Saturday, April 21, 2012

Slothing it in Costa Rica

One may think to themself, if one ever sat around pondering the living habits of the three-toed sloth, that taking care of a sloth is a rather simple job. The downtime involved in the care of the worlds notoriously lazy, slow, and stupid animals must be immense. I mean really, one might think to ones self, how hard could it possibly be?

On September 15, (a date I remember because it is my best friends birthday, and rather than get him a present, I fled the country) I left on a plane to Central America. Having never been farther south than the ultra americanized Rocky Point, Mexico, I had no inkling of what to expect from a "developing" country. Not only was I flying alone, a young girl, but I also had the extreme benefit of knowing very little Spanish.
I somehow managed to sit next to the only English speaking people on the plane and struck up a conversation. They represented a Christian organization, Boy With A Ball, that sends people into the slums of Costa Rica to help improve literacy, income, and the standard of living. They were a God-send!
I admit, I was not terrified, I was desperately under-prepared and over-packed, but for some strange reason I was not afraid. Looking back, I believe I should have been. Perhaps that terror would have come later had I not gathered advice from the two sitting next to me, along with a business card. On that card was my eventuality hotline: call this number if anything happens and someone will come get you.
Now I was truely set, and better prepared.
The shuttle ride to the hotel was a shock. I was picked up at the airport, I spent my first Colones tipping the guy what I assumed to be a few dollars but discovered later to be equivalent to six. I am only glad I didnt have bigger bills. The capital San Jose slid past in the dark windows, there was only rusty tin, dilipitated buildings, a smattering of animals, and the very loud sound of soccer being played over the radio. The driver didn't speak a word to me.
When I arrived at the hotel I found that everyone spoke English, even the man who drove me, he was just absorbed by the "Futbol" game. My computer chose to spend the entire night updating itself rather than allow me to tell my worrying father that my plane had not crashed into a volcano and I was not out in the middle of the jungle fighting tooth and claw with whatever goes bump in the night. He did not know I was safe until the next morning.

For breakfast I consumed delicious rice and beans that would become fond friends by the end of my stay in Central America. To anyone who goes to Costa Rica I recommend two places in San Jose. Hotel Brilla Sol, and Costa Rica Backpackers. Both pick up at the airport, and they are very helpful to foreigners.

Travel Tip: if you are alone and wish to meet other travelers, pick up a Lonely Planet guide book and pick any hostel within its pages, you are sure to discover at least five others who arrived in similar fashion. If you wish to avoid tourists, I also recommend you pick up a Lonely Planet guidebook and go anywhere not mentioned within it's pages. Can't find a Lonely Planet guidebook? Don't fear, there are at least three on the shelves of every "take a copy, leave a copy" book shelf in Costa Rica.
I was learning quickly in Costa Rica, but nothing could prepare me for my first cab ride. I feared my imminent death, multiple times barely evading it as we slid through the streets. My cab driver spoke not a lick of English, and he had no qualms against honking at ambulances and going around cops that drove too slowly. I arrived at my bus stop shaken, but in one piece. Although my driver had no idea where I was to go, he merely rolled down his window, honked his horn and shouted until someone gave him vague directions. The instructions became more and more concrete, and then we arrived.
I think I paid him way too much, and then I was off again.
It only took a week to understand the currency, but by then it was too late. I had already spent too much.
Besides the age, money, language, and lack of sufficient research barrier, I was a trailblazer hopping on a bus  and full of hope for the adventures to come. Sloth Sanctuary, here I come! I mean really, how hard could it be?

Here is what I posted on my facebook:
I can not sleep tonight. After seeing a giant cockroach in my bed I went to the bathroom to get something to help transport the roach outdoors. In the bathroom I found a lizard, two more roaches, and a spider the size of my palm. I figure I will just sit in a wooden chair in the middle of the room and never sleep again. I looked under the chair and found six more spiders!

I was tramatized. Luckly two Germans (of kind heart and fearless stock) walked by and rescued me from the roaches. 
I think I will go to sleep now before I find any more wildlife in my room. Oh! and Lucy Cooke is here! The Amphibian Avenger who I wrote that article about in the school newspaper... I am too awestruck to say hello.

I do not know what I was anticipating thinking there would be no bugs in the jungle. I was much better prepared for them after that incident and less affected by their presence. There is something unsettling about a bug when it is not welcome, and something equally entertaining about one when it is expected.

Lucy Cooke turned out to be less than exciting. Don't get me wrong, her writing is good and her cause is worthy, I simply did not like her. After watching her antics with the sloths I wrote some less than nice things about her. I never did speak to her, Mayra Mayor was just bumped up the list of my favorite and inspirational travel writers. I follow her on twitter, and she seems funny, Lucy Cooke however...
Jeff (don't worry you don't know him) caught a snake with his bare hands and got bit today, THEN we found out it wasn't poisonous. Also, Animal Planet recorded two wild sloths having sex. Since the picture wasn't good, they staged two of the captive sloths fornicating in a much shorter tree. Gotta love real life documentaries!
The Sloths at Aviaros Sloth Sanctuary are beautiful by the way. Think of every thing you know about sloths- lazy, dumb, blind, slow, mean, silent- and just empty your head of them. Some of what you may know is speculation, most of it is entirely wrong, and the bits that are correct are so few it would just be better to forget that too and relearn. Trust me. All literature on sloths is riddled with untruths, wikipedia is a joke, and even zoologists have a lot to recalibrate on the issue. Apparently sloths are so unimportant that most 'facts' were derived from speculation and never tested. Information on diet, anatomy, personality, growth, and interaction are all conjecture. Just think of all the other 'facts' we know about other animals that are accepted and not tested. There is probably a book waiting to happen there.

Even the names of sloths are wrong. There is the Three-toed Bradypus sloth and the two-toed Choleopus sloth that are  native to costa rica. From the names one might assume that sloths vary primarially by the number of toes they have. Well, all sloths have three toes. It is the fingers that vary. And no, sloths do not have four legs making the front ones toes anyway, sloths have very distinctive arms and legs. Perhaps later I shall post a new guide to sloths, but my favorite part about the little guys is that each sloth has a unique and very strong personality. Three fingered sloths love to give hugs, but only three of the 140 sloths at the sanctuary would do anything to climb around on a human tree. One such sloth is named Wall-E.

I walked through the jungle today with a sloth clinging to my waist. It broke my heart when I had to put him back in his cage because after that small taste of freedom he clung to me with all of his sloth strength and left three puffy welts on my sides. He then pouted in a corner, and despite the scratches I wanted to pick him back up again. 
I have also been biten by a baby sloth, so I am officially a sloth wrangler!

This is me with the sloth that bit me, Harpo. He is my darling, and although a little snappy, he only bites when you don't give him enough attention.
Sloths changed my life in only one week, and I have fallen in love with not only the work, cleaning, feeding, and preparing food for them...

But also with the sloths themselves...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Whitney and Ally's excellent adventure:

In lieu of past promises to myself to go on a road trip after graduating the public institution the United States so satirically calls high school, I have left my house in a caravan of one to see the world. Well, as much of the world that is to be seen by two girls traversing the mountainous trail from Arizona to Canada.

Packed to capacity and ready to go
Day one on the journey began at seven A.M.
Waking up to the ill-timed alarm clock that interrupted my dreams of an industrial park labyrinth, I rolled out of bed and began loading the Honda Odyssey. Day one of the journey began with a groan, and a shuffle, and absolutely no breakfast or a shower. Despite the downfalls that mornings generally offer, I left the house with a smile and skedaddled off to my travelmateWhitney's house to load the cooler and pick up some of her things. Whitney is my best friend, a talented and beautiful blond of whom I met one fateful afternoon in Montessori school when she stole the toy I was playing on. Apparently she charmed me later that afternoon because when I got home from school I told my parents, in that cute fashion that only three year old girls can accomplish, "I met this girl named Whitney, and she's lovely!" And we've been best friends ever since, causing havoc and mayhem, breaking hearts and spinning tales every day since, until one day (today) we awoke to find ourselves ready to drive five thousand miles armed only with mace and hiking boots.
When I finished loading the car this morning, it contained much more than we could possibly ever need on a three month journey, let alone the three week one we had planned! The back of the van was outfitted, complete with a mattress and a cooler. Our elegant chariot of comfort awaited.
Gassing the van for the ride up!

The best stories are those where everything goes wrong, the protagonist overcomes obstacles, and in the end lives for ever after in a rather happy fashion. Fortunately for Whitney and I, the day went smoothly: we went to church, met to coolest christian biker gang on this hemisphere, Whitney sang and played piano for worship, our friends prayed over us, my parents and my sister bought us a delicious sushi lunch, and at one'o'clock we filled the tank with gas and made our way, without peril, to Whittier, California.
Leaving Arizona

The California/Arizona border

Passing some patriots on the way. And yes, their liscense plate does, in fact, say "Ah-MUR-can!"
The road ahead. I'll look at that as a good omen.

Whitney has a fuzz on her toenail... oops

We listened to an audio book about finance and Wall Street on the way, and made it to the door of her Great Aunt Carols house in one piece. All on a single tank of gas, I may add.

We were greeted by a friendly house in a nice neighborhood. Upon entering the house we found we were not the only guests to inhabit the space. Situated neatly on shelves, in display cases, in corners, lining walls, on beds, and tables, and even filling boxes in the garage, were the beautifully painted, blank eyed, soulless stares of a thousand porcelain dolls. All were elegantly clad, and nicely displayed, the house had become a museum.




And a puppy..
Carol and her husband Joe, and her son Matt, had prepared a wonderful dinner of ham, green beans, sweet potatoes, noodle casserole, bread, and for dessert, jello with marshmallows on top.
We ended the night walking through the neighborhood, taking a few pictures of the cute houses (which didn't come out), and some funny signs.

One of the funny signs
Then we came back and talked to Carol, Joe, and Matt until eleven. It was a beautiful start to a wonderful adventure. Tomorrow we will hit the beach, making sure to leave after nine so as not to hit the traffic for which LA is known so well. As an author, everything going so well makes a rubbish story, but for an adventurer, the reality was some kind of wonderful.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back from Alabama, to Colorado and the little hipster town that threatens to make me settle down and open a bakery

As I was flying home from Alabama I discovered, in a moment of panic and disgust, that I had a stowaway attached to the nape of my neck. While running my travel weary fingers through my hair I discovered, to my horror and bewilderment, that a tick had burrowed its way into my head and was feeding on my life fluids. Not only that, but I had been to the woods three days before, a calculation that meant that I had a parasite living comfortably at the base of my skull for three days! The worst part however, was the realization that I had one more hour on the plane accompanied only by a plump tick and a woman from Uruguay who spoke three words of English, and every other word of Spanish that she uttered escaped her lips in a whisper. I can understand more Spanish than I can speak. Unfortunately, I was unable to relate that knowledge to her, being vastly unaware of how to say, "I can understand you if you talk louder than the stream of air shooting from the vents."
It was fun talking to her. Taking half an hour to discover her country of origin, and another half hour understanding that she was flying to Phoenix in order to see her sons, took my mind off of the little conniving pest attached to my brain stem. I could almost feel its manacle laughter, "Ha Ha Ha, I'm eating your BRAIN!" I've never had much respect for zombie ticks.
Which is why I did what I did when I got home.
After declaring loudly to everyone that I had a stowaway attached to me, one that had somehow managed to get through airport security, my mother, born and raised in Mississippi, escorted me outside to perform surgery. A hot needle, tweezers, soap, and a lot of wincing later, I had the tick in my possession, rather than the other way around. I snapped a few pictures, and then, in cold blooded revenge, I soaked him in alcohol on the tip of a q-tip and lit him on fire. It was not as epic as I had imagined, more of a sizzle than an explosion, but it made me feel better.
I then dumped the contents of my suitcase into the washing machine, refolded everything, and packed for my five A.M. drive the next morning.
Durango Colorado is beautiful, and entirely worth the twelve hour van ride north. I spent one beautiful week walking the streets, and living in the not so beautiful dorms of Fort Lewis College. For some reason, I am entirely fine with sleeping in dilapidated surroundings in a third world situation. Sleeping in tents outside doesn't bother me. Sure, I am not a fan of bugs (ticks especially) but I am fine with their presence when I expect them. However, sleeping in a dirty, human-fecal-matter-smelling, human-tooth-on-the-window-sill-next-to-large-unidentifiable-stains, type rooms, when expecting something nicer, gives me the literal heebie-jeebies. Now, I don't know if any of you have ever had the heebie-jeebies, but I had shivers going down my spine almost to the point of convulsions.
Needless to say, I went to bed late, and woke up early, spending as little time as possible in those prison cell rooms. If ever in Durango, the best way to spend a day is to start early, drink the worlds best coffee at Durango Joe's (it's legendary), walk the town and see all of the tribal Asian shops, admire the cute houses and boutiques, count how many people have dread-locks and skateboards, watch people water their lawns in a very 1950's suburban America fashion, and then have lunch at one of the many delicious local restaurants, have a swim in the river, and end the day looking down at the town from the college in the sky, Fort Lewis, that looks down over the entire city. The town is so beautiful, young and local friendly that it makes me want to live there, settling down into that domestic American lifestyle that is so symbolic of the American Dream. Durango Colorado is my favorite town in the world, just waiting for me to settle down and open a bakery. If you know me, you know that settling down is the last thing on my mind, but I feel as if part of my soul belongs there. I will always go back, and if not to settle down, then at least for another cup of Durango Joe's legendary coffee. I have a loyalty card there, and I only go once a year. Already, I can't wait until next summer. If I can't go back as a leader for my churches youth group, then I will find a way. Who knows, maybe one day I will open a bakery there. I have always wanted to buy a human-sized bag of flour!


Right now I find myself enjoying a quiet evening in the garden behind the house I am staying in in Alabama. It is very beautiful here, especially now after it has been raining all afternoon. I can hear birds twittering away in the trees. And Oh! the trees! They do transport me back in time, imposing upon me their ancient timelessness as they stand in the woods. I may sound like a poetic sap, but when I am standing, surrounded in greenery and the skittering of animals underfoot, the gentle humming of insects seeking to drain my body of blood, the soft wind rustling the leaves and erasing the gentle and distant murmur of traffic, I feel as if I have stepped back in time to a place where clocks have no meaning and life is eternal and ever present.
I have noticed that Alabama can only be seen in small sections. The trees themselves act as a barrier that hide the world. I am not accustomed to so much green! I live in the desert of Arizona, I can stand on my roof and on a clear day see most of the state. From the mountain tops that surround the valley of the sun, as Phoenix is so affectionately named, my eyes travel the distance of many miles in a single glance, seeing the entirety of the valley. But here, on the wooded land of Alabama within the humid American south, beauty can only be appreciated one tree at a time. The roads curve gently through the land, unfolding the sights to be seen a few feet at a time. Entire cities are hidden by a curve in the road, and equally erased by another.
The sun is setting, and the lightning bugs are emerging. Small floating stars float among the green landscape. When the sun sets, an entire molten universe will appear in the trees. The flashing disarray that is the dance of the lightning bugs is fascinating to behold, each one illuminated for only a second, but replaced by scores more. The night sky may be covered by the green ceiling of the leaves, but there are more stars fluttering about the foliage that make up for the lack of sky. Most of the bugs here are fascinating in their own right. I have seen beautiful butterflies that land and fold their wings only to look like a splinter of wood. I have seen stick bugs, and ants the size of cashews. There have been grasshoppers that are shaped like leaves, and spiders of every shape and size. Some spiders look like little floating balls suspended by eight long spindly stilts, others walk on the surface of water, skittering about as if on dry land. I have seen winged ants, bright blue bugs, lady bugs with more spots than red, ticks, and giant beetles.
There are so many animals as well, deer, hawks, egrets, great horned owls, cardinals, snakes, and the cutest little toads that are the size of the tip of my thumb.
Alabama has been such a beautiful experience for me, being surrounded by so much beauty is mesmerizing. Audrey, the wonderful woman who I am living with (along with her husband Mike and three dogs Mario, Louie, and Molly) , has taken me on hikes to see caves, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife, and stone quarries. The house here is lovely, situated on a hill that looks out over a beautiful lake, they have boats, a tree house, a barn, a trail that goes up the mountain, and a basement with the most comfortable couch in the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay here in America's South, and I am sad that I will be leaving it in two days. Although, it will be nice to escape the bites of mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Adventure Now.

My life has been composed of a series of adventures. Not in the exotic sense of the word where I embark on long journeys to vast lands on a quest to discover and catalog every new species I come into contact with. I see adventures through the less glorious, entirely amused eyes of a twelve year old. My ventures would take me across town to the wilds of Turtle Park where I would ride one of those namesake metal turtles into the unknown lands of... the rest of turtle park. Since they were statues, my turtle would usually not take me so far as I would like, but drop me off with quite the walk ahead of me.
In summers I have explored every inch of my town on roller blades, bikes, or simple afternoon constitutionals, and I have, rather illegally, gotten to know the grounds of the golf course in the center of my town very well. Midnight tours and mid day adventures have allowed me to grow accustomed to the playground that is eighteen holes surrounded in a myriad of trees, ponds, and sidewalks.
As I grew older, theatrical fishing expeditions in makeshift lakes (pools of rainwater on the side of the road inhabited only by dirt), extended off-trail hikes, and distant ventures to the Grand Canyon and California without parental supervision, became my outlet for adventure.
And now I am eighteen, and my scope for travel has widened, my wanderlust has blossomed, and I am ready to face the world. High school has stopped me for four years, and I am afraid that four years of college will kill my desire to travel. Or even worse, I will have dreamed for so long, and studied for four more years to become a travel journalist, only to go out into the wild and discover that my hate of bugs does not overcome my desire to see the world. That would be a horrid realization and a waste of study. I need to be sure of my desires, and I need to rekindle my passions. So I have decided (even after getting into the school of my dreams!) to take some time off of college and visit some of the planet we call home.
Currently I am in Alabama, getting eaten alive by bugs, seeing more water and lovely green trees than I ever knew existed, and meeting some of the nicest, most polite, god fearing, sweet tea drinking people on the face of the planet. Next week I will take a stroll through Colorado, and then it will be off to work to fund my next great adventure.
On September Fifteenth I will leave Phoenix Arizona, the desert oven that I call home, and make my way south to Costa Rica! While in that beautiful land that is full of beautiful people I will be caring for my favorite animals, the two and three toed Sloths, and then help out at a Sea Turtle conservation project. I will be away from home and alone in the wild for two and a half months.
All my adventures will be recorded here.
And then, I will go to college.