Costa Rica Ocelot

Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: 10 lb Bag of Cat Litter— $6

There are many things one expects to find while walking through the woods: birds chirping, leaf ants gallantly marching in line, or lizards scouring under fallen leaves. However, this is Costa Rica and when you are strolling through the forest in this country, be prepared to come across animals that may, or may not, be happy to see you.

In my first book, I wrote about my husband’s unexpected encounter with a wild ocelot. This is a true story. And although people insist we staged this photo, I have to ask these non believers, do I sound like a person who risks being clawed to death by a wild cat? If so, than I applaud you for your confidence in my intrepid constitution. Internally, I believe I’m this kind of bad ass, and not the one that cries when she stubs her toe on the corner of the couch.

Please enjoy this free chapter from Happier Than A Billionaire in which my parents visit Costa Rica for the first time. I attempt to impress by taking them to see Arenal Volcano where the infamous cat encounter occurred. 

The Parent Trap: Part Dos

Audiences watched as National Lampoon’s Vacation took the Griswold family across the country on a road trip to Wally World. Hijinks ensue. Father swims with Christy Brinkley, and dead Aunt Edna gets strapped to the roof of the car. A family vacation always brings to mind the foibles that inevitably happen when you stuff four relatives in a car with a cooler of baloney sandwiches. However, I do not want to have any of these mishaps with my parents. I debate every tourist destination and comb through every travel book to search for the perfect place. With great deliberation, Rob and I decide to go somewhere we’ve already traveled, to eliminate the likelihood of getting lost. We are taking my parents to see the exploding volcano.

Ever since my ant biting fiasco, I’ve thought about going back to enjoy the area without being carried out of the rainforest by my limping husband. My parents won’t be doing any hiking but can sit back, enjoy the active volcano, and with some luck, find nothing to complain about. Rob calls the hotel and reserves a private villa for the four of us. We will each have our own bedroom with private bath. As I said before, my father is not one to share a house, but this time he has no choice. The house will have a fully stocked kitchen so we can make all our own food and not have to schlep to a restaurant for our meals. Dad will have to take the chance that I won’t rummage through his suitcase while he is reading a book in the living room.

There has been a considerable amount of rain, and the road up to the volcano is much worse than before. We drive around a sharp bend and half the road has crumbled down a cliff. The only thing alerting us is a stick in the ground with, no surprise, bicycle reflectors nailed to it. It is the universal Costa Rican road sign for Holy Shit; coincidentally, the same two words that come out of every driver’s mouth when they come across one.

“Wow… is that the only warning they give motorists? Someone can drive right off the mountain if they’re not paying close attention to the roads,” my mother says just as we come across another bend with half the road missing.

This time, there are no reflectors or sticks, nothing to alert anyone about the collapsed road. We are literally only a few feet from driving off a cliff, a condition that provokes my father to vociferate the mother of all exclamatory, a blasphemy reserved for moments of acute excitability, often muttered by my dad after witnessing a neighbor’s dog crap on our lawn.

From the backseat, my dad shouts, “What the… ?”

“Don’t worry; Rob is a good driver; he’ll be careful.”

I turn to my husband and can tell he is nervous about having my parents in the car. He wants them to have a good time and tries hard to avoid the likelihood of my entire family being medevaced out of a ravine.

While I was growing up, my parents weren’t up for trips to fun places like national parks or county fairs. Aside from our jaunt to Disney World, we were a family of smarty-pants. Sundays were reserved for going to museums in Manhattan, a city my father worked in all week and abhorred, evident by the amount of cursing that transpired on the rides from our house to the end of the Lincoln Tunnel. The only thing that cheered him up was a free parking space. Nothing has ever made my father happier, not marrying my mother or the birth of his two daughters, than parking on the city street and not paying a dime. I was never as enthusiastic since in 1978 on the New York City streets, every piece of asphalt had a powerful stench of hobo urine. If you can take a leak there, you can take a leak anywhere.

We were also dragged to every location where significant historical events took place. These sites were not the kind of nose picking opportunities a sophisticated kid like me hoped for, like Disney World, the wailing wall of booger depository. Here, I had to look respectful and understanding, even solemn on some occasions. There is a picture of me wearing a Shaun Cassidy shirt standing in front of a Gettysburg monument, and from my expression, longing to pick a good one. Even my sister, light years ahead of me in refinement, briefly considered digging for gold to pass the time. To expect my parents to simply fancy a trip centered on the act of enjoying nature bordered on the impossible.

A short distance from the volcano is a touristy town named La Fortuna. Today is busy with many people walking in and out of souvenirs shops. An ATV tour makes its way through the street. We slow down as we watch a pack of coati loiter along the side of the road. Everything is going according to plan until we get behind a truck carrying a big palm tree that hangs six feet over its side.

“That doesn’t look safe,” my mom points out.

A second later, the fronds of the tree smack someone in the face as he innocently stands along the side of the road waiting for the bus. Only in Costa Rica do you get to witness someone sucker punched by a palm tree.

“Oh my, is he going to be okay?” my mom says as she turns around in her seat.

I watch in my side mirror as a few pedestrians lift the man to his feet. The truck never stopped, but to give him some credit, he most likely never knew he hit anyone.

In order to get to the hotel, we turn down a windy, bumpy road. I move my dad up to the passenger seat and instruct both my parents to hold onto the grab bar. No matter how slow we go, the car shuffles my mom around, causing her to moan and complain about her back. I find it rather irritating since last year they went off-roading in the sand dunes of Dubai. At my parents’ house, a picture of my mother dune-bashing in an SUV hangs on the wall next to one of my dad dressed like Ali Baba riding a camel. I am all but certain my parents did not make a public declaration about their sciatic pain while cavorting in the desert. From the looks of things, their discomfort level increases exponentially with anything that is my idea.

The villa we rented turns out to be larger than expected. It has a wraparound balcony with an even closer view of the volcano than we had before. You can also see Arenal Lake, where people come to wind surf, kayak, and fish. The living area is large, and downstairs are two bedrooms with huge glass windows situated right in front of the bed. You can lie down and watch the volcanic activity while relaxing under the covers.

The sun sets while I prepare dinner, and my parents enjoy a glass of wine on the balcony. They are watching the windsurfers take in the last of the light, their images fading into sailing shadows across the lake. We can’t see the crater of the volcano since it remains covered in a cloud, but there is always a chance it will clear up.

“I’ve never been anywhere in the world like this,” my dad says as they watch two Pterodactyl looking birds soar over the top of the rainforest.

I believe my parents are starting to feel what most do when they first visit: an irresistible connection to a time millions of years ago. I certainly felt it on our first trip.

Rob and my father look over a few brochures on waterfall rappelling, canopy tours, and ATV adventures. It appears the only things my parents are fit to do are walk along the sky bridges or ride the sky tram. The tram is similar to a gondola but travels through the rainforest. It’s perfect for someone who is older and can’t swing from tree to tree in a harness.

Slowly, the cloud starts to shift and we see the glow of molten rocks shooting out the crater. At first, the proximity of the volcano naturally alarms my dad. “Is this safe?” he asks me.

I nod my head but know the reality is that one big eruption could end our nice family vacation for good. They retire to their bedroom and watch from their bed as the rocks tumble down the volcano.

“Ooh… wow… can you believe this? It’s remarkable that we are so close and can see the boulders shoot out. I don’t even need my binoculars,” I hear my dad tell my mom. “The kids did good by bringing us here.”

On our last day, my parents decide to rest, so Rob takes a hike by himself to a waterfall. Along the way, he runs into four women, all watching a small cat walking toward them. It is an ocelot, a smaller version of a jaguar. He squats down to snap a picture of the cat, but the movement causes the animal to run toward him and jump on his shoulders. He doesn’t budge while the ladies take pictures with his camera. The cat sits down on Rob’s back and starts to lick its paws and clean its fuzzy ears. All the while, Rob is frozen and afraid that the cat will begin clawing his back. After a few moments, the cat jumps off and bounces up a tree. It finds a branch over the group and starts to growl, looking down at the audience watching it. Everyone backs up and moves away, leaving the cat alone for the next traveler to find.

Rob asks a guide at the hotel about the ocelot and finds out it was orphaned, nursed back to health, and released into the wild when it was strong enough to survive on its own. The problem is, it still remembers that people equal food, and it gets annoyed once it sees you don’t have something for it to snack on. It is creating a problem, and soon they will have to move it deeper into the rainforest. However, it always finds its way back and always corners those few tourists who just happen to go for a hike during its lunchtime.

Costa Rica Ocelot

Rob brings back the pictures of his feline adventure. We are all jealous, and if it were not for the digital camera, it would be hard to believe his story. It’s the perfect example of the miraculous things you can encounter in Costa Rica. We pack our bags and begin the three-hour drive back. My parents appear calmer, finally realizing we are happy here. My mother didn’t even complain as we drove the treacherous road back carefully avoiding the two parts that had crumbled away.

“As long as drivers pay attention, the conditions aren’t too bad,” she says as she looks down the foggy ravine.

This trip served its purpose. My parents are reconsidering the idea that I made a huge mistake in my life and have finally loosened up with me living here. The ride back to the airport is uneventful, and we all part in good spirits.

The trip was a success. I didn’t ransack my father’s belongings like he thought I would, and I made my mother happy by wearing lipstick for the duration of the trip. And unlike the Griswold vacation, no one was strapped to the hood of the car, but there’s always next time.