Thursday, May 26, 2011

Parque Nacional Cahuita and the Jaguar Rescue Center

I'm super tired today and this is probably a really boring post, but I have to get it in words before I forget details...

Parque Nacional Cahuita- Wednesday

Oh how I wish America had a national park as amazing as Parque Nacional Cahuita. Postcard-perfect beaches, coral reefs, jungle, monkeys, iguanas, sloths, frogs, snakes, ant civilizations- and it's all perfectly preserved. The park itself is relatively tiny and young- only 10 square kilometers and has only been a national park since 1978.

We (the local guide and a newlywed couple from the Basque region in Spain) took a small rickety boat to Punta Cahuita, the "point" that juts out into the water and snorkeled for nearly two hours. I've not seen such perfect coral ever... but I guess I've only been snorkeling a handful of times. I'm always amazed at how the tropical fish mostly ignore snorkelers. This time though, I felt like I was a part of the school of fish many times. The water was very shallow too, so it was easier to see the camouflaged fishes lurking in the lettuce coral, brain coral and fan coral.

After a fresh pineapple snack on the beach, we hiked the less than 2 miles along the beach to the ranger station at the edge of the quaint town of Cahuita, population 600 (where some still speak the native language, Mekatelyu). Our guide stopped regularly along the way to point out a particular species of mammal, reptile, insect or plant. We even had to ford the river at one point.

(Can you spot the iguana?)

At one point, there was a concrete natural spring "hot tub". It is there because Pemex, the Mexican oil company, drilled for oil there before it was a national park. Luckily they didn't find oil, but they did find a hot spring.

Jaguar Rescue Center- Thursday

The name is a misnomer. There are no jaguars at the Jaguar Centro de Recate (Jaguar Rescue Center). It was named for a sick baby jaguar that died there after they were unable to nurse her back to health after her mother was killed.

The best part about this place is the howler monkeys that you can play with. They have about 10 of  them who are orphaned and/or were injured. They are such loving, playful and active animals- you can't help but want to take one home with you... if only customs would allow it!

And, for the first time in my life, I've seen a live red-eyed tree frog! There were a few years in high school that I was fairly obsessed with them (and frogs in general)... they are much smaller than photos would suggest, but so amazing.

¡Adios Puerto Viejo!

I leave for San Jose in the morning, but it's been a great week here is Rasta Rica! ¡Te amo, Costa Rica!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Laziest. Vacation. Ever.

I haven't done much since my last post. Hopefully this doesn't surprise you. I snoozed & read by the pool, swam in the pool, went to the beach that was so hot I couldn't stay for more than 10 minutes (the sand was so hot, it felt like I was walking on hot coals- and I'm not exaggerating), watched a couple of movies on my 900-channel flat screen tv. I am sad when I realize how much time I have spent watching movies in my cabana, but I tell myself it's educational- I watch American movies subtitled in Spanish. This makes me feel better about it.

Sunday night was the first time it's rained since I've been here. And it rained again last night. Before I left to come to Costa Rica, I was watching the weather closely because May is the beginning of Central America's rainy season... all I saw was clouds, thunderstorms and rain in the daily forecasts. I was sure it was going to rain the entire time I was here. I don't know if I've been lucky or what (knock on wood), but it has been sunny and beautiful everyday. The rain doesn't start until after dark, maybe 8 or 9 pm (by then, I'm already in for the evening since I'm out of town and not really here to party) and it clears up by the time I wake up. I really have no idea if it's raining in other parts of Costa Rica...

Yesterday was one of my big excursions- I went on a canopy tour. This is where you wear a harness attached to a pulley and fly through the jungle trees from platform to platform by a cable. It was totally awesome. Chickening out at bungee jumping on my 30th birthday made me think I might chicken out at this too, but luckily they strap you in and kinda give you a push, so I didn't have any time to think about it. There were 23 platforms and 2560 meters of cable. Plus one Tarzan rope swing. They pushed me off that one too- thank goodness.

Anyone who comes to Costa Rica, you cannot miss this!

After the canopy tour, two girls from Ohio and I went to lunch at Cafe Ivon... Sea Bass in coconut pineapple sauce with coconut rice (for US$10 including tip)... soooo delicious... as long as you are willing to wait to get your food. I think we waited an hour after ordering before we got our food. I swear they went out on a boat to get my fish after I ordered!

Mañana: Cahuita National Park- snorkeling and hiking. Stay Tuned.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rich Coast


After a 2-hour delay at PDX and a red eye flight that resulted in me attempting to sprint through the Denver airport, then a 4 1/2 hour shuttle ride over not-so-great roads, I have made it to the beautiful Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. If you thought Portland was green in the springtime, prepare to be shocked. This is a green jungle, literally… costa rica.

I have already seen fields and fields of bananas, tons of coconut trees, lots of crazy birds and lizards, a couple of monkeys, butterflies and there are 15 sloths that live on the grounds of my hotel, Cariblue. In addition, I have seen more bugs than most vacation spots, Tikal excluded. (I will never forget Tikal.) This was expected of course, so my clothes are permethrin-treated and I’ve brought along the 97% DEET insect repellent.

Cariblue is an Italian-owned complex of duplex and 4-plex cabañas and outdoor spaces nestled in a jungle, across the street from Playa Cocles (Cocles beach). While the rest of my experience here at the cabañas so far hasn’t reflected the Italian influence, the menu has. This is unfortunate for obvious reasons, but also because who the hell wants pasta when it’s 85 degrees with 80% humidity? I want fish tacos with Caribbean flare! And fresh guacamole with freshly-made chips! The traditional Costa Rican breakfast almost made up for it- beans & rice, veggies, eggs, soya, a huge assortment of pastries (kiwi bread, jalapeno buns, sweet bread- very dense with a glaze on top), lots of fresh fruit (watermelon, pineapple, papaya, canteloupe), Guanabanana (wan-ah-BAN-an-AH) juice, orange juice and, of course, coffee. I didn't eat again until nearly 5:00!

El Super Mercado

I don’t really have an itinerary yet, which is how the Caribbean cultures like it. I did make a trip to the super Mercado (supermarket) today. I bought a small styrofoam cooler and some cervesa (bevs here don't seem to be any cheaper than America, at least at the bars).

The local supermarket is better than any travel guide about a culture. It tells you how a culture eats, what a culture believes in and about their habits, values, ways, traditions. Do they use local products or import foods? Imports would suggest that they are a relatively prosperous country (or have a lot of ex-pats living there) and local products usually means they highly value their local culture or can’t import because of economics or politics. You can almost bet that the more processed foods a culture eats, the more prevalent obesity is... and it's true for Costa Rica- many, many processed foods. Do they have an obscene number of tourist souvenirs? You’re probably not at the supermarket.

I went to two different supermarkets- one recommended by the super nice worker here at the cabañas... I resisted buying anything until I had checked out the other one and I'm glad I did. The other one was much, much better... waaaay more beer and food selections. I was surprised by the tiny little Asian foods section.

I discovered that nearly everything here comes in bags- salsa, milk, sauces, jam, etc. I find salsa in a bag to be bizarre. I'm not sure if that's because it didn't look or feel chunky or because I couldn't see the salsa itself or if it was simply the bag idea. I did not buy any salsa. I'm always amazed at how many different types of fried foods in bags Latin America has... I guess it's better temperature-wise than getting french fries or fried... pig skins.

Mi Bicicleta

I rode a bike into town. I nearly ran over two crabs and one lizard. Road kill here is crabs instead of deer or squirrels... and I don't need to tell you that smashed crabs on asphalt in 85 degrees smells horrible.

Juego de Fútbol

I also went to a fútbol game this evening- a national team (players who play in the World Cup) played the local team, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It must have been the national team's reserve squad, because Puerto Viejo was playing better than the Limon national team. It was relatively exciting nonetheless- it seemed like the entire town was there to see the match. I miss my Timbers though... beat Columbus tomorrow, ok?

¡Hasta Luego!

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