Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cahuita National Park

... is the only National Park in Costa Rica which relies upon donation. You can enter a beautiful trail protecting a plethora of wild life and see all sorts of things you've only seen in the zoo or on television previously. We saw various crabs, lizards, beautiful butterflies and other funky insects. Sloths hung high up in the trees, which was a treat because we never made it to the Sloth Rescue Center.

The park runs along miles of preserved beaches and lowlands, so we could hop in for a dip to cool off whenever we wanted. Tons of uprooted trees lay along the shore, which make for lovely resting areas. Examining the intricate sea shells, we discovered hermit crabs peeping their heads out of some - nature is quite clever.

Dangling vines, reaching Liana roots, and other unique foliage all have an ecological role and impressed us just as much as the animals. There is an amazing tree we deemed the rainbow tree for it's magestice bright colors - so I went to wikipedia and typed in "rainbow tree"... its proper name is "Eucapyptus deglupta". Another red-clayish looking tree we were told is called "the naked Indian". Seeing most of Costa Rica is comprised of beaches and rainforest, the translation of "Rich Coast" seems very fitting.

Mugged by Monkeys!!!

It is common knowledge that monkeys are my favorite thing in the WORLD! I looove them. Even after they ganged up on me and robbed my trail mix.

Unlike these adorable HOWLER monkeys (above), who stay in the trees and howl through the jungle loudly beginning at sunrise, Capuchin monkeys (aka White Face monkeys) are not shy in the least. Locals and tourists have given me more than fair warning to watch my stuff when they are around. Yet I still naively pulled out a bag of mixed nuts, raisins, and yogurt while walking along the trail. That's like walking down an alley in Harlem waiving hundred dollar bills. We heard rustling in the branches above us, which drew our attention upward, and when we looked back down we were surrounded by 15 monkeys who meant business. Rumor has it they can be vicious thieves, taking your cameras, wallets, or even entire backpacks. One particularly aggressive one sat on a branch and stared me in the face like he was going to gouge my eyes out. They were all staring at me. Apparantly fear makes the brain stop working because I went into shock and heard myself saying, "They want the trail mix. They want the trail mix. Should I give them the trail mix?" My sister shouted "Yes!" as one neared her. I threw the bag and they all went APE :) leaping for it. One grabbed the bag and ran off into the jungle, scattering the blend of treats all along the trail, which his friends immediately began to devour.

Here the culprits are, enjoying my trail mix. Sure they look cute and innocent but don't let them fool you! They had a feast while we took tons of photos and video. If you would like to see more from our trip, I will be posting all the footage when I get home on the following website:

Ocean & Rio Boat Ride
May starts off the "rainy season" on the east coast of Costa Rica, but in reality it rains on and off year round - mostly during the night & early morning. We were fortunate to have several sunny days... except the landslide day and the day we wanted to go snorkeling. It pourred so hard that the road to Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, the only road that goes south of Cahuita, got washed out on both sides and our rental car barely fit through. Most vehicles turned around at that point but we like to live on the edge (literally). Besides, a couple Americans hopped off the bus there and needed a ride into Puerto Viejo. We showed them a nice hotel with air conditioning. The waves were insane that day and all the stray dogs gathered at the shore to watch. After dropping off the c.d. player and food to the soup kitchen, we hurried back out of town before that section washed out entirely. The next day we took our hike through the National Park and had to cross through 2 rivers along the path which were flowing higher than usual because of the rainfall: one was up to our chests and the other (only up to our waists) was RED! We're not exactly sure why that is but I've heard some interesting theories on the chemicals released by banana companies.

The day after our hike, the waters still weren't settled enough for snorkelling but we were determined to venture out and see some Ocean life. So I paid some men with a speed boat to take us out to the coral reef and requested they go fast over the waves. "Not too fast." Angela said but I rebutted with "Very fast!" and now my poor sister has a big bruise on her bum (sorry Ang). We came smashing down over the waves with speed so intense it made James Bond look like a little boy on a merry-go-round. Angela came smashing off her seat once but otherwise we had a blast!
We pulled up to a couple fishermen who showed us their catches and pulled up a squid while we were next to them. Perhaps it was an octopus? Either way, he flung it at Angela in a joking manner and pulled it back before it made contact, laughing hysterically. The coral reef was beautiful and we saw 4 sting rays among the marine life. The reef off Cahuita has at least 35 species of coral, 140 species of molluscs, and 123 species of fish. They let us out at Puerto Vargas to swim for a while then putted along in shallow waters for us see more coral.

As a special treat, they took us down the deep river canal we had walked through the previous day. We had crossed at the point where the river merges into the Ocean but these men took us deeper down to the swampy area with snakes and caimans (small alligators). Here the boat driver picked up a rotting alligator head on his oar and posed it for us. They also took us up on shore to see more sloths, one carrying her baby. The adventure lasted over 2 hours though I had only requested a brief expedition.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

One day I hopped off a bus in a random area. As I was wandering down a street I chanced upon a hand crafted sign that read "Family Art" with an arrow pointing up a hill. The narrow path led me through a stream and to the greatest family I have ever met. This family strolls through the jungle collecting organic materials such as seeds, plants, shells, coconut, clay, and naturally fallen wood. Jarrel, who carves all the masks and statues, explained each material to me and what kinds of plants and trees they come from. There is only one kind of tree in Costa Rica which can be cut down legally (because it is so plentiful) and it is called Laurel. While Jarrel was explaining to me that they don't use any machines, a man showed up at the door and spoke to him urgently in another language. Not broken English, not Spanish, but Bri Bri. The language of the Indigenous people of Talamanca. The man was telling him that a huge tree had fallen into the river during a recent rain storm. This would be used as material. Dorcus, his beautiful wife, handcrafts all the jewelry. She doesn't speak any English so he would fill her in on parts of our conversation and he always called her "mi amore".

Knowing mom and Angela would love to meet Jarrel, Dorcus, and their adorable toddler girl, I brought them there one day in a rental car. We brought snacks for the family and purchased some of the amazing authentic work for our loved ones back home. I found an awesome mask for Greg and Jarrel reshaped a coconut shell watch I had bought in Cahuita. Now it's the perfect watch for me! Jarrel and Dorcus are incredibly talented and thanks to the tour agencies who have connected with them, they now have a website so people can order their amazing art online. (I'll post that later, it's back at my cottage in Cahuita)
Jarrel told us a great deal about the Indigenous people in Talamanca, including his wife's mother who operates a chocolate house down the road. She is the most adorable little old woman in the world.

Though chocolate is used to keep women happy in the states, Bri Bri use Cacao (or Cocoa) in a different kind of healing process: spiritual and purification ceremonies. They never mix it with sugar. Instead, a Shaman mixes it with with other natural ingredients and boiling water and pours it over a woman's big toe to rid her of her impurities after a pregnancy or menstrual cycle. A Bri Bri woman gives birth alone on a mountain inside a small hut she puts together with leaves because no one can be around her during the "impure" process and some time after. Here, Dorcus' younger sister is giving us a demonstration of the tradition which has been past on through generations for over 300 years.

The Cacao Plants, native to the tropical region of the Americas, require a humid climate with regular rainfall. Partu Nona, Dorcus' mother, showed us a tree bearing cacao pods in all 4 stages - she cracked open a ripened fruit and let us abstract the seeds, which were smothered in a delicious, white, milky pulp. We sucked the sweet nature right off those seeds & it was like nothing we've ever tasted. The only thing better than chocolate is chocolate in its rawest form.

Cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, not bees, and grow right off the trunk and branches.

Another plant the women showed us had pods which contained small red balls. Bri Bri women dip their fingers in these and use it as lipstick, one of many uses the seeds provide. They can also be mixed with garlic and other ingredients to create a potent cooking spice. Angela and I bought a container each for our boyfriends to cook us delicious meals at home- we are both very fortunate to have partners who rock in the kitchen!
To please tourists such as ourselves, the women sell several flavors of organic chocolate at the end of the tour - with sugar and absolutely yummy. Our big toes were very happy none of us have recently given birth. The ladies were so nice, they even brought us out 2 free bags of cocoa butter and told us all the uses for our skin, including facials and massages. Looks like our boyfriends really have their work cut out for them! As they say in Bri Bri, "aki aki" (bye bye).

Angela was interested in surf lessons, so she spent 2 hours riding the waves while mom relaxed on the beach and I frolicked in the Caribbean Sea. East of Central America, the water is much saltier and clearer than what we're used to in North America. Being so close to the equator, the water is much warmer... and for some reason, we could walk out very far before the water went over our waists. I decided to rent the last surf board the shop had - a small one for experts - and had no luck despite the crash course I was given in California years ago.

After surfing, we took private transportation to another beautiful region just south of Limon. Mom decided to skip the Canopy Tour when they showed us the zip lines 100 meters in the air.
Some very nice Ticos took her in a tractor through the rainforest to watch Angela and I zip over rivers and trees at a pretty good speed between 10 platforms. Our guides were amazing and fun and showed us Sloths, Iguanas, and colorful frogs along the way. In New York, our family had a pet Iguana for about 10 years, so that particular lizard did not excite us. However the "Jesus Christ" lizards, which walk on water, were pretty darn fascinating.

Even though the guide was holding it on a leaf, I made Angela pet a colorful frog to prove they aren't that poisonous. A couple weeks ago I held one in my hand and a local told me after a little while my hand would "sting" from the secretion. Angela and I survived, the frogs and the zip lines. All in all, it was a pretty amazing trip. I'm still here; I'm staying an entire month... in hopes of a tan.