I say “Cayman”, you think “Porsche”.
Most enthusiasts make the exact same connection between those two nouns that you just did, just as I do. Or at least I used to before visiting Costa Rica.
On my first weekend in Costa Rica – after five weekdays of volunteering in a San Jose HIV clinic for socially ostracized male prostitutes – I traveled by silver arrow, a 12-passenger Mercedes Sprinter van, to the Caribbean coast to experience the carefully preserved Costa Rican rain forest.
The trip from San Jose to the Parque Nacional Tortuguero was only 150km, but it took almost 4 hours along the unruly, unpaved, pockmarked, and rain-soaked roads. Since we left at 6am, by 8am we were hungry and only half-way. Conveniently, our silver arrow stopped at an isolated but surprisingly busy restaurant for breakfast. It was there, between bites of fried chicken, rice, and black beans, that I saw a pet animal unlike any I had ever seen. It was brown, small, and had feet that strongly resembled its hands. It was also grasping dearly to the bosom of a local señora who was with her husband and two young children.
I had no choice but to approach the family with my broken third language. I couldn’t help but learn more about this unique little dude. To my surprise, I was offered to hold what turned out to be a 3-month-old two-toed sloth – an adorable mammalian leaf-eater that completely turned me into a wide-eyed child on the 1st night of Chanukah.
A few blissful moments later, I returned the clutching bundle of fur to its caretakers. The wildlife that characterized the more enjoyable parts of Costa Rica had made its first and most indelible impression on me.
Two hours later, groggy and unable to sleep, we crept into the edges of the national park and towards our water-bound tour vehicles. We donned rubber ponchos in a futile attempt to keep dry and set off into the park the only way possible – by canal boat.
Howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys monkeys scrambled along the tree tops, of which there are 900 documented species in Costa Rica, while a scarlet macaw perched itself along the water’s edge. The forest teemed with life, all finely balanced to maximize the nutrient poor soil, tropical temperatures, and all-or-none rain.
As we navigated the dense expanse of biodiversity via the weaving watery byways, the tour guide focused through his binoculars and brought to the group’s attention all of the camouflaged wonders of the rain forest. Our tour guide probably could have taught nature-spotting courses in Canada, but instead he hoped to travel to Germany to learn the language and increase his value as a guide to Deutschland‘s prosperous tourists.
It wasn’t long before 1pm rolled around, but we weren’t scheduled to arrive at our lunch spot for another 90 minutes. I scarfed down a local brand of jam-filled granola bar that I’d brought with me just as we slowed gently up to a log in the middle of the canal. Our tour guide spoke softly as he pointed his index finger towards the log. I couldn’t immediately see what he was pointing at but I definitely heard the word “Cayman”.
Our tour guide said “Cayman”, I thought “Porsche”.
It wasn’t. It was so much cooler.
[Photo credits: Lawrence Dushenski]