El Fenix / The Phoenix: a person or thing regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.
It's hard to start writing about one of the homes here at Finca Bellavista without stating that 'this one is the best' or 'this one is our favorite'. Truth is, all the homes are amazing and what makes them so amazing is the uniqueness and style each one brings. Each house here (besides the ones at basecamp which belong to the co-founders of Finca Bellavista - La Torre Luna, Casa Del Sol and Casa Estrella) are privately owned, and each house has a history but none more so than El Fenix, a name I feel is perfectly suited for this perfect example of a modern style treehouse.
The name 'El Fenix' was taken from the greek mythology associated with the sun, "a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor". It's the perfect name for this incredible treehouse and although its predecessor did not burn down nor were there any ashes, it was a legend here at Finca Bellavista - Mis Ojos (my eyes).
I will do a piece on Mis Ojos in the future (I actually have some of the last known footage featuring this house when I discovered the Ziplining Sloth), this story is about it's successor - El Fenix.
El Fenix is owned by a mammalogist, naturalist, and author who has worked as a wildlife guide around the globe for over 30 years - @Fiona Reid. While Fiona is considered an expert in her field and is an amazing wealth of information, I personally think she is awesome because of her English wit, love of rum and naughty sense of humor 🤣. I could share many delightful stories that has landed one of us in trouble by the end of the night or next morning but I will save those for Happy Hour in the Rancho.
As you most likely guessed by now, El Fenix essentially replaced Mis Ojos. While built on the same plot of land, it is a completely different location (a much safer one as Mis Ojos had to be taken down after a heavy landslide left it too close to the river edge).
The design was a collaboration of those of us living onsite and was built by the Finca Bellavista crew, head up by the legend - Jesus Amado. A volunteer at the time and awesome friend, @Catherine (Catt Godon) took the lead on the design with help from Erica (co-founder of Finca Bellavista) and they did some amazing stuff!
Here you can see one of the earlier designs put on paper by Catt after hearing some of the key needed components from Mateo and Erica (the co-founders of Finca Bellavista). The goal was to use as many of the materials taken from Mis Ojos during its deconstruction.
@Amy and I had been researching materials for our own build a couple months prior to construction starting on 'El Fenix' and we're excited to see some of them being incorporated into the design. Mis Ojos was built out of beautiful hardwoods and the fusion of the modern materials going in would be a game changer for sure.
Mis Ojos was built using a variety of native hardwoods, including Teak, Amarillon, Corteza and Manu Negro. The company we were negotiating with at the time for our own source of materials provided wood composite (Trex) and synthetic thatch. Another company we were in talks with - Plycem, provided fiber cement decking (We're a big fan of Plycem during our build and you can see a collaboration video we did with Plycem during our own construction here). El Fenix incorporated the original stunning hardwoods as well as modern durable materials which ultimately would change the style of construction for all homes here at Finca Bellavista moving forward.
I feel it's important to mention that @Fiona prefers the wood composite (Trex) to the fiber cement, in fact, I'm pretty sure she will openly tell you that the fiber cement is shit 🤣. For anyone reading this trying to decide which one to use, there are a lot of factors to consider but mainly it comes down to location. I would recommend the fiber cement to those houses that get a lot of sun and are not under the jungle canopy and recommend the wood composite (Trex) to houses with little sun exposure and humid areas.
If we had to choose a model home for Finca Bellavista based on our own journey here throughout the years, it would have to be 'El Fenix'. It's an amazing treehouse that gives that treehouse feel yet it is grounded and supported on stilts which reassures you it's not going anywhere. It has a mix of native and modern materials which keeps it maintained and secured but without sacrificing the authentic feel.
And talk about location. It's a short walk from basecamp but because it's on the green trail and built on such a big lot (7,222 sq meters / 1.78 acres), you feel completely immersed in the jungle.
The famous Finca Bellavista waterfall is literally on the lot and you can be swimming under it in 10 min.
The wildlife is this area is just incredible and the only area I know of or have ever seen the tiny red frogs (ranitas rojas) of Finca Bellavista. Fiona did a blog on this a couple years ago.
The food production gardens are 10 min away and you can access the red trail in either direction from the house.
All of these factors caught Fiona's eye and in February 2017, she became the new proud owner of 'El Fenix'. It was not the first time Fiona had lived or purchased in Costa Rica (nor would it be the last, check out Fiona's latest project just 40 min away from us - Sylvan falls). Back in 1990 and until 1992, Fiona lived in Costa Rica while working on a field guide 'Mammals of Central America and SE Mexico'. When leaving for Canada to start a new chapter in her life, Fiona vowed to one day return!
As an environmentalist, it made sense to Fiona to purchase an existing structure to reduce impact on the local environment. Wanting to be near water and not to far from basecamp (read: walking back through the jungle at night after a few rums - the closer the better 🤣), El Fenix was the perfect option.
It also has one of the best views of a forest-interior treehouse. It is perched on a slope overlooking the river valley, so you can see all the way across the river.
At dawn the mist rises in the valley, the foreground slowly goes from dark to well-lit and the background goes from pale and misty to deeply shadowed. You can just sit on the open patio/living room and watch the view for hours! And at any time you can run down to the river and have a dip. There is nothing like skinny-dipping and lying on your back looking up at the forest canopy. Being the closest treehouse to the river means it is easy to be there early or late in the day when you are less likely to meet other people.
When she first visited FBV, Fiona really enjoyed meeting volunteers, hanging out in the Rancho and is still close friends with a volunteer she met at that time (Quin - who has partnered with Fiona at Sylvan, check out his project here, you may recognize the family playing at the waterfall). Some of her best memories reflect the juxtaposition of social and solo - for example one evening she walked @dorothee.lavoie back to her house (at the time a tent on a platform) and enjoyed chatting with her, then she walked down to the river where she could not resist a quick dip in the lovely whirlpool at that spot. She slowly made her way down the river bank, stopping to enjoy a rare Water Anole, a bunch of quite common frogs, and a large male basilisk sleeping on a log, before climbing up the stairs to her house.
Another fond memory was when she built a small pond near the house. First she decided to drag a very heavy stone statue to the pond edge, but couldn't quite lift it. So she left it upended on the trail.
Just a short time later, a helmeted iguana appeared and started sunning on top of the statue. Fiona thought she could never get to the house to get her camera, but the iguana ignored her as she walked past, and allowed her to go back and forth several times. Fiona had only seen that species at night prior to this, so it was really special for her.
The pond was a real joy - just after she filled it, literally within 15 minutes, a dragonfly was buzzing over the water depositing her eggs.
Nature is always so close at hand and animals seem to be waiting for suitable habitat.
Here's what Fiona had to say when asking her to share more of her favorite memories:
I really like waking up just before dawn and watching the silhouettes of bats circling around before landing on the bathroom screen (or in living room, their new hangout). Coming back to the house one evening to find a spectacled owl sitting on the railing, setting up moth lights (a UV light) on the tree on the yoga deck and watching the amazing diversity of moths and other insects that appear, and the turnip-tailed geckos who consider this to be the best buffet service ever!
(you can read more about Fiona and her bats in this appropriately named article - bats in the bathroom)
Watching Spot-crowned Euphonias and Scarlet-rumped caciques build their nests. It is so nice to be able to be eye-to-eye with these birds, instead of craning your head up to try to see what they are doing, as you would standing on the ground.
I really love the bats on the bathroom screen. These little sac-winged bats have an interesting social structure, as they live in harems. I've watched them arrive and as each female lands, the male flies up and "salts" her, shaking the contents of his wing sacs onto her to mark her with his special perfume.
There are two porcupines who like to visit at night. They are adorable, but they did eat my rug and the edges of several books!
(I'm secretly hoping that @Fiona (hint hint) will do a post in the wildlife forum about the porcupines that visit, they are the cutest things I've ever seen. Fiona already shared a story in there about her lounge lizard - the Basilisk)
If you think El Fenix is charming from the outside, wait until you see the inside!
One cool addition that Fiona and I worked on together after she purchased 'El Fenix' was the loft.
When I say 'worked on' it was really only helping with the design, this work of art was once again done by the one and only - Jesus Amado.
The loft is a perfect addition and adds to the treehouse feel you would have as child. It houses a queen sized bed and looks like it was alway meant to be there.
The space below has since been converted to a breakfast nook with additional space and fridge/freezer.
I think you will all agree that this is one badass treehouse.
So there you have it, an amazing example of a modern style treehouse built in an incredible setting. A healthy mix of old and new materials born from the ashes of its predecessor.
I think my favorite part about this house is how it was designed, who influenced it and the connections made from it.
Losing Mis Ojos was tragic but meeting @Fiona has more than made up for it. She is an incredible asset to the community and we are over the moon to have her us one of our neighbors.