Sunday, April 06, 2008

Manuel Antonio in March

Our first spring break destination outside the valley was Manuel Antonio—both the park and the town. We visited the park last Thanksgiving, and it was so amazing we had to take my parents there, too.

Our lodging was a private villa on a cliff with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, framed by a canopy of trees that’s home to tropical birds, sloths, monkeys, and lizards. We enjoyed relaxing on the deck and listening to the surf as we soaked in our surroundings.

During our stay at the villa, my parents got a taste of authentic life in Costa Rica. Their suicide shower wasn’t working until the last day of our visit (after a handyman came to replace it) and the power in Manuel Antonio went out several times—once while we were dining out (thankfully by candlelight). These snags, which would be unexpected and unacceptable in the US, are common here and a reminder that we live in a developing country.

Boogie at the beach
To get to the beach—just a half mile from the villa—we drove down a path of indescribably rough terrain (four-wheel drive required!) and parked on the sand at the bottom. I’ve never felt ocean water at such a perfect temperature, and swimming was a welcome activity each afternoon since Manuel Antonio is hot and humid at this time of year. Dad rented a boogie board, and nearly all of us had a go at wave riding.

Horsin’ around
Our first night we ate dinner at a large, open-air place in Quepos called El Gran Escape (The Great Escape), which, in its former life, was both a brothel and a cervecería (place to buy beer). An authentic tope—or horse parade—was happening in the main street just outside the restaurant. In this festive atmosphere, Costa Ricans proudly display their high-stepping horses while others cheer them on and music plays.

Manuel Antonio National Park
Sunday was spent at the national park. We arrived early to avoid crowds, see the animals before their afternoon siestas, and enjoy hiking before the equatorial sun blazed too hot. The last time we visited was at the end of the rainy season when we crossed the water in a boat to reach the park; this time, nearing the end of the dry season, we walked through hot sand to reach the park’s entrance.

We loved showing Mom and Dad what we’d learned on our last visit, and it was great to see some new things too—like the tell-tale turtle tracks on the beach that Dad spotted. We also tackled a new, more difficult trail for hiking: Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point), an outcropping of land that was once an island but now connects to the mainland by a natural land bridge. This hike of about an hour took us up a steep incline through dense jungle. It was a challenging (and sweaty!) climb, but it was so beautiful and unique, it was worth it—especially when we saw the view of the ocean, far above the surf pounding rocks below.

More monkeys
We saw plenty of wildlife on our trip, both while in the park and elsewhere. A highlight was the huge troop of squirrel—or titi—monkeys as they migrated past our villa early one morning. These fun little monkeys are incredibly cute as they swing through the canopy, gripping branches with their tails and then launching their small bodies to nearby trees. They’re also a vulnerable species, so we felt very lucky to see so many—including a few mamas with their babies firmly attached to their backs. Many monkeys ran across the roof of the deck, and one peered over the edge to get a closer look at us. (A capuchin monkey had done the same thing the day before, with his eye on Erin’s ginger cookie!)

While we heard howler monkeys several times throughout our travels, these noisy creatures did not wake us in the middle of the night with their roaring, as they did on our last trip to the area.

Isla Damas
On Monday morning, we toured the protected inland waterways of the Damas Island estuary. We traveled with our knowledgeable guide Eduardo to the sleepy town of Isla Damas, just north of bustling Quepos. There we boarded a canopied boat for a morning trip through a unique ecosystem nestled in a lush mangrove forest.

We made our way through a maze of narrow channels of brackish water surrounded by amazing African palms, loads of plants and trees, and impressive red and black mangroves. We saw a variety of marine birds, crabs, lizards, and even the rare-to-spot silky anteater napping in a tree. But the best—no surprise here—were the playful monkeys who came right up to our boat and jumped on the roof, let us touch their hands, and provided fantastic entertainment for their human guests.

Valley bound
After three nights, we left tropical Manuel Antonio for Santa Ana. The ride home was scenic and uneventful (always a blessing!), and we were glad to return to the cool, breezy valley we love.

Click here to see a photo album of our trip (best viewed as a slideshow). ¡Pura vida!

1 comment:

aimee said...

I loved looking at all the pics! Such beautiful scenery! I wish we could come for a visit :)