We woke early on our first full day of vacation—around 6am, which is when we normally get up here in Costa Rica. Everyone’s first thought was to head for the beach to check for creatures in tide pools and shells to take home. We especially wanted to find sand dollars after noticing the large collection of sand dollars the owners of the bungalow had displayed in a bowl on the table.
It took a while, but I found the first sand dollar. Then Dan found one, then both of the girls…it seemed suddenly that they were everywhere and we were the mighty sand dollar hunters, all aiming for the most treasures. Erin found six at once! We walked the beach for two hours and returned to our cabin with a full pail.
After a filling breakfast of eggs, gallo pinto, and empanadas in our little kitchen, we headed south to Manuel Antonio National Park—one of the top destinations for anyone visiting Costa Rica and something we’ve been anxious to see since we first learned we were moving.
On our way we crossed a couple of wild bridges (see the previous blog) that had our hearts pounding. After one bridge crossing we saw a family selling pipas (coconuts) with straws stuck in them.
We also saw a couple of guys—at different times—cruising the highway on bikes and wielding their long-handled machetes. We nicknamed these fellows Grim Reapers on Bicycles.
After passing some great landscape and small villages, we entered the beach town of Quepos and made our way up the hillside into the absolutely gorgeous Manuel Antonio. Dan and I loved this drive, where the windy road is lined with eclectic shops, restaurants, and hotels. A few times we noticed authentic streets signs telling drivers to slow down—each accompanied by a silhouette of a person, dog, sloth, and monkey.
After a few miles we came to the end of the road. Here the sides of the street were lined with cars and vendors on the beach. The road made a loop, and there was a beach at the end and a small tree-, rock-, and mud-filled parking area. Unbelievably, this was the lot for those visiting the park. It was certainly a different experience from visiting a national park in the United States—no maps to purchase, no gift shops, no commercialism. Frankly, we weren’t even sure we were at the park at first.
To get to the park itself, one has to walk across the beach and then can choose either to wade through the Camaronera stream or take a small rowboat to access the rainforest of Manuel Antonio. We weren’t in beachwear, so we took the boat (thankfully one of the guides in the boat kept bailing, since there was a leak). At this point we had also decided to spend the extra money ($20 each) to have a park guide with us. Our guide’s name was Henry—he was a Tico who spoke good English and carried a telescope. Without him and his trusty scope we wouldn’t have seen a lot of what we did.
Incidentally, it is about $7 for a non-resident tourist to enter Manuel Antonio, but for us (we’re now official, card-carrying residents!) it was only about $2 each—a cheap price to visit a park with fantastic beaches, beautiful rainforest, and more than 100 mammal species.
We hadn’t even entered the park when we saw our first monkey in a tree. And once we were in the park—WOW! On this day we saw monkeys, several kinds of lizards, sloths, coatimundis, a kingfisher, bats, giant grasshoppers, even a crocodile! You can see pictures of all these cool animals and plants too (beautiful palms, guava trees, banana leaves, the poisonous manzanillo trees that burn if you touch them, bamboo…) on the online photo album. The pictures truly are worth a thousand words—I can’t do justice to how amazing this experience was.
Of all the animals, the monkeys undoubtedly put on the best show. At one point near the beach we ran across a monkey who had stolen a package of crackers from someone (naughty monkey!). His monkey buddies were chasing him through the trees trying to get a snack, but the cracker monkey did not want to share. When he dropped a cracker and the guy next to me picked it up, the monkey got mad. He was behind Erin and me, and when Dan told us to turn around and we saw this creature baring his teeth, we jumped (but then I got a great picture before I beat a hasty exit!).
Another neat creature we saw was the Jesus Christ lizard, aptly named because he is so fast he can literally run across the water.
How about the howler monkeys? They were probably at least a mile or two away when we heard their bellowing, and wow was it loud!
Unfortunately we did not get to see a toucan on this trip; apparently they are rare to see other than in January and February when they are nesting.
We hiked for about two and half hours until we decided the girls’ legs were wearing out and it was time to get something to eat. We had the most incredible time on our first trip to Manuel Antonio—and still can’t believe we saw all these animals in their natural habits.
For our late lunch/early dinner, we visited a unique restaurant called El Avión (The Plane). The eatery is centered around a Fairchild C-123—an aircraft previously owned by the CIA that played a major role in the scandalous Iran-Contra Affair of the mid-80s. The owners of the restaurant bought the plane in 2000, disassembled it into seven sections, and shipped it to its current location in Quepos on the side of a cliff. Here it has become part of this restaurant with tasty seafood, frequent animal sightings (we saw monkeys and a mama and baby sloth), and breathtaking views of the ocean and rainforest. There is even a small bar inside the plane’s fuselage.
The girls really liked this place—they had straws with cute little paper fruits in their drinks, which was totally cool, they said. The food was excellent and we had fried calamari with a fruity-ginger sauce for an appetizer. Lauren liked it quite a bit and was shocked when I told her calamari is seafood (I didn’t go so far as to tell her it’s squid).
After returning to our bungalow, the girls enjoyed playing on the beach, while Dan and I relaxed and admired the brilliant sunset over the ocean. Everyone fell asleep early again—another busy day was to come.