Monday, November 25, 2013

Critters Of Every Flavor

Friends & family,

I'm staying at a yoga center on the outskirts of the Alajuela area in Costa Rica's central valley. The yoga center's grounds consist of gorgeous yoga studios, hotel style rooms, lush gardens, and -- tucked away towards the back of the property -- a little tent village, where I am happily stationed in an adorable yurt tent. Yep, my tent is totally a yurt (!!), something of which I was completely unaware prior to being here. Kinda nutty considering I've been obsessed with yurts for years. Staying in a tent in a tropical jungle-y garden is as totally fucking phenomenal as it sounds. Solitude is particularly fabulous perk thanks to the fact that I'm the only person here who opted for a tent over a room. I have the whole dang tent village to myself… though, only really from very human-centric perspective. Fun fact: Costa Rica contains 5% of the wold's biodiversity. May seem like teeny fraction but consider that it occupies only 0.03% of the earth's landmass. Let's just say that it's densely populated with an array of greenery, flowers and critters of every flavor.

Now don't quote me on this but I'm guessing Costa Rica's animals account for at least 95% of strange animal sounds planet-wide. Living in the middle of the Oregon woods, I'm well acquainted with the noises of forest dwellers, but these Costa Rican critters sound absolutely nothing like the ones to which I'm accustomed.  I feel like I've been dropped into an alien landscape. There's a "cleek cleek cleekidy cleeeeeek cleeeeeeeek…," a "meeeeee-yorpppppp," a "furple furple fur-fur-FURPLE! aay-yowwah." And every morning I'm awoken to a call and response of "chaaweek chaaweek cheepy cheepy chaweek" … "pringy pringy POP POP POP." A little later in the morning, around sun up there's some as yet unidentified species that sounds exactly like a roller coaster as it lurches loudly down a particularly steep bit of track. Add to that the joyful howls of roller coaster lovers and terrified screeches of the less sure. This critter sounds like all of that at once.

Tropical birds are definitely some of the most charming (and noisy) critters around. They skitter about at light speed and though they're difficult to glimpse, the few I have seen seem to fall into one of 2 categories: 1) little brown finch types, exactly like something I'd see in Oregon or, 2) wildly exotic & colorful alien birds, exactly like something you'd expect from a particularly spectacular episode of Animal Planet.

I'm less excited about the vast array of arachnids that have taken up residence outside my tent. Every morning, I closely survey my tent village's 4 bathroom shower stalls while taking spider inventory. Whichever stall tallies the least number of 8-legged critters is the one that gets my business . Turns out I'm a geographically selective arachnophobe. In Oregon, we have plenty of spiders with whom I'm happy to coexist (even in my shower). The spiders here… not so much. They're huge with wildly colorful markings, which send a clear message: get the fuck near me and I *will* inject you with a deadly venom.

A major highlight of my travels so far was a day trip out to see the Poas Volcano. Micah was very concerned about the idea (it's an active volcano), but as it turned out the smoking volcano itself was the least of my worries and far less terrifying than the ride there. Imagine a dozen people packed into a van traveling at terrifyingly high speeds along ill-maintained, very windy roads. Wheeeee! The tour guide was outragously cool (she's a biology type, young mama, all around nifty gal) and, post-tour, we geeked out about about epiphytes, invasive species and exchanged notes on favorite biology books. The volcano itself was smokin' hot and generally darn impressive. 

Another highlight was a day out in the central market of San Jose with Shanti (my friend & yoga teacher). Shanti had befriended two local ladies, Nadi and Kattya, who offered to drive us into the city and give us a few pointers. Nadi is Costa Rican and Kattya an American who's been living in Costa Rica for the past 30 years. Both are super sweet. Kattya -- a very outgoing type who loves to share her knowledge -- gave us an animated, fascinating and extensive history of Costa Rica. The market itself was huge and packed and loud and exotic and awesome. Being a pedestrian here in the city of San Jose was less awesome, and, actually, one of the more terrifying experiences of my life (no crosswalks, no sidewalks, cars everywhere). As lovely and kind as everyone is in person they seem to become complete assholes when they're behind the wheel. Kattya explained that when she moved here 30 years ago there were basically no cars on the road. Cars and driving have only become a ubiquitous part of Costa Rican life in the relatively recent years, and, let's just say, they're still working out the kinks. Nadi invited us to join her at her house for tea, post market and in giving us directions a hilarious cultural gap came up. She drew us an extensive map to a Kentucky Fried Chicken and explained that upon reaching the KFC, we should turn right and walk 25 meters to her house. I asked her for her exact address. She laughed and said her exact address is 25 meters form the KFC. She then explained that they don't actually have addresses here and, in fact, most of the streets are not named. I'm still confused about how such a thing is possible in a city as large and densely populated as San Jose but we found her house without too much trouble, though we arrived drenched from head to toe from the rain. Her jaw dropped when she saw us and she insisted on providing us with dry clothes while she ran our soaking ones through the dryer. Total sweetheart.

A few other odds & ends:

Sleep has been difficult. The weather is warm and muggy as fuck during the day, but chilly and even muggier overnight. My tent is surprisingly poorly designed and never seems to be more than a degree warmer inside than out. 

Thanks to the humidity, my hair has become a wild mane of curls; by far the curliest it's been since I was a wee thang.

I regret having only brought 3 novels. I figured 3 would be more than enough (when the fuck is the last time I read more than 3 novels in two weeks?). But here I am only a third of the way through and already two and a half novels down.

My yoga retreat started in earnest today and is pretty much yoga boot camp. If I make it through the week in one piece, I'll be one kick ass yoga ninja, so that's kinda cool. For now, though, I'm exhausted and every inch of my body is hurting. On the plus side, my morning  class looks out over a jungly garden, so I get a a two and a half hour lesson of butterfly and hummingbird pollination (so amazing and gorgeous).

Well, that's all I got… for now. Much love to all.

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