Monday, September 13, 2010

Manuel Antonio; 5 beaches 9 names

Sign in front of Manuel Antonio National park.

So I went to a place called Manuel Antonio National Park on Friday September 3rd until Sunday September 5th. The park was created in 1972, and covers 6.8 km2 of land making it the smallest but one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica.  Looking at the park it is hard to find evidence of human activity besides the usual park amenities, trail, trash cans, bathrooms, and overly friendly wildlife.  Indeed I was struck by how clean and actually a part of nature the park seemed, besides the trails themselves, Manuel Antonio is a nice place, I would go back.
                The group left San Jose @ 1:15 I had packed everything up the night before and took it to class with after breakfast.  Everything fit in my green Eddie Bauer backpack and I was proud because I had actually packed light.
                During the bus ride I sat next to a guy named Jack, we chatted a bit, but mostly I read my guide book about Manuel Antonio and the surrounding area where we were going. One of my companions asked what I was doing, and I replied “Reading my guidebook to learn about the area.”  They non-enthusiastically replied “Ohh… When I get to a new place I like to learn about it myself.”  Whatever just let me be.
                From reading the guidebook my small group and I settled on a restaurant called Marlin’s.  The book said it was “reasonably priced” which meant I spent 15.900 Colones (~$32) on one beer, a ceviche appetizer, and an entrĂ©e of Mahi-Mahi and shrimp.  Good food but that seems like the going rate in most tourist towns.  I think in the future I will bring some cheap food and just eat an interesting appetizer.
                Then we went to a placed called Bambu Jam which had live music and dancing Friday nights.  I knew this from the guidebook, (look it was useful!), but the guidebook didn’t tell me when the music started.  So lesson learned, call ahead and confirm information in the guidebook.  The place was empty, and we were the only ones there for an hour waiting for the music to start.  During the wait I had a GuanĂ¡bana juice with milk.  It was quite tropically tasty.  I would have liked to try out some of the dancing techniques I had learned in class, but the “dance floor” consisted of the walkways and a spot where one table had been removed – lame.  The music was decent, the singing and singer were not.
View from Punta Catedral.
                This brings me to my next cross cultural observation: being good at Latin dance is all in the feet.  I didn’t believe it the first two times I heard it either but watching these gringos spinning their partners while they were standing still. It was in that moment I understood the importance of staying in step with the music.  Also every place I have been to dance has had multitudes of older Latino gentlemen who descend upon the single ladies and show their dancing proficiency.  I hope to one day joint their ranks.  One the way back to the hotel we got a cab and definitely negotiated for 4.000 colones.  This number was confirmed with other members of my group, but when we got to the hotel he held out his hand and kept saying cuatro mil quinientos(4,500).  He was scamming us but some members of my group panicked and paid him the extra quinientos (500 colones ~ $1). Sure it’s only one dollar but it is also only one dollar to rip off someone.  Okay I am from the U.S. and he is from a country with a lower per-capita income, well his cab is way nicer than the car that I drive.  Whatever the full picture was that either of us didn’t grasp, there are two apparent facts.  The cabbie is trying to make another buck, and not all Americans are rich.
Playa Puerto Escondidoa ll Rocks and no sand
 makes not much fun swimming.
                The following morning at 6:45 I got up and was out exploring on the beach by 7.  I didn’t have my ticket yet so I couldn’t go in without my group.  Which I would have liked to do so I could have explored a bit more.    I took some pictures and went back and had breakfast; Gallo Pinto, eggs, and a piece of avocado.  Got to the park at 9:30 and then we explored.  I went around a place called punta catedral (cathedral point, see picture above) on a short little trail and saw some good views.  Then I hung out on the beach for a little bit and some monkeys stole some of my fruit.  There were also rather aggressive raccoons there that tried to take a sandwich from a kid.  Then I decided to go on a hike to playa Puerto Escondido (Beach of the hidden harbor).  On the way there I ran into a Tico couple and we chatted about the weather, and what beach they were going to, where they were from, typical trail small talk but in Spanish.  I arrived at the beach after a harrowing descent to the beach trail to check out if it was really as dangerous as it seemed.  The verdict was: Yes.  I decided not to attempt to swim there (look at thos good life choices!) and started to head back to the entrance.  Then I met up with Filander, our Costa Rican guide who is an older gentleman that sports a cool grey mustache, who joined me and a few other ladies on a hike back to a waterfall.
Waterfall at the end of the 500 M trail.
                This hike was interesting because Filander told our group all sorts of things about Costa Rican plants.  Eventually after scrambling across a number of rivers (which was quite easy thanks to my Tevas) and up a few mud banks I made it to the waterfall.  My group had stayed behind for me to return and inform them of how challenging the trail was.  I luckily ran into some other people I knew and they informed my other group about how challenging the trail was and everyone came and joined me.  In the meantime I decided it would be a good idea to scale the dry side of the waterfall in order to get a better view of the area.  I did that, it was fun, it was not dangerous, and definitely worth the effort.
                It was around 3 O’clock now and I was hungry since all I had for lunch was smoked bananas (It was hard keeping them lit).  I returned to Marlin’s having another appetizer of Ceviche (lots of protein, little fat, lots of electrolytes) just what I needed to recoup from a day of activity in Costa Rica.  It was here that I began to reflect upon my travels.  The experience with the cab had put a blemish on Manuel Antonio’s image and I kept thinking about the two Costa Ricas.  I am very early in my realization of this phenomenon but so far I am beginning to see two Costa Ricas.  The one you visit for a week or two, and then the one that people live every day in. One of the most ironic is that in San Jose, 3.1 million in the central valley, the water is clean and safe to drink.  In the tourist towns with the luxury hotels and beachfront houses the water is said to not be safe to drink.  You would think it would be the opposite but I think it is probably just a marketing thing.  Of course "the water here isn’t safe you have to buy our bottled water!"  Yeah I bet… I drank water out of a stream on the way to the Bribri village, water from the hotel in Cahuita, water in the Bribri village, and I have been fine.  I think Costa Rica’s water is perfectly safe for tourists to drink. 
Playa Gemalas, beach on the way to Playa Puerto Escondido.
                This has been a long blog but I felt like I had a lot to share thanks for being interested in my life, and being a part of my first swim in the Pacific Ocean.



  1. First of all, I am glad you are reading your guide book to find out all you can and to enhance your experience. It seemed to me you were out exploring and mingling and getting out there. You seem to have run into the "touristy" stuff but of course, you are not a tourist nor a local, but a long term visitor. I like your observation of the dancing feet. Great blog of your observations and realizations.

  2. Forgot to give a shout out for Tevas, Eddie Bauer, and your packing ability. Your breakfast sounds like what you fix here!