By Bob Corbett
After a rather restless night of sleep -- lots of anticipation for this trip -- I was up pre-dawn and packed for my first trip into the rain forest of Manuel Antonio. I'm sure Livingston on his first venture into deepest Africa wasn't as loaded down as I. Extra pair of shoes, dry socks, dry pants and shirts, towel, bug juice, toilet tissue, rain coat (well not so, more about that in a bit) and on and on. Then three bottles of water. I could barely lift the pack.
The park didn't open until 7 AM. I was on the bus to Manuel Antonio, only a 15 minute ride, before light, and standing at the gate to the park at 11 minutes to 7, and still standing at 15 minutes after.
Back in Quepos I had gotten on the bus, paid and sat down, noted others with their rain coat and realized I had forgotten to pack mine. I jumped off and hurried home. Grabbed the jacket and came out. The bus runs on my street, so I flagged him down and his stop was one block away. I was running, but the pack came open and people were calling to me. My glasses had fallen out. I grabbed them and the driver waited. I had already paid, as I said (20 cents), but he pointed to a sign which evidently said if you get off you have to pay to get back on, so I fished out another 105 colones for him.
The bus ends at the Manuel Antonio beach. One walks across the sand and crosses a wee bit of water to get to the park. I had worn my tennis shoes without socks and shorts so I could walk the bit of water. I had seen it yesterday morn at low tide and I could almost have jumped it.
I don't know anything about tides, but today was high tide and it was a real river, so I paid the 100 colones (just about 18 cents) and what the boat guys, two of them did, was put me in the row boat, turn it long ways and pushed it the 5 feet to the other side!!! They were in waist deep water. It was funny.
So, at 11 minutes to 7 there I am at the gate. And 7 am came and went and at about 7:15 the ranger showed up, charged me my $7.00 and off I went.
I had no idea what to expect, but did expect to buy a map. There is no map, just follow the trails, said the ranger. He said there were 5 forest trails and several beach trails. I cared nothing for the beach, I wanted rain forest.
It was so silent, eerie. I expected lots and lots of noise, but it was very early in the morning and soundless. The trail, which ran parallel with the beach, was about 200 yards from the beach separated by a bunch of glorious old trees.
I came to a slight fork in the trail and there was a strange looking animal, like one of the larger European type rabbits, which they call hares, or, like a rat without a tail. I didn't know until breakfast much later that this was an agouti, a gentle little mammal I had never seen before, but read a lot about them in Haitian history. They are extinct on that island now.
It saw me and stopped, but didn't seem afraid. I stopped and stood very still, and we watched each other. It got a bit bored and went back to eating and I just followed it a bit off the path to watch it. Fun.
I continued on and came to an opening and noticed movement in the bushes to my left. Again I just stopped dead, didn't move, kept even my breathing as quiet as I could. A small forest deer came out of the bushes. It was about as high as my shoulder. It came right toward me and I didn't budge a muscle. It came right up and sniffed me all over and I actually thought it was going to lick me, it was thinking about it I believe. And then it turned and just strolled away.
I just loved it. It was so cute. I believe it was full grown, but it was about the size of a deer fawn in the Ozark woods.
After a while I left the sand trail and went up a steep gravel road for about 100 yards and then plunged back into forest. Signs pointed to two trails which are called sendoras as opposed to the beach trails which are called playa -- something like that. For sure the sendoras things are rain forest trails and the playa things are beach areas.
The one pointed UP, and said it was 800 meters, just short of a kilometer, so, just about 1/2 mile to "a mirador." I took the trail. Oh good grief what a task. The trail thinned immediately to small concrete slabs, only about a food wide and very very steep, with vines and trees and bushes closing in. It was dark and wet wet wet, and I was wetter, wetter and wetter. While waiting at the ranger's gate I had changed into long pants and put on lots of bug spray. Next time I go back I keep on the shorts and forget the bug spray, never even saw a bug.
But up and up and up, and water was flowing on both sides of me. Now and again the stone slabs were missing and I was in mud. I was walking slowly (ha, I was barely moving and could hardly breath; it was so steep). And walking on the concrete I wasn't making a sound. Then I heard my first noise up the in trees. I couldn’t walk and watch up in the trees, I had to watch my feet. But I stopped and spotted monkeys higher up in the trees moving from tree to tree. Just for 5-10 seconds 4-5 monkeys.
I went up more and more and was expecting to come to a water fall or something, but didn't. Just at the top, so so far, was a concrete slab with metal bars around it, overlooking the ocean and an inlet of beach about 1000 feet down. It was just stunning.
[Later note: I came to believe “mirador” means simply lookout.]
I put my pack down, first time, and drank one of my three waters. I was WETTER than I am when I get out of a shower. Just drenched to the skin.
Going down was much easier until I encountered the hornet. There was a large bumblebee hornet, the black and yellow kind one sees in our area too except this one was EASILY the size of a ping pong ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball. I was on that tiny stone path, with steps at least a foot down each time (harder than hell on my knees), and this bumblebee clearly did not want me to come down. If it had done this on the way up I would probably have turned back. That thing would have packed a wallop of a sting. So I got my towel out of my back pack and waved it at the bee until it let me pass, but I did double time for 10-15 yards.
Back down to the main trail I was simply exhausted, but no where to go, and it was just as wet as if it were pouring rain which it wasn't. I followed another trail, another sendoras, but it was doubling as a beach trail too.
Now I was walking level with the Pacific Ocean again, I could see it through the trees on my right. I was still on this narrow concrete path, but this was solid like a street but only 12 inches wide. The forest grew right up to it.
I turned a slight curve and was facing a long straight away when I came to more agouti, one chasing the other, running lickty split right toward me. I stopped. The lead one didn't see me and was booking. The chaser saw me and stopped and dashing into the forest. The lead one got to about 6 feet from me and just screeched to a stop, looked at me, and calmly turned into the forest and walked off.
So I came to where a GIGANTIC tree, as tall as me AROUND, had fallen across the trail. In other places this had happed too and they had just cut a log out of the tree the size of the path and pushed that off to the side. But this one hadn't been touched. It was too tall for me to climb over, so I decided to try to go round it, which meant leaving the trail and going into the forest. But, it was very steep on both sides (one down and the other up). The down side was clearly out -- very dangerous, I guess I had been slowly going up and didn't realize it, and the up was too hard for me. I tried twice and slipped both times and figured, out here all along is not the place to get hurt.
So, I left that trail with at least 500 yards to go and turned back.
Soon I was back out to the gravel road and there was a sign 1000 meters to sendoras a cataraca. I don't know any Spanish, but a cataraca sounded like a waterfall to me, so off I went. And this was the place of my very best experience. In about 200 yards I came to an awesome sight. A simply GIGANTIC bamboo tree, with about 200-300 shoots coming out, each one as thick as a baseball bat and 50 foot tall, but they had fallen over and made what looked like a simply gigantic bamboo FAN, one you could fan yourself with if you were a 200 foot tall giant. I was just agape. I stood there in the absolute still and quiet looking at this wonder, when noises broke out just down from me that were crazy, so I hurried that way. Both sides of the road had thick palm trees, but low to the ground and they were crawling with white faced monkeys, playing and tearing off pieces of the palm tree branches to eat them, or at least suck on them, I couldn't tell, and they were chasing each other and making the wildest racket.
They came right out over the road on low branches to check me out and I was just in awe. I couldn’t count them, but there must have been 50 or more of them. It was so cool.
I plodded along toward the cataraca and JOYOUSLY found a picnic table. I was utterly bushed. I sat on the table top and drank the second of my three waters. After a 5 minute rest I kept on and soon came to a concrete bridge over a fast moving stream, but no "cataraca" and I was disappointed, and the sign right after it said "salida" (exit). I noted soon it wasn't the ranger station, but houses and such of Manuel Antonio. I didn't want to exit there, so I backtracked, which took a full hour, over trails I'd been on to the ranger station. On that way back I ran into a man and his daughter and pointed out to them where the monkeys were -- since I had just passed them again on my way back.
[Later note. I just wasn’t watching. Right after I crossed the concrete bridge, on the right, was another sign (which I found a couple days later) which pointed the route up to the waterfall.]
The ranger said they were the only other people in the park today. I had been in there three hours and can't even begin to tell you how utterly exhausted I was. My pedometer tells me it was just over 6 miles. But that 1/2 mile up to the mirador was the killer. Whee, I had seen that awesome a view and messed with the bumblebee as much as I needed to. My next trip, not tomorrow I think, will not include that trail.
Back in Manuel Antonio, I went to the Mer & Sombra Restaurant and ordered French toast and coffee and drank three coffees and my third bottle of water. I also changed into dry shorts and a dry tee-shirt. I couldn't even wear my backpack home, it was too soaked from the moisture of the forest and the sweat off my back, so I carried it by the straps.
I went home, unpacked and rested a few minutes and showered and changed into dryer clothes before walking into town to do this note, and now will go have some lunch and write some post cards to my 15 grandkids!!!!
I might take an easy day tomorrow. I just finished my third book of the trip and it's just the fifth day. That's not a complaint, I love it and the novel, a Cuban love story (the subtitle) was Mangoes, Bananas and Coconuts. A simply brilliant and intellectually very serious and challenging book. So much better than the rather silly and non-serious DaVinci Code. Now I'm reading a novel by one of Latin American's great writer, Carlos Fuentes. Hope it is decent.
Bob Corbett email@example.com