Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Costa Rica Experience

Costa Rica is a hub of international travelers, backpackers, nomads of likes no different than Europe. I was blown away immediately by the prices and how easily I was being ripped off by taxis and hostel owners (being New Years and all). I have only been alone one night since I´ve arrived and that was more intentional than anything. I arrived in San Jose and took a bus and a taxi to a couchsurfer´s house to find two other couchsurfers already there. One from Czech Republic and the other from France. I spent New Years on a beach with the Czech girl and two random girls from Norway. I shared a cockroach ridden room that consisted of only three mattresses on the floor, no room for our stuff in the room with Czech girl and two Australians, no blankets or pillows and was charged $8. I was relieved to arrive at Rainsong Sanctuary and stay in one place for a while.

My intentions with the volunteering was to practice my Spanish and work with animals. I ended up doing more planting and gardening than anything and no other volunteers spoke much Spanish. However, it was fun in its own right. There were loads of problems with the place in which I won´t talk much about because it only means something to those of us who volunteered, but what I got out of it was meeting some interesting people from all of the states and Canada and an opportunity to literally play with exotic animals. There was a Kinkajou (a nocturnal creature that was utterly adorable) who had been electrocuted, a one armed white faced monkey that was in his sexual state of being and thus liked to affectionately bite the ladies, an ocelot which is a cheetah looking cat that is a bit bigger than a house cat but smaller than a cheetah who had been hit by a car and was missing an eye, 4 baby porcupines the size of a fat house cat, a baby anteater about the same size, two parrots, a toucan that can´t fly, a skunk, raccoons, two baby deer, loads of parakeets, 30 some red river turtles, and baby chickens and a guinea pig for the kitty to eat. There was a separate farm that had peacocks, birds, chickens, and god knows what else. When I was up there I was only working it plants.

During my week there I visited a three tiered waterfall, the last and tallest you could hang over the drop point and look straight down. People jumped off the middle one and there was a rope swing at the top pool. (Three pools below each fall). We had to hike in jungle like vegetation to get there which was fun. I snorkeled three times, twice with locals. The two times with locals was to go fishing with spear guns, homemade ones. Both guys got a fish but we only ate one that night. I don´t know the name of it but it was big and red and tasted more like chicken than fish and was very filling. Had loads of bond fires on the beach or at the hut on a hill, with a clear sky overhead every night.

It was so humid in Cabuya I was sticky all the time. It was also incredibly hot. There is a hole in the ozone layer here so I was constantly globed in sunscreen and seeking shade all day. However, days are short. The sun rises at 5am and sets around 5pm, so once its dark there´s suddenly nothing to do. Most volunteers went to bed at 8:30 or so. This is their summer as well, the dry season. Things in Cabuya and with Rainsong were spaced out so I walked a lot. The beach was very very very rocky, dangerous to swim in and shouldn´t be walked in without shoes so there weren´t many foreigners hanging around. The bugs were super cool. We had two places to stay, the long-termers stayed way up in a hut that was a haven for everything cool and weird. There were walking sticks, bugs that looked like leaves, crazy unidentifiable and terrifying ones, large harmless spiders that were kind of pretty, a boa constrictor, and just tons of stuff. There was also a national park that we walked through, took two hours or so to walk to the end of the trail to the beach there. We saw howler monkeys and white faced monkeys and things unidentifiable by us. However, this park, which is basically preserved rainforest, was the most humid part. It wasn´t a hike for the unfit either. I think I lost five pounds in sweat alone.

The worst part about being here is I am some how prone to mosquito and bed bug bites. Not just a few, but lots that swell and become excruciatingly itchy. My feet were attacked this time by both. I wore a smokey smelling top to bed that protected my upper body. No one else had problems and no one else had a mosquito net, go figure I actually was the one who had the problems. My feet were ravaged in bites to the point where shoes were incredibly uncomfortable to wear. I used an anti itch cream on them and it burned one into an open sore which never healed since I was constantly going in the ocean. They are healing now that I´m in San Jose and taking better care of my feet, but the bed bugs are still following me, even in clean places.

Cabuya was a really good time, and I almost didn´t go because I really didn´t like Costa Rica when I got here. All the backpackers and obnoxious travelers pissed me off and buses were so crowded I had to sit for hours at a time in the aisle. I did meet a bunch of awesome backpackers mind you, and bonding has happened on every bus ride it seems, but sometimes when I´m walking around and observing behaviors of these other tourists I hear ignorant comments constantly. Americans are really loud. You can hear them a mile away. But I am very glad I went to Rainsong despite its frustrations. I will remember Tarzan and Kinky for the rest of my life (the monkey and Kinkajou). The people were all incredibly amazing and from the most varied backgrounds. I learned a lot about the disrespect seen with wildlife and rainforest in Costa Rica, the governments lack of assistance to preserve or prevent tragedies, and the Costa Rican way of life which is laid back, without time frame, and chummy. Everyone is always greeting everyone else.

There was also an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude 20 miles outside San Jose that happened a few days ago. It WAS on cnn.com cause I read about it there on top of hearing the locals talk about it. People keep telling me they didn´t hear anything about it. 20 some people died and Costa Rica is in a state of emergency because of it, but you wouldnt´t notice being away from where it happened. People just go on with life mentioning it from time to time.

Aside from the volunteering not much has been done since days are wasted in travel and I am chilling with locals in San Jose. Saves money and allows me to see how every day people live. I am preparing to go to Panama soon and stay a night or two in David, then on to Panama City where I´ll try to find a boat to sail on to Colombia. I have to apologize for how boring I made all this sound, but its hard to sit and right out all the amazing things I´m seeing and experiencing. Computers are hard to sit yourself in front of for long periods of time due to price and just wanting to be out experiencing more. However, I´ll do my best to keep a log for you. I hope everyone had a happy new year and are finding ways to stay warm. Alaska is in the negative double digits right now and it doesn´t sound like Minnesota and Wisconsin are much better.

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