We're in Cabuya, Costa Rica, a very remote town on the Nicoya Peninsula. We’re volunteering 4 hours a day at a wildlife sanctuary. Of course, we have no wildlife experience, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Here is what a typical day is like…
Alarm goes off at 6:30 AM and just like at home, I hit snooze. Ten minutes later it’s really time to get up and get ready for the day. Eat breakfast (oats with raisins and powdered milk), get dressed and grab the 2 liter bottle of nearly frozen water. We head out for the 2.5 K walk down the dirt road in 80 degree heat with humidity hovering around 97% -- the most comfortable it will be all day.
Upon arriving at the sanctuary we greet Tarzan, the white-faced monkey who has had half his left arm amputated and will never be released into the wild. Tarzan is an adolescent and likes to show-off for the ladies. I learned the hard way that if you put your face too close to the cage he will swipe at it with his good arm. Luckily I did not learn first-hand that if he actually gets on you, he will try to hump your ear. Only guys are allowed to feed Tarzan and let him out for play time.
Next I say "Hello" to the parrots but they haven’t said “hello” in return yet. I keep trying. I bypass the porcupine cage because they smell something awful and I can barely walk by without gagging. That’s okay because I’m on my way to my favorite animal at the sanctuary. Kinky, the kinkajou. A kinkajou is a medium-sized monkey-like animal that is really gentle and calm. She’s nocturnal but wakes up when people start to arrive. I go into her habitat and give her belly rubs which she loves. And I let her “groom” my hair for a few minutes; though if she actually starts pulling off nits and bugs I’m going to be upset.
At 7:45 it’s time to feed the three baby howler monkeys which is pretty fun. There are usually more than enough volunteers for this task so we are lucky to be able to participate. They drink their milk formula from plastic 5cc syringes
and eat lots of lettuce leaves which is adorable. They also like to sit on our heads and pee and/or poop.
By 8:00 we all sit in a circle for “manifestation through meditation” which I think means “another ten minutes to rest.” The woman who runs the place chooses a color that we’re supposed to emit from our heart chakra in order to cure whatever ails that day’s chosen animal. I don’t get it either. But I’m usually able to use that time to review the wedding guest list in my head, snooze, or watch the monkeys eat their lettuce (though my eyes are supposed to be closed).
We receive our assignments after meditation. The sanctuary has two properties – the one we arrive at as described above (which also houses another howler monkey, an ant-eater, many turtles, a couple of rabbits, other birds, red squirrels, an iguana, and guinea pigs which all need to be fed a careful diet of various fruits and vegetables) and a farm property with more animals and habitats. The long-term volunteers are usually charged with the feeding of the animals while the more mundane jobs fall to the likes of Charles and I. We’ve been sent to the farm -- another 1K walk uphill – to clean the wood shed. A one hour job that we stretched to a full 3.5 hours. We’ve also cleaned all the leaves off the cages at the farm – which is in the middle of a wooded jungle and where, as far as we could tell, the leaves have never been cleaned off the cages. We’ve also put cardboard “floors” into the nesting boxes for the doves and pigeons; watered the several acres of plants; raked; weeded; corralled escaped goat and generally wander around trying to look busy for the full four hours.
We head back to our jungalow around noon and have lunch and the afternoon is ours to enjoy. By now it’s about 89 degrees and 99% humidity and going to a beach might be nice. If we’re lucky, it will be low-tide and we can walk out to Cabuya island and swim in the refreshing shallow waters with not another person around. Or we can walk 30 minutes north to a beach that has actual sand instead of rocks and isn’t too rough for wading. But usually it’s just too hot, so we have lunch and read while sweating.
Bed time is early – around 8 or 9. We’re usually able to get a few good hours of sleep before the howler monkeys wake up and start their morning ritual of “calling” to each other. Had I not been warned of this, I would have had a heart-attack. As it was, I merely sat bolt upright in bed on the first morning wondering if they could get inside the cabin. I will get the howler monkey noises on video so you can fully appreciate this wake-up call. We also have a volunteer who routinely gets up at 4:00 and bangs around in the kitchen – right next to our jungalow, so we sure to not get any sleep after 4:00 AM.
Overall we’re getting used to the routine if not the heat. We may not love the remoteness of the location and we may not be learning any skills that we can use later (unless Kinkajou’s are legal pets in the US – someone find out for me) but when we do make it to the beach, it’s really nice, it’s December and it’s not snowing, and at the very least, we’re getting new experiences. And that's the point, here, isn't it?