Day 5 – Haven, Heaven and Chile Rojo

[Brace yourself, it’s another long one.]

Saturday, August 18th, 2012:

Wanting to catch the rainforest sunrise at least once on our trip, we had plans to wake up before 5am. The alarm went off at 4-something, then we waged the snooze-button war for about half an hour before giving up. Awake, but unable to get out of bed, we laid around in the dark, listening to the jungle noises.

Previously, Simmi and Molly had mentioned that noise from the howler monkeys kept them from sleeping in too long, but Will and I had never been bothered by them. Until now. Now it sounded like they were right outside our windows. And in the pitch black they sound monstrous and demonic. Walking through the dark rainforest to catch the sun’s first rays seemed less and less like a good idea.

When dawn finally cracked the night and gave us the courage to arise, we packed enough for a quick hike, then crept over to the Dining Hall, grabbed some coffee and laid out on lawn chairs by the jacuzzi to enjoy the view.

It was cloudy, so we didn’t see much in the way a sunrise, but we did get to watch the busy birds of daybreak. Several tiny birds we couldn’t identify, as well as some humming birds, green parrots, and a couple of funny tucans busily twittered and chatted and squawked and flitted around:

Even with the clouds, it was a beautiful morning.

With time to kill before breakfast, we took off on one of the nearby paths we had yet to explore. After all our effort to be out and about early, we hoped to see some new animals. But it was mostly the usual (frogs and some bugs).

In our bustle to catch the sunrise, we left the house without Will’s homemade tripod, so he stopped and took a couple minutes to fashion another one (and I sacrificed my hairband for the finishing touch).

Having the tripod helped out a lot:

For a short break after the uphill climb, we stopped at the top to examine a pile of fallen fruit, the juices of which turned out to be knife-gummingly sticky (Will was not happy),

Walking on, we photographed trees and plants:

and something strange happening with a spider’s nest

and more trees and plants:

but it without any wildlife, my attention was waning.

On one of our previous hikes, I had shown Will the little I know about ninja walking. Today, after seeing a whole lot of nothing, to stave off boredom (and hunger and frustration) I worked on the ninja walk. Stalking along the path, I caught a glimpse of something black and white and furry in the undergrowth. (“OMG, a mammal!”)

Black fur with a white stripe, suggested a skunk or badger, but didn’t know if they were native to the area. Hanging around, trying to get a better view of where I saw it disappear into the undergrowth yielded nothing, but I was glad to have seen SOMETHING bigger than a frog. I ambled along with a smile … and startled ANOTHER black and white furry mammal rummaging in the path.

Will and I froze in place, awed and amused as we watched the poor skunk try to waddle away up-slope. Finding nowhere to hide, it finally gave up, turned around, huffed and hopped it’s way downhill, across our path and into the cover of the underbrush.

The whole ordeal took less than fifteen seconds and was too cute to look away, even if only to grab a camera. He probably peed his pants in the retreat, but the Scared Little Skunk made my day.

The rest of the hike was easy and enjoyable, though we didn’t see much more, other than a blue morpho butterfly that we couldn’t get a closeup of:

After a quick return to Reception to let them know we hadn’t died horribly in the rainforest, we turned to head back to Shanti house for a shower before breakfast and ran into Jill. It was her last day at the resort, so we stopped for goodbyes and a pic.

We cleaned up, then, refreshed and hungry, returned for breakfast, followed by a ride on the morning shuttle into Puerto Viejo.

Several others staying at Samasati had recommended the Jaguar Rescue Center and the Punta Uva beach, both a short ride outside of Puerto Viejo. Supposedly it was an easy bike ride to both, so upon arriving in town, we sought bikes to rent.

Most were beach crusiers, but Will had seen a tandem available, so we went to check that out. The shop owner was a great conversationalist who was kind enough to help us with our Spanish (“rusty” in Spanish is “oxidado”, as in “My Spanish is rusty”). During our fun verbal exchange, he explained that the tandem still needed a little work and they didn’t yet trust it under the weight of two adults, so it was only available for the kids. Unfortunately, all he had besides the tandem were single-speed beach crusiers (… a little boring), so we thanked him and walked on.

The last place we checked was primarily a bike repair shop, but they did have a few rentals, and, miraculously, two of them had multiple gears! WOOO HOOOO! Sold! (or, Rented!) After a quick test ride and a couple adjustments, we were on our way of out town, heading for the Jaguar Rescue Center.

We made it to the center with plenty of time for the 11:30 tour, so we perused the snake collection in the meanwhile. When our tour guide showed up, she started with a quick description of many of the snakes. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all their names…

That last snake, the Fer de Lance, is supposedly the species responsible for the largest percentage of snake bites reported in Costa Rica. (The Wikipedia page states that in Costa Rica, this snake is “responsible for 46% of all bites and 30% of all hospitalized cases”. The Instituto Clodomiro Picado – a branch of the Universidad de Costa Rica that researches and produces anti-venoms – has a Fer de Lance page that says the snake is responsible for over 50% of snake bites in the region and that the snake can give birth to 90 babies at a time. Thas alotta bebbies…). According to our guide, most poisonous snakes will flee when they hear you coming, but the Fer de Lance often holds its ground, making it much more susceptible to unintentional contact from humans, especially at night. Do yourself a favor and don’t look up pictures of what the venom does to your body.

After the snakes, our tour guide also showed us two rescued tucans – one with a broken beak:

and one with mental issues:

She also showed us an agouti:

as well as a young ocelot that had recently been making progress in its rehabilitation:

We also met on of the founders, who was mothering one of the rescued baby howler monkeys:

The center only takes in rescued animals (check out their Facebook page for pics). Several of these are sloths brought in after injuries from dog attacks, poorly maintained power lines, infections or other reasons. Our guide brought out one – a three-toed sloth – that was adorable, and a little creepy depending on who you talk to:

There was also a two-toed sloth out for some exercise and affection:

Though the adult sloths are solitary animals, the juveniles apparently crave quite a bit of social contact. Mid-way through our guide’s sloth talk, Three-Toes decided he wanted different company:

We weren’t allowed to touch the sloths because their skin is sensitive to the germs we carry, but for something with a metabolism so slow it takes a month to digest a meal, they were pretty interesting to watch. (Much more fun than watching growing grass or drying paint.)

Winding back around toward the snakes, our guide told us that because the center’s other founder is a herpetologist, one of their main goals is to remind people that snakes – even the very poisonous ones – should be respected, but not feared. Our guide brought us around to an open snake habitat, built to make a lasting impression of this idea. It was filled with yellow eyelash vipers, many of which were close enough to touch.

The cage is the size of a large closet (or a small room) and is open (yes, open) on one side. They recommend that you not put your hand (or, presumably, any other appendage) in the cage, but simply note that the snakes are just hanging around, decidedly NOT jumping out to attack the front-row tourists. The innate fear snakes tend to arouse and subsequent anti-climax of the open cage seem to work well together to make that nice, indelible mental note the center’s founder were aiming for.

After that, we got to check out the monkey house – the center’s main attraction. They have several howler monkeys that have been rescued and are in the process of recovery and/or reintroduction to the wild, and well as a spider monkey, and probably others. The teen and adult monkeys had already been shuttled out to the jungle for the day, but the babies and kids were still in the facility.

They recommend not bringing in any gadgets (cameras) or easily breakable things because the monkeys WILL find them and WILL break them (or take them apart, or try to see how well they fly, etc). So we entered and met several of the young howler monkeys as well as the baby spider monkey. They run and climb all over the place – even on the guests – so it was quite an exciting experience to have them swinging and jumping on those in our group, stealing and examining their glasses, grabbing hair and our guide’s ID badge, living up to their reputation for curiosity and mischief.

Will took some pictures after we exited:

Following the Monkey House, we saw their frog pond, a haven for the endangered green tree frogs to live and lay eggs:

Finishing the tour, our guide showed us the few rescued birds of prey they house:

which includes a widowed owl:

According to our guide, these birds mate for life and usually commit suicide after losing a mate. This one walked out into traffic after her’s died from an accident. Someone caught her and brought her in, but she refused to catch or eat any prey. They are working with her, trying to redevelop her hunting desire and instinct.

While listing to the owl’s story a deer wandered up:

and befriended Will:

On our way out, we washed our hands:

tipped our guide, checked out the souvenir shop and bought a coke. Then we hopped on the bikes and continued out to Punta Uva.

It took us a couple of passes to find the beach entrance, but find it we did:

Compared to what we’re used to in Florida, it’s not much, but there was a cool-looking spot that caught our eye:

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or the energy, so we just had enjoyed a quick snack on the beach (apples, peanut butter and breakfast bars) then saddled up and returned to Puerto Viejo.

We had planned to catch the 3pm free shuttle back to Samasati, but decided to skip that and find somewhere to hang out for a few more hours. At dinner the night before, Ron had recommended (extensively) Zion Cafe near the bus station, so we went there.

The owners – Ben and Michelle from Canada – were awesome, as was the menu. We ordered some crazy pepper juice as well as a starfruit, coconut milk smoothie:

I forget what we ordered to eat – probably the curry – but it was delicious. And Michelle and Ben were delightful. It was her birthday – her first time celebrating one away from her friends and family – so she was a little emotional (Ben had brought her a birthday pastry that morning, which teared her up) and she warned us not to give her any surprises.

We talked for awhile and they were kind enough to answer all our questions about their decision to leave everything in Toronto to move to Costa Rica, and about the journey that followed. Of course, they had other customers to attend to, so they left us as we finished our meal. However, there was some great blues music playing from their stereo, so, naturally, Will and I had to get up to dance. I think it surprised everyone, but Michelle loved it and claimed it as her birthday dance. =D She also noticed the clientele’s reaction and hired us as entertainers for the cafe: “Your shift starts tomorrow, 1-4.”

Though excited about the job offer, we had to go in order to get the rented bikes back before 6. But wanted to make sure we got a picture with the birthday girl:

If you’re in Puerto Viejo, be sure to stop by there. (Ron was right: the food is exceptional. And the company is even better.)

After returning the bikes, we stopped at a chocolate shop to try a truffle, then grabbed food from one of the grocery stores, and sat on our towel on the beach for supper and a sunset:

When the mosquitoes emerged in force, we packed up and grabbed a taxi ride back to Samasati.

Arriving at Reception in time for a real dinner, we found out that Melissa planned on taking several people into Puerto Viejo to go bar hopping after dinner. We had had a long day, but still wanted to do some more dancing, so we were game.

Melissa ended up having to work late, but she sent the rest of us – Tim and Tiffany from California, Tim and Eliza from Colorado and Will and me – into town and said she’d catch up with us.

We asked the other couples to join us at Chile Rojo for Strawberry Tequila shots and some fun, live classic rock. Somewhere along the way, Batman and his stunt double made an appearance:

We ended up checking out some other places (TexMex had a great band going and a couple other clubs had good DJs), but we never found Melissa. Thankfully, we found her friend, Marvin who (along with a friend of his) helped us all get home safely and in good spirits.

[For those of you who know us, it was during this ride back that Will and I started fleshing out our ideas for Chicken Karaoke, but that’s a tale for another time…]

Day 6, Fewer Pics (I promise!)