Day Four: 05.04.05
The anticipation of seeing all of the wildlife in its natural habitat had me (and by default and design, TP) awake and out early. Girding our bellies with the "breakfast included," we filled up on coffee, juice, a plate of fruit (note: white pineapple is not as sweet as yellow), saturated pancakes, gallo pinto, eggs, and plantains. Eavesdropping on our neighbors (all American), we learned that to enter Manuel Antonio National Park, you had to cross a stream by foot. The rest of the breakfast conversation was spent on the flip-flops vs. sneakers debate. Soon-to-be-ratty sneakers won.
I got DEETed up, TP got SPFed up, we put on our long-sleeved shirts and (as Iman called them) long-sleeved pants, and we walked to the Park. Along the way, we were beset by tour guides (official and not-so-official) who wanted to lead us through the Park. We decided to wing it this day and if we felt we missed out on a lot, we'd hire one tomorrow; and so, we "manana"ed our way to the entrance. If not for the proof of Costa Rican citizenship requirement, I could have paid the locals' price ($2) instead of the foreigners' price ($7) as LB and I did in Cairo when Gojira secured our discounted bus fare by claiming we were Egyptian. From morning to noon, we hiked through, up, and down the Park. There was really no need for a tour guide because any time something interesting rustled along the trail, a glut of shutterbugs stopped, stared, and snapped their photos. One really doesn't need to keep an eye out for the wildlife so long as one keeps an eye out for the wildlife-lovers.
Even at the cusp of the rainy season, the rainforest was lush and dark. The first denizen to greet us was a three-toed sloth dangling in the trees. It was hypnotizing to watch how. Slowly. He. Moved. The sloth languorously lifted his hairy arm as though it was made of lead. His long, yellowed claws sluggishly appeared. Scratching himself took a good long five minutes and probably longer, but we had to move on. For a closer look at this smiling slacker, check out this picture. The huge and lazy sloth won TP's great admiration and yet, when I sprawl on the couch and scratch myself, I get reprimanded.
In sharp contrast, our next host was a collection of frenzied, frenetic white-faced capuchin monkeys. They leapt from limb to limb with aerial grace. They cleverly scraped and pounded on the coconuts to drink the water. They threw stuff at us. One cheeky monkey came down, nonchalantly strolled over to the beach area nearby where a girl had left her backpack, and tossing a quick glance over his shoulder at us, proceeded to grasp the backpack and open the zipper. With eyes in the back of his head, he sensed when the girl came forward to rescue her bag and he shot back up into the trees. If the bag were lighter, I have no doubt he would have taken off with it; as it was, the bag was half open. Color me impressed. Later, this dude got all up in my grill.
The flora became denser as we ventured further along the trail. Curiosity had TP picking up and tossing around one of the abundant small, round, green fruits that carpeted the ground until we came upon the placard about the Manzanillo tree that warned of the toxicity of the fruit and the poisonous sap which, upon contact, could cause swelling, blistering, burning, inflammation, and temporary blindness. Whoops. TP let go of his new toy, dashed off to the shore, and washed his hands immediately. At least he didn't suffer the consequences of getting too friendly with the Manzanillo tree like this guy did.
Everything seemed hushed and muted as we hiked over the damp leaves and soft earth. For that reason, the sharp scratching sounds that broke the muffled ambiance had us freeze in our tracks and look around for the great beasts that must have been making that racket. Eyes darting above and below, we tried to visually penetrate the foliage to determine what could have been making that quick, high noise. It wasn't until we came upon a fork in the trail that we realized what creatures were responsible: hundreds of red land crabs. Also known as the red land crab, these critters danced over the branches, hovered near their holes, and looked as though they had just come back from voting since one (sometimes two) of their claws was painted purple.
The hike took us up to the Punta Catedral Peninsula where we caught a much-desired breeze and had a fantastic view of the beach and bay below. Sitting on a rock, we tried to cool down and dry off but one step back into the rainforest had us sweating again. The film of sweat that coated my arms was like oil; I would wipe my arms from elbow to wrist, but my hands just slid down with no effect. Once I gave up trying to stay dry and accepted the moistness, I could focus on my surroundings more. Zippy chameleons, slow iguanas, industrious crabs, and hoppy nutria kept us company. The beautiful coves below provided wonderful resting grounds and were fairly uncrowded.
The forest was full of dangers and beauty. We didn't see any parrots or jungle cats, but we also didn't see any mosquitoes or fer-de-lances either. Gotta take the good with the bad. And sometimes the ugly.
Next up: the winner of this travelogue's coveted "Grossest Thing Ever" award.