Friday, 24 December 2010

Costa Rica - Pura Vida

Costa Rica – Pura Vida

Rich coast – pure life. 

Hard to argue with that really. Initial thoughts, well, Costa Rica is wonderful, full of colour, animals, birds and North Americans. It's also noticeably more expensive than any other of the central American countries we've been to. And much more Americanized. American food chains, supermarket, prices in US$ and most people speak to us in English. All a bit of a shock after two months in Central America. There is no doubt that Costa Rica is a beautiful country but I can't help thinking that crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica I crossed out of Central America and into some sort of Disneyfied, US version of it. (Tracy thinks this statement is a little harsh). All I mean is that Costa Rica has taken the good bits out of Central America, cleaned them up a bit and presented them to the tourist with 4 and 5 star facilities.

Our first stop in Costa Rica was the pacific coast. We stopped at Playa del Coco a chocolate coloured beach resort where we went diving. Two good dives - Poor vizability but lots of fish and some large sting rays. Tracy nearly swam over a sting ray – a la Steve Irwin. She will tell you she saw it, her buddy knows different.
Chocolate sand

Then we moved inland and went to the cloud forest at Monteverde.

By day we went for a unguided walk in the cloud forest and saw, well a few birds and that was it

Bumpy road to Monteverde

Tracy looking for wildlife

By night we went guided walk and saw; sleeping birds, Coatis (Raccoon thing), Orlinga (Lemur type thing), Big rat like thing, frog, crickets, and two orange kneed tarantulas.

Tracy concentrating on the night walk

Orange kneed Tarantula

From Monteverde we headed towards San Jose the capital. (All together now, “Do you know the way to San Jose...”) I didn't really want to go to San Jose but I needed to get the oil changed in the final drive on the bike. It needs to be changed every 12,000 miles and was last done in Idaho. So we stopped in Alajeula, a town just outside San Jose. We went up the local volcano. We were told to get there before 10 a.m. when the clouds role in...

8:30 a.m. - the clouds were early

One hour later.

I went into San Jose to get the oil changed. I found the BMW shop quite easily but they couldn't work on the bike until the following morning so I left the bike with them and headed back to Alajeula. Next morning Tracy and I returned to the BMW dealership to pick the bike up. They'd changed the FD oil and checked and adjusted the valve clearance (as I'd asked them) All for $85. Not bad. The mechanic suggested that the battery was getting a bit flat. I need to do some research into this as a new battery may be needed. Alvaro, the main man I dealt with, was very friendly and helpful and took photos of us and the bike – especially the map of where we've been. I asked him for a sticker for the panniers and now on the back of the bike I have BMW stickers from Chico, California, Big Sky Montana, Motorhaus Mexico and Motorad Costa Rica.

BMW Costa Rica

We then headed 100 miles east to the SLOTHS!

Whenever I've talked to people about my trip, some people have been interested in the biking part but lots of people have been interested in the sloth part. So, here they are...

11Km north of Cahuita on the Costa Rican Caribbean coast we have the worlds only Sloth Sanctuary. Around 80 two-toed and 9 three-toed sloths are housed here. All the sloths have been rescued and,as they cannot be returned to the wild, they are looked after here. Little is really known about these mammals so this sanctuary is also a research and education centre. They take volunteers and along with us there are a couple from France, two Americans and another Brit. Two of the volunteers are Vet. students and there is also a UK vet. here doing research.

Two-fingered Sloths

Three fingered Sloths

So, what do we do? We get up at 5:30 a.m. as we start work at 6. We begin by going into the sloth enclosures (cages) and waking them up by taking there towels off. Yes, they sleep with towels over their heads! We shake the towels down to keep them clean, wipe down the surfaces and move on. We have to record whether there is any poo in the cages. Sloth's poo about once a week and we need to record this on a chart. We also record whether they have eaten all of their dinner over night.

Then we prepare their breakfast. They eat leaves which we have to check for snails (which can kill them). This is probably the most unpleasant job as mozzies buzz around us as we do this and we can't use repellent, obviously, whilst preparing sloth food.

Then we feed them breakfast. Placing a handful of leaves in the cage and encouraging then to get up and eat by hand feeding them a leaf.

That takes about two hours and we return to the volunteer house for our own breakfast. At 9 we return to the enclosures to “walk the babies”. The young sloths need to get out of their cages and see and smell the jungle so we each take one (they happily cling to you) and we go for a walk. If there is a cruise ship in (yesterday 200 tourists arrived) we can't do that as they pay to see the baby sloths, so we sit by the wi-fi spot by the river.

Wi-Fi spot by the river in the sanctuary

At 11 it's time to prepare lunch. We peel and cut up hundreds of carrots and other veges. This takes an hour by which time our own lunch (rice, beans, plantain, etc) has been prepared for us in the volunteer house. At 2 p.m. we return to the sloths to feed them lunch. And by 3 p.m. we're done for the day. We can take a boat out onto the river, which we haven't done yet but will.

Tracy's idea of heaven. Cute cuddly animals that can't escape

Lazy good for nothing animal

Very different from riding a motorbike every day. And, so far we're loving it. What's not to like? We're here until January 6th so I guess next week I'll upload even more photos and video of Sloths.

In the back of my mind, however, I've got to decide what to do once we get to Panama. The original plan was to ship the bike to South Africa. I'll fly back to the UK for a month whilst the bike takes two months to get to Cape Town. I'll then fly to Cape Town and do a months voluntary teaching whilst the bike arrives. Then I'll ride up through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya into Ethiopia from where I'll fly the bike to Europe. I still want to do this but have heard that shipping the bike to South Africa may be a lot more expensive than I had originally expected.

Plan B would be to fly the bike to Venezuela and ride through the “three Guyanas” to Brazil, then fly from Buenos Aires to Cape Town. I'm really keen to go the “Three Guyanas” but not really so keen to spend a month (or more) getting through Brazil – it's HUGE.

Plan C would be to ship the bike from Panama to the UK. Then from spring spend 4/5 months travelling around Europe/Middle East by bike. I'll have to leave the whole Africa thing until later. No doubt the cheapest option but I do want to go the southern Africa.

I've got a few weeks to decide what to do... Anyway, I've had a fantastic time so far and have not, EVER, regretted doing this. Even if it were to end here it's been a wonderful experience and worth every penny. I want to keep it going but need to balance that against the cost. I've spent more money than I thought I would by this stage and need to work out what I really want to do next. Obviously I've asked Tracy and her advice has been “Decide what it is you want to do and then do it.” It's that kind of attitude that got us where we are today!

Happy new year... No doubt I'll have hundreds of photos of sloths soon and will put a few more up next week.

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