Manuel Antonio. Doesn’t sound like one of the most biodiverse national parques on the planet but it turns out it is and as luck would have it, just over the mountain from Pez Vela marina. The pitch for hiring certified guides starts as you clear the last step of the bus and goes something like without a guide you’ll walk right by all the biodiversity. The guides know where the animals hang out and they have spotter scopes which get you up close, eyeball to eyeball with some pretty rare animals and it only costs 10,111.99 colons each. It’s early, so for you let’s make it $20 US. I think I once bought an old MGB from this guy.
It seems you can’t take the old path along the beach to access the park anymore because you would have to cross a stream in which an enterprising crocodile had begun to terrorize a few guests so some enterprising Ticos started charging exorbitant rates to whisk you away in their boats and deposit you safely at the entrance. Now one enters using a circuitous route through a back alley filled with vendor shack after vendor shack of expensive cheap souvenirs. After running that gauntlet one meets one’s certified guide with spotter scope, and without further ado he turns and heads off with an all day lope. Rodrigo isn’t a dour Hungarian like our Golfito mechanic but he might as well be.
Let’s just say he’s not your more chatty type of guide, and soon I sense that he has lost all respect for our powers of observation when time after time we’d keep walking when he’d stop and set up his spotter scope and he’d wait for us to walk back. At first it was a bat or two and I think I disappointed Rodrigo when I showed little interest in looking eyeball to eyeball with a bat, but his scope got you up close alright.
The trees were magnificent and so tall that my neck began to ache in a futile search of the tree tops but I never spotted anything unless Rodrigo stopped to set up the scope. We startled a sloth hanging in a low branch and it started to run away but…who has the time?
As we neared Manuel Antonio beach we started to notice movement in the trees which usually means monkeys and sure enough we had howlers above us. I suspect these were males.
White…seriously white? Can’t tell me nature doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Soon we spotted a teeny tiny palm pit viper, that grabs humming birds as they hover near flowers, sounds crazy but who am I to judge? Squirrel monkeys, a boa constrictor , a hummingbird, more sloths and finally a skinny raccoon that kept trying to steal stuff from beachcombers’ bags. The last raccoon I saw was in our kitchen in Pennsylvania calmly eating the cats’ food and a Snickers bar.
We marveled at the remarkable beaches contained within the park, each one different than the next and you could spend a day at each.
After another perusal of the souvenirs on the way out, Marce started walking in the general direction of the mountain that El Avion sits atop. It worries me when she gets that look in her eyes. Shouldn’t we grab a taxi, Honey? “You can take a taxi if you want to.” It’s a long steep climb up to Manuel Antonio proper. But that’s when the Tica magic struck. They call it Pura Vida, the Pure Life.
My face is red, my tee shirt is soaked through seemingly glued to my body, I’m sucking air like a 350 pound marathon runner at mile marker 26, when I look up, don’t know why, might’ve heard something, and as my eyes tried to focus I thought there are these magnificent trees next to the heavily traveled road but it’s so steep that we are actually in the tree top canopy and wouldn’t it be funny to see a monkey right next to the main road. Wait…what was that? It’s somehow a familiar soft popping sound. Howlers! Just a few feet away relaxing. Junior is right above our heads.
We stood there panting, traffic whizzing past, watching an extended family of howlers having a nosh while they nonchalantly watched us. No park, no guide, no fees.