Going it Alone

Everyone had plans. I asked my roommates; they had to study. I asked fellow young ex-pat friends; they traveled the weekend before or were not up for it. So, I stopped inviting people and decided to go it alone.

Taking my first trip to Monteverde, would be a much larger step outside of my comfort zone if done alone than it would have been if I had gone with others. It would not be my first ever solo trip to a new place, but it would be the first time I had done so so since coming to Costa Rica.  Any hesitation I had was not rooted in making the actual trip itself, but came from apprehension about the trek between bus stops through downtown San Jose.

As background, the outskirts of San Jose (where I am staying) present very little apparent danger. San Jose Centro, however, experiences its share of crime and includes few welcoming places for a Gringo at night. Getting from the bus stop in San Jose Centro to the terminal with buses leaving for Monteverde requires getting through a suspect part of town. Taxis are available, but I am always hesitant to use one when I can get somewhere as easily by walking. So, I had predetermined to walk through the dangerous part of downtown to the Monteverde Terminal.

I arrived at the Coca-Cola station, ascended from the bus, opened Waze and started walking toward the 7-10 station–the Monteverde Terminal. After stepping over less fortunate locals who were trying to sleep on the sidewalks, I reached my destination in 10 minutes with relative ease. The dreaded trek almost stopped me from one of the most thrilling 30 hour periods of my life. The trip was relaxing, exciting, eye-opening and fulfilling.

People I know spoke highly about traveling solo through Costa Rica, but I didn’t fully understand why. Now, I know from experience. It is more liberating than anything I had done previously to an extent that I cannot fully elaborate on through this post.

Traveling alone to a new place, whether here or elsewhere, comes with several advantages that traveling with others does not. Most significantly, you only have yourself to answer to yourself. There’s no one to compromise with; no one to meet in the lobby at a set time; no team meetings; no negotiations about what to do next; and, importantly, none of the guilt that usually arises from making plans with people that didn’t voice their preferences. You have total say in everything. For my Monteverde trip, this total freedom involved sleeping for as long and as often as I wanted; eating when and where I wanted; being ready when I felt like it; talking to who I wanted to for as long as I wanted to; and more.

Unless you are traveling to be alone, traveling alone gives you the incentive to introduce yourself to people whereas traveling with a companion may influence you to keep to yourselves. Part of the appeal of travel is not only in seeing new places but in making new friends and relating to new people. Relating to new people is more necessary while traveling alone and staying at a hostel. On my solo-trip to Monteverde, I arrived at at the Sloth Hostel not knowing anyone there and left with new acquaintances from Montreal, England; Australia and California. What’s more, I learned about the town by talking to locals. It was like going to camp.

 

Full disclosure, my solo trip was slightly longer than 30 hours and included a full night’s rest. I gained more memories and a different type of self confidence from by simply going on this short trip alone. I will do it again, and again, and will be elated to report back to you.

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Sloth Onslaught

They are everywhere. The slowest mammal in existence has found its way into countless memes and social media postings (see @splurt). Youtube contains days of endearing videos of them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba7rRfKIHxU). There is even a kids’ movie coming out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY73vFGhSVk) that features them. For assorted reasons, people are displaying their Sloth interest by publicizing them at an exponentially increasing rate. My time in Costa Rica has only made me more aware of this phenomenon leaving me to ask how these unhurried creatures got so popular.

In Costa Rica, there are Sloth sanctuaries, baby Sloth petting zoos, and other places you are bound to see them. I even stayed at a Sloth-themed hostel two weeks ago (pictured). Costa Rica is cutting edge when it comes to Sloths.

Sloth Hostel

As background, Sloths possess the facilities of a formidable predator. With razor sharp claws (two or three toes), their appearance suggests they are not to be tussled with. Despite these substantial claws, they are not fast enough to use them. They are reeeeeeeaaaaaalllly, reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeaaaaaalllllly sllllllllllllllooooooowwwwwww-wwwwwww. Algae literally grows on their bodies. If hurrying to avoid danger, Sloths may travel at an alarmingly gradual speed 3-ft. per minute. Although they share a name with one of the 7 deadly sins, they are not lazy. Here’s why.

They eat rainforest leaves containing numerous toxins, which are taken through a ridiculously inefficient, but functional digestion process lasting two weeks. Their 3-stomached digestive tracts can only handle a little at a time, as they break down the leaf toxins with bacteria contained in their organs. Consequently, they can only store small amounts of food at a time from which to derive energy. Sloths are naturally aware of this, so the goal of their existence is to expend as little energy as possible for as long as possible. In doing so, they only come down from their chosen trees at the end of their digestion cycles (every 2 weeks).

You can tell I am as intrigued by Sloths as the social media world, which begs the question of “Why?”. What about them caught everyone’s eyes and some people’s hearts. According to the Gospel, I mean Internet, the Slothworld experienced its Gladwellian Tipping Point when Kristen Bell had a Sloth meltdown on the Ellen Degeneres show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5jw3T3Jy70).

Their harmless, welcoming demeanor should also be credited for sustaining their popularity. The related, but contrasting, Honey Badger’s fifteen minutes of fame ended as soon as Tyrann Matthieu’s college tenure did. Sloths, however, have staying power. Why? I contend that it can be credited to the fact that humans do not fear them. If we feel anything for them, we may feel compelled to protect them as they have little known defense mechanisms other than being hard to see. As well, their way of not getting worked up about anything is a trait that our culture appears to admire. With all of the budding yoga studios, meditation programs, and the like, Sloths naturally act like we want to at times. Further, most people I know prefer being around an unpanicked person over a stress-ball.

I care enough to write this post, which should show that I am comfortably seated on the Sloth bandwagon. Not to finish on a low note, but I have not seen one yet. Last weekend I ventured through the beachfront trail at Manuel Antonio National Park (pictured—no Sloth).

Manuel Antonio--tell me if you see a sloth

I am still looking and preparing myself for the first sighting during which I hope to hold it together better than Kristen Bell.

Pura Vida!

Sloth Onslaught

They are everywhere. The slowest mammal in existence has found its way into countless memes and social media postings (see @splurt). Youtube contains weeks of endearing videos of them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba7rRfKIHxU). There is even a kids’ movie coming out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY73vFGhSVk) that features them. For assorted reasons, people are displaying their Sloth interest by publicizing them at an exponentially increasing rate. My time in Costa Rica has only made me more aware of this phenomenon leaving me to ask how these unhurried creatures got so popular.

In Costa Rica, there are Sloth sanctuaries, baby Sloth petting zoos, and other places you are bound to see them. I even stayed at a Sloth-themed hostel two weeks ago (pictured). Costa Rica is cutting edge when it comes to Sloths.

Sloth Hostel

 

As background, Sloths possess the facilities of a formidable predator. With razor sharp claws (two or three toes), their appearance suggests they are not to be tussled with. Despite these substantial claws, they are not fast enough to use them. They are reeeeeeeaaaaaalllly, reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeaaaaaalllllly sllllllllllllllooooooowwwwwww-wwwwwww. Algae literally grows on their bodies. If hurrying to avoid danger, Sloths may travel at an alarmingly gradual speed 3-ft. per minute. Although they share a name with one of the 7 deadly sins, they are not lazy. Here’s why.

They eat rainforest leaves containing numerous toxins, which are taken through a ridiculously inefficient, but functional digestion process lasting two weeks. Their 3-stomached digestive tracts can only handle a little at a time, as they break down the leaf toxins with bacteria contained in their organs. Consequently, they can only store small amounts of food at a time from which to derive energy. Sloths are naturally aware of this, so the goal of their existence is to expend as little energy as possible for as long as possible. In doing so, they only come down from their chosen trees at the end of their digestion cycles (every 2 weeks).

You can tell I am as intrigued by Sloths as the social media world, which begs the question of “Why?”. What about them caught everyone’s eyes and some people’s hearts. According to the Gospel, I mean Internet, the Slothworld experienced its Gladwellian Tipping Point when Kristen Bell had a Sloth meltdown on the Ellen Degeneres show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5jw3T3Jy70).

Their harmless, welcoming demeanor should also be credited for sustaining their popularity. The related, but contrasting, Honey Badger’s fifteen minutes of fame ended as soon as Tyrann Matthieu’s college tenure did. Sloths, however, have staying power. Why? I contend that it can be credited to the fact that humans do not fear them. If we feel anything for them, we may feel compelled to protect them as they have little known defense mechanisms other than being hard to see. As well, their way of not getting worked up about anything is a trait that our culture appears to admire. With all of the budding yoga studios, meditation programs, and the like, Sloths naturally act like we want to at times. Further, most people I know prefer being around an unpanicked person over a stress-ball.

I care enough to write this post, which should show that I am comfortably seated on the Sloth bandwagon. Not to finish on a low note, but I have not seen one yet. Last weekend I ventured through the beachfront trail at Manuel Antonio National Park (pictured—no Sloth).

Manuel Antonio--tell me if you see a sloth

I am still looking and preparing myself for the first sighting during which I hope to hold it together better than Kristen Bell.

Pura Vida!

Street Signs–What a Concept

New Signs

Downtown Santa Ana’s new signs. There must be a better way to arrange them around the stop sign. Verdad?

I was lost when I arrived in Costa Rica–not figuratively. I literally could not figure out how to navigate the streets and highways here. After asking a few locals for help, I realized my non-fluency in Spanish was a minor contributing factor to my directional challenges.

Costa Rica only has street signs in the most populated urban and suburban areas. Consequently, people get lost here. In fact, the world-changing navigational app, Waze, is more widely used here than in any other country in the world.

Further, the addresses might as well be in Portuguese in this Spanish-speaking country. Each established, incorporated town has a Catholic church, which serves as the reference point for all addresses in that town. An example Costa Rican address is:

100 Metros al Oeste de la Iglesia de Santa Ana (100 meters west of the Church of Santa Ana)
Santa Ana 6150
San Jose, Costa Rica
10901
I would normally be more hesitant to post someone else’s address on a public forum, but am confident that no one will be able to find it. You would have to know where the Catholic church is and then be able to navigate to the address from an unidentified side of the church. Good luck!
In light of the above, I am proud to announce that Santa Ana and a few other surrounding towns installed street signs this week. Even though their utility is far less than before navigational apps were as prevalent, street signs will especially help Gringos and those without smart phones.
The addition of the non-downtown San Jose street signs are just an example of the progress being made in Costa Rica. This seemingly sarcastic and perhaps petty observation has sincere undertones.
 Government subsidized mail delivery, for example, will drastically improve. Before the signs, receiving a package via public mail service involved guessing whether it has been received at the local post office and then haggling with the employees there to get them to look for it–in Spanish. Feeble delivery attempts were made. Now that delivery services can use the street signs, a package can more easily reach its intended destination.
Additionally, my roommate runs a side business that involves buying goods (legal ones) from US retail sites and having them sent here through an inexpensive intermediary to be resold in Costa Rica at a healthy margin. The advent of the street signs may affect this venture.
Overall, street signs make Costa Rica an even more liveable place. This accommodating community action will yield reverberating effects that cannot be fully known or predicted right now.
Pura Vida!