Monkey Mania in Manuel Antonio

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
Trip End Jun 21, 2005

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Monkey Mania in Manuel Antonio
Oct 19 - 26, 2004
He Said:
1. Monkeys, Monkeys and more monkeys
2. The people
3. Hiking and Swimming in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
4. The Beaches
5. The Rain (believe it or not)
6. Seeing so many animals in the Parque Nacional
7. Getting caught in a downpour
8. Drinks on the beach at Mar y Sombra
9. Mangrove Forest Boat Tour (very, very cool)
10. Running on the beach in the Tropical Rain

1. Having a panic attack when I locked the safe without ensuring our code had been entered
2. Trying to find a cab in Quepos that was big enough to haul us and our stuff to Manuel Antonio (in the pouring rain)
3. No Monkeys our first few days
4. Washing our clothes in the sink in our room (they don't have that clean Downy Scent)
5. No Internet Access in our Room
6. Seeing boneheads at one of the Hotels feeding the Monkeys, some people just don't get it. Is it any wonder our world continues to sink. We, human beings, just don't get it.

Costa Rica at last. It has been a long time coming but we've finally arrived in Central America. We took the Red Eye out of LA to San Jose via Guatemala City, the flight was uneventful other than some new ridiculous regulations that force you to disembark on flights that continue on. So we had to take all of our carry on off the plane in 'Guatemala City and then put it all back on, yes in the same rows, and continue on to San Jose. This is harsh enough but when you had two young children who are sound asleep at 5:00 am it becomes even harsher. That said we arrived in San Jose safe and sound and caught a taxi to the Best Western Irazu in San Jose. This part of the journey was flawless, the Costa Ricans have this part totally nailed. You walk out of the terminal, catch one of the clearly marked Orange Taxis and you are on your way. Our fare was $18 ($US) and we had a very friendly driver with good English. The Hotel, Best Western Irazu, is a decent Hotel with friendly staff. Everyone here knows someone who can fix you up be it a tour, a mini-bus to your next destination or something else. A special deal just for you... and if you believe that well you know how that goes. :)

After a very long, well deserved sleep we were up and packing madly to try and make the Noon Express (Directo) Bus to Quepos/Manuel Antonio. We arrived at the last minute but the bus was full so we spent a couple hours hanging at the Coca Cola Bus Station in the heart of San Jose. We settled for the non-express 2 pm to get us on our way ASAP. The wait was pleasant and uneventful. The bus ride surprisingly pleasant and for most of the journey we got to enjoy the down side of the Green Season, down pouring rain. So much so that at times the water was flowing over some of the lower bridges. None the less it was an enjoyable trip as we got to experience travel Costa Rican style v.s. from the air conditioned confines of a rental car which has been our usual mode of travel on vacations.

We were happy to settle into Hotel Costa Verde in Manuel Antonio and we have spent the last week exploring the area between Quepos and the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. And there has been much to explore. The Parque itself has great hikes and simply amazing beaches. Our first venture into the Parque earlier in the week did not yield a large quantity of wildlife sightings but it did yield a pretty good variety. Our second foray into the Parque certainly yielded a much greater quantity of Wildlife which was totally awesome. The monkeys are simply a blast to watch. They run, jump from tree to tree, play and fight all in the tree tops. It is so amazing to see animals in their natural habitat, the way God meant them to be. So free. Besides the wildlife the Parque also has what many of the locals claim to be the best beaches in Costa Rica. It would be hard to argue, There are multiple white sand beaches providing something for everyone, be it Surfing and Boogie boarding or just playing in the waves like Tyler prefers to do. It really is hard to beat.
We finally got a Sunset on Sunday (the afternoon rains have prevented us from seeing any earlier in the week). So we grabbed a couple of Margaritas, got the camera out and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. With it being Sunday the beaches were packed with locals and they seemed to be enjoying it as well. This included a pick up soccer game on the edge of the surf in tide hardened sand. NICE!!!
The food here has been surprisingly good, I expected much less variety. The fish is amazingly fresh and amazingly cheap, Mahi Mahi, Tuna or Snapper for under $10 US. It is by far your best deal when dining here. Contrast that with an order of Shrimp Cocktail which will run you $12 US for the appetizer version. Obviously the Shrimp are not from around here . Chicken is also a good deal and Beef not bad. I can honestly say I have not had a bad meal here so far. We have at mostly at the three restaurants at Costa Verde-La Cantina, Anaconda and Le Avaion. Avaion being a Bar/Restaurant built around a real C-125 Cargo Plain that was abandoned after the Iran/Contra Scandal. Kind of a cool story and when you first see it you really scratch your head about how the heck they got that plane to where it sits right now. We've hit a couple other places, Plinio's for Dinner one night and Café Milagro for Breakfast. We tried to eat at El Patio next to the original Café Milagro in Quepos but they are not serving dinner again until November (High Season). That is how we ended up at Plinio's which was an excellent second choice. The menu is extensive and covers a number of types of food including traditional Costa Rican, Thai and Indian. Shannon and I both had Thai, Tyler the Chicken Satay and Kayla a stir fry. We were all very pleased with our meals.
Café Milagro (Manuel Antonio location) was a great breakfast spot, the coffee is amazing (we picked up a couple bags of Dark Roast) and an even more interesting people watching spot. The local Gay community was well represented and there were some very colorful individuals having some very colorful conversations if you will. ;)
Today we decided to do something special as it was our last day in Manuel Antonio before departing for Monteverde (Cloud Forests) and Arenal (Volcano). With that in mind we decided to do the Mangrove Forest Boat Tour. Definitely the highlight of the trip so far and definitely a life to date highlight as well. It was just simply awesome. Whether it was the amazing peace and serenity of drifting through the estuary with the motor off at one point or the amazing encounter with the white face monkey's this was quite simply one of the coolest things we have ever done. If you come to Manuel Antonio I highly recommend this tour. At $60 US/person I initially felt it was a bit steep but I would pay it again in a heartbeat and to top it off it included an awesome lunch.

The kids have been amazing. Whether it is adapting to different food, a different routine, hiking in stifling humidity and 30+ degree heat or doing school work they continue to amaze me. They have been very clingy with Shannon, constantly vying for her attention, be it sitting beside her at dinner or holding her hand when we're walking on the roads (which is basically a total hazard as the roads have no shoulders and the drivers whether in a car, truck, 3 ton or a bus are pretty much crazy). It seems, according to Kayla, that they find Mom to be more fun and more lenient, except when it comes to having dessert - then I am. Go figure.  I sometimes wonder if maybe in their sub-conscious they are not making the best of their opportunity to be with her, just in case. After-all that is the whole reason we decided to do this trip now. Making Memories and we have certainly done that in our first week.
The other thing we realized this week is we have way to much stuff and we thought we were as streamlined as we could be when we left. Well clearly not streamlined enough. We spent one day this past week re-thinking our packs and re-packing with an eye for practicality and an eye for things that could be shipped home. As it stands right now, both of the kid's backpacks (carry on) are going home. In there place the kids will have our small day packs. We have also pretty much filled those two packs with items bound for home. The Portable DVD heads the list, with shoes, clothes, terry cloth towels etc. also included. In place of towels we are going with sarongs which can serve multiple purposes, are better in the sand and much, much lighter and less bulky. Kayla and I are both ditching our extra sandals and some of the toys and possibly some of the books will also be going home. Why we never actually tried out the kid's packs with the kids before we left was an oversight not to be repeated. :| We are definitely getting lighter and leaner before we head to the South Pacific.

Things we forgot, Clear/Parasave (for stomach parasites), my step ring and filter for my camera. Things we're glad we brought, Sting Stop for bug bites, digital cameras, they just can't be beat, the laptop, & Tunes.

Personal Reflections: Mark

On a personal note I must say I feel very blessed to be here. Right up until we got on the plane I did not believe this trip would actually come off. In the back of my mind was this nagging fear/voice that kept saying there is no way this can happen. You don't deserve it, something will happen to Shannon, yada yada. But, in the end it did happen and here we are. Even now I need to pinch myself. I am sitting here in my bed, the sounds of the jungle night with the ocean waves crashing in the background are my serenade. It is simply awe inspiring. Thank-You God!!!!

She Said:
We are completely smitten with this country. It is absolutely gorgeous with its tropical rainforest, silk sand beaches and amazing wildlife. We are 'stuck' in Manuel Antonio, meaning we keep extending our stay here bemoaning the idea of leaving this little paradise. Our views overlooking the rainforest to the ocean are breathtakingly spectacular!

It's the tail end of "green" season (a local euphemism for rainy season) so it's not too busy. We often feel like honored guests - all the staff knows us and treats us so well, our own private pool most days, such quiet hikes - heaven on earth really! In reality we've even been treated a bit like celebrities... some of the hotel staff found out we work(ed) at Microsoft and they automatically think we're personal friends with Gates. Quite funny really.

The people here are wonderful - they actually remind me of Canadians in a lot of ways....friendly, polite and very warm. A point of interest is that they do not actually have an army - making them one of the few countries in the world with a smaller military force than ours (touché - couldn't resist!) Tourism has clearly been cultivated here - everything is very comfortable for us ... language, food, accommodation etc. Even the beach vendors are very polite, they don't hassle you the way you often find in Mexico/Caribbean area.

A highlight for everyone has definitely been the monkeys - they are an absolute blast to watch and aren't bothered at all by human presence. Today we took the Mangrove Tour and it was nothing short of amazing - it felt like boating thru the Everglades. We saw so many animals including a couple Dragon Boas, 2 different types of anteaters (who knew they sleep during the day curled up in trees!), and the absolute highlight - a whole troop of around 20 White Faced Capuchin Monkeys who decided to board our little boat. A mom and her baby particularly took interest in us, sitting on Mark's shoulder and another perched upon Kayla's head. We were absolutely mesmerized by their antics. We observed them fishing for crabs, the family sat in a tree directly in front of us and while the mom nursed the babe, the alpha mail stroked the babies head. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Kayla thinks we need to start our own TV show called "The Adventurers", though she is a bit concerned about the lack of cameramen available  - what an enterprising child!

Kayla the Activist has taken up new causes - to create awareness about not littering and to help the large number of dogs (clearly starving strays in her opinion as they are free to roam). Tyler just charms everyone with his shy smile and big blue eyes making friends with all the locals. Everywhere we go, people tell us how amazing our children are behaved. I am so grateful for these little munchkins and the gifts they are in our lives....they really do make it easy to do a trip like this. They certainly aren't angels but they take everything in their stride and we can make anything into an adventure!!

I cannot say enough about this place - we will be back!!

Lessons Learned:
· Too much luggage. How can this be with only 3 bags and a carry-on each? I look at my pittance of clothing - 15 items for 9 can I possibly pare down any more? Maybe when this is over I can get a job with a Shopping Channel promoting "100 Outfits from Only 5 Pieces of Clothing". Clearly the geek requirements to keep us connected with our world and our addiction to technology
· Forget the beach towels. Way too bulky and hard to clean. Buy large sarongs which are multi-purpose (it's a skirt, it's a towel, it's a sheet, it's a dress....) dry easily, pack small, wash up great and sand doesn't stick to them.
· Fanny packs for the kids are the best -they can each carry their own 'treasures' and essentials (water, anti-bacterial wash, Kleenex, chapstick, mini-binoculars...and in Tyler's case a 2 oz container of ketchup to help Canadianize his food options)
· A small bottle of liquid soap and thin rope is great for laundering clothes. Kayla thinks we're regressing to ancient times "Is this how they did it in the olden days?" and Mark misses that Downey fresh scent but such is 'life on the road' 
· Our MP3 rocks!!! How wonderful to have music to set any mood - kids tunes, sleep music, Rock n Roll, meditation.
1. Monkey Mania!!! Seeing this plethora of monkeys in the wild completely unafraid of our presence is mind-boggling. We could just sit there and watch them and their antics for hours!
2. The beauty - rainforest, ocean, beaches, wildlife, doesn't get much better than this!
3. The family dynamics - it has been wonderful how everyone has settled into our new life. Mark & I are really appreciating each other's strengths and are working together so well. The kids are amazing!
1. Litter - for such an ecologically-aware country, you'd think they'd have figured out what an abomination chucking garbage into the ditch is to the environment and your senses!

Kid's Said:
1. Tyler - Swimming and playing on the beach
2. Tyler - Ant Parades (Leaf Cutter Ants Hauling Leaves)
3. Kayla - Seeing all the Monkeys (Howler and Squirrel) Today
4. Kayla - Hiking around Punta Catedral with Dad
5. Kayla - Having a Whiteface Monkey crawl onto her shoulder
1. Tyler - Wiping out on the trail
2. Kayla - People feeding the monkeys
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