Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Manuel Antonio

Last year (2010) I opted for mountain of interior Costa Rica, so this year I went for the Pacific side of the country.

This time I have my sister and mom with me, figuring this might be the last time for me in Central America.

Manuel Antonio is our first destination in Costa Rica (2011) - a bit of R&R at the beach and the nearby rainforest park. It was nice to get away from the winter cold in Washington DC area, as this year was unusually cold, but not much snow. Our arrival into San Jose airport was pretty normal and got out the airport very fast. We got in the airport taxi for the nearby restaurant where we wait for our private van transport to Manuel Antonio at 3PM. There are also other tourists there waiting for their transport to various parts of Costa Rica. Costa Rica definitely got its tourist transport infrastructure down. We had about 3 hours wait, so we just chilled at restaurant (changing into summer clothing). We have reservation in Quepos, a little town right before Manuel Antonio, but they only hold the reservation until 6PM. I was crossing my fingers. Of course the van didn’t arrive on time, but the driver was pretty speedy. But once we were out the San Jose region, we started headed down to the Pacific coast and the winding 2-lane highway. There are many big trucks, buses, and slow cars, so going was slow and I was keep looking at my watch. The van stopped at a place for a 15 min break for people to eat, buy souvenir, and toilet break. But all the people just wait around – it is more for van driver to eat.

Once we got down to sea level, the roads straighten up and we picked speed. Lucky for us that we are heading toward the coast on Sunday, the traffic heading back was very bad. On flat road, we make good time and arrived at Wide-Mouth Frog hostel with 5 minutes to spare!

Wide-Mouth Frog hostel has a nice setting with a pool in the middle. We had a 3 person room with shared bathroom. Our room is very small, a bunk bed that is wide at lower level (2 people) and 1 person up top. It does not have much space for all our stuff and it was hot, so we turn on the fan immediately and have it on all the time. We then checked out the shared bathrooms, and it looked decent and didn’t smell bad. Next order of business was dinner, we walked around the town for a little bit looking for a cheap place to eat, but we didn’t have much luck. The supermarket near us was already closed. So we opted for a cheap Costa Rican eatery near the hostel. It was not bad. Afterward, we head back to the hostel and getting ready for bed, we had a long day of travel, so time to call it a night.

Next morning we got up early and walked around Quepos for a little bit as well bought some water. And after the free breakfast at the hostel, we caught the local bus for the 45min ride to Manuel Antonio. The parks in Costa Rica close on Mondays, so today for us will be just walking around Manuel Antonio, and laying on the beach and relax.

Manuel Antonio is build up with lots hotels (I am sure expensive), but it was still charming because the beach and surrounding rainforest. But finding a decent cheap place to eat wasn’t easy. We did manage to found a place right in front of the beach that offer good priced meal with a view. We ended up coming back here the next day. We also checked out the shops, but all the prices are very expensive, so we didn’t buy anything, and we ended up not buying souvenirs in Costa Rica. We also booked a guided tour for the park for Tuesday morning, so we are all set on Tuesday. For rest of the afternoon, we just lying on the rented beach chairs and umbrella, the price had come down since the morning  I went for a little run along the beach once the sun dropped lower in the sky. After that Wendy and mom went for their beach walk and when they finished we packed up and headed back to Quepos.

The next day we got to Manuel Antonio very early, skipping free breakfast in hoping of getting good photos, but there was none. So went to the meeting spot for our guide. We got there early and he was also there, and he told us, his cousin is currently leading a group, and wanted us to join that group, so we rushed to catch the group. I wonder if that is why he is a bit chubby, while his cousin is fit and married to a Dutch lady – she was not there but their son and her parents were there too.

Our guide he seems pretty knowledgeable and capable of spotting wildlife. He had a spotting scope with him, so it makes easier to see things once his spotted something. We were among bunch of Dutch tourists, and one of them had two big slr cameras, she had her husband carry the other. It was good to start early as it was less hot and less crowded. Because by 10AM or so, the crowd has arrived and overwhelm some parts of the Park’s beach. Since our guide made the extra effort of take us back to the entrance so we can see a boa constrictor, I decided to give him tip at the end. We decided to take a lunch break after our tour, so we tried one of the recommended cheap to eat place that we walked by a day earlier, but they were closed for lunch, so we headed back to the same place we had for lunch the day before.

After the lunch break, we headed back into the park by ourselves from the other side (along the beach). We take a break in the shade of trees on a long stretch of white sandy beach in the park. Around 3PM, we started out hike around a small peninsula in the park. We didn’t see any wildlife, but it was a good hike. One funny thing happened while we were hiking it, I saw a bright red sun visor on the side of the trail, it looked new, so it must have been dropped recently. I just ignore it since I thought the owner might come to look for it or ranger will retrieve it. A moment later down the trail (20 minutes may be) I heard a lady asking people if they have seen a red visor that she just bought today, so I told her that I saw it a while back on the side of the trail. The girl not sure what to do as she has gone back partially to look for it, and luck for her the next group of people came and they have picked up the hat and she was very thankful!

After the short hike, we went to a beach area where we saw bunch capuchin monkeys earlier in the morning. The capuchin monkeys can be aggressive in steal/grab tourist's stuff. But if you keep your distance, and backpack on you, you are ok. I had my tripod with me, so I was able to take some decent shots of the monkeys. Event caught one catching an insect and eating it. With park closing time near, we traced our steps and head back to Manuel Anotonio to catch the bus back to Quepos.

On the bus ride back from Manuel Antonio, we saw a big super market near the bus station, so we visited the store on our way to the chicken eatery across the street for dinner. It is certainly bigger and better looking than the one close to the hostel. We had big dinner at the chicken eatery, which feature big portion of meat of your choices.

Although we stayed at a hostel, we didn’t socialize much at all. At night Wendy and mom would to bed around 9PM in the hot room. We would goto the common area to watch some tv. During one night there was some interesting discussion between a red neck American who said he sold his investment portfolio because he thinks US stock market is a shame (which might be partially right) and a young liberal and idealistic Dutch girl. There was also a German couple and a Lithuanian guy that clearly had a little too much to drink.

My impression of Quepos and Manuel is pretty good, can be touristy and pricy, but there is enough authenticity and local escape to justify the couple days of visit here.

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