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The South Caribbean: Sloths and Butterflies

Destination: Manzanillo

Since I needed to take care of some business in Puerto Viejo, I decided to take one day while I was there to do some of the things I had not yet done in the South Caribbean (the area around Cahuita and south to Manzanillo).

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I awoke in the comfort of one of my favorite hotels in Puerto Viejo, Kaya's Place. The smell of bacon, coffee, eggs and fresh bread wafting from the kitchen mixing with the sweet smell of the warm ocean air.

I headed out early to visit the Aviarios del Caribe (The Sloth Rescue Center) where they re-habilitate and rescue injured and abandoned sloths. They are the only sloth research center in the world and are located 11 kilometers north of Cahuita. Their main objective, aside from caring for more than 75 sloths, is to educate the public about the sloth and to expose the beautiful truth about these creatures.

Sloths have had a bad reputation over the years as being insignificant, dirty, useless animals that carry disease. Absolutely none of these things are true.

They are as important as any other creature to the ecosystem of the rain forest and are beautiful, sensitive loving creatures that do not carry or pass diseases. They only live between 15 degrees north and south of the equator in the rainforest canopies of the Americas.

In the wild, sloths "play host to an entire ecosystem -- several types of algae grow in their hair, camouflaging them, and several species of moth and beetles live in their fur, dining on the algae". (Aviarios del Caribe brochure)

They are highly adapted to living in the treetops by being quite light for their size and having a tenacious grip. They also are amazingly resilient creatures, surviving falls of over 90' and by having the ability to recover from the most grievous of wounds.

I arrived at the Aviarios del Caribe before the other guests arrived and got a sneak peak at one of the living displays -- baby sloths. They were sleeping in a large covered box, but once we took the blanket off the top they woke up, looked around and started reaching out to me. They actually wanted attention and love, they were not afraid of the sight of humans. I honestly don't remember the last time I saw in such close proximity, a baby wild animal so darn cute.

Once the other guests arrived, we all gathered in the conference room to watch a short video about the sloths, a "Sloth Ballet". Afterwards, all of the guests had the opportunity to have their picture taken with Luis, one of the founders of the Center, and their first and most famous sloth, Buttercup. Luis held Buttercup while each person posed for their picture.

There is a living display of several sloths where we all gathered to learn a little more about the lives of a sloth. Most were sleeping, but awoke when they heard Judy's voice (the other founder of the Aviarios del Caribe). All the sloths are named, and when Judy called their names, each and everyone woke up and moved to where they could touch, kiss and smell Judy. How adorable.

They have both species of sloth here at the refuge, the two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) and the three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), each being very different from one another.

The two fingered sloth is larger at maturity, an omnivore, blonder in color and have entirely different personalities than the three fingered sloth. The two fingered sloth can be quite feisty if in a bad mood or if the need to defend itself arises. They will puff up their hair to appear larger, show their teeth and swing their arms in an effort to defend themselves. The 3-fingered sloth is generally more docile.

The three fingered sloth is smaller at maturity, a vegetarian and much darker in color with a black stripe over their eye.

We then enjoyed a short canoe trip where we spotted several species of heron and then went on a short nature walk on the well maintained trails at the Center. A clay-colored robin sang in the background for almost the entire duration of our hike. We spotted at least two other sloths in the treetops and several bird species like the Passerini tanager, bronzy hermit (a hummingbird) and the Montezuma Oropendula.

We gathered in the restaurant for a fresh fruit and coffee snack and to see the baby sloths. There were three very small babies and two other two-fingered sloths about one-year old. These older guys never woke up. They just slept snuggled together like two golden balls of fluff.

The younger babies continued to reach out for attention and watch with curious eyes as the guests photographed them. We were not allowed to touch them.

The Sloth Rescue Center needs donations to keep it going and to be able to meet the needs of its growing residents. Every year, more sloths are brought to the Center who have been injured or separated from their mothers.

If a baby sloth falls from the mother, "she will move about the branches trying to hear the baby. But if she doesn't hear it's cries - because it could have died from the fall from so high up or because it's voice wouldn't carry, or it could have been so badly injured that it would be a liability to her if she took it back to the treetops - she will stop searching. If she can hear her baby cry, or call to her, she will do everything she can to get to it." (Judy Arroyo)

A few sloths every year are found by humans and brought to the Rescue Center. Babies, who have been cared for at the Center, cannot be returned to the wild because they lack all the knowledge they would have learned from spending the first year with their mother, and therefore become permanent residents at the Aviarios center.

It was about noon when I finished my tour of the Sloth Rescue Center and headed back to Puerto Viejo. I stopped at the Mission Restaurant where they serve typical Costa Rican food at very reasonable prices. They also help to feed the poor folks who live in the Puerto Viejo area, so I was happy to support them. They are located on the road along the beach, next to the home-made Dutch style ice cream shop.

Next on my agenda was the Punta Uva Butterfly Garden. I had driven by the signs for it many times, but never had time to stop and visit. I drove south out of town and followed the well-marked driveway up to the butterfly farm.

There is an enclosed butterfly garden here where many species of butterfly flutter about. This butterfly garden is also a center of production. Eggs are collected daily from the foliage in the garden and allowed to reach maturity in a protected environment away from predators.

The owner also raises eyelash pit vipers (a type of snake). She has successfully raised and released ten pit vipers into the wild. The interesting thing about these snakes is that they live forever in one tree. They might leave at night to hunt for food, but they do not have a large ranging territory.

One could spend a half hour or three hours exploring the butterfly garden. I kept my visit relatively short, as the afternoon has turned cloudy and rainy.

I enjoyed a mellow evening reading and then shared small talk at the bar at Kaya's Place while eating dinner. They have a new chef running the kitchen and she offers nightly specials including yummy treats like crepes with chocolate sauce, tacos, stir fried veggies and organic rice and pasta tossed in an olive oil and garlic sauce with fresh fish and a side of veggies. She uses organic and natural products whenever possible and serves a very flavorful and professionally prepared meal for a very reasonable price. Most dinners were $5; tacos were $1.50.

Great food and great prices! Now Kaya's Place has it all: a great restaurant and bar; a variety of rooms at prices ranging from $10 on up, depending on private or shared bath and private or shared bedrooms; and an overall friendly vibe and welcoming atmosphere.

The South Caribbean: Sloths and Butterflies in Pictures

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