Having left the building site until I could be moved on Tuesday we had 4 days to go somewhere a little further away. A number of other volunteers had left the day before and travelled south to Manuel Antonio, a national park beach on the Pacific coast. Following their rave reviews and photos, Kelly and I decided to join them.
After the usual trip to San José we bought the last two tickets for the bus to Quepos, a 3 and a half hour ride over some quite windy roads. A lot of people looked a bit green and a short toilet break after 90 minutes was a welcome relief for everyone. We later learned that the others had taken a very indirect route and been on the same bus for 7 hours via Puntarenas, all without a comfort break.
Arriving in Quepos was a bit underwhelming, as the rainy season had started in earnest and all the storm drains were flooded meaning we had to walk around up to our ankles in rain water. Deciding Quepos wasn’t the best place to stay we retired to an smart little cafe with a Wi-Fi connection and somehow managed to take two hours to find a hotel. Quepos is about 6km along from Manuel Antonio, but that 6000m raises the hotel prices from $7 a night in town to up to $1300 for rooms overlooking the jungle and beaches. We ended up about 4km from Manuel Antonio, in a wooden hotel that seemed to fill up between us deciding on it and arriving there by cab less than 10 minutes later. With all the normal rooms full they upgraded us to the beautiful honeymoon suite, with hammock, Jacuzzi and a toilet without a door. With it still pouring down we forgot the people we’d intended to meet and stayed in the hotel restaurant. Whilst expensive this was rather a treat as it was run by Italians and they offered a selection of antipasti and decent pizzas with real Parmesan, Gorgonzola and speck.
After a very comfortable night we decided to head to the beach despite the overcast weather and forecast of very heavy rain.
The taxis here are all a con. If the hotel books one they start the meter from wherever they are when they get the call (invariably Quepos), and if you hail one the meter is never working and they suggest a nice round figure of roughly double the going rate. Unfortunately there’s not much choice but to use them as the shuttle bus is quite infrequent and the roads are too rough to walk comfortably, so every journey starts with a protracted negotiation. It required two taxis to get the 4km to the beach as we stopped at a little supermarket to buy a picnic. Kelly sensibly got granola bars and bananas. I got distracted by the well stocked deli section and ended up having to buy a pen-knife to prepare cheese and crackers.
Finally arriving at the park we walked quickly ahead of a chatty group of Spanish tourists in the hope of seeing some animals by the trail and were rewarded with a white-headed capuchin monkey just sitting by the side of the track. After a short while the Spanish turned the corner, shouted ‘Mono!’ (‘Monkey!’) and all broke into a run. When they arrived they queried ‘Why did it run away?’ No idea…
Leaving them to go ahead and scare away the rest of the jungle we sat about for a bit, cursing the ever increasing heat which seemed to go against all the forecasts. Just sitting quietly seemed more effective than wandering along as a series of rodents and racoons wandered across the path and we noticed a number of tiny red crabs in a puddle a few feet from the trail. As we set off walking again we spied a couple of orange-billed toucans just sitting in a tree.
Manuel Antonio National Park is only 16km2, but consists of a headland, which has connected to a nearby island via a sand bridge creating four swooping arcs of beautiful sand. Being so compact we arrived at the beach quite quickly and bumped into a couple of people from San Ramón who invited us out to dinner. We moved to the other side of the sand bridge and had a very pleasant lunch and a bit of a swim, before hiking off round the former island, which was pretty, but a steep walk in such hot weather. Another swim to cool down and we came ashore to find another of the girls from San Ramón who we also invited out to dinner. She’d just started a late lunch which quickly became the focus of attention for a large racoon and without fear it ran down, stuck its head in her bag and pulled out a smaller bag full of food which it then dragged to the top of the beach. Its victory was short-lived when a number of monkeys swooped out of the trees and stole the contents of the bag.
Deciding to leave the rest of the hiking trails for the following day we set up on the beach, with all our bags fully zipped this time, and had a relaxing afternoon before the park closed at 4. Much later and the tide comes over the sand bridge, making stragglers easy prey for crocodiles, or at least that’s what they tell you to hustle you along a bit.
We agreed to meet that even in a restaurant called El Avión, built in and around a 1954 Fairchild C-123 cargo plane that was supposed to be sold to the Nicaraguan Contras, but never made it out of the country. By now the two of us had grown in size to a party of eight so we started with a few cocktails before an excellent meal, upset only by the odd pricing structure. In a continued effort to try more seafood I started with giant prawns and had a lobster for main. On the menu these were listed as Market Price, which I stupidly forgot to enquire when ordering. Most of the dishes were quite reasonable, but Market Price for prawns turned out to be $3 each, which was unreasonable.
Two of our new male acquaintances unwittingly headed to the gay nightclub across the road at which point we made our excuses and left.
Woke to the sound of a fracas on the balcony and opened the French doors to disturb a couple of Basilisk lizards fighting or getting friendly, not quite sure.
Anyway, forcibly up and about we headed back to the beach with all sorts of good intentions to hike over hills to the farthest beach, see wildlife and generally be active. Instead the sun finally broke through the rainclouds so I arranged a decent picnic and we sat on the first beach, which was pretty much deserted and didn’t move all day except for the occasional swim.
Didn’t manage to bump into anyone all day and the only bit of excitement arose from me getting stung by a lone jellyfish, which was less painful than I’d expected.
That evening we went to Ronnie’s Bar, another recommendation from the Lonely Planet described as having amazing food. I’m not sure who the authors are, but they have much lower standards than most people I know. Anyway, the food was ok at best, but the view was worth the 15 minute trip off-road in the back of a 4×4: a 360 degree panorama from two swooping bays in front, to the dense jungle behind.
We took a long time over the journey back, stopping twice along the way. First stop was Jaco, heavily advertised throughout Costa Rica as the place for ex-pats to live. It was like a Benidorm in the jungle, all new hotels being built, and not a single local shop or restaurant. The only outlets were supermarkets and fast food chains selling American fried food. Puntarenas was the opposite – no major chains and lots of little local shops, none of which sold anything you’d want to buy.