Here is our very first video, big thanks to Carive Productions for making it for us! Enjoy.
A quick, mid-week escape leads us to the Harmony Hotel in Nosara, Costa Rica. The road south is winding, dirt, and canopied by green giants. There is a Zen-filled breeze rolling off of the sea, as we pull into the driveway of the hotel, after two hours on the move. The next twenty-four hours are heavenly. The Harmony Hotel instantly feels like the sanctuary one craves to find in the midst of everyday life. This is exactly where we belong in this moment.
The hotel is complete with perfectly landscaped grounds, a juice bar, a restaurant with delicious and locally sourced Costa Rican fusion fare, a healing center, a yoga ashram, a deep dipping pool, a small bookstore bursting with books chosen by an impressive literate with a great taste in authors, and also stocked with artsy and surf-related necessities, and a private beach path that leads out onto the expansive and wave-riddled Playa Guiones. There is almost no reason to leave the premises, other than to go to the beach.
The Harmony Hotel is environmentally conscious, and actively participates in the conservation of the area. They grow quite a bit of their own produce on the hotel’s farm, locally source the seafood and poultry, make their own juices for cocktails, and even use bamboo straws instead of plastic ones. We feel like one with Mother Earth here, and that she appreciates the efforts that are being made to protect her. We breathe in the peace we feel at this retreat, and decide to take a very long stroll on the beach before the sun goes down to rest. We happily walk for over two hours.
In the mezzo of the rainy season, the most spectacular storm hits the moment we sit down at the bar for a tropical sangria after we had watched the sunset from the beach. The black clouds rolling in from the east met the vibrant pink clouds of the setting sun from the west, and a burst of cool air foreshadowed the monsoon. The Earth drinks in the rain all night long and lets our roars of thunder and electric light, as we enjoy a decadent dinner and each other’s company. The soundest sleep follows in our king-sized bed in our bungalow, as the rain continues to play music on our rooftop until right before dawn breaks.
We wake up at first light, and take a cup of coffee down to the beach to watch the sun light up the world. The air is cool and smells of new life, as the last raindrops drip from the tips of leaves. We spend the rest of the morning walking the beach, looking for sea glass and shells, and taking sporadic dips in the lively salty sea. This is the way all mornings should begin.
This beach and our bungalow feel like home almost immediately. It is hard to leave. We fill up on an exquisite breakfast of pouched eggs, homemade whole grain toast, kale, heirloom tomatoes, and avocado, and set out on our next adventure, while looking forward to the day we can return to the Harmony Hotel, for a longer stay.
Big thanks to the Harmony Hotel for having us!
Written by: Jenn Parker
Photos by: Kaitlyn Shea
Three A.M., dawn is still deep in slumber, and I happily rise as I’ve waited all night for this hour. I throw on an over-sized sweater over the bikini I wore to bed, and like clockwork and with light feet walk downstairs to hit the coffee button. I take Marbella, my chocolate Lab, outside and my cat, Citlali, follows out of curiosity. It is a rare moment when the dust in completely settled on the road, the stars are awake, and the sliver of moon and the dull flickering street lamps light my path. I can hear the waves at my home break crashing against the rocky shore; a wave of anticipation breaks inside of me. In only a matter of short hours, I will be on the inside of that ominous rock.
I feed of all of the animals, pour my coffee to go, grab my board and bag, which is simply packed with the few things I need [in life] (sunscreen, sarong, shades, wax, water, passport, a notebook, a very worn copy of Walden, an extra del Toro bikini, an over-stuffed sandwich, and a few Imperial Silvers) and start the winding, one-lane road north. It’s like a video game driving to Playa del Coco; dodging dogs, cattle traffic jams, bat out of hell bus drivers, and reflector-less, pedestrian path-free blind curves. Early rising workers congregate at make shift bus stops uncomfortably close to the edge of the road, and clearly crossing the line of relative safety. Making it to the Panaderia Tico for fresh empanadas at 5 A.M. is a sign of success and relief.
5:30 A.M., my toes are gripping cold sand as I wait for the last shore break to pass, so that I can climb onto the boat. The sun is waking behind Papagayo, as brush strokes paint the sky alive. The salt laden air is more powerful than caffeine. I sit at the front of the panga for the best view of the acrobatic stingrays, and so that I can feel like I am the first one there. Our captain is an old Guanacasteca mariner with a stoic stare and deep set lines in his face that tell a story few will ever know. He hugs The Mystic to the coastline. The bay is notorious for its treacherous conditions, and he places no trust in its mood today. The costal waters are idyllic and the color of dreams. Pelicans gather on exposed rocks, flying fish break the surface tension, and our captain’s face never changes. The closer we get, the more apparent it becomes that the witch is attracting the new sun and the swell like a magnet; I feel the pull, too.
Before the anchor is set, I am making the long paddle to the breaking waves. The aquamarine water becomes shallow and clear, and dotted with tiny garden eels you can see if you open your eyes underwater. The bay is pulsating, and waves much be chosen wisely. There is nothing better than being in an empty line up with your best friends on a firing day at Rocas Brujas. Turn your head for second though, and the witch will swallow you whole. She has a gift for keeping you completely in the present.
When I am surfing, nothing else matters. It is my meditation. Duck diving waves the size of houses is like a rebirth, and as I am pulled through the back of a wave, just for those few seconds, time seems to slow down, almost stop. Between sets, I cannot help but get lost in my surroundings. Dark sand fades to light, as it empties out onto miles of beach. With the exception of driftwood and palm shade huts that sporadically dot the beach, it feels untouched, prehistoric…intangible.
Lefts, rights, barrels, close outs, wipe outs, beatings on the inside, bombs on the horizon…that perfect wave. It’s day trips like this that leave me soggy and sunburned, but frothing for more. Logging six hours of surfing makes a lukewarm beer taste heavenly. I put on a windbreaker and a hat in an attempt to save my skin, and I look into the eyes of that rock for the last time before our boat passes it. I sit in quiet reflection.
The sea has calmed down, and we take a straighter approach through the bay. My surf-glazed eyes catch a pod of pilot whales in the near distance. The water is glassy and they break the surface closer and closer to the boat, one after another, until I realize that we are surrounded by an enormous extended family. There are dozens of glistening black bodies cutting through the water like it’s air. I lean over the edge to meet intelligent eyes, and I believe they are full of sage-like wisdom. I try and take some of that with me. They travel with us for quite some time, and I feel chosen.
Every part of my body is utterly exhausted. My lips are dried and cracked, my eyes are bloodshot, my limbs are heavy and itchy from sea lice, and my hair is like a bird’s nest, but I can’t help but smile in bliss as I finish my second beer, and fade out like the day.
Written by: Jenn Parker
Photos (1-3) by: Kaitlyn Shea
Photo 3 by: ChonFotos
It’s a cool 87 degrees outside, and cumulus clouds capture the sky. I drive down a single lane road heading east on 26, toward the town of Melrose. Pine, oak, palmetto, and evergreen trees lead the way, and hanging moss swings in the breeze like witch’s hair. Black-eyed susans break up the monotony of the mesmerizing pompous grass that fills in every free gap of space. The blades change from light to dark like an optical illusion, as they sway in unison.
A hidden right onto Forest Hill Drive puts me on a red clay road. It is very rural here, and reminds me of so many days of my childhood. At the end of the road. cut out silhouettes of wild beasts hang on a wooden fence that marks the entrance. I walk into Single Vision and into where the wild things are. I am flattered when I am asked if I am over 18 years of age, otherwise I would have needed an adult to sign my waver. I pay $50 for the full interactive tour. The entire sanctuary is run on donations and the educational and interactive tours that are offered.
What started as a small rescue project, has turned into a full time, lifetime, and continually growing operation in order to give confiscated or donated exotic animals the next best life to being free and wild, as they were meant to be. Carl is the man behind the cages. He has raised all of the big cats since they were young, and he is clearly the alpha male. His bond with the animals is undeniable, and in most instances, he is the only one that is able to safely interact with the tigers, lions, panthers, and jaguars. He understands the deep-rooted instincts of these beautiful animals, and he respects their territories and moods.
Interesting Fact #1: Felines that can purr give birth to kittens, and felines that cannot purr, only roar, give birth to cubs. Baby panthers are the largest kittens in the feline kingdom.
Every animal at Single Vision has a story, from the newest addition, a Fennec Fox, which was donated because it turns out they aren’t such great pets, to a two-year-old lioness that was no longer of value to her owner because she hated having her photo taken with paying customers in a traveling circus. These animals aren’t meant to be in captivity, but unfortunately, it is a lucrative and unceasing trade. If the trend continue, these wild and beautiful beasts that roamed the earth long before we were even a thought, will disappear entirely. Between habitat destruction, fur, meat, and “medicinal” trade, killing for sport, and the animal exchange for amusement purposes or attempted domestication, will leave our planet lonely; and tiger, lions, and bears, among an insurmountable amount of other species, will be more like mythological creatures of the ancient past.
At Single Vision, there are ring-tailed lemurs that despite their playful attitudes are far from friendly; macaws that have outlived their owners; a swamp wallaby named Newman that is best friends with a tortoise; a codamondi named Rue that has an insatiable appetite, and seems to be neither nocturnal or diurnal; the smallest wild cat in the world called a Jeffrods cat that has a complex and thinks it’s the biggest cat in the world; a brown bear named Bruiser that has his own version of purring, loves cookies and marshmallows, and is famous on the Internet; two sister tigers named Bali and Amira that were the first residents; a tiger with spinal stenosis that has its own special handicapped swimming pool; a fat and moody bobcat that spends its days sleeping in a little wooden house made just for him; an African serval named Razzie that is the second fastest cat next to a cheetah, and is sweeter than a house cat; and the list goes on and there are always new additions to Carl’s wild family.
Interesting Fact #2: By law, after an exotic animal is over 40 pounds, it can no longer interact with the public, for obvious reasons. Those that make a living exploiting these captive creatures will often take extreme measures to try and keep their animals small for as long as possible. This includes, but is not limited to, keeping them in tiny enclosures and under feeding them. Especially in traveling circuses, the exploiters will find no value in their animals after they are too big and will discard them without a second thought as to how the rest of the animal’s life is going to play out. A few lucky ones will end up at places like Single Vision.
Bali and Amira are sisters and two of the first residents of Single Vision. The are essentially the reason this incredible organization transformed into what it is today. Originally, there were set to be a zoo attraction together, but when one of the sisters was diagnosed with poor vision, the zoo decided they didn’t want either one.
Tigers actually love to swim, and naturally a big cat needs big cat toys. All of the large predators are taken out of their enclosures daily and for several hours. At this time, they have the freedom to run around the ten-acre property. Some of the big cats even enjoy long walks on a leash through the surrounding forest.
Interesting Fact #3: When alligators are used as an attraction, and are forced to engage in “wrestling,” it is often only during the cooler months. Their metabolism is significantly decreased, and they are less active and aggressive in lower temperatures.
Kitty kisses! A sandpaper-like tongue melts my heart. A perk of paying for the full interactive tour is that you get some intimate time with several of the medium sized exotic cats.
The king of this jungle, Carl, is casually sitting with a panther and a black jaguar sharing a wealth of knowledge to us about his organization and its residents. He informs us that every day he goes through 300 pounds of meat and a seemingly endless amount of produce to ensure that all of the animals are properly fed. This food is either donated or bought with the money collected from the tours. It is a tireless and selfless job giving these animals the quality of life they deserve. Thank goodness for people like Carl!
The newest addition to Single Vision is this little firecracker, a Fennec Fox. Cute and feisty, but not meant to be a pet. Wild animals are supposed to be left in the wild, not forced into domestic life, which oftentimes doesn’t work out too well for either party.
Bruiser is a growing and charismatic brown bear. He loves running around the property, climbing trees, and swimming in the pool. He has to be lured back into his enclosure at the end of this daily playtime with marshmallows.
Interesting Fact #4: Bears love sweets, which puts them at high risk for cavities.
This opportunity was unique and unforgettable. There is no life that is worth less than another, but unfortunately, not everyone seems to see it that way. For these rare and vanishing animals, living at Single Vision is the next best thing to living free and wild. All aspects of this sanctuary impressed me! I hope to find more places like this on my travels. The animals need our help, and there are so many ways that we can make a difference.
Visit the Facebook page, www.facebook/SingleVision, to see more heartwarming pictures of the magnificent animals that have been given the change to live a peaceful and happy life. You can also donate in two different ways: you can make a monetary contribution, or you can buy something that they need for the sanctuary from their catalog wish list. Both options are available through their Facebook page. You can also find information for a booking a tour, which I highly recommend. Or you can just call Carl at 904-377-7993.
Written by: Jenn Parker
Photos by: Jenn Parker