Tricia Smith
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Monkey business (and the dealings of sloths)

October 19, 2010 @ 7:00 PM | Permalink

If I may refute a popular saying, sometimes it is not about the journey, it's all about the destination. Getting there may be harrying, hellish and all-around disheartening, but once you make it to that dreamed-of place, it's all worth it.

This weekend's destination was Manuel Antonio, on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. The day started without much promise-- hazy and gray, with a rain that never let up. Making it to the San Carlos bus terminal on time seemed to be a good omen, but the ride to San Jose took longer than expected (as per usual), and we were late getting into the terminal. The North Atlantic Terminal. And our next bus was due to leave from the Coca-Cola Terminal in ten minutes. We asked a cab driver and he said it was a few blocks away and pointed us in the right direction. So we ran.  And got there just in time to see our bus pull away without us on it.

A cab driver told us the next bus to Quepos wasn't for two hours, but he could take us to catch up with the bus at its next stop. So in one regulation red cab and one suspiciously unmarked (except for several Jesus fish) white sedan, we sped after the  recently departed bus. It was like a chase scene in a movie--honking horns, frantic cell-phone screaming, collisions avoided by mere inches. The driver told us we were looking for a white bus, and when he pulled off onto a side street he said something quickly in Spanish that sounded a lot like, "you can make it if you run." So we ran. Maybe an eighth of a mile, during which my backpack came open and spilled its guts onto the side of the busy highway. So when I finally reached the bus I was panting, sweaty and clutching my open bag (thankfully with all my things back inside--minus a can of bug spray, the only casualty). But I was so glad to be on that bus that I didn't even mind not having a seat. For nearly six hours I sat on the steps between the door and the driver, hopping up every time another person came on or off the bus. It was wet and it was cramped, but we were on our way!

Co-piloting the bus to Quepos.

 And when we finally arrived, everything fell into place. The hostel had miraculously saved the reservation I had sent them by e-mail a week before, and we made it to the sushi place in town (the promise of which had kept many of us hopeful and salivating for the entire journey) just minutes before closing time. The taste of tropical rolls (crab, eel sauce, avocado and fried banana) and a cold beer is truly the taste of victory.

My survival instincts got the better of my journalism instincts for a while, but I was able to snap a picture of the tropical roll before I ate the whole thing.   

The next day I slept in until 8am before grabbing some free breakfast at the hostel (

Wide Mouth Frog

in Quepos, highly recommended for friendliness and cleanliness, but the location leaves something to be desired) and taking the bus to Manuel Antonio National Park. Ten dollars gave us access to the park's hiking trails, which lead up to several small beaches. A guide told us that we had arrived just in time, since most of the wildlife begin their day around 9am.

Within just a few minutes of walking down the path, I saw a guide and a few tourists stopped at the edge of the trees, looking down into the jungle at something. It took a while to spot it, but then I saw my first Capuchin monkey, with its little white face peeking out from behind the leaves.

Capuchin monkey, jumping from tree to tree.        

A few more animal sightings later (iguana, tree frog and one very bold raccoon) and we were at the beach. The first thing I noticed was the blue ocean and white sand. Then I saw all the monkeys.

Spotting monkeys in the jungle had been a challenge, but here on the beach they were everywhere! In the trees, on the sand, climbing on garbage bins. It's a sad truth that they only come so close to humans because people continue to feed them (for a list of the important reasons NOT to feed the monkeys, please click


), but it was still amazing to see so many monkeys up close.

One angry monkey.

Little did I know, I would be able to get much closer to a monkey than this.

Mother with a tiny baby riding on her back. The baby was fast asleep the whole time!

After watching the monkeys and taking a million pictures, I finally went for a swim in the ocean. Which was quickly interrupted when I noticed a raccoon had stolen my shorts from on top of my towel. I ran up the beach just in time to shoo him away and watch him drop my shorts from his tiny paws. Later that day, my friend literally played a game of tug-of-war with a raccoon over her purse, and had a monkey steal her bag of trail mix while we were busy climbing a tree in search of crabs and lizards (which we found).

One bold monkey, chowing down on some pilfered raisins and peanuts.

Curious hermit crab, checking out its surroundings.   

Then, on our way out of the park, I had possibly the most exciting animal sighting yet. After six weeks in Costa Rica, I finally saw my first sloth! It was every bit as slow, mossy and majestic as I imagined it would be.

A beautiful sloth specimen. In Costa Rica, they are called perezosos, which literally means "lazies."

After the sloth sighting, I thought it couldn't get any better, but then we went to dinner in a bar housed inside of an old army transport plane, which was "shot down by the Sandinista army, leading to a scandal that uncovered illegal CIA supply missions to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua"

(Frommer's). We had heard it was a great place to see the sunset, but the hazy, blank sky meant no pinks or oranges in sight. The view was still breathtaking. Staring out into the unbelievable depth of that nothingness, the sky was absolutely white--like the perfect inverse of outer-space.
Standing outside El Avion.

Coming out of the plane that night, I couldn't imagine anything that could improve upon what had definitely been one of my best days in Costa Rica . Then some people on the street pointed out a sloth hanging from a wire above our heads. For a while I couldn't believe it was real, but then I remembered that everything in Costa Rica really is pura vida.
Urban sloth, swinging from the power lines.


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