Tuesday, December 23, 2008

costa rican adventures: canopy tours, low quality snacks & leatherback turtles

we wake up at 5:30 am, thinking it is 6:30, because i forgot that the bolshevik hadn't set the clock on his cell phone to costa rica time. we don't realize this until we arrive at the main cabin for breakfast and there is no one there.

after breakfast the bolshevik tries to take some video with his fancy pants camera, but within about two minutes his camera shuts down due to overexposure to moistness. rainforests ... seriously rainy. take heed.

we arrive at selvatura park and we are quickly outfitted in harnesses and caribeeners and yellow hard hats, then herded into a bus which, after a long wait, drives us about 500 feet from where we started. then we are given an informative demonstration on how canopy-ing works. here's how it works:

you're in a harness.
they attach you to a long cable via pulleys and caribeeners.
then you zip through the rainforest on said long cable.

there was more to it than that, but i am summarizing for the sake of entertainment. so we are zipping through the rainforest on cables and it is pretty damned cool. the bolshevik suggests that i "look down," to which i reply, "hell no i won't look down!" but then on the next cable we zip through the trees and then suddenly we are over a huge valley and i look down to see all the treetops below me, and the mountains around me, and it was all very awesome. and i think to myself, i really hope i don't slow down and get stuck on this cable, leaving me hanging several hundred feet above the rainforest. that would be bad. but luckily that didn't happen.

then we did the "tarzan swing." pretty much, instead of zipping across via cable, the nice workers at selvatura attach a rope to your harness and then they lift you by the ass and toss you gently off a very high platform. then you swing like a pendulum off of a cliff. this was slightly terrifying, but once you swing back and slow down a bit it's pretty fun. they let you swing back and forth, until they eventually slow you down enough to rope you in with a device the bolshevik cleverly named "the tourist catcher." the tourist catcher is an oversized padded elastic band which they sort of lasso around you in order to get you down off the tarzan rope.

there is some debate about whether or not canopy tours are harmful to the forest. and although i'm sure the forest would be better off without canopy tours. it was really cool, and i think the damage to the trees was minimal. i mean, i didn't even slam into one tree. not even once.

i would like to add a little note here about costa rica ... when i called to reschedule our tour, there was no "oh it's non-transferrable" or "there's no rain dates" or "didn't you read the fine print" or "of course a non-expired passport is invalid." they don't have red tape. you just ask them to do something reasonable and they work with you. i heart costa rica.

so after our canopy fun we set off for playa grande. yay, warmth and beachiness! after an hour or so we finally move from "unpaved road" to an actual real road! with asphalt and everything! even though this maked the driving easier, it's not as fun or scenic. we make such good time that we decide to skip lunch and just buy costa rican snacks at the gas station instead.

now, i have noticed that when you leave the US they have much better snack food. at least in europe and australia. but i have to warn you that snack food is NOT something costa ricans are excelling at. i know, you are disillusioned by this information. shocked even. those of you contemplating travelling to costa rica, thinking that it is a magical land full of amazing processed snacks will be very disappointed. here's what we ate:

pinapple samosas - crusty samosa type snacks with pinapple filling. these were ok, but rather dry.
caramel cupcakes - little cupcakes supposedly filled with caramel. these downright sucked. it was like a little flavorless muffin with some dried up stuff in the center prentending to be caramel.
twinkie shaped pastry - turns out these are the exact same thing as the caramel cupcakes except that they're shaped like twinkies
vanilla sticks - these were long straw-like tubes that at first bite taste like vanilla flavored tree bark and have the consistency of chewing a thin layer of rubber. however, after you eat about 4 or 5 of them they are surprisingly good. addictive even. these were our favorite, by far.

photographic evidence of these snacks will later be provided by the bolshevik.

finally we arrive at hotel las tortugas. and despite the bolshevik's aversion to sunlight, he accompanies me to the beach where we frolic in the ocean until the sun sets and all the surfers have gone.
let me just take a minute to tell you about playa grande: the owners of our hotel fought to have playa grande turned into a reserve for sea turtles, so it is located smack in the middle of a pristine 3 km strip of untouched beach. after sunset you aren't allowed on the beach because they don't want people interferring with the turtles nesting season. but you are allowed to go on the beach with a guided "turtle tour," given by the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas. so that is what we did.
our reservation is for 12:30 at night (we had to nap after dinner so that we were prepared for such late night activity, since i had accidentally started our day at 5:30 am). we walk over to the ranger station and wait with a large group of people. after a while we are ushered into a room where we watch a very poorly made power point presentation about leatherback sea turtles. but then we watch an informative video about how that park was made and it showed a little baby sea turtle trying to make it's way to the ocean after it had just hatched. it was SO cute.
after the video we are told we have to wait at the ranger station until a turtle is spotted on the beach. they warn us that this could take hours, if at all. now this is my favorite part (aside from actually seeing a sea turtle) ... they tell us we don't have to pay unless we see a turtle. so unlike those whale watching scams and other tourist rip-offs you have in the states, we only have to pay if we receive the service we signed up for. i heart costa rica: land of reasonableness.
after about 45 minutes of waiting, we are told a sea turtle has been spotted and we all caravan to the beach. we walk through the sand for a while until we approach a huge sea turtle. we circle around the sea turtle (which i'd say is about as large as a medium sized coffee table), and there are all these scientists and volunteers helping her dig her hole and holding flashlights and patting sand. it's all very exciting. and we are standing mere feet from this. mere feet! we're watching her flippers clear away sand, and then we actually watch her lay eggs! (they were larger than chicken eggs, and more round). and then we watch her cover up the eggs with sand. so cool.
my one beef with the turtle tour is that i would have liked to watch her completely cover her eggs and then return to the ocean. i overheard someone say that it actually takes over an hour for her to cover the eggs up and that she even gets twigs and stuff to hide the nest. that would have been fascinating! i want to see a giant turtle lay sticks down! how would she even grab a stick? we didn't get back to our hotel until after 3 am, so maybe they felt that another hour would be too long, but i would have liked the option of just sitting on the beach and waiting for her to return to the sea all triumphant. but it was pretty interesting nonetheless so i shouldn't complain.
and thus conludes yet another action packed day in central america.


*Bitch Cakes* said...

Wow! Look at you- zipping around a jungle by a rope, witnessing a giant turtle lay and bury eggs *and* rating the Costa Rican snacks! What a fun and busy day!

PS "Tourist Catcher" = hilarious!!!

Miss Dewey Decimal said...

costa rican snack food: not worth the calories ... you heard it here first!

rowan said...

that's truly amazing about the sea turtle. i hate caramel so will consider myself warned should i ever go to Costa Rica.

Peonys said...

Yes, watching turtles lay eggs is really neat. Unirondack has turtles lay eggs in the field, so I've seen it with Adirondack -type turtles (not nearly as big).

It is nice to hear that there is such a land of reasonableness.