Sunday, January 30, 2011

Costa Rica 2010 - Manuel Antonio

Mountain Drive Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

The trip down the mountain was easily more harrowing than the trip up. The roads in Costa Rica are just slightly less wide than the width of two vehicles, so it is common place for one vehicle to pull over to allow the other to pass. As a general rule the vehicle on the way down must pull over for the vehicle on it's way up. This does not immediately make sense as you think that a run away vehicle on a downward slope would take priority, but then you realize that it would be wholly impractical for the vehicle driving up the incline to be expected to come to a complete stop, then shift back into 1st gear to complete the trip up.

The only thing that comforted us was the knowledge that while occasionally trucks and vans run off the road and tumble down the side of the mountain, no one has ever died in such an accident.

Yes, that was the comforting part.

Once we made it down the mountain the drive was mostly uneventful, but long. Two noteworthy things did happen though.

  1. Stopping at a snack stop on the side of the road. This was nice because thus far we had done very little to experience what locals did, which was unfortunate because it is typically how I prefer to travel. Of course with a group this size it's not possible to accommodate the travel philosophy of everyone, so this was a great change of pace.

    We sat at the bar and in (very poor) Spanish I managed to order a few empanadas and a local drink called "mozote". My internet research since getting back had turned up nothing, but from what I was told it's made by soaking a type of grass in water overnight and then sweetened with tapa de dulce (the cane sugar we made in Monteverde).

    My own knowledge of food chemistry leads me to believe that water soluble fiber is leeched from these grasses, and the resulting liquid is thick and viscous with a texture not unlike mucus. Other than that peculiarity, it was quite refreshing.
  2. Further on we crossed a bridge over the Rio Tarcoles. Here, under the bridge were dozens of American Crocodiles which made the river it's home. The interesting thing was that not 100 meters away was a farm with cattle grazing by the river. When I inquired as to why the cattle we free to roam so close to an obvious predator, I learned that the crocs were frequently (illegally) feed by tourists and gawkers, so that it was rare that they ambushed the nearby cattle.

When we reached Quepos, the town near Manuel Antonio, we discovered that the 4 hour journey we just undertook was actually only 17 kilometers in total from point to point. The extra time required was devoted to traversing the mountain ranges which must have added hundreds of extra kilometers from just traveling up and down and around curves.

Manuel Antonio Park

For the most of the trip up until this point, the weather we experienced was not what I expected of a tropical country. All of the time we spend in the mountains was generally fairly cool, and on certain days we even required a jacket.

Not here. Not on the coast.

This was the weather that you'd expect from a jungle environment. Hot and humid as hell. My hydration levels took a noticeable upswing as I was easily clearing 4-5 liters of water a day, when 2-3 was the normal before. The sun that we so dearly missed in the misty mountains was now making up for lost time.

Wild life spotting in Manuel Antonio was definitely spectacular. I saw more animals here on the trails than I did in any other reserve (deer, turkey vultures, spiders, sloths, monkeys, crabs) but what was really the spectacular was the beach.

The sad part? We were so used to cool wet mountains, none of us remembered to bring our swimming wear.

Taking the opportunity to sit down and take it all in, I did the most obvious thing. Tried to get some dirt time in.

I picked up some driftwood bamboo and tried my hand at a firesaw...and got nothing but smoke. The heat and humidity sucked the energy right out of me that after 30 mins of trying, I gave in and just decided to not waste the view.

After some more exploring we headed back to prepare to go for an afternoon...

Horseback Ride to a waterfall
Believe it or not, up until this point in my life, I'd never riding a horse before. It was something I'd always liked to have done, but it was further down on the list. My first experience riding was nothing like I expected it to be.

We were assigned horses and began our trek to our destination, the based of a trail into a jungle, where we would dismount and hike into a waterfall. Having been given basic instructions on how to handle the horses, we started up the trail. And then down. And then down again. This pattern continued and with the horse trotting precariously to close to the adjacent slope down this valley, I tried my best to control him to where I wanted him to go...and he would not have any of that.

I can say with full confidence that this was the most miserable experience I had the entire trip.

As we reached the trailhead to waterfall hike, my legs were tired, my rear end was sore, my hand on the saddle was blistered from hanging on for dear life and I was in a foul mood...and I knew that I had to repeat that journey all the way back later on.

I dismounted expressed my "displeasure" to the rest of my group. Various theories were thrown out as to why I wasn't enjoying myself.

"You're trying to control him too much, just sit back and enjoy the ride"

"You're nervous, he can probably sense that from the way you handle him"

"What's his name?"
Huh? His name? I didn't know. Turns out everyone knew the name of their horse but me.

We headed up the trail to the waterfall, and during this time I felt like me again. There's nothing like hiking a trail and soaking it all up to rejuvenate you.

When we reached the waterfall we decided against taking a swim, as it was getting dark and the last thing we wanted was to be cold and wet in the jungle. I did however take the opportunity to soak my bandana and clean up a bit.

Returning to the horses it was near dark now, and as I was mounting up asked the guide

"What's his name?"

"Is Apaloosa"

"Apaloosa? How come?"

"Is cause he looks like an Apaloosa but is not that kind"
Ok Apaloosa, lets get this over with.

As the sun set, the trail got dark. Not even the stars were out and so all I saw in front of me was the white mane of Apaloosa's head bobbing up and down. To my left and right was pitch darkness and I suddenly became aware of the noises of the jungle waking up. Suddenly I had no idea where I was in relation to the trail, but Apaloosa did. It was at this point that I realized that this was his turf, just let go and trust him. It was strange, suddenly he because really easy going. Without knowing how close to the edge I was, I couldn't be afraid of falling off the side of a mountain. With the horse in control, he could now gallop when he needed to and trot when he needed to. Without me interfering he became very relaxed, and I was enjoying myself. What seemed before like an eternity of agony now ended so quickly, and when we reached the ranch I was actually upset that it was over.

Reptile Pond / Butterfly Garden
The original plan was to finish up horseback riding and met up with another half of our group at the trail-head of a night walk. This was a hike I was especially looking forward too, as we hadn't yet had a chance to explore the jungles at night, when the nocturnal animals came out. Unfortunately the horse ride ran late and we missed out on the night walk. In its stead, those of us who missed it were still able to head to the reserve the next day and tour the reptile holding area and the butterfly conservatory.

Final day in Manuel AntonioWith our adventures behind us, we had lunch over a cliff-side view of the Pacific, before the bus back to San Jose arrived to pick us up. The bus ended up being 3 hours late, so we had plenty of time to drink, reminisce and enjoy our last day in Costa Rica.

View the whole trip by checking the landing post


  1. What kind of bandana are you wearing?

  2. Just a 12x12 cotton bandana.

  3. Do you know what brand? I've been looking for one similar for a 12 day stay camping in Utah. Thanks!

  4. Sorry, no. I had picked it up at a Surplus store a few years ago.