Costa Rica: Close encounters of the animal kind.

13 07 2009

Monkey leaf

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? You look around and lock eyes with the person, then quickly break eye contact so as to avoid embarrassment on either side. Well this tends to happen quite often in Costa Rica, except that the pair of beady eyes staring back at you belong to a monkey. Or a raccoon. Or a sloth. Well actually the list of animals is endless, and yes – they all stare!

Costa Rica is a nature lovers paradise. The lush, tropical country located in Central America contains an impressive 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world. All of this translates to an amazingly unbridled experience of nature at its finest. It is clear that these animals are not visitors to our environment, we are visitors to theirs.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I made my way to Manuel Antonio National Park. Located just south of Quepos and about 80 miles from San Jose, Manuel Antonio offers adventure immersed in nature. Whether you are on a budget or looking for luxury, Manuel Antonio has it all – nature, adventure, excitement and relaxation. Miles of white sand beaches merge into fertile green forests, teeming with hundreds of native flora and fauna species for your viewing pleasure. There are endless options to satisfy your adventure cravings on both land and sea. Options range from zip-lining, canopy tours, river rafting and horseback riding to diving, snorkeling, surfing and sailing to name but a few.


We made our way through Manuel Antonio park, following the natural dirt paths en route to one of the beaches and stopping every so often to watch as monkeys jumped from tree to tree overhead. Tucan’s were perched stoically on branches while sloths moved about in ultra slow motion. Once we reached the beach we settled down under a shady tree looking out at the sparkling Pacific. Only a couple of minutes had passed when a girl called out to us in Spanish while pointing behind us, “Cuidado! Cuidado!” We spun around just in time to spot the bespectacled thief attempting to steal our bag.

Sneaky racoon

Sneaky racoon

Caught in the act, the raccoon sheepishly walked away empty handed. I presume he was plotting his next attack on some unwitting tourists further down the beach. We kept a watchful eye on our belongings as we swam in the ocean, when a small crowd of people began to gather around our things. As we approached the tree, we joined the crowd in looking up to spot about a dozen white-faced Capuchin monkeys casually chilling on the branches. There is little more thrilling than being so close to witness the behaviour of animals in their natural environment. Even better was the fact that they paid no attention to us at all! They went about their business and then were gone just as quickly as they came, jumping to the next tree on their way back into the forest.


Photos and Post by: Merav Benedetti © 2009

The Airport – where your adventure begins.

9 07 2009


These days we tend to groan at the thought of a trip to the airport. With long and winding check-in lines, less than jovial workers, the necessary strip down for security and too-often delayed flights, we’re more than a little flustered by the time we settle into our snug seats. The airport has over time become little more than a necessary evil to get us from point A to point B. While I definitely understand why, I find it terribly unfortunate.

I remember the sense of excitement I felt every time we’d make our way to the airport. There was something exhilarating about pulling up at the airport while majestic carriers were taking off and landing overhead. Inside the terminal there was always such a buzz of energy, people from all over the world joined together for the common purpose of travel. Announcements rang in multiple languages while people scurried about to their airline’s check-in desk. It was always fun to people watch, to see the carefree looks of those on vacation or the seriousness of those on business. Check-in was where you got the first taste of the carrier you’d chosen and your boarding pass was handed over with your final destination officially in print. It was the start of your adventure.

Airports are often architectural sights to behold. From the modern grass-topped sprawl of glass at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to the contemporary metallic styling of Seoul’s Incheon airport, architects are constantly pushing the boundaries. Airports often give us our first taste of a country’s culture, through art on display or the amenities offered. Voted the World’s Best Airport this year, Seoul’s Incheon airport operates a Traditional Korean Cultural Experience zone. Travellers can enjoy traditional performances including masque dances and twelve-stringed Korean harp recitals on stage. Some of the finest shopping and dining can be experienced while you wait to take off. Many airports also offer panoramic lounges that offer terrific views of planes taking off and landing. Most airports now have well designed websites that can help with your travel planning and research.

So next time you travel, hard as it may be, take some time to appreciate the airport. A lot of careful thought and planning went into its creation. You might even be surprised to find that you enjoy it!

Photo and Post by: Merav Benedetti © 2009

Airline loses 5,017,212 people in one month!

23 06 2009


Every time you check in a bag before a flight you wonder whether you’ll see it again. Although a relatively small amount of baggage actually does get lost given the number of travellers worldwide, it’s everyone’s worst nightmare to arrive at a staid conference wearing only a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, to lie on a tropical beach in a heavy wool sweater and fur-lined boots, or to attend a funeral in your finest Monty Python “I’m not dead yet” t-shirt.


The Air Transport Users Council reported that in 2007, airlines mishandled 42 million pieces of luggage and irretrievably lost 1 million.  Knock on wood, I have only had my bag lost once, and it was returned late the following day. Although I know people who haven’t been quite so fortunate, airlines are forever striving to eliminate these losses completely. But one airline recently lost more than just a few dozen suitcases.


The Italian airline Alitalia has apologised after ‘misplacing’ the island of Siciliy on the maps in their in-flight magazine. Although other islands like Sardinia were there, Sicily was missing…and presumably along with it, its population of over five million people. Alitalia assured concerned travellers – and even more concerned Sicilians – that the island was indeed still there and that it was just an oversight that would be rectified in the next edition.


Rumours that the airline diverted flights from Cairo to Rome to overfly the island and visually verify its existence have proven unfounded.



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

The View From The Cockpit

9 06 2009


“Excuse me…pilot? Can you keep your radio communications down…I’m trying to sleep.”    


In the good old days prior to 9/11, it was possible to visit the cockpit during a flight. I don’t think they admitted just anyone and probably denied access to anyone wearing a bandolier of large-calibre bullets even then, but children were regularly taken to the cockpit for a look around. Today, I’m not sure that even Britney Spears dressed as a schoolgirl would get past the 3-inch thick armour-plated door before a slot opened and she was hosed-down with high-pressure tear gas and a barrage of taser fire.


It’s a shame really, because flying is a lot more exciting than sitting in a pressurised bubble with a plastic tray of luke-warm food and the germs of 400 other people. It’s just that you rarely get a hint of flying at all…which for some people is probably a very good thing!


Very small commuter aircraft often have no division between the passengers and the pilot. I remember one such flight in northern Ontario when the pilot simply turned around in his seat and asked the dozen passengers to let him know if it was too hot or too cold. Somehow, attempting to tap the average 747 pilot on the shoulder would likely end up with you pinned to the floor by several burly plain-clothed Skymarshalls and shot out of a torpedo tube to Guantanamo…or wherever they send people now.


I love watching what the pilot does. Sometimes his or her actions can actually be a little disconcerting, like when he starts fighting with instruments or controls or leans forward and frantically scans the sky all around for something unseen that’s clearly of considerable concern.


Some airlines used to have cameras which provided passengers with live views of take-off or landing. That stopped when it was rumoured that passengers aboard a doomed DC-10 may well have watched themselves cartwheel into the runway. That was many years ago and I believe that some airlines now offer that again on one of the channels of the backseat personal entertainment system.


United Airlines have an audio channel that provides you with all the communications between your aircraft and air traffic control. I love spending the entire flight listening to my aircraft being handed off from Albuquerque control to Salt Lake centre and so on, or hearing the pilot request permission to change course to avoid some particularly rough weather. ATC re-direct us to 33,000 feet on a new heading and the next thing I know, my aircraft is banking and climbing. Such eavesdropping adds a new dimension to a flight and makes a 5-hour cross-continental haul far more interesting than watching a re-run of a 7-year old sitcom on my backseat screen.


Even if there’s no live video or audio, most airlines do at least now offer the ‘Map’: the video channel that plots your progress on a moving map and provides you with live information on your altitude, speed, outside temperature and your ever-changing time of arrival.


Of course, none of these are quite as interesting as sitting in the cockpit itself, but all of them beat being arrested by Homeland Security and banned for life for simply knocking on the pilot’s door!


Post and photo by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

27 10 2008

Not runway, I said run away! Run away!!!      (Zanzibar Airport, Tanzania)

Torture was banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but I know for certain that it is still practiced with ruthless efficiency in Zanzibar.


After a wonderful week exploring the legendary Spice Island we returned to the airport for our return flight across the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The airport was a simple facility: we checked-in at one of two counters and had the lone Customs officer stamp our passports. We were diligenty and politely searched by hand-held metal detectors before being waved through to the departure lounge.


Our home for the next 90 minutes was a single room structure with a few rows of well-used chairs bolted together. There was a small shop selling souvenirs to those who needed one last shot of Zanzibari retail therapy. There was a small counter offering basic drinks and snacks, a pay phone and a washroom. And that was it. Like all departure lounges, once in there was no way out except to board your aircraft…unless you wanted to raise great suspicion and invite interrogation.


We sat and gazed through the large windows at the airstrip beyond. Green grass spread to the scrub brush on the far side of the airfield beneath a flawless blue sky.


Although efficient, everything was laid-back and calm and consequently the temporary residents were suitably relaxed.


Until the music began.


I love music. I have rather eclectic taste that ranges from classical to jazz, golden era to classic rock, new wave and punk right up to the present day. When I travel I love the local sounds and invariably pick up a CD or two to play at home. I have an open mind and although I’m no expert, I know what I like…and what I didn’t like was what I was beginning to recognise.


The first few notes sounded disturbingly familiar. It certainly wasn’t African or even Arabic. It was western and…Celine Dion.


I should mention that I can not sing to save my life. In fact, the sound of my voice actually endangers my life and the lives of those within ear-shot. I can’t carry a tune if it has shoulder straps and is securely placed on my back. My attempt at whistling is unrecognisable and humming sounds like a poorly tuned lawn-mower at the bottom of a lake. Celine Dion has a magnificent voice and having attended one of her concerts in pennance for sins committed in a past life, I can honestly say that she puts on a good show and seems like a nice person. I just don’t particularly care for her music. I would even choose Kenny G ahead of her, and that says a lot.


The start of the next song sounded equally familiar…and it was again Dion. As was the third, fourth and fifth. Just as one’s heart can go on and on, so did the entire album.  I had no iPod or ear plugs and, being held captive, no reprieve from one of my worst nightmares.


I gazed longingly at my watch only to discover there was still more than an hour. I tried to read, to count the tiles on the floor, to stare at the blue sky beyond and find a happy place…but nothing worked. Eventually, the album came to an end. There was silence. My hair began to settle back down and my ramrod-straight back slowly eased. The sounds of spoons tinkling in cups at the snack bar, the buzz of the ceiling fan and the roar of aircraft engines were music to my ears. After a shortwhile, there was a gentle crackle from the speakers signalling something new. It couldn’t possibly be worse than the previous album, I mused.


The hiss eased across the room followed by the first notes. They again sounded familiar. Extremely familiar. It was the same album again…only louder. As the first tears started to well in the corners of my eyes I stared desperately at my watch. Still almost 30 minutes to go. I glanced at the plastic spoons at the snack bar and wondered how long it would take to cut off a limb with one.



Photo post by: Simon Vaughan

Travel Words of Wisdom – No. 15

20 08 2008

“What do you mean you can’t remember where you put the gold?”   (Iceland)

“We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”


Gloria Gaither



Photo and post:  Simon Vaughan

Writes and Wrongs

19 08 2008

All penned-in:          The military prison – Paramaribo, Suriname

My name is The Adventure Blogger and I have a problem: I am a pen thief.


Actually, I only liberate them from hotel rooms along with the odd envelope and perhaps a few sheets of stationery (and maybe a bar of soap, a map or two, a sewing kit, shoe cloth, and shower caps that I never use. And a face cloth once…but that was an accident). It’s not as though I hide the flat screen television in my garment bag, the TV remote in my backpack or wear the luxuriously plush bathrobe beneath my raincoat as I sneak Michelin man-like towards the lobby’s revolving door. But I do have a penchant for pinching pens and pencils.


What particularly worries me is that I don’t need these pens and have so many that I don’t even use them all. It’s not even as if I carefully preserve them in a documented collection.  Instead, I have a pot on my desk that overflows with all sorts from plain old biros to more stylish stylos. Clearly, my thievery is a sickness.


I suppose that by light-fingered experience I have become somewhat of a connoisseur and can spot an especially good hotel pen all the way from the trouser press. Sometimes, the least likely examples are the best and write better than even the finest pen in your local stationery supplier.  They’re not quite Mont Blanc, but they certainly put your average Bic to shame.


My current favourite is from a hotel in Perth, Australia. It is brown with a faux-metallic tip, a plastic push button on the top and a combination pocket-clip/release. It is singularly unspectacular and would be right at home chained to the counter-top of your local tax office, but it writes perfectly. Fortunately, I discovered its merits on the second day of a recent stay and three of them had somehow found their way into my bag by the end of the week.


My pot contains pens from all over the world and although I am often tempted to use the more exotic examples just to impress – like Cairo, Nairobi or Kuala Lumpur – I am always concerned that a vacationing house detective will spot his purloined wares, clamp a heavy hand on my shoulder when I least expect it and cart me off to the nearest penitentiary.


By way of rationalisation of my nefarious ways, I always remind myself that if they weren’t meant to be ‘borrowed’, they’d be chained to the desk as the TV often is to the credenza. In addition, housekeeping carts are always overflowing with boxes of pens for replenishment which only further proves my innocence…although this rationale ignores the fact that the same trolleys also contain stacks of towels, bedding and rolls of toilet paper which are generally not intended to be souvenirs.


Even that tacit assurance doesn’t prevent pangs of guilt however, or erase the feeling that staff are tsk-tsk’ing me as I return to my room. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that by spreading these items throughout the world like pollen from a blossoming flower, I am actually helping to publicise that property and thereby assist in their marketing efforts. It would be a good argument, except that I never actually allow anyone to borrow them and therefore my promotional activities are restricted to myself and my non-travelling pot.


So, next time you’re staying in a hotel and find the pen missing when you go to write on your postcard, check at reception to see if The Adventure Blogger was there just before you!



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 33

1 08 2008

Vervet Samburu

…and can you send up some toast with butter and jam, some orange juice… (Samburu, Kenya)

Never leave corn flakes unattended.


Almost everyone who heads to the wilderness anywhere in the world hopes to have a close encounter with wildlife. Whether it’s kangaroos, koalas, macaws, bears or orangutans, the local fauna is usually a big attraction and the closer the encounter the better the experience…within reasonable limits!


I have been attacked by brown kites, dive-bombed by skewers, pursued by a leopard seal, bent-double to avoid a jelly-fish, driven insane by a cricket, deprived of sleep by noisy frogs and been chased by elephants and hippos.  But there’ll always be a special place in my heart for monkeys…particularly in Africa.


It’s not unusual to find notices in African campsites warning visitors to take care while walking and not to keep food in the tents. In Amboseli the warnings pertained to elephants, which – until an electrified fence was installed – had a habit of dropping by for afternoon tea but often overstayed their welcome. In most parks however, unless you are fond of keeping a side of zebra in your tent, the biggest problem are baboons and monkeys.


I was on breakfast duty in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. It was a beautiful sunny morning and already tropically warm. The Ewaso Nyiro River wound past our idyllic shaded camp from where we had seen elephants, buffalo, giraffe and hyena and had in turn been watched by voyeuristic tree-top baboons while we took our showers. The only company I had for breakfast was a scattering of superb starlings, a few mourning doves and a tree full of vervet monkeys that seemed half asleep and rather disinterested in my activity.


Or so I thought.


Pans of sausages and eggs sizzled on the fire while large kettles of water boiled away. I started to unpack the breakfast cereal, fruit, powdered drinks and loaves of bread all the while blissfully unaware of the stealth-like encroachment of my simian chums.  In hindsight, I imagine they shimmied down the trees on the side furthest away from me. Once on the ground, they likely belly-crawled towards the food using a few active youngsters playing with each other on the nearest branch to distract my attention. I continued to stoke the fire and toast bread until I heard a clatter of pots and pans behind me.


I spun around.


There before me stood a vervet monkey, a bag of corn flakes in his small hands. We stared at each other. He squinted in the bright sunlight. I lunged with my sausage tongs. He feinted to the left, did a neat step-over and then darted up the nearest tree. From a low branch just beyond my reach he taunted me by opening the bag and eating the flakes one overflowing handful at a time.


I contemplated throwing a stick in his direction but reasoned that he’d probably catch it with a free hand and hurl it back with greater accuracy and force than I could ever manage. Instead, I did what any self-respecting male would do in that situation: I went to my tent, got my camera…and then told my campmates that if they thought the monkey was bad, they should have seen the leopard!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan