Saturday, March 20, 2010

Monkey Business

Being alone with the monkeys in the monkey house seemed like a good idea at the time! But there is a big difference between having one monkey on your head and having seven. Plus, by the time I was done my four hour volunteer shift, I was covered head to toe in monkey shit. I’ve never smelled better!
The Jaguar Animal Rescue Center is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, just down the road from my house, in Cocles. The ten dollars for the one and a half hour tour goes 100% to the center. Besides, the tour is more than worth the cost. Wild cats, hawks, caimans, frogs, sloths, owls, dozens of snakes, and monkeys are just some of the animals you will see and learn about on the tour.
And you get to go into the monkey house. Ten bucks to play with the monkeys? It’s the best deal going!
After I went on a tour, I decided I wanted to volunteer. The job has been a little bit messier than I thought, but it’s also been loads of fun. We got a pair of one-month old monkeys in the other day. The monkeys like to hang out on our heads. Can you think of anything cuter than having a baby monkey in a sock on your head?
All eight of the monkeys have their own, unique personalities, along with names that the workers have given them. The two youngest (before the babies arrived) are Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie; they think they’re the stars of the Jaguar Rescue Center and act accordingly. Minimo is the brattiest and likes to chew on camera straps, break sunglasses, and suck on your hair. Congalita has a lady beard, and is the oldest and therefore the head of the pack. Being a lady with a beard is really only something a monkey can pull off!
My favourite animal at the center, though, is Sleepy the three-toed sloth. He has a perpetual smile on his face and loves everyone he sees. Sleepy will hang out on my stomach, like an infant, with his arms wrapped around me, looking up at me with that smile. How can my heart not melt?
Encar and Sandro, the owners, started the Jaguar Rescue Center in their home. The center has now expanded into a compound complete with frog pond, horse stables, barns, animal houses, terrariums, and gardens. The Jaguar Rescue Center relies entirely upon private donations and the money made from the tours. At the end of the day, this doesn’t amount to very much. Still, with the help of the workers and volunteers, the successful tours, and the hard work of Sandro and Encar, the center is thriving.
The tours start at 9:30am and 11:30am. Arrive about ten minutes prior to the start, and don’t be late or the tour will begin without you! And remember, hide your camera straps and your glasses, and watch out for Minimo! She’s like curious George, always getting into mischief.
Photo Credit: Chiao Mei Lin

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Que Rico!

Dancing a set at a restaurant is something I love and hate at the same time. The dynamic is so different from a belly dance show because people aren’t just at the restaurant to see me dance- they’re also there to eat and converse with their friends. A show that is dedicated entirely to the performance typically has the audience transfixed on the dancers; the music is often too loud to speak over, and there isn’t much else to focus on except for maybe the drink in your hand.
The flurry of conversation, the way a good meal can dominate your senses, and the constant distractions of a restaurant environment can be intimidating for a performer. That is to say, I have to compete with the food and conversation for the attention of the audience. Sometimes, when a restaurant is full and the people have chosen that place primarily because there was going to be a show, the excitement and commotion of the restaurant adds to the set and makes it easier to perform. Then there are the times when I will look around and suddenly realize that not one person is watching me. Those moments generally only last for a few seconds, but during that time, I have to perform entirely for myself. It becomes like dancing alone in my room, except that at the restaurant there are people sitting all around. Occasionally, it can be a good thing when no one is watching; if I mess up no one sees.
Another benefit is that traveling from table to table, which takes up a good portion of the song. A shimmy here, a shimmy there- simple dance steps and easy to fill up time. Of course, the negative of going from table to table is that sometimes I feel as if I am intruding upon someone’s dinner. There have definitely been cases in which a table of people didn’t realize there was going to be a show, and aren’t entirely thrilled that music and dancing are interrupting what they had hoped to be an intimate and quiet dinner.
Overall, though, I love dancing at restaurants. I love the diversity of the people- that belly dance is exposed to people who would never attend a belly dance show. It’s great to be dancing and to look around and see a little kid imitating me, while over at another table an old man is attempting to do a shoulder shimmy as a joke for his friends, and the waitresses are watching me with rapt attention, the desire to dance being sparked.
In Costa Rica, I dance at several restaurants, including Café Rio Negro, Chili Rojo, Loco Natural, and Que Rico Papito! at the La Costa de Papito hotel. A perk is that all the restaurants feed me in addition to payment. There is something so satisfying about finishing a dance set and then immediately sitting down to a good meal. All the restaurants I mentioned serve delicious food and if you ever find yourself on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, they are well worth the visit.
Sometimes the nights are slow, sometimes they are packed full of people, but the food is always good!
Also, dancing in Costa Rica is a good lesson in adaptation. I have been unable to find a suitable travel case for my sword, so when I'm down in the jungle, I use a machete. The locals can never believe their eyes when they see me balancing a machete on my head. And really, a machete is just so bad ass. I mean, would you mess with a girl who had a machete? It definitely keeps the cat calls at bay!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Falling Trees

If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Hell, yes, it does! At least, it does if you’re in the rainforest. And it not only makes a sound, but also causes a giant ripple of chaos. The earth shakes, other trees get felled in its path, animals and homes get crushed, power lines go down, and so forth.
In Costa Rica (where I live part time), if a tree falls in one town, it can mean a blackout for the next town over. Tree falling weather is such a big deal that people take out extra insurance in case a tree falls on their house.
Heavy rain is what causes the trees to fall, and right now, we’ve got some heavy rain on the Caribbean coast. A tree fell across the road a few days ago and took out the phone lines. No internet for days, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if I wasn’t trying to blog, organize a tour for my dance company director, and organize a belly dance intensive to Egypt. What made me think that I could accomplish all that while living in the rainforest? I guess living in an urban center for part of the year makes me forget what it’s like to live in a rural village down in the tropics.
Falling trees have some interesting positives, though. The bromeliads that grow high in the branches become accessible and make a beautiful addition to my garden. The wildlife that comes out of the tree make worthy photographs. Take the wicked scorpion that crawled out of the tree that fell on our road last year; I hadn’t seen a scorpion in the wild until then. And come to think about it, I hope that’s the last time I see one! The thing looked like a vicious, little alien.
We used to have a beautiful, old growth tree in our yard. We even paid extra to extend the property when we bought it, just so we could have the tree included. Ironically, a few months later we found out that the tree was diseased and rotting and would most likely come crashing down at some point, so we had to cut it down. The pieces of the massive tree trunk are still in our backyard- cutting them up and burning them seems like too big of a job for us to tackle just yet.
The most unfortunate thing, however, is that the wood from the old growth trees is too soft to use for anything besides mulch for the garden. Of course, deep in the rainforest, fallen trees are merely a part of the ecosystem. I guess all the broken power lines, damaged houses, and blocked roads are our own fault for moving into nature’s playground. And I better take out some house insurance soon, because I think the tree across the road has an eye on my house and is biding its time to come crashing down for when I least expect it. In Costa Rica, trees have a mind of their own!