Manuel Antonio National Park - with sloths and noise!

Published: May 5th 2014
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For our last non-travelling day together as a group we decide to have a last bit of wildlife watching followed by what I think is going to be a relaxing ocean cruise to view the National Park from the sea, but unfortunately turns out to be something entirely different. But first the wildlife walk. We have to get the bus from Quepos to the same beach we'd been at the day before - not really sure why Intrepid parked us all the way out in Quepos which isn't really that nice a place instead of nearer to the national park, but hey it did have a lovely pool.

We have to walk inland a bit to get to the entrance to the Park and Brian pays our entrance fees (Intrepid included activity this one). Luckily we have our eagle-eyed James back with us (the poor guy had a few days away from the group recovering from a lay-you-low viral thing) and he's soon spotting loads of lizards and iguana sunning themselves along the way. We see quite a few people crowded in one place, all with cameras pointing in one direction, so go over to see what they've spotted. It's a gorgeous sloth, really low down and just a few metres away from us. It's hanging precariously from a very thin branch that's bent over and is slowly, slowly edging its way over to try and grab hold of another, stronger branch. The way it moves is so comical, very deliberate and painfully slow considering it looks likely to fall at any second. At one point the branch gives way a bit and it and the attached sloth swing down a few feet. Once the branch has stopped swinging about the sloth calmly carries on looking for something else to slowly attach its claws to and begins all over again with its steady ascent up the tree. It keeps checking out its group of humanoid admirers every so often and the cameras click in unison. What a fascinating animal. I feel so lucky to have seen so many of them in the wild and this one is an absolute delight and for once doesn't involve neck craning to get a glimpse.

We eventually tear ourselves away and carry on with our walk. We see a load of rainbow crickets on a leaf and then Brian spots some white lime bats clinging to a trunk of a tree. They're so high up, neck craning starts again! We also see a mot mot bird. James spots another lizard, this one having a hard time trying to work its way up a twig. It's hilarious watching it writhing about and sliding down again each time it seems to be making some headway. This is turning into the animals-making-fools-of-themselves-falling-off-branches walk!

We get to the end of the trails and emerge onto a beautiful beach surrounded by a bay. Brian had shown us there's a peninsula walk that goes out around the headland to the right of the beach and I decide to head off and explore while the others opt for the sea and a swim. I make my way to the end of the beach, up the wooden steps and find myself in the most humid and hot jungle area I've been in so far in Costa Rica. Beads of sweat are literally forming in seconds and dripping off me like I'm leaking! I'm only about 5 minutes into the walk when I come across three gorgeous white faced coyotes (they look a bit like raccoons, with stripy, long, fluffy tails) snuffling about in the undergrowth and coming in my direction. We'd been warned that these and the white faced capuchin monkeys are little devils, trying to steal food from people on the beach, so it's nice to see them properly foraging for food in the undergrowth. They completely ignore me as they pass by - they are so near I could almost reach out and touch them.

As I'm climbing up another set of steps I spot something moving near my foot and to my surprise see a little hermit crab scurrying away. It's so humid and dark around me and I see quite a few beautiful fungi attached to the trees and on the forest floor. Every so often there is a look-out platform with a break in the trees so I can see the glorious sea vista with small rocky islands dotted about. I see some people smiling and pointing as they go past a fence post and wonder what it is they're looking at. As I get there I see someone has made a really excellent grasshopper out of palm leaves, folding them a bit like origami.

I finally get back down to the beach level and emerge into a tiny, sandy cove where there's a couple taking photos of something up in a tree. The lady beckons me over and there's another family (or maybe even the same one) of three white faced coyotes playing with each other in the branches. They are so cute.

As I'm wending my way back along the beach to where my group is I see a group of the white faced capuchin monkeys playing around as if performing for the beach crowds gathering to take photos. They are very funny, scurrying around pretend fighting with each other then suddenly rushing off crashing through the trees; so agile. As I'm walking back along the sand past a group of sunbathers one of them suddenly shrieks and I see a naughty white faced coyote running off with a massive french stick sandwich in its mouth!

I get back to my group and find out we have about an hour before we have to set off for our boat trip so I have a wonderfully cooling dip in the sea. I'm bright red in the face by this point and sweating like a horse so the sea seems wonderfully relaxing. The waves aren't as big as at the other beach so I'm not swept under in the same way. I leave my sunglasses off though - not risking losing YET ANOTHER pair! We find we are sharing our spot of beach with a sunbathing iguana who keeps his swivelling eye on us, not moving the rest of his body at all.

And then it's time to leave the beach and walk along the shore back to a waiting minibus to take us to the catarmaran we'll be going out to sea in. The bus is horrendously hot and I find myself stuck at the back with two others. We can hardly breath there is so little air so it's with great relief that we finally arrive back at Quepos harbour to get on board our boat. We are given lovely cooling drinks as the boat leaves harbour and all seems wonderful to start with. We can see the beach area we'd been at over the previous day and there are some rocky outcrops we are approaching that seem to have some sea birds nesting there.

And then, for me, the worst thing you can do in this situation. I despair of human beings and their ridiculous choices. When surrounded by natural beauty, in a national park, sailing out at sea, delicate changes of colour, blue hazed hills, sea birds skimming the water all around, dappled greens and blues of the gentle sea, what do they do? They whack on the music and switch it up really loud! I can't believe it. We're in a marine national park and this is what they choose to do? Inflict noise! Out blasts the most horrendous pop/rock rubbish. It's not even decent music - 'Cheese burger in paradise' - good grief! I feel so cheated and am now trapped on this hellish boat. It turns out it's more of a booze cruise, party boat than a wildlife watching experience. Everyone else is really enjoying themselves at least, but for me it's dreadful and I really wish I'd known so I could have stayed ashore and enjoyed the National Park my preferred way instead - peacefully and quietly, NOT disturbing the wildlife. They turn the racket off for a little while as we sail near to where there are usually dolphins and we do see a few of these awesome creatures breaking the surface every so often. We stop for a bit for people to go snorkling and dive off the boat and it's funny watching the showing off antics as people jump in doing dives and somersaults. I give it a miss - I'm not really in the mood now and I really hate going out of my depth in the sea anyway. We set off again and the bloody music blares out again, volume racked up a notch! The crew realise I'm not happy so try to make it better for me by trying to explain a bit about the national park and the sea birds. It's ridiculous though as I can barely hear what the guy is shouting at me over the sodding music. The sun finally starts to go down which is the signal for us to be heading back to shore - thank god! They really don't see the irony in blasting out 'What a wonderful world' at this point. As we pull into the harbour the music is cranked up again - I cringe at being involved in this appalling nonsense, inflicting noise into a beautiful national park unnecessarily.

I can't wait to get back to our hotel and finally get some peace and quiet. I grab myself a cold shower and then go for a relaxing swim in the hotel pool to get my head back into a better place. Some of the others join me. They must think I'm such a party pooper, but sadly it's just one of those things. A mismatch of types of people and preferences on this occasion. I just have to notch up the catamaran trip as a bad choice on my part and, in my view, definitely a bad choice on Costa Rica's part; a shame when they have managed the combination of wildlife and tourism so wonderfully well in all other respects up until now.

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