Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Life in Manuel Antonio

Two weekends ago I journey to Manuel Antonio with a group of 6 other girls from Universidad Veritas.  Manuel Antonio is a beautiful beach town with a National Park with the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.  Manuel Antonio is not known for its surfing.  In fact the water is very calm, especially in the park, so there are many great places to snorkel.
Hostel National Park Backpackers. Private rooms are on the left, the dorms are in the middle, and the kitchen is to the right.
 But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We arrived in Manuel Antonio around 6pm on Friday night.  The first thing I noticed was the humidity and heat!  Really the only downside to Manuel is that it is always hot and humid.  We stayed at a hostel called National Park Backpackers.  The hostel was very nice with a pool, large kitchen, and each night the hostel showed a movie outside over the pool.  The hostel was fairly large with about a dozen private rooms and half a dozen dorm rooms.  We stayed in a dorm room with 6 bunk beds.  We were lucky because we got a dorm room all to ourselves! The hostel is about a five minute walk from the bus stop but is about 150m from the entrance to the National Park which was perfect for us! The dorm cost $10 a night.  I also packed a lot of sandwiches and snacks for lunch and dinner, so I didn't have to spend too much money.
Manuel Antonio Beach
  On Saturday, we ate breakfast at the great hostel which served a large breakfast consisting of two plates. The first plate was banana pancakes, with a banana, large slice of watermelon, pineapple, and papaya. The second plate was gallo pinto (rice and beans) with eggs and bread.  There was also free coffee. All this food cost 1.800 colones or less than $4! After breakfast, we went to the national park.  I tagged along behind a group with a guide.  The national park is a great place to see monkeys, sloths, and many different types of birds.  In fact, I saw three sloths!  One all alone and the other two was a mommy with her baby!  Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good picture but the tour guide let me look through his binoculars to get a better view of the mother and her baby.  It was really amazing! I also saw howler monkeys, monkeys with white faces, and really small yellow/orange monkeys!
This little monkey doesn't look too happy probably because a bunch of tourists are taking his photo!  
Raccoon Bandits!
The beach was beautiful but very crowded!  We met locals visiting the beach as well as tourists from all over the world!  The beach is fairly safe as far as leaving your bags on the beach while swimming; however, there are little thieves in masks or with apposable thumbs!  The monkeys and raccoons have no problem stealing food from your bag, picnic blanket, or right out of your hand!
My beautiful little cave!
After swimming for an hour, I left the group and started hiking along the beach, investigating the tidal pools, and climbing on the volcanic rocks.  I hiked for about an hour and found a little cave with hundreds of smooth rocks that had beautiful colors.  I took a few of the smaller ones as souvenirs.  I then ran into Eric, one of the guys from Veritas, and we decided to hike along the closed trail to Playa Escondido (Hidden Beach).  The hike was fairly easy.  The reason the trail was closed was probably because the path down to the beach had basically fallen into the ocean.  We were able to climb down on our own and basically had the beach to ourselves!  It was very beautiful!
Mangrove trees. Notice the brackish water.  This is very typical and due to the mixture of salt and fresh water.
That evening I went on a boat tour of the Mangroves in a little town called Damas. The tour group consisted of a group of Canadians, a family from Chile, and me.  The tour guide was bilingual, but he spoke to me mostly in Spanish which was great practice! He translated the names of the animals into English for me, but I did learn the names for a lot of different animals.  For those who may not know, mangroves are trees that grow in tropical or subtropical estuaries or areas where fresh water from rivers mix with salt water from the ocean  Mangroves are easily recognized by the extensive root systems.  As some of you may know, salt is extremely toxic to plants.  Mangroves have adapted to the high salt concentration in the water by having roots that filter out most of the salt and by storing the rest of the salt in the leaves that are already dying.  Mangrove forests are also a great place to find a wide variety of animals.  I went on a night tour of the mangroves because 70% of the species are active at night, and I wanted to see different animals than those I've already seen during the day.  We were extremely fortunate because we saw the Costa Rican bull frog, two types of opossum (one was the size of a small rat), many different herons, lizards that can run on the water as juveniles, two different types of King Fishers, a boa constrictor, fishing bat, a small bat the size of my palm, fish, crabs, and an alligator!  I'm sure I'm forgetting a bird or two.  Basically, everywhere you looked there was another animal!  Our guide barely had time to tell us about one animal when the guy with the spot light would see another animal.  After two hours of boating, we returned to the dock, and they served us a typical Costa Rican dinner - cassada (rice and beans with meat and plantains).  The Canadians didn't stay for the dinner, so it was just me and the family from Chile.  I was amazed I was able to carry on a conversation with them for the whole time!  Moments like that show me just how much I have learned since coming to Costa Rica!

The Jesus Cristo Lizzard as it is commonly known is able to run on water as a juvenile.  The spikes on its back are used to absorb and store heat from the sun.
 Sunday, I decided to take the 12pm bus back to San Jose because I wanted to spend more time in Quepos which is the town next to Manuel and is where most of the locals live.  Quepos has a very rich history.  It is the only city in Costa Rica that is below sea level.  The Chiquita Banana Company decided in the early 1900s that Quepos would be the best place to establish a city close to their docks for the trains to deliver the bananas from the surrounding area.  The Company built dykes and pumped the water out of the town.  However, Quepos, is native for "Rainmaker" because it rains for 8-9 months every year.  During the rainy season much of the town floods, and people are able to kayak down the roads instead!  After the Chiquita Banana Company left Costa Rica, Quepos went from producing bananas to producing palm oil used in many lotions, lip balms, and perfumes.

The bus ride back to San Jose was very uncomfortable because it was so hot!  However, I did get to know the guy sitting next to me.  When we crossed a river, he told me to look out the window, and I saw two huge crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandbars in the river!  It was amazing!  I don't know what to say except Costa Rica is a beautiful place!

Pura Vida

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