First Day in Peru – Lima

Passing by the beautiful parks of Miraflores, the century old olive trees, and the  Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing down below a steep embankment just off the highway, we turn a corner and in the distance see the 120 foot tall statue of Jesus, the “Christ of the Pacific”. After a day of travel, we have arrived in Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru.

We spend the next morning being driven through the many districts, learning the history of the Amerindians, the beautiful houses that hold the embassies from Canada, Algeria, Austria, and seeing the pre-Incan pyramids. Our first official stop is the Church and Monastery of St. Francis, built it 1673. It had all the spectacular paintings and statues as an old church does, but below was far more interesting. Before the modern-day cemetery was formed, the two levels underneath the church’s floor held the bodies of nearly 70,000 people. Only discovered in 1943, a small section of the catacombs has been unearthed, organized by bone type and put on display for visitors.

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Our next stop was the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, the burial place of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Inca Empire. There was also a statue of Saint Anthony, Patron of Lost Things. You can come hear to pray or leave a note about a specific lost item, but many local women use it to pray for the soulmate they have yet to find. They leave lengthy notes with intimate details of their life, school and address – and then the men come along, snatch the notes up and give them a call. “My amigo Anthony gave me your number, chica.”

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After a quick break to rest of minds, we headed to the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History and the Larco Museum. While the archaeology museum holds a good amount of pre-Incan artifacts, the Larco Museum held my attention much longer. It showcases Peruvian pre-Columbian artifacts including ceramic burial pieces and a huge gold and silver collection.

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Gold and silver had no monetary value to the people, it was only symbolical of their status. So when a ruler died, they buried his/her crowns, necklaces and other ornaments with them, believing that they would need them in their afterlife.IMG_1460

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With barely enough time to settle into out hotel and unpack, we left early the next morning on a flight to Cusco. But I’ll leave that for another day.

xo ZZ

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Weekend in Chicago

My brilliantly hilarious, soon-to-be-famous friend, Rich Alfonso is graduating from Second City Conservatory in Chicago. In the 3.5 years he has been there, and the numerous shows, my Floridian girls and I have never seen him on a stage. We had private performances of his characters and jokes in our living rooms for years, so I couldn’t wait to see him performing where the jokes weren’t at my own expense (though there was a song and dance about crazy cat ladies, so I guess things never change). What better first time than his graduating sketch show that he and his class write, produce and act in.

Sitting in the front row we laughed and we cried (from laughter). This is probably the last time I’ll pay $5 to see him, he’ll probably be on the new Whose Line Is It Anyways? or starring in a Rom-Com soon, and movie tickets are expensive these days!

Second City Chicago

Second City Chicago

Basketball Wives

Basketball Wives

Second City Chicago

Bucket List

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The other three days in Chicago, we spent seeing Book of Mormon, iceskating, eating deep dish pizza and popcorn, going to the Art Institute of Chicago and having a bit of a staycation in the hotel room – doing each others hair, enjoying the free wine hour, and having girl talk (and of course pillow fights in our panties, duh).

It's hard to take a bad picture in front of the Bean.

It’s hard to take a bad picture in front of the Bean.

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…but we managed to get one.

What more do you need for a Staycation?

Staycation essentials.

Cincinnati friends, be jealous, I got to see 'Best Friend'. I know, Kewl Story.

Cincinnati friends, be jealous, I got to see ‘Best Friend’. I know, Kewl Story.

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Yup, I've still got it.

Yup, I’ve still got it.

Miniature rooms at AIC

Miniature rooms at AIC

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Front Row at Book of Mormon.

Front Row at Book of Mormon.

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I miss you all already! Can’t wait to see you on the Big Screen, Rich!

xo ZZ

Post-Puerto Viejo Slump

I’ve been dreading writing a blog. Not that I haven’t missed you terribly, and I know you’ve missed me.

If you’re just joining us here, here’s what happened.

First I decided to stay and psyched myself up.

My bus journey to Puerto Viejo.

My first day and I’m already holding sloths.

Let’s try to forget this post happened.

Oh… and then I may have temporarily misplaced a sloth.

My Experiment with Bridgette the Ocelot.

Banana Sludge Treatment. 

The one with all the cute monkey pictures. 

Zoey’s Book Report Ending.

What can compete with adorable pictures of sloths and baby monkeys? Certainly not pictures of me stuffing my face with cookie dough at the beach, or my bratty cats who won’t leave my side since I’ve returned. I doubt even pictures of me at trampoline world getting beaten at dodge ball by 10 year olds would be sufficient. All I’ve heard since my return was how much everyone loved the sloth posts and how amazingly, ridiculously adorable the baby spider monkey was, blah blah blah, I get it!

Finally I thought of something that was better than those photos.       Videos.

So here they are, some poorly shot videos I took on my iPhone while inside the Jaguar Rescue Center, and on a monkey picnic in the forest. Enjoy. See you in another few weeks when I can come up with something just as entertaining. Maybe I’ll train my cats to do some spectacular trick. Or Scout falling asleep mid meal.

Ciao! Puerto Viejo

It’s my last morning here in Puerto Viejo, I leave in an hour for San Jose. I’m laying in bed listening to the gigantic waves crashing on the beach outside. Even though it’s only been a few weeks it’s going to be strange going back to New York. It’s probably the most opposite place you could find in the world. Everything here is calm, laid back, no schedule, never-need-a-watch kind of place. It takes waitresses 20 minutes to bring you a menu, and that’s perfectly reasonable to them. You make friends with the taxi drivers here and have their cell phone numbers. Nine year old boys try to sell you weed. Besides my apartment, nothing here has fully closing walls, it’s all open, the restaurants, the stores, the markets. The only place with air conditioning is the ATM vestibule.

But I can’t stay here forever. I think I’ve eaten in most of the restaurants, and I’ve walked every inch of the town several times. I’m looking forward to delivery Pad Thai, snuggling with Scout, and fast internet. I’m not looking forward to that heat everyone won’t stop complaining about on Facebook.

It was a great trip, a wonderful experience, I’m definitely considering doing something like this again. I’ve always wanted to, but didn’t have anyone else to go with. But now I know I can travel alone and make friends quickly.

Here’s some other things I’ve learned from this:

If you do good things, you’re bound to meet good people. I wasn’t sure what the other volunteers were going to be like and if we’d have things in common and get along. But duh, we all came here to volunteer, FOR FREE, to hang out with animals all day and scoop poop, you can’t be too terrible of a person to do that. I’ve met lots of wonderful, amazing people on this trip and I’m going to miss them all (especially Jess, Jackie, The Sophies, Diana). But now I know people in Minnesota, Holland and Slovenia – so that’s free tour guides in three new places. 🙂

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If you get attacked by an ocelot, keep trying. I wouldn’t say my experiment was exactly a success, I’m not sure if Bridgett ever recognized me, but it was fun going into her cage every day and playing with her in the garden. No matter how many scratches and bites I got.

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I’m okay with being peed on by a monkey while eating. Not that I enjoy it. But if you want a monkey to sit on your shoulder, the peeing comes with it. You just lift their tails and lean backwards.

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I can travel alone and not be kidnapped, murdered or sold into sex slavery. Maybe I shouldn’t jinks myself just yet, I do have to go back to San Jose today.

A monkey using your stomach as a trampoline is the most adorable thing ever. Probably even cuter than kittens, or Scout. And that’s saying a lot coming from me.

Never send your mascara (and all of your makeup) home with your sister-in-law. Just stupid.

I can eat PB&J’s every day for 3 weeks and still lose weight. Maybe because I have some PB&J-eating parasite living in my stomach I haven’t discovered yet.

I can walk through the forest with 4 monkeys on my shoulders, grass up to my knees, have my feet bitten by fire ants, know their are poisonous snakes in the vicinity, and NOT scream. Seriously, the more you react, the more the monkeys poop on you. But I really wanted to scream that first time on the way to the monkey forest – killer bees flying by, 30 pounds of heat yanking my hair out, wrapping their tails around my neck tightly, no path to walk on. In my head I was screaming.

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I can’t live without a washing machine. My clothes smell so terrible. I smell so terrible. Washing them in hot water in the shower just isn’t the same. My clothes I brought here will never be the same.

I really don’t like grasshoppers. Nope, not one bit. I will not go to the garden to catch them for the opossum. No way. Get those crazy hopping things away from me. Tiny ants in my bed every night, I can get used to.

Just because someone has dreads doesn’t mean their going to try to sell you weed. Just kidding, they all tried.

That’s my list. I think those are pretty good things to learn in a few weeks, learning a little how to care for animals and a lot about yourself. I’m not sure I’ll ever enjoy camping but I can rough it a bit. I can travel alone, make friends with strangers, I’m stronger than I thought (though I still have to ask someone to open a jar of jam) and a little braver than I realized.

Ciao! ZZ

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To read the other parts from my Costa Rica story, click here:

First I decided to stay and psyched myself up.

My bus journey to Puerto Viejo.

My first day and I’m already holding sloths.

Let’s try to forget this post happened.

Oh… and then I may have temporarily misplaced a sloth.

My Experiment with Bridgette the Ocelot.

Banana Sludge Treatment. 

The one with all the cute monkey pictures. 

 

Monkey Picnic

Every day when the tours are over at 12 PM, the monkeys start going wild, pooping and peeing everywhere and swinging around their cage. They know it’s forest time. To have a successful transition back into the wild, the monkeys are free to explore the jungle every day for several hours. The teenage girls can go out and flirt with other males, and the males can practice their tree jumping. When picnic time is over, if they are in the vicinity we bring them back with us, or if not they can stay in the jungle for a few nights, weeks, months or forever. The hope is that they meet different wild troops in the area and eventually can join one when they are old enough.

I’ve been looking forward to this monkey picnic since I got here and was finally able to go a few days ago. Women volunteers are generally not allowed, or at least not alone, because there are two aggressive females who don’t like the female volunteers. On my first trip to the forest, the ‘mean’ monkey immediately jumped on me and starting licking me. The owner thought that was a good sign and I was hopeful that I could spend more time out there. My second time, they both attacked me, scratching at my face, neck, and pulling at my hair. Good thing there was a big, strong Canadian there to yank them off me. (I kept that visit’s event to myself).  But my third time, I was able to lay in the hammock, snuggle with all the monkeys and leave generally scratch-free. Though every time they walked by, I did flinch and say “is this her?!?”. I’m pretty sure they were just trying to mess with my head.

At 12PM, we grab all the monkeys by their tails, (after the babies have had their bottles of course) swing them onto our backs or shoulders, some hang down our bodies, and we march out to the forest. As soon as we’re close enough to the opening, they bounce off your head and into the trees, where they jump and swing and play for hours.

Narea the spider monkey hung out with me on the hammock, she’d run up the side then jump onto my stomach like I was a trampoline. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but every time I tried to capture it on video, she’d get distracted by my phone and start sticking it in her mouth. Some of the of the baby howlers would come down to play too, all climbing to the top then landing on my stomach. When Chipeto, an 2 year old male grew tired of playing, he’d come and hang with the babies and I on the hammock. He’s a pretty cute snuggler as well.

By the end of the three hours, everyone is pretty tired and ready for a nap. Myself included. I have been abused like a bouncy house and was bruised up, covered in animal crap and my was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

But not tired enough to start whacking through the forest with a sharp machete, cutting down branches, grass, and playing ‘slice through the cocoa pod’. I came in 2nd place. (Ok, fine, there were only two of us, but STILL!) Watch out y’all, I’m dangerous!

And that was my last day at the Jaguar Rescue Center, it’s been a great couple of weeks, and I’m sad to leave all my new people and animals friends behind, but excited for a week at the beach with my family!

Dad, I’d like hummus, bell peppers, and a delicious healthy meal waiting for me at the airport, and the words ‘rice and beans’ need not be mentioned for the next week or anywhere is my eyesite. Thank you.

xo ZZ

Jungle Pampering

After working seven days in a row slaving away in the garden like Cinderella, I wanted to treat myself to something nice. Okay, so I admit six of those days were spent sloth-sitting and I’ve only done one day picking weeds and laundry. Someone else took the task of cleaning the mouse cages. Bless her for taking that off my hands, she-who-remains-nameless is also on a valiant mission to set one pregnant mouse free each time she cleans, so that at least they can have a few happy moments frolicking freely through the jungle.

My first night free we all set off to make dinner together. A hard task when we have limited pans, silverware, spices and fresh food to choose from at the market, but we managed to pull it off. It took 2 kitchens going at the same time, using the outside to chop vegetables and lots of going back and forth between apartments to see the status of the others’ food.

I was on veggies with tomato sauce and garlic bread duty. I think the girls grabbed everything the store had, so we had a huge pot full of broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers – which I then added some cans of tomato sauce to. 

I preheated the garlic with butter, and the bread separately before adding them together and covering the whole thing with another pan to heat. It actually turned out pretty delicious.

In the other apartment they had red snapper and rice cooking.

It was like a real family dinner.

My day off doesn’t coincide with anyone else’s, so after about an hour of sitting around this morning I was already bored. I headed into Puerto Viejo, did some shopping for local jewelry, and on the way home saw ‘Pure Jungle Spa’. While in the jungle… why not go to a spa? I believe I certainly deserved it after that brief time of plucking weeds.

Upon entering the gates of Pure Jungle Spa, everything suddenly quiets around you, a waterfall is flowing while a turtle crosses your path, and there are wonderful smells wafting through the air. I chose the Garden of Eden body treatment which was described as:

“You are enveloped in a luxurious masque of fresh papaya and honey nectar then wrapped in banana leaves as your skin absorbs this exotic skin infusion.”  What about that doesn’t sound AMAZING?!

While waiting for my turn, I was brought a delicious drink of ginger, lime, cane sugar and spices. It was wonderfully refreshing after my bike ride around town. Soothing, soft music is playing as the woman takes a machete, goes out into the garden and chops down bananas leaves for my treatment. Next she brings over a copper bowl of warm water, hibicious flowers and adds lemongrass oils for me to soak my feet in.

Once inside the open air room, I undressed and she scrubbed me with a loofah, covered me in coconut oil then rubbed me down with freshly mushed bananas, honey nectar, and sea salt (they couldn’t find a fresh papaya). The last 20 minutes were layering the banana leaves on me and letting it all soak it while I got a head massage.  This was the last picture I could snag while in there, I thought it might be too weird to ask her to take a picture of me covered in leaves.

Afterwards I showered in the private back garden and then sat in the lobby and had local chocolates made by the indigenous people.

I’m hoping I can top it tomorrow by visiting the place where that chocolate was made or maybe another day of zip lining.

xo completely relaxed and smelling of coconut, ZZ

You want to go to a Sushi Buffet?!

When the girls said there was an ‘All You Can Eat Sushi Buffet’ night at a local restaurant, I immediately thought… no. Not because I don’t love sushi, but I’ve found that in Costa Rica there aren’t a lot of sanitation standards and even though I’ve yet to get sick,  sushi isn’t something I want to test that out on.

We’ve eaten at roadside restaurants where a little boy peed feet behind us. Fruits and vegetables are often found not refrigerated. And I’ve never seen so many flies, bees and ants. I’m sure I’m just being an American sissy, people lived for centuries without refrigerating their food and they were fine right?

The town I’m living in Puerto Viejo, seems to take it to a new level of relaxation on sanitation. It’s an Afro-Caribean town, full of Bob Marley lovers, everyone rides a bike, has dreads down their back and a joint in their pocket. (My apartment fills up with smoke every morning at 6AM from the neighbors below me). So who knows if they remembered to wash their hands, or clean the knives with soap and hot water. I know at the JRC, we certainly don’t. The animals dishes are washed in cold water, we all eat at the same table where the pinkies are slain, and I certainly pay no attention when an animal pees on my head.

But I went anyway to the Sushi Buffet, because I never say no to sushi. Turns out, it was the best meal I’ve had here so far. It was more than just sushi, actually that was the smallest portion of the line, the other foods were: chickpea and tomato salad, cole slaw, papas fritos, fried yucca, Indian beef curry, veggie kofta, chinese fried rice, white rice, Thai hot and sour fish, fish croquettes, Indian rice curry, and the sushi was veggie rolls, spicy tuna, california rolls, and tempura shrimp.

Most of my pictures came out blurry or too dark because I was hungry and trying to move down the line, so you probably can’t see how delicious my plate looks. Seriously, everything was sooo good! I even really enjoyed the Indian curry dish.

Now that my money has FINALLY been transferred into my bank I’m going to try out some other restaurants and maybe stop eating PB&Js for every meal.

Really apologize for the how terrible these photos are.

Even though we were so stuffed from dinner, there is always room for dessert. We stopped at the market on the way home to grab some popsicles. I guess crabby had the same idea us.

xo ZZ