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Chris Goes to Manuel Antonio National Park

It's a long drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, five hours if you are lucky, longer if you are not. The driver (Carlos) that picked us up was the same guy that drove us to Peace Lodge from the airport. I was amazed that he seemed to know his way, since as I said there are no street signs. I could imagine that a local driver wouldn't have a problem, but this was a cross country trip.

The drive was made even more arduous by the fact that there were several washouts and mudslides that added more than an hour to the trip. On the plus side, it was nice to see the countryside and the areas of Costa Rica that aren't touristy.

Click here to see some pictures of The drive to Manuel Antonio.

We were staying at a hotel called, Si Como No, which literally means, Yes How No, which makes no sense at all, but it roughly translates to "Sure, why not?". It was located on a strip of hotels that exist between Manuel Antonio National Park, and the town of Quepos. Quepos was originally founded to be a hub for local fruit production, but now exists pretty much as a tourist center. It would be the first time that we'd be staying close enough to a town to actually visit it (both the Peace Lodge and the Arenal Paraiso were too far from the nearest town to do anything that wasn't related to the hotel). But as we drove through Quepos, I didn't think it was all that nice. I was hoping for some good restaurants and things to do, but to be honest, all the tourist stuff was in the hotels that were near Manuel Antonio.

We didn't get to Si Como No until after dark. The place was actually laid out similarly to Peace Lodge, in that it was a bunch of separate buildings all built into a hill. Si Como No had a great view of the ocean, but it wasn't quite as nice as Peace Lodge. It was perfectly fine, but being there felt like being in a typical hotel room with a nice view, Peace Lodge had a very non-hotel feel. It was also damp, but that's not really Si Como No's fault, everything is damp in that area. Nam says: The hotel room was big and nice but smelled musty. I assume that was because it was the rainy season.

Nam and I talked that night about what we were going to see at the park the next day. The main reason one goes to Manuel Antonio is to see monkeys, and we had hoped that we'd see some monkeys. But you know, sometimes you don't get to see all the wildlife you planned to. We were going to be at Manuel Antonio for four days and I hoped to see at least one monkey. So I was quite delighted when I woke up the next morning and looked out my balcony at the sea and saw a capuchin monkey jumping around in the trees! I'd only had like 5 minutes of daylight and I had seen my first monkey. I got Nam out of the shower to see as well. Immediately after seeing the monkey, I watched a butterfly go past my balcony where it was grabbed and eaten midair by what appeared to be a hawk. I thought that this place was pretty intense.

Click here to see some pictures of The Si Como No Hotel.

Then, more monkey madness at breakfast! Like most places in Costa Rica, the hotel restaurant didn't have any walls or nothing, because the weather is never bad. Nam and I were eating out at the breakfast buffet when all of a sudden about a dozen squirrel monkeys came down out of the trees, rampaged through the restaurant, and tried to steal items of the buffet! Woo-hoo! Monkey attack!

Click here to see some pictures of The monkey attack.

The extra cool part of the monkey attack was that these were brown squirrel monkeys (also known as Mono Tiki) and they are super endangered and live pretty much only at Manuel Antonio. There were only 1500 left alive in the whole world!

The tour we had scheduled for that day was a tour of the park. The other tours that we had in Costa Rica were pretty much just us, or one other couple, but this tour included a whole gaggle of what looked like Spring Break kids. I was a little worried that they wouldn't be interested in the tour as they were very loud on the bus, but they behaved themselves.

It was a drizzly day, but if it wasn't, Manuel Antonio would have been a great place to go to the beach. As it was, it was chilly and dreary. It wasn't too uncomfortable, and we did have giant umbrellas from the hotel, but the rain kept some of the animals under cover, so the park wasn't as lively as it could have been. Our tour guide, Dago, was pretty good though and spotted a number of animals, and we did see some capuchin monkeys in the trees, as well as iguanas, sloths and a few other things.

Click here to see some pictures of Manuel Antonio National Park.

It cost $7 to get into the park, and once the tour ended it was suggested that we stay and walk around by ourselves. I'm sure that a lot of people take that opportunity to head to the beach, but it was dreary, and I wasn't sure we'd be able to see much by ourselves since we didn't have the eagle-eyes of the tour guide, so we just went back to the hotel for lunch.

We actually made a big switch that day and went outside the hotel to get food. Nam had seen a sign just up the road at the next hotel for pizza, and she seemed to be in the mood for a pie, so we walked down the street (no easy task with no sidewalks mind you), and went to get pizza.

the pizza place didn't appear to be open, but we were encouraged inside by one of the waitresses. I'm not sure that they were actually open yet, as it took a long time to get our meal, but it was fine, pretty standard pizza. Nam was hoping that maybe they'd have some special weirdo Costa Rican toppings (once, in Andorra I had cucumbers on top of a pizza!), but it was just regular pizza. Nam says: The pizza was pretty good, it was like a regular thin crust pizza. We saw quite a few pizza places throughout our trip so I was curious to try the Costa Rican version of pizza.

Click here to see some pictures of Costa Rican pizza.

We didn't have anything else to do that afternoon. We went back to the hotel room, where I looked out the window and saw an iguana battle! Man this forest was pretty hardcore. Nam says: I never would have expected iguanas to be in trees.

Click here to see some pictures of the Iguana Battle.

Nam was pretty tired and decided to take a nap. I went down to the pool area and had a drink and worked on my comic. Nam came down and met me later and we shopped at the hotel gift shop for souvenirs. Once again, there were monkeys and iguanas lurking near the pool, although none of them made a mad dash for my drink.

On the way back from pizza we had seen this butterfly reserve and took a look inside. They said that they give tours and that they had a night tour that was primarily designed to see frogs, so once it got dark we went on the jungle night tour. In addition to us and the guide, there were two sets of parents and about 10 little girls. I'm not sure what the parents were thinking as it probably isn't the best idea to take little girls out into a dark jungle at night to look at bugs, snakes and frogs. There was more than one freakout. But overall it was interesting, and we did get to see some elements of the jungle that we hadn't seen before.

Click here to see some pictures of the Frogs at Night Tour.

After we got back from that tour, we had dinner at the hotel and went to bed. The next morning was Monday and on Mondays Manuel Antonio National Park is closed. It would have been nice to know that before so we could have laid out the trip a bit differently. One of the tours that was offered had been a full day tour to another national park to the north, and I had figured that maybe we could do that on the day that Manuel Antonio was closed. However, the hotel wasn't able to get in touch with the tour company in time, so we couldn't go on Monday. For some reason I suggested that we just go on that tour on Tuesday, which was a fine idea, but reduced that amount of time we'd be able to go to Manuel Antonio. Turned out to be a good choice (see below), but we would up spending only one morning at Manuel Antonio, when we really intended to spend several days there. Oh well.

To make matters worse, when we got up that morning, it was sunny! That meant that the beach would have been great. Once we found out that the full day tour wouldn't be available, we signed up for a morning tour through the Damas Island Mangrove forest. Nam was happy because this was a flat bottom boat tour and so there wasn't a lot of walking involved. Plus, Damas Island was right next to Manuel Antonio, so I felt that even if the park was closed I'd be able to see some of the same general terrain/wildlife. It turned out to be a nice little tour, and the weather was beautiful.

Click here to see some pictures of the Damas Island Mangrove Forest.

We got back to the hotel and had lunch. I had asked Maurillo, our Damas tour guide about the beaches in the area and he told us that they were in walking distance. So, we grabbed our towels and headed in the direction we thought the beach was. Unfortunately, it was very hot and the hotels in that area are very high off the water, so we kept walking and walking down a very steep road and couldn't find the beach. I wanted to keep going, but Nam looked unhappy, so we went back to the hotel and went to the pool instead. It had a nice swim up bar. Then we took a quick nap. then we did what we should have done, ask the hotel desk about the beach. Turns out that there was a shuttle bus. sigh. So we took the shuttle to the beach, but by the time we got there it wasn't as sunny. Nam isn't a big beach person, so I just floundered around in the waves for a bit and we went back to the hotel.

Click here to see some pictures of the beach near Manuel Antonio.

Once again we ate dinner at the hotel and went to bed early. The next morning we got up bright and early and after a quick hotel breakfast, met the tour bus to Carrera Reserve. Carrera Reserve was about an hour and a half drive north of Manuel Antonio. I felt kinda bad because we were the only people on the tour, so the tour guide (Johan) and the driver had to spend the whole day dealing with just the two of us. In a way it was nice because we got friendly and wound up talking about a lot of stuff that he probably wouldn't have been talking about if he were being a more serious tour guide. For example, he's always wanted to go to NYC to see the Statue of Liberty and asked us what it was like. He also wanted to see the Grand Canyon and a bald eagle. We probably spent as much time answering his questions as he answered ours. Nam says: I asked Johan how he became a tour operator. He looked like he was in his late teens, early twenties. He said they have to go to tour guide school to get a certification. They have to take classes including etiquette and how to handle tourists.

Carrera Reserve looked a lot like Manuel Antonio. The only difference was that here it wasn't raining, so the animals were more likely to be out and about. At Carrera we saw a lot of capuchin monkeys, some coatimundi, and a lot of birds. Johan was an amateur bird watcher and was quite excited about some of the species we saw that day.

Click here to see some pictures of Carrera Reserve.

After we finished at the reserve, we drove a short distance to the Tarcoles River where we got on a flat bottom boat. Nam had been worried that maybe this would have been very similar to the mangrove tour we were on the day before but it was quite different. Although there are mangroves on the Tarcoles, we spent more of our time in a wide area of the river. I would strongly caution you to never, ever swim in the Tarcoles River. The place was infested with crocodiles. There were hundreds of them. There were also an impressive number of bird species, including scarlet macaws.

Click here to see some pictures of the Tarcoles River.

After the river tour, we stopped at a soda (remember a "soda" is a Costa Rican diner) called, The Festival of Seafood, and had a traditional Costa Rican lunch. I really liked that because we had been eating at tourist places all along and I always like to see how the locals live. The soda was right on the beach and it was a very pretty location. Then we drove back to the hotel by dark.

Click here to see some pictures of the Festival of Seafood Soda.

We got back to the hotel a little before dark. One of the places that we had passed near the hotel (next to the pizza place) was a coffeehouse. I hadn't had a good latte since I left America, and as you know, I'm all about the fancy coffee. Nam wasn't interested in going, probably because it involved walking down the dangerous road at night, but she went anyway. There was also some discussion between the two of us if the cafe would take US money, but they did. It was good to have coffee, but we were starting to get tired of traveling. We went back to the hotel, ate dinner, and got ready to go home the next morning.

Ok, back to the states...

Part 5: Miami

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