This past weekend was spent with new friends in Puerto Viejo, a laidback town that sits on the Caribbean Sea. It’s a five hour bus ride from San Jose and proved to be unnecessarily difficult to get to, mostly because finding bus stations in San Jose is similar to an expert level of Where’s Waldo? But I don’t think a trip here would be complete without getting lost at least three times, which I dutifully did. Eventually, and with the help of a kind old lady decked out in full Costa Rica fütbol gear, we got to where we needed to be. Finally.
But let me take a step back because I promise I actually do volunteer work and not just lay on sunny beaches…
On Friday, a group from Maximo Nivel (the organization I volunteer with) had the opportunity to help rebuild a house for an older man whose health was deteriorating due to his living conditions. Inside his home were soggy clothes from the rains, a dozen empty milk boxes, cockroaches, and tarantulas. Sounds homey, right? We essentially knocked down the house (which was really only metal sheets for walls) and started fresh.
There were more volunteers than work (a great problem to have), so admittedly I didn’t contribute too much construction-wise, although I did drill holes into some 2×4’s. Instead, a friend and I chatted with the man whose house we were building and we learned that he had been living there for 50 years. He wasn’t exactly in tip-top shape, but he seemed happy enough. He didn’t smell too sweet, wore two different shoes, and had only half of his teeth because he pulled the others out himself instead of going to the dentist. Admittedly, I didn’t understand much of what he was saying but we did bond over our love for coffee and cookies, so that has to count for something, right? Although I didn’t see house as a finished product, I do hope that the new place will be good for him and his health.
FAST FORWARD TO PUERTO VIEJO
After our little house project, we jetted off the Puerto Viejo. I opted to spend the first night in a remote part of town where I fell asleep to the sounds of wildlife right outside my window and then woke to a stunning view of the jungle. The next day I headed to a great hostel called Rocking J’s, where hammocks are the norm, the booze is cheap, and the beach is only 50 feet away. My friends and I walked the white sands of Playa Cocles and enjoyed a dip in the sea, even if it was a bit salty for my taste. Sheer Bliss.
Later, I made my way to the Jaguar Rescue Center, which I 125% recommend visiting. Animals from all over the country are brought here if they are injured, were abandoned and unable to survive as babies, or if they were kept illegally as pets. My guide, the center’s veterinarian, even let me say hello to a baby sloth that was brought in that morning and I about died of happiness right then and there.
At one point, a monkey jumped on me and started to drink from my water bottle (they are so mischievous) and I was even able to play and help feed a few of them! Each monkey had such a personality; a few climbed all over me as they played together, others were content to just cuddle with you, and another was set on stealing everyone’s food. They are incredibly smart and eerily similar to humans – to see it up close for myself was amazing. I was also able to meet a baby ocelot, a young crocodile, owls, snakes, and a baby raccoon amongst other animals that I couldn’t even name. It was worth every penny.
FROM THE BEST DAY TO THE WORST
With only a bit of time left on the tour, my guide and I heard the sound of tools in the jungle and suddenly he darted away yelling, leaving me bewildered. A second later I looked up and saw the largest tree in that part of the jungle fall to the ground in slow-motion as it took several other trees down with it. Someone illegally and VERY improperly cut down the tree which had dozens of animals living in it. To see it all unfold before my eyes was heartbreaking; hearing the howler monkeys scream in the distance and the animals at the center yelling in agitation while the volunteers responded to the immense sound and ran to where I was only to stare in disbelief at the gaping hole in the sky.
My guide was emotionally distraught, and understandably so, as it would be his job to go into the jungle and take care of all the injured and killed animals. To some people it may seem like just another tree, and maybe you had to see it to truly understand how detrimental and horrifying it was, yet either way, deforestation (and improper deforestation at that) has a devastating impact.
The center is run by volunteers whose passion and knowledge is evident and the only funding they receive is from tours and donations, which barely covers the cost to house, feed, and take care of the animals on an average day, let alone a day where dozens will be brought in due to the event we had just witnessed. That being said, it is my hope that if you are reading this you consider donating even $5 to aid the Rescue Center’s efforts. Personally, I think skipping Starbucks for one day is a damn good exchange for the wellbeing of an animal’s life. To donate and or read about their work, you can visit their website, www.jaguarrescue.com. Although the tours are light-hearted and fun, this link really shows the true nature of their work and how they are helping care for the wildlife (brace yourself, some of these are graphic): Jaguar Rescue Center Injured Animal Guests.
GOOD MORNINGS & GOODBYES
Before catching an early bus back to San Jose, we decided to take in the sunrise. Even behind large clouds it was still an incredible sight to see; there’s just something wonderful about witnessing the beginning of a new day, and let me tell you, it’s even sweeter from the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean Sea.
!Hasta luego mi amigos!