Sloth aerobics at the Caribbean

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Sunday, November 18, 2007

After leaving San Jose, it was back to the Caribbean coast to a little place nearly at the bottom of Costa Rica. Called Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, everyone just calls it just Puerto Viejo.

We lucked in with another gorgeous place to stay, Hotel Pura Vida . It has rooms around a tranquil courtyard on the ground floor and up one level. It is a mixture of dark wood paneling and white walls with cane seats, wood tables, hammocks, golden lamps and candles, tropical flowers in clear glass vases with shells in the bottom and built-in plots of lush plants.

Plus it has a resident dog called Duche who is quite a character. He is a Dalmatian mixed with a stockier breed.

When we arrived, Duche ran straight to get his rope that he likes you to pull and later his slobbery balls. He also likes (or tolerates) being swung in the hammock. He is treated as one of the family by the lovely  couple who run the place.

I had seen two similar dogs tied up in the neighbouring town on the way in that I thought looked like him. I asked if it was possible that he was the father, and it was, as he has fathered  20 litters locally. 'He's a bit of Casanova' his owner Luis said. Something had certainly worn him out by night when you'd have to scrape him off the floor.

Pura vida is a Costa Rican philosophy. Literally it means a pure life, the desire to live the best existence and you see it written everywhere. Even on the wrist of a girl in my tour group who had it written on her hand by their forest guide in natural ink.  It came from the white mashed pulp of a green-skinned fruit. The fruit becomes a light blue when bruised, and after 15-30 minutes the juice from the mashed fruit  had become a blue black colour that stains the  skin for a week. I think it is called Indian ink, which I have a bottle of at home.

After a meal of typical chicken, beans and rice, we tried some local calypso music. It was loud and the place was full of dreaded people looking to buy and sell weed, though the singer kept saying 'get  high on the music inside or smoke outside'.

We talked  to one crazy black guy who had the dread equivalent of a mullet and little round glasses with one green and one red lens, which he called his rasta glasses.

The next day we hired push bikes and went out to the village of Manzanillo, looking for wildlife along the way and at the Gandoca-Manzanillo refuge, just past Manzanillo.

We were incredibly lucky in what we saw, even on the way out. This was partly why it took us three hours to cycle 13 kilometres. (Other factors were rickety bikes, bumpy road in places and three years since either of us have rode a bike regularly.)

We saw lots of birds on the way out, including the brightly coloured violacious Trojan with its bright blue back, yellow breast  and a black and white tail.  Also a turkey vulture with his red face (they are not rare), a pale hawk and an aracaria, which is related to a toucan but with a thinner beak.

We then played spot the sloth. First we saw a mother with her baby, moving around more than we had seen any others doing and then we saw one climbing down a tree, which is pretty much the same as sloth  high-impact aerobics. It was amazing to watch. Every movement so slow and deliberate. Sloths have an amazing shape. They are sort of like elongated koalas, and they swing their legs around like a bear might with both hind legs in full casts. Their heads are kind of squashed  with slity eyes and the nails on their feet are at least 10 cm long.  We thought the energetic sloth was coming down for his weekly toilet stop but about two-thirds of the way down he curled up in a shady part of the tree and went back to sleep.

We started chatting to  a 60-year-old bird watching enthusiast from England . She had spent three weeks in Costa Rica the year before and had fallen in love with it. She was over for three-months this time, to confirm or extinguish her desire to retire  in Costa Rica.

She let us use her bird field guide to confirm the morning's sightings and gave us directions for finding an impressive rocky outcrop  called Miss Mays point or something similar.

 All the streets around the area were called Mr or Misses this or that  street.

After the lookout, I was suddenly overcome with the desire to sleep on the beach, but after a little while we went exploring in the coast side forest reserve.

The best thing we saw was a male howler monkey who came right over to us and hooted at us. They are known to throw faeces at intruders but we escaped that. He was so close though that we could see droplets of saliva coming out of his pursed lips.

We also saw a mother carrying a tiny monkey on her back. When she stopped, it reached up and had a few swings on the tree branch above and then got back on her back for a lift to the next tree.

Walking along a bit further, Mark saw Toucans in the trees and I spotted a tiny black and white spider and a little brown frog in the leaf litter.

Then hanging on a low branch that crossed the track was another sloth. He was hanging  by his hind legs and having a good scratch with his long front nails. It's hard  to imagine better scratching tools.

Right before we turned around we saw Montezuma birds with their bright yellow tail tip. We had been seeing their long pendulous nests everywhere, including hanging in a restaurant as Christmas decorations, so it was good to see the birds who were making them.

Finally we watched two howler monkeys, including another mother with a baby on her back, make a flying leap down to a lower tree. They must have been falling for four metres before they crashed into the lower tree, which luckily supported them.

We then rode home as the sun set. I really enjoyed riding a bike. It was such a feeling of freedom after being on so many buses.
 The next day was a lazy day snorkeling at the local beach and reading. Mark saw a huge puffer fish right in close.

I stayed behind to read my book under a low tree. Soon after I was disturbed by three cute little black girls. At first I thought they were just pointing at my bare skin because it is so ridiculously white, but then I saw them point up into the tree and then at me. Luckily a woman came over and explained that I shouldn't lie under the tree as they had seen these white grubs that sometimes drop and if one landed on my skin I would have to go to hospital.
So I packed up, feeling both grateful and like a stupid tourist at the same time.

I distracted myself playing with the stray black lab-cross that lives on the beach. He licked out my ice-cream tub very gently, so sweet.
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