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!