My Escape to Sylvan

by Michelle Maton, CFP®

Sometimes the risks we take are embodied by the life choices we make.

Typically, one of my responsibilities as a financial planner is to reduce the element of financial risk in my clients’ lives. However, there are unique situations when I fully support taking on sizable risks. Such is the case with a recent purchase made by my friend Fiona Reid, an author, wildlife illustrator, and naturalist.

Fiona has been leading wildlife tours all across the globe for more than 30 years. I am an ardent conservationist with a passionate love of animals. We share a mutual love of travel, nature, and adventure. While Fiona lives on the outskirts of Toronto, she wanted a place in nature to which she could retire. After years of planning and preparation – financial and otherwise – Fiora purchased 155 acres of rural rainforest in Costa Rica.

When I was invited recently to visit her new homestead, one which is lush with rural jungle, beautiful waterfalls, and exotic animals, I gladly accepted. I was told the refuge was far away from everything, which proved to be quite accurate. To reach her refuge, a group of us flew into the San Jose airport and then took a short flight into Golfito.

We began our drive on paved roads. When they abruptly ended, we continued our progress onto unpaved roads and through small rivers, and finally reached our destination by walking through an area teaming with tiny frogs.

Fiona has taken a place which was a rudimentary camp and turned it into a full-fledged refuge. She calls her refuge a field station for wildlife enthusiasts and has named it Escape to Sylvan. (Sylvan means one who lives in or frequents the “woods” or “forest.”)

Among the travelers on our outing was Twan Leenders, PhD., a world renowned Conservation Biologist and expert on reptiles and amphibians. He authored the highly regarded book Amphibians of Costa Rica: A Field Guide. It is an in-depth guide to the amphibians in and near Costa Rica. During our stay, we ended up seeing many exotic animals including 8 species of glass frogs and at least 4 species of poison dart frogs.

Fiona has 10 or more spectacular waterfalls on the property, and she is starting to have people come down in small groups to assist her in surveying the area to determine the types of animals that are found on her property and in what numbers. Already spotted in abundance have been coatis, squirrel monkeys, bats, water birds, river otters and sloths. After it rains, poison dart frogs and leaf litter toads can be spotted around the waterfalls.

While the cabins for guests on site are simple, additional more well-appointed accommodations for multi-day visitors are planned. Fiona’s plan is to find like-minded volunteers to help create a small community-based organic farm. Efforts such as Fiona’s will help bring dollars into the community, and help raise the profile of conservation and animal rights efforts in the region.

I have long known that getting out of your everyday routine can give you a different perspective on how people live and on life in general. I was glad to visit Escape to Sylvan to show support for my friend Fiona, of course, and also to partake in the adventurous aspects of my friend’s new endeavor. More importantly, my travels were a reminder of how essential it is to balance risk with purpose in our lives.  For Fiona, risk has proven to provide its own rewards.



Michelle Maton, CFP® is a Partner and Senior Financial Planner in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.  Please email her at: