Friday, 11 March 2016

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Monday, 29 February 2016

Adios, sloths!

Despite huge, welcoming king-size beds and silk sheets, our slumber is frequently interrupted by the cacophony of wild animals vying for attention directly outside the windows, some of which are not windows at all but merely a thin layer of mosquito netting, which really gives the impression of bringing the outside in. This is not necessarily something you want at 4am when trying to catch some shut-eye, and instead we're hyper-aware of several sets of glowing beady eyes, piercing mating calls and rustling leaves caused by the thrashing of iguana tails....or the dreaded snakes throwing a hissy fit....

By 5am we reluctantly concede that the jungle has won the sleep battle once again, and fling on some clothes to go for a stroll to watch the sunrise. Attempting to keep our voices down for fear of waking the rest of the neighbourhood, we knock for Mum and the three amigos slip out onto the dusty path for a spot of sloth-hunting. 

Unsurprisingly the two resident sloths and their baby are still perched high in the fork of the same tree as before and with their backs turned and perfectly still there's nothing new to report so we continue the few paces down to the deserted beach, passing several prehistoric-looking iguanas on the way.

The sun is slowly rising over the black-silhouetted palms, creating a misty effect on the horizon: a stunning pastel-coloured backdrop for the crashing waves and multitude of beach-dwellers already going about their business : Pelicans, crabs, strange sliding molluscs and little birds who scuttle daintily in and out with the tide.

Back at the house we shower and get ready for breakfast, which is as delicious as expected - Lettika is clearly a perfectionist, verging on OCD. The eggs, home-baked Dutch bread, fruit shakes and tea are presented to us aligned at perfect angles and served with immaculate little pots. Even the wedge of fruit in the shake has been lovingly carved into a perfectly-symmetrical star shape. 

Considering we've been away over 2 weeks already, my skin is still a ghostly shade of white, so I slap on some factor 30 jollop and off we trot to the beach. It's like being shoved head-first into a furnace and within minutes we all feel like we're being burnt to a cinder. The melanomas are forming before our very eyes.
Large wooden signs warn would-be swimmers of rip tides, so the sea is pretty much off-limits along with any means of cooling off from this relentless sun. This is torture! Andy has brought along the hotel's body-board to paddle out ever-further, the roar of the waves drowning out my incessant pleas to him to come back to shore. The sea is empty, save for a few pro surfers expertly navigating the waves. 

Back on dry land, Andy rolls on his belly in the sand doing his uncanny impression of a turtle digging a hole and laying eggs, as they do all over Costa Rica, which I have to admit is pretty funny. He's forgiven. Unable to sit still for a minute, he roams the beach chasing crabs, investigating micro-habitats and marvelling at other tiny unidentifiable creatures like the big kid that he is. 

After an hour or so we go for another walk, Andy curiously investigating everything as usual. Until he steps on an ants' nest, that is, which causes them to bite him all over his ankles. Undeterred, he chases a huge flock of vultures who have gathered to rip apart some dead fish on the sand, pecking their eyes out viciously.

We decide to make the walk to the shop for some snacks, which is easier said than done in this heat. Every visit to the mini-supermarkets in Costa Rica involves getting blatantly ripped off - the shopkeeper suddenly morphs into Carol Vorderman, randomly jabbing numbers into a calculator (no EPOS tills in this neck of the woods), before applying some mystery formula and finally coming up with a five-figure sum as he turns the calculator around slowly, gauging the horrified reaction with glee. Everything is pretty expensive here anyway, but 3000 colones ($6) for a packet of crisps is taking the piss.

We almost get run over on the way back to base, so intent are we in gazing up at the trees looking for sloths that we don't hear the cars approaching. One guy even stops his car to get out and see what it is we're gawping up at. Andy's developed a Steve Irwin-esque enthusiasm for wildlife that is quite amusing, although we all know how tragically that ended. It's easy to forget that these are wild animals fighting for survival and there is always the temptation is always to get "just one step closer" to get the perfect shot. Famous last words....

The sun is unbearably stifling and it's all we can do to slump in the hammocks and swing lazily. When dusk falls and Mum and Andy return from watching a troop of playful monkeys on the ground, we opt to order in pizzas rather than take the walk into town for dinner.

We are treated to one final nightshow by the nocturnal creatures of Costa Rica : more click beetles turn on their neon green headlamps and fly around us, several pairs of frogs eyes peer down from the roof, the distinctive cries of geckos on every wall and several curious crabs side-step over to see what we're upto. One takes Andy by surprise by tapping on his foot, making him jump in the air. He pushes it away with one of Mum's rubber shoes, and it clamps it's pincers tight on it, before shedding the huge pincers altogether and scuttling into the bushes. We all stare in shock at these two huge pincers jutting out at right angles from the shoe, and feel sad for the injured crustacean. "He's armless enough, I guess." Groan
We go to bed, bellies stuffed with pepperoni pizza, snippets of this epic trip replaying in our minds' eyes as if on flickery old cine film....caring for the children in San Jose, the distinctly Caribbean flavour of Tortuguero, the awesome Arenal Volcano and now the tranquil surfer's paradise of Matapalo on the Pacific coast. Each habitat has one common theme - they are all teaming with the most astounding collection of exotic wildlife. Costa Rica really has surpassed all expectations and has been one of the most memorable trips of our lives.  

In the morning there's just time for breakfast and one final sloth-spotting sesh. As if aware that it's the last chance we'll probably ever get to see one in the wild, the sloths humour us and obligingly come out of their hiding places for the first time : the mum and baby sloth move part-way down the tree, giving us a really good look at their furry bodies, long hooked claws and adorable "smiling" faces, before Leo arrives to whisk us back to the sterile air-conditioned icebox that is San Jose airport.

As we touch down on the runway at London Heathrow there's only one thought on my mind....

"Where shall we go next?"

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Saturday, 27 February 2016

Monkey magic

Considering we've been trekking through dense, sometimes boggy, always humid rainforests, we've all escaped relatively unscathed bite-wise, with the mozzies typically favouring Andy's sweet young blood rather than mine or Mum's, which is another perk of having a younger fella I guess  ;-)

So it's kind of annoying that it's in Arenal, at our villa teetering high on the side of a mountain, waaay above the treetops, that we all get bitten to buggery.

Every one of us gets caught out by the blood-thirsty critters: I end up with a painful stinger in my butt, Andy cops another set of volcano-sized erupting bites and even De Mama with her armadillo-strength pain threshold succumbs to the black stinging wasps. We end up tweezing out black splinter-like stingers from various body parts like a particularly unlucky family of flea-bitten baboons.

On the dot of 10am Leo arrives as promised, looking a little glassy-eyed having left San Jose at 4am to reach us at the house. The last teeth-juddering leg of the journey on that hideous dirt track seems to have woken him up, and it's with clenched jaw that he patiently concedes that his suspension is going to take yet another hammering on the return trip.

 I inform Leo that we've been without wifi since the previous afternoon and he nods his sympathetic understanding and immediately turns on the hotspot on his local phone, allowing the three of us to hungrily feed off his unlimited data package. We are like vampires being handed a pint of the blood of a beautiful virgin bride, such is our desire to cram our brains with (largely pointless) information - from shots of the dinner of some random ex-colleague to the status update by a girl I bonded with drunkenly in the loos of some club or other last summer - so accustomed are we to mindless scrolling that we're barely registering what it is we're even actually looking at. The annoying part is, I KNOW a lot of it's a complete waste of time, but like virtually everyone else on the planet I'm now a slave to social media. The stunning mountains and valleys of Arenal whizz past, never to be seen again by these we're all face down in Facebook. 

Leo previously estimated that the road trip to Matapalo, which is on the Pacific side of the country would take around 4 hours, so we get increasingly fidgety in the car as the 4-hour mark comes and goes, then 5....6......

Seven long hours later, having crossed the country from the north towards the border with Nicaragua down to the south-west coast, we turn off the main highway and meander down increasingly smaller turnings until we eventually arrive at a small wooden sign bearing the name matching my reservation : Jardin De Los Monos.

 The name means "Monkey Garden" and as if by magic a cheeky white-faced Capuchin swings between two palms in front of the car as we pull into the drive. The immaculate B&B  is the property of proud owners Lettika and Gijs from The Netherlands, and the pretty blonde Lettika is waiting for us at the gate, pointing up to a couple of sloths dozing contentedly above our heads.

Before we even get the suitcases out of the boot we've seen monkeys, sloths, a solitary cow grazing at the roadside, several large iguanas on branches and both of the owners' pets - a black dog with big brown eyes and a chubby friendly-looking cat. Such is Lettika's attention to detail that I wonder for a minute if she's carefully positioned this menagerie of animals at their various posts in anticipation of our imminent arrival, as we arrive at precisely 5pm as our GPS accurately predicted 2 hours ago when I emailed her.

Immediately I know that my booking app has come up trumps yet again, as the beautiful house has instant kerb-appeal and is set just a few metres back from the dark-sanded beach. The casa is constructed in upmarket Costa Rican style - termite-proof wooden beams, whitewashed walls and pitched beamed ceilings in the rooms, only 2 of which are available to rent, the rest being the stylish Dutch couple's open-plan living quarters, which gives an exclusive boutique-hotel feel.

Lettika ushers us to the beach to catch one of the stunning sunsets that the Pacific side is celebrated for, and we half-skip half-run in delight to the beach to watch it, waving to the lazy sloths overhead on our way past. It is so hot and humid that we're all sweating with the exertion of running those few metres and slump on some sun-bleached driftwood to get a decent view. 

A flock of delicate plovers scuttle in and out with the tide and Andy is silhouetted against the red and orange backdrop of the dipping sun as he throws sticks for a pair of playful pups who dart in and out of the waves to retrieve them. 

As darkness falls we head back to the house and only now have time to fully absorb all the tiny details of the couple's handiwork - from the silky orange sheets on the huge king-size beds to the heliconia placed artily in vases with carefully-placed shells around them, it is evident that the couple are perfectionists, which makes the place feel both special and kind of intimidating in equal measures, and I'm aware of Lettika's watchful stare as we ruin the feng-shui by flipping our cases open and fling wrinkly clothes haphazardly over our shoulders in our eagerness to settle in. 

Once showered and into lighter clothes, she takes our breakfast order (which we already know will be delicious) and gives us "the tour." The couple saved for ten years to fulfill their dream, and as someone who often dreams of a new life abroad I feel envious of what this couple my age have achieved. The picture-perfect house is surrounded by a garden full of exotic plants which they've managed to make look groomed but authentic - the whole place is like something out of Vogue Living magazine and they are right to be as house-proud as they clearly are. 

Lettika points out a sweet little frog peering down at us over the guttering of the roof above our heads, and the entire evening continues in that vein - each one of us pointing heavenwards at regular intervals, oohing and ahhing at the wildlife as though watching a particularly impressive firework display, the most impressive creature of the night being the pyrophorus beetle, which is basically a neon-lit cockroach with a futuristic ability to turn on illuminous green headlights and a bright orange turbo-powered undercarriage. I kid you not, this thing is like something out of a sci-fi movie and in our combined 138 years none of us have ever seen anything like it. We are totally gobsmacked.
Mum opts to stay in the comfort of her veranda hammock as Andy and I jump in a taxi to the village's best fish restaurant. The cabbie Olivier is veering from side to side as he drives slowly down the sandy road and I wonder for a moment if he's stoned, before I catch sight of the literally hundreds of purple-and-orange crabs scuttling, pincers aloft, to avoid being crushed under his tyres. They are everywhere, as far as the eye can see. It's a pretty awesome scene. 

We enjoy a delicious meal of lobster, fresh fish and cheesecake washed down with two ridiculously expensive bottles of wine, priced especially high just for us blatant gringos, before the taxi driver pulls up to take us back to the house. It's the first time we feel totally chilled as this trip has been pretty full-on and weirdly I find it hard to summon up any sort of hard feelings at being ripped off on the cheap plonk, which is rare for someone as characteristically vocal as myself.

We pay the driver and instead of going straight to bed decide to take one last late-night romantic stroll along the beach, dodging the multitude of curious side-stepping crustaceans who detect we're a tad tipsy and head for the undergrowth to avoid being made crabmeat.

Back in the room we drift off to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing nearby, the experience bittersweet as we know that our time here is drawing swiftly to a close...

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Friday, 26 February 2016

Hair-raising Zips and Hot Spring Dips

It is a real novelty to wake up in a house whose huge bedroom windows directly overlook the still-active Arenal volcano, which erupted as recently as 2010. Prior to that, there was a huge eruption in 1968, which destroyed two entire towns. Upto this point the locals thought it was merely a mountain; that was until the top of said "mountain" blasted off and lava poured down the sides. Even now, we are told you can see what look like fireworks coming from the top of the volcano at night, when it's not obscured by cloud. The defunct towns are now covered by the man-made lake that surrounds the volcano (the biggest in Central America, providing 40% of the country's power), but when the water level is low you can still see the church spire protruding from the river.

Our driver arrives to take us back down that nightmare gravel road to our Trek-Tram-Zip excursion. Being the intrepid pro hikers that we now are (!), the early-morning hike that comes as part of our SkyTrek package is child's play, and we are mildly unimpressed by the geeky group dynamic; having been foraging in the dense forest for days now - just the three of us without a guide - this tour feels a bit formulaic by comparison. We've become trek snobs. How did that happen?

 I can tell Andy is bored when he starts subtly chucking small rocks into the forest to give the impression of animal activity and he turns away smirking as the rest of the group squint and crane their necks to try and get a look at which exotic animal is hiding nearby. The guide is less than impressed when she realises Andy has been winding everyone up.

Stifling yawns as the guide rambles on about various species of trees and shapes of leaf, we feign interest whilst craning our necks to catch a glimpse of some animal action. Nothing. The frequent zip lines buzzing past overhead have rendered the wildlife mute. After 3.5 hours of vertigo from rickety hanging bridges, waterfalls and steep hill climbs, the only bit of wildlife activity we've seen came from watching a middle-aged French tourist slipping and sliding on her backside down a wet path, coming to rest at the bottom with limbs flailing like an upturned beetle.

Now for the fun part that Mum has been bricking it about for days - the zip lining.

The SkyTram gondolas lurch from side to side as they incline steeply, taking us higher and higher above the dense canopy, to 4100ft to be exact. There are so many different species of trees and plants jostling for the sunniest spot and this is a fantastic way to view them all, my favourite being the Walking Palm, so-called because if it isn't in the optimum location, it just casually sprouts new roots and moves to a better spot. You can see the new roots sticking out of the side of the tree as it prepares to 'walk.' 

Anyway, I this point we are trussed up in harnesses, suede gloves and helmets, before being briefed on all the safety blurb. As we sign the health and safety waiver Mum's face gets increasingly pale as the heart-stopping task in hand draws closer. 

"Lean back in the harness until you're lying flat, arms straight, knees locked. When the platform draws closer, move your pulley side to side to gain traction and slow yourself down, then spread your legs to come in to land. If you get stuck out on the wire, let go of your pulley and rotate your body 180 degrees then use your hands to pull yourself along the wire until you reach the platform. Oh, and it's not one zip line, it's a series of seven wires, getting increasingly longer and further apart in length. Comprender?" asks one of the instructors. 

Everyone laughs nervously and nods their agreement, except De Mama who is looking petrified and repeating "SEVEN?!" 

Up on the platform, the fearless Andy goes first, and he leans back horizontally in the harness as the cocky instructor repeats the instructions before pushing him off. He flies above the rainforest like a bat out of hell, the whirring of the wire getting louder as he picks up speed. We can just see him hit the barrier at the other end before stepping off unsteadily. It's my turn. Gulp! 

I stand still whilst the instructor checks my harness and clicks my pulley into place, then lean back into position as he lets go of me and I fly off above the trees. It's is utterly exhilarating, and once my heart has stopped threatening to go into full cardiac arrest I manage to turn my head slightly to take in the outstanding beauty of the lush green forest, the huge lake and staggering size of the volcano. This doesn't last long however, as the instructor shakes the wire to alert me to start braking, and then I'm furiously jerking the pulley left and right in a vain attempt to reduce my speed before slamming into the safety pad on the platform. Hmmm, must remember to brake next time.

I step off the platform just in time to see De Mama in the distance as she steps off the platform and soars through the air. She is going so fast it reminds me of a human cannonball, and within 30 seconds she has traversed the 650ft-high canyon and is roaring towards me on the platform. I can just make out her bugged-eyed look of terror, top lip stuck to her teeth in a frozen rat face as she hurtles, legs akimbo, into the barrier. It's the funniest thing I've seen in ages. I'm bursting with pride in the red-faced, sweaty creature in front of me - that's my girl!

The other (mostly American) zip liners appear to be enjoying it as much as I am, so much so in fact that they insist on going in front of Mum on every wire so they can watch her come flying in to land with all the grace of a deranged pelican. 

There is one skinny woman who is so delicate and frail that she doesn't have the bodyweight to get from one side to the other, so has to do the thing we'd all been dreading happening to ourselves - she has to LET GO of the pulley, dangle from her safety harness almost 700 feet above the ground and then use her hands to pull herself the rest of the way across the wire, whilst we all watch nervously from the other side, the instructors attempting to pull the rope taut to aid her progress. Sod that! It's the first time I've been happy to be a big ol' bird. 

The longest cable of them all is called Big Daddy : 3000ft across of sheer terror-filled 'fun.'
Andy breezes across like the Milk Tray man, barely breaking a sweat, and I come roaring in with all the physical control of a crane fly, lanky limbs flailing and eyes watering, whilst attempting to maintain a cool demeanour as I'm hyper-aware of the watching crowd on the
viewing platform.

Next it's De Mama's turn. The crowd falls quiet as she reluctantly lets go of the instructor's grip and hurtles above the treetops. She is a tiny speck in the distance, but even from here I can tell she is rigid and sure enough, within 90 seconds or so she is zooming towards the platform like a rocket, eyes bulging with fear and every tooth in her head bared like a sabre-toothed tiger. The Wallace and Gromit animations spring to mind - Nick Park couldn't have made a more comical expression out of plasticine if he tried. The Americans crowd around to get a better look - they've got their money's worth out of Mum alone today.

The only person more 'mature' than Mum on the zips today is an elderly Californian gent, who looks like an ageing star of the silver screen and must be mid-seventies at least. Love that! 
After 7 zip lines, 2.5 hours and buckets of sweat and adrenaline, we are finally back on solid ground. Never ones to be ripped off buying the souvenir pictures, we are about to dismiss the idea when I catch sight of Mum's ones. The photographer has captured the moment perfectly - hair sprouting from the sides of the cannon-ball helmet, mouth so dry she's doing the perfect rat face and eyes bulging like boiled eggs in sheer terror. "We'll take them," I say.

The only time I've seen funnier photos of Mum was when she and Dad went swimming with dolphins in Antigua years ago and the souvenir snaps show them posing awkwardly with the friendly mammals, and she said by way of explanation at the cringe-worthy pics, "it was so stressful, I kept poking it in the blowhole by mistake when I tried to cuddle it." 
The only person who could describe swimming with dolphins as stressful. 

Deciding we need to relax after all that excitement, we take a taxi to Los Lagos resort for lunch, then laze in the natural hot springs which are heated by the volcano for an hour or so before heading back to the villa for a much-needed early night.

Tomorrow we're on the move again, travelling to Matapalo on the Pacific side of the country for some beach action for our final leg of what has been an amazing trip...

Hasta lluego, Tortuguero

After such a fantastic four days in Tortuguero it's with sadness that we pack up our belongings in readiness to leave. The only thing we won't miss are the teeth-chatteringly cold showers....oh, and the quick-sinking bog that threatens to consume De Mama every time she takes a single step beyond the cabin into the forest. 

Ever prepares our breakfast, and we eat scrambled eggs and fresh fruit whilst looking out over the forest, trying to commit every detail of our beautiful surroundings to our ageing memory banks, to recall once more on a freezing Monday afternoon back in miserable Blighty. 

We put some bananas on the bird table and coax the toucans from the trees, Andy hand-feeding them in his usual gung-ho manner. They have to tilt their huge bills to look at this strange creature before them, keeping their beady black eyes fixed on him nervously as they grab huge chunks of banana and toss them right to the back of their throats, then gulp them down without chewing. Which, funnily enough, is exactly how Andy eats too.

As usual, he goes just one step too far and attempts to stroke the colourful birds, who scatter in disgust at his audacity, so he turns his attention to the troop of howler monkeys who are watching curiously from the trees above instead...all except the baby, who swings happily upside down by his tail, oblivious to us standing a few feet below. 

Their desire to grab the food is outweighed by scepticism, and no amount of cajoling by Andy brings them lower, which is a good thing as wild animals should obviously remain wild. I think back to my time as a backpacker, and how the fearless monkeys behaved when too tame in Cambodia. What at first seemed cute swiftly became a a nuisance when they were stealing sunglasses from tourists' heads and guzzling the dregs from Coke cans before discarding them over their shoulders around the temples of Angkor Wat.

Our motorboat arrives to take us back to La Pavona, and we point out the various birds and animals whose names pop into our heads in Roberto's thick Jamaican accent, thanks to his informative tours. 

Leo the taxi driver is waiting on the riverbank when we arrive, ready to take us on our onward journey to the Zona Norte, specifically the Arenal volcano region. I wonder if this would be a good time to tell him that the owner of the villa has recently emailed me to warn how treacherous the roads are, but my thoughts are interrupted by the sputters coming from the direction of De Mama, who is unconscious within minutes of setting off. Leo goes to pull over, assuming we must have accidentally brought an animal back from the jungle amongst our ton of luggage, but then realises, no, it's just one of his passengers dozing off...

After a few hours Leo takes us to Ranchero for lunch. As we can't decipher the menu, we all wait for Leo to order then to his amusement gesticulate to say we'll have whatever he's having. After 5 hours in his Hyundai, which thankfully is a 4x4, we finally approach the last leg of the journey: the treacherous climb up the mountain dirt road to the villa.

Our teeth are rattling in our heads, Leo's suspension is taking a hammering, and the GPS has long since given up trying to work out where we are, or even why we'd attempt to get here in the first place.

Luckily I'd screen-shot Nita's back-up directions, which are about twenty pages long. Anyone who knows me knows that despite my love of travelling, I have absolutely zero sense of direction, can't work out which way up maps go, and that this guide may as well be in Cantonese. 

Eventually, with the car at an eighty degree angle against the mountain, we spot a little orange casita through the darkening sky, perched atop the cloud-covered peak. Leo bids us farewell and begins the difficult 5 hour journey back to San Jose, possibly regretting the moment he offered to be our driver for the entire trip.

Juan the housekeeper arrives to welcome us and give us the lowdown on the house and the Arenal Volcano which stands majestically before us. First things first Juan mate, "what's the wifi code?" Anyone who's backpacked will know that the Internet is a lifeline for which you'd rather lose a limb than forgo....sod the ginormous active volcano in front of us, how else are we gonna keep up with the latest cat videos trending on Facebook?
Once our thirst for communication via the World Wide Web has been satiated, we admire the breath-taking scenery of the volcano, lakes and forests from the villa's fantastic 360 degree vantage point before cobbling together some dinner and hitting the hay, for tomorrow we have an action-packed day : trekking, skytram, and then the activity that is giving Mum serious high, high above the rainforest canopy...

Sweet dreams, De Mama!

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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Feeling bogged down, time to move on....

Christopher Columbus gave Costa Rica it's name during his final voyage in 1502, when he reported vast quantities of gold jewellery amongst the natives and declared it to be a "Rich Coast." When I think of Costa Rica's name, I think it applies equally to the richness of the wildlife here - this place has treasures of the animal kingdom that are astounding to us Brits, being more accustomed to scruffy one-legged city pigeons than resplendent primary-coloured toucans. 

After fresh fruit, eggs and toast prepared by Ever, we don our wellies and head into the jungle for another wildlife fix. We are like a bunch of addicts (we're pale enough) who crave the constant shots of adrenaline that come with being eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild exotic creature.

This time, Mum selects a different pair of wellies from the laundry room: ones that aren't four sizes too big this time, and these ones even have drawstring ties around the top. 
It makes no difference whatsoever - within minutes she's wedged fast in the sinking bog, her lack of height meaning she just can't get the traction to haul herself out. She grabs onto a small tree for support, which is lethal in the jungle as there's bound to be an entire creepy-crawly ecosystem on each leaf, and sure enough as the branches shake some leaves fall off, sprinkling a variety of tiny bugs onto her head like confetti. This causes her to shriek and panic, toppling forward into the murky abyss. In her desperate attempts to escape the biting critters, she lunges....and the wellies are left standing upright in the mud, whilst a red-faced Mama is floundering in her now filthy stockinged feet. Give me strength! 

Once Andy and I have stopped laughing, we brush the bugs off her head and shoulders and grab an arm each to yank her out; I notice one of her clammy hands still clutching a fistful of leaves from the tree and am roaring again. 

Amazingly, there are still a few birds and animals that haven't fled in terror after all this commotion, and we spot toucans, parrots, tiger herons, monkeys and even a flock of giant macaws.

We lug De Mama back to base looking like some newly-discovered swamp-dwelling mammal and she endures the agonising ritual that is taking a shower at the ecolodge. The website claims the solar-powered shower to be room temperature, which it may well be, if the room happens to be in Russia. Icy is not the word. A series of expletives accompany every attempt to have a wash at this place and as there are no walls to the cabins, you can hear if someone on the other side of the clearing is attempting to have a shower.

We relax in the hammocks by the river for a bit to recover from the morning's excitement. Once De Mama has accidentally toasted her eyelids in the "scorchio" sun, we take a river taxi over to the village for another spot of sloth-seeking. 

We drink delicious fresh fruit shakes before moving on to the local beer Imperial (not De Mama of course, we can't risk her throwing another whitey) to refresh ourselves ahead of the trek.

As dusk falls we mooch about the village, soaking up the atmosphere as it's our last night here. The locals are playing volleyball, football or just passing slowly by on bicycles laden with fresh fruit and vegetables (there are no cars on Tortuguero). The elder men are playing an animated game of dominoes for money in the square, whilst their wives tip silently back and forth on rocking chairs on their verandas. 

We take a walk along the black sandy beach as eagles glide above our heads. We are searching for our elusive sloth, but eventually give in and head to a reggae restaurant for some tasty Caribbean fayre instead. 
As Andy's nickname is Spider Monkey and mine Sloth, Mum is now the Bearded further explanation needed. Well, this has been an action-packed holiday, not a chilled spa-break after all. Something's gotta give, and it just so happens to be hair removal routines and beauty treatments. My long acrylic nails are now in dire need of a manicure, so my full sloth transformation is almost complete.

After a lip-smacking meal of plantain hash browns with salsa, rice and chicken with avocado salad and various other items off the menu that take an age to arrive due to the usual communication errors (whereby I think I've ordered a feast and then a single tiny canapĂ© arrives an hour later), we take a speedboat back to our cabinas. 

Our time in Tortuguero is almost up, tomorrow sees the start of a new adventure : the mission that will be finding our rented villa perched atop a mountain alongside the semi-active Arenal Volcano and surrounding lakes. In a taxi. On gravel roads and dirt tracks. Without GPS. 
The words "needle" and "haystack" spring to mind, but I push them away as I drift off to sleep....