Most people who know me will know that I’m an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady – hey even my Secret Santa gift at the office Christmas party was a crazy cat lady mug! So when I heard about the quirky cat sanctuary of Rome, I knew I had to pay a visit.
Just 5 minutes walk away from the Pantheon is the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, home to around 150 cats who live in the ancient ruins. The ruins themselves are amongst the oldest in Rome (400-300BC) and are thought to be the place in which Julius Caesar was assassinated. As for the cats, they are free to wander the ruins and are very well cared for by a team of volunteers.
Visitors are welcome to visit from noon every day but you can’t just wander around the ruins, you can view from the street above or if you walk down the steps on the corner of Via Florida and Via di Torre Argentina you can visit the little gift shop they have down there.
As well as the gift shop, there is also an indoor section of the sanctuary. This is mostly for cats that need to be indoors for health reasons, but of course other cats wander in and out of the shop part because cats pretty much do what they want don’t they?
The friendly volunteer who was minding the sanctuary on the day I visited showed me and my mum into the part of the indoor bit of the sanctuary that was locked (presumably to stop cats who didn’t need to be in there getting in there). I petted a random cat who was perched on a scratching post and then he/she climbed onto me and made me have cuddles!!! It was so cute. But sadly, all good things must come to an end but the cat was having none of it.
Eventually I did break free but I did feel guilty for cutting short our cuddles. However I did buy a calendar from the shop as the money goes straight back in to feeding and caring for the cats.
Torre Argentina is a wonderful place for a short visit and I would definitely recommend it to all animal lovers! For more information take a look at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary website.
I’ve always had a fascination for the animal kingdom, so being rich in nature and wildlife, Costa Rica has been on my travel wishlist for a while. Costa Rica covers just a tiny proportion of our planet yet is host to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, something that the nation is particularly proud of. And you don’t have to venture too far to see some of its native creatures. Just relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Manuel Antonio we managed to spot lizards, capuchin monkeys and various birdlife, including toucans!
As someone developing a keen interest in all things zoological, I decided that I would like to combine my sightseeing holiday with volunteer work, so spent a week at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, around 20-30 minutes from Juan Santamaria International Airport.
We were picked up by a driver at the airport, along with 3 other jetlagged Brits. We arrived at the centre late afternoon and were shown to our 12 bed dorm. There are around 5 dorms in total and most were almost full, accommodating over 50 volunteers in total – alot more than I was expecting!
We met the owner Bernal and his howler monkey, Feluco. Feluco is an orphan whose mother was killed by a dog. Because he lost his mother at such a young age, his immune system is very weak. He also has a cleft pallet which gives him breathing problems. Feluco would stand no chance of survival out in the wild but luckily he is very well looked after at the centre. We learnt more about the other animals and the centre itself, but I will tell you more about the story of the rescue centre in another post.
The next morning we were given a tour of the centre which at the time of our visit is home to an assortment of birds including parrots, owls, a peacock, a curassow and some chickens and ducks. There are also pigs, goats, 3 types of monkey (howler, spider and capuchin), two and three toed sloths, a tortoise, porcupine, marmoset, opossum, hedgehog, squirrels, two kinkajous, an olingo and a couple of pet dogs. There was also a toucan but as it was going to be released back into the wild, only the resident biologist was allowed anywhere near it.
As volunteers, the only animals besides the toucan that we were not responsible for were the spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and some of the baby creatures inside the animal hospital.
For your first two days volunteering, you must shadow someone and not enter the enclosures, with the exception of the goats and pigs. I must admit being a little wary of Oscar the male goat, but the mama and two baby goats were sweet. I did enjoy going into the pig pen and we were encouraged to go visit the pigs to stop them from getting lonely.
A typical day
7am – Breakfast in the common area.
8am – Meeting in the common area – this is to go over any points of discussion and extra duties (one day every single person got involved in shifting a spider monkey cage, for example). Each volunteer is put into one of five teams and then each team has set tasks for the day on a morning and afternoon rota. The rota is repeated every 5 days so everyone has a chance to be involved with different animals and different aspects of the work.
A typical day may go something like this…
Clean enclosures and supply fresh food and water for: the goats, the sloths beside the goat enclosure (aka The Goat Sloths), the owls, peacock, curassow and parrots.
Collect grass for the goats.
Tidy the garden.
The morning shift would usually last until 11am.
12 noon – Lunch in the common area.
1.30pm – Meeting in the common area.
Clean enclosures and supply fresh water for the porcupine, hedgehog, squirrels, opossum and teen sloths.
Feed the squirrels.
Give the porcupine, hedgehog and opossum their snacks at 4pm.
Give the teen sloths their branches at 5pm.
Feed the porcupine, hedgehog, opossum and teen sloths at 7pm.
The afternoon shift would usually last until 4pm. Of course, every day was different as if your team were responsible for some of the nocturnal animals that day, you had a few jobs to do after 4pm, but who’s complaining when you have a kinkajou climbing on your head at the 7pm feed! You aren’t supposed to touch the animals but an excitable kinkajou did decide my head looked like a fun place to climb!
6pm – Dinner.
10pm – Lights out.
There was a swimming pool and some hammocks for chilling during down time. The living conditions were basic and I didn’t mind the cold showers and sharing a dorm, however the sleeping wasn’t easy due to the various, and quite loud, noises of the local wildlife and vehicles on the nearby road. My body also ached for somewhere comfortable to sit – yeah yeah I’m an old granny alright!
The people at the rescue centre, both staff and volunteers, were really friendly and the work felt very rewarding. As someone who volunteers at a cat rescue centre close to home, it was a great learning experience to be so close to the native animals of a different country, and I could tell that the other volunteers felt the same.
I would like to thank Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center for being the wildlife warriors that they are and for allowing me to play a small part in their story.
And I would urge anyone who wants to make a difference, no matter how small, to get out there and do it!
If you would like to help the CRARC you can donate money, supplies or your time by following this link.
It seems a little odd that I’ve leapt from my January favourites straight into a post of my February favourites, but February has been all about one thing and one thing only, or rather one place only… Costa Rica!
So here are my Five February Favourites.
I haven’t had chance to write any blog posts because I don’t tend to do that while I’m on holiday, but I have been alot more active on instagram than usual. So if you don’t already follow me, go ahead and check out my collection, especially all that amazing Costa Rican wildlife. Find my instagram here.
As you may already know, I volunteer at home for the Cats Protection, but I have wanted to do a volunteering holiday for a little while now. After a bit of research I discovered the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Centre and ended up spending a week with them before travelling around Costa Rica. It was a truly rewarding and memorable experience.
I do love to see animals when I’m travelling and Costa Rica is very well known for it’s rich and diverse wildlife. I will most likely write a post just about the different creatures we saw because we saw THAT MANY. Didn’t manage to see ‘The Little Five‘ but then there’s always a reason to go back, right?
There was vibrant art all over Costa Rica – from quotes left by travellers at the rescue centre, to stunningly detailed murals of the local flora and fauna. My favourite were these souvenir masks carved by an indigenous tribe known as the Boruca. There were some incredibly beautiful and huge (expensive) ones but we bought a smaller and more affordable one to put up on our global art/souvenir wall at home. Seeing all this art made me very excited to get the paints and pencils out for the art class I’m about to start soon!
5. Money… Costa Rican specifically
As I said before about the art in Costa Rica, even the Costa Rican bank notes are art in themselves! Hardly surprising for such a good looking country though.
This was just a little taste of what’s to come on the blog, but follow me on instagram to have a sneak peek at some of the sights and creatures I saw!
We decided that it would be nice to see a bit more of Cuba without venturing too far from Varadero, and so we booked a tour to see a sugar mill with steam trains, as well as a crocodile farm and a replica indigenous village on the Zapata Peninsula.
I’m sure the more intrepid of travel bloggers would have hitch-hiked their way there, but bugger that! I went for the easy and comfortable option of an air conditioned mini bus! The heat and humidity are almost unbearable if you are away from air conditioning or a swimming pool for too long.
The first step was the sugar mill museum where we learnt how sugar is produced and then tasted some sugar cane juice. It tasted very sweet (as you would imagine) but also had a ‘rooty’ kind of taste I can’t describe. Afterwards we took a little ride on one of the several steam trains they had there.
Next step was the crocodile farm in Boca de Guama where we got to see the famous Cuban crocodile, from teeny babies to giant beasts. The Cuban crocodile can grow up to a whopping 5 metres in length although the ones we saw weren’t quite as big as this.
We also got to see a few more of Cuba’s famous animals – iguanas, turtles and jutia, an endangered mammal that reminded me alot of the quokkas on Rottnest Island in Australia.
After lunch at a Paladar (private restaurant), we headed back to where the crocodile farm was situated to catch a boat across Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lagoon). The lagoon was named for the gold that the Taino (aboriginals) supposedly hid in its waters. The boat ride took around 20 minutes and was a joy to feel the wind in my hair!
When we arrived we could walk around a replica Taino village, where people can actually stay although to be honest, besides a bar and a couple of gift shops, there’s not alot else there.
Once we’d got the boat back across the lagoon we headed back to Varadero (which took just over an hour and a half) and jumped straight into the hotel pool!
I would love to have seen a bit more of Cuba’s native creatures (flamingos live in the Zapata Peninsula although we didn’t get to see them) but I enjoyed my day of seeing a bit more of Cuba beyond the beaches.
If you’ve never seen a quokka before, google “the world’s happiest animal” and you’ll see image after image of an adorable furry little creature that appears to be smiling. That, my friends, is a quokka and they live wild on Rottnest Island off of the coast of Western Australia.
When I returned to Australia I knew I had to pay a visit to Rottnest Island and it turned out to be one of the best days!
We were staying in an Airbnb in the lovely town of Fremantle, which was where we caught the ferry from. The ferry journey took around 25 minutes before we reached the blissful shores of Rottnest.
At the port, we collected the bikes we had hired as this is pretty much the only way to travel around the island as cars are not permitted and it is too large to navigate by foot. However, there is a bus service but where’s the freedom in that?!
We picked up a map and set off on one of the bike trails. We only covered a small section of the island but still managed to cycle about 10km!
The beaches are stunningly beautiful here, with white sand and turquoise sea, so be sure to take a break from cycling to enjoy them. It was a little while before we spotted any quokkas but when we did, we tried to get ourselves an obligatory ‘quokka selfie’ (yes that’s a thing). After initially worrying that we wouldn’t find any quokkas, we ended up seeing loads of them all around the island.
The quokkas face no natural predators on the island so they aren’t particularly fearful of anything. They actually see humans as a source of food which is bad because you aren’t supposed to feed the quokkas.
Once we’d cycled a loop, admiring the views and the wildlife along the way, we headed to Aristos Waterfront Restaurant for some well earned fish and chips which were delicious!
Rules of Rottnest Island
Don’t feed the quokkas
Don’t touch the quokkas
Be careful – in one quokka encounter, I ended up shoving a man in the leg because a throng of over excited tourists had showed up and he wasn’t looking where he was going and stepped backwards onto a poor little quokka’s tail! I’m a wildlife warrior, me.
When cycling, ensure you are wearing your helmet. They are compulsory by law in Western Australia.
Respect the island – take your rubbish with you and stay on the designated paths.
Take plenty of water and snacks as once you leave the main harbour there isn’t really anywhere else to grab refreshments.
Take sunscreen/hat/sunglasses etc as it is hot out there and not particularly shaded.
If you’re only in Western Australia for a short amount of time I would recommend booking your place on the ferry in advance. We booked ours before we left the UK and the package included bike hire. We also went on a Tuesday as we found that this was the cheapest day to go.
Take a watch with you to ensure you don’t miss your ferry slot back!
We had booked the last ferry back so once we’d explored a little more, we spent some time chilling on one of the beaches before having a drink at Quokka Joe’s cafe. I was pretty jealous of the people who were staying overnight on the island but I was also incredibly satified at what a wonderful day we had had.