Mangoes are falling. Branches shake in the trees high above me, moved by invisible hands. The monkeys are coming. I can hear chirps that sound like high-pitch dolphin calls. Soon a parade of monkeys jumps from tree to tree above our porch at Villa Titi. I sit frozen, afraid to even sip my coffee. I do not want to scare them away. It is early in the morning on our first day in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. I am enjoying the fresh air of the soon to be humid and hot day on the porch of our rented villa.
As if by magic, I am suddenly surrounded by monkeys. There must be at least twenty of them in the large mango tree that grows above our villa. These are the squirrel monkeys; tiny, delicate, light tan monkeys with soft white faces. My eight year old son Max has come to the door. I slowly gesture him to stop. Max stares at our tiny guests who beam at us with small intense eyes. They are so close I tingle with excitement. I have never been this close to monkeys without a fence separating us. A baby clings to its mother’s back staring back at us in wide-eyed wonder.
After a pause, the monkeys begin the business that brought them to our tree. It is breakfast time. They begin their morning routine. They seem to have forgotten us completely. They throw the mangoes down from the tree. They run down to the ground to retrieve their fallen treasures. On the ground, they take a few thoughtful test bites before they carry the mango back up into the tree. Max and I watch with silly grins on our faces. As suddenly as they arrive, as if by mutual agreement, they all leave. The shaking branches and fading chirps mark their retreat.
Max notices a giant iguana peeking at us from the bottom of the steps. When Max goes closer to inspect, the iguana retreats into a large drain pipe leaving only the tip of his tail sticking out. The humming birds are out too. I can hear them fussing at each other, a different style of high-pitched chirps. They sound like they are scolding each other.
Tourist Central – Playa Espadilla Norte
Now, we are seated in a cafe opposite the beach, Playa Espadilla Norte, waiting to eat breakfast. It is very hot here. What a big change from the cool cloud forest of Monteverde. This beach with its strip of restaurants across the road is tourist central. All the locals run forward to rent us a chair, a surf board, passes to the park. I guess I look too tame with an eight year old in tow. The locals do not offer me other more lascivious delicacies. Perhaps my friends who have visited Manual Antonio have exaggerated the outrageous offers for sex and drugs they received here.
Earlier, when we parked our rental car in the lot near the public beach, a man came over and demanded payment. My husband waved him off, “why should I pay for free parking?” The man looked perturbed but did not pursue us. Claudia asked a local teenager standing nearby “Is it free public parking?” The young man nodded.
The beach has an excellent beginner spot for surfers. The wave breaks in a long, clean, languid line. The beach curves around to create a little cove. Rock islands topped with green vegetation are scattered at the entrance to the cove. The beach is narrow and lined with palm trees. The sand is brown. Para gliders fling themselves out over the waves at regular intervals. Surf instructors line up tourists like little ducks and push them into the waves. A few students manage to stand on teetering legs.
When it gets really hot, we stop a girl and her father who are pushing a cart filled with ice blocks along the beach. They shave us fresh ice and pour flavors into the cone-shaped cups. I like the coconut flavor the best
Natural Beauty – Playa Espadilla Sur
The next day we pay the entrance fee to Manuel Antonio Park. The entrance fee is $16 per adult and free for children under 12. Make sure to bring your passport or you will not be able to purchase a ticket at the entrance.
Inside the park of Manuel Antonio, there are other more secluded beaches. The walk to the beach is a beautiful and filled with more monkeys. This time, we see a howler monkey with a baby. The male howler monkey announces his presence with a loud reverberating call that sounds like Prince at the climax of one of his songs.
The best beach in Manuel Antonio Park is not the first one you reach. Keep walking through the mangroves where the tiny crabs back into holes between the roots. The next beach is the small cove of Playa Espadilla Sur. Here the surf pounds hard on the tan smooth sand and the undertow will knock you off your feet. However, this beach is quiet. It is free of vendors, para gliders and ladrones crouching under the trees waiting for unsuspecting tourists to abandon their belongings for the turbulent surf.
Claudia does her best monkey imitation and climbs a tree near the beach. She makes herself comfortable and reads her book. Below, iguanas slowly creep towards unguarded picnics. This beach is Costa Rica at its finest. I am glad I did not learn about the salt water crocodiles that make this cove their home until after I returned home.
Life is an adventure, not a destination. In this year of the monkey, may your year be a playful, mischievous and unpredictable adventure.
Sunset at Quepos, photo by Claudia Rodriguez