My 35th birthday weekend is one for the record books...
Hopping in our car, we drive 2 hours to Puerto Jimenez, in the heart of the rugged Osa Peninsula. We check into our waterfront cabin and then hit the road again to explore new beaches. As we were driving to Matapalo, on a typical skeleton-rattling pot-hole ridden Costa Rican road, I notice a tree swaying dramatically above us, which can only mean one thing: MONKEYS!
Andy pulls over and I hop out to make friends with a curious baby spider monkey. We've only seen spider monkeys once before in Costa Rica, and we've never seen a baby. A foreshadowing moment of a weekend full of firsts. I fire away on our camera as he closely inspects us while munching on leaves.
I am in love, I want to throw him on my back and take him home with me. Look at that precious little face!
Ending our drive at Playa Matapalo, we get out to explore and walk the beach. The water is blue, the jungle is glowing green and flourishes right up to the shoreline.
I love being in a place where the jungle meets the ocean, like two Romeo and Juliet lovers, forbidden from joining themselves into one, but always just within torturous sight of one another's grasp. Two magical, colorful pieces of the Earth with vast, untouched spaces, waiting to be explored. The waves are powerful, and looming black rocks line the beach. The coarse, black sand feels like pumice on our feet, and we take advantage of the free pedicure.
Ending our day with a slow walk along the pier, we pause as nearly 100 green parrots fly over our head, into the sunset, screeching and cackling to each other happily. Another special animal moment to mark our souls.
The next day we wake up early and take Sophie for a walk. All three of us stop on a bridge to watch a family of 9 scarlet macaws, the most we've seen at one time, soaring over us. The abundance of animals on the Osa Peninsula is absolutely mind-blowing.
I thought about what my birthday wish was, and it was simple: to spend the day on the water. There is no better way to see a place, experience a culture, fall in love with somewhere, than from the water. If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.
We book a 6-hour eco boat tour of the Golfo Dulce with Paradise Rocks. Captain Josh is full of information and we learn how incredibly deep this gulf is, as he propels us around it, which is very rare for a gulf. He talks about how the fresh water flows into the gulf constantly from the rivers, covering the salt water with a layer of clean, clear mountain water. We notice how clean the air smells, and the usual "fishy sea" smell does not exist here.
The entire gulf appears deserted, not another boat in sight for miles. The ocean belongs to us, my birthday gift from the Universe. Stopping at a dock, we take turns launching ourselves into the ocean.
Pulling up to a deserted beach, we jump overboard into the greenest, purest water I've ever seen. For the next hour we float and snorkel, admiring the live coral and colorful fish, while munching on pineapple and watermelon.
We spot a pair of devil rays swimming together in the water, as well as a few flying fish. But the dolphins refused to be outshined. They stole the show with their friendly acrobatic skills, abundant energy, and playful spirits.
For the next 2 hours we chase these magical mammals through the pristine gulf. A pod of 300 bottle nosed dolphins chose the Golfo Dulce for their home. They chose well as they are healthy, well-fed and contagiously happy. Spinning and whipping the boat in circles, we tempt them to chase us in a game of tag, and they gleefully accept.
Majestic, humbling creatures, they play with each other, with us, with the surf. They launch their voluptuous bodies into the air and crash into the water with a dramatic splash. Synchronized swimmers, they follow the leader, their motions rhyming in the sea. Piercing through the surf, like a well-aimed bullet, carving a harmonious, perfect path into the sea, their calculated, joyful motions are mesmerizing, methodical, and medicinal.
Words are a funny thing. I love words. I love the way they can dance across the page, change a mood, draw a tear, soothe a worried soul. Words never fail me…until now. There are no words that can attempt to do this experience justice. It is the closest to nature I have ever felt. I looked a dolphin straight in the eye, and like looking into the eye of a hurricane, it was soul-changing.
A beautiful moment which I will never forget, our boat was propelling across the gulf at a high speed, the air carving a soundless heaven around us. No words could be heard and none were spoken, as we flew across the water, chased and surrounded by endless splashing dolphins. The welcoming silence soothed us all into another state, a state of pure bliss, cocooned by mother nature.
I am so eternally grateful to have had such an intense, lovely experience to mark the entrance into my 35th year in this life. What a special piece of Costa Rica the Osa Peninsula is. Overflowing with animals, rugged, unexplored, deserted. We are the minority and it's a powerful, humbling feeling to be outnumbered.
Thank you, Muchas Gracias, Merci Beaucoup, and OneLove to all.
Snakes on the Brain. It is the latest Blockbuster around here. I have snakes on the brain, in my dreams, in my nightmares, in my thoughts, on my mind. They are haunting me, they are taunting me. Everywhere I go I hear new snake stories.
Costa Rica is home to 22 species of venomous snakes, but one breed in particular terrifies me, the famous fer-de-lance, or the terciopelo as the locals call it. It is a member of the pit viper family, and is one of Costa Rica's most aggressive and feared snakes.
Often referred to as the "ultimate pit viper", this snake is known for having a hot temper. They react defensively and don't ask questions. Although snakes do not want to bite humans, they will react defensively if startled or threatened. In Costa Rica the fer-de-lance is responsible for more than half of all venomous snake bites, and is also responsible for nearly all fatalities caused by snakebite.
A family member of a friend of ours was bitten by one recently: two bites, one on each foot. It was a large snake, curled up underneath her car at night. She was not out hiking through the jungle barefoot, alone in the dark. She was just innocently getting into her car, which reminds us all to be aware of our surroundings. We never get into our car now without checking underneath it first.
Her medical costs and reconstructive surgery costs will be astronomical and anyone that wants to pitch in and contribute can visit their Go Fund Me page to make a donation. Every penny is appreciated. (a special thanks to our family members who have already donated). Here is the website to the donation page, just copy and paste it into your browser:
A few terciopelos have recently been spotted near our pool area at the village. One of the workers showed us a video of a 6-foot female that they killed. They slit open her engorged belly and 17 baby pit vipers slithered out of her, ready to claim their territory and defend it rigorously. Because they are territorial, the workers killed all 17 of the babies.
Snakes are an important part of the rainforest ecosystem, and I prefer to never kill anything if possible. But I must admit I sleep a little better at night knowing there are not 17 brand new baby terciopelos sleeping in the jungle surrounding our home. Although I am sure there are many more than 17 babies out there right now, as prime fer-de-lance birthing season takes place between April and June, and they can give birth to as many as 90 baby snakes at one time. (no wonder I'm having snake nightmares)
Recently we were at a potluck at a friend's house and we spotted a baby terciopelo curled up underneath the house. He appeared harmless enough, slumbering deeply during the hot, humid daylight. His camouflage was impressive and I would never have noticed him if Andy hadn't pointed him out to me. Another reminder to always be aware of our surroundings.
This species is nocturnal. They can be found near rivers, soaking up the sun like Sherly Crow during the day, and lying still in wait to ambush prey during the night, while camouflaged under dry leafs and jungle foliage.
The fer-de-lance is known for reacting defensively in most situations. They are extremely excitable and unpredictable. Capable of a sudden reversal of direction to defend themselves from any perceived danger, these snakes can move very quickly. This ambush snake has large eyes with a vertical pupil, and uses its highly-sensitive heat-detecting pit organ to detect prey.
Females can grow to be over 8 feet in length, and their fangs can be almost an inch long. This snake is easily distinguished by its unusually large V-shaped, broad head, and the females head can grow to be 2-3 times larger than the males heads.
The back of the snake has a dark, diamond pattern, sometimes compared to the pattern of a rattle snake. Pale yellow or cream colored bands crisscross the snakes body, resulting in the easily recognized diamond pattern. It is very difficult to spot, as its patterns in multiple shades of brown, blends in perfectly with the leaf-littered jungle floor.
Although most snakebites occur on the lower leg or ankle, the large size of the fer-de-lance, and its habit of raising its head high off the ground, can result in bites above the knee. And due to the snakes close proximity to human habitats, many bites actually occur indoors.
Their venom attacks the blood, causing clots that lead to death of surrounding tissue. In a short period of time the venom can cause a serious amount of damage, especially if not treated with antivenom within 1-2 hours of the bite. Quick medical treatment is the best chance to survive a bite from this vicious pit viper.
But the best thing to do is to practice awareness by trying to prevent any snakebites from occurring.
WAYS TO PREVENT SNAKEBITES:
1) never hike at night (and if you're crazy enough to do this, always bring a flashlight)
2) never hike alone
3) when hiking always wear high rubber boots, or thick hiking shoes with ankle protection. (and always remember to check inside your boots before putting them on). Do not hike barefoot, in tennis shoes or flip flops.
4) bring a walking stick with you to poke at the piles of dried leaves on the ground ahead of you on the trail
5) do not reach out to grab anything for support while hiking, always look where you need to grab first to ensure there is not a snake curled up in the spot you are reaching for
6) if you see a snake, always keep your eyes on it and try to distance yourself from the snake as much as possible, without making any sudden movements. If you are within striking distance of the snake and are carrying anything in your hands, such as clothing, a water bottle, or a walking stick, throw the item at the snake and it should concentrate on striking that item instead of you
7) garlic is a home remedy sometimes used to prevent snakebites. I've read of Tico farmers crushing a garlic clove and rubbing it all over their boots before working. Typically they put the remainder of the clove into their pockets while working, to repel snakes as well as insects. Garlic spray is another option, you can spray it onto your shoes, boots, clothing.
8) You can also take special care to avoid creating snake habitats around your home and garden. Keep the area around your home well mowed and check areas with a stick before chopping or weeding. Clean up any potential hiding spots, like junk piles, leaf piles, or wood piles.
9) dogs and cats patrolling your grounds at night also help to keep snakes away (a special thanks to the jungle dog Zorro who recently adopted us for keeping our house a snake-free zone)
HOW TO DEAL WITH A SNAKEBITE:
If you are bitten by this snake the first thing you need to focus on is remaining calm. You cannot die within a few minutes, and the most important thing is to prevent the person from becoming agitated and to immobilize the affected area to help slow the spreading of the venom.
Do not provide the person with any alcohol, do not use any kind of tourniquet, and do not attempt to suck the venom out of the wound. Get the person to the nearest medical facility immediately. Although it will be the furthest thing from your mind, it is beneficial to have a photo of the snake that bit you, so you can prove to the doctor which snake it was. It is dangerous to be given the wrong antivenom, and many times the doctors will want some sort of proof before administering antivenom. (I'm not sure which thought scares me more: being bitten by a snake, or having to chase him around after he bites me with my camera, trying to get a photogenic non-blurry picture of the creepy bastard)
I am a hippie at heart and have always believed that animals are intuitive. I talk to them in my mind, and out loud, and always let them know my intentions are pure and genuine. Animals are better listeners than most humans. When Andy and I do hike through the jungle, I talk to the snakes in my head. I let them know we are wishing to explore their territory but that we also wish to cause them no harm. I ask them to respect my space and I promise to respect theirs. I say a prayer and ask for protection, and that always makes me feel safer. Mother Nature listens, so talk to her.
Don't let the fear of a snakebite keep you locked inside your house, missing out on the beauty and nature this country is famous for. And yes, I'm talking to myself. Whenever I am feeling scared of snakes and find myself avoiding the outdoors, I remind myself that many terciopelo bites actually occur indoors…and that thought is usually enough to get me outside.
In Costa Rica everything is incredibly vibrant. The jungle is 1000 shades of green, the sky is bright blue, the ocean water sparkles, the sand is piercing white or steaming black, the scarlet macaws are superman red, the Tico clothing and the Tico houses are a rainbow of mismatched colors. In the states everyone wears black, or grey, or dark colors. My wardrobe was mostly black. I dressed to blend in, to fade into the background, to apologize for my existence, and to remain anonymous and unseen.
No one tries to match here, and they definitely don't try to blend in. They do try to be the most colorfully dressed. You don't have to match, in fact it's better if you don't. Wear as many colors as possible, that is the motto. Present yourself to the world like you just tasted the rainbow and couldn't pick your favorite color.
The other day I was admiring a young teenage Tico, walking down the road, wearing a hot pink t-shirt, royal blue skinny jeans, and blood red tennis shoes while holding a neon green cell phone, with a sunny yellow book bag slung over his shoulder. His hair was shaped into a fake mohawk or fauhawk, with stars and designs shaved into the side of his head.
His big, brown eyes crinkle into a smile as he looks up and meets our eyes. We wave, he waves back. One of my favorite things about Costa Rica is that everyone greets everyone. Everyone waves at everyone, which reminds me of my small hometown back in Oregon. His colorful, beautiful, happy soul shines right through his neon clothing and melts our cold, black American hearts.
Even the Tico houses are bright and colorful. Pink, purple, yellow, blue, green, red, every color you can imagine. I love Tico houses and could go around photographing them all day. They are simple, bright, welcoming and comfortable. A basic structure, usually made of cinderblocks, with a living area, kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom or two, painted a wonderful blend of bright, happy colors.
Most everyone's time is spent outdoors, so there is usually a large porch with a guaranteed hammock or two strung up in the shade, next to a few comfortable, leather, handmade rocking chairs. The yards and landscaping are meticulous, as the Ticos display their wealth outside rather than in. And typically a couple of jungle dogs lounging outside in the shade, also a range of colors, as are the family of chickens that peck through the driveway. The foliage, landscaping and flowers all colors of the rainbow, and life truly does look like a painting.
Costa Rica is funny sometimes. In our 6-week-long process of trying to get internet at our house, we have ran into many obstacles. And every obstacle comes with another obstacle. I've come to the conclusion that some people around here just get a kick out of saying no. I think they make up a new reason each time. Everyone we talk to tells us something different, everyone has a different version of no, a different reason why they can't help us.
Bank statements, tax returns, marriage certificate, birth certificate, passports, fingerprints, proof of residency, and the blood of your firstborn child is all Costa Rica requires of you to get wireless internet. I always laugh as I remember the point that Andy got frustrated and said to the guys at the ICE office: "you do realize we just want to pay you for internet right? It's not like we're trying to buy drugs!"
You would think it would be easy to buy or pay for a simple service that everyone uses and needs, right? It's not like we're trying to steal it, or acquire it illegally. All we want is to be able to communicate with our families and friends online, which is our only way to communicate.
In the U.S. if you want wifi you call a company and they come to your house immediately, install everything you need, give you the router for free, and you get high speed wireless internet instantly, for a reasonable monthly rate. The internet companies in the states fight over you, and they come to you. They make it so easy, too easy. Here we have to drive two hours to an office, only for them to give us a new reason why they can't help us. Then we drive to another office, only to be given another excuse.
As I'm getting frustrated over this process, I start to realize that maybe Costa Rica has it right. They don't just hand out anything to anyone. They don't assume you are who you say you are, that you need what you say you need. They require you to prove it over and over and over. It's not like we're trying to get approved for a $200,000 home loan, we only want monthly wifi.
This reminds me, though, that after I graduated from college I was instantly qualified for a $200,000 mortgage, when I barely knew what a mortgage was. I was only making $12/hour at the time, but somehow the U.S. government assumed I was responsible enough to pay back almost a quarter of a million dollars?? And isn't this what led to the great recession of 2008? Irresponsible lenders, greedy banks, underwater mortgages that people had no business taking out in the first place?
So maybe Costa Rica has it right. They want to make sure you are a good person, with strong character, before trusting you with anything at all, even a $20 piece of internet equipment. At this point I can only stop and humbly thank God that at least I'm not trying to take out a mortgage.
gangsta jungle dogs...
We've been adopted by a couple of Tico jungle dogs recently. The other day I was home alone and heard the beginnings of a massive storm outside. Thunder boomed through the valley, lightning lit up the sky and the sideways jungle rain took no mercy on any soul.
I flung open our front door to examine the storm and I was immediately accosted by a swirl of wet fur and slobbers. Two jungle dogs hurled themselves in through the open door, whining and trembling from the thunder, muddy and soaking wet. Andy has a "no jungle dog in the house" rule, but luckily for them he wasn't home. They must know I'm a sucker for a jungle dog in need, as they tried to look extra pathetic so I'd take sympathy on them, which of course I did. I grabbed a towel, dried them off, wiped up the muddy pawprints, and calmed everyone down. Only one of these dogs actually belongs:
Pretty soon we were all warm and dry. Flaca, jungle dog # 1, made herself right at home and claimed Sophie's bed, curling up into a ball, only pausing briefly to growl at the other dogs to let them know not to mess with her or her new, cozy bed. Zorro, jungle dog #2, curled up on the rug on top of my feet and went right to sleep. Sophie gave me a pathetic look, as her bed was stolen out from under her, and instead of doing anything about it she curled up on my lap. We all cuddled together, huddled in, safe from the sideways jungle rain, hunkered down...and watched Straight Outta Compton. Cuz we keep it gangsta.
Rainy season showed up with a vengeance and it brought along with it a surprise Oregon reunion. Our friend Josh came to visit and surprised us by also bringing our friend Jacob. It's been quite the bromance around here and Nicholas Sparks himself could not have written a better love story. (A special thanks to Jacob's super rad wife Shannon for lending him to us for the trip).
The guys were introduced to the real Costa Rica immediately as the cloud forest closed in and the torrential, unforgiving downpours threatened to erase the world from beneath us. Their 4-wheel drive mini SUV barely made it up the washed out mountain road, that resembled a mudslide after nonstop sheets of rain pounded it all day. Luckily our house is the perfect place to admire the passing storm with a cocktail in hand. We take cocktail hour very seriously around here, it's the only time of day when anyone knows the time of day.
Despite the relentless jungle rain, we still pulled off another successful pizza party down at the volunteer center. It was our friends Lori & Ayr's farewell pizza gathering, along with Josh and Jacob's welcome party. Jose managed to keep the fire hot and a steady stream of pizzas coming out of the oven. Here are some fun photos we took while drunk on delicious pizza:
After two days straight of sloppy rain, the heavens finally gave us a break, giving us the chance to explore some beaches, bodysurf some waves, meet some monkeys, drink some pina coladas, witness some spectacular sunsets, jump off some waterfalls and zipline through some jungles. Here's a photo tour of our adventures:
We spent the boys' last night in Manuel Antonio, we stayed at the Mango Moon Hotel and enjoyed the chill vibes, friendly dogs, incredible ocean view and white-faced monkey encounters. We hit the town and stopped in for drinks and appetizers at El Avion, the airplane restaurant.
Then we headed to one of our two favorite restaurants in Manuel Antonio: Barba Roja. Enjoying the ocean sunset view, we munched on fresh sushi rolls, seared ahi tuna, and pineapple fried rice with shrimp. Our food tour continued the next day onto our other favorite restaurant: Emilio's Café. We ordered frozen minty lemonade, ahi tuna poke, falafel and caprese sandwiches, and a big basket of the best french fries in all of Costa Rica. If you're ever in Manuel Antonio make sure to stop and enjoy the fresh food and killer ocean views at both Barba Roja and Emilio's Café.
Thanks for coming Josh and Jacob, you pulled off an epic surprise and we had so much fun making forever memories with you guys in the land of pura vida (although it may take us a week to recover). Until next time amigos!
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.