Costa Rica 2014: Manuel Antonio

As I took the local bus from Quepos up the hill that led to Manuel Antonio, I steeled myself against probable disappointment. Even as I had booked the place I would be staying at here a few months ago, I told myself that the “one of a kind jungle studio” would surely not be as lovely as the pictures that advertised it. Past experiences have taught me that the more stunning the pictures, the bigger the letdown when you arrived to peeling paint and suspicious looking bed sheets. My experience in New Orleans with my friend Jen, back in the late ’90s, is one of my favorite examples of this scenario: trying to work with our limited student budgets, we found what appeared to be an absolutely charming – if a bit cozy – hippy hostel that was surprisingly affordable, as well. The photos painted a picture of exactly the sort of place we hoped to find ourselves in: tapestries on the wall, incense burning in the background, a group of happily buzzed guests laughing in the shared spaces of the house looking as if they never wanted to leave. So we were shocked, naturally, when we arrived to cockroaches in the “kitchen,” an 8×8 “room” that was more like an outdoor hut with no windows or screens, and the sound of gunshots in the distance. For added fun, there was a pit of baby alligators underneath the poorly constructed ramp up to our door, enclosed simply with chicken wire. The pool was empty, save for the green slime that covered the foot or so of water that remained in it, and the various statues and art installations (for lack of a more fitting term) that were strewn the outside area were so strange they seemed ominous rather than artsy. Happy, satisfied, world-traveled backpackers were nowhere to be seen. I remember we sat on that bed and laughed until we cried, and then gathered our things and got the hell out of there.

So even though I was drawn in by the siren song of the “one of a kind jungle studio” nestled in the jungly, beachy area leading to the mouth of Manuel Antonio National Park, I knew in my heart of hearts that this could be another New Orleans, minus the best friend to laugh it off with. But when I was shown to my room by the charming older French gentleman in charge of getting me settled, I was stunned. The studio was actually even MORE gorgeous than the pictures had suggested, and the gentle hum and occasional squawks and monkey calls from the jungle that surrounded my private patio was more than I could have ever imagined. Part of me was still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop – were there scorpions lurking in the bathroom? Tarantulas nesting near my bed? – but as it turns out, this really IS paradise:

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I enjoyed a nice, relaxing afternoon in the hammock, enjoying the jungle view and the sights and sounds that it provided. Later, I went out for dinner, and stopped at a local grocery store on my way home to stock my fridge with breakfast food, coffee, and snacks.

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Monday was a big day, as I had booked a horse riding tour of a local wildlife preserve. It was fantastic – my horse, Bandido, was sweet and obliging, and carried me through miles and miles of mud, rocks, and streams without complaint.

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The trio of dogs that accompanied us were adorable, too – I wish I could have gotten a picture of them all together! Throughout the day, they darted around the jungle that surrounded us, occasionally popping out to come say hello, or take a dip (or have a quick drink) in one of the streams we crossed:

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There were 11 of us in all – a sweet middle-aged couple from LA, who I warmed to immediately; a pair of young newlyweds from Anaheim; a Spanish teacher around my age and her 7-year-old daughter, visiting from Maine; and a family of four from Washington DC. We bonded quickly and easily on the 45 minute ride out to the stables, and had a great day together, enjoying the ride and the views and then splashing around the waterfalls we visited at the halfway point, taking pictures of each other trying to do a sexy waterfall pose (I failed miserably, as you can see here – it’s harder than it looks, I swear!!).

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Then, once we had all changed back into our riding clothes and enjoyed the snacks that our guides brought for us, Marvin, the guide whose family once owned the land we were on, found us a few creatures to admire. First, a poisonous, bright green, blue-legged frog, which he held with no seeming concern,

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and then one of the tiny little lizards that can be spotted absolutely everywhere in Costa Rica, which Marvin told me are called aneles. Look, he said, it plays dead when you flip it over!

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And it also serves as an earring, if you want! Me permita? (Will you allow me?) he asked. Um, sure, I said. And then this happened:

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We all squealed and took pictures, amazed at the little guy’s willingness to just hang there, gentle as can be. I could hardly feel him, honestly! And then we got back on our horses, and rode back to the stables for a delicious meal prepared by Marvin’s wife.

I spent a little time later that afternoon at the pool of Villas Nicholas, just up the road, with whom the owner of the jungle studio has an agreement. This sweet little thing came and sunbathed with me for a while before moving to her own chair to spread out some more.

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Later that night, she showed up meowing at my sliding glass door, demanding to come in. How could I say no?!? I let her stay for a few hours before finally giving her the boot. She was sweet, but I wasn’t sure an overnight was a good idea, as much as she seemed to be begging for one.

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This morning I made a nice breakfast and headed to the beach, which I had heard was absolutely gorgeous. It is! I swam and bodysurfed for a while before sprawling out on the warm sand to soak up some rays, and then headed further into town to pick up some more cash from a nearby Western Union office. Thanks, honey!

The rest of the day was spent lounging and swimming at the hotel pool, as I have a few more days of beach ahead of me, but no more access to lovely pools like this:

[Picture coming soon :-)]

After a few quick aloe applications and my second or third three-minute shower of the day, I bought some fruit and snacks for the bus trip to Jaco tomorrow and headed out to enjoy my last night in Manuel Antonio. First on the agenda, drinks on the patio of El Avión, known not only for the expertly crafted drinks made at its bar, which is set up inside an actual plane that occupies part of the restaurant itself, but also for the fabulous views. Neither one disappointed.

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Now I’m down the hill just a bit, waiting on a wood fired pizza from El Wagon (I’ve been told it’s not to be missed). The view here is just as lovely, surrounded on two sides by the jungle that overlooks the beach.

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Tonight, after one more drink at El Avión, I’ll walk back up the hill, slather on some more aloe, and pack my bags, reluctantly. A taxi will be waiting for me at 7:00 am tomorrow to take me to my next destination: Montezuma, on the eastern edge of the Nicoya Peninsula. While I’m very sorry to leave Manuel Antonio, and my amazing jungle studio (and sweet little kitty friend!), I know I’ll be back, hopefully sooner than later. And something tells me that although even though I’m not expecting it, Montezuma will probably steal a little piece of my heart, too, just like this little one and her hometown did.

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