Posted by: Sailing Camelot | May 18, 2012

May 9th – Manuel Antonio National Park – Costa Rica

As it often happens, our planned three day stop at the Sailfish Marina in Quepos turned into a four-day stop.  We didn’t want to rush… I also needed a full day to sew up some sort of rain-protecting device to keep us a little dryer in the cockpit. It turned out looking like a glorified tarp, but it works against the Daily Downpour!

We’re approaching Rainy Season (they call it Green Season here, cute…) and most every day, almost at the same time, you can expect the skies to open and spray at varying levels of intensity, usually for an hour or two.

I understand now why Costa Ricans start their day very early, with shops and businesses opening at 7 in the morning: so you can have a normal, productive day in the sun for about eight or nine hours before the crippling rain starts.

This is why the whole Country looks like a giant green bush when looking at it from the sea… Closer inspection reveals an abundance and variety of vegetation so lush to seem almost artificial. Oh, and the humidity level certainly helps: 85 to 100%…

It takes a while getting used to being sweaty all the time, but we had enough practice during our 17 months in Mexico, so it’s no big deal. My favorite (and only) fashion accessory is a sweat rag, possibly in colors matching my (skimpy) outfit… And yes, Tom carries one, too.

Marina Pez Vela – Quepos, Costa Rica

Pretty Extensive (and Expensive) Marina

A good place to call Home for a few days

One of the reasons for stopping in Quepos is the proximity to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park  

Boasting hundreds of species of birds, mammals and plants, it’s only 7 Kilometers away -a short taxi ride away from the Marina.

Our taxi driver’s name is Minor – he claims that his father’s name was Major. I believe him, he’s goofy enough… Anyway, Minor is very friendly and most spirited.

The seven kilometers’ trip becomes one of our funniest experiences in Costa Rica so far, with Minor excitedly pointing out places of interest, coming to a screeching halt and almost shoving me out of the car to take pictures at the best spots!

On the road to Manuel Antonio Park…

… We found this very peculiar Restaurant – “El Avion”

Minor, Tom and I had a very lively conversation touching a variety of topics in such a short time: family, politicians (“they’re all thieves!” he shouts), the tourists’ impact on the local economy, food, the best pizza in town… I think we covered pretty much everything in ten minutes!

Arriving at the Park he starts shouting “Pura Vida!” left and right, as he knows just about everyone there.

A quick explanation on Costa Rica’s National Greeting – “Pura Vida” :

It literally translates to Pure Life, but its meaning encompasses pretty much everything.

It’s also used in lieu of:

“How you doing, I’m great, Couldn’t be better, What’s up, I understand, Nice to meet you, Have a great day, Enjoy your stay, Good Luck, Good Morning”, and most everything else.

If you ask “So, how’s your family?” or pretty much anything else, the answer will be “Pura Vida!” – a positive response without a lot of details in it… the perfect diplomatic reply!

Anyway, it’s barely 8 in the morning as we stop at the Park entrance among shouts of Pura Vida. 

Welcome to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Minor introduces us to one of his dear friends, Leotan, who happens to be one of a handful of licensed Park Guides. He’s been doing this for 30 years, speaks perfect English and as luck will have it, is available to take us for a tour if we wish.

Tom readily agrees, while I choke inwardly upon hearing about the $100 cost of the guided tour, on top of the $10 per person admission fee. American Dollars…

Hey, this is what I do: I am the Evil Queen of Numbers. It’s my job to budget for everything. I choke, wince and complain about most costs, then get over it and start spending with wild abandon while Tom just rolls his eyes at me.

Leotan gingerly walks up the main trail, carrying a potent Swarowski bird-watching telescope, rattling away information about the Park and its inhabitants. The women in his family are knowledgeable in herbal medicine and apparently the forest is a great natural pharmacy. Leo points at different plants, explaining their specific properties.

Leo, our very knowledgeable guide, armed with his powerful Swarowski Telescope

Leo and Tom, dwarfed by one of the many giant trees in the Park

You cut yourself? Here’s a leaf to use as a band-aid to stop the bleeding. You have a queasy stomach? Chew this. You’re hungry? Here’s a root that’ll fill your stomach – and he pulls a few out of the soil, offering them to Tom and me. They are good! I could have chomped on these tender, sweet roots all day.

Then Leo snaps a twig and instructs us to chew on that to relieve thirst: a tangy, lemony taste fills my mouth and yes, it works.

Of course there were also warnings – “don’t touch that, your hands and throat will swell up and you could die” – and anecdotes – “see that tree? Its fruit has narcotic properties. The monkeys like to chew on those leaves and get stoned like if they were smoking pot” .

The orange clusters are the Monkey’s Pot. Notice the spikes on the tree trunk…

All this is very entertaining, very informative. But Leo hikes up that trail at a much faster pace than I’d like. I’m constantly trying to stop, pointing my camera this way and that, marveling at stuff I’ve never seen before, looking for images that stir me inside, earning many dirty looks from the boys…

The colorful Land Crab – The Earth is its home and it never goes to sea.

Of course, there’s quite a bunch of other tourists ahead and behind us. Leo wants to “keep the flow going”.

 I want to examine every pebble under my feet and turn every leaf I can reach.

 Leo wins.  I feel rushed, and that doesn’t sit well with me…

Occasionally Leo sets up his telescope and instructs us to look: that’s how we see a Mother Toucan feeding her Baby up high in a tree at least half a mile away. Or a Capuchin Monkey, peacefully asleep perched on another tree a quarter mile away.

Mama Toucan

Looking up at her Nest

“Baby, it’s time for lunch!” – See the little head above her beak?

I wish this image would be clearer, but I’m glad I saw Baby Toucan getting Lunch.

Now, I know this is not a petting zoo, but I was hoping to see some fauna a little closer than that… I guess with all these tourists stomping around the animals stay put in their hiding holes, and I don’t blame them!

But I still manage to see a doe, a sloth, a tiny snake and some sort of iguana-looking reptile, so… Quit your whining, woman!

Bambi’s Mom?

Not intimidated in the least! Almost posing for me…

A Two-Toed Sloth – “I’m just hanging, man!”

I have to admit, I saw a lot but still feel like I haven’t seen enough. Maybe I let my expectations run high again, imagining exotic birds flying overhead, curious monkeys coming close to steal your bananas, armadillos crossing your path… You know, the way they describe it in touristic pamphlets… None of which happened.

It’s an ongoing theme with Costa Rica: me expecting the Country to reveal itself – instead, I have to search and look hard to find its treasures… Which actually makes them all the more precious and unforgettable!

No clue what this little guy is, but we hit it off and the light was just perfect.

Looks like a creature from Jurassic Park!

Can you see me sneaking around in all this Green?

Green is the New Black, baby!

This Park is well worth a visit, maybe even two or three or four, as there are so many different trails to follow. There are some breathtaking views, as the Park extends all the way to the Sea. The noises of the jungle are undescribable – an experience within the experience, the incredible flora absolutely fascinating.

Looking at the open Sea from the one of the Park’s beautiful beaches

Another secluded beach

But I still haven’t decided if a guided tour was the right choice for me. On one hand Leo was very informative, teaching us about the Park and pointing out many things to see that I’d never have noticed without his guidance. On the other hand, I feel like I really didn’t have enough time to really “look” and discover things on my own.

The whole tour lasted maybe a couple of hours: I could have stayed inside the Park the whole day… Maybe even the whole week!

Last spectacular view – Exiting Manuel Antonio National Park

Anyway, overall it’s been a very positive experience.

And our favorite cab driver Minor was waiting for us at the exit of the Park, ready to return us to the Marina! Talk about getting spoilt…

Tomorrow we leave Quepos behind, continuing our southbound cruising.

There are a few more Bays and anchorages on my list that I’m sure have some marvelous surprise in store for us…

Until we meet again, my friends…

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