One of the things that my daughter and I did when we were getting ready for our trip was to watch videos taken in Costa Rica. We happened upon some videos from the Sloth Sanctuary in Cahuita (on the Caribbean coast), and were enchanted by the adorable, slow, gentle creatures that lived there. So getting to see a sloth in person was one of our goals.
It was a fantastic experience. There are so many places around the country competing for tourism dollars, but every indication I got from this place is that it is the real deal- they are in the business of rehabilitating sloths to return them to the wild, and providing a safe and caring home for those who can not safely live in the wild. They are also partnered with a US University to add to the research base about sloths. They are solitary animals who live in a relatively small part of the world, so not much is known about sloths at this point.
For our tour, we could either choose the 1-hour tour for $25, or the 4-hour “insider” tour for $150. Although the insider tour was spendy, we were coming all this way to see the sloth sanctuary, and we wanted to get as much out of the opportunity as possible, so that’s what we opted for. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
We arrived at the sanctuary, and first up was “Breakfast with Buttercup.” Buttercup is the first sloth that they received, and the reason for the sanctuary’s existence. She needed a home, and the grandmother took her in. They learned through trial and error how to take care of her, and over time people brought more sloths to them. That’s how the whole program got started. Buttercup was raised as a pet, since they didn’t know any better at the time, and she now lives in a hanging wicker chair in the dining room. She is 22 years old, and is still doing great!
We had an hour to enjoy breakfast, get to know the others, and take pictures of Buttercup. They served us cheese and tomato omelettes, fresh fruit, and toast. Yum! The whole mood at the place was so calm and relaxed. Grandma was making and serving breakfast, her daughter was checking people in, and the grandson was the one who would be leading the tour. Everybody there just had a very kind and relaxed air about them. Even the dogs were mellow! One was a puppy, though, and I accidentally got her riled up by petting her, so she got the zoomies and had to go calm down for a bit. But even that was handled so gently.
An hour seemed like a long time, at first, but then Buttercup woke up, and it was time for her breakfast.
We all gathered around to watch her. She would take breaks from eating to check us out, too, then swivel her long neck around to eat some more leaves.
After breakfast, we joined one of the “regular” tours to meet some of their resident sloths and learn a little bit of basic information about them. These sloths were some of the ones who had been there the longest, and weren’t candidates to go back into the wild. One of them had only three legs, for example! When he came to the sanctuary, he had a terrible infection and gangrene, and the leg had to be amputated. Another just didn’t do well at feeding herself when she was released, and would always end up sick and hungry after a few weeks. This is probably because she came to the sanctuary as a baby, and they haven’t had success in teaching sloths who were not raised in the wild by their mothers how to survive.
We learned the basics about sloths, their diet, and their anatomy, and got to ask questions. Three-fingered sloths are smaller and darker in color than two-fingered sloths. And they are not as closely related as you would think.
From there, we went into the area where they keep the young sloths (but not the true babies!). The star of the show was Jemima. She was born at the sanctuary, but rejected by her mother. Apparently, this is common when there is a deformity or other problem with the baby. In Jemima’s case, she is growing very slowly, but appears healthy otherwise. She is two years old, but is still the size of a baby, and needs a bit more care than the other sloths around her age.
They asked us not to touch the sloths, which I think is fair. This is a rescue organization, not a petting zoo, and because of sloths’ slow digestion, any fragrances, chemicals, or diseases we brought with us could do them harm, especially considering how many visitors they get on a daily basis. We did get a really up-close look at Jemima! Here she is eating a hibiscus flower.
Some of the sloths in that area also had injuries or other disabilities. One had become a paraplegic after a fall onto coral during a strong storm, for example. In the background, we also got to see several sloths out for exercise on the jungle gym.
After that, the “regular” tour group went on a canoe ride, and we got to go up to the nursery. Without a doubt, that was the best part of the tour. That was the room with their tiny, tiny baby sloths who had just come in, or who needed special care. They each had an incubator, but today was warm enough that they were out in plastic tubs on the floor instead. Apparently, they don’t climb out because they don’t like being on a flat surface.
It was heartbreaking watching all of those poor babies, most or all of them orphans! But they were absolutely adorable.
The babies who were awake were all clamoring for attention. When I went to see Pria, the three-fingered sloth, she was trying to climb out on to me. She also really wanted to know about my camera.
At that point, I had to stop the video and apologize to her for not picking her up!
This next sloth was so new that it hadn’t even been named yet.
Finally, we had to say goodbye to the babies and go to the main area where the adults were housed. Some of them were just being kept until they recovered from an injury and could go back to the wild. The ones who can’t be released will either stay there, or go to a zoo. We got to wash our hands, and feed some hibiscus to a couple of the adults. The sloths definitely will do their best to get your attention and get you to keep feeding them one they know you have treats! Their claws are better for hanging than grabbing, so you had to put the flower petals pretty much right by their mouths for them to be able to eat them easily. The one I fed did lick me a little bit when he was trying to get the flower.
Then, we got to see their medical room and xray equipment. They also had several jars of sloth fetuses that had died in utero or were stillborn. Again, the point is to increase knowledge of sloths in general so that they can be better cared for and rehabilitated.
From there, we got to go on a canoe tour of the property. It was a good chance to get a feel for the lush, tropical rainforest that we were in! There were little crabs all along the bank, and every tree was covered in other plants that were growing on it. There were howler monkeys in the trees howling at us, but I didn’t get any good photos of them.
Overall, it was a fantastic and really memorable day. I highly recommend this place to anybody who is interested in learning more about sloths.
Our family has a tradition of trying out a slice of pizza from a local place when we travel. We rate the pizza and the place, with the goal of collecting everything into a pizza/travel blog. That’s still mostly in the works, but I knew I’d need to have some pizza while I was here to carry on the tradition.
The problem is, with such a limited amount to time to try all the foods down here that aren’t available in Oregon, I just haven’t been feeling like going out for pizza. But I was sort of intrigued, because the cheese down here is so different from the cheese we have at home, so I was wondering how that would affect the pizza.
Finally, my opportunity came. I was in downtown fairly late (for me), and was likely to get home after dinner. My bus drove past an open pizza place, about a block from my stop. Nice!
It was pretty similar to any other city pizza place I’ve been to- slices up front, you order what you want and they reheat it in the oven. And it was cheap! A huge slice was a bit less than $2.50, and it was about 20 cents more if you wanted the drink of the day with it (in this case, iced tea),
The slice itself was good but not great. The crust was excellent- thin and crispy, but bready enough to fold. The sauce was pretty good, but a little sweeter than I prefer. In general, it seems like Costa Ricans like their foods to be very sweet, so that makes sense. It had a good onion flavor.
The cheese was a disappointment, though. There just wasn’t much of it. The white specks you see on the slice were cheese, plus I think there was a little bit of another clear, melty kind on it, but very light. In general, the cheese here doesn’t have a strong flavor, so especially since it was really light, it just got lost in the slice itself. I even tried to pick off some cheese to eat it separately, but it still didn’t have much flavor to it.
The good news, I guess, is that this means the slice was not very greasy at all and probably pretty healthy. But I still would have liked to have had more cheese on it! I will have to try another place now just to see if it was a trend, or just the way that they made it at this particular place.
Condiments were your standard red peppers and parmesan cheese.
It’s tough to see from this shot, but in addition to the pre-made combos you can order, they also had hamburgers, hot dogs, and (of course) gallo pinto for breakfast.
As far as the pizza goes, one thing I noticed was that they didn’t have a plain cheese slice available, or a plain pizza on the menu with any sort of “build your own” toppings. It was buy one of their combos, or nothing. The margarita would be the closest to plain cheese pizza if you ordered a whole pie, but they didn’t have a slice of it. I got a slice of their veggie, of course. It will be interesting to see if other places do it the same way.
Looking forward to trying a second place out and having a comparison!
In Costa Rica, there is a tradition of walking to the Basilica in Cartago on or around August 2. It’s believed that a miracle occurred at that spot on Aug. 2, some 400 years ago. Over 2 million people do the walk each year, which is pretty significant in a country with fewer than 5 million residents! People walk to give thanks, or they walk to petition for something. Or, they walk for the experience. Some people walk barefoot at least part of the way. People generally walk from their homes if they are physically able to do so.
My family was planning to do the walk Friday night. My host sister worked that day, so the plan was for her to come home and grab a nap before heading out. I decided to do the same. I had already covered about 12 miles earlier in the day between my run and an errand, so getting some rest would be a good thing! My family prefers to walk at night because it’s cooler and less crowded.
We left just before 9:00 PM. I walked with my host sister. Her mom and a neighbor walked at a slower pace. The first part of the walk was pretty quiet, because we were just walking through the regular neighborhood at night. Gradually, we started to see more and more small groups of “romeros” (pilgrims), but we were all pretty spread out.
We walked for about an hour before we joined up with the main route that was full of people. They had closed off the “old highway” between San Jose and Cartago, and this was where people were walking. This part was also the route by the start of the half marathon that I ran a couple of weeks ago, but in reverse. So all of those nice downhills from the start of the race were now gradual uphills. Still, it’s not such a big deal when you’re walking. We walked at a brisk but not killer page, enough for me to have a light sweat in the humidity. As we got closer, the crowds made it tough to keep pace.
We met up with two friends of my host sister at a grocery store. I got a Nescafe and some bread to munch along the way.
In general, it felt like a big party. The people who were out were generally young, healthy, and excited, although I think that has a lot to do with the time of day more than anything. There were a bunch of street vendors, or course, selling water, meat-on-a-stick, rosaries, and various other snacks. There were a couple of people selling shoes or bags, in case yours had worn out along the way. Bars along the route seemed to be doing pretty brisk business as well. There were also stages set up along the way with performers who alternated between singing, encouraging people, and asking for donations.
Here is a video from one of the stages/donation areas. Remember, this is the middle of the night!
As we went, it started getting steeper, and people got quieter. The area around Ochomogo was particularly desolate and steep. Every now and then, a happy group would come through singing or praying or something,
We stopped a few times to use the bathrooms. The lines got longer the closer you got.
As we got closer, my heel was starting to bug me. I had dealt with some plantar fasciitis in the winter, and could feel it sort of creeping back. I stretched my calves every time we stopped. My hip had also really been bothering me on my run earlier in the day. I could feel it on the walk, but it didn’t really hurt. I do think it gave me a funky stride.
My walking companions were doing pretty well. They, and apparently everybody else, used a lot of some stuff that smelled like Vapor Rub on their sore muscles. It seemed to come in a gel and a spray, and the air was thick with it. But as we got closer, one of our group got pretty bad stomach cramps. She was walking and clutching her stomach. We slowed way down, and made several stops.
Video of the crowd going by. Note the striped polo shirts (previous post) and the vapor rub stuff.
This was about the time that my “I’ve covered a ton of miles today” hunger started to kick in. Plus, now that we were coming into Cartago, there were more and more places selling food. But with my host sister on a diet and one member of our party feeling sick, this wasn’t the time to start eating like a marathoner in training. I bought a small package of cookies while we were at a potty stop, and hoped we would maybe get food at the end.
Once we arrived at the basilica, my companions looked at the crowd and decided not to try to go in. It was almost 3 AM, so we had been walking for about 6 hours, including the stops, of course. I am guessing that it would have been another hour to actually get inside. According to mapmyrun, I think we covered about 13.5 miles, and with a total elevation gain of 1,370 feet.
You can’t really see it from the picture, but there were two entrances, one to enter on foot, the other on your knees. The truly devout go on their knees from the doorway to the altar.
Without going in, the trip was just sort of over at that point. Maybe because I didn’t take part in the prayer with my companions, it didn’t really feel like we came to the end, it just sort of felt like we stopped.
Then it was time to look for a bus back home. My dreams of food were fading, since the one girl was really not feeling well.
We milled about for a while, then lucked into a bus that was filling up and about to head to San Jose. It was about $4, which is more than double what the regular price would have been. I dozed a bit on the bus, since it was stop and go the whole way back.
We got off at a place I didn’t recognize, and hopped into a “pirate” taxi. Luckily I was with a resident! I kept my mouth shut and pretended to know what I was doing. The taxi was about $6 for a 5-minute ride. Again, way more than usual, but it was really nice to get back home!
We got in a little bit after 4:30. I pretty much headed straight for bed. It’s been a long time since I’ve been up that late, if you don’t count the redeye flight to get here!
1. Talking about doing something and actually doing it are different things.
Meaning, don’t take it for granted that somebody will do something just because they said they would. The world of words and the world of actions don’t always connect; it’s not an intentional slight. On that note, if you really need something to get done, do it yourself rather than getting upset while waiting for somebody to do it for you. At the very least, have a plan B.
This also applies to big things. They tried to build a church in Cartago, for example, but something kept going wrong to prevent it from being completed. So they eventually decided that it wasn’t meant to be, stopped trying to build it, and left the unfinished “ruins” in the middle of town. They are famous and not really viewed as a failure at all. Half-finished was just they way it was supposed to be. The ruins are even featured on one of the country’s bills.
2. When you leave the house, take everything with you that you might possibly need, because you can’t be sure where you will end up going (or what the weather will be like).
This kind of goes along with #1. The plan when you leave the house, and where you actually end up going or what you end up doing might be different. Also, when plans change, people don’t feel the need to announce it or even mention it at all. There might be a text or “WhatsApp” message that causes the plans to change, and no discussion at all.
3. Feel free to enjoy letting the day develop and see what comes up
Because people here are comfortable with plans changing and don’t feel as bound by something they might have talked about doing earlier, if you can relax and go with the flow, you might end up doing or seeing interesting things that you never could have planned.
4. If you’re planning something, people will want to talk about it
Even though you might end up somewhere completely different than what you expected when out for an afternoon car ride, if you are planning to go somewhere a few days off, expect people to want to know every single detail of your plans: when you’re leaving, how you’re getting there (and how long it will take), what route you’re taking, where you’re staying, where you’re going to eat, and how much you are paying.
Every little detail will be open for discussion, and people will happily share their opinion about it. For example, I am planning a trip to the Limón area next week. Naturally, I got advice and suggestions from the people who live in the house here. But, the family also made sure to check in with their son who lives up in Heredia and the neighbor from across the street. Some people’s advice might contradict others’, for example, there are varying opinions on whether it’s easier or harder to drive a stick shift car on the roads around here. But, that just makes for a more interesting discussion, right?
Of course, since the world of words and the world of actions don’t always connect, I can happily listen to the advice, chime in with questions, but then end up doing things differently, and that won’t be an issue. They might roll their eyes if it seems like I’m not getting a good enough deal on something, though. For example, I made a hotel reservation already, and the general opinion seems to be that I did sort of OK, but maybe could have done better. But since it’s done, it’s done, so let’s talk about what time is absolutely best to leave in the morning to avoid fog in the hills on the road, whether it’s worth it to go through Limón on the way back just to see it, and whether tractor trailers on the road are friends or foes.
When I get back, everybody who had an opinion on my plans will also want to know how it actually went, and will be happy to share their opinion on whether I did things “right” or “wrong”! But that’s just the world of words again, and certainly no offense is meant. It’s just that you share those details of your life with those around you, and people talk pretty openly about each other and their opinions.
Although I do not plan to eat at any fast food places while I’m here, I do think it’s interesting to look at what chains are here, and how they are different than what we have in the USA. For what it’s worth, I did not see ANY major chains while I was in the south, so obviously this doesn’t apply to that area.
First, convenience stores. The most common store is a local chain called Musmanni. They are like a convenience store, but with the bread of a panadería. I like the combo! I feel like you can find one of these on every other block. The second most common convenience store is probably AM/PM. Those are all over the place, too. But I haven’t see any 7-11s.
As far as fast tood goes, I feel like there are all the major chains from the US, plus extra chicken stores that are either local or from somewhere else. At least judging by the restaurants and food places I see around, they really love to eat chicken here.
McDonalds is all over the place, and they all have a “postres” kiosk in the front of the store that sells ice cream cones and other desserts. These are always really busy. I would almost say that they sell more ice cream here than burgers and fries.
Burger King has a “Whopper Tico.” Basically, they took a whopper and added some local things to it: salsa Lizano, natilla (something in between mayo and sour cream), beans, and crispy tortilla strips.
Wendy’s has the “Fut Box.” This appears to be a regular fast food meal, plus a cup of rice and chili, served in a box with world cup flags (for a limited time, but I’m still seeing it around).
Many fast food places advertise that they serve gallo pinto for breakfast, or a “casado” for lunch- basically taking whatever they serve, such as chicken, and adding it to a plate of rice and beans to call it a casado.
And, of course, there are the pizza chains. Papa John’s and Pizza Hut are the two most common ones, I think.
Finally, there are the little storefronts downtown that have a variety of greasy fried stuff for sale over the counter.
Definitely plenty of options to get your fried food fix at any time of day!
I feel like I am getting accustomed to being here and am losing that feeling I had of everything being new. It’s not that I won’t always be a foreigner here, that is not going to change. But I feel like I know more or less what to expect as I go through my daily routines.
This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages, of course, are that I’m not needing to go through my day on a constant state of high alert, watching and paying attention to every single thing just to get by. That was mentally taxing and made for some silly mistakes!
When you are needing to pay strict attention to everything, sometimes you miss the obvious. Your brain just can’t process everything at that level of intensity. But there is so much to take in at the beginning that you do your best. You have to watch out for big things like where you live and how to get back there, and little things like what a telephone sounds like when a call is going through compared to not connecting. Big things like which way to look to see if traffic is coming your way, to little things like how to keep your coins and bills organized when you’re working with a new currency.
One of the first things I needed to do here was to buy shampoo and conditioner, because I had only brought enough to get me through the first couple of days. At the time, I was proud of myself because I had figured out the location of a supermarket that I could get to on my own. But when I walked in, I was instantly mesmerized by all of the different products that were there and how they were organized. Both the similarities and the differences were fascinating. I walked up and down the aisles checking out everything.
What it meant, though, was that I accidentally bought two bottles of shampoo instead of shampoo and conditioner! It’s not that I didn’t know the word for each, they’re pretty much cognates. I think it’s just that once I was finally doing a familiar task, like grabbing a product off the shelf (after quite a long time reading labels, comparing brands, and figuring out prices), my brain gave itself a little break and went into autopilot. I grabbed the bottles that were side-by-side on the shelf, not even noticing that they were both identical. Since I have heard that conditioner doesn’t help much here anyway because of the humidity (and the desire to get out of the shower as quickly as possible), I have just been going without conditioner. But I have more shampoo than I need!
The early days were filled with those kind of mistakes. Right before I left, I had listed to a This American Life podcast that had an old episode with David Sedaris, when he was living in Paris. He said something like being a foreigner means suffering countless little humiliations as you go through your day. It means altering what you do sometimes in favor of routes, products, or people that are easy, familiar, or nice. This is exactly what I felt like at first, and I had to remind myself that it was totally normal.
Riding the bus had me in a constant state of high alert. I had this borderline panicky feeling that I was being whisked off at high speeds to parts unknown. This was made worse because I didn’t know what the different places were called, or where any one place was in relation to another. Even if I asked somebody, I might get an answer that was full of locations that means nothing to me. I had to remind myself all the time to relax, because even if I was on the wrong bus and heading in the wrong direction, I could always get back on a bus heading the other way, or at worst get in a cab and get back home that way. But I studied, studied, studied all of the landmarks as they went by, and then went home and studied Google maps.
Compare that to yesterday. I had to get out to Sabanilla, and then to Pavas, and I hadn’t been to either place before. First of all, I counted it as a victory that I knew I needed to get to Sabanilla at all. The student’s “cantón” was listed as Montes de Oca. And even though I haven’t been there before, I knew enough to look at the “address” to find a more specific location. In this case, the house was within a kilometer of the iglesia de Sabanilla. And every little town has a catholic church and a park more or less at the center. So I was heading towards the center of Sabanilla, clearly. Google helped me out, because somebody had uploaded a picture of the church so that I would recognize it when I went by (we were likely to go past several different churches, and they don’t all have signs).
So I knew that I would need to get downtown and board a bus to Sabanilla. I couldn’t see any Sabanilla stops on the map, but I knew it was close to San Pedro, and I was familiar with those buses. Also, the local buses that are going to a similar part of town all tend to leave from the same general area. So I went to the San Pedro bus stop. I noticed that none of the buses on that block said Sabanilla, so I asked the bus monitor guy. Sabanilla buses were around the corner – easy!
I am getting familiar enough with the area that I can watch for my own landmarks, I recognized San Pedro, of course, and knew enough about scale that I had a sense of when we should be getting into Sabanilla. Because of that, I hadn’t asked the driver anything when I got on the bus, and wasn’t needing to count on anybody to tell me when to get off. I did have a minor feeling of panic that maybe the bus wouldn’t go past the church (which is utterly silly, since that would be the center of town), or that I had missed it somehow, but I was able to push that feeling aside fairly easily and trust that I knew what I was doing.
Sure enough, some of the businesses started having “Sabanilla” in their name, and after a few more minutes the church came into sight. Then, the landmark that I had decided would be my cue to get off the bus. I was there! I did need to call the family to get directions from that point, but I think that’s par for the course when visiting anybody around here.
Getting to Pavas later was a similar experience. I knew what direction it was from downtown, and figured that the buses would leave from the area of the Coca Cola bus terminal. So I headed over there, and asked when I got close. Again, I was a block away from the bus stop when I asked. On the next block, there was a line of people at the bus stop. I asked the woman in front of me, and it wasn’t a Pavas bus, but a Lomas bus.
I still don’t know where Lomas is, because I haven’t needed to, but I know that I’ve seen both bus lines in the same general area, and I also knew that the place I was going wasn’t that far away, so they probably split off after my destination. With that knowledge, I was content to just get on the bus. I could always get back off if I needed to. But the woman wanted to check in. I wasn’t trying to get to downtown Pavas, was I? I described my destination by the closest landmark I knew, and she nodded. As I had suspected, this bus would work just fine.
So, it’s not that I don’t need to do my homework as I am planning my trips for the day. I still study the maps at home, just not as much, and I bring my notepad with little notes in it so that I have a reference when I need it when I’m out. But once I am out and about, I don’t need that super high level of concentration to do what I need to do. I am not as likely to sit down on a seat with gum stuck to it because I am so busy studying the dynamics of bus seating that I am paying attention to every little thing about the bus other than the condition of the seat.
That’s not to say I don’t miss my stop sometimes. On Monday I went past my home bus stop by accident, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that. When it’s dark and rainy and the windows fog up, sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between the stop where I need to get off and the one right before it. And getting off too soon means that I have to walk past a busy gas station with lots of cars turning in. So I waited, and ended up going too far. That’s a pain because I then have to walk back down and up a hill, and over a bridge to get to where I need to go. But it’s also not the end of the world either.
Of course, now that I’ve said all of this out loud, I may be setting myself up for getting completely and hopelessly lost. That’s the way things work, right? Overconfidence can lead to trouble! Today, I need to head to San Rafael de Arriba, and I am pretty sure that I know how to get there, even though I’ve never been. We will see!