Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The wrinkled, two-inch foot of a baby three-toed sloth in Cahuita's Sloth Sanctuary. 
There may be no place on earth where you'll see more sloths in the wild or in captivity than Cahuita, Costa Rica. After our visit, we nicknamed the place Sloth-landia. 

Nestled into a sparsely-populated area of the Caribbean coast not far from the border with Panama, Cahuita remains an off-the-beaten track spot. Its roads are mainly dirt and its beaches are mostly deserted. And oh yes, many of its residents are of the two- and three-toed variety. 

Whether they're walking a high wire above your head at dinner or lurking in the trees just outside your hotel room, there's a strong chance you're within just a few feet of a sloth, whose name "perezoso" in Spanish means "lazy."

Want to see the animals hanging out in their natural environment? 

The Sloth Sanctuary's "Buttercup."
Hike through the 8 km of trails in the ocean-side Cahuita National Park, where keen-eyed visitors can spot lots of sloths, as well as howler monkeys, iguanas, butterflies, crocodiles, white-faced monkeys and birds galore. 

Entrance is free, though donations are welcome and hiring a local guide will really help improve your chances of animal sightings. Also, depending on the tides, there may be trash on the deserted beach...great opportunity for a beach clean up!

Would you prefer to see sloths in a more controlled environment?

Stop by the world's largest sloth sanctuary, aptly named The Sloth Sanctuary, home to more than 150 rescued animals. Unfortunately, the Sanctuary closed its volunteer program on August 1 of this year, just after our visit. However, visitors are still allowed to get up close and personal with these slow-moving critters. 

If you're lucky, your guide may even let you touch one of the longtime resident's fur, which oddly enough can provide a home to moths, beetles, cockroaches and even live algae. A tour of the facility also includes a creek canoe trip  through the surrounding jungle. We saw howler monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, and lots of birds, including an American Pygmy Kingfisher. 

Love sloths as much as we do? Check out these links for some fun facts, fun facts, and even more fun facts about these often misunderstood creatures. 

A two-toed sloth named Mick caught in during one of his frequent naps. Sloths sleep up to 20 hours each day. 
Kip picking up trash at Sloth Creek in Cahuita Park.
Yes, this is a "sloth crossing" road sign. 
Visitors to Cahuita will find sloth souvenirs galore, including these cute pencil sharpeners. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


Most of us have earned a nickname at one time or another. 'Buzzie,' 'Slim,' 'Roo'...often these replacement monikers act as part-time terms of endearment. 

But sometimes, nicknames take a more sinister turn. 

Take poor Claire Trimer--her caring colleagues at The Sloth Sanctuary have deemed her "The Poo Lady." They even gave her a sign welcoming her to work every day. How nice. 

But there's good news for Ms Trimer. 

In addition to being known for shoveling sloth poo, which she takes pride in, she also works as nursery supervisor at the sanctuary. Her typical day? Claire feeds, weighs and monitors the bodily functions of baby sloths. 

Yes, every day at work, The Poo Lady gets to touch and hold the cutest animals on the planet. Almost makes that nickname worth it. Plus, she gets her own parking spot, so there's that! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013


From the cricket-catching chameleon in Madagascar to whale sharks eating out of a fisherman's hand in the Philippines, we've seen animals doing some cool stuff. 

But watching a sloth motor across a high-line wire was one of the strangest yet. 

Typically known for being slow and lazy--sloth's name in Spanish, "perezoso," actually means lazy--these creatures move pretty fast when they have somewhere to go.

Thankfully their cuteness is not up for question. Did you see Photo Friday? 

Friday, August 23, 2013


If ever you wanted to see a sloth, get yourself to Cahuita, Costa Rica. The slow-moving creatures are everywhere, as you'll see from our blog posts over the next couple of days.

We get you started with the photo above of a young three-toed sloth sleeping comfortably in his mother's arms. The two adorable little animals hung out for hours in a tree just outside our hotel door. 

The day before we asked Jenny, the irreverent, longtime owner of Cabinas Jenny, if she had seen any sloths around. She replied, "Well, since they tried to move into my kitchen last year--and I kicked them out--I haven't seen quite so many. But I'm sure you'll see one in the trees around here if you look around." 

Just another day with the sloths in Cahuita.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Our fun CEPIA volunteer group at the start of the clean-up.
Kip, Brian and other volunteers pose in front of
what we were told is the oldest building in Huacas.
It's been a while since we've done a good trash clean up. At least a month or so. We were really beginning to miss it (no, really!)

And then we saw a flyer for the "Festival de Limpieza" seeking volunteers to help clean-up a sleepy town just outside of Tamarindo called Huacas. Yes!

A group of enterprising kids decided their town had a serious trash issue. Together with CEPIA, an impressive local nonprofit that helps area youth and their families, the kids designed flyers and organized the town-wide clean-up to help beautify the city before the its annual festival and bull-riding tournament. 
Liz, Brian and our little helper Joel.

We grabbed our friend Brian and headed out early on a Saturday morning. But, not before the fantastic folks at Villa Amarilla, who supported the Festival de Limpieza last year, outfitted us with some great t-shirts! Thanks, Cinde and TJ!

In true Costa Rican fashion, the clean-up started on "Tica time," about an hour and a half late. The delay gave us a chance to meet the kids who participate with CEPIA, as well as get to know a group of San Diego State University students who were volunteering with CEPIA for the summer. 

As we milled about tapping our watches and waiting to get started, one SDSU student explained that when the volunteers leave in a week, it will be up to the older youth in the CEPIA program to continue the projects they've all been working on, and they wanted to be sure the youth were ready to lead the events. 

As we would soon learn, the kids are more than ready.
Kip and Liz show the group our mad clean-up skills.
Just like a Tica clock, when they were ready, the older kids took charge, putting us into groups armed with separately-marked bags meant for aluminum, plastic, and trash. We each went our separate ways, led by a designated guide who knew the town and our planned route. 

We walked along the main road as hands waved from passing cars. We crossed streams and passed under bridges. We even dodged cowboys on horseback and the herd of young cows they were leading. 

Between the 30+ volunteers, we scoured the entire city cleaning streets and litter-pocked parks. It was great to see the difference the group had made. And it was even better to watch the young boys and girls take control and work together to make such a big difference in their little town. 

Thanks to Super Compro for donating the bags and rubber gloves for the clean-up!
Joel shows off the flyer for the upcoming festival.
 Joel helps Kip clean up a field.
A big thanks to the students of CEPIA for organizing the Festival de Limpieza clean up. We had a great time meeting all of you!
The happy clean-up crew showing off our garbage next to the park sign that says "Don't
throw trash here. We  take care of Huacas."

Monday, August 19, 2013


When your engine breaks down in rural Costa Rica, what do you do? 

Load up the busted motor on your always-reliable horse, of course, and head on down to the repair shop while herding some calves out to pasture en route. 

Granted, the cowboy's not transporting a car engine. But he says that, whether the motor is working or not, he can always count on his trusty caballo blanco. 

That's real horsepower. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013


At the luxury boutique hotel Casa Palopo, Todd roughs it as a Men's Journal model. 
A few weeks back, we took a quick detour from El Salvador to visit Guatemala's Lake Atitlan for a story Kip was writing for Men's Journal

In addition to checking out the lake, arguably the most beautiful in the world, we also braved a visit to the stunning Casa Palopo, a former villa turned luxury boutique hotel that features some of best views of Atitlan, including the one above, plus an infinity pool and two heliports. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon or two. 

See our Photo Friday of a lightning storm over Lake Atitlan.

Preview to the story is below: 

When German explorer Alexander von Humboldt famously called Guatemala's Lake Atitlan "the most beautiful lake in the world," he was just trying to be accurate. Surrounded by the towering volcanoes that helped create it, Lake Atitlan and its cobalt blue waters set a scene that borders on being "too much of a good thing," as English novelist Aldous Huxley later wrote. But the area isn't just for Prussian explorers and British recreational drug enthusiasts: The area around the lake has a sublime hiking, paragliding, climbing, and mountain biking scene.

For starters, visitors can sign up with a machete-toting guide and tackle some of the countless trekking trails that crisscross the hills. Weave through coffee plantations, avocado trees, and corn fields en route to...FULL STORY

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Mmmmmm. Lunchtime. Liz and Cinde cut up beef hearts for the many animals of the Monkey Park.
When was the last time you made an all-meat lunch for an ocelot? How about slicing up a fruit snack for a group of cute marmosets (see photo below)?

If the answer is "never," get yourself immediately to the Monkey Park Foundation, a wildlife rescue center just outside of Costa Rica's popular coastal town of Tamarindo.

The Monkey Park is home to numerous animals, some formerly in captivity, and some rescued to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. For more on what's happening with the exotic animal population in Costa Rica, read Kip's article for National Geographic.
This adorable marmoset is glad that he's not part of lunch for the Ocelot.

But, back to the ocelot lunch. 

Vanessa, the head of the park, directed us to the large pick-up truck that just arrived full of fresh fruit and meats. We loaded them into the tiny kitchen and got to work.

Liz and our new friend Cinde, who runs the Hotel Villa Amarilla, were put on beef duty, which involved carving up over 100 lbs. of beef hearts for the various birds of prey, the coyote, and of course, the ocelot. It was a bloody, messy job, but the two animal lovers were up to it. (Click here for a reminder about how much Liz loves animals.) 

Kip had the even less glamorous job of helping to cleaning out cages. But sometimes, volunteering can be a dirty job

Once the carnivores were cared for, we passed out fruits and veggies to the herbivores. This pig was so grateful, he gave Cinde a kiss.
Cinde gets an appreciative kiss from a happy collared peccary.
The Monkey park is not only a great place to volunteer, but it's a great place to visit as well. The park gets no government funding, and relies on donations, and the funds they earn from admission fees to feed and care for the animals.  

For directions to the park, click here

And, if you're interested in becoming a volunteer (after all, you will get to prepare lunch for an ocelot....we may have mentioned that twelve times already), check out their volunteer page

The happy volunteers and employees of the Monkey Park--Johnny, Cinde, Liz, Kip and Vanessa. 
A happy scarlet macaw eats fresh sunflower seeds out of his food puzzle Kip filled up for him.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Todd and Kip enjoy a romantic sunset on an unnamed beach.
After a fun visit from Kip's brother Todd, it was time for him to head to his new "retired" life in London. 
Kip pretending he's a surfer in Tamarindo.
But not before one last surf session in Tamarindo. 

Farewell, big brother. 

Yes, Todd caught a few waves. 
We had an amazing time and are so glad you came...but...

Most of them briefly.
Here's hoping you retire better than you surf! :)

See you in London!

Friday, August 9, 2013


A female ocelot looks for her lunch at an animal rescue center in Costa Rica.
Actually, what National Geographic published was Kip's photo of an ocelot, together with a story he wrote about the issues Costa Rica is having caring for some of its most vulnerable animals. 

Read the full NatGeo story here, or check out the preview below. 

More next week on our time prepping lunch for an ocelot, toucan, tamarind, and spider monkey while volunteering at Costa Rica's animal-rehab centers. 

Costa Rica Closes Zoos--Where Will the Animals Go?
Influx of captive animals has wildlife-rescue centers strapped.

By: Kip Patrick in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
for National Geographic
Published August 5, 2013

At the Monkey Park wildlife-rehab center near Tamarindo, Costa Rica, volunteers clean animal cages, wash dirty dishes, and even prepare the animals' meals.

"It's a labor of love," said Cinde Jeheber, a California native and frequent volunteer at the park. One of her duties might be cutting up fruit for the white-faced monkeys or slicing beef parts to feed to the resident ocelot.

"To be surrounded by all these amazing animals that might someday be released back into the wild—I wouldn't miss it for the world," she said. "Plus, I get to feed an ocelot!"

Yet Monkey Park and other such facilities are facing an unprecedented crunch as Costa Rica struggles with how to care for its captive wildlife, most of which will soon be without a home.

Read more here...

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Giant wind turbines and a spare windmill blade dwarf a parked semi-truck
near the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border.

Liz crosses the border with style.
Don't know about you, but we never would have guessed that one of Central America's largest wind farms spins off the coast of Lake Nicaragua a few miles from the Costa Rican border. 

But it does. 

With a little research we also learned Panama just unveiled its first wind turbine, which will be part of the region's largest wind project in history. 

Anyway, we were en route to Costa Rica after a fairly quick trip through Nicaragua. Highlights: volcano boarding, a boat-enabled border crossing from El Salvador, motorcycle riding, canyon jumping, and volunteering, among lots of other things.

Up next, some awesome National Geographic photography, more beautiful sunsets (obviously...our favorite) and us getting into some dirty jobs-style volunteering. 

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Us with Kip's Spanish teacher from waaaay back, Rosa Silva. Yes, she remembered "El Loco."
Most of us remember our favorite teachers, right? 

Kip got a treat when he had the chance to reunite with Rosa Silva, the lovely and very patient lady who helped him learn Spanish some 15 years ago in San Juan del Sur. Since the days of giving leciones de vocabulario on her front porch or in a beachside park, Rosa and her daughter now have their own school and hostel two blocks from the ocean. 

If you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere where you can learn some Spanish and catch a few waves between classes, you could do far worse than the Spanish School House

Please tell Rosa that El Loco sent you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


The entrance to the San Juan del Sur Library.
If you've got some time to spare between beach breaks and surf sessions, drop by the San Juan del Sur Library, aka Biblioteca Movil.

Just off the Parque Central about four blocks from the sand, the white-washed, one-story building trimmed out in ocean blue packs a big punch in a tiny package. 

In addition to hundreds of books in English and Spanish for kids and adults, they also offer computer literacy classes, study times, and best of all, a mobile library

For those unfamiliar with mobile libraries, first imagine a food truck, but instead of being a place to buy burritos, the library on wheels offers free books for loan in remote communities where libraries exist only in the dreams of the children who live there. 

It's food for the mind.

Travelers-turned volunteers are welcome to tag-along on the Mobile Library's scheduled three-times-per-week trips, which leave SJDS early and come back mid-afternoon. 

Sadly, the trips were on hold for a week-long holiday while we were there. If, like us, you're unable to make a trip with the Biblioteca Movil, the library also accepts new and used books, as well as supplies for their child learning and computer center.  

Drop by the Library for more info, to make a donation and of course, to sign up for a trip on La Biblioteca Movil.

Two librarians fill out library cards and educate visitors about volunteer opporutnities at La Biblioteca Movil. 
In front of the library, Kip waves hello after we dropped off some books and craft materials.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Todd ponders that age-old question, "To pee, or not to pee?"
You see a lot of strange public toilets while traveling--like the one in Korea powered by remote control and the one in Nepal where users are charged a fee depending on the length of their visit. 

Nicaragua took things to a whole new level though, as Kip's brother Todd discovered while at a rodeo in San Juan del Sur

Seen above standing precariously in flip flops on a wet, muddy board, he contemplated whether he'd be better off just walking around the back of the shed. 

Meanwhile, two ladies waiting in line for the "DAMAS" stall have a good laugh watching the hesitant gringo. 

Ultimately, he decided to wait til we got back to the hotel. Good decision, big bro!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Relieved to have arrived safely, Todd and his school-kid passengers wave for the camera. 
What started out as chance to explore the hills and beaches around San Juan del Sur by motorcycle turned into much more--that is, once we finally figured out how to start and shift and stop our motorcycles properly. 

Nicaragua's booming surf town has become somewhat of a tourist haven, at least since Kip took Spanish lessons here 15 years ago. Hotels and restaurants now line the long, crescent beach. Souvenir stands and surf shops abound. 

Yet just outside of town, the area remains remote, navigated by dirt roads through monkey-filled forests and onto deserted beaches more frequented by sea turtles than sun-loving travelers.

Kip gives a student a ride home.
It's also a place where kids have to walk long distances to get back-and-forth to school, as Kip and his brother Todd discovered while passing an elementary school a few miles outside of town. 

After driving slowly past groups of backpack-toting students walking the road with no houses in sight, we stopped to talk to two young boys. Nico and his cousin Tomas were heading home, and they immediately asked if we could give them and their friends a ride. So, while driving extremely slowly and carefully, we did. And then we did again.

Finally, after dropping off the final student in front of his house and waving to his smiling parents, we got back to our ride. 

Todd doing some serious downhilling.
The road's end--Kip on a deserted beach a few miles north of San Juan del Sur.

Friday, August 2, 2013


The crowd watches a not-quite-sober rider attempt to tame a bull at San Juan del Sur's annual rodeo.
Unlike a lot of attendees, Todd and Kip didn't climb into the ring and chase the bulls around. So they say.
Central American rodeos don't compare much to your average rodeo back home. 

Bull riders are usually well-liquored up kids from the local town, not pros who bust broncs for a living. Some of the riders actually tie their shoes together underneath the bull.

You'll see little-to-no fancy riding equipment, and rarely do cowboy boots get involved. 

Oh, and if standing atop the makeshift wooden fence doesn't deliver you close enough to the action, anyone who wants to, young or old, drunk or sober, can get in the bull ring and play "clown" for a day. It's really what most people come to see.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


As Kip and Todd headed south for some surfing, Liz headed up north to the mountain town of Esteli to explore Nicaragua's Somoto Canyon and write her latest story for the Huffington Post. 

Read an excerpt below or click here for the full story.

Nicaragua's New Adventure Tourism Destination
By: Liz Zipse
From hiking up one of the country's active volcanoes to speeding down the same peaks on a homemade surfboard, when it comes to adventure tourism, Nicaragua has become a place that's known to deliver unique and adventurous rides. In addition to the volcanoes, there is also world class surfing, mountain biking and kayaking.

But for thrill seekers looking for something new, there's an activity in the far north that's just beginning to draw attention--exploring Nicaragua's largest and mostly untouched canyon.

Read the full article here.