Donde Esta Dondo?
It’s still raining steadily as I look out over the balcony to the rainforest beyond. Felicia and I had taken the red-eye from Denver and traveled five hours in a passenger van over bad roads to get here, but it looks like we won’t get to see the Arenal volcano. Another Costa Rican volcano,the Turrialba, had erupted the week before we arrived, and I had been hoping to get lucky and catch Arenal spouting smoke and molten lava.
Still, we resolve to make the most of our time here. I grab a big white umbrella out of the closet and we step out into the downpour. At first, it’s difficult to find order in the green chaos. Then I start to notice the details.
Felicia is as addicted to swimming as I am to hiking. After breakfast, we scope out the hot springs pools. She finds one that will work for doing laps; I decide to go exploring. As we part she says,”Don’t go anywhere you’re not supposed to.” She knows me too well.
Walking down the road to the volcano, I notice two young Tico women with raincoats and day packs being dropped off by the side of the road. Great, I think, there’s a hiking trail nearby. They walk down a brick side road and hesitate a second before a gate with a sign that says “Prohibido La Entrada.” Heading down a trail to the left they get stopped by a fence. Meanwhile, I notice a gap to the right of the gate where a thin person might get through. Helpfully, I hold the wire fence back while they step through one by one. I’m still contemplating the sign and wondering what the penalties for trespassing are in Costa Rica when one of the women calls back and asks if I need help getting in. Feeling foolish for aiding and abetting while still staying outside, I squeeze through to the other side.
As the brick road climbs, it turns into dirt and eventually into a muddy trail. This is more like it.
Checking my watch, I realize I have to turn around now if I want to be on time for my date with Felicia at the hot springs. As I head back down the trail, three large figures emerge out of the mist. Getting closer, the shapes become horses, and I realize that they’re blocking the trail. As I walk closer, they slowly approach. Speaking softly the few phrases of Spanish I know, I step carefully around them. They seem to be comfortable with my presence.
Quickly, I hike down the muddy road back to the brick road where I find a cow who is not entirely comfortable with me. My horse-whispering tactics are not working with her. I try to pass far to the left but she trots down the road and turns around to face me. This happens a couple of times before she decides to take a stand and places herself in the middle of the road facing me and starts to moo. Keeping a close eye on the cow, I hike off the road through calf-deep muck and am finally able to pass.
The next day, we’re off to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We’re sharing a van with about a dozen Spanish speakers and Italians who seem to have a pretty good understanding of Spanish. The driver makes a long announcement and everyone says “si” and nods their heads. Since the drivers are billed to be bilingual, Felicia asks him to repeat it in English. What we hear is ” rrrrrr, rrrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrrr” with a smattering of words we recognize as English layered underneath. We say “si” and nod our heads. We drive by a troop of monkeys doing a high wire act on the power line by the side of the road. The rain finally ends, the sun comes out, and everybody cheers.
By the time we reach Monteverde, I’m feeling confident enough with my Spanish to walk down the steep hill to Santa Elena to try to find transportation to the Cloud Forest Reserve. As we walk around town I notice an old-timer wearing high black rubber boots and carrying a machete. It seems that everyone is selling a tour of some kind but both Felicia and I both have an allergy to being herded around. Hearing about a bus that takes the locals back and forth, I ask around, “Donde esta autobus?” Asking five different people, I get five different answers. A yellow school bus seems to be the commonality in some of the answers and 7:30 AM seems to be the time, so we decide to get into town by that time to look for it. Amazingly, we find it easily.
Felicia and I both love the Cloud Forest Reserve. It has a great trail system and we wander around looking at things for hours.
We hike back to the entrance. Felicia goes to the gift shop while I observe the other tourists. I had felt a little self-conscious in my zip-off nylon pants, but that seems to be part of the international uniform of the ecotourist. There are serious spotting scopes here as well as very nice camera equipment with very long lenses. Some tourists have their own private guides while others rely on the official Tico guides of the Cloud Forest Reserve. The guides are also toting expensive spotting scopes with heavy tripods and seem to be very professional. Felicia returns and we hike back into the reserve.
Before taking the yellow school bus back to Santa Elena, Felicia spots a sign for a coffee shop just a little ways down the dirt road. We hike up a hill and find that the prices are about half what they are at the cafeteria. A trio of Tico guides sits at the next table, laughing and joking and counting their big rolls of twenties. I don’t understand much, but one of them mentions REI. It sounds like he’s planning a shopping spree.
After all our hiking, Felicia and I are ready to spend some time at the beach. We’re headed for Manuel Antonia National Park which supposedly has lots of monkeys and some of the nicest beaches around. The way out of Monteverde is the same as the way in. It’s a rough and rocky dirt road with plenty of potholes to challenge our van driver. Everyone uses this road, including cowboys driving their cattle from one place to another.
Our hotel room at Manuel Antonio is huge, with one side almost completely open to the ocean and another to the jungle. It’s hot and humid here but with the ceiling fans and cross-ventilation we stay very comfortable . We fall asleep listening to the night sounds of the rain forest and the waves crashing on the shore below. The first morning, I’m doing yoga around 6:00 AM when my peripheral vision picks up movement to my right. A family of monkeys is gathered in a tree outside, taking turns jumping to the next tree. If there’s one thing Felicia loves as much as sleeping in, it’s viewing wildlife. It’s a tough call, but I wake her up. She elects to stay in bed, reasoning that there are plenty of monkeys around. I stand on the balcony watching as first one monkey, then another, climbs to the end of a spindly branch, rocks it up and down, then throws himself with arms and legs outstretched out into space, then lands on the tree nearby. A baby monkey is on deck and I hold my breath for a second while he expertly completes the maneuver. I’m enjoying this so much, I forget to grab my camera. It’s OK, I tell myself, there are plenty of monkeys around here.
We spend the next day at the beaches of Manuel Antonio. It’s idyllic. The water is warm and the sand is soft with no rocks or sea debris. We put our mats in the shade of the jungle. Felicia prefers the calmer waters of beach #3, Playa Manuel Antonio, while I’m partial to beach #2, Playa Espadilla Sur, which has fewer people and bigger waves, perfect for body surfing. A pair of raccoons comes wandering through, begging treats from the humans. But no monkeys.
We both sleep in the next day then decide to check out the short trails near the hotel. We hike a trail for a while until we find ourselves in a place where local artisans are making furniture. We recognize the table a craftsman is working on as a similar design to the one in our room. Walking down to the shore, we decide to explore the public beach, Playa Espadilla, from end to end.
We take a local bus to Quepos, a small fishing port about 7 km up the road from Manuel Antonio. After dinner we walk across the street and up the stairs to the waterfront. Ticos are sitting and standing around talking, all looking west. The sun is about to set.
It’s nighttime and we’re hanging by the pool looking over the ocean. The sky is clear tonight; the stars go on and on. There’s a sound in the palm tree above. I tell Felicia it’s a monkey and she scoffs. A palm nut drops at our feet. Felicia shines my headlamp into the tree above and sees nothing.
I’m doing yoga while watching the sky turn light over the ocean. It’s our last morning in Manuel Antonio before returning to San Jose and our flight home. Suddenly, I hear what sounds like a bowling ball rolling on our roof. Rushing out to the balcony, I see a white faced monkey jump off our roof onto the neighboring tree. I wake up Felicia . She’s ready this time. I grab my camera. Too late, I realize that I’m still in RAW mode which takes an agonizing six seconds to record to my card. It’s too late to change it; I’ll just have to get lucky. Another monkey jumps off the roof onto the tree. Felicia is laughing. I miss the shot. Next, a mother with a baby on her back make the jump. They both turn around and make eye contact with us while my missed shot is writing to the card. I notice movement out of the corner of my eye and trip the shutter just as another monkey jumps off the roof and lands onto the palm tree.
A few more monkeys follow the rest of the troop. Felicia and I are delighted, satisfied and ready to head home.