Feathered Aspen

Manuel Antonio


After the epic and harrowing experience of traveling from San Jose to Santa Teresa with three children five and under (six hours by bus, ferry, bus, bus), I asked Joshua how much it would $$$ to never EVER have to do that again.

So on the day that we planned to travel to our next AirBnB just outside of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, we lugged our two large backpacking packs and one rolly suitcase to the dirt road and waited for a taxi.  A lovely, air conditioned 15 passenger van picked us up as well as three other tourists and drove us the 45 minutes to sleepy, smoky (as in, la fuma πŸ˜‰ Montezuma.  As we drove in, I saw a small boat bobbing in the cove, and one of the other tourists said, “there it is!”  I turned around.  “That?!  We’re all going in that?!”

Yup.  We were dropped off on the beach, our bags were wrapped in plastic and stowed on the boat, and then we waded through the waves to board the boat (“babies first!” the guides, laughed.  I laughed too and inside I cried a little…  Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.)

The speed boat quickly reached maximum velocity and as we bounced over the waves, I found myself half enjoying the wind and sea salt…  I reflected on how thrilling experiences are thrilling when you don’t have children and terrifying when you do.  This is perhaps another conversation for another time, but I’ve had some realizations about the postpartum experience with this last pregnancy.  Suffice it to say, I’m much more anxious than usual during the postpartum period (not sure how long I’d say that lasts, but I’m still in it 4.5 months in).  This anxiety likes to dwell on morbid thoughts, and one of them on the boat was playing out what I’d do if we all went overboard…  The outlook was grim and I was worried that the whole enterprise was completely irresponsible.

BUT!  We made it.  After an hour, we made it to the beach just outside of Jaco.  I could have kissed the ground, but I didn’t.  We boarded another taxi van and drove about an hour to Quepos.  From there, we began the short climb to our Villa just a couple of kilometers from Manuel Antonio.

Villa Tekla is lovely.  The grounds are well-kept and positively spilling over with green and flowering plants.  From a locked gate, we walked up to a small patio where our host met us.  From there, we were led around the villa, the host speaking rapid-fire spanish.  I understood perhaps more than half of what she said…  Which is about what I understand in general, unless the person speaking speaks verrrrrry slowly or switches to Spanglish πŸ˜‰ (Side note.  English is not spoken nearly as much as I was led to believe in Costa Rica…  Our host in Santa Teresa, whom we saw every day, spoke not a word.  None.)  I’d like to flatter myself and say that the Spanish I do speak seems very competent; therefore, I am the recipient of much Spanish uttered at top speed.  You win some; you lose some πŸ˜‰

Anyway, the villa is surrounded by large, arched windows with bars over them.  From the metal roof drops many ceiling fans, and down the stairs, you’ll find a Hollywood pool:  long, narrow, and positively lovely.  Mosquito nets drape over the beds, and the whole building is surrounded on every side by the lushest of gardens.  I feel like I’m floating in the canopy, and from the tower room, I can see a mountain lying at the exact angle of repose.  Is it a volcano?

We pool first (naturally) and then put the girls down for a nap.  Joshua catches a taxi to the little airport outside of Quepos to pick up Nana and Grumpy.

That night, we eat fish tacos and then we jump in the pool one last time.  Lily is getting better and better and she’s nearly swimming.  Lu is slightly terrified in the water.  Luna loves splashing and nursing at regular intervals.

The next morning, Joshua and I go for a run down to Playa Espadilla and then up, up, up back to the Villa on top of the hill…  Encima la montana.

After breakfast, we caught the bus down to Quepos.  It was hot, hot, hot.  (3x)  We walked to the farmer’s market, sweating profusely and occasionally stopping to honor the occasional (occasional) sea breeze.  The girls played on a little wooden playground for a bit before we walked up to see the marina and then down to get coffees at Cafe Milagro (all of ours iced, except for Joshua who has always drank coffee as an expression of machismo:  no really.  He started bc Cormac McCarthy described vaqueros drinking their coffee black with crushed eggshells at the bottom.  He doesn’t take cream or sugar.  And even when it’s 150 degrees with a dewpoint of 7 zillion, he’ll take his espresso piping hot ;)).

From there, we walked around, searching for a book shop that no longer existed.  I bought fried plantain chips, and then we returned to the market to buy produce and these lovely hand carved and painted mobiles (for us a blue morpho butterfly and for Nana a sweet little hummingbird).  I sampled a couple of foreign fruits:  momon (like lychee?) and nante (yellow pear-tasting cherries?).

The girls played a bit more at the playground, and then, dripping, we made our way back to the bus route in the blazing sun.  We caught it, and with our shirts sticking to our backs, we rode to the top (along with a lovely blue polka dotted butterfly).

Jump in the pool.  Cool off.  Lunch. Nap.

After nap, we decided to go for a walk in the rain.  Joshua had found a route on google maps that would take us to the beach.  As we left the villa, I felt that premonition I feel when I’m both totally present and cognizant that this experience will be a good one, one to remember.

Ha.  Not in the way I thought.  Without sidewalks or shoulders, walks along the road here are harrowing.  And the route found on google maps existed only there:  on google maps.  Not in person.  Again my postpartum anxiety dwelled on images of all of us being run over by cars careening down the switchbacks.  We saw a couple of sloths and howler monkeys, as well as our lives and lives of our children flashing before our eyes.

Yesterday, we took a taxi down to Playa Biensanz.  The walk through the jungle was dripping and smelled like dirt and trash and rain.  (Mostly good…  And then a whiff of shit.)

The beach itself was thoroughly staked out with people trying to score tourist dollars, which sorta dampened the experience for me.  Two chairs and an umbrella cost 10$, and a man asked us if we’d like cocktails at 9 am, which is early even for me.  (Bano 500 colones, Ducha 500 colones).

The beach was lovely, but I also sensed that by beginning our vacay in Santa Teresa, we had set the bar impossibly high for all other beaches.  All the shells were long gone, the sand was hard-packed and gray, and even the water didn’t seem as wild and blue.

But I’m complaining, and really, it was still very beautiful.  The cove provided shelter from the surf, and we were able to swim out and bob in the waves, which Lily in particular loved.

Just after low tide at 1030, it began to rain, botching our plans to stay until noon.  I suggested that I walk out ahead (up, up, up) to hail a taxi.

After hailing the taxi, I continued on in the warm rain with Luna strapped to me.  I walked past elaborate luxury hotels and villas, all with gorgeous grounds and precipitous ocean views.  One complex even had a cable car instead of stairs up to the front doors of their casitas because it was so steep.

I walked the two miles home through the rain, spotting lizards and yellow butterflies along the way.  Back at the house, we ate lunch but stopped half way through to run out to the patio and admire the troupe of titi monkeys that were moving through the canopy.  One was a mama with her little bebe on her back (oh, heart eyes)!

Lu had a rough day yesterday.  Everything (everything!) scared her:  crabs, bugs, waves, bugs, lizards, the pool, the rain, bugs, lizards, dust bunnies…  She spent a lot of time crying and screaming and then crying.  Cuddles helped.

After nap, Joshua and I went on a little walk with just Lu through the neighborhood.  It was special not only because it’s so rare to just spend time with one child and both parents, but also because the meandering dirt road through the hills of the jungle took us past neighborhoods with precarious homes stacked on the hill, mangos dropped in the road, chickens, horses, and bananas…

I ran a bit and then returned to the villa to take Lily on a little walk too.  So wonderful to hold her hand and listen to her sweet voice and the sounds of the jungle.

Dinner. Pool. Bedtime.

Today, we woke up early (Lu wakes up when Joshua leaves…  So 515.).  We packed up and hit the road all at once:  Nana, Grumpy, Joshua, and Lily were picked up at the gate by a taxi, and Lu, Luna, and I walked to the main road to catch the bus to Cafe Milagro for a little cafecito and some breakfast.

While the big kids zip lined through the canopy, Lu and I spotted two scarlet macaws and accidentally caught a private chartered bus that carried us the 1 kilometer to Cafe Milagro (so embarrassing… I hailed it not realizing it was not the public bus, but the sweet driver stopped and picked us up, gratis.).

At Cafe Milagro, Lu slurped down yet another smoothie (all day, e’ry day) and I had (two, I admit it!) cafe lattes.  A little kitten played on the patio, and other tourists admired my calm and ease with two very young and calm children (other families were battling quite a bit of caterwauling and had better ratios…  Haha.  I soaked it up, but I know that some days you’re the parent with the screaming child, and some days you’re not.  Give thanks and don’t judge πŸ˜‰ )

From there, we failed to flag down not one but two buses and finally caught a taxi to Playa Espadilla.  We watched parasailors, played in a little river, ate the rest of a bagel, and then wrapped it up by buying a little bracelet for Lu and catching the bus back to our villa.

As we walked up to the gate, the taxi bearing the big kids arrived at the same time, and we shared our mornings (Lily was so brave!  Not afraid of heights!)

And now I cashed in on my solo morning sans zipline to write for three hours!  We’ve got some fun plans in the works for the rest of our time in Manuel Antonio, but for now, I’m all caught up.  Pura vida!

Author: Ellie

Wife, Mom, Adventurer...

4 thoughts on “Manuel Antonio

  1. Thanks for the update. Glad all is well. All’s well here too with the animals. Keep writing!

  2. I know that you have heard me say this before, but oh well: you really should do some travel writing for the Post or the StarTribune or, oh why not, the Times. Seriously. Why wouldn’t you? This is great: travelling Costa Rica with children in tow. Pura vida and all that. Keep writing.

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