crocodiles, continued

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever trudge through a marshy jungle in Costa Rica wearing thongs (that’s Flip Flops to you, Northern Hemisphere). Nor did I ever imagine I would stomp defiantly through knee-high grass, weeds and prickle bushes in only a pair of shorts (again, with aforementioned thongs on my feet). And finally, I never ever expected to find myself pulling my bare feet (thongs had been removed by this point – too hard to walk in) out of ankle-deep mud while batting away bird-sized mosquitos, trying to maintain my balance/keep an eye out for snakes/not walk into a giant cobweb.

The day after we almost eaten by a pack of hungry crocodiles at the beach, Rich and I did the obvious. We went on a crocodile tour and jungle hike.

Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean

Collected from our hotel bright and early on Saturday morning, we were introduced to Big Tortuga (I thought “Wow, this guy really knows his stuff, if his name is Big Tortuga – that means Big Turtle, right?”), which I later discovered was actually Victor Hugo. Not Big Tortuga. But Victor Hugo is still a pretty great name for a bona fide crocodile tour guide!! I imagine in his spare time he writes poems about crocodiles on the streets of Paris in the 1800s, selling their teeth for 10 francs… singing on street corners…. getting hustled into a life of crime and/or prostitution… “Don’t you fret, Monsieur Crocodile….”

Hush, brain!!

We tumbled out of his early 90s aqua Suzuki Vitara (yes, my Grade 5 dream car) on the banks of the estuary, scrambled down a leafy hill, padded across the sand, and climbed aboard his 8-seater covered boat. Twas just me n Rich on the Crocodile & Estuary Tour, so we got prime position at the front of the boat. The narrow boat. The “my elbows are very very close to the crocodile-infested estuary” boat. The “this seems light has a crocodile ever leapt out of the water and tipped it over” boat.

Victor Hugo started up the engine and, as they say in the classics, we were off!

First we putt-putted along the shore for a while, as Victor Hugo pointed out various birds. One quite striking yellow-eyed, grey bird was immediately shunned as “bad bird – very bad bird”. Victor Hugo explained that this “very bad bird” arrives in Tamarindo in late-October and sticks around for a few months, with this sole purpose of eating BABY TURTLES AS THEY HATCH FROM THEIR EGGS!!! I agree with Victor Hugo that these guys were bad birds indeed.

Further along, and after moseying to the other side of the river, we saw it: our first crocodile! Quite a biggun, but apparently still pretty young, Madame Chomp-Chomp was sunning herself on the sandy banks. Victor Hugo brought the boat quite close to the bank, and as I scrambled to get my camera, said Croco opened one pre-historic eyeball and appeared to give me stink eye. Her teeth were very big. I was glad when the boat reversed and we were putt-putting away.

Hola bishes!!

Until… Oh Em Gee!! We found ourselves NOT continuing up the wide and seemingly safe river, but into a thin corridor of mangroves. The trees hung low over the water, their snake-like roots pointing down to the water and scraping along the roof of the boat, like an upside-down Medusa on a bad hair day (“Who forgot to get the conditioner??? Sssssssss!!!!”)….

Victor Hugo explained that we were in the mangroves (not mangos). The wind rustled gently through their leaves, the birds tweeted, and a strange snapping sound surrounded us.

“What’s that noise?” I asked Victor Hugo, obviously thinking that the snapping sound was one hundred crocodiles, hidden amongst the roots of the trees, limbering up their jaws for a good ol-fashioned tourist eating fest.

All the wrongs of all the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunters the world over will be made right by this delicious feast of Australian flesh, I was sure the crocs were thinking…

But no. The snapping was actually clams, who hang out deep in the mud for a few hours a day, and snap their shell together when they’ve had enough. Apparently clam gathering is a very dangerous pastime for the locals, because to get them, you need to plunge your hands into the mud, feel around for the clam, and avoid getting your finger pinched by their snapping shell-jaws. Victor Hugo explained that many a clam-hunter has lost the top of their fingers in such ventures…

Open....

SNAP!!

Victor Hugo was keen to introduce us to a family of howler monkeys, so we moored the boat in the mangroves and disembarked on the sandy bank. He said “We will hike for five or ten minutes until we find the monkeys”.

45 minutes later, we emerged from the jungle, having seen two monkeys high in the trees. For the entire duration of our monkey hike, Victor Hugo frenetically shook an old Coke bottle (filled with rocks and sand that he had craftily hidden inside the trunk of a dead tree – I imagine there’s a lot of sand-filled, bottle theft in these here parts), and shouted and howled and yelled like a monkey to attract the simian beings. In between howls he gave us helpful tips like “don’t touch this plant or it will sting you with its prickles and it feels like you’re on fire” and “it’s much easier to walk barefoot in the mud” and “I hope you brought some insect repellent because there are a LOT of mosquitos in here” (there were… bajillions, actually).

I had one of those great moments of making an observation, and then being instantly crippled by said observation: in this instance “Hey Rich, look at that funny tree covered in ginormous prickles” and then, literally one second later, stepping on one of the ginormous prickles IN BARE FEET – it got me right in the heel. I cursed like a sailor, but like the intrepid traveller I am, I pulled that prickle right outta my foot and kept on walking. In bare feet. In the mud. With the snapping clams and the boa constrictors (yes, really) and various other terrifying creatures.

Thank heavens for pre-travel tetanus shots…

Anyhoo, after espying our little family of howling monkey friends, we were back in the boat, in search of MORE CROCODILES. Around a corner, literally metres from where our boat had been moored, we spied two toothy beasts, nestled in the grass on the bank. These fellas were bigger than the first lady we saw, and we were ALL reluctant to get any closer…

Around a bend and into a covered grove, we were greeted by a big splash and the sight of a crocodile tail disappearing into the water. I gasped and Victor Hugo said “O, THAT was a big one!” which, of course, meant that he stopped the boat and decided that this would be the perfect spot for a mid-morning snack. In a narrow, shallow estuary with a monster crocodile under the boat. Victor Hugo sliced up a pineapple (which I stupidly thought was for the crocodile and was about to throw overboard) and we ate the sweet fruit with muddy fingers and fear-filled bellehs.

To make matters even more comforting, Victor Hugo thought this would be a great spot to rinse off his muddy feet, so sat with his legs dangling in the water above Mister Sharp-Tooth’s very sharp teeth (and, no doubt, watching beady eyes…) as we motored the boat back to the beach.

Post-pineapple escape

So in all, we saw five crocodiles. Along with the three bigguns, we also spotted two babies in the mangroves (mums not in sight – very reassuring) and we both felt that it was money well spent and an interesting lesson in biodiversity and prehistoric monster-toothed beasties.

Back in the clear blue salt water of our starting place, other tour boats bobbing around, and a bunch of fellas doing some washing in the shallows, I saw something strange floating in the water. It’s unusual to see brown, spiky buoys – all the other ones are bright blue and bright red and smooth. And… wait… is it a log? Or a cluster of coconut husks floating on the surface?

No. It’s a mother-flipping crocodile. Just bobbing along. Smiling at us as we pass within inches of its scaly, spiky, avocado-skinned body….

“Very good luck, very good luck” Victor Hugo said, pointing to the croc.

Very good luck not to get eaten by him, I say.

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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!!

strolling to duck lake

On our last morning in Nipissing, we took a stroll up to Duck Lake with Sherry, Yan (the other half of Piebird) and their friend John. Duck Lake is a 30 minute stroll behind the house, down the river bank, across the river (in the dreaded canoe), up a hill (a long one!!), across a gravel road, past the alpaca farm (Yes!! Really!!) and through the woods. When you get to the top, you cross a boggy road (with great difficulty – it helps to wear gumboots) and voila – you’re at Duck Lake!

The banks of the lake are marshy and boggy and there’s a cranberry patch growing there. Sherry and Yan and John picked berries and I ate one and I’ve gotta say, fresh cranberries are not very nice. No sirree.

On the way back down the hill, we passed a great, big BEAR POO!!!! Eeeeeek!!!!!

Across the river

Past the alpaca farm (hai guyz!!)

Through the woods

Across the boggy path (this raccoon wasn't wearing gumboots, I don't think)

Last stop, Duck Lake

Cranberry harvest

Cranberries (taste better in juice or jam or muffins)

O Canadaaaahhhhh!!!!!

deep blue sea

Have you ever jumped off a boat into the ocean, before you’ve considered how you’re going to get back in? There was a movie that came out a few years ago about a similar situation: young, hip peeps on a yacht, sailing the high seas, much drinking and debauchery going orn… A few jump in, but a young mum decides to stay on the boat with her behbeh. But then the larrikin of the film decides “Wouldn’t it be funny if I body slam her into the water?” and does it and then ALL the adults are in the water and ONE little behbeh is on the boat and then somebody realises that no one has put a ladder down and there’s no conceivable way to get back on board. It’s a pretty big yacht. It’s the sort you might go to a party on in Cannes. Or Cancun. You can’t throw your bikini top into the air hoping to use it as a rope to climb up the boats’ slippery sides (even though topless babes makes for great viewing in a Hollywood schlocker). You can’t get a boost from your mate. You can’t ask your screaming infant to lower a ladder. Pretty soon sharks start circling and they all die.

Sorry to give away the ending. I didn’t tell you what it was called though.

Fortunately things weren’t so dramatic on Saturday, but shiver me timbers, they could have been.

Rich and I arrived in Jelsa, Croatia on Thursday evening and met our friends Sarah and Ben at the dock for a beer. Our time here has been filled with a whole lotta nothing. Reading. Sleeping. Eating. Swimming. And that’s been about it.

On the weekend we decided we really oughta kick things up a notch and have an adventure. Jelsa is full of dinky little tourist centres hiring out bikes and kayaks and boats. Little boats. Not big scary yachts like the one in that movie. Just a little boat with an outboard motor and a shade cloth and some buoys attached to the sides. We thought we’d try our hand at boating to a secluded bay for an afternoon of swimming and reading.

After a quick lesson in how to drive a boat (how to start it, speed up, reverse, when to lower the gas, when to drop the anchor) and some very relaxed directions on which way to go, we were off. Sea breeze in our hair! Smell of petrol in our lungs! Splash of the ocean on our arms! It was bumpy and scary and fun!

We put-putted our way past several inlets with swimming Croats and anchored boats, but none of these sand-less bays were for us.

On we went.

As we neared the end of the peninsula (and the furthest point on the map provided) we said “What about here?” – no one else was around. We were close enough to the rocky shore for a quick pitstop if we needed a break from swimming and some sun. And it seemed like a nice spot.

We downed anchor.

Rich jumped in first, then me, then Sarah, then Ben. The water was juuuuuust right – refreshing, but not cold, and clear and YES – this was it! The adventure we’d been looking for!! We swam and laughed and splashed and frolicked.

It was the perfect setting for a Hollywood shark movie.

As I swam around the back of the boat, I was careful not to swim into the rope attached to the anchor. Yup, there’s the rope. And the water was so clear, I could follow it down and down and down and down and… holy hell, how deep is this water???? It was REALLY deep. Like, really, super, dooper, into the abyss deep. Suddenly I started thinking about what else was in the water. Like sharks. Are there sharks in the Adriatic? I don’t think there are, but in that moment, I convinced myself that we were surrounded and that a pack of sharks were plotting their attack. I’m pretty sure that sharks are generally fairly solitary creatures, but not in this nightmarish fantasy – no siree. These Croatian sharks hung out in packs of 10, 20, 100.

I swam back to the boat and clung to the side. For a moment I actually had Jaws-eye-vision of myself: a hungry shark below me, looking up, seeing the dark, triangular shape of our dinghy with two pasty legs silhouetted in the sunshine.

I shuddered.

“I think I’m going to get back on the boat now”, I called to the others, keeping my death-by-shark premonition to myself, “Yep, I’m just gonna climb on in. You guys just keep having a good time though”.

And with that, I grabbed onto a peg on the side of the boat and pulled myself up and… promptly splashed back into the water. Having no upper body strength whatsoever, and not being the most agile of dames, this was going to be much harder than I had initially thought.

“Hoooiiikkkkkkk” I groaned, trying once again to pull myself up.

Nothing.

Rich came over to give me a hand.

“Stand on my leg and push yourself up” he instructed.

But he had nothing underneath him to ground himself, so as soon as I put my weight against him, he sunk, I sunk, we were no closer to getting me aboard.

Ben volunteered to get back into the boat so that he could pull me in.

Ben is a whole lotta things I am not: a man, for one thing. A strong swimmer. Rowers shoulders. Wily and strong. And when I saw HIM struggle to get back on board, I started to worry… My hopes of being dragged aboard in a graceful fashion was fading.

Needless to say, I was not dragged aboard. Rich could not push me and Ben could not pull me and I worried that my arms would be ripped from their sockets and I splashed back into the water…

I started to panic.

Then, I saw a solution. The rocks. OF COURSE! I would swim over to the rocks, the boat would sidle up beside me, I would jump spritely aboard and be saved! Hurrah!!

The perfect plan.

I doggy-paddled my way to the smooth flat rocks in the distance. Heck, it looked so nice over there I might even sit on a rock for a while, while the others continued their swim!

The closer I got, my eyes focussed not on smooth, sun-bleached boulders, but jagged, craggy, mollusc covered shards of pointy hell. This was not going to be easy. But I was damn well going to do it. I could NOT leap into a boat from the water, but I could possibly get in while precariously balancing on a sharp-as-glass rock.

As Ben brought the boat in, I realised that this plan was not as fool-proof as I had hoped. The rocks were jagged, yes, and they weren’t just on the shore; they were UNDER the water as well (that’s surprising, isn’t it? That rocks can be all around?). When you combine a boat with lapping waves and a rocky shoreline, that’s usually not the greatest recipe for safety either.

The motor was cut, and the boat drifted closer. The rock I was currently perched on was not going to be close enough, so I slid back into the water, careful not to step on any anemones (that’s a funny combination of words), and hoisted myself onto a platform closer to the boat. With pain searing through the palms of my hands, my knees, my feet and my bum, I quickly scrambled aboard our trusty dinghy. Which was now stuck on aforementioned rocks.

Slowly and with expert precision, Rich and Ben eased us off using our emergency oars, and…. SUCCESS! We were off. Yet again. With frayed nerves and bleeding hands, we sailed into the sunset, ready to enjoy cocktails in the evening heat.