We have made an interesting discovery this past week: we no longer identify with other tourists while traveling. It happened slowly; a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves explaining why certain things are the way they are in restaurants here to a fellow traveler; local customs and all that. I’ve ended up helping Americans at a coffee shop counter translate from Spanish. We roll our eyes when we hear people complaining about the heat or the pace. Little things.
But on Monday we had to take the car we had been renting back to Quepos and I got this great idea that we should spend a day at Manual Antonio (just a couple of kilometers down the road), the most famous of the country’s National Parks and the area where you are supposed to be able to see the most wildlife, while we were in the area. So we drove down the mountain into the town of Manual Antonio which is the place we ended up in our third night in the country, so we’re feeling a little nostalgic for how naive we were way back then (as in “look! Here’s the half-paved, half-gravel road we tried to lug our four huge suitcases and backpacks up to find our hotel. I remember the walk being a lot longer for some reason…”) and we checked ourselves into a nice place and headed down to the beach. When we tried to go to the park in the morning however, we had a bit of a culture shock. At the gates of the park, literally more than a hundred tourists were standing there waiting to get in. People were being loud and aggressive. Outside the park were booths set up with all kinds of souvenir junk (none of which is actually Costa Rican I might add), vendors already sweating in the intense sun at 9:00 in the morning. Had we fallen into some Twilight Zone universe glitch and ended up in Disneyland? Is there a rollercoaster ride in there I don’t know about? We stood back, mouths agape at the unexpected onslaught and regrouped.
We turned and walked away, wandering back to the nearly empty beach, which, in itself had been a bit of a culture shock for us the day before when a woman told us that the umbrellas and chairs were there for rent and we watched waiters coming for people’s drink orders. When we were there in November, it was the off-season and I have to say that the whole place was a lot more pleasant without all the people who, well, look like us. I kind of feel bad for the people who come to CR and go to the park, thinking that they are going to have the “rainforest and wildlife experience” there. Nope.
When we left there we went to a place called Finca Natural: Si Como No Wildlife Refuge that I had read about before. They boast one of the best butterfly gardens in CR as well as a reptile rescue program. The garden was great because they show you the entire life-cycle in the ‘lab’ from the eggs of the butterflies, to the caterpillars hatching to the chrysalis forming to the butterflies hatching. So many blue morphos flapping about! One particular species called the sulphur butterfly seemed to like me and kept landing on me. Have you ever tried to keep still while a butterfly crawls on your nose? Not as easy as you would think.
The reptile house was a big hit of course. It featured boa constrictors and several caimans as well as full grown crocodiles. These are the bad boys of the country – the guide explained that the refuge is basically a prison for repeat offenders. These are the crocs that keep breaking into people’s houses or ponds. The first time the centre is called, they catch the crocs (in itself a bit of a process, involving quite a bit of duct-tape apparently) and release them far away from people. Crocs are on a sort of three-strikes program; if they can behave after that, then they go on their merry way, but if they continue they get “locked up” in order to keep them from being hurt. The Kingpin of the croc pond named Elliot is not only a repeat offender, but is apparently the only croc in the 25 years some of these guys have been working with them to go after his captors. We looked down on the pond, which contained the one huge crocodile and one smaller one, while all the other crocodiles were up on land in a bit of a heap. “You see that in the water?” said the guide, “That’s Elliot and that’s Elliot’s girlfriend (she apparently doesn’t get a name. That’s what happens when you date the leader of the pack I guess; you lose your identity a bit). When they are in the water, everyone else has to get out of the water. When they get out of the water, everybody else has to get in the water!” He yawned, displaying all his teeth to show us just how bored he was with us and disappeared under the water, studiously ignoring us for the rest of our visit.
Before we left the area we had another close encounter of the reptile kind. Before we checked out of the hotel, the kids wanted a last swim in the pool, so they were in the water with Aidan and I was on the edge, dangling my feet when I looked up and saw a black spiny iguana nearby, crawling under the lawn chair just a few feet away. So, of course, I pointed him out to the kids. He moved to one side of the chair, looked at Hannah’s green and pink flip flop, pounced on the thing and bit it several times, actually leaving teethmarks! He picked it up in his mouth and I figured he was going to run off with it, but instead he just gnawed on it a bit, licked it repeatedly with his long forked tongue, looked at us and eventually wandered off when Aidan shooed him away. An iguana with a shoe fetish and a penchant for pink straps. Now that’s something you don’t see in the Park.