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Costa Rica 2012 Day 3 (3/2/12): Quepos to Monteverde

I scheduled us to take a guided tour of Manuel Antonio Nat’l Park. We were to be picked up at 7:30am so there’d be no time to go out for a leisurely breakfast. Instead we ate provisions purchased the day before at the grocery store. I had a bowl of granola-y stuff with room temperature white liquid out of a juice box–it was called “leche” and tasted like milk. As I’m used to a large breakfast and that bowl wouldn’t hold me until lunch, I had a bag of things called “Papitas con sal” which I took to mean “Breakfast of Champions, or at least that’s what we told Sal and he believed it!”. They tasted like salty potato chips, but filled the belly.

Then we waited out by the front of our hotel, Mono Azul (The Blue Monkey, or more precisely translated, Monkey Blue).

The photo above shows two blue monkeys.

We waited at the park entrance for about a half hour as one of the three couples that made up our tour was late arriving. There were lots of tour guides and lots of people milling about. In this next photo you can play the same game we played, which was called “See how many people are wearing Keen brand sandals.”

And then our guide pointed out an iguana that was sunning itself nearby:

Finally it was time to enter the park. Manuel Antonio Nat’l Park–or what we called “Manny Tony”–is ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. From what I saw though, if you don’t have a tour guide you’re not going to see much other than plants, and for me, an educated social scientist who recognizes things like “that’s a tree” and “that’s a bird” and “No, I think that’s a bush”, looking at plants doesn’t take much time or generate much interest.

Even with a guide, you’re likely to miss seeing wildlife. We were very fortunate to see a green lizard that took ages for me to see with the naked eye even when it was pointed out to me and after seeing it in a viewing scope.
The tour is scheduled for about 3 hours and is only about a 3k walk on a sort of forestry road with one offshoot into the jungle. The tour guides all talk amongst themselves as to if there’s anything worth seeing and we received reports that there were Howler Monkeys at the end of the trail, so off down the trail we went. (I noticed the bulk of the masses didn’t bother with this trail at all, not to say that there weren’t plenty of people on it).
Our guide ran ahead to check it out, but returned and said there was nothing there. We turned around and headed back to the main road, but stopped to look at another lizard that was virtually invisible to the naked eye unless you’re a tour guide who knows things.
And then we got another report that there were indeed Howler Monkeys at the end of the trail, so back down the trail we went and sure enough there were a half dozen black Howler Monkeys mucking about.
Our tour guide, Jordan, was very excited. He said in the year and a half he’s worked there it’s the first time he’s seen them there. We spent a good half hour watching them. Unfortunately none of the photos came out good enough for this post.

But then, as we walked back to the main road we happened upon a troupe of White Faced Monkeys that allowed us to get very close. They looked liked this:

And we even got a little movie of them. There was one with a baby latched onto its back, very cute. So cute, we even have a movie clip of it:

After watching those monkeys for another half hour or so our guide spotted a sloth way up in the tree–or maybe one of the other guides told him about it–either way it’s impressive that it was spotted because even looking at it in a scope it’s hard to discern. Here’s what it looked like through the scope:

By now we’d already spent at least 3 hours on the tour and we’d advanced only a few hundred meters. Jordan was very good at explaining the local fauna.

We got to a beautiful beach that looked like a cruise ship had just unloaded though there was none in site. Apparently most people walk into the park and head straight for this beach. It’s lousy with people and with monkeys feeding off them. I saw one monkey nip a whole sandwich still in its baggy from a tourist. We stopped and took several photos: There’s a monkey above Brenda’s head in this one if you look close.

It was time for a walk back to the end of the loop. Not two minutes walk from that beach is another beach, not quite as pretty but pretty enough with hardly anybody there. That’d be the place to go if you were going to the beach.
We saw a few more birds and then it was time for the included lunch, which was a meal in a flash restaurant with finely presented food, fish as smooth as butter and other good stuff.
By now our 3 hour tour took 4.5 hours. Jordan–who is a young fellow and a big Beatles fan (his ringtone is “Yer Blues” and we spent a lot of time exchanging Lennon, Harrison and Ringo trivia) and also a performer in Quepos–was worn out. He said it was the longest and best tour he’s had there and I don’t think he was blowing smoke or sucking up for bigger tips.
Time to rush back to Mono Azul for a late check out and to head north and into the mountains for a 3-4 hour drive to Monteverde. Brenda made an astute observation as to how strange it was to be right on the Pacific Coast and two time zones east of Oregon.
The highway was mostly ok, though as we got further north on Highway 1 it got pretty dodgy. Thanks to our electronic tour guide we found the right gravel roads to the tourist mecca (re. zoo) of Monteverde, way up in the mountains.
Here’s a shot as we drove up, up, up into the hills:

The road was amazing and one I’d never have ventured to take had the GPS not assured us it was the thing to do. Generally about 1.5 lanes wide and rough, though not with many potholes. But I had fun as I like driving and our Mitsubishi 4wd suv is very comfortable, even on these roads.
We even took video of it (sorry for the length):

It was a challenge finding Cabinas Eddy, our hotel, despite it being right in town, but a friendly park ranger told us the way. We walked a few minutes into town for a grand dinner at the Tree House cafe, with an actual large tree growing in it. Great food and a little spendy, but a nice way to cap off a 50th birthday.

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