Tuesday, November 27, 2012

monkeys and sloths and new friends, oh my!

local time: tuesday, november 26, 2012; 6:30 p.m.

yesterday (my birthday!) was a great one. having closed out 33 with the zip line, i decided to start 34 with a tour of three local attractions - the Jaguar Wildlife Rescue Center, a demonstration of the Bri Bri (a local indigenous tribe) method of making chocolate, and a hike to a waterfall.

the animal rescue center was wonderful. our very knowledgeable guide took us around to see various kinds of snakes, birds, wild cats, tree frogs, sloths, and monkeys. needless to say, the highlights for me were the sloths and the monkeys. sloths are even cuter live than in photos and videos. i was completely smitten the moment i saw them. one can't help but smile in their presence. i wanted desperately to hold one, but unfortunately only the volunteers at the center are allowed to do that. i did, however, get to play with the monkeys! after a brief introduction, the guide let our group into the enclosure, and eventually the curious little guys came over to say hello. the first one i held was quite small. he was sitting on the rope and fabric climbing structure, fairly close to me. when i reached my hand out toward him, he grabbed one of my fingers (let me tell you - there is nothing quite like a little monkey hand wrapped around your own), pulled himelf into my hands, and settled in close to my chest with his tail wrapped around one of my arms. i pet him gently as he looked up at me, his head tilted slightly to one side as if he was trying to figure me out. i kind of fell in love with that tiny face! a few minutes later, another monkey reached down from the rope above me on which she'd been hanging, grabbed my head, and hopped down onto my shoulders. next thing i knew, her tail was wrapped around my neck and she was happily playing with my hair. such an amazing experience! i would have been happy to stay there all day.

a note about the center - they take in animals who have been injured in the wild, as well as some who have been kept as pets and abused or abandoned. some cannot go back to the wild, due to the type of injury, being raised in captivity and thus being too reliant on humans, etc. the others, once they are rehabilitated, are reintroduced to their natural habitats. the center hosts tours in the morning, then in the afternoon, the volunteers who work there take the animals who are well enough out to the jungle. from there, it's up to each individual animal - some head out to the wild right away. others stay close to the volunteers and are brought back to the center. they are brought out again each subsequent day until they deem themselves ready to go join their wild counterparts. it's a very cool place where some really important work is being done. i highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in this area.

after visiting the animals, we headed off to see how the Bri Bri make chocolate. it's a very interesting process (one i can't descirbe here), and the samples offered to us were quite tasty. :) cacao in its various forms (fruit, seed/nut, butter, and chocolate) seems to be a central part of Bri Bri culture and is used as food, medicine, and in purification rituals.

the last stop of the day was for a short but somewhat slippery hike to a waterfall, with a few glimpses of wildlife (birds and frogs) along the way. some of my tourmates swam and played in the pool at the base of the fall. i didn't have a swimsuit, though even if i had, i'm not a strong enough swimmer to have braved the swiftly churning water. i was content to stand back and admire the surroundings and enjoy the feel of the cool spray from the waterfall and listen to its powerful, majestic sound. after the short hike back, we enjoyed some tasty fresh pineapple and coconut water straight from the source (i like the boxed/bottled stuff, but that pales in comparison to drinking it through a straw stuck into a freshly cut coconut).

over the course of the tour, i chatted with a lovely young couple (marissa and matt) from southern california. as the tour was wrapping up, they invited me to join them for dinner. i happily accepted, then headed back to my room for a nap (what is it that makes naps in the tropics so much better than ordinary naps?!).

i hadn't planned on telling anyone that it was my birthday, but when marissa asked me my age while we were talking while waiting for another couple whom they'd met previously and who would also be dining with us, it just came out. the admission leant an even more festive tone to the evening, and i have to admit that it was really nice to be so warmly celebrated by these wonderful folks whom i'd just met. the food was delicious, the drinks were strong and plentiful, and the company was stellar. after dinner, we took in some of the local flavor at a little reggae bar by the beach - a lovely end to a really great night. yay for meeting awesome peeps while traveling!

this morning i killed my hangover with scrambled eggs, an unbelievably good chocolate croissant, and espresso con leche (and lots of water, of course) while watching the waves crash into the shore. with nothing else on my plate for the day, i decided to rent a bike and ride 13 km (just over 8 miles) south to manzanillo, a tiny village that makes puerto viejo look like a bustling metropolis by comparison. the clouds that had kept my ride cool had cleared out a bit in that area, so i found a spot on the beach and soaked up a little sunshine. i had actually started to fall asleep, lulled by the sound of the surf and the distant delighted squeals of children playing in it farther up the beach, when i was roused back to consciousness by a very friendly dog who had taken it upon himseflt to lay down literally on top of me! i encouraged him to sit beside me instead, and he kept me company for the next hour or so - even jogging alongside my bike to the edge of town when i left. i rode back slowly, stopping for a gorgeous fruit shake at a little roadside cafe at about the halfway mark, then took yet another wonderfully refreshing nap.

i'll be heading out shortly to find some dinner. not sure yet what the evening and tomorrow have in store. we shall see. . . pura vida!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

feels like flying

my last post, written on october 14, 2010, was titled "my last few days and the journey home (part 1)" and ended with these words: "i'm going to finish the journey home, get some sleep, give myself a little processing time, and post my final thoughts in a couple of days." hahahahaha. here i am, 2 years, 2 months, and 11 days later, writing my first post since then. better late than never, maybe?? at this point, it seems a little ridiculous to get into my post-thailand processing, which was the intent for "the journey home (part 2)." so much has happened since then - almost 8 months of unemployment; a six-month project in alaska (an adventure in and of itself); and now almost weekly trips to regina (in saskatchewan, canada) for work. i'll just say that a large part of my heart and soul are still in thong nai pan; that i still dream about it on a regular basis and miss it terribly; and that somewhere in the back of my mind, consciously or not, i am still trying to figure out a way to get myself back there for the long(er) term. but that's another story for another day . . . or for private conversations over tea with friends. for now. . . i'm in costa rica!

it's late afternoon on my second full day here, and i just got back from a zip line tour of the jungle canopy. it. was. amazing. more on that in a bit . . .

the trip so far has been pretty mellow and low key (with the exception of the afore-mentioned zip line adventure).  i arrived in san jose late friday night and checked into the Country Inn and Suites near the airport (the room was free, thanks to the hundres of thousands of club carlson points that i've amassed by spending more time at the Radisson in regina than i have at home over the past year). early the next morning, i hopped on a shuttle to puerto viejo, the town on the carribbean coast that will be my home for the week. i spent the four-hour shuttle ride chatting pleasantly with another solo traveler - a young woman originally from england. she's a clothing designer and club promoter who lives and works in ibiza five months out of the year, then spends the other seven traveling the world. what a life! we bonded over the joys and pitfalls of traveling alone, as well as a shared intense love for thailand (she spends at least three months a year there - jealous much?!). i think that she would have made a great partner in crime here, but she was just making a quick stop and left for panama this morning, in search of some sunshine (i have yet to see any here).

the shuttle dropped me off at the Hotel Cabinas Guarana, and i spent some time getting settled. my room is nothing fancy, but it is clean, airy, and comfortable. it is painted in bold, bright colors, and has a large screen window overlooking a lush, tropical garden. and of course, there is the requisite porch with hammock. :) after unpacking and chatting with the owners - a lovely couple from italy - for a bit, i headed out to explore the town.

puerto viejo is very small. i moved at a fairly leisurely pace and covered practically the whole thing in about fifteen minutes. it's pretty quiet right now since it's low season, but most of the shops and restaurants are open, so there were lots of wonderful sights, sounds, and smells to take in. when the drizzling rain through which i'd been walking turned suddenly into a torrential downpour, i took shelter at the nearest bar and enoyed a couple of beers and some lobster ceviche (soooooo good!). when the rain returned to a light sprinkle, i headed back to my room to read and relax for a while. i'd planned on changing and heading back out to check out the nightlife, but by 7:00 p.m. i could barely keep my eyes open. i decided not to fight it and unfurled the mosquito net around my little bed, falling asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

after 13(!) hours of blissful sleep, i woke to the sound of . . . wait for it . . . more rain. i'd already booked the zip line tour for this afternoon, and i was worried that it might be canceled. apparently that was a foolish notion: when i walked over to the tour office to double check, the woman at the desk laughed and said, "no, it's okay. rain make the cable faster!" sufficiently reassured, i headed off to breakfast at a lovely little spot called Bread and Chocolate (i know, sounds like it was made for me, right?!). the meal was scrumptious - french press coffee, perfectly scrambled eggs, fresh tropical fruit, and a house-made dark chocolate truffle, thrown in courtesy of the very friendly waiter - much to the chagrin of another waitress who, upon hearing me thanking him for it, came over to investigate. when she learned of the little gift, she swatted him on the back of the head and informed me in no uncertain terms that she was his girlfriend. he skulked away, leaving me to try to explain that i didn't think the truffle meant anything, and that in any case i had no intentions of making any moves on her man. i don't think she bought it - her eyes shot daggers at me while i finished my coffee, and a different waiter brought me my bill. too much drama for 8:30 a.m.!! i'm kind of glad that the restaurant is closed on mondays and tuesdays. hopefully when i go back on wednesday (and i will go back - it's too good not to), things will have blown over and i won't get jumped as soon as i set foot in the place!

fast forward a few hours . . . i'm standing on a platform high up  in the jungle canopy, strapped into a harness that is being attached to a cable that stretches 250 meters across, through the lush treetops. i'm 96% over-the-moon excited and 4% gee-it's-a-long-way-down terrified. the guide asks me to show him how to break, and i reach up and pull down on the cable with both hands (behind the pully, of course - i was paying attention during the safety demonstration). "bueno," he says. "ready?" i nod, laugh nervously, and step to the edge of the platform. with my right hand on the cable and my left hand on the harness, i sit back and cross my legs in front of me. i take a deep breath, flash the guide my best here-goes-nothing smile, and nod again. he lets go of the rope that connects my harness to the pulley. just like that, i'm soaring; racing through the treetops, with spectacular views in all directions. it takes my breath away. if this is even the tiniest bit how it feels to fly, then i want to be a bird! i wish that i were a better writer so that i could adequately describe the feeling, but at this point i just can't find the words. i land on the next platform, greeted by the huge, warm smile of the second guide. "good, no?" he asks. i nod enthusiastically and grin form ear to ear. he laughs and tells me that the look on my face is one of the reasons he loves his job. over the next 2 1/2 hours, i zip down 17 more cables through the breathtakingly beautiful canopy. there's a bit of a hike between several of the platforms. along the way, one of the guides points out various trees and plants, explaining how they grow and their special qualities. i'd hoped to see some wildlife as well, but the rain has all of the critters seeking shelter somewhere out of sight. by the time the tour ends, i'm soaked through and through (definitely put the REI quick dry pants to the test!), covered in mud splatter, totally exhilerated, and chattering away to the guides about how i want to do this every day. what an incredible afternoon! seriously - so much fun, and the greatest way to say goodbye to 33.

as i sit here writing, the rain is once again coming down in sheets outside my window. i'm starting to think that i might leave costa rica without gettting the serious beach time that i was so much looking forward to. oh well . . . guess that's the price one pays for coming here during the low season. still, it's beautiful and i'm having a great time. i'll write again when there's another experience worth sharing. hasta luego . . .