surfin’ safari


Whoever woulda thunk that someone like me would be able to hang loose, bro? Not I, said the fly, with my little eye, I would NEVER have thunk I’d be able to casually stand on a board, in actual water, and actually ride a wave to the shore.

Last weekend a group of friends (who I shall refer to as ‘the crew’) and I spent the weekend in a dinky, yet rad, holiday house on Phillip Island, eating pizza, drinking alcohol, and playing Chuck Klosterman’s Hypertheticals. Let us not discuss that ‘the crew’ would all put their own love of the sun ahead of their ability to save another from a random bear attack – seven days later, this is still a sore point.

On Saturday morning we headed to Smith’s Beach, where we met our intrepid leader, Adam, who would be showing us the surf ropes. I instantly made a MASSIVE dick of myself when I requested that everyone in ‘the crew’ – including Adam – call me Brody.

“Why Brody?” Adam enquired.
“Ummm, only after the most significant surfer in the history of early 90s cinema. Ever heard of Point Break?” I smugly replied, only in words far less smug, eloquent, or facetious.
“Urrrm, you mean Bodhi?”

Obviously I meant Bodhi. From the most fabulous surf movie ever made that I have seen. I smacked my forehead in shame…

Anyhoo, on with the lesson. After my Patrick Swayze faux pas, we squeezed ourselves into some tres attractive wetsuits and were partnered with our boards (mine was a 9 footer we’ll call ‘Boardie’). And then, we were off to the beach. ‘The crew’ had now grown to accommodate an 11 year old boy called Deagn, so you can imagine how adept we – a bunch of 30ishes – felt. He was an excellent surfer, who later liked to yell “SMAAAAASH” whenever it appeared one of us might fall from our boards.

Once on the sandy shores of Smiths Beach, we did some cool stuff like:
– Lay on our tummy’s on the sand
– Pushed our chests out and up in a weird sunrise-y yoga-type move, while lying on our tummy’s on the sand
– Fake paddling (on our tummy’s) on the sand
All while a bunch of 6-8 year olds were already riding waves in the ocean.

I’ll be honest. I was not at all into the idea of a surfing weekend. While we were on ‘le world tour’ Rich and I had expressed an interest in learning to surf when we were in Costa Rica, and as soon as I saw the rough waves and ‘real’ surfers, I totally lost my nerve and started to see all the scary things in it; I’ll look like a derb; I’ll crack my head on the board; I’ll get eaten by a shark. When a friend suggested this weekend, I said no and firmly crossed my arms.

But then, I thought about it. Much like the weekend I recently spent horse riding, if I don’t like it, I can always get off and walk (except that I wasn’t actually allowed to get off and walk – instead, I was relegated to the back of the group to ride with two experienced riders who were 9 years old, and, subsequently, I will never get on another horse as long as I live). If I don’t like surfing, I can just sit on the beach and do the meat pie run.

So I gotsta tell ya, it felt pretty momentous getting out into the water and actually standing on a surfboard. And actually staying upright and actually SURFING that flipping wave all the way to the shore (which I’ve never seen a real surfer do, but hell, I felt like a pro). Yes, I was in waist-deep water. Yes, Adam the instructor was pushing the back of my board and telling me when to paddle and when to stand up. But still, I did it.

After 2 hours in the water, getting up, getting dumped, getting thrown around, getting SMAAAAAAAAASHed, our time was up. Waterlogged and bedraggled, we carted our boards back to the shop, stripped out of our uber-flattering wetsuits we had grown to love (and got back into our ‘Melbourne’ civvies), and celebrated our upright achievements with potato cakes and ginger beers at the general store.

While I don’t think it’s super likely I’ll ever ‘just rent a board and ride some waves with the dudes’, I’m pretty chuffed it’s something I did. Just. Did. Too often we get caught up in what we can do and what we think we can’t. I read a quote the other day that said something like: “You can or you can’t. Either way, you’re right”. So when adventures like this present themselves, go with it. You’ll surprise yourself.

You might even do a little gasp when you realise what a point break is.


“That would be a waste of tiiiiiiiiiiime!” says Anthony Kiedis.  To which I reply, No, Surfer Kiedis, it would not.

gang of dogs

After the awfulness of the past few days, it’s nice to reflect on pretty much the greatest thing in the world that happened to me when we were in Costa Rica (Costa Rica seems like a distant memory after the hideousness of all the hours spent at Miami International Airport…).

On Tuesday afternoon, Rich and I took a stroll down to the beach. We were staying at a crazy beautiful hotel high up on a jungly hill in Santa Teresa, and a stroll to (and from) the beach was a bit of an epic one. It involved walking down pretty much the steepest, rockiest, slipperiest road in the history of the world**. Asphalt hasn’t made it to Central America yet**.

As we slipped and slid down the road, I noted a house at 12 o’clock (that’s straight ahead, right?) and by the chain-link fence there was a kennel, and on top of that kennel there was a dog. As we made our approach, he put his head up and seemed to make a silent summons to two other dogs, who appeared (as if by magic) at his side on the kennel. And then, all three dogs were off the kennel, under the fence, and running towards us on the gravel road.

The three pooches sniffed our hands, determined that we were good eggs, and joined us on our stroll to the beach. BLISS!

Dog gang

When we got to the beach, I expected to lose sight of our 4-legged friends as they took off in search of old fish bones and remnants of beach barbecues, but no! After a quick run in the surf and a quick sniff of some twigs, they were back at my side. The biggest one (some kind of rottweiler/staffy mutt) leaned up against my leg and stared wistfully out to sea. The littlest one (a scraggly white guy with soft ears) dug a hole in the sand behind my back and curled up in a little sandy nest. The middle-sized one (who looked like Snoopy), sat a metre or so away, gazing along the sandy beach.

The Big One

The Snoopy One

If any other dogs approached, they would woof and run after them, so no other pooches even had a hope of pats or a leg to lean on.

O dogs, how I love thee!!

Beach dogs, doin' their thang

The next day, on a trip back from a big juice and a muffin on the beach, I spied with my little eye… ANOTHER DOG!!! Right near where my gang live!! I wondered if this little pooch was part of their dog gang too. He was a PUPPY! Puppies to me are what young boys are to Kate Ceberano (that song is SO wrong….).

Anyhoo, he was digging around in the road, with his over-sized goofy paws, and one of his paws was covered in mud! What a doofus!! It looked like he was wearing a mud-sock. Bless.

Speaking of doofus? Well, I think that hat can be passed over to moi after what happened next. As Mud-Paw dug around, I crouched down and called him over. And over he came. Bounding, in fact. I patted his little red head, scratched his floppy ears, and bid him adieu. But he would not take my goodbye for an answer. In fact, he did everything in his puppy power to stop me from leaving. He scraped at my leg, leaving a big dirty paw print on my calf. He jumped up, not once, but about 400 times**, leaving big streaks of mud all over my skirt. He bit at my hand, and my pockets, and my ankles. My love of dogs had suddenly TURNED AGAINST ME!!!

Don’t ask me how, but somehow I was able to escape from the demon dog and managed to scramble up the steepest, rockiest road in the world to higher ground/safety. My black skirt was now brown. My legs looked like I’d had an accident with some tanning cream. My love of puppies had somewhat soured**…..

Back at our jungle retreat, I washed my skirt, and wondered how I was going to manage for the remainder of our time in Santa Teresa; I did not want to walk back past that dog and risk more muddy clothes and/or loss of limbs from a puppy-toothed mauling, so how would I get to the beach, or to the supermarket, or to the cafe for my morning juice?

I was also mildly disappointed in my original dog friends. Where were they when this shizz was going down? Not coming to my rescue, that’s for sure…

The following day (aka the fateful day that started with our flight in the 12-seater plane and didn’t end until 56 hours later), our taxi arrived to take us to the airport. We drove past the dog gang house, and Snoopy was back on his kennel, gazing out at the road. O Snoopy… And around the bend, there was the puppy!!! AARRRGGGHHH!!!! He was standing on a slab of concrete, ripping up paper. He was surrounded by a nest of torn shreds, and he happily ripped and tore and chewed and munched as we bumped and rolled past.

I said to Rich “There’s that dog!!!! Why I oughta….” while I shook my fist.

And the cab driver turned around and said “Ahhh, perro!!!”

And I said “Si si, PERRO!!” thinking that I was a great speaker of Espanol.

And then the cab driver turned around again and said “Perro LOCO!!!!!”

And I whole-heartedly agreed. You crazy dog.

** Not actually true.

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…



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.

for aimoh

Hi Aimoh,

I know you’re an avid reader of The Adventures of Wembolina. So I dedicate this post to you, and your new-found fear of all things lizard. I spotted this mammoth beast yesterday when we were wandering back to our house from the beach. I’m not sure this picture does it justice: He. Was. Flipping. GINORMOUS!!!! And brightly coloured. And he had a mohawk of spikes all down his back.

I thought of you as I took this photo. And I thanked my lucky stars we don’t have these guys in the trees in Edinburgh Gardens.

Love from Wembolina xxx

"I love you, Aimoh!!"

never smile…

On Friday afternoon, Rich and I had a luvverly afternoon in Tamarindo. After a refreshing swim in the ocean, we took a romantic stroll along the beach. Peeps were everywhere, surfers were hanging ten and entering the green room, and dogs were frolicking willy nilly. O yes, it was a glorious day.

The beach on Tamarindo is cut down the middle by an estuary, that laps in from the ocean into the river. The mouth of the estuary is pretty wide, and pretty deep too. It’s a mixture of colours – clear, blue, and that kind of yellowy brown you see in beaches near ti trees. It’s a bit like a hypercolour t-shirt that has been through the wash a few too many times.

On the Tamarindo side of the estuary the beach was choc-a-block. On the Playa Grande side, there was nary a soul to be seen.

Rich said “Let’s wade through the estuary and continue our stroll on this lovely sunny afternoon” (not his exact words).

I said “Sure, sounds ace!”

There was a man with a fishing line on the bank, some other people standing around. A lady with a tattoo on her back with a big Rottweiler-ish pooch.

As we got closer to the water, I started to get a bit dubious about our afternoon paddle. The water was much deeper than I thought and, while clear on the banks, things looked much murkier in the middle. There were strange ripples in the water too.

I said “I’m not sure about this…” and just as the words had left my mouth, and we were knee deep in water, a buff looking Cali dude called out to us.

“Uhh, hey, guys? I wouldn’t do that if I were you. There are crocodiles in there.”

Needless to say, we hightailed it outta there pretty quickly. I actually didn’t 100% believe him, but the next day I saw a sharp-toothed croc bobbing around about 2 metres from the bank…. Gulp!

welcome to the jungle

On Sunday night, Rich and I took a walk in the jungle. Yes. At night. With torches. And a guide. And some Frenchies and a English woman (Axl Rose was not present. Something about being in the jungle makes me wonder if he has ever actually literally been in one himself. And don’t even get me started on Slash – imagine how many mosquitoes and worms and spiders would find themselves entangled in his hair??!). We were picked up from Monteverde at 5pm and arrived at the park just as night was falling… As our taxi pulled into the grounds, a small mammal darted in front of the car, illuminated by the headlights.

“What was that? Coati? Monkey? Capybara???”

No… It was the resident dog. But still. Wildlife!!!

We met our group and, armed with torches and dousing ourselves with insect repellent, off we went into the night.

Our first observation was a line of leafcutter ants, strolling along in twos, fours, and sixes across the path, each carrying huge triangles of leaf on their heads. There were thousands of them, trailing through the night in the thousands. Their purpose? No idea, but they work and work and work and work and only stop when it rains (and then they only stop because the scent of their destination has been washed away).

As we admired the ants and their diligence, the cracking of twigs underfoot drew our attention away. Shining our torches over yonder, we espied not one, but around 25 coatis, scurrying around in the bushes. Coatis are weird cat-possum-monkey-ish mammals (they look a little bit like lemurs, only not as friendly) – I, unfortunately, was so overcome with seeing such a large group of animals (that weren’t ants) that I was too slow to get my camera out. They milled around looking at us for a few moments, then disappeared into the night. We heard them for the rest of the evening, in the trees, squealing and fighting and making sweet, sweet lurve.

Our next stop was at a huge strangler fig. Huge. And strangly. When other trees are wee behbehs and just shooting their little sapling stems out of the ground, a monkey or a sloth might stroll along, happily munching on a fig and then do a little poo on the brand new tree. As the tree grows, the figs grows around it, and when the tree finally gets tall enough, the strangler fig grows down and twists its strangly roots all around it, killing the tree and standing in its place. They’re pretty beautiful and incredible trees (the English lady kept saying “Oooo, it’s very Middle Earth, isn’t it?” and the Frenchies kept muttering “Non, non, tis more, owyousay, Avatar” and our Costa Rican guide had no idea what anyone was talking about, proclaiming that he “hated movies and books and only read about botany”) – but that’s a bit mean, don’t you think? Such is life, I guess…

Anyhoo, when the host tree dies, it disintegrates inside the fig, leaving a big enormous tree with a hollow centre. We got to go inside the tree – a little bit scary but quite incredible…

Down the path a little further, we stopped at a burrow in the ground. A torch was shone into the hole, and we were told to stand back about a metre, in a semi-circle around the guide. He picked a small twig and prodded it around inside the hole (sounds rude – sorry). One of the Frenchies said “Ooo, I can see it!” and I said “What? What? What is it? A bunny? A mole? A…” and the English woman said “A TARANTULA!!!”.

I nearly vommed and then nearly collapsed with shock. Out toddled a massive, MASSIVE black furry spider, with orange knees. She bumbled over the twig and up the side of the path and over the guides hand.

Rich said “Quick quick, take a picture” so I took a photo of the top of the guide’s head as he leant over the beast. I was sure that merely pointing a camera in the direction of the spider would cause it to leap up at me.

Pulling myself together, I got a little closer, zoomed in a bit, and got this:

O gosh...

It was hideous. But also, well, kind of pretty amazing. Although they have eight eyes, they’re pretty much blind, and rely on vibrations to catch food, or get the hell outta dodge and back into their burrows. We stood looking at her for a good few minutes, before she ambled back into her hole.

Everything after that kind of paled in comparison to the monster arachnid. We saw a much smaller (but still massive – the size of a huntsman?) spider making a web between two trees. Saw a few birds that were startled from sleep by our torches. Saw a teeny tiny frog, half the size of my little fingernail, sitting atop a leaf in the rain. And then, like that, two hours were up and we were back in the carpark.

I’d had all my fingers and toes crossed for a monkey or a sloth, but I’m kinda glad we didn’t. Seeing that big huge spider was thrilling enough, even if it WAS in a total ‘Arachnophobia’ kinda way. I think a monkey or sloth sighting would have detracted from that, like a cherry on the top. We have another week and a half in Costa Rica – plenty of time for monkeys and sloths!! And (gulp) more tarantulas…..

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.”


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.


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!