Feathered Aspen

Manuel Antonio Pt 2

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I have two sleeping children in bed next to me.  It’s 9 pm, and I’ve resolved to write until I’m caught up, so strap in.  It’s gonna be a late one.

I left you in Manuel Antonio.  Lily and the Big Kids had gone ziplining, and after a chill morning with the two little girls, I had taken the lunch and nap hours to write.  As I was camped out on the couch with the computer in my lap, Lily was down in the pool, swimming with Nana and Grumpy.  The girl was determined to learn how to swim, and now, after hours of playing in the water and pushing off and splashing with water wings, she swam for the first time.  She swam the whole length of the pool without coming up for air, and when she got to the other end, she came up gasping and beaming with pride.  We all took a moment to admire this new milestone, and then she slept (after ziplining and swimming, she slept hard!).

Afterwards, we walked to the Falafel Bar and ordered all four entrees on offer, as well as a smoothie for everyone (with a little extra love in the adults’ cups).  We played musical plates, each of us sampling the schwarma, schnitzel, falafel and kebab.

The next day, we got up early to get ready to go to Manual Antonio Parque Nacional.  For around $0.75 each, we caught the bus to the entrance.  Dodging would be guides and aggressive vendors of Pipa Fria (cold coconut water), we paid for our tickets and entered the park.  A dirt road led us into the jungle, and as we walked, we passed tour groups looking up into the trees or stooping low to examine rustles in the undergrowth.  Guides with telescopes skillfully scanned the canopy for butterflies, monkeys, snakes, spiders, and birds.

Near a stream, we passed three miniature and very docile deer, and on the boardwalk, we saw more red and purple mangrove crabs.  Soon, the sound of the surf began filtering through the trees, and we turned down the trail toward the water.  As we descended, I notice another trail running parallel to us:  a veritable army of leaf cutter ants marching in a river of green, each of them transporting a leaf cutting more than four times their size.

As the trees opened to reveal a cove and a lovely beach, we spotted a coati.  We walked past a pack of rowdy teenage boys, and I cringed, hearing their broad American accents.

We walked until we found a quieter spot in the shade.  We set down or things and ran to jump in the cool waves.  Lily was eager to try her new skills in swimming, but the waves were too big and the surf too strong.  Instead, we took turns holding her and letting the swells sweep us up and out.

In the meantime, we waged a battle with a pack of fearless raccoons…  Those of you who know my fear of this wretched species will understand the part fear/part revulsion I felt when one of them boldly ran up to Luna as she lay on a towel napping.  It was about 6 inches away before I spotted it and puffed up like a mama bear, hollering and waving a stick to get it to go away.  Another time, two of them tried to steal our lunch; however, we were luckier than another couple who lost theirs and a poor man who fell asleep to the sound of the waves and awoke to a raccoon practically on top of him.  He began screaming in fright, and the raccoon just stood there as though awaiting payment.

Lu and I stole off to the tidepools, where we sat in calm waters and watched as a small, transparent fish came to investigate our toes.  Lu snuggled into me, and I breathed in the smell of her sandy hair.  A heart of gold, this one.

Taking advantage of grandparents, Joshua and I took a walk on Sendero Punta Catedral, a large hill at the end of the cove.  We were rewarded for our ascent with a precipitous view of the Pacific.

By the time we packed up and walked out, we were coming up against the 4 p.m. closing time, and all of us were sun weary and tired.  Joshua valiantly carried both Lu and a full backpack the two miles back to the bus, and that night we attempted nothing more than soaking in the pool and dinner at home.

After our adventures, we planned a relaxing day on the homefront.  Joshua and I went for a run down to Playa Biensanz, where a man speaking to the howler monkeys in the canopy above showed us a jungle trail.  We ran along it for a few hundred yards, enjoying the capuchins jumping from branch to branch and the glimpses of the beach below.  Ultimately, we turned around in favor of swimming out into the cove.  At high tide, the little beach was even more charming, and so early in the morning, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

We ran back and between playing in the pool with our new little fish (Lily, of course!) multiple times that day, we also fit in a nap and a trip to Cafe Milagro for lunch.  Sadly, I ordered a salad that was far more appealing in description than in reality, but everyone else seemed to have lovely and delicious plates with Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos.  Oh well, at least my latte was sublime 😉

The next day, we did something we’ve never done in all of our international travels – we rented a car!  Joshua and Lily took the bus into Quepos to get our 4WD SUV (a little suzuki), and when they returned, we packed in (poor Nana and Grumpy in the trunk!), and drove 30 minutes to a private preserve north of Quepos called Rainmaker.

You guys.  Trip highlight.  This place was amazing.

Driving past jungles that had been stripped to farm palms for palm oil, we found ourselves off the beaten path.  Manuel Antonio and Quepos have a well-oiled tourist operation running, but here we drove past small Tico outposts with colorful tinroofed homes and little mini supers with mangoes and potatoes spilling out of milkcrates.  Finally, at the end of the dirt road we drove past a hand drawn entrance sign.

The parking lot was empty.  We spilled out of the small vehicle and took a moment to appreciate the quiet.  From here, we could see the jungle sprawl down into the valley and off into the distance where the ocean began.  Flowering bushes drew a flutter of white, yellow, and orange butterflies, as well as a couple of hummingbirds.  We walked up to an open-air building set up like a restaurant.  A man behind the counter asked us if we would like a home-made meal after our walk, and we eagerly agreed.

The trail through the preserve was less than 2.5 miles, but it took us nearly three hours.  Along the way, we spotted five poison dart frogs, one outrageously lovely great owl moth the color of lilac and the size of an 8×11 sheet of paper, a trogon (bright blue and yellow jungle bird), and countless millipeeds, insects, moths, and butterflies.  Thankfully, we saw no snakes.  The trail took us deep into the jungle and high up into the canopy on swinging bridges and platforms (a little scary!).  The last kilometer took us past waterfall after waterfall, and as it began to rain, we took a dip into one of the cool pools.

In Nepal, one of the words for waterfall literally translated means “laughing water,” and now whenever I see a waterfall, I think of that.  There’s something so magical about the spray and the mist from a waterfall, and when you add in a thousand layers of green, your babies, and wonderland bridges…  I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to.  Not even when two out of three of my children were losing it a little from hunger and tired legs.

We made it back to the restaurant where plates of arroz con pollo, beans, and pico were waiting for us, as well as a cold pitcher of lemonade.  We devoured everything, and the girls laid in the hammock, barely keeping it together before nap.

With this being our second to last day in Manuel Antonio with the grandparents, Joshua and I snuck out for a date.  We walked down the road, hoping for a romantic dinner with a view, but when we sat down in what appeared to be a humble cafe from the outside, we discovered $30+ entrees…  So despite our embarrassment, we left and walked back to the Villa to grab the car and drive down to Quepos instead.  Although we had hoped to find a humble Soda with reasonable prices, we struck out a bit here too.  In the end, we found a place advertising Mariscos and two for one drinks.  The food was so so, and the mojitos were quite syrupy, but it was nice to have an uninterrupted conversation, and Luna made for a fairly complacent third wheel 😉

The next day, I took the morning run.  Joshua typically wakes up early in the morning, but with the narrow roads, speedy drivers, and irritable dogs, running solo in the afternoons had become quite unappealing to me.  At least in the morning I could avoid some of the traffic.  I ran down to the beach and scoped out a quieter stretch of sand.  When I returned, I swam with Lily for a bit, and then we piled into the car to return to the spot I had found earlier.

Between capuchin monkeys in the branches above, playing in the waves, and going for an easy walk, we ended up having a lovely time, and we were able to make it back to the car and up to the villa before meltdowns or hunger pains got the better of us (speaking mostly of the children here).

After nap, we journeyed down to Quepos one last time.  The Friday afternoon farmers’ market was in full swing, and we bought food for dinner, including some fresh-caught Dorado (Mahi Mahi) for tacos and a variety of novel and exotic fruits (nance, mamon, guanabana, and two others I have no idea what they’re called).  On our way out of town, we stopped at the Heladoria for ice cream.  The girls opted for Lime and Neopolitan while I sampled the rum raisin.  We walked across the street to watch a soccer practice, savoring our cool, sweet treats.

The next morning, we hit the road early, having packed up the night before and said our goodbyes to Nana and Grumpy who were flying out later in the morning.  As we drove away past the luxury hotels and the palm fields, I felt a sense of anticipation.  Driving internationally is a whole new experience, and being able to stop at our leisure for a photo or snacks or to breastfeed was pretty great.  Sadly, after a couple of weeks without a carseat, Luna was none too pleased to be reintroduced, but eventually she was sleeping and we were driving North to Monteverde.

And thus, I am not caught up.  But it’s 1030 and Luna wants to nurse, so I’ll leave it at that for now! xoxo

Author: Ellie

Wife, Mom, Adventurer...

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