Archive for April, 2013

Stuff I’ve been working on.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Last week I got to work on a pharmaceutical pitch book. Pharma is notoriously boring and not fun to design for. However, I made an executive decision to create cool-looking healthcare-related illustrations. I threw them out there and waited for the team working on the pitch to shoot ’em down, but they didn’t! They didn’t shoot it down! And I got to use my nifty imagery. I was very happy. I blurred out all the words because I don’t know if they were proprietary and I don’t feel like getting fired today, but you’ll get the general look ‘n’ feel. I gave myself brownie points for the mortar and pestle. That’s some oldey-timey Rx goodness.

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You gotta fight! For your right! TO CHAAAAAAAARTY!

Monday, April 29th, 2013

It’s been a while since happy-happy chart time, so let’s do this thing. And no, I will not apologize for the title of this post.

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Costa Rica 2013, Part 8 and done.

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I heard a request for MOAR SLORFS!! Not a problem.

I learned a scary lesson while sitting with Judy, the owner of the Sloth Sanctuary. I had fawned over Her Highness and then I was sitting not paying any attention to Princess Buttercup when she ever-so-slowly draped her arm over her head and let out this loud shrill scream. It sounded kind of like someone letting the air out of a balloon into a loudspeaker. It was off-putting to say the least. I turned to Judy and said something along the lines of, “What is God’s good name was that?” and Judy said, “That’s just Princess Buttercup telling you you should pay more attention to her.” In the wild, sloths are solitary creatures, so when the lady sloth is ready to mate she lets out that eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee and the males know there’s a willing and receptive female over yonder. Here’s a video I found of a female making the screamings. Piercing, is it not?

I forgot to include a cool fact about sloths yesterday: Those claws, they are bone. Exposed bone covered in keratin. And if they snap off, the sloths can regenerate them. Did I mention they are fascinatingly weird creatures? I don’t feel like I dwelt on that for long enough.

Here are the bathroom signs.

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Within the groupings of Three-Fingered and Two-Fingered, there are sub-groups dependent on the sloth’s location. For example, this is Delilah. They call her that because her hair is longer and darker than the other Two-Fingered Sloths, and THAT is because she is a mountain sloth and it is colder in the mountains.


There are some non-releasable sloths at the facility and I got to pet one named Millie. This is a picture of The Moomins rubbing Millie’s tummy. I could have loved on Millie all damn day. This was surprising: I expected sloths to have bristle-y fur, all rough and steel-wool-like. In reality they were quite smooth, like a Labrador retriever. I was not expecting that.


This is a Three-Fingered Sloth, I think his name is George. He is a permanent resident because he’s missing a front arm. I think he lost it from being electrocuted. He seemed okay with it.


Sloths tend to do well in captivity because they don’t move around much. If food is readily available, they will hang out in one crotch of a tree for days and days and days. I’m telling you, Princess Buttercup never leaves her wicker hanging chair. Sometimes Judy wraps her around her waist and takes her for a walk in the forest, but Princess Buttercup doesn’t like it. She likes her chair.

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This is Lightning. She’s a prima donna. She insists on her own big cage with her own bed and her own branches to climb on that she doesn’t have to share.


This is a Three-Fingered Sloth male. The only external difference between the TFS males and females is that big orange-and-cream-with-black-stripes marking on his back. If the sloth is unwell, or old, or malnourished, his colored markings fade and females know he’s not quality goods to mate with. In fact, if two male sloths show up to mate with the same female, they’ll check out each other’s back markings and the lesser one will often just leave rather than have the slowest battle-of-the-fittest in history.


Then there’s the Slothpital. That’s where broken sloths go to heal. I saw this one sleeping in what I would consider an uncomfortable position. He or she seemed fine with it though. Sloths: say what you want about them, they are mellow. There’s some eating, then some napping, once a week there’s pooping, every so often some mating, aaaaaaand that’s it.


I met Lenny in the Slothpital. He was born with a deformed jaw and he couldn’t latch on to his mother’s nipple, so he was rescued and fed with an eye dropper. He’s grown up into quite a lovely young fellow. You can see in this picture how his mouth won’t close.


I was wondering if sloths can hear well, and apparently they can. Jeff moved Lenny’s fur so I could see his sweet little seashell-like ear. OMG HOW CUTE IS THAT EAR!


Then we got to meet a bunch of wee orphan babies. They spend most of their day in the incubators clinging to stuffed animals, but we happened to come by while they were having their daily exercise. They do not like their daily exercise. They make sad complainy noises. It’s so adorable it hurts a little.

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I got video of the complaining!

This little one, the smallest of the bunch, he just wanted to gnaw on the wooden jungle gym.

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I got video of that too!

After this magical time with the wee babies, we picked some hibiscus flowers off of a hedge and brought them to two of the permanent residents. Sloths think hibiscus flowers are like candy. We saw some serious hibiscus drama unfold directly in front of us.

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Watch the footage!

That’s all the organized pictures I have. Now the straggler photos.

Two butterflies doin’ the nasty:


Some really terrific fern fists:


Queen’s Trumpet or Moonflowers. They have psychotropic qualities. If you make a tea with them, you see things that are not there. So don’t make a tea with them.


A lot of the now-natural reserves were farmland at the turn of the century. Since there wasn’t really fences anywhere, the farmers put these specific plants on the edge of their property. You can see those magenta leaves for quite a distance. So while we were walking through the Cahuita Reserve, we came across the marker plant of the former farm it used to be.


A gecko clinging to the ceiling:


And a vulture I saw hanging out on the side of the road eating roadkill. The black vultures I saw there were the most attractive carrion-eaters I’ve ever seen. They’re usually pretty grotesque-looking, but these guys are pretty okay.


That’s my trip to Costa Rica! If you have any questions, give me a holler and I’ll try to answer it with my limited ability. Oh, and my trip was organized by Latitudes Adventure. They did a great job. I recommend that you check ’em out.

Costa Rica 2013, Part 7.

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I bet you thought I forgot, right? I drifted off into a nap and when I awoke I failed to remember to blog about the sloths, eh? Well, you are incorrect. I was swamped with work. It ate my soul. Many a day went by where I had to choose between eight more minutes of precious sleep or a shower. It was not fun. But now the deadlines are slowing up, so I can return to bringing you the quality vacation reporting you have come to expect from this fine establishment. So here’s what you’ve been waiting for.

The Sloth Sanctuary! (Or as I like to call it, The Slorphanage.) The Moomins and I pulled up at the gate and we were greeted by a giant sculpture of what sloths looked like in the time of the dinosaurs. Short answer: they were big.

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We then met the lady in charge, an American woman named Judy who married a Costa Rican man and has lived and run this hotel / sanctuary for several decades. As we were talking to her in front of the reception area I saw a hanging wicker chair. Now, most people wouldn’t give two thoughts to a hanging wicker chair, but I happen to know that Princess Buttercup, the mascot of the sanctuary and the very first sloth they rescued twenty years ago, lives in a wicker chair. So I freaked out a bit. I asked Judy’s daughter Ursula, “Ummmm, is that Princess Buttercup over there?” and Ursula said cheerfully, “Why yes, that’s Her Royal Highness. Why don’t you go say hi?” I don’t think Ursula had finished the sentence before I sprinted across the room. Princess Buttercup was glorious.

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I startled her a little bit, so she awoke and paid about thirty seconds of attention to me.


I got some footage just as her disinterest in me manifested itself.

Princess Buttercup is a three-fingered sloth. There’s a movement to call them “three-fingered” and “two-fingered” instead of “three-toed” and “two-toed” because all sloths have three big claws on their back feet. It’s the front claws that matter. I learned so much about sloths. They are fascinating and extremely bizarre. Here’s some of the things I learned.

  • Three-Fingered Sloths and Two-Fingered Sloths have enough incompatible components that they are unable to cross-breed. It’s like the difference between ostriches and emus. They’re both large, creepy, dinosaur-like flightless birds, but they can’t make babies. Same with sloths.
  • The Two-Fingered Sloth eats fruit and leaves and bugs. The Three-Fingered Sloth eats fruits and leaves, no bugs. Twice a day someone comes over to Princess Buttercup’s hanging chair and clips fresh leaves to the side of her chair. She doesn’t have a water bowl or anything. She gets almost all her moisture from the leaves and the occasional green bean or piece of fruit.
  • Sloths poop once a week. They come down the tree and goes to the bathroom at the base of the tree. Scientists don’t really know why. There are a few theories. One, if the sloth poops from the canopy the waste will hit a million leaves on the way down, creating a ruckus and giving away the sloth’s position to possible predators. The other reasoning is super-weird: there is a moth that lives in the sloth’s fur, a “sloth moth” if you will, and when the sloth goes down to the base on the tree, the moth has enough time to lay its eggs in the poop and then hop back onto the sloth on its way back up.
  • The sloth’s diet is so low in nutrition, they are practically cold-blooded. Seriously. It’s really hard for them to maintain their body temperature. In fact, it was 80 degrees when we visited and the baby orphan sloths were in incubators with blankies because they have to be 84 degrees. Awwww.
  • Both sloths don’t really have collar bones and have tons of extra vertebrae in their necks, so they can rotate their heads all over the place and spin their arms and legs around to grab onto whatever branch might be near them. Since they have crazy fur that grows in all which ways it can sometimes be hard to figure out which way is up. They’re like an slow, non-threatening version of the chick in The Exorcist when she comes down the stairs backwards.
  • Of the 148 sloths at the Sloth Sanctuary, only about 18 are Three-Fingered Sloths. That’s because Two-Fingered Sloths will hang out in trees near people and therefore if they are damaged, they are more often found by good Samaritans and brought to the slorphanage.

First of all, when we arrived we checked into our room (“Harpo”):


And in our hallway was something on the wall, up there, on the right. Could it be?


Yay! A little smiling bat companion. I asked Ursula about him and she said, “Yeah, that’s where he’s decided to live.”


Then Ursula said, “Have you seen the other bats?” and I was like, “There are other bats?? More bats?? Take me to the bats!” They were right outside. The wall-clingers and the ceiling-clingers.

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The wall-clingers are Greater White-Lined Bats and the ceiling-clingers are the Proboscis Bat. They were delightful. I don’t know how you can’t like them: they’re cute and they eat bugs. It’s a win-win.

The next morning before our tour of the slothery we went on a hour-long boat ride on the lazy river that is part of the property. First, I took a walk through the garden. It was stunning. The colors and smells were intoxicating. And I saw a neato succulent. Its babies grow on the rim of the leaf and when passersby knock them off, they grow into new plants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant that reproduces like that.


And look at this clingy flat-leaf thing.


I saw what I thought was a large porcelain crab with a blue glaze while I was taking my morning garden tour. It’s really common there to have lawn ornaments. The ones I saw were made mostly of cement. I really liked this cement anteater.


Anyway, I assumed the large blue crab was decorative. Then he scuttled halfway into his home and I jumped because hey! not a lawn ornament, very much alive.

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The Moomins and I made our way to the dock. I loved that the dock had a mirror ball, you know, for any impromptu parties that might break out on this tiny dock in the middle of nowhere.


We got into the canoe and meandered our way around the area. We saw more crabs, this time coral-colored, and I loved how they looked on those root structures. To me, the roots looked like sopping wet velvet all folded up.

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We saw a baby crocodile sitting in his burrow that he had dug out. He was about a foot and a half long. Little guy.


This cutie-cute bird is called a Flycatcher. I like the little dot on the top of his head.


There were some Howler Monkeys in the trees looking for tasty treats. Periodically they would make their loud powerful gutteral calls and it was strangely soothing. Here’s someone else’s video of what they sound like.

And here’s a photo I took of them.


I saw both types of Jesus Lizard, the brown kind and the totally-fake-couldn’t-possibly-be-real green kind.

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But the bestest thing was when we went under a log that had fallen over. First of all, the log had trees growing on it, which was cool in itself. But underneath, maybe two feet from my head was… snuggling bats!!

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This is a different type of bat from the bats I hung out with above, but I couldn’t figure out what kind these are, so we’re going to call them Snuggling Smiling Fuzzy Brown Bats.

Tomorrow I will show all my pics from the Slorphanage and then we are done.

Costa Rica 2013, Part 6.

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Guess what? I went to another rainforest! I know, I haven’t mentioned a rainforest in the last five minutes. But hey, I went to Costa Rica to hang out with plants and animals, and that’s what I did all day every day. This particular rainforest had a research center in it and it was on the side of a mountain, so I got to go to the research center and take an open-air aerial tram through the canopy. The research center was impressive. There were shadow boxes on the wall of, and I am not making this number up, the 1,000 different species of butterfly the scientists had discovered in that particular rainforest so far. That’s a lot of butterflies. I took pictures of some of them.

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And here are some giant furry moths pretending to be snakes or owls so predators won’t want to eat them.


They also had what I assume is an Orchid Bee. I’ve always wanted to see an Orchid Bee because I believe (bee-lieve! Ha ha ha!) they’re the only bees that are metallic green. On Wikipedia it says there’s another reason that the Orchid Bee is special, but I cannot figure out what it says because I do not speak science.

Euglossine bees, also called orchid bees, are the only group of corbiculate bees whose non-parasitic members do not all possess eusocial behavior.


Speaking of bugs, I saw the biggest grasshopper ever. He was like an antagonist from a 1950s drive-in movie come to life. Humongous. That’s a banana leaf it’s sitting on if you’re looking for scale.

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And I saw a millipede! Well, the back third of a millipede. The rest of him was under a log. He must have been over six inches long. I am very familiar with the African Millipede who is a shiny black tube-shaped fella with evenly distributed legs. This millipede was totally different. First of all, he was brown and matte. He looked like he was made out of one of those toys little kids play with where you can make objects longer by snapping more plastic segments onto it. But the thing he has in common with the African Millipede is that when he’s scared he can shoot burny chemicals out of his butt that taste atrocious (so I’m told, I didn’t test this out myself).


We saw a plant that supposed to be unchanged since prehistoric times. It looked so fake. It felt fake too, like vinyl. I thought it was plastic until the park ranger broke off a small corner of one leaf and I could see and smell its life-fluids.


This is a Walking Tree. It’s called that because if it decides there’s more water and nutrition on the left it will kill off its roots on the right and grow new roots on the left, shifting itself about a meter. It takes about a year to do that, but considering that most trees move nowhere in a year, that’s really impressive.


• | • | • INTERMISSION  • | • | •

Since they use a lot of well-water in Costa Rica which has not been filtered in any way, it is unwise to drink from the tap. Therefore, I purchased a big bottle of local spring water every day. I took the time to read the label on this one. I really, really hope “S.T.D.” means something different in Spanish.


• | • | • INTERMISSION OVER  • | • | •

Oh, I almost forgot to include the snakes. At the research center there were some snakes in captivity and I fell in love and ached to reach through the glass for snuggle-time. My two favorites were the green vine snake:


And a brown vine snake.


Then, to get to the other research station at the bottom of the mountain we took this open-air aerial tram. It was cool. I looked straight down at one point and was astonished by the variety of shapes in the foliage.


And we went past several towering trees that are believed to be 300 years old. It’s really hard to date them because, and I found this really interesting, since there are no seasons in the rainforest the trees don’t have rings. I never realized the rings are caused by seasonal change.


Finally, here’s a tree with roots that look like walls:


And a waterfall.

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Brace yourself because tomorrow… SLOTHS!

Costa Rica 2013, Part 5.

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Before trail story-time, let’s look at some carts! The oxcarts in Costa Rica are hand-painted and it is a wonderful art form. I took pictures of a two carts and one yoke. So pretty.

Rainforest Walk! The Moomins and I were told that we were going on a “nature hike”. For three hours. I was petrified. I am not athletic, and what if I go on this hike with other people and we climb a mountain for three hours and they’re good hikers and I slow them down and they all hate me and then I throw up and pass out? I was skerred. However, I knew once I saw our guide we were a-okay for two reasons. One, he was morbidly obese, and two, he was wearing flip-flops. I immediately was like, yeah, I’m going to be fine.

It was fantastic. The Cahuita National Park goes right up to the beach.

The trail was about twenty feet inside the rainforest, so as you were walking through this crazy lush foliage you could hear the waves crashing on your left. It was paradise. Speaking of the beach, this type of ocean was something I had never experienced before. I’ve been in oceans many times before but they always had some way to slow down the current, whether man-made or natural. This chunk of Caribbean had nothing. There were signs everywhere that you go swimming at your own risk and that there was a rip current. The Moomins decided that we would forgo any warnings and live dangerously. Here’s some video I took before I even got into the water. I’m standing right at the edge. Notice how it’s all grabby and yanky. Very aggressive water.

So The Moomins and I went in up to our mid-thigh and it was intense. This actually happened, I have a witness: I was standing there when a wave crashed into me so hard that it made a “crack” noise against my abdomen. I belly-flopped standing perfectly still and upright. But the water was warm and clear, so we spend about forty-five minutes getting crotch-punched by Neptune. It was enjoyable in a weird way – you just had to be super-aware because the sand kept getting pulled out from under your feet and you would lose your footing if you didn’t stay on your game. I did discover something unfortunate when I got back to the bungalow. When I showered, the amount of sand that had been violently thrust into my crevices was astonishing. I felt like when a magician pulls that colored roll of tissue paper out of your mouth. You know Montezuma’s Revenge? I decided this should be called Poseidon’s Dilemma: the discovery of even more sand every time you shower for a week afterwards. “I thought I got it all” is the catchphrase.

I digress. Back to the nature walk. First, I thought I was seeing things because it looked like the ground was moving. It turns out it was covered with little holes that were inhabited by little crabs. When we would walk by, the wee crabbits would scuttle sideways into their holes to hide. I loved them.

There were also small lizards that were shiny and bright.

We walked past an iguana sunning himself.

And a basilisk lizard, also know as the Jesus Lizard for his ability to run on the surface of the water.

On the left we saw a little something move in a tree. A troupe of Capuchin Monkeys were all around in the bank of trees between us and the ocean.

We passed a male and female trogon. Trogons are birds that, in my opinion, look like they got knocked out in a bar fight and they’re trying to get their bearings. I’ve talked about them before. I always want to walk up to them and say, “How many fingers am I holding up? What day is it? Who’s the president?” Mr. Trogon is the teal-colored one, Mrs. Trogon is dark gray.

It was getting close to midday which is when animals tend to take a siesta. We walked right through a troupe of Howler Monkeys resting. We made some noise as we passed through and the leader opened his eyes a bit, decided we weren’t any kind of threat, and went right back to sleep. I like how the guy in the second picture is holding onto the branch so he doesn’t fall out the tree while napping.

And then! OMG! We came across a teeny-tiny eyelash pit viper. Even if you don’t like snakes, this one was cute. He was sitting on a leaf and he had his tail wrapped around the stem. I tried desperately to get a good picture, but my camera got uppity and decided to focus on things in the background. “Never mind this awesome snake right in front of us, let’s really draw attention to that rotting tree stump way the hell over there, that’s where the real action is!”

Every fiber of me was like I WANT TO PET IT but my brain wisely was like LET’S NOT LOSE OUR HAND TO NECROSIS TODAY so I didn’t pet the snake. There was a creek we had to cross at one point. We had to take off our shoes and walk along the beach to get through it. The creek-water was brown because there was a mangrove cluster along the route the creek takes, and mangroves apparently give off a lot of tannin so it had stained the water. I liked how it looked as it flowed into the ocean.

We finally reached the end where the coral reef began, ate some fruit (so delicious) and I watched the hermit crabs scamper around.

And then, drawn by the siren song of pineapple, the Capuchins showed up and concocted elaborate plans on how to distract us and steal our fruity treats. You know, how they do.

Next, the Veragua Rainforest Park and the wonders therein. And then… SLOTHS!

Costa Rica 2013, Part 4.

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Before we get to frogs and others, I want to talk about a couple other things.

One, our hotel in San Jose didn’t have a door. No door. As a New Yorker I can’t wrap my mind around that because we don’t have seasons, we have SEASONS!!!! With the cold and the hot and the rain and the sun and the hail and the sleet, etc. San Jose just has hot, not quite as hot and some rain. It was still dumbfounding for me. “But… how do they… close the door if they don’t have… I… my head hurts.”

Two, a comment about trees and language barriers. Our daily tour-guides spoke a great English, but often it was covered in a thick paste of local accent. There was only one time I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what our guide was saying. We went by a wooded park in San Jose that was filled with rainbow eucalyptus. They are very beautiful. The trunks look like watercolor paintings.

Our guide said, “This park has rainbow eucalyptus but the city plans to cut them down because they are an introduced species. The city plans to replace them with a species native to Costa Rica. Also, they are very tall and dangerous because of the LYYYYYYYYYNE.” I swear to God, that’s what she said. I said, “Ummm, what now?” and the guide responded with, “The LYYYYYYYYYNE, from the sky.” Finally she said the combination of “Thunder and LYYYYYYYYYNE,” and I was like, “Oh, lightning. Okay.” But it took a while. If you see me, ask me to do an imitation of how she said it and you tell me if you have any clue what I’m saying. I bet you’ll say no.

Frogs! Costa Rica has 138 types of frogs and toads. I went to a protected rainforest that had a chart of the difference between frogs and toads, which I found very helpful. I wrote down what it said:

  • Toads tend to lay their eggs in long chains. Frogs tend to lay their mass of eggs in clusters.
  • Toads tend to have skin that is dry, rough and full of wrinkles. Frogs tend to have moist skin that is soft to the touch.
  • Toads use short hops to get around. Frogs tend to move about with giant leaps.

I saw what was some kind of tree frog, but the camouflage was amazing. It was right in front of me, like in front of my face, and I still had trouble seeing it. It looks like a wet blob of leaf. Amazing.

Similar-but-different frog.

The frogs I saw the most were the poison dart frogs. As it says in my The Wildlife of Costa Rica book:

Small, diurnal frogs that inhabit leaf litter. Noted for spectacular coloration and elaborate forms of parental care. The brightly colored species generally advertise powerful skin toxins derived from a diet of alkaloid-rich invertebrates. None of the eight Costa Rican poison dart frogs pose a threat to humans.

The poison dart frog that’s actually used for poison darts is the Golden Poison Dart Frog from Colombia. One frog can kill you and nine of your closest friends. Scientists don’t know how they get so venomous but they assume it’s from what they eat, same as the Costa Rican ones, because Golden Poison Dart Frogs raised in captivity and fed non-native bugs aren’t toxic.

I saw a ton of the strawberry kind. They’re neat because sometimes they’re tomato-colored, sometimes cherry-colored. Sometimes they’re just red, sometimes they have little black freckles, sometimes their legs are blue. I liked all the varieties.

And I saw a ton of the green and black striped kind. They’re a little bit bigger. They are the only frog with carnivorous tadpoles. They hatch in the leaf litter, and then the daddy carries them up into little pools of water in the trees, water trapped in the hearts of bromeliads. This part is cool. In order to keep them from eating each other (carnivorous), he calls out and lady-frogs come from neighboring villages, climb the trees and lay unfertilized eggs in the water. That way, the wee tadpoles have something to eat without committing fratricide. Nature – it’s fantastic.

Cows! I love hot-weather cows, the kind from India. In Costa Rica they are called Zebu and I think they are so pretty. We were driving past a hillside and I insisted we stop because there was a calf there with lop-ears like a bunny. I was smitten. As you will see from its expression, it was not nearly as infatuated with me.

Toucans! I forgot to bring them up yesterday. At the refuge there was another giant atrium that had rescued toucans. They were accostumed to humans so if you held a little birdseed, they would come down and perch on you for a bit. The ones that came and perched were Keel-Billed Toucans. This was a woman who was with us on our tour.

And then there’s me! I really liked the toucans. They are sweet and gentle and not rowdy at all.

There was a Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan:

And at one point this little guy hopped over and stared right at me for a while. He’s a Emerald Toucanet.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about my nature walk. Yes, yours truly walked on a trail for two miles through a rainforest. The things I do for cool animals.

Costa Rica 2013, Part 3.

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Before we get to the anymules, I want to talk about orchids. I love orchids, I really do. There are so many different kinds. Every year there’s an orchid show at the Botanical Gardens here in NYC and it is mind-blowing. Here’s my post on it from about a year ago. And in Costa Rica they just grow wild! No cultivation required! So envious. They’re similar to bromeliads, which are plants that don’t need dirt to flourish. The orchids just wrap their root-tentacles around whatever’s nearby. I took pictures of several I came across.

Now before I left, I took my The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide and I ended up reading it from cover to cover. I’m glad I did because I now know many things, things like the Mexican Burrowing Toad’s advertisement call is a bellowing uuwwaaaa, likened to the sound of a person vomiting, which is how they earned their common name “sapo borracho” (drunken toad”), or the Oilbird is the world’s only nocturnal avian frugivore (congratulations to you, Oilbird!).

So, on one of my first days there, The Moomins and I went to a refuge where indigenous animals that had been recovered from smuggling operations and were deemed unreleasable were kept. Our guide took tours through this refuge fairly frequently, so the animals were familiar with him. For example, he walked past an enormous avian cage and a Caracaca, which is a scary carrion-eating bird, flew down immediately and waited for head-skritchins. It was adorable.

We saw Scarlet Macaws being all parrot-y, squawkin’ and squabblin’ and flappin’ around.

And there were two Two-Fingered Sloths. They were sleeping. Because sloths.

But those weren’t the most amazing things there. The two things that were magical for me was the butterfly atrium and the hummingbird garden. Holy pumpkin-seeds, people. First, the butterfly atrium. Big, airy building filled with plants the butterflies enjoy.

There were two types of butterflies that were especially prevalent, the Blue Morpho and the Banded Owl Butterfly. However, there were other ones flittering around as well.

There were SO MANY. Here’s one of the fruit stations.

Seriously. Butterflies on all the surfaces.

One even landed on The Moomins and kept her company for the entire time.

They had plants that had butterfly eggs and caterpillars all over them. The eggs were beautiful, the caterpillars were beautiful – every aspect of the life-cycle of the butterfly is visually appealing in some way, it seems.

In the corner, staff had hung up all the chrysalises and there was a newly emerged guy with curled-up wings.

The only thing in the butterfly atrium that bugged me a little was this freaky plant that looked like a portal to an abyss. It was huge and veined and it had a dark pit in the center. It looked… menacing.

The other life-altering thing was the hummingbird garden. A little way outside was a small garden with five or six hummingbird feeders in them and a few small trees. Those trees were PACKED with hummingbirds.

It was pouring down rain and I could not have cared less. I stood there in the rain, water dripping off my nose, staring at all these teeny birds whizzing past my head. They make a cool noise when they go by, like a frrrrrrrmmm sound. It’s absolutely delightful. Here’s some video that I took.

They were mostly green hummingbirds with white eyefeathers that makes them look very alert.

There was a smaller, more colorful fellow who kept zipping in and out with a stunning aqua-colored head. I could not get a picture of his awesome aqua hat while he was sitting at the feeder, but I managed to get a vague shot of it as he zipped away. In the second picture, that turquoise smudge, that’s his cool head color. Don’t yell at me, I’m doing my best here people, hummingbirds are fast.

There was a bigger violet one.

And there was a teeny tiny little black one. He could have fit right in my palm.

I got an amazing shot from the back. He looks like a little jewel.

I really could have stood there in the rain all day. It was absolute bliss. I am now sorely tempted to get that strange hat with a mask and hummingbird feeder built in, so hummingbirds drink right in front of you. This one.

Tomorrow, frogs!

Costa Rica 2013, Part 2.

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

San Jose! San Jose is an interesting place. Even though it’s the capital of Costa Rica, only 290,000 people live in the city. Almost everyone who works there (about a million people) commute in from the ‘burbs via the bus. Here’s something that blows my mind about San Jose  – they don’t have street names or numbers. They just don’t. If you want to go somewhere for dinner, you need to ask the restaurant what are some landmarks near it so you can tell the cab driver. That’s how he knows which direction to go. The Moomins bought a painting from a gallery in the center of town and I took a picture of their label.

That’s a legitimate gallery, and their address is “Diagonally Across from The Holiday Inn”. How, HOW, does the mailman deliver the mail? Do the envelopes say things like, “The Hernandez Family, pink house with green shutters, large tree in front, San Jose, Costa Rica”? They’ve started labeling some streets and avenues so at least there are blocks and corners now, but still no building numbers. If I lived there I would explode like a phoenix in a ball of fire completely fueled by frustration every time I had to go somewhere.

The city, similar to places I’ve been to in Africa and Israel, has that hot-climate stucco cement faux-Bauhaus architecture all over. The whole city looks like they hit 1974 and stopped, which is unfortunate, because 1960s and 1970s architecture is often plagued with a case of The Cube-y Borings.

Most of the buildings are no more than six stories tall because Costa Rica gets earthquakes pretty regularly. There are some faults running right through the country. I don’t know whether this fact is true or not, but I want it to be true so I’m going to believe it. One of the tour guides we had said the ridge of mountains running down the side of the country was originally part of the Andes from when Pangaea broke up. There are now some tall(er) buildings, built by Japanese architects using their earthquake-resistant techniques. There actually used to be a railroad weaving all over, but earthquakes ripped up the tracks and it was easier to switch to buses.

First stop, The National Museum of Costa Rica! We didn’t go in because we didn’t have time, but it is a lovely jaunty yellow building that vaguely resembles a castle. The really interesting thing is outside. There’s a weird round building and inside of it is a stone orb.

Costa Rica has about 300 ancient stone orbs scattered all over the country, like Stonehenge or those guys on Easter Island. The balls are really close to perfect roundness, at least the ones that haven’t been unevenly worn away by erosion, so many archeologists are trying to figure out how people from 200 B.C. figured out how to make giant marbles, and why. Here’s one theory:

In the cosmogony of the Bribri, which is shared by the Cabecares and other American ancestral groups, the stone spheres are “Tara’s cannon balls”. Tara or Tlatchque, the god of thunder, used a giant blowpipe to shoot the balls at the Serkes, gods of winds and hurricanes, in order to drive them out of these lands.

And here’s a picture I found of them on the beach so you can get a sense of scale. BIG balls.

Next, the Cathedral! Services were going on so I couldn’t really delve too far in, but I saw quite a bit and I was pleased to see excellent stained-glass windows and polychrome (painted wallpaper, common in the Gothic cathedrals of Europe).

I’ve mentioned several times that purple is a very difficult color to achieve in glass, so I was really impressed by this window in particular.

And this window was nice as well.

Then, The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum! I was blown away by the workmanship. These people hadn’t invented pants yet, and they were already using the lost-wax method of casting, and they had figured out that if they mixed copper in with the gold it would make the metal more malleable, etc. I mean, seriously, look at these lobsters.

The gold figures are almost always representations of animals. There was a jaguar, and a bat, and crab, and some lungfishes.

They had some pre-Columbian pottery as well. Two pots in particular caught my eye. One was a pot with the silliest-looking face on it.

And one was what I assume to be a armadillo, or perhaps a coati, shyly hiding his snoot in his paws. I loved it.

• | • | • INTERMISSION  • | • | •

I like the Costa Rican fire hydrants. They’re red and there’s knobs and chains all over, they look like they’re very important and have very important things to do.

• | • | • INTERMISSION OVER  • | • | •

Finally, the National Theater! It was built in the late 1800s by Italian craftmen and boy does it show. No one does ornate like the Italians. They are not afraid of some frothy gold decoration. All the marble is Carrara marble, the same kind Michelangelo carved his statues out of. It was a nice touch, though, that in the round paintings going up the staircase the painters put moonflowers and fruit, things that are common in Costa Rica, instead of Italian motifs.

And much to my delight, when I was outside looking at the facade I saw my familiar green obnoxious parrots, the ones who totally convince you they are laughing at you, right to your face. Because they are d-bags.

Despite the scary fences surrounding the houses, Costa Rica has the lowest crime rate in all of Central America, and the most common crime is theft which can be avoided to a large degree by using common sense, the same common sense you would use in any heavily populated city. I didn’t feel scared or uncomfortable at any point. San Jose is covered with beautiful parks all over, and there are bands rockin’ out in them and artists selling their wares and people playing chess and trying out stilts and doing tai chi and yoga and gymnastics. It’s life-affirming, I tell you.

Three other interesting things about Costa Rica. One, they have no army. It was abolished in 1949. If you want to attack them, go ahead, they ain’t gonna fight back. Two, even though they are a super-wee country, they contain 6% of the world’s biodiversity. And three, something like 97% of their population is literate. The rule is: if your village has kids, you need a school. Sometimes is a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher and five kids of differing ages, but it’s a school. I think that’s great. I would feel so lost if I couldn’t read.

Tomorrow, we will go into some of the fantastic beasties I came across during this week abroad.

Costa Rica 2013, Part 1.

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

I went to Costa Rica again! I spent most of my time in the rainforest, which continues to look like it has not changed since the time of the dinosaurs. Still looking for a brontosaurus to pop out and say hi, still didn’t happen. Imma keep looking, tho. I shall not be thwarted.

In case anyone is wondering what I am talking about, I’m referring to my last trip to Costa Rica a little over a year ago. Below is the first entry of about nine. I’m going to reference stuff from that trip occasionally, so perhaps if you would like you should read those so as to be up-to-date. Not a requirement, totally your choice.

The plants are also still vibrant and waxy and enormous and vulgar. They all looked like things designed by Alexander McQueen after he had been to a rave for four days and was hallucinating. I spent a great deal of time being offended by vegetation. “Gosh, put some pants on, don’t you know there are kids here?”

This plant is called The Flamboyant Acacia. I desperately want one, but they are entirely tropical so no Drag Queen Acacia for me. Sigh.

And look at these hibiscii! So frilly! And happy!

You know our houseplants that we put in a window and love and water and care for and then they die? People use them for hedges in Costa Rica. People pay no attention to them, give them no love and the plants thrive.

Anyway, the first full day The Moomins and I were in Costa Rica we went back to the Poaz Volcano. I had no idea how lucky we were last time. Last time, we showed up at the volcano, the sun was shining, the volcano coughed up some sulfurous steam, we all took pictures, it was easy-peasy. This time… fog. All over the everything. Couldn’t see nothin’. I took a picture of The Moomins doing a “The Price is Right” impression, showing off the view of white haze we had to look at. You could still smell the sulfur, though. Really the best possible outcome. All stank and no view.

But then some fog moved away! And you could see the steamy bit! Costa Rica has about 22 volcanoes, and three of them are being watched by scientists because they’re feisty. This is one of them.

Poaz is in the mountains, so it doesn’t have a rainforest, it has a mountain forest with entirely different plants and trees. So, so many ferns. Big, freaky ferns that reach out from the darkness with balled-up leaves that resemble the arthritic fingers of giant ghosts. Oooooooogie boogie.

After we strolled though the mountain forest around Poaz for a while, we went to a rainforest with three waterfalls. I definitely deserve a cookie for that portion of the trip. I climbed many stairs, like 100 of them, they were mossy and slippery and various heights. When I got back my father asked me if my raincoat worked and I told him in all honesty that I have no idea because it was soaking wet inside the raincoat due to condensation and sweatiness. But the waterfalls were stunning and crazy-photogenic.

The Moomins went ecstatic over the plantlife. Every few steps she would clasp her hands together and say, “Look at that beautiful leaf? Jessica, isn’t that the most beautiful leaf you’ve ever seen? Take a picture of the leaf.” If I had a phrase that summed up this trip, “Take a picture of the leaf” would be it. I would try to patiently explain, Moomins, there are five thousand leaves on this tree, and there are five thousand trees. I took a picture of the same type of leaf five minutes ago when you asked. And The Moomins would look at me very seriously and say, “Yes, but this one is different.”

Long story short: I took a ton of leaf-pics to appease The Moomins. I quietly deleted many of them when we would get back to the hotel room in the evening, but she didn’t care. As my father says, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” “Happy Moomins, Happy Life” doesn’t rhyme, but it’s the same sentiment.

Tomorrow we will delve into San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.