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...