Monday, May 19, 2008

Slothfully Yours ...

Sue Fan could barely contain her excitement when she heard back from Judy at the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. Not only did they have rooms for us to stay in, they would throw in a free tour and let her hold Buttercup -- their infamous, poster sloth. After our two days in Costa Rica last week turned up sloth free, we decided to make this past weekend a sloth mission. Accomplished? Sort of.

When the owner, Luis, in a silk Hawaiian spooner told us stories of his hustling days over our mango and banana breakfast, that should've been our cue. Never trust a man who is immortalized in a self-commissioned, pre-mortem oil painting. He's spent his life bludgeoning oil buddies in Alaska with his chess wizardry and making supposed millions off of driving a taxi. Why would our status as Semester at Sea staff members make us any different? We only send patrons there by the busload multiple times a year, and make less than fifty cents an hour (or something like that if you do the math). Who cares if we are visiting the sloth rescue center in the name of good virtue ... if there's a dollar to be had, good ole' Luis is gonna find it. Yes siree. He's a self proclaimed mini-Trump. The next apprentice.

Raegen and I spent the day on the rapids (I'll get to that soon) -- so we met John and Sue at the Sanctuary on Saturday night. After a thirty minute cab ride from Puerto Limon -- with Salsa music blasting, a Jean Claude movie playing from Juan's flip down DVD screen and the mostly unsuccessful swirves around the thousands of crabs that take to the streets at night, we were humiliated when he pulled up around 9:30 pm honking the horn and blaring the salsa. "People are sleeping," we warned him, just as he handed us multiple business cards then sped off. Little did we know that the security guard who greeted us would soon be as disrespectful. After Raegen and I checked into our room, which was large enough for the entire Von Trapp family (and consequently could've easily accommodated all four of us plus a fleet of children) he led us around the property, speaking Spanish at a rate I could barely understand. He took us to the edge of the river that flows through their 250 acres, and though I couldn't gather most of what he was rambling, one word completely sunk in -- "cocodrilo." As he shined his massive flood light over the water, we could literally see hundreds of red eyes glaring back at us. Like that scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure after he's thrown out of the car in the desert. Except for these ones didn't look animated.

Later that night, around 1:30 AM, there was a knock on the door. Half asleep, I slowly opened it. Met by the security guard, a visibly exhausted John and Sue and the pungent smell of tequila, all four of us were completely confused as to why the drunken guard decided to knock on our doors and wake us all up in the middle of the night. The next morning, we decided that maybe his story of the alligators in the river was influenced by his apparent relationship with the bottle. Maybe they were frogs, I thought. They take people on tours down that river, there's no way it could be filled with man-eating creatures.

Nope. Liability apparently isn't on the list of concerns at the sloth sanctuary. Just as they charge people to tour down alligator filled rivers in small wooden canoes, they also don't care about drunken guards roaming around their property with guns and handcuffs.

Luis charged us an inflated exchange rate from US dollars to colones (charging us 515 versus the standard 500 in the rest of the country) in his gift shop, after we spent $100 per room to stay there. The tour that was included with our room and pitched via email was not the tour that was described on their website -- it involved less than twenty physical steps and was nothing more than a popped in marketing video and a description of sloth skeletons from a 24 year-old with no scientific credentials (though Luis was willing to let us take the real tour for an extra twenty bucks a piece, what a steal). After we turned down the canoe adventure and the $10 magnets, we thought he was being facetious when he quoted us a price of $5 to drive us around the corner to a restaurant he recommended until he literally held out his hand in the driveway.

Once a hustler, always a hustler. Of course. We get it, so why should we be surprised nor care? It's because all of this racket is done in the name of these poor, adorable animals. They are not nearly as rare nor extinct as they make them out to be, probably for the sake of allure, but sloths deserve a sanctuary nonetheless. His wife Judy and many of the people that worked there seemed concerned and legitimately tender; thus we can only hope that the emphasis is soon shifted from tourism dollars to the incorporation of scientists. Ones that will be able to tell them how many animals are estimated to live on their property (they couldn't answer when asked), and whether or not it is scientifically appropriate for them to have changed the name of the "three-toed sloth" to "three-fingered sloth." As long as they're making money, I guess it doesn't really matter, now does it. And even though we didn't get to pet Buttercup as promised, she appears to be living the high life, even if it is behind a giant red chain.

1 comment:

See-and-be-Scene Queen said...

Awww... looks like I just missed you in Costa Rica -- we were there May 3 - 9 (with a side trip to Panama thrown in). Yes... Costa Rica was shockingly expensive -- a developing nation at first-world prices. But it shore was purdy, wasn't it?

Are you going to be back in L.A. anytime soon?