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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