Paradise Revisited

Last November I paid an unexpected visit to Slovak Paradise, or Slovenský Raj, if you will, with a pretty cool collection of people from The Ginger Monkey Hostel. The hike, which took us past one of the most spectacular lookout points in Slovakia, alongside and occasionally right over the edge of the Hornad River and up a waterfall-filled gorge, is definitely a contender for the top spot on my Slovak highlight list.

However, ever since I took that hike, I’d been a little bummed out that Chris, who I’ve been traveling with the majority of my time in Slovakia, hadn’t been there. As a fellow hiking enthusiast and one of the biggest waterfall lovers I know, I felt he completely missed out on one of the best experiences an outdoor lover can have in Slovakia. And so, when we were passing by Spišská Nová Ves, just a stone’s throw from the park, I was ecstatic to be able to give the loop another go with Chris and our friend Jack.

A cliff near Tomášovský výhľad in November.

A cliff near Tomášovský Výhľad in November.

Chris and Jack looking out near

Chris and Jack looking out from the same spot in May.

Slightly senior portrait-esque, but the setting redeems it.

Slightly senior portrait-esque, but the setting redeems it.

Close to the edge at  Tomášovský výhľad.

Close to the edge at Tomášovský Výhľad.

And from the same cliff in November.

And from the same cliff in November.

My maiden journey through Slovensky Raj had been guided by someone familiar with the park, so I was basically on autopilot, gaping at scenery the whole time. Since I would be the veteran this time, I took it upon myself to find the route we took before, worried that any other path might not live up to the hype I’d been creating.

Information about the trail wasn’t hard to find. Although we barely saw another soul during our mid-November hike, it is allegedly the most popular trail in the park and is packed beyond belief in the high season of July and August. (We were lucky enough to bypass the only other large group early on this time around.)

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Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary: Slow is Beautiful

As the girlfriend of an admitted sloth obsessive, the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, was a non-negotiable visit. While it may not have otherwise topped my list, my visit here has been the most unique event of my Costa Rican trip so far.

Happiest camper of all time

A Mecca for lovers of these adorably slow creatures, the sanctuary is home to around 150 sloths of both the two and three-toed variety. Experts conduct a two-hour tour (leaving on the hour between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.) filled with all of the sloth knowledge you would ever need to know, and then some. Everything is extremely interesting and the tour includes a canoe ride in a river running through the sanctuary, but it’s the actual face-to-face sloth time that makes the $25 dollar cost seem much more worthwhile.

Happy sloth stare

Throughout the tour we met around 10 different sloths (including babies) and got to see them up close and personal.  While you can’t hold the sloths for their own safety, seeing their surprisingly human faces up-close was absolutely amazing. Each sloth’s unique personality shines through when you meet them personally.  The most personable of all of the sloths is the grand dame of the Sanctuary, Buttercup.  This friendly lady is the sanctuary’s founding sloth, as it began with three young girls dropping her off at Judy, the sloth whisperer’s, door.  Judy nursed her back to health and has since done the same with hundreds of injured or sick sloths. Now Buttercup makes you feel welcome from the hanging basket where she holds court as soon as you step into the room.

Buttercup, the Grand Dame of the Sanctuary

The sanctuary is about 15 minutes north of Cahuita or 45 minutes north of the popular destination of Puerto Viejo (which I would highly recommend.)  From either destination, just hop on the hourly bus that heads north on Highway 36 until you reach the sloth crossing signs.  The ticket costs less than $2 each way.

Buttercup checking out her surroundings

The Sloth Sanctuary should not be missed by any sloth fans. However, if you are just casually interested, note between travel time and waiting for the tour to begin you may be in for close to five hours from Puerto Viejo.  But for anyone who wants a guaranteed sloth sighting, especially a close-up encounter, this place is a must-see.  If anyone needs inspiration, check out these Animal Planet “Too Cute” clips, filmed on-site.

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Cameron’s Descent Reminds All That Earth Remains Largely Unexplored

Want to know what the surface of the moon looks like? There’s a map for that. What about Mars’ topography? There’s a map for that too.  Want to know about our own planet’s surface? Good luck, because our maps are missing roughly three quarters of the necessary information.

Even in a 21st century world where we can instantly pinpoint and view any given spot on the globe with Google Earth, 95 percent of the 71 percent of Earth covered by ocean remains unexplored.  That means 68 percent of our own planet remains a complete unknown.

Cameron’s historic craft

Thanks to National Geographic Explorer and blockbuster movie director James Cameron’s historic descent to the deepest place on earth this week, discussions of the ocean’s mysteries are resurfacing.  On Tuesday, Cameron descended 6.8 miles beneath the Pacific’s surface into Marianas Trench via his custom designed DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, and experienced a world unlike any seen before.

 While this expedition received worldwide attention, influenced at least partially by Cameron’s Hollywood success with films such as Avatar and Titanic, ocean exploration remains an understudied area. Thanks to (not to oversimplify) water coverage, the Earth’s greatest mountain ranges, deepest valleys and tens of thousands of active volcanoes remain unvisited and unexplored.

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Five Places You Have to See Now

Cruise the canals of Venice on a Gondola.  Swim beside the Great Barrier Reef. Stand beneath the shadow of the Taj Mahal.  Spot alligators in the Everglades.  Take in the vistas of Rocky Mountain National Park.

If any of these are items on your travel bucket list, you might want to cross them off sooner rather than later. All of these famous destinations are under threat of deterioration and destruction within our lifetime.

While global warming and sprawling development have put many legendary places in at least eventual danger, these five are predicted to change drastically as soon as the next few years.

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