides. I want to learn to love her like a mother. I want to learn to touch her like a lover. I want her to come and kiss me without feeling pain in my flesh. Then I will go with her, breathing in the evening from the bottom of my lungs.”
It reminded me of the William Wordsworth quote: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: It takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Never did those words seem more true.