Toucan play that game Not a lot of ocelot

I'm not convinced sleeping until just after midnight counts as "sleeping right through". Midnight here is 6am GMT. Damn you, jet lag. A couple of hours messing around on the iPad and I fell back to sleep, only to wake up again about 6am local time, after much prodding from Helen. But this is not a terrible time to be awake: we've been informed that life in Costa Rica wakes at dawn, and finishes early.

What definitely wakes at dawn is the wildlife. Our shower room has an open bit of wall at the top - we think this room is part of a new wing, and not rightly finished just yet - and through it we heard a remarkable amount and volume of many different bird songs. Quite bizarre really.

The shower itself has two outlets: one at foot level, and one at regulation above-head level. There are three taps. Helen informed me first that they all just turn on the bottom outlet, but then after investigation she'd worked out that the left tap is cold, the right tap hot, and the middle tap switches where the water comes from. Apparently this is a temporary arrangement, as when I go in the left tap spits out scalding hot water, as does the right. There is much experimentation before a usable temperature is found, which then turns freezing cold in an instant mid-wash. Muchos grr.

Right. Breakfast. I'm expecting egg-based dishes, Helen thinks something more simple, perhaps just some cold cuts. Turns out there's a full menu with loads of choice, in a lovely sunny courtyard out back. This is excellent.

I opt for the "typical" and it is very nice. Prior to the main we are given tea/coffee, juice, and a plate of fruit. I am surprised and delighted by how much I enjoy the taste of fried plantain.

Back to the room and we pack up our provisions for the day and head to reception to ask advice about where to catch a bus from. There's no-one at reception. In fact, there's pretty much no-one anywhere. Hmm. So we concoct a plan: go to an ATM and withdraw some US Dollars, because we have a slight hunch that where we're going would prefer that currency, and then come back to the hotel - which involves ringing the doorbell to be let in, thus forcing a member of staff into our presence.

The first ATM does not dispense US Dollars. The second bank has a locked door and security guard, which makes us wonder how safe banking is. He directs us to a separate room for the ATM, which also does not dispense US Dollars. The third bank looks like a jail. We give up on the idea of getting US Dollars and instead figure that, since it's sunny and we're here, let's do a bit of Alajuelan tourism.

There's a big sign, in case you don't know where you are.

There's a big statue of Juan Santamaria, the founder of modern Costa Rica or something. Here, a man calls to us and we almost bat him away with a "no, we're not buying anything and we don't need a taxi" bit of brusqueness, but he actually just wants us to take a photo of him posing with the cannon.

And there's a big mural. Taking a panorama doesn't seem to work.

I think I know roughly where the bus station is - we don't have a paper map nor anything offline on our phones - and sure enough we spot a bus depot. Helen tentatively says the name of our destination to the guy there and he looks dumbfounded and shrugs. We retreat, and kinda revert back to our original plan of going to the hotel. That is until we pop into a pharmacy to buy some DEET and Helen has the bright idea of asking public transport directions from the guy on the till.

Her (and, until now, my) ability to pronounce our destination causes all manner of confusion but she hits upon another bright idea: write the thing down and show it to them. Aaah! Zoo ave! (Pronounced kinda like 'thuavee', and not 'zoo arvay') We then get instructions both verbally and on paper. How fantastically helpful.

Right then! We don't need the hotel, let's go get a bus. It's a walk out of the town square district and through a super bustling commercial area, tons of shops and the main indoor market we are yet to explore. Into a Costa Rican version of Greggs where I buy a bottle of water entirely in Spanish, we then cross the road entering a bus station, with loads of buses and people and stops labelled by destination. None of them say La Garita or anything else we want today. By looking suitably confused we attract the attention of a man with a loose watch, who stares at the page above and points us towards a second, adjacent bus station.

This new bus station seems to have less signage than the previous one, and there's a third one across the way. Traffic at this junction is crazy and another local helps us cross the road (we were fine waiting, honestly) and a somewhat more brusque man stares at the writing and points to another bus stop, behind us. Up there is a bus with Zoo Ave and La Garita written on it. Success!

We sit and wait. And wait. Just along from us, a sudden queue forms next to a place where there is no bus. A man comes and offers to sell us a rucksack, another one tries to sell the locals some religiously themed lottery tickets. The fantastically English queue-to-nothing gets very long, and suddenly a big noisy bus bounces its way in and so many people board it's standing room only. Huh.

A second Zoo Ave bus comes in, but still no doors open. Then the cheekiest chirpiest happiest Costa Rican we've yet to see gets onboard the original bus, singing and smiling and laughing all the way. A couple of minutes later the doors open and those of us sat in the shelter form another excellent queue. This is very English. Getting on the bus, I ask for dos por thuavy por favor and he understand me perfectly. Of course I have no idea how much he said the ticket was in response, so I hand him a note twice the size of that which the solo traveller in front of me used, and get back a ton of change. Public transport, we've got you down pat.

On the ride a man sits across the aisle, taps me on the shoulder and says something incomprehensible. Only a couple of minutes later do we realise he probably was saying thuavy? and wanted to help us out by telling us the stop. This proves true when we reach the stop, hollered at by the bus driver, and we get off. Hello, Zoo Ave!

This is a phenomenally highly rated (on TripAdvisor) place to visit. It's a rescue animal sanctuary, predominantly birds but also a sloth and some other stuff. In juxtaposition with the bus driver, the woman on the till is really surly, doubling down when we want to pay in colones and not USD. But then we're in. Let's look at some birds 'n that shall we?

There's a bunch of noisy macaws.

Some evil owls.

Seriously, these owls are plotting something.

The parrots look a bit daft.

Daft I tells yer.

That's the first corridor of animals done. On the floor and on top of some of the cages we have some friendly lizards too.

This guy's very impressive. I'm happy he's up there rather than on the floor, though smaller versions of him accompany us around the park the whole time.

By now we're actually fairly hungry, so we go into the onsite cafe. The entrance has a security guard.

Some pastry goods and a soft drink later, we go back into the park. There's tons going on.

This is Grecia. He's famous because he was rescued with only half a beak, and they 3D printed a prosthetic one, and got some adhesives scientists to figure out how to keep it on. He has some spares in case it falls off though.

Caiman. The crocodiles next door were unseen.

This guy was sitting down and bouncing his torso the whole time. He was next to the cage of invalid animals with broken wings and stuff, who regularly fall out of their trees when trying to move. It's quite sad.

One of our many lizard chaperones.

That's a sloth. He looks like that the whole time.

There are two ocelots. They are beautiful.

Spider monkey.

Very daft ostrich with its head in a food bucket.

This guy isn't captive. He was just flying about having fun. I didn't get any better photos because FIVE other people were in my way, Helen being one of them. Go look at her instagram.

The large-testicled tuffeted eared marmoset. There were loads of these, and some tamarin. They were hyperactive and loads of fun. And large testicled.


Always bloody plotting.

We were there for hours. It was fantastic. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves - the 4 others in my way at the Toucan, plus two American lads, were all we saw the whole time. Peaceful yet noisy, and almost all the animals put on a show. Oh, I missed something out. Turtles and tortoises and pelicans!

Also a wall of owls, some very noisy freaky creaky bamboo, and a peacock trying to stop us going back into the cafe for a beer.

So, yes, a beer. Solo la cerveza. After which we leave, just in time for a bus to go past - the wrong way - piloted by the friendly driver from this morning. He recognises us and gives us a hoot and flashes his lights. What a guy!

Across the way is another bus stop to go back. There's already two people there which we take as a good sign, and sure enough a bus turns up after a few minutes. I pay, in Spanish again, and now have way too many coins. It's more crowded than this morning and 10 minutes into the journey, on a road full of garden centres, we run into trouble: a small accident ahead has left a car sprawled across the road and nothing big can pass. After loads of people give up and walk, including a guy on crutches, those of us left onboard are treated to a reversing bus, doing a three point turn, and a diversion through the badlands of outer Alajuela.

There don't seem to be any badlands, mind. Everything seems pretty safe and cosmopolitan and affluent. Perhaps a country with no military can afford to give all its citizens a decent standard of living?

Back in Alajuela we walk to the hotel, this time noticing that there's a shoe shop almost every other business. Honestly there's like 50 or so, there must be. After a bit of chilling we head back out to go to a restaurant for Tex Mex food, a vicious margarita and some local beer. It is all excellent. Well, the beer is OK, but the food is fantastic.

A light in the sky that doesn't seem to be a star, but isn't moving, confuses me a lot throughout the meal as the sun sets. We walk back to the main square to buy some lager for the hotel, and now Helen can't stop staring at people's feet. Everyone wears really nice shoes and they all look new. No shit!

Created By
Darren Foreman

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