an interesting fact about armadillos

Did you know that armadillos are the only creatures, apart from humans, who suffer from leprosy?

It’s true. I learnt that on our farm walk in La Fortuna a few days ago, when we came across some armadillo shell in the grass.

“Did this guy have leprosy?” I asked our guide, pointing at the weird white-ish rubble.

“Nah,” our bearded guide shook his head, “This guy got eaten by something.”

Gulp!

On our first night in Monteverde, Rich and I hit the streets in search of dinner. On our way, we passed a small soda, with a lovely Husky-like pooch sitting outside. I held out my hand for him to sniff, he looked at me with weird crazy eyes (so I quickly changed my mind about patting him), but then suddenly he joined us on our stroll. He led the way, smelling bushes and barrels and the ground, turning around every once in a while to make sure we were following him.

He escorted us the whole way to our chosen restaurant, then disappeared into the rainy night.

Rich and I enjoyed our meal of Typical Costa Rican Food – no really, that’s how they tout it on their menus. If I was a chef in Costa Rica, I would blow my own trumpet more on the food, because it’s REALLY good, and anything but typical. I would call it ‘Delicious Costa Rican Food’ or ‘Healthy and Yummo Beans & Rice’. It’s like in Turkey, where they have a whole section of the menu dedicated to Olive Oil, which is, primarily, dishes (meat & veg) that are cooked and prepared in copious amounts of extra virgin.

Anyhoo.

After our ‘Healthy and Delicious and anything-but-typical’ dinner and beer and dessert, we were on the road back to our lodge.

There was a rustling in the bushes beside us and out popped… AN ARMADILLO!!! In the flesh/shell. I hope he didn’t have leprosy. He didn’t seem to, as no sheets of armour appeared to fall off him as he scurried across the road in front of us.

Then! There was a rustling behind us, and out popped… another dog! At first I thought she was on the scent of the armadillo but no, she just trotted along beside us, seemingly escorting us home. Man, these Costa Rican pooches are really friendly.

The three of us made our way up a steep hill, when suddenly a tremendous barking filled the air. I looked up, and out of a light-filled house by the road came four ginormous dogs, bounding out the front door, down the steps, barking like, well, barking dogs all the way.

You know those moments when you feel your excitable, ‘I-love-dogs-and-here-come-some-more-to-say-hi’ smiling facade quickly turn to a ‘O-my-goodness-I-think-these-barking-dogs-might-be-about-to-kill-us’ look of terror? I’ve only experienced it once in my life (actually, the first time I was at Piebird – I took a bike out for a ride one sunny afternoon and came across two incredibly large rottweilers standing on a rock by the side of the road… they growled menacingly and started to approach and I pedalled back to the farm as fast as the rickety bike would carry me). Life flashing before my eyes, I clutched onto Rich as the dogs leapt into the street, where they took one look at Ms Sniffy Pooch and chased her back to whence she came, woofing all the way.

I like to think that those five dogs were all really good friends and were keen to have a woofy, growly, catch up. Godspeed, Ms Sniffy Pooch, I hope you made it home safely…

DISCLAIMER: this pooch is actually from Croatia - he lived next door and spent most of his days chilling on our steps... I don't have a pic of the Costa Rican pooches we met the other night, or the armadillo... But a post about dogs is a good excuse for a picture of a dog, don't you think?

 

a walk in the clouds

Monteverde, home of the Cloud Forest, is unsurprisingly pretty full to the brim with beautiful parks, forests, jungles and with that, a ton of extremo adventure opportunities. There is actually a tour company in town called ‘Extremo Adventures’. For serious.

Rich, his appetite whet for some extremo adrenalin, decided to go zip-lining through the jungle. You know what that is, don’t you? It’s where you climb up a tower, wear an incredibly attractive underpant-like harness that emphasises your nether-regions (and not in a good way), get clipped onto a cord, and zip through the trees on a cable at ridonkulously high speeds.

Now, since being away, I have been trying to face my fears and say yes to more opportunities that are presented to me. Unfortunately, no amount of cajoling was going to get me to say yes to a zip-line adventure with Rich.

“But I’ll come with you to the park, and afterwards we can go for a nice walk through the trees on the canopy bridge”, I said. What a wimpburger….

While brave Rich went off up the mountain on the sky tram for 45 minutes of extremo cable zipping, I sat on a cloud-enshrouded balcony with a coffee and my book. Extremo relaxo…

After a couple of chapters, the chico from reception came up and said “Your husband, in about 20 minutes, he’s gonna come down on that cable there” and pointed to the closest cable to the balcony. Which was about 50 metres off the ground in the cloud-filled air. And which made my heart skip a beat and loudly declare “Holy bajoly, I am SO scared of heights I am SO GLAD I am here and not there!!!!” rather embarrassingly. He laughed a bit and said “Well, he’s gonna fly by here in about 20 minutes”.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later, there came Rich out of the clouds, zipping along, holding on for dear life. I screamed a little bit. On the inside.

Moments later, in came Rich, covered in grease and rain and bits of cloud. He headed straight to the bar and ordered a beer and a packet of chips, and sat in silence on the balcony, slowly coming down from his ultra-adrenalin rush, while I tugged at his arm and asked annoying questions like ‘How was it? Are you OK? I saw you on that one (pointing). How was the adrenalin factor? OMG are you OK?’. After several minutes he looked at me, grease on forehead, and said “You would have hated it” and continued to calmly sip his beer.

I felt better. I had felt like a sissy – saying no to a new adventure – but I knew that I would have had a majeur de freakout and apparently, once you’ve gone down the first line the only way to get back to base is to do ALL ten lines. Yeeks!!

After the beer had been imbibed and the chips munched, we were ready for our guided bridge walk. A relaxing stroll through the jungle on a series of suspended walkways in the treetops. What a nice way to end the afternoon.

NOT! Holy crap!! It wasn’t until we were on the second bridge (the longest bridge – around 300 metres – but not the highest. This one was probably around 40 metres off the ground…), with the rain a-falling and the bridge a-swaying and the guide a-talking, about ecosystems and parasites and ferns and how tall the trees are, that I suddenly gasped and Rich put his hands on my shoulders and I said “Oh dear” (no really) and Tony, our guide, asked if I was OK and, as I told the dude earlier, declared “I’m actually really scared of heights” while clutching madly to the slippery rails on either side of me.

It was incredibly beautiful standing on the swaying bridge – don’t get me wrong – but when we were out there, all I could think of was slipping over on the walkway and somehow rolling through the gap between the platform and the railing. Seemingly impossible, but when we were out there, I felt quite sure that I would be the first person to accomplish this feat.

Fortunately, as Rich and I were the only people on the tour, and as our guide was a sympathetic fellow, we spent minimal time on the bridges and maximum time on solid ground in the jungle and I was feeling much less sissy-pants in no time. Every so often we’d stop on a bridge and Tony would point out a bird and do some nifty whistling and I would say ‘Ahh si, un bird’ while hanging onto the railing, white-knuckled.

In between showing us ferns and orchids and bazillion-year-old trees, Tony talked to us about soccer (namely Carlos Hernandez, a Costa Rican midfielder who now plays for Melbourne Victory) and about all the guides in CR who have met North American ladies on their tours, and have subsequently married them and moved to Canada or the States.

Unfortunately it was a bit too rainy for any sloths or monkeys to make themselves known, but in between all the treetop terror, we saw some amazing sights and, well, there’s something pretty special about being in the clouds above the trees. And the glass of fruit punch and ‘SKY’ biscuit when we returned, wobbly-legged, to base was pretty flippin’ delicious…

 

jeep boat jeep

We spent three relaxing days on the farm in La Fortuna. After the hustle and bustle and excessive amounts of pavement-pounding in New York, it was hella nice to just lie around for a few days. I spent most of my time in the hammock outside our room reading books (namely, finishing The Happiness Project and mentally preparing my own Happiness Project), strolling about the farm, feeding the pigs, and eating plates upon plates of amazing food…

Cacao tree, spotted on our farm walk

Rambutan trees... holy yumness...

The teenager pigs

Buffalo stance...

On our last morning at Finca Luna Nueva, Rich and I were up early for an unaccompanied jungle trek. I admit, when we got started, I was mildly terrified – I was yet to see a snake/tarantula, and I had the sneaking suspicion that this morning, alone in the jungle, would be the obvious time for either/both of us to receive a venomous snake bite or be knocked unconscious by a pouncing tarantula.

After 45 minutes of gingerly stepping over fallen logs, combined with loud gumboot stamps onto the leafy forest floor (with no sign of any snakes or spiders) we made it out of the jungle alive. Sweaty and bug-bitten, but alive.

Muchos phewfness!!!

That afternoon, we were collected for our jeep-boat-jeep journey to Monteverde, aka The Cloud Forest. We drove for an hour, through the town of La Fortuna, around the Arenal Volcano (even though it’s ‘sleeping’ at the moment, it was pretty exhilarating being so close to a real life actual volcano) to a jetty on a wide lake, where we boarded a boat to zoom us across the crocodile-infested waters.

O yikes....

On the other side of the lake, we disembarked our faithful vessel, with nary a crocodile in sight (although I was sure I felt 100 beady eyes on us as we ambled past grassy marshes and silty banks… and I’m sure that one or two of those ‘log-odiles’ were not so wooden…) and got into jeep number two.

The drive from the jetty to Monteverde was…. hella bumpy. It was so bumpy, my head hit the roof of the jeep a number of times, and the chica in the front seat, no doubt au fait with the roads in these parts, spilt rice all over her pants. There were several parts of the journey where all I could do was laugh my head off. Weeeeeeee!

Other parts of the journey that caused me to LOL were:

  • Passing a GIANT pink pig on the side of the road. The road was very narrow, and she was very large, and I could have put my arm out the window and patted her big pink head, had I been so inclined. I wasn’t though. She looked a little unpredictable. And hungry. For a human haaaaaand.
  • Passing a not-giant-horse on the side of the road. That ol’ grey mare, chowing down on bits of tree. She was completely disinterested in our passing. (note: this actually didn’t make me LOL – twas just interesting to see 5 minutes after seeing the pig)
  • Passing a herd of cows, udder-deep in grass, munching away, looking up at us with their big cow eyes as we bumped by… (see above)
  • Passing two bunnies, also eating. This was getting weird. What’s with all the chilled out animals on the side of the road here??

After an hour of precarious, up-n-down, hit-the-roof, nearly-get-stuck-in-several-bogs, grateful-that-I-didn’t-eat-a-huge-meal-before-we-left driving, we were there! Monteverde!!

san jose to la fortuna

It may surprise you to know that I have ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’ stuck in my head. For three days now. And I only know that first line. So it’s quite an annoying earworm…

But I’m not surprised that that song was written. Do you know why? Because there are hardly any street signs in San Jose. There are signs pointing you in the general direction of where you want to go (San Ramon, Volcano, Aeropuerto), but no ‘Main Street’ or ‘San Jose Way’ or anything like that. Apparently peeps get around based on the location of an old tree, or a supermarket, or a big rock.

Anyhoo. We arrived in San Jose on Monday afternoon after a loooooong day of waiting, flying, waiting again, wandering around the airport, eating, flying again, our second flight actually flying 45 minutes longer to avoid weirdy weather patterns, then finally, landing in San Jose to grey clouds and drizzly rain and a cool breeze. Our driver, Frankie, sped us away from the airport in his rickety ol’ hatchback, cursed a traffic jam, shook his fist and yelled sarcastically ‘Gracias, GRACIAS!!!’ at an equally rickety hatchback that cut us off, and (this was the best part of the drive) stopped the car on train tracks. Yes, train tracks. Isn’t the first thing you learn in driving school NOT to come to a halt on train tracks?

I could see a train approaching, but fortunately, the traffic was soon moving again and we were off before we had our own ‘Super 8’ moment.

After about an hour of speed, squealing wheelies, and honking horns (not to mention the tunes spewing forth from an AMAZING local radio station, which featured – in this order – ‘Turn back time’ by Cher, ‘I should be so lucky’, by Kylie, and ‘Crazy’ by Icehouse – brilliant!!) we arrived at our destination: a small guesthouse on the outskirts of town.

Ken, the keeper of the inn and dad of the family, welcomed us with two beers, and a muy bueno dinner of garden rice, salad and fried plantains. Nom!

Happy pooch

When kittehs attack

The next day, after an equally nommable breakfast, we packed our bags, patted the family pooch, wrestled off a coupla kittens, and we were off, on the road to La Fortuna with our driver, Leo. Leo spoke little English, and we speak little Spanish, so it was an interesting drive and a good opportunity for me to brush up on my Spanish language skills (even though, when he was asking me if I was feeling sick, I thought he was asking about the weather, and replied enthusiastically ‘Si, si, bonita!!’. Aye yae yae!

After three hours of highway, winding mountain roads, steep gravel tracks, and a stop to buy lychees from a boy on the street (a HUGE bag for $2!!), we arrived at our destination: Finca Luna Nueva Lodge. On the road in, Leo stopped the car, opened the window and whistled. I looked out, and there, right in front of my eyes, was a SLOTH!!! CUDDLING A TREE!!!! Tres amazement….

And then – equally amazing – when we walked into our room, THIS INCREDIBLE TOWEL SCULPTURE WAS ON OUR BED:

Towel art, ala Dog (note the leaves used for the eyes and nose, and the petal tongue)

But of course, there are dangers that come with being in the middle of the jungle. Since we arrived, all I can think about is:

a) seeing a snake

b) seeing a tarantula

Each of these thoughts is then met with the more horrific thought of:

c) what if said snake/tarantula bites me/lands on me when I’m strolling about the place in a humidity-induced stupor???

So for every tarantula/snake thought I have, I think immediately of sloths, and their funny smily sleepy faces and their stupidly long limbs, and that’s usually enough to put the slithery, poisonous, hairy-legged fears to bed. Not in MY bed though – ew!

reading machine

I’ve always loved books and had a bit of a saucy love affair with reading, but being on the road has put this into overdrive, and I feel like I’m embarking on a new relationship every few days.

Some are amazing, like Paul Auster‘s ‘New York Trilogy’ (which went around and around in my head for days after finishing it, and still has me thinking “wait, so was he actually THAT guy all along?”) and ‘Timbuktu’ (written from the perspective of a dog – A DOG!!!), and Jennifer Egan‘s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ (funny and sad and intense and kooky and so crafty and twisty…).

Some are, well, not so amazing… Some have been down-right disappointing… I’m looking at you, ‘Harbour’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist (yes – he of ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Handling the Undead’ genius – I flippin’ LOVED these books…). You are by no means a small book – you are, in fact, the size and weight of a brick. And I carted you all the way to Sweden so I could read you in your hometown, and what did you do? You were a total fizzer. You made me want to throw you across the room. You made me want to give up then and there. You made me want to leave you behind and sneak off in the middle of the night, no phone number, no polite chit-chat. But I persevered, and then Rich got in on the act too, and we were both in agreement that the best place for you was on a bookshelf in Dubrovnik.

Some have crept under my skin and kept me awake at night, like ‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago. I’m about 60 pages away from the end, and it’s so creepy and yuck and violent and thought-provoking and… incredible… I’m usually not one to cry in books, but this had me sobbing like a wee bairn on the plane yesterday to San Jose. And I keep thinking “What if?”… Nightmarish and brilliant and, well, I should probably finish it before I rave on even more about it, lest it end with “… and it was alllllll just a dream.”

I’ve been saving two books that I’ve been dying to read for yonks for this leg of the trip (which I like to refer to as ‘The Adventure and Reading Leg’).I read about ‘The Happiness Project’ on Meet Me At Mikes a wee while ago; I am, for the most part, a happy lady and an easy person and a pretty go-with-the-flow kinda gal. But  between you and me, I feel like I am getting a bit snippier as I get older. A bit narky about silly things. A bit complainy about things that don’t really bear complaining about. I know we all get a bit like that, but I’m hoping to stop sweating the small stuff so much and, like Jay Z once proclaimed, ‘git… that… dirt off yo shoulders…’ (I don’t have dirty shoulders – I believe it’s a ‘rap’ reference to ‘lightening up’. I’ll cross-check that with a quick google search/ask Rich**).

I’m not sure if I told you this yet, but when we were at Piebird in Canada, I turned vegematarian. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while – kinda due to gut issues (TMI? Hope not…) but mostly due to a bit of inner turmoil I’ve been feeling lately about, well, animals. I feel like I can no longer really justify swooning over cute pics of baby pigs in gumboots and then get stuck into a pork chop. Or scratch a goat on the nose, and follow it up with an Indian goat curry. Or walk into a barn full of cows, bopping their heads up against the bars of their pens, looking at me with their big cow eyes, and then go to a restaurant and enjoy a medium rare steak. I’m not gonna get all ‘Meat is Murder, yo’ but it’s something I feel like I need to be way more aware of, and I think ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer is a good start.

I’ve got a few more books to go after these ones too, then I’m at the mercy of hostel bookshelves and street-side markets (Da Vinci Code for a dollar, guys? – that’s a joke, BTW… I’m hoping that, karmically speaking, the books I’ve read and loved and left along the way will be paid back to us (except for that whole ‘Harbour’ incident – hopefully that has stayed exactly where we left it) – fingers crossed.

O – if you’ve got any suggestions for other books I should seek out, please please please add a comment!

** According to Urban Dictionary, ‘brush your shoulders off’ is a term for ‘trying to forget’ or ‘forgotten’. ‘The Brush’ can also be used in any occasion where you feel ‘it aint no thing’. Zing!

so long, cities..

For a while, at least… Yesterday was our last day in New York – and our last day in a big city, probably until we get home. Rich and I are spending the next 8 weeks moseying through Central and South America, doing some jungle treks, enjoying some beach times, and, of course, frolicking with lle llamas on the Inca Trail – woot!!

This morning we had a mega wega early flight, so were up at the crack of dawn – in fact – even EARLIER than the crack. I have been having weirdy insomnia for the past few nights, so that, combined with my usual ‘night before an early start’ stress, meant that I got a whopping 2 hours of shut-eye.

We spent our last day in New York doing something quintessentially Rich. That’s right: we went to the movies. Twice. Saw ‘Moneyball’ (which honestly, I found quite zzz-y and would have much preferred if Jonah Hill was the main character so he could quip it up more often and do power wagging and fist pumping) then ‘Take Shelter’ (which was quite incredible – a little bit M. Night Shamaladingdong but not… I didn’t know anything about it and roolly liked it – 4 outta 5), then we headed back to the East Village for a Japanese dinner.

At dinner, I accidentally-on-purpose overheard a torturous conversation between a mother and daughter. When it started, I found it quite hilar, because it went a little something like this:

Mom: So I was thinking, for your party, why don’t we all go to the salon and get mani-pedis, then come back to the apartment and watch ‘Grease’ and have a Beauty School Drop-Out Sleepover?

Emo teen: But you’re not gonna watch the movie, right?

Mom: No way! I’ll be in the kitchen making popcorn and just making sure that there’s enough food and everyone’s happy!

Emo teen: OK, well, you’re not allowed to watch the movie. And Shelley and Micah and Debbie and Chrissy are all sleeping over and Renee and Sara are coming too but they’re not sleeping over, OK?

Mom: No, Renee and Sara are NOT coming to your party. And Gareth is gonna watch ‘Grease’ with you guys too.

Emo teen: What? Gareth? No way Mom!!!

Mom: Yes way. Gareth is gonna watch ‘Grease’ and then I am gonna teach you the dances.

Emo teen: WHAT??? You said you weren’t even gonna be in the room!! And why are you so desperate for us to watch ‘Grease’ and DANCE??!!

It went on like this for ages. Ages… I couldn’t concentrate on anything Rich was saying because all I could hear was ‘mani-pedis’ and ‘Grease’ and ‘dancing’ and ‘Moo-ooo-ooom’. When they left, the kid was crying and it seemed like the partay was definitely NOT happening…

After dinner, we strolled home, packed everything up, watched a ’30 Rock’ and went to bed (where, as mentioned, I lay awake for the majority of the night).

But it wasn’t all in vain – yesterday morning, in the grips of a nasty case of The Hangries, we stopped for breakfast at a Jewish diner on the Upper West Side. Sipping my coffee and getting stuck into a plate of blueberry pancakes, I espied a familiar face stroll through the door, attempting the incognito look in hoodie and scarf.

I knew he was someone semi-celeb, and I was SO excited that my one and only New York celebrity sighting of Richard Wilkins was about to be eclipsed. But who was it?

In my state of alertness late last night, I googled ‘Comedians who look like Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords’. Unfortunately, my google uncovered no leads… Then… ‘Saturday Night Live’ comedians, because I had a feeling that mebbe he was an SNL regular. And there it was. This guy!!

So he’s not really THAT much like Jemaine, but you can see the resemblance, yeah?

Anyhoo. I’m a bit delirious. We have been in transit all day and have arrived in Costa Rica and are about to get stuck into some local beers and some food and it’s kinda really dark because it’s night time, but I have ALL my fingers and toes crossed that tomorrow morning when I wake up, I’ll see a MONKEY!!!!

Adios amigos xxx

spooky pooches!!

OMG!! I just went to the Halloween Dog Parade at Tompkins Square Park. It was mutha-flippin’ CRAZY!!! People have way too much time on their hands. And I am SO in favour of that!!!

Dogs are hard to take pics of at the best of times, but when they’re dressed as buses or cans of spinach, it’s even harder. Factor in that 80 million people are around you, all vying for the poifickt shot. Seriously, I felt like I was part of the paparazzi!!

Dinosaurus Rex

My highland goatee-oatee-oatee-oatee-oat

Prince William Terrier!!

Corgi bus!! There was a small child with him dressed as a bus stop...

This French Bull-Frog was over it...

The Best Behaved Dog Award goes to... The Fireman

Doggy Gaga

Skelator Pooch

Maestro Dachshund (look at his little feet!!!)

Well, DER, it's Spaghetti & Meatballs dog!!

Mario (his owner was Luigi)

Are you torkin' ta me?

Tim Riggins, is that you??