I Miss My Staff

A week at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica makes for a heady combination of natural splendor and man-made opulence.

by Cherri Ellis

If you are ever feeling like you have lost your swerve, spend a week at a Four Seasons Resort. It doesn’t matter where—any Four Seasons will do—but you have to stay a week. I recently returned from the one in Costa Rica, and I am here to tell you that that the combination of natural splendor and man–made opulence is a quite a heady combination. It is on the same time zone, which is very user friendly when you have to attempt re-entry. Yes, it is fantastically expensive, but that will only bother you for a little while until the Disney Effect kicks in.

The Disney Effect is that requisite mental shift on vacation where it ceases to bother you that a Coke costs eight dollars. In fact, it starts to seem logical that a coke cost that much. Why shouldn’t it? But at The Four Seasons Costa Rica, the Coke costs eight dollars (more on this later), is served in glassware nicer than you use at home, and is carried to you on the beach on a teakwood tray by a man who looks like a retired matador. Not being accustomed to an adult who wants to hover in case I require hydration or another enormous towel or feel like jewelry shopping from my chair…it did take a little getting used to. The awkwardness abated instantly the moment my handsome new friend suggested I try a Guajito. This icy, sweet, bright green beverage contains enough fresh mint to count as a serving of vegetables, and enough rum to convince you by the end of the first round that the sarong you’re wearing is no longer necessary.

The brochures had promised a one–bedroom canopy suite with a plunge pool. I expected a nicer than average room with an small adjacent living area and a bathtub–sized pool that two people could be in simultaneously provided they both remained standing. I was wrong. The freestanding suite was hanging off the side of the mountain, separated from the ocean only by flowering trees. The inside was all natural hardwood and floor–to–ceiling glass and soft bleached cotton, with two enormous bathrooms but no kitchen at all. Clearly, this was a space meant not for cooking, but exfoliation. Outside, the jets in the heated invisible edge pool gurgled as brightly colored birds and butterflies flitted by the two enormous chaise lounges. I had landed in my own Herbal Essence commercial.

As to my previous (if somewhat gauche) reference to what things cost at a luxurious resort property, it is easy math: Everything costs too much. Things start off expensive and then you add a 13 percent tax plus a 10 percent service charge before tip. So… your $16 glass of wine becomes a $24 dollar glass of wine the moment it hits your table, much less your bloodstream. As noted previously, this will not bother you for long. Our server at dinner the first night spoke English, Spanish, and Mandarin, and he glided between his tables as if he was dancing with the stars. The Caesar salad he brought me had romaine leaves and sheets of parmesan and crisped proscuito sticking straight up out of one giant cylindrical crouton. We stared at it, speechless. It looked like a hat from the royal wedding.

Being in a foreign place makes anything possible. I took cooking classes twice. When I signed up with the concierge, he told me the class required long pants and closed toed shoes. Since I had packed unaware of this opportunity, I found myself approaching the restaurant wearing my daughter’s Spain Park Jags tie–dyed jams and Nikes. It mattered not to handsome local chefs Marco and Diago, both of whom daily take a bus from Liberia an hour each way to work and are far too well–bred to mention your cheerleading pants. With Diago I rolled sushi with shrimp, avocado, cucumber and caviar, plating it with a ginger flower and wasabi leaf. Impressive, but Marco’s ceviche? Life changing. This combination of citrus, sesame, seafood and soy is eaten on tortilla chips and it is intoxicating. It tastes like tropical sin. He wrapped it up for me, and I hopped a golf cart to my place so I could eat it by the pool with an ice–cold glass of chardonnay. It was  righteous good. I’ve made it twice since I’ve been home.

And the adventures just kept coming. The single most fun way of moving your body through space is the zip line. If there was one on Highway 280 I swear I would take it to work. Sailing through the air at 28 miles per hour on a cable 200 feet off the ground is pretty darned invigorating.  When you first arrive they suit you up like an action hero—straps are tightened, hooks and pulleys are attached. You feel like a real badass until they pop a Colonel Klink blue plastic helmet on your head and tighten it under your chin, making you look less like a Navy Seal and more like a head injury victim.  They were pretty firm that it remain part of the ensemble so I got past it. The guides were great. On one of the more challenging runs, high up on a platform in a tree, the man ahead of me didn’t intend to but sounded a little condescending as he said to the guide “Yes. Oh wait, Si. Si! I am trying to learn your language!” The guide smiled at him encouragingly and said “Yes, Senor, eet eez always good to learn. Eeen fact, just today, I learn to do the zeeepline!” The guide paused just long enough to let what he had said sink in to the man…and then he pushed him off the platform. Beautiful.

Seeing a monkey at a zoo and feeling one thump your head unannounced as you walk down a pathway is a completely different experience. My personal space was invaded by families of monkeys, giant iguanas, fat squirrels and a coatie, which is an animal that looks like a cross between an anteater and a raccoon.  It boldly joined us on our deck to see if we were done with our dinner one night, and my husband grabbed an umbrella and brandished it wildly in what he thought was a threatening manner, but the animal looked at him with complete indifference. My six–foot–four husband was dissed by a coatie.

Now that I’m home, I miss my staff. There was lovely Therese in the spa who I bonded with when an embarrassing American patron blared, “Really! How long do you people expect me to wait for a pedicure to dry? Look at these SMUDGES!” Once the unpleasant patron huffed out, I used it as a cultural learning opportunity and taught Therese the word for such a female back home. Therese laughed, refusing to comment, but she did bring me extra ginseng tea and raisins. I should work for the U.N.

On the flight home we hit some turbulence, and didn’t even look up from my book. Somewhere over the week, I had accidentally relaxed. What a strange sensation, this calm. What a precious souvenir to bring back home.

Marco’s Ceviche

Small cubed sashimi tuna Flaked sea bass or bay scallops

Chopped shrimp Diced avocado

Diced red/green bell pepper Diced red onion

Cilantro Lime juice

Soy sauce Sesame oil

Ginger ale Sirachi sauce


*Put seafood in a bowl and pour lime juice over it.  Wait a couple minutes, then add other ingredients in amounts that suit your preference then toss to mix. Taste and adjust. Eat with warm tortilla chips.  Bliss out. •

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