Who is Manuel Antonio?
Dec 8, 2015
|Ripped from today's Headlines:
Edmonton Journal: "A new freezeway will help us clobber winter".
Not interested - did not read. Want to pretend that winter doesn't exist.
New York Times: "Trumps call to ban Muslims resonates abroad".
I presume his proposed ban doesn't apply to Muslim countries but Donald Trump is an idiot so he probably thinks it does.
San Jose Times: "Costa Rica's President Luis Guillermo Solis confirms that Turrialba Volcano erupted again yesterday."
The article goes on to quote volcanologist Mauricio Mora of the University of Costa Rica who said, "Just when it looked like she might be done for the year, 'ol Torrialba raised her smoky flag again for about 10 minutes this afternoon. So far, that makes 117 eruptions this year (about 1 every 3 days). The cheese from the area should have that great smoky flavour well into next year at this rate".
The best thing about that article for me is that it contains the name of the President of Costa Rica. I had no idea of his name. Or that he is a President as opposed to a Prime Minister, Dictator, Great Esteemed Leader for Life, whatever. I will pay more attenti to this sort of thing in the future to avoid faux pas moments that, in my imagination, go like this:
Costa Rican person: "Senor Ah Oui, I would like to introduce you to our President, Luis Guillermo Solis."
Me: "I had no idea you existed."
As you can see, this could be awkward, no?
Back to Costa Rica, this leads to the great question of the day: "Who was Manuel Antonio and why is a National Park named after him?". Frankly, we don't know and the closest that Google can do to assist is tell us that Manuel Antonio Leitao da Silva is a 69 yr. old guy living in Santo Tirso, Portugal who used to play soccer. Seriously - look it up yourself.
Well, whoever the heck he was, Manuel did a great job in setting up his national park here. Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but it's chock full of goodness. Today we went for a hike in the park along with our guide, Andre, and our closest 800 friends.
I've actually never seen anything quite like the setup at the sole entrance to the park, early this morning. Andre told us there is a limit of 800 people allowed into the park daily. This was not possibly true, as there was a minimum of 800 people milling about the outside of the park gate in gaggles ranging in size from 4 to 20, each passively following their own guide.
Each guide comes equipped with a tripod and high powered monoscope. One would spot something in the canopy overhead and immediately 60 monoscope tripods were set up and trained on the same thing (let's say the rare brown variegated caterpillar moth - but the teeny little one that blends in perfectly with every leaf and limb in the jungle - how the hell do these guys spot these things!!).
Just as immediately 800 people look up and say, in chorus, "What is he looking at?".
Each of these individual guide-led gaggles is highly territorial in one aspect. You may only look through the monoscope of your guide. Thus, depending on the size of your gaggle, the object of desire may or may not still be there by the time it's your turn to goggle. This leads quickly to a pecking order in your gaggle, with the more aggressive making sure to goggle first and the more passive taking the scraps at the end.
After the goggle, comes the highly choreographed dance of the iPhones. This behaviour, seen only in the past 7 years or so (more evidence of climate change?) requires the gaggle to thrust iPhones at Andre who, as efficiently and economically as possible (it's very hot out there and you don't want to waste energy) takes a photo using the iPhone through the powerful lens of the monoscope so that the flock will have a lifelong memory * of having 'seen' the rare brown variegated caterpillar moth.
*In fact, the memory will last only as long as the iPhone, which has been evolving rapidly and, based, on Darwin's Theory of Evolution, will soon be replaced by the iPerson.
All this, and we still hadn't even entered the park gates. Imagine our delight when we actually crossed the threshold, walked 15 feet.... and did the exact same thing.
Andre and the rest of the Monoscopic Guides are themselves a relatively rare species who, we read later, are bred using genetic behaviour modification technology so that, somehow, and incredibly, they don't actually rip out the throat of the gaggle following them who often ask the most inane questions, or are from Texas. Or both.
Well, I think you get the idea. For about 3 hours poor Andre did his level best not to go postal (and kudo's to him) while indeed spotting some amazing critters large and small, including both 2-toed and 3-toed sloths, toucans, snakes, and the usual assortment of insects and lizards. We saw the largest butterfly I've ever seen (a neon blue Morpho) just flitting down the path in front of us at one point.
Again, aside from the gaggle of human detritus littering the jungle floor, there are a ton of amazing things to truly ogle and goggle in Manuel Antonio (the National Park, not the soccer player).
To be honest, the Koky experience in Monteverde has spoiled us. There simply is no replacement for a private guide in a secluded place. Manuel Antonio is by contrast more akin to the Disneyland of Costa Rica in that way and that's unfortunate. But there is a flip and much more secluded side to Manuel Antonio.
The 3 hour guided hike ends as the jungle opens onto a magnificent stretch of beach (Playa Manuel Antonio). Walking out of the jungle and onto the beach is a bit surreal - it is like every movie you ever saw in that "Whoa - where the heck did that gorgeous beach come from?" kind of way. Walk two steps off the beach off the beach and, presto, you are back in the jungle. Surrounded by dozens of capuchin monkeys.
These are all members of the infamous Capuchin Gang of monkey thieves. Ostensibly, they are attracted to your backpack if you are carrying food. In fact, there is an underground black market economy in Costa Rica entirely controlled by the roving monkey thief gangs. They know how to unzip the zippers and get into your qbackpack and slip off into the jungle with their ill gotten gains before you even know what hit you. They'll take your camera and your wallet and, before you know it, they're racking up credit card bills for you in nightclubs in Nicaragua and Panama.
They even use the feint and strike method. This is where a mama monkey with a cute little baby poses for you while the older brother steals your camera. While you're taking a picture of the mama & baby. Incredible!
Debbie & Colleen and most of the other gaggles turned back upon reaching the beach - it's the end of all tours. Andre led them back through the park and to a well-earned smoothie before they headed back to the cabin for some R & R.
Frankly, all of us were suffering from heat stroke at this point. Miguel & I were clearly delirious, as we decided to stick around and spend a couple of more hours exploring other parts of the national park on our own. This was a much more secluded period. There may have been other people around, but they were few and far between. Or maybe we just got lost? More likely we were just at the hallucination phase of heat prostration and considered the people around us to just be more monkey thieves. I have no idea.
We went to see the gorgeous and relatively secluded beach named Playa Espadilla Sur on the other side of the narrow isthmus from Playa Manuel Antonio. This was the beach where the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway" was shot. Simply beautiful.
And then, because it was there, (and did I mention that we were clearly delirious?) Miguel and I embarked on an arduous trek climbing up a mountain through virgin jungle while fighting off a rival gang of monkey thieves until we reached the top of Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point), the circular in shape penninsula that used to be an island. From the top, we looked out into the Pacific and saw, just offshore, a series of small islands, including Isla Olocuita. Jurassic Park Island, for sure!
By the time we staggered back to the park entrance, we were cramping up, thoroughly dehydrated and having lost all our salt. We crawled our way down the long block outside the park gates, and past all the vendors enticing us with coconut milk spiked with rum, until we reached the main road and the stretch of public beach and, back in civilization, drank Sangria to celebrate our escape from the jaws of near death.
After refreshing ourselves at the Hawk 'n Bill Bar, MIguel (still clearly delirious) thought it would be fun to walk uphill 2 km. back to our cabins in the forest. I thought it would be more fun to just take the bus. He started walking. I started waiting. By the time the bus arrived, MIguel was back in the cabin and headed for the pool.
I found my wife lying prone in a hammock outside the cabin. She apparently hadn't move from that spot for the past 3 hours. I went for a two hour swim to rehyrdrate. She still hadn't moved. And was now asleep. I took a photo. The rare 5 toed sloth.
As sunset approached, we took our final trek of the day. We walked across the road for magnificent sunset views at Bar Avion, a cliff-side restaurant overlooking the Pacific, built inside the renovated shell of a Fairchild C-123 cargo plane built in 1954. The plane was abandoned in 1986 at the San Jose airport and hauled piece by piece and rebuilt here in Manuel Antonio in 2000. Except for the fuselage - it had to be sent here by boat via the Panama Canal as it was 10 inches too wide for the various small bridges that must be crossed in the interior of Costa Rica.
The plane was one of two operated by El Avion (also known infamously as "Air America"). Air America was a front for US mercenaries in turn fronting for the CIA who were dropping supplies and arms to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels trying to overthrow the Sandanista communist government in Managua propped up by Cuba.
The operation was run by NSA official Oliver North, who funded it with profits he had skimmed from inflated prices he charged for his under the table sale of arms to Iran... in return for which Iran was supposed to help secure the release of US citizens being held hostage by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As we know, the Iran-Contra affair, led by Ollie North, came crashing to a flaming end when the other Fairchild C-123 operated by Air America was shot down by the Sandanista's and they paraded the captured mercenary pilot Eugene Hasenfus before the world as a confessed CIA Agent.
Leading to the grounding of the surviving Air America plane at the airport in San Jose and, of far more importance in this entire affair, our ability to enjoy delicious meal inside the plane while watching the Pacific sunset tonight in Manuel Antonio.