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Event Reviews

The 2020 Chilly Half Marathon, Burlington, Canada

Runs Posted on Sun, April 26, 2020 08:24PM

The Chilly Half Marathon event took place in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, in early March. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 10km and the half marathon events; this is their joint report.

You can find the event website at

1. Pre-Event Info

There were no shortage of emails advising us of race details. They arrived most weeks, updating us on route, parking, sponsors, pace bunnies, race swag, post race meals, bib pickup, and more. The organizers were also very active on Facebook and Instagram. We went into this race with no questions at all, we were pretty certain where we’d park, where our bib pick up was and – thanks to the detailed route map – what our race tactics would be, depending on the wind. Bib pickup was available locally the week before or runners could pay a little extra and pick up on the day. 

2. Event Location

Getting to the location was extremely easy; participants could take the Lakeshore West GO service to the Burlington station where shuttle buses were running frequently to whisk you off to the start area. If you preferred to drive, the downtown Burlington area offers ample free parking and multiple pay lots are relatively close to the start/finish, or parking was available at the GO station where one could take the afore mentioned shuttle bus. Part of the pre-race information included a handy parking map, with notes on where not to park as well (tip: avoid the private lots). For participants staying at a partner hotel in the area, there was also shuttle service available from the hotels, or at another hotel nearby. We drove to the event and it was a short 45 minutes from Toronto.

3. General Atmosphere of the Event

The event was off an ideal size, there were about 4,000 people taking part. It was small enough to still have that local feel to it, large enough to have a real excited buzz, but not so large that you lose a sense of place. Maybe that was helped by the Canadian national anthem being sung just before the start. This doesn’t happen at many events, some places are very wary of nationalism, and whilst at times this is understandable it’s also a shame. I do like it when people are proud of where they are and celebrate what makes them unique, and since the singing of the anthem lets you know without a doubt that this is a very Canadian race, I’d recommend it for international runners who want an authentic travel/race experience. 

There were a couple of Canadian Olympians taking part as well as a host of other elites so that created some excitement. It’s always a pleasure to line up behind some of the best runners around. It gives the day a special edge.  

The event had a slightly later start time than many races, of 10:05am, which in my opinion is a very nice option for the winter season races. It’s nice to give the weather a chance to warm up before heading out along the race course. But with the cooler temps in mind, the event offers three indoor locations close to each start area for participants to wait in and stay warm. We were lucky enough to be part of the VIP group that had a comfortable pre-race area complete with snacks and coffee.

However before we checked into that area we stopped by city hall where the crowds were full of good spirit and people visiting prior to the start. Volunteers were readily available to assist with getting participants their bibs and swag, and handing out directions as needed.

As for the course, it’s mostly made up of out and back so there are many spots available for spectators to cheer on their friends and family. The longest out and back portion of the course is on the lakeshore, which offers lots of intersecting side streets for people wanting to offer support or good cheer to participants that are midway through the race.

4. Course 

There were 5 and 10km distances, and the half marathon. They started in slightly different locations but converged on the long, straight-ish road that dissects a quiet residential area. Occasionally we saw Lake Ontario, the day was clear blue, and the low winter sun sparkled on the water. There were plenty of pockets of support, motivation never became an issue for me.   

There were a few gentle corners but in all of the half marathon distance only 2 bollard turnarounds. At these points anybody running at world class pace would no doubt lose a second or so but for most of us they provided a welcome little breather as we slowed to turn and then gained speed again. The roads were wide enough so that even at the start of the race when all the runners were bunched up, I never felt too hemmed in, and was never blocked from running at the pace I wanted.

I ran with the 1:30 pacer and they were spot on. I kept with them and broke free just before the finish, and finished in just under 1:30. There are a few gentle up and downs on the route as it makes its way out and then back along the same road, but I’d say it was quite a fast course and if you’re after a PR, you might try for it here. 

This short video will give you an idea of the race, and the course.

5. On course aid stations 

It was a cold day, ideal for running really, about -8C feels, so I didn’t need to stop to use any of the aid stations. I saw they had water and some isotonic drinks, and there were 4 of them I believe. They were on both sides of the road so it was easy for runners to grab a cup without too much crossing in front of others. There were plenty of volunteers and marshals to ensure there was no hold up in the racing anywhere.

6. Race kit, medals and awards 

Each runner got a decent running fleece, a medal, and a range of post race food. There was also free chili and beer for every runner at participating restaurants. I was really happy to see that there was vegan pasta in the VIP area, and that it was marked up as such. So many races I attend don’t do this; they may have vegan food, but they don’t announce it, probably for fear of annoying some runners. The fact that the Chilly Half did have this shows that the race organisers have a progressive mindset.  

7. Post-Event Info 

There were several things to do after the races. The Awards Ceremony for Frosty 5K and Frigid 10K was held at 11:30 a.m. at Burlington Performing Arts Centre and the Awards Ceremony for the Chilly Half Marathon started at 12:45 p.m. The ceremony also offered lots of draws courtesy of event sponsors.

Chili and Steam Whistle Beer were available post-race at several Burlington locations. Participants just had to bring their race bib to any of the participating restaurants after the race for a free chili and Steam Whistle Beer! We went back to the VIP area where we heartily enjoyed the post race food and Dave enjoyed a beverage (I was driving).

The event offers your standard photo packages too, which were made available for purchase within a few days of the event.

To learn more about this highly enjoyable and well organised event, check out their website –

Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

Hiking, Tours & Experiences Posted on Fri, April 10, 2020 03:57PM

Hacienda Baru is a couple of kms up the coast from Dominical, a small town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, about a 4 hour drive from the San Jose airport. We visited whilst staying in Dominical, in 2019 and again in 2020. The hacienda website can be seen here –

There are a few ways of getting to Hacienda Baru. If you’re driving, it’s just 2km north of Dominical on the main road to the car park in front of the Hacienda’s ticket office. There are also taxis available from town but you have to book in advance. Ask your hotel about that. Buses are also an option. You can walk on the main road, if you go early there’s not so much traffic.

For this visit, because we’d been to the Hacienda several times and walked back to Dominical via the beach and were pretty confident of the way, we decided to walk there via the beach. We wouldn’t advise this for first time visitors though as there are no signposts from the beach to the Hacienda, and there’s little chance of you knowing where to leave the beach if you don’t already have a good idea where the track to the ticket office begins.

We checked the tides and, seeing that it was low at about 8am, we set off just before that to wade the River Baru, which cuts through the beach just north of Dominical. If it’d been high tide or if it’d rained hard the night before we probably would have taken a taxi instead. But the weather had been fair the night before and it seemed calm now so off we went. It was only about calf deep but it was a very strong current and the rocks underfoot were sharp. If you’re going to do this wear water sandals!

Wading the River Baru

From the north bank of the River Baru we then had a beautiful 2km walk along a completely empty beach. For nature lovers, this is a dream approach to one of the very best wildlife viewing areas in the world.

It was just us 2 on the beach. I dropped behind to take this photo of N walking ahead.

Once at the turn off point we walked up the dirt road to the Hacienda Baru office, got our day passes and then started to walk the lowland trails. We’ve done this before with a guide and recommend signing up for a tour. On this occasion, however, we were in the mood for just being in nature. We had no list of animals we wanted to see, we were going to be happy with whatever crossed out path. We were actually just as interested in seeing the trees as we’d been studying them at home for a few months and were excited to learn more about them as we walked around. We had a couple of books to help us and also we knew there were frequent information boards along the trails that tell you fascinating facts about certain trees, as well as the animals. The first animals we came across were a troupe of white faced monkeys. We’d decided to leave the big cameras at home for this trip and so what you see here is a faithful representation of what you might see yourself if you visit with just a compact camera and a phone.

Socks pulled up as protection against biting insects! I prefer not to wear insect repellent if I can get away with it and in this case there weren’t many insects, and they were only there early and late in the day, so socks pulled up and long sleeved shirt was enough protection.

The next animal we came across was a sloth, it was an excellent sighting. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find them but this one was only about 10 metres off the ground, unsheltered by any foliage, and pretty much unmissable!

There were agouti scampering through the undergrowth. We heard them gnawing on food often, and occasionally they’d scamper across the pathway.

We heard an incredible back and forth bird call conversation as we approached the upland region of the Hacienda. We had binoculars and through them we could see a pair of toucan, far away. We were excited. Later in this trip we were to see plenty of toucan but this was our first sighting ever. They were too far away for a photo, but we stood there for half hour listening to their call. Then we carried on to the viewpoint, where we planned to have a rest and a snack for lunch.

The hike to the viewpoint and upper walking loop.
The viewpoint panorama. The sandy estuary of the River Baru can be seen.

We sat in the shade for an hour or so, enjoying a cool breeze, then walked the upper loop. This was excellent for bird and tree spotting. Then just after 2pm as the heat began to ease off we descended and headed to another forest loop that we hadn’t done before. En route we passed this anole…

…and these mushrooms on top of a huge ants nest….

…before meeting up with another agouti.

We also saw many birds. With our binoculars and the birding pamphlet that we bought from the Hacienda shop we identified a fair few, but we didn’t forget just to be present and enjoy the moment as well. Knowing what something is called is fine, it puts your education to good use and it certainly helps if you’re trying to talk about your experience to others. But it’s also very important for me to experience the moment for what it is, and to see also what it has the possibility to be. The agouti doesn’t know it’s called an agouti, or that it’s part of this genus or that order or family, and it’s good to meet it in that space of being unknowing, but also aware of what’s happening right there at that moment. The moment always has a subtle sort of contentment in it for me. Not perhaps the big emotion that comes with hearing a lion roaring next to your tent or seeing a scarlet macaw explode from the tree above your head, but equal to those things in it’s own way and perhaps even a touch further on the path back towards a more natural interaction. I know, that’s me talking about some golden age that probably never existed. But, it might have done, and if it might have done once it might do once again, if we will it into being, right?

With this in mind I was also trying not to take as many photos as I used to. My normal way of being is to raise the camera each time I see anything at all of interest. On this trip though I tried to experience the sight first, and only when I’d enjoyed that initial looking and experiencing did I start taking photos. I was glad of this change, it seemed a fuller trip because of it.

The last great sight of the day was crossing the River Baru again, this time via the road bridge as the sun dipped into the Pacific.

What a sunset!
The view from outside Cafe Mono Congo.

We headed back for a well earned meal and an early night. We were excited to be going back to Hacienda Baru the next day. I’ll share news of that in due course, for now, if you’d like to learn more about the Hacienda, the website can be seen here –

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Tours & Experiences Posted on Mon, March 30, 2020 04:40PM

To view the official Rescate website –

The Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center can be visited easily on public transport from the Costa Rican cities of San Jose and Alajuela, and is just a 15 minute drive from San Jose International Airport. If you’d like to volunteer there it’s possible, there is a page on the website with all details.

Note; at the time of my visit the name of the centre was Rescate Animal Zoo Ave. I mention this because the reason for the change is an interesting one, and is explained within the article.

I enjoy visiting animal rescues when I travel, supporting them anyway I can. After any visit I always end the day satisfied, knowing that I’ve done something really worthwhile with my time. So having heard of Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center through a couple of friends I considered traveling back from my holiday on the Costa Rican Pacific coast a couple of nights before my flight home so I could check the place out. My only hesitation in making the decision to visit was due to the name of the place. Zooave? I’ve been to Zoo’s in many countries before and it’s almost always a horrific, sad experience. But I read a couple of articles online about Rescate and it seemed very far from a common zoo, and more like a very good example of an animal rescue centre, albeit with an odd name. So I got in touch, asked if I could visit with a view to writing an article about the place, and here we are. 

A staff member had arranged to meet me at the onsite restaurant and guide me around. I joined them at a table that seemed to be made out of an antique bird cage.

“I like the tables, I think,” I said, “what’s the story?”

“We have a yearly cage-crushing ceremony,” my guide explained, “the public is invited to bring bird cages to us, in fact, all cages that pets are kept in. We crush them all out there in the carpark during a party to which all local people are invited, and then we use the metal in community projects. These cages you see here we kept for use in the restaurant. I think they make a strong point, and also act as some sort of reminder, witnesses maybe, to the lives of the birds that spent time caged in them.”

I agreed, and the strong, unfiltered style of messaging appealed to me. In North America where I live, and in my native England, those working in animal care rarely state opinions as strongly as this in public. There are many reasons why this is so. Some believe in always meeting clearly irrational, selfish or childish thoughts halfway in an effort to appear fair minded. Others burrow angles around their own concept of truth because they want to be liked, funded, employed, or to gain personal advantage in other ways. And others just don’t believe that the public is educated enough to respond well to any sort of message that doesn’t promise economic advances and the satisfaction of the ego. Could I imagine any representative of a business that relies on donations, entry fees, and fundraising in my home countries having the clarity of self and confidence in the inherent goodness of their fellow humans to say in public,

“You absolutely shouldn’t cage birds. So bring us your cages, we’ll crush them, have a ceremony and a party, and then we’ll carry on with life in a more informed, mature, kinder way.”

I can’t imagine it, yet, but hopefully it will happen and eventually become the regular way of operating. I’m certainly glad that society here is more openly and genuinely empathetic than that where I come from though, so that humans somewhere are still encouraged to speak of and discuss moral truth as a main, actionable issue, rather than something that might be achieved after economics and shallow matters of the self are dealt with.

I believe that few people think it’s morally right to keep birds caged. They might like to do it (and in a few cases, such as pigeon fanciers, they may have a strong point regarding the matter) but I don’t believe anybody actually thinks it’s preferable to a bird being free. This contradiction highlights an age old battle that religions and philosophies often try to deal with, the battle between the deeper self and the more surface-based ego. Shall we act in a considered manner, or shall we get sucked in by the baubles. In a way, the pet trade offers us a debating ground on which we might improve ourselves. The more beautiful the bird, the stronger the urge is for some of us to keep it caged, and I can certainly identify with this urge. But the years have shown me that if you free the bird, by not engaging in keeping pets or supporting the pet trade in the first place, then you go some way to freeing yourself from the selfish whims of your ego.

As we walked towards the first of the animal enclosures my next question was, why is this place called ‘Zooave’? Isn’t that sort of name guaranteed to put a lot of tourists off? 

“It’s a good point, we’ve struggled with deciding what to do about this in the past,” my guide said. “It’s our original name, from the 1960’s, and it’s what local people know us by. This place was in fact a regular zoo in those days. We changed to being a rescue centre in the 1990’s but we kept the old name. ‘Going to the zoo’ is something that local people understand culturally, and we weren’t sure how people would respond if the idea changed from ‘let’s go to the zoo’ to ‘let’s go to the animal rescue centre’. And since 85% of our business comes from locals, we had to consider this. But we’ve decided to change the name now to better reflect what we do, and our new name is Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center. We are hoping to have the new website and re-branding ready by the spring of 2020.”

“It must be tricky to decide on the wording of a name,” I said, “I know there are various activities you can and can’t do here in Costa Rica regarding wildlife, according to how you describe yourself legally.”

What I was referring to was the Wildlife Conservation Law of 2013 that defined the difference between zoos and animal rescue centres in Costa Rica. Zoos can be nonprofit or for-profit and are allowed to publicly display animals that cannot be released, and to conduct environmental education programs. Animal rescue centers must only be nonprofit, must rehabilitate and release animals, and must be closed to the public.

“Yes, it has been, and we have 2 parts to our operation, so Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is legally registered as a wildlife rescue center and a sanctuary. The area that is open to the public is the ‘sanctuary’ – the actual term in the wildlife regulations that accompany the law is ‘zoo type sanctuary’ – and it houses over 800 non-releasable animals. Sanctuaries are allowed to be open to the public. The rescue center itself – the part we will soon visit,  behind the scenes, which takes up the majority area of our centre – is closed to the public.”

To expand on the lawful definitions briefly, in Costa Rica a zoo is a managed site where wildlife is kept in captivity, whether or not for commercial purposes, under the direction of a corps of professionals that ensures adequate living conditions in an attractive and didactic manner for the public. Its main objectives are the scientific conservation, education, research and display of wild fauna.

And a rescue center is a managed site which aims to rehabilitate wildlife that has been rescued, seized or surrendered voluntarily for the purpose of their recovery and reintegration into their natural environment whenever possible. The sites are non-profit and closed to the public.

There are well over 200 animal rescue centres in Costa Rica and almost every one of them is open to the public, which on the surface of it sounds like an incredibly widespread flouting of the law. Not all of them are just using the animals to make money though, and an expert I know suggested that perhaps 7 or 8 are really trying to do the right thing by the animals. And you have to have some sympathy for many of the others.

Imagine, you find a baby sloth on the ground. It has a deformity that means it can’t cling to a tree. It fell from it’s mother earlier that day, the mother has moved away and won’t come back (this is common behavior among sloth mothers, they want to be free of their babies quickly), and now it’s at the mercy of predators on the ground. This is a relatively common occurrence in areas were pesticides are heavily used on fruit plantations. Costa Rica is the number 1 user of pesticides of any country in the world, and local wildlife is heavily affected by this (as are local people who work on the plantations). So you find this baby sloth, there is nobody around who knows how to take care of it. You decide to try your best to help, and the sloth survives. Local villagers hear of your success and then, when they next find an animal in distress, they bring it to you to care for it. And so an animal rescue centre is born. But you need money to keep it going so you charge people to come take a look at what you’re doing. Only, this isn’t legal, you’re expected to foot the bill yourself somehow. So you apply for funding here and there but you’re not a professional fundraiser and don’t know the terminology that those folks demand you speak, and anyway, the time spent on fundraising is time you’re not taking care of the animals and your own family. You could get a professional fundraiser but you can’t afford to pay them, and a foreign intern might help open up a revenue source, but how do you get a reliable one? You can see, being kind to animals comes with a host of issues if you’re not super rich.

“There are so many wildlife recuse centres in Costa Rica now, it’s difficult for tourists to know what to support and what not to support,” I asked my guide. “Have you any tips to help us choose?”

“Looking at the photos on the website, or in the brochure or promotional material, can give you an indication. If they suggest that you can cuddle the animals, get very close to them, or even have selfies taken with them, usually sloths, birds or monkeys, then it’s not the sort of place you should be supporting.”

We passed an installation that emphasised the problem with animal selfies. There was a toy sloth hanging and a sign saying ‘This sloth love selfies, a real one does not’. #stopanimalselfies

“This is our initiative, and we’ve put installations like this at the airport, and other places that tourists frequent,” my guide explained. “Animals get stressed out if they’re hung around humans necks or put on their shoulders, and there’s also the possibility of passing on diseases, from human to animal, and from animal to human. Many animals are also captured as babies purely to be put on show at some places that call themselves animal rescues but which are really just restaurants or gift shops with a sideshow, and to capture a baby animal means that the mothers are often beaten to death, or shot. We want to spread this ‘no selfie’ message, so people know what they are supporting if they choose to get a photo taken with an animal at one of these centres.” 

We’d arrived at the first enclosure. A large crocodile had its mouth wide open on the other side of a pond. When she heard us talking she closed her mouth and turned towards us.

“She was taken from people who were keeping her illegally,” my guide explained, “But we can’t release her into the wild, she likes humans a lot. I think that her owners treated her well, or maybe fed her by hand, because now whenever she hears human voices she moves towards the sound. Can you imagine what would happen if we set her free? She might hear people playing in the river, or washing clothes, and move towards them, they wouldn’t know she was friendly, they’d probably throw rocks at her, or shoot her. It’s just not safe for her to be set free. It’s better she stays here, has a quiet life. Here she can act as an education tool, our guides tell guests about her. Often people don’t understand why we can’t allow animals to be released, or the importance of keeping distance between humans and wild animals. It can be complicated at times. Her story helps people to understand the importance of not keeping wild animals as pets.”

In the next enclosure were 2 caimans. They had running water, a pond, and some space to move away from humans if they wanted to.

“These were rescued from a dealer,” my guide explained, “they were bred to provide leather, and meat. Here we have a similar issue to the crocodile next door, they don’t know to fear humans.” 

Later I was to learn how many animals can be rehabilitated yet here I could see that with crocodiles, or any animal that is both a potentially fierce predator and one that humans are naturally fearful of, then rehabilitation would be terribly hard if not impossible. How do you teach a crocodile not to trust humans and not to come too close? You could find a place where humans don’t go and place them there, but crocodiles travel, and even if they didn’t how many places are there these days where people don’t live? There may be better answers than keeping the animals here but whilst the hunt it on for them, this sort of enclosure is a good holding point.

Next came the turtles. 

“There was a craze for importing turtles into Costa Rica from the USA, it’s illegal to import them now but still we find them being released by their owners and altering the local water habitats.” My guide was talking about the Red Eared Slider Turtle. It’s been the most popular turtle in the pet trade with more than 52 million individuals exported from the United States to foreign markets between 1989 and 1997. Little is known of their impact on native ecosystems although their omnivorous diet and ability to adapt to various habitats gives them great potential for impacting indigenous habitats. The species has been nominated as among 100 of the ‘World’s Worst’ invaders, to learn more about this species, check here –

The turtles illustrated another problem; they’re healthy but release into the wild here isn’t an option as they shouldn’t be here and are potentially harmful for indigenous wildlife, and people. Short of shipping them back to the States, and there are hundreds of thousands of them needing to go, what else can be done but keep them in enclosures like this?

The main lesson here is to boycott the exotic pet trade. And to do our best to get those who indulge in it to upgrade their views and stop.

The raptor enclosures came next. They were tall cages, for a reason.

“The birds get unsettled if they’re at eye level with humans, they need to be up high to cut down on stress levels,” my guide explained. “It’s difficult to see them at times and that can be a problem with our paying guests. Often people come here expecting a close experience with the animals yet for the animals own well-being this only happens if the animals want it to. They always need space where they can get away from being with people if they wish. You’ll notice in all our enclosures the animals have space to be on their own, away from humans. Sometimes our visitors complain, sometimes they can’t see an animal closely, or at all, but this is how it has to be. We’ve tried to address these concerns of our guests in another way, you’ll see how later when you visit the farm animals. There we’ve made it so that kids, well, anyone really, can get close to animals that don’t mind the contact, like horses, donkeys and pigs.”

“Can these birds ever be released?” I asked.

“These ones, no, we will see others later that are on the way to being. But these birds of prey, no. They’ve suffered various injuries that prevent it. For instance, this one here had a broken wing. We’ve fixed it but it’ll never be what it was. Imagine, it’s hunting, it’s chasing a rat, it has to swoop this way and that very quickly. But with a faulty wing it can’t do that. It simply won’t be able to hunt, it won’t be able to eat. It’ll starve.”

Walking past a spacey enclosure a black animal appeared that looked like a mix between an English badger and a stoat, except it had webbed feet. The signage said it was a Greater Grison, and that little was known of the species. I’d certainly not heard of it during my 4 nature viewing trips to Costa Rica.

My guide opened a gate and invited me through.

“The public isn’t allowed in here. This is our rehabilitation centre. Seeing it will help explain something of what we do, and why.”

To the right of a corridor were windows. We could look through them into enclosures and intensive care units but there was a coating on the other side of them that meant the animals inside couldn’t see us.

Looking back from an enclosure, seeing the animals view of the corridor windows.

“We don’t want the wild animals getting used to seeing or being around humans, or being stressed by our presence. The public can’t come here but still, there are volunteers, vets, and workers who sometimes pass. These window coatings are just one of the methods we use to minimize contact.

You can also see here, in this unit, that on either side are smaller cages that can be moved between the shelter and the outdoors via a mechanism operated remotely. It means that when birds need to transition slowly from rehab to the outside world, they can be in these cages and be moved between indoors and outdoors for a few hours each day whilst they get used to being outside again, without seeing people.”

There were several other intensive care units we could see into, each looked like a mini hospital. Why were there so many, I asked? I haven’t seen this at other rescue centres I’d visited, they usually only have one.

“We need to keep the species apart. If you keep an injured baby monkey in the same room as an injured baby ocelot, several disastrous things will probably occur. The monkey may start to think of the ocelot as friendly, so when they are released they don’t run from ocelots when they should. The ocelot can start to think of the monkey or other animals as friendly and then won’t hunt them when it is released, and then it’ll starve…”

“You mean the ocelot will not hunt at all? It won’t just hunt something other than what it usually does? Or eat fruit, or something like that?”

“No,” my guide said, “it’s been studied. When an ocelot loses that ability to see the monkey or other small animals as prey it won’t change it’s diet, it’ll starve. So it’s essential we keep predators and prey apart. This unit is for monkeys, that’s for cats, that one is for birds, and this one on the end is a medical unit, you can see a sloth being hand fed by one of our nurses at the moment.”

“Won’t this hand feeding, this close contact with a human, affect the sloth when it’s released?”

“No, the sloth is different from other animals,” my guide smiled, “it’s naturally a solitary creature and it retains that quality no matter what happens to it. Studies show that once you release them they’re gone without looking back. They like to keep their space from all others, animals or human.”

Beyond the units was a circular enclosure and 2 more bird enclosures, all out of view of the public. They were used to house animals at various stages of their rehabilitation. On the other side of the corridor were yet more areas. 

“There are various stages birds go through between arriving here and being released, according to their species,” my guide explained. “For instance, a bird that’s usually part of a flock, if they’re taken from a flock and kept as a pet or even if they’re bred in captivity, they’ll have to show us that they’re ready to rejoin a flock in order to be released. It’s kind of like they have to graduate from ‘bird school’. They have to show that they can be part of a flock so they can survive in the wild. So when we first get them we keep them in quarantine for a time, up to 2 months, to check they’re free of disease that could harm other birds. Once that’s over we put them in with others of their kind. If they show that they can be part of the flock then they graduate to the next stage but if not, they stay behind and join the next group that’s coming through. Some birds take 2 or 3 classes to join the flock, but all eventually do.”

“And what’s the next stage, after they join the flock?”

“We have various styles of release, but it could look like this. We take them to a remote, safe, forested area and keep them in a large enclosure. We release one or two at a time, usually the least confident birds go first. Imagine, if we released the confident birds at first they’d fly off into the jungle and leave the others. So we release the least confident first. They hang around the cage even though they’re free, and the bonds between all birds continue to grow. There’s food available inside and outside of the enclosure so they can eat if they’re nervous about flying off into the forest to get food…”

“Why would they do that? If food was easily available at the cage, why move away?”

“Because the food we provide them is adequate, but it’s not as tasty as that which they can get naturally in the forest!” 

It was just one more thing that made perfect sense but which I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. One of the most important lessons of the day for me was not to have any more uninformed reaction to situations I didn’t know much about. It’s common for animal lovers to want all animals to be free, now, and to believe that anybody who keeps animals in cages is wrong. Our passion guides us, and blinds us. But this is unwise. Our passion should guide our reason. If we’re actually interested in animal welfare as much as we say we are then we must take our time to study the science, and best current methods of care, and get our information from peer reviewed journals and experienced people working in the field rather than social media outrage. I shall certainly try to adjust my own actions regarding this in the future.

“So once the less confident birds have got used to being outside we let one or two more out. If birds have paired off, we only let one of them out. Same reasoning as with the more confident birds, if we let a pair out they may just fly off on their own together. This process may take months. The last birds to be released are the most confident and by then, the other birds are nicely formed into a flock – which is how they act naturally, it protects them in many ways – and they’ve also had time to learn where the natural food sources are in the local area so eventually they just fly off on their own. And with a few changes, we follow a similar course with other animals. They get released but we provide an adequate, if not super tasty, food source for them whilst they get used to finding their way in the new surroundings. For some animals it can take years to safely reintegrate.”

We left the rescue centre and re-entered the pubic zone. We passed an enclosure where a one armed monkey was climbing a tree (“he copes very well. Obviously can’t go free, he would struggle fending for himself, but he seems happy here,”) and stopped beside a toucan.

“This is Grecia, you may have heard of her,” my guide said. I had. Grecia’s case had become famous worldwide a few years ago. Tortured and beaten by a gang of local youths who’d hacked her beak off, she’d been near death when she’d arrived at the centre. The vets held out little hope for her yet as they discussed putting her to sleep she’d started to try to sing. They’d seen this as a sign that she had the will to live, so she was helped to recover from the shock and the injury, and after a fund raising drive a prosthetic 3D printed beak was created for her. 

Opposite her enclosure was a human size statue of her, as she looked with her beak hacked off. The message was powerful and honest. This is what some of us humans did to her. And now look, look how innocent she is, how she hops about on her branch so simply, hurting nobody. How cruel we are to treat animals as we do. Not just in this case, but in the packed cages of the animal agriculture farms, in the zoos, and sometimes in our homes. How much better we must be to be worthy of ourselves and nature! 

Here are a couple of links to learn more about Grecia

Grecia using her new beak to preen her feathers.

My guide left me here, I wandered for the next few hours around the grounds. There was a zip line that offered another look at the centre so I signed up for that. We started above the white faced monkey enclosure, a huge area where the monkeys could be seen, but far away.

Here’s a view from the first zip line platform. 

Zip-line guides went before and after me as I whirred down the wire to the second platform. We were a respectful distance from the animals, I didn’t see any of them look up or act disturbed. To my right were the white faced monkeys, then down below was a bird enclosure. A toucan on the inside and a toucan on the outside were talking to each other. Overhead circled several vultures. Then we were gliding over the sloths. It’s tricky to see sloths at the best of times in the wild and here it was the same. They don’t move much so what you generally see is a bundle of fur and perhaps some claws. Still, it was interesting to see them from above and as with the other animals, they showed no sign of being bothered by our presence. On we went, over peacock, monkey, ostrich, giant tortoise and more, and then I was back out into the rescue centre exploring on foot.

Many animals were out of sight, it was 2pm and rather hot. Perhaps they were sheltering in the cool, or maybe they’d had enough of humans at the moment and had gone to their quiet places. Now I’d learned how they need their own space to feel safe I wasn’t annoyed at this. Rather, I was pleased that they had the option to chill out alone. I like to take photos of animals as much as anybody but Rescate helped me think about priorities, and other things, thanks to educational signs like these that lined the walkways between enclosures.

There is a local belief that sea turtle eggs help with male virility. It’s nonsense, but it’s ingrained. This sign basically says ‘my eggs are not the solution, if you need help use viagra instead.’ Great education. 

And this next sign was another level entirely. I love it when illustrators working on public art don’t feel compelled to speak down to the public and instead assume a level of knowledge and self reflection that allows them to offer complex, thought provoking messages such as this.

I understood the Spanish, I recognized the style of painting as that of Giuseppe Arcimboldo – the Renaissance artist famous for his fruit-faced portraits – and I saw how the wooden elements of our everyday furniture were replaced with bones. I think it was saying, the way we construct our lives is destroying us. We sit and admire nature on the walls in paintings, we are nature ourselves, yet we kill it, and therefore ourselves. Can we do better than this!?

Maybe it was saying that. I’m unsure. It was good art, in any case, offering plenty of stimulus for thought.

The spider monkeys were active. One stalked me as I walked past. It kept it’s eyes locked on mine and followed me as I walked first one way for 15 metres, then back, then back again. I’ve had a lot of experience in the wilds of Africa with animals I’ve encountered whilst on foot and I’m not usually spooked but the intensity of this monkey’s stare, and the controlled, electric ripple of it’s movements made me glad there was a barrier between us. It was clearly very powerful, without fear, and was sizing me up clinically with every movement. There was a deep growl, too. I recalled that my guide had said that male spider monkeys kept as pets were a huge problem, as they’re powerful enough to attack a human if they see food, and small groups of them have been known to kill people. In fact, the government has to send hunters out on occasion to track down spider monkeys in the wild that are way too used to humans. Some just become that way by chance, perhaps they encounter villagers daily, but others have been kept as pets and then released once they got too big or aggressive. These few monkeys in the enclosure were kept there for their own good, and for ours. 

This shows about a third of the spacious spider monkey enclosure.

I called in at the onsite restaurant – named ‘Kivu’ after the lion that had lived out the last of it’s days here in a large, private enclosure after having been kept in squalid conditions at the San Jose zoo – and ate from the excellent buffet. There was plenty of local favorites like rice and beans, plantains, sauces that were new to me made with mango, berries and other fruits, many types of salads, and soups. 

My final hour was spent in the bird section of the park. Here the larger and more colourful birds were settled. Many had their wings clipped, courtesy of their previous owners no doubt, but at least they now had their own perches in a pleasant setting and could move around as freely as was possible. 

Some had been bred especially for the pet trade and were beautifully, yet unnaturally, coloured. Being with the Scarlet Macaws was a bittersweet experience. I was obviously pleased to be close to them yet sad that they have to be here. I’d just spent a week in the Osa Peninsula and Carara National Park, the 2 places in Costa Rica where you can still find these birds regularly now. Seeing a flash of red overhead was always thrilling, and luckily I’d experienced it daily. I didn’t need them to be close for me to enjoy them, just to be in the same part of the world as them and catch a glimpse was enough. So to see them here was beautiful yet awful. They should be flying wild, not kept by us in any way. They used to be common all over the country but now there’s less than 2,000 in Osa and less than 500 in Carara. The good news is that Rescate has had tremendous success in breeding these birds and has a well established program to release captive bred birds in areas where they’re currently extinct. 

Having made 4 visits to Costa Rica and toured a dozen or so of the wildlife focused national parks, rescue centres and volunteer projects I’d say that Rescate is a must see for nature lovers. It’s accessible – all the paths are well paved – and also very easy to visit as it’s on a bus route. Please consider putting aside time at the start or end of your holiday to visit, and support, the centre. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your day and you might well learn a lot about the complex world of animal rescue and rehabilitation, as I did. 

To Visit

To view the official Rescate website –

There’s a large car park if you’re driving. There’s also a local bus, it’s the number 246 from Alajuela and you can find the schedule here (it’s basically every hour)

I stayed at Hostel Cala in Alajuela, I booked it through It was good value and the staff helped me locate the bus station, which was a 10 minute walk from the hostel. 

Rio Claro Aventuras Eco Tours, Corcovado, Costa Rica

Canoeing & Swimming, Tours & Experiences Posted on Fri, February 07, 2020 10:19AM

Rio Claro Aventuras Eco Tours was set up to help fund the Life For Life Sea Turtle Rescue Centre (check them out here – ) that operates at the mouth of the Rio Claro, between Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. This small area is home to an astonishing 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity; we only stayed for 5 days but that time was enough to tell us that this place is very special indeed. If you’ve an interest in nature and have the opportunity, please try to visit!

Life For Life also has a hostel situated on an idyllic beach near to the Rio Claro, we’ll talk about that later on, for now if you want to skip straight to it check it out here –

We were staying in the village of Aguitas in Drake Bay and to get to the Rio Claro estuary from there you have several options, with the top 2 being either a water taxi, or walking along the coastal path. We decided to walk as we were told it was a beautiful path, and indeed it was. It’s not paved but it’s easy to follow and it takes about 3 easy hours to reach the estuary from the village. Here are some views of the path and scenery, we were to walk it every day of our 5 days in the area, it was ideal for bird watching and enjoying the rainforest.

Rio Claro wasn’t listed on the sign above, but you’ll come to it just before San Josecito. This sign was just over half hour along the track from the village. As you can see the path is well trodden and fascinating.

The final photo shows the only section of the path that was muddy. We were there in January, which is dry season, so expect to get a little dirty at this 100 metre section if you pass in the wet season, from about May to November. Apart from this though, it was easy going. When you get to the Rio Claro you are greeted with a fine sight, the river easing round the bend from the rainforest on your left to the Pacific Ocean on your right.

If the tide is low you can wade straight across, the water will be up to your waist, and if it’s high tide then carry on walking along the track to the left of the river until you come to this sign.

Blow the whistle and somebody will canoe across the river to pick you up. The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, and the base for the Rio Claro Aventuras Tours, is on the other bank. Here we met Ricardo, the guy responsible for setting up the operation 20 years ago. Before the tour we spent a short while looking around the centre.

There were many hand made gifts to buy (all profits go towards funding the centre)…

…and opportunities to learn about the work that the centre does. A noticeboard told of the egg hatchery success rate, they have remarkably high numbers and Ricardo said that was partly because the climate there was perfect for the turtles. The temperature of the water coming down the river and that of the ocean make the sands between them the ideal breeding ground. A few of the numbers were listed on the board, Ricardo said they had to update the board with much more good news as nests had hatched recently and all the babies had made it to the ocean.

“We’ve released over 6 million baby turtles since we started here, thanks to our volunteers who come from all countries.” he explained, “We need more help though, so please mention to your friends that if they want to volunteer here, they’re welcome!”

Previous volunteers had collected rubbish from the beach and some was hung around to illustrate to all who passed through here that nothing ever really disappears after we throw it away. We trust that our garbage will be dealt with without harming the earth, but the more I travel the more I see that this isn’t happening as much as we hope it is. Hanging up were beach shoes, mobile phones, cameras and fishing gear. The fishing gear was stamped ‘Made in Taiwan’, it made horrible sense, the Taiwanese fishing fleets are the main culprits in Costa Rican waters in the slaughter of sharks and the other large sea animals that get caught on their long lines and in their nets, such as dolphins, tuna and sea turtles.

Having got changed into clothes we didn’t mind getting wet, and choosing a pair of river shoes and a life jacket, we set off on our adventure.

“It starts right here, if you want,” said Ricardo. “You can jump off that rock there, into the Rio Claro! Don’t worry, it’s very deep at this point, you’ll be safe.” It looked high above the river but I trusted him and went for it. I dropped through the air for what seemed like a minute then Splash! Down, down, boy, the river really is deep at this point, and then I was up above the surface thinking how refreshing the river was. I’d been pretty warm up there on land but now everything felt perfect.

We began paddling upstream. The plan was to head up into the primary rainforest for a while, then float back down, checking out a few waterfalls as we went.

The rainforest here is primary, which means it’s never been logged or farmed. The food chain and circle of life has been relatively insulated from human actions here. Even the plastic that you can find on every beach, no matter how remote, was absent from here.

The paddling was easy, we saw turtles and a heron, and toucans – hidden high in the forest – were vocal. Their call is distinctive, after a few days in Costa Rica you’ll most likely recognize them as easily as you might do a cuckoo. A tour like this shows you beauty, yes, and it also encourages you to slow down, to open up your senses, and to leave space for magic to happen. You can’t force a scarlet macaw to flash across the sky, you just have to be alert to the possibility that it may happen. So we sat quietly, eyes and ears wide open. A toucan broke from cover and flew overhead, giving us a few seconds of sheer joy and wide smiles. Then we refocused, scanning the banks, there was another heron, some smaller birds, and large fish below, and many wide-winged insects hovering. The weight of western life that I hadn’t even noticed was there began slipping away. The things that mattered so much back in the city were forgotten, not because I didn’t care any more but because this was the real thing, this right here around and within us, and as such it demanded me take notice of it.

Soon we came to a mini rapid where we had to get out and pull the boat up and over the rocks to carry on.

There was another chance to climb and jump. My partner Nita gave it a pass, I gave it a go.

Soon after that the river narrowed and Ricardo said “OK, you can jump out if you want, it’s time to float back downstream!” Ah, now I understood, that’s what the life jackets were for. The river hadn’t required them as it was very calm but now we’d be using them as buoyancy aids as we floated back to the Pacific!

There was no rush, we let the river current take us. There was also no reason to worry. There were no crocodiles or other animals here that might give us cause for concern. When we got to the mini rapids Ricardo told us to keep our arms by our sides and float in feet first and this worked fine. Another toucan flashed by, I was laying on my back looking up between the trees at the time it’s bright yellow beak and shiny black body emerged from the deep green. A wonderful moment, impossible to capture either with camera or words. It has to be experienced to be understood.

We rounded a corner and saw the canoe pulled up on the bank, with Ricardo beckoning us to get out of the river and follow him up the side of a waterfall. The climbing was easy as a rope had been put in place, and over the next half hour we explored a series of waterfalls and pools that led us further back into the forest.

It was time to head back, floating once again. We could’ve gone in the canoe – no activity is pushed on your during the tour – but when might we get the chance again to float down a rainforest river towards the Pacific Ocean?!! Best to take these opportunities with both hands whenever they present themselves I think.

We drank tea back at the turtle rescue centre then headed off with Ricardo to have lunch at the Life For Life hostel, about a half hour walk away. The walk was mostly flat and offered some outstanding views.

The photo above shows the beach that the hostel is located right next to. We’d asked for a vegan lunch and that was easily catered for; we had rice, beans, lentil fritter, a vegetable dish, salad, and a fresh coconut to wash it down along with some lime-lemonade.

After lunch Ricardo showed us around. Rates for a stay here can be as low as $25 per night including 3 meals (you’ll need the meals as there are no shops or restaurants anywhere near) if you want to volunteer to help the sea turtle project, or around $45 per night if you just want to stay. All profits go to fund the sea turtle project. Here’s a look at the options; rooms, tents or hammocks.

The temperature stays warm at night so sleeping in a tent with a mesh wall, or a hammock, is preferable for many people who don’t like air conditioning.

The Rio Claro tour was so much fun, offering us experiences we’ve never had before. The money raised from it goes towards helping the sea turtles, which are endangered at the moment. We hope you’ll consider taking one of Ricardo’s ‘Rio Claro Aventuras’ eco tours or staying at the hostel if you’re in the area, or even volunteering if you have some spare time. Sea Turtle conservation can be hard work, especially if you have to walk the beach collecting eggs at night before the dogs or poachers get to them, but it’s extremely gratifying to see the babies hatching and scuttling off to the ocean to carry on the circle of life.

Learn all the details here – and if you have any questions and want to communicate with somebody in English you can contact Caroline at

You can also find Rio Claro Tours on Facebook –

Life For Life Sea Turtle Rescue – The Volunteer Experience

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking, Tours & Experiences Posted on Thu, February 06, 2020 10:20PM

We met Caroline when we visited the Life For Life Sea Turtle Rescue Project in the Osa Peninsula, on the southern Pacific coastline of Costa Rica. Caroline is from England and was volunteering at the project for 10 days.

We asked her a few questions about her experience as a volunteer. If after reading you’re inspired to volunteer at Life For Life yourself, feel free to contact Caroline for more details on (she’s now volunteering as a coordinator for the project back in England) and check out the volunteering page on the Life For Life website for all details, including how to get there, what you’ll be doing, and what it’s going to cost you, here –

Hi Caroline! How did you arrange your stay at Life For Life? Did you look into volunteer opportunities before you left England? 

Yes, I did do some research on the internet before I left, but its so hard to pick something from the internet. I only had a month away from work in total and I wanted it to be awesome, so in the end I decided to not arrange anything and just arrive in Costa Rica and see which way the wind took me.

What led to you volunteering with Life For Life for the 10 days then?

I had been in Costa Roca for 2 weeks and had arrived on the Osa Peninsula for Christmas.  I was staying at a tent camp and the camp suggested I go on Ricardo’s River Claro tour. Ricardo organises the Life For Life project, and the Rio Claro Tours raise funds to keep the project going. I had spoken to other travellers at the camp who had done the tour before and they told me it was the best tour they had done in Costa Rica. Well, I had to go there after those recommendations.  I was only an hours walk from the River Claro but I had a guide who took me bird spotting on the way, there was lots to see, and when I arrived at the river I met Ricardo and saw his sign saying he needed volunteers.  We got chatting and as I was looking for somewhere to spend my last 10 days in Costa Rica I said I would come back the next day with my rucksack and volunteer for him for the rest of my trip.  This was the best decision of my trip.

Ricardo at the sea turtle hatchery.
Caroline during the Rio Claro Tour.
Rio Claro view from the canoe.

Can you describe what you did as a volunteer? 

During my stay I helped at the Turtle Project Centre which is located at the beach and the mouth of the River Claro Wildlife Refuge.  There were no turtles laying while I was there but there was still plenty to do. I chatted with tourists and gave them information about the project and the work Ricardo was doing. I made jewellery which we sold to raise funds for the project, using some shells I found from the beach. 

I also helped out when the River Claro tours got busy by making tea for guests. While I was there Ricardo taught me how to make some Costa Rican food and especially the fried plantain which was delicious. In the evening back at the hostel I chatted to guests and swung in the hammock.

The view of sunset and the Pacific from the hammock.
View from the hammock deck.

What about accommodation, food, and costs? 

I stayed in a tent when I was at the hostel, but the best nights were when we stayed at the turtle project. There was no electricity so we cooked by head torch and candle light and listened to the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach. Ricardo kept me well fed with typical Costa Rican beans and rice and lots of vegetables. I am a vegetarian and so is Ricardo so this was really great for us both. I left a small donation at the end of my stay to contribute to the project, but apart from that I did not need any money whilst I was volunteering.

Tent accommodation at the Life For Life hostel.

Has your perspective on the environment, and sea turtles, changed as a result of your time there at Life For Life? 

Definitely, I have a much wider understanding of the threats to turtles and the plastic pollution of the sea.  Being in this remote location I saw how much rubbish washes up on the beach.  Its incredibly sad how much plastic is in the ocean.  Since returning to the UK my shopping habits have changed and I am very focused on reducing my plastic now.

Some of the plastic collected on the beach, on display at the centre.

What are your main take away thoughts from your experience? 

This experience was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, although I will go there again!  I have never experienced such a wonderful, remote, beautiful place as the area around the Life for Life project.  I learnt so much from Ricardo, and my environmental focus has strengthened as a result.

View from the path between the Life For Life hostel and sea turtle project.

Will you be going back, or using your experience in similar projects, do you think? 

I will definitely go back.  Ricardo and I became great friends at Life for Life and I am now a friend of the project.  Now I am at home I am using my internet skills to find Ricardo more volunteers.  I am dreaming of my next visit and I hope it won’t be too long before I am back there helping the sea turtles.

Caroline, Ricardo and Trek and Run’s Nita.

If you’re inspired to volunteer at the Life for Life project yourself, feel free to contact Caroline for more details on and check out the volunteering page on the Life For Life website here –

Mid Morning Tour of La Paz Waterfall Gardens, San Jose, Costa Rica

Hiking, Tours & Experiences Posted on Thu, January 30, 2020 09:21AM

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a privately owned ecological attraction near to San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica and likely where you’ll fly to when you visit the country) that offers spectacular waterfalls, hiking, and animal encounters, and a solid environmental education program.

We often fly in and out of San Jose and like not to rush our onward transfers after a long flight, or to chance getting back to the airport from either coasts on the day of leaving (roads can be very busy and buses can be late/delayed). So this means we have time to spare in San Jose, and this time we chose to take a tour to these gardens with a company called Mid Morning La Paz Waterafall Gardens Tour. You can find the company on Facebook here –

or you can send them a message via the La Paz Gardens official website, since they’re the official tour company working in partnership with the property. You can find that page here –

In summary, we loved our day there. The drive to La Paz, winding through coffee plantations as the road climbs up and over the continental divide, was a beautiful surprise. Kind of like Switzerland at times with it’s lush pastures, but also with volcanos! Our guide, Olman, was a kind, enthusiastic and knowledgeable local man who spoke perfect English (also German and of course Spanish), he made for a wonderful companion. And the park itself was beautifully landscaped, with waterfalls as impressive as any we’ve seen during our 4 tours of Costa Rica (they were also more accessible than most, too. If you can walk up and down paved pathways, you can reach the viewpoints, no problem).

Olman picked us up in central San Jose at 10am. That’s why the tour is called the ‘Mid Morning’ tour. Most tours out of the city start earlier (which is nice in a way as sunrise is a wonderful time to be up and about) but one of the great pleasures of being in Costa Rica for us is waking up slowly over a great cup of local coffee as the early sun streams through the window, so a 10am start time was perfect for us as it allowed us to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

It also meant the rush hour traffic was over, so we were able to move easily out of the city in the direction of the mighty Poas Volcano. We stopped briefly to get a view over the central valley, where San Jose is…

…and then we were off again, heading upwards, passing coffee plantations. Olman drove up a side road so we could get a good view of a coffee field with Poas in the background…

…and then we continued on into the plantation centre, where we got out and looked around. The panorama so reminded me of the vineyards of Tuscany, which I’d toured early in 2019. Rows and rows of greenery, dotted with red, only here it wasn’t grapes but ripe coffee.

The fields were bordered with flower and rainbow eucalyptus. I’d never even heard of such trees before, their multi coloured trunks are incredible.

We bought some coffee in the shop, enjoyed the view from the terrace for a while more…

…then continued upwards, past clumps of blue hydrangea and green pastures grazed by cattle under the clearest of skies.

We’d never expected the drive to La Paz to be such a thrill but it was truly spectacular and by the time we got out of the van, about 90 minutes after we’d been picked up in San Jose, we were smiling widely and very excited to be on the tour.  Olman led us into the reception area and introduced us to some of the staff. He takes tours to La Paz almost daily so he’s very well known there.

“Over 95% of the 120 staff here come from nearby towns and villages,” he explained, “La Paz offers many opportunities, and has done a lot of good for the local economy.”

We exited the reception to the site of the mighty Poas Volcano across the valley, rising out of a vision of banana leaves and rainforest. Amazing.

To our right were washrooms, to our left a feeding station for hummingbirds. Now, being animal lovers, we don’t like to see animals in captivity or being fed unnaturally, and we were to see a lot of that in La Paz over the next few hours. It would be easy to pass a negative judgement, but having toured many a national park and animal rescue centre around Costa Rica and indeed the world and spoken at length to the people working in them, we understand that there are many issues to take into account that should prevent us from passing any sort of judgement at all. 

Signs around La Paz state that none of the animals you see there have been taken from the wild, that they’d been entrusted to the care of La Paz by the Costa Rican Wildlife Ministry, that many of them had been kept illegally as pets before coming there, and that for various reasons they couldn’t be released back into the wild.

Let’s delve into that a little. What might prevent an animal being released back into the wild? Several things; here is a short list of actual cases we have personally encountered at other rescue centres.

1/ A crocodile that was so well treated by its owners that it loved humans, so when it was confiscated it still moved towards human voices when it heard them. It had to be kept captive because if it’d been released and had moved towards humans in the wild, they wouldn’t know it was friendly, and they’d most probably kill it. 

2/ Spider monkeys that understand, after being kept as pets, that they’re stronger and more aggressive than most humans, to the extent that they lose their fear of us. When released into the wild they often become pests, attacking humans for food, and then the humans find a way of killing them. In fact, the Costa Rican government commissions yearly culls of spider monkeys that were once tame and have lost their fear of humans. It’s not ideal to keep them in cages, but at least they’re alive and helping their species by educating the public about why we shouldn’t keep wild animals as pets.

3/ A cage may seem small, but it’s most likely bigger than the space the animal was being kept in before it was rescued. 

4/ In the case of the toucans and scarlet macaws that you see at La Paz, some of them have clipped wings, or wings that are faulty due to accidents (flying into glass windows is a problem for birds in all countries), and others are so used to humans that they couldn’t survive at all in the wild. At least at La Paz they are able to live, they’re providing that public education I’ve spoken of, and also they’re an attraction. Tourists pay to enter places like La Paz to get close to them (they’re beautiful, so it’s understandable) and that money goes to support the whole centre, including all the other animals and the rescue program. 

5/ Finally, for now, animals that are raised in captivity often don’t have an idea of what they should eat, or what is looking to eat them. They can’t hunt well, or defend themselves. To set them free would be sending them to their deaths.

One day we hope that all animals will be free and people will be educated and brave enough to live with them in harmony, but until that day comes we hope tourists choose where to spend their money wisely, and support animal rescue centres and education programs that are working towards helping animals. There are almost 300 animal rescue centres in Costa Rica and unfortunately some of them are just tourist traps, using animals to take your money. We think La Paz is one of the good ones and that it’s worth your money, and that it will spend it in service of the environment and the animals that you will see there. 

Ok, back to our tour. We passed the hummingbirds, a fair few tourists were photographing them, it’s understandable, they glittered in the sun and looked so delicately innocent and beautiful. Some fed from the sugar water dispensers, I was unsure about how good that was for them (it’s no good for us, so likely not great for them either) but they did have the option of feeding from flowers or flying off into the forest and like the other animals here they were responsible for bringing tourist money in to support the less visually exciting elements of the park, so we understood what was going on. (After returning home I looked at the La Paz website and found this very interesting page, which does go into detail about the hummingbirds and the feeding –

We moved down a path, under the shade of towering ferns, and into the aviary.

We’d seen macaws and toucans in the wild quite often during the previous couple of weeks (in Carara National Park and in the areas around Drake Bay, where a toucan sat about 2 meters from our hotel balcony, and macaws swooped down to feed from a tree under which we were having a picnic) and it was always a huge thrill, and bearing in mind all I’ve said about cages and animals in captivity, we now appreciated seeing them up close here. 

It’s a privilege to be this close to wild animals, but one should take into account that this is not what one should expect to happen all the time, and that animals can find proximity to humans quite stressful if they neither chose the situation and haven’t got a clear exit. If you come here, please don’t try to touch them (we saw some tourists doing this, it seemed to disturb the birds a lot). We moved slowly and let the birds come to us if they wished. It was magical to be there. These birds really help you appreciate how incredible our world is. We were sad that for various reasons they couldn’t be free, but at least they were alive and with others of their own kind instead of being kept alone in a small cage. We left with a true appreciation for how magnificent they are.

We passed through the sloth house, and then the butterfly house, where Olman pointed out the eggs of a Blue Morpho on the tops of leaves, and their caterpillars underneath. He didn’t need to point out the actual butterflies, they’re huge! 

A Blue Morpho egg.
A Blue Morpho caterpillar.
A Blue Morpho, about 4 or 5 inches from wing tip to tip.

Then it was time for lunch, and what a lunch it was, in a spectacular location.

One of my plates.
The view from our table. Beautiful.
The tables further into the restaurant had views of a waterfall.

It was buffet style with lots of options (rice, beans, many local dishes and salads, fruit, pizza, garlic bread, fries, juices, and more), and the restaurant was so open plan and peaceful that a rare Black Guan flew in from the nearby forest and began walking about. This turkey-like bird is a much-wanted bird on many a bird watcher’s target list and is considered ‘Near Threatened’ because it has such a small range and is susceptible to hunting pressure. But here it was, wandering around the restaurant, offering us a rare sighting as we ate. Fantastic. 

After lunch we visited the monkeys and cats. One of the cats was 22 years old. In the wild she would have been lucky to reach 15. Her enclosure was pretty large, larger than the condo she’d been kept in before her rescue, and I was happy to see her still active and living out her days in peace. 

The puma enclosure.

Next came the orchid garden. My partner is just studying landscape gardening and we’re both keen on house plants so this was another place to pause, study the available information, admire the possibilities, learn and gain inspiration. 

There was much to educate us in the snake and frog houses, we skim read the extensive notices that told of how venom is collected, how most bites occur when locals are working in the fields beside snakes, and the facts and figures that offered so much more than the newspaper headlines that are designed more to frighten us than inform us.

It was a great opportunity to take photos of the frogs as they were all free to move around the ponds but easily seen, which they aren’t always in the wild.

Then we passed through a traditional homestead where coffee was ground old style, where we tasted sugar cane juice and where outside cattle roamed.  

The paths down to and between the 5 waterfalls are all laid with solid flagstone and are the most easily accessible in the country. The lower falls, called ‘La Paz’, is one of the country’s more famous waterfalls as tourists driving to Arenal pass by it on the roadside and more often than not stop to take photos. It’s scenic, but perhaps not so scenic as the falls further up in the property, which we explored.

There are viewing platforms above, halfway down (at one point almost behind) and at the bottom of each falls, making it a fine place to stroll and to linger, soaking up the atmosphere whilst you perhaps get soaked by the spray (not compulsory, only if you want to get close!). The jungle is so lush, there’s birdcall and the roar of rushing water all around and the gardeners have done a superb job of getting the sightlines spot on. If it’s waterfall photos you’re looking for, they are waiting for you to take them here. We spent an hour in this area but could easily extend that to half a day or more. I urge you to put aside a few hours for it. 

There are way more trails on the property than we managed to cover and we hope to return one day soon and stay in the onsite hotel, the Peace Lodge, so that we might explore them all at varying times of the day when the changing light would offer different insights into this landscape that is dripping in color and atmosphere. 

One of the information signs beside the path.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens really does offer a fine day out in the most beautifully landscaped gardens. The lunch is tasty and eaten in wonderful surroundings, Olman knows the gardens intimately and answered any questions we had (or in the case of a single bug we saw on an orchid which had antenna on its nose and which we didn’t know the name of, he knew the staff member to ask), and the walking trails and waterfalls offer you the dream you probably had of tropical Costa Rica in an accessible format. 

We were exceptionally happy with our tour, and consider it one of the finest available from San Jose. I can’t imagine anybody visiting La Paz with Olman and not being overwhelmingly happy that they did so. 

If you want to learn about the countries wildlife before you begin your tour, La Paz is a good place to do it. Olman can pick you up from the airport and bring you straight here before your onward travel, or bring you here before your flight, or any variety of combinations, he’s 100% flexible. Just email him your requirements. He’s a friendly, knowledgeable and extremely accommodating guy, and this is a great tour.

You can reach him by email at

Or by phone in Costa Rica on +(506) 83714679
If you’re in the U.S.A you can phone 209 207 3140

And the La Paz official tour page website is here

The Boxing Day Run 10 and 4 Miler

Runs Posted on Sat, January 11, 2020 09:02PM

The Boxing Day Run had it’s 99th race this past December. The event takes place in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn from our team took on the 4 miler. There was also a 10 mile option available. 2020 will bring their 100th event!

1. Pre-event info

In addition to the detailed information available on the event registration page, participants received a pre-race email with all of the pertinent race day details, including extra notes on getting thereby transit, car, carpooling and available parking.

2. Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms)

This event partners with the Hamilton YMCA. $5,000 is donated annually from the run to the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. This campaign helps local children participate in YMCA programs such as fitness, day care and camping.

Getting to the location was extremely easy; the GO station was right next to the YMCA, and if you drove, the area offers ample free parking nearby and a pay lot across the street from the event. The race event info also offered information for those who wanted to arrange carpooling.

The event location also offers a gymnasium for waiting around pre-race, and indoor washrooms with lockers and showers, which is a lovely perk for a December run. This year the weather was very mild, but that’s certainly not always the case for the time of year.

Bib or soup?

3. Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)

GU gels were available in the bib pickup area, and water was readily available throughout the YMCA.

Hanging out at the 10 am opening time before the crowds arrived

4. General Atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)

This event had a leisurely start time of noon, with the bib pick up and pre-race area opening at 10am. The pre-race area was full of good spirit and people visiting while we waited. Volunteers were readily available to assist with getting participants their bibs and swag, and the YMCA staff were very helpful in pointing participants to the change rooms.

5. Course (length, technicality, scenery)

The race course was very well marked. It was made up of mostly city streets around downtown Hamilton and park pathways in and around Bayfront and Harvey Parks. Both distances offered nice views along the waterfront area and of course the holiday decorations made for a little extra scenic fun.

Shoe choice: I wore my road Hokas and found them perfect for this course.

Start area
Seasonal decor at the park near the finish area

6. Race Kit, Medals and Awards

Participants in Boxing Day Run received a ball cap, and finishers earned a race medal with the event logo, the seasonally appropriate and fun Running Snowman. Category winners won cash awards (the race information noted $3,000 in awards for overall winners) and age group winners were awarded snowman belt buckles.

Our bibs and caps

7. Post Race

The post race area was lively. Participants were enjoying being back inside in the gym, for some warmth after the cool weather during the race. The awards were being presented and there was the standard race fare; assorted fruit, water and buns plus the added bonus of hot soup. Additionally participants could present their race bib at one of two local pubs for a post race pint.

The 100th running of this historic event takes place in 2020.

If you’d like to discover more about the Boxing Day Run, or enter for 2020, check out their website –

Walking Across the Sinai Desert, Egypt

Hiking Posted on Thu, December 19, 2019 10:42PM

I’d first learnt of the Sinai Desert in the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Lawrence had traveled across it in a week by camel as he and his 2 friends had sought to reach Cairo after their unit had captured Aqaba during WW1. The crossing had seemed a great adventure, could I attempt the same thing?

I had such adventurous thoughts about various places every few months. But usually the follow up bought bad news. The area was now out of bounds, occupied by some military or bandits, or otherwise unsafe. Or it was overrun with tourists, or paved, or in some way not at all what it used to be. But this time, this didn’t seem to be the case. The Sinai was open to tourists but people seemed to congregate, naturally enough, around the areas they could easily reach by road. Mt Sinai, Sharm el Sheik, Dahab, Nuweiba. Which left the rest of it’s vast area empty.

Added to this was that flights to Egypt were cheap at the time. I’d thought about it a few weeks then, having asked for time off from work and not been allowed it, one day when my job was more boring than usual it occurred to me that it was really important I did things I felt this strongly about. A job was something important, of course, being able to pay the rent was something important also, I could put the trip off until I was better able to cope with life’s stresses, but would I still feel like hiking a desert, alone, sleeping rough and taking my chances, when I was old enough to afford it all?

I’d quit that evening and a week later I was in Egypt, had caught a bus from Cairo to Abu Zenima and located, after much searching, the un-marked and un-distinguished track to Serabit El Khadim, 2 kms south of town.

I felt brave and frightened as I turned my back to the Red Sea and began walking inland. I was planning on following directions from a book published in 1975 by the explorer Burton Bernstein called ‘Sinai – The Great and Terrible Wilderness’. Now, over 20 years later, if was the most recent book published on the peninsula. It gave me 2 vague directions to follow; after I reached Serabit I would head south east to Mt. Sinai and St Catherine’s monastery, and from there it was east to Dahab. About 130 miles in all, following what was many scholars thought may have been the route of the Israelite’s as they wandered with Moses from Egypt to Israel.

I had 10 litres of water in my pack and enough food for 5 days. A 10 pack of pita breads, 5 oranges, 2 falafel sandwiches I’d bought in Suez, and 2 tetra packs of feta cheese. It was all I could fit in my rucksack alongside my sleeping bag, camera and a few clothes. I’d loose a little weight on the trek, I understood that, and if I didn’t find water in a few days day I’d be in real trouble, but I was willing to take the chance to experience this beautiful wilderness.

I walked, and walked. The land was flat, stony. I saw a herd of donkeys, a few camels, and a truck laden with rocks that rumbled along across the flat horizon towards a destination I was never to know. Late that evening I met an old man, Mohammed, who pointed at some mountains across the desert and said ‘Serabit, direct.’ It was dark, too dark to continue on, and Mohammed invited me to share his campfire. It was a humbling experience. He lived alone in a small, open sided tent that afforded scant shelter. His possessions were a few oil drums that he had filled with water, a couple more drums of dry supplies like macaroni, a bed role, and various cooking and digging tools. He earnt about £10 a month he said, combing the desert surface for amethyst. His daily diet was half a pitta bread for breakfast with tea, and a cup of macaroni for dinner. I pulled 2 oranges and the falafel sandwiches out of my rucksack and he brewed tea. We sat sipping, picking at the food and looking at the bright blanket of stars that covered us until the cold drove us into our sleeping bags.

Morning came and I was away over the virgin desert. An hour passed before I remembered Bernstein’s advice in his book;

“Stay on the truck or camel tracks, there are minefields left over from the Arab-Israeli war everywhere. Walk over broken ground and you’re probably safe.” This was as close to sheer panic as I’d ever come, and for the next few hours every step was accompanied by baited breath and fear before I once again rejoined the camel track and walked into Serabit El Khadim (which means ‘Heights of the Slaves’).

Serabit used to be the site of the Pharaoh’s turquoise mines in ancient times and here, a great many miles from anywhere, is an ancient temple set on top of a mountain. Unfortunately it’s structure does not match it’s location, only a few columns remain, and the 2 hour climb up the mountain, which I had to complete with a local guide because in the desert every mountain looks alike and there are no signs, was worth it only for the view. Back at the bottom I had tea with Sheikh Barakat, lord of Serabit, and judging by the many magazines he’d featured in which he showed me, he was very famous in France and Germany (he had also featured in Bernstein’s book). After tea, and trying to sell me a camel safari, he gracefully pointed to a mountain in the south east and advised,

“Go that way, around the mountain, then carry on for 3 more days and you’ll reach Mt. Sinai.” I asked him about the possibility of wild animals. “Maybe, but most of the animals that used to live here are now stuffed and on sale to tourists in Cairo,” he reassured me.

“And minefields?” I asked.

“Of course,” he shrugged, “be careful.”

Occasionally I followed 4 wheel drive tracks but rapidly found that most of them headed in the wrong direction for me and increasingly I had to cross un-broken sand. Some valleys were accessible only on foot, and only reached by climbing up or down sharp scree slopes, so they were empty of animals or people. You don’t use energy to climb around in such a harsh climate, where any exertion means taking on extra (scarce) food and water.

In my spare time – if it got too hot, I’d sit below a large rock to shelter, or later in the day, when I’d stopped walking and was just winding down before it got dark – I read the Old Testament. I’d never read it before and the desert seemed a good place to start. You never know what you might pick up from a book that you’d have missed had you not read it in a certain location. I looked forward to my reading sessions almost as much as I did eating an orange in the late morning, when I was hot but it was still full of the chill of the night.

Before I had arrived in the Sinai I’d visualised Bedouin encampments of large black tents but when I did find a settlement the Bedu were living in bare concrete block houses. Sheik Barakat had told me never to enter a Bedu settlement without clapping my hands and shouting a greeting.

“Everybody here has guns,” he had advised, “and they’re used to using them. And people often grow their own marijuana as they can ship it to Israel for a good price, and they also smoke it daily. We are good people, but it’s not a good idea to surprise us.”

So I clapped hands when I was about 30 metres from a settlement, waited until somebody appeared, and all was fine. I had an idea of where I was heading yet still thought it best to ask the way. But nobody could give me a firm idea of the route or how far it was to Mt. Sinai. Some said 300 kms, some 500. Many didn’t even know where Mt Sinai was, or perhaps they just didn’t understand what I was asking for, or they were so stoned they couldn’t think straight, which is entirely possible. Such is the explorers life when Arabic isn’t your first language and the people you’re speaking to have a strong dialect, a love of chilling out and no start point from which to fix their ideas about you on. I was doing something pretty unusual, after all, no wonder many of them had no idea what I was asking about.

I knew it could be no more than 100kms. Regardless of the lack of direction, a route that felt right was easy to find. I would often come to a confusing junction of tracks or wadis but a quick check of the compass always revealed the correct course. Or at least one that I felt right taking. As in the photo below, when I looked at the scene and thought ok, I’m going right up the middle of the valley to that low rise at the centre of the far horizon, and then from there we’ll re-evaluate!

I slept outside without trouble for 2 nights – it was cold, about 2 or 3 C, but otherwise fine – and hit an asphalt road 30 miles short of Mt. Sinai. A traffic sign pointed the way and I started to follow. The mountains were all around, the road zig zagged, and the traffic was almost non existent but it wasn’t satisfying hiking, and I was happy to reach Mt. Sinai on my 4th day where the first thing I did was to replenish my supplies.

I had found no water in the desert up until then, I’d filled up at the Sheikh’s house but there’d been nothing else. I tried to refill in the village of El Milga just near Mt Sinai but the water was filthy. I remembered Bernstein saying that he’d filled up over 20 years before from a spring next to a tree above St Catherine’s Monastery so after buying some more pita and cheese supplies I headed there.

St Catherine’s is built around the well of Moses and the sight of the Burning Bush, I found the spring high on a hill facing the monastery’s entrance. It was an ancient spring, first mentioned in a text from the 6th century AD. Some Bedu were sat around it. I drank deep, filled up my bottles and then set off up Mt. Sinai, getting views over the plain of Raha as I went. This is where the Israelites were supposed to have camped whilst waiting for Moses to receive the 10 Commandments, although should they have arrived a few thousand years later they could have dispensed with the tents and stayed in the sprawling, characterless, concrete ‘St. Catherine’s Tourist Village’ which nowadays blights the landscape.

It’s a fairly easy trail to the top of this 2,200 metre peak, which is handy because unsteady pilgrims as well as adventure tourists come to climb the sacred mountain every day. On the trail I fell in with 2 middle aged package tourists from England, one very quiet (his loud Hawaiian shirt spoke for him) and the other constantly chain-smoking as he whined about his asthma and the lack of quality restaurants in the desert. I foolishly took pity and began encouraging them up the hill, a task I abandoned when the chainsmoker lunched into a totally unprovoked and obscene attack on a group of innocent American pilgrims that we passed. This was a viscous onslaught, going something like;

“***Americans, you *** make me *** sick, you think you know *** everything, *** off and *** kill yourself you stupid ***.” Whilst I was trying to work out where all that had come from even the Egyptian guides present, who normally aren’t above abusing tourists (financially, not often verbally) stepped in and asked him to keep his language down. I quickened my step, moved away and cursed the flowery hooligans for letting the side down, and heard one final onslaught as the chainsmoker turned his attention to the “filthy *** Arabs” before I rounded a corner and became thankfully out of earshot.

On the summit I was greeted by the odd site of several makeshift wooden shelters built around a small chapel selling everything from fizzy drinks and chocolate to blankets and religious trinkets. A cynic might say that far from being a holy site this blatant example of consumerism was the work of Satan himself, but after a few hours in the biting wind up there my moral objections were overridden by an urge to get a hot cuppa inside of me. I know, I’m weak.

The place was certainly filled with a vocal spirituality that I’ve rarely felt elsewhere as the sun rose the next morning. Hundreds of people had slept alongside me on the summit in freezing temperatures (that’s why the Bedu rent the blankets!), many others had made the trek up in the pre-dawn darkness, and all formed into national or religious groups to welcome the day with hymns. First the Japanese sung, greeting the rising sun, they were joined by Christians and Muslims from all around the globe, including a bunch of Bulgarians who didn’t sing but hummed instead. I left soon after dawn, eager to escape the crowds and return to the solitude of the desert, and after a quick look in the monastery down below (it had to be quick, the crowds were shocking) I backtracked up the mountain trail for 10 minutes and then headed off east over the lowest ridge I could find, below the white chapel that dominated the middle skyline looking south east from the monastery.

Perhaps it’s best to be quite factual at this point, as I stumbled onto an amazing route which isn’t easy to find but is entirely worthwhile should anybody wish to follow it. A path ran down the other side of the ridge, leading north east, at the bottom of the slope I carried on over a wadi and a smaller rise with Mt. Sinai at my back until I reached another wadi. There was a stone Bedouin encampment down on my right, I walked past it in a south east direction, following a gorge for 1 km before coming to a well worn path that headed away east. Another junction and a wide wadi led me south east to a rise where I took an easterly path over another small rise in preference to carrying on downhill. From the top of this rise a large plain spread out below me, and way over in the eastern corner, about 2 kms distant, was a 4 wheel drive track running into a gorge.

I walked into the gorge 3 hours after I’d left the monastery and soon found that it was zig zagging every which way, east, north, south, and that the walls were too sheer to climb out of. My choices were to go back, or carry on, so I carried on.

I saw nobody all day, the car tracks finished as the gorge became even narrower, in places only 2 metres across and very rocky. It occurred to me that if I were to slip on one of the many boulders that lined the route and break something then life would get very bleak indeed, no-one was there to help at all. Once I had got over that realisation of being totally alone the silence became the most attractive part for me, I have never been somewhere this quiet before. The gorge blocked out all wind, there were no animals, at times as I walked I thought that I heard something but when I stopped I found that there was no sound, only my breathing, my blood and a distant hum (magnetism?). I passed pools of water but judging by the dead camels I found nearby on 2 occasions perhaps they weren’t very good drinking. I could always tell when I was nearing a pool actually as the stench of rotting flesh was strong in the otherwise clean air.

As dark fell I passed a small army camp occupied by 2 soldiers.

“Only 10 kms to Dahab!” they said and I was amazed, settling down in the sand a few kms further, my exhausted sleep made sweeter with the knowledge that a much spoken about ambition, that of crossing the Sinai from coast to coast, was about to be realised in just 6 days!

Alas, this journey had a sting in it’s tail. Encouraged by the soldiers news I ditched most of my water supplies, easing my pack weight by 7 kilos and saving just one bottle to last me what should have been an easy 2 hour hike. Wrong. After 3 hours the gorge widened out into a massive wadi, at least a km wide and stretching away into infinity, a Bedouin was working a small patch of irrigated land nearby, he said it was at least 45 kms to Dahab, and incensed by my gullibility I stormed off in double quick time, my anger preventing the clarity of thought which would have advised me to fill my bottles at the irrigation tank.

I saw nobody else again until evening. The cliffs no longer sheltered me from the sun but they did block out the wind, leaving the afternoon stiflingly hot and my impetuous throat parched. It would have been much quicker to walk down the middle of the wadi, but I wanted to keep to the winding main track. The threat of landmines was always ever present and now, nearer the coast and potential 1967 Israeli war invasion points, increasingly I found areas fenced off with barbed wire. These meant nothing though, flashfloods through the years have moved the mines totally, and now even Bedouins occasionally get blown up as they wander, tending their goats. Around dusk, just as I was entering into the ‘This valley is getting boring, I’m no longer enjoying it’ phase, I saw a car streaking across the horizon, and after a few hours I had reached the road. I’d covered 5 minutes on asphalt when I saw the sign, ‘Dahab, 10 kms’, and I finally reached the Gulf of Aqaba the following morning after sleeping on a sand dune just out of town, 7 days after I’d left the Red Sea coast.

Dahab means ‘gold’ in Arabic, which supposedly refers to the golden beach just south of town. Although the old testament refers to Dizahab as a place where the Israelites rested on their long trek to Canan.

I rested up by the beach for a few days. At first I was intensely satisfied. I had made a crossing of the Sinai Desert, what a grand journey! But then I began gazing at the brown mountains that flanked Dahab, they looked like the missed me. I sure already missed them. Their quiet, the sight of a flash of a green Bedu garden among their barren slopes, the stilted, honest interactions, the glorious evening light. Even the harsh midday heat, I missed it all. Somebody at a cafe told me of a trail that went from the Egyptian border all the way to Jerusalem. It would take 3 weeks to walk. Desert and barren mountains all the way. How could I refuse that!

The English Lake District – Great Dodds to Helvelyn (18km Walk and Swim)

Hiking, Runs Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:59PM

This is a full day walk or run up to the summit ridge that links the Dodds peaks and Helvelyn, and then down again to Thirlmere reservoir, offering excellent views and the chance to swim in several places. It would be a great walk for those with dogs, they’ll be off the lead almost all the way. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L5 (The English Lakes, North Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

First of all, here is a short film of the central part of this walk, shows you what to expect up there on the summit ridge.

You can see the summit of Clough Head and Great Dodds from the CCC campsite at Troutbeck. It dominates the horizon to the west. Below is the view from my tent. Clough Head is the peak on the right, you’ll be walking from that to the peak on the left, which is Great Dodds, and beyond. It’s possible to walk to the path that leads up to the summit ridge from the campsite, but it’s a very long slog, and I was told the ground is often very boggy, so I did it another way.

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I drove along the A66 for 5 minutes until I got to the B5322 road on my left, turned down that and drove on for 10 more minutes until I reached the small hamlet of Legburthwaite, marked on the map. It’s on your left, and just before you join the main A591 road. There’s a church hall here, and free parking for about 5 cars. The path up to the ridge leaves from here, so if you can get a space, perfect. After you park, walk up the small road which peters out when you see this stile. Go over the stile and head upwards.

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The views as you head ever upwards will look like this. On the map, you are heading for Sticks Pass Cairn.

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The photo above shows the scene about 10 minutes before you reach Sticks Pass. As you can see, the path is well trodden and easy to follow. When you reach the pass, look left, the broad red earth path you see will take you all the way to Clough Head, and then you’ll retrace your steps and pass Sticks Pass on the way to Helvelyn. The paths are very easy to follow, as long as you have the map for reference, the gradients are mostly slight now you are up high, the views are supurb on both sides and there’s no steep edges to fear. Here are some views.

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The view from Clough Head, looking down onto the plain that the Troutbeck Campsite is located on, is above. From here, you’re just going to retrace your steps along to Sticks Pass. When you get back to the pass, the view looks like this.

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As you can see, the ridge is wide, and the path easy to see. You’ll have no issues following it. And the views just keep on appearing…

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The view above is from the peak known as Lower Man, looking at the route on to Helvelyn. To get here from Clough Head took me about 2 hours. You’ll have to descend from this point as well, so head up to Helvelyn peak if you wish, enjoy the great views, its an easy wide path, as you can see, no chance of getting lost, and then come back down to this Lower Man peak from where, if you look down, the view will be like this.

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The path here is well trodden, you’ll have no problem following it, and it leads straight down to the A591 road in about half an hour. It’s not that steep, just a long plod, and when you near the bottom you’ll have Helvelyn Gill on your right, a small stream which forms into a waterfall just above the wooden footbridge that your path will take you across. You can bathe here. It’s a small pool, only room for 2 or 3 at most, and not deep, but not too cold either, and very refreshing after that very long hike.

The path ends at a public carpark next to Highpark Wood. Cross the main road, then turn right, walk along the grassy verge to the layby on the opposite side of the road and find a noticeboard, which tells of a path from here leading down to Thirlmere Reservoir. Now, you’re not meant to swim in reservoirs, there may be underwater obstructions, but faced with a scene like the one below, I must say, it was so enticing that I did indeed go for a dip. It was extremely cold so I kept near the shore for safety, in case I cramped up. The water is very clear. I kept an eye out for any outflow pipes, which I never saw, which might have caused me trouble. I saw a few other people taking a dip too.

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The path onwards, along the shoreline, is marked on the ordnance survey map in red. You go as far as the hill of Great How, then skirt it on its right hand side, and eventually, after about 20 minutes, you reach the main road again, from where you can cross and double back about 500 metres along the verge to where you parked your car. The views as you go will be like this.

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The English Lake District – The Mosedale Horseshoe (17km Walk and Wild Swim)

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:55PM

This is a circular route, and some would say one of the very best in the Lake District. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L6 (The English Lakes, South Western Area) to guide me, it only shows the start and finish points of the walk but once you’re up there, the route is very clear.

I set off from the Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club campsite where I was staying for a week and drove to Wastwater, and the free car park at Overbeck Bridge. It was a 20 minute drive at most. From here the path begins, and climbs immediately up the steep slopes of Yewbarrow. As you near the top of Yewbarrow there is some lively scrambling to be done, not for those a little scared of heights or unsure of their ability on rock. It’s not full on climbing, not at all, but the path is unclear in many places and there is no choice but to go up, and once you’re up you look back and wonder how on earth you made it. Here are some photos of the lake, and the initial climb.


Above is the view of Sca Fell (right) and Sca Fell Pike (left) from the top of Yewbarrow. From this point you are going to head north, the path is easy to follow, once you get down from Yewbarrow, which entails another difficult scramble. At the bottom I had another one of those moments when I looked back and thought, how on earth did I get down that?

Basically, your route from Yewbarrow takes you on a very well trodden path to Dore Head, then Red Pike (826 mts), Black Crag (828 mts) and Pillar (892 mts), all on the same path that curls around to your right.

Below are some snaps of views en route to Pillar.


From the summit of Pillar, the route heads back in the direction of Sca Fell. It’s steep here, you keep the metal chain/railing on your left. Actually, no chance of getting lost here, the path is very well trodden and if you go too far left you’ll fall off the edge! The path will take you down, eventually, to a saddle, from where another path goes on straight up to Kirk Fell, whilst the one I took goes down to Wasdale Head. Here are some snaps of the route…


From Wasdale Head its a half hour walk along the road to the Overbeck Bridge car park. No hassle, the views are nice and the road isn’t that busy. Some people park at Wasdale Head and do the walk the other way round, but I think my way is better as there is a nice beach at Overbeck so you can have a decent swim at the end of this very long, and strenuous (at least, the scramble up Yewbarrow is) walk. The water of Wastwater is very cold, but also very soothing for achey muscles.


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