THE WORKING STIFF — By Darren Garnick
“Parking Lot Security in Paradise”
The Boston Herald — December 6, 2006
Sometimes being named “Employee of the Month” and getting a “kudos” in the company newsletter just isn’t good enough.
I have no idea how a Costa Rican hotel parking lot attendant was
honored after I originally reported his act of heroism, but some kind
of international award is now warranted. At the risk of sounding like
Gwyneth Paltrow, security guards in Latin America are much
more intelligent and civilized than their counterparts in
the United States.
My wife and I recently stayed at the “Si Como No” Resort near the Manuel Antonio wildlife preserve. The rainforest-based hotel, which has the most customer-service friendly name you can imagine (“Yes, Why
Not?” is supposed to be the staff’s response to any request), earned
hearty praise in Jimmy Buffett’s travel memoir “A Pirate Looks At
Buffett, naturally, focused his prose on the spirited bartenders in
Margaritaville. He never had the pleasure of meeting William Lee, the
mustachioed Zen master with SEGURIDAD printed on his khakis.
After carrying our bags up to our room (nothing against busboys, but they can carry my suitcase when I’m in a nursing home), we returned to our car to find a most unexpected visitor. A three-toed tree sloth was crawling in the gravel lot near the rear bumper — and we feared it was about to become exotic road kill.
We had seen these creatures before, through a wildlife guide’s power
binoculars, hanging from Cecropia trees 150 feet in the air. Our guide told us they can sleep up to 19 to 22 hours a day and only come down to the ground once a week to defecate. Lucky us.
From far away, tree sloths look like giant fur balls. Up close in a
parking lot, they look like experimental Muppets fresh from the Jim
Henson lab. Although their elongated arms and legs are capped with
Freddy Krueger razor claws, these cuddly creatures appear to be always smirking. But it’s a disarming welcoming smile; not a sadistic “I’m gonna slash your tires” smile.
The tree sloth was crawling toward me in slow motion, like he was
overacting in a movie scene about a dehydrated guy searching for water in the desert. At maximum speed, he can travel up to five feet per minute, so those deadly claws posed no threat to my parking lot photo shoot.
After sufficient gawking, I found a nearby security guard, Mr. Lee,
hoping he could radio the front desk for a wildlife expert. Without
hesitation, the guard grabbed a five-foot-long stick from a wood pile and extended it within clawing distance of the sloth. The animal
initially ignored the offering, first crawling underneath and around
the branch and making no effort to hold on.
Due to its whimsical facial expressions and trance-like movements, the sloth has attained an almost mystical status in Costa Rica. Some
travel writers have likened their hypnotic motion to practicing Tai
A more impatient security guard might have slammed his stick down and told the front desk that his job responsibilities don’t include wildlife rescue. But Mr. Lee’s upbeat customer service attitude even extended to the sloth. He watched the creature tentatively grab the branch with one arm and then eventually cling with all fours like a kid on the monkey bars.
The guard then carried his sloth-on-a-stick down three flights of
stairs to the edge of the jungle. This time, the animal immediately
understood his rescuer’s intent. He dug his claws into the nearest
tree and shimmied (slowly) up to safety.
My wife and I gave Mr. Lee a standing ovation, but we got the
impression that he didn’t think his actions were anything special.
Maybe all the parking lot security guys down there double as wildlife
experts. Maybe that was the third three-toed tree sloth he rescued
Doesn’t matter to me. The “Si Como No” has an employee recognition program awarding deserving nominees a complimentary weekend at any one of their sister resorts. On behalf of the Latin American tree sloth community, and tree sloth fans across the world, here’s hoping that William Lee is thanked with a free week’s vacation.
Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald. For an extra dose, check out The Working Stiff blog.
By the way, if you are looking for a tour operator or guides in Costa Rica, these guys are the absolute best! Tell them Darren sent you….