Opinions: Jungle Culture in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Cliffs of Manuel Antonio

It’s “todo bien” this, and “como no” that, always  followed by “Pura Vida!” Everyone knows each other – lots of hugs and other forms of warm greetings. But after all the chillin’ it’s all about business here, with tourism being numero uno.

Locals hang out at the bus stop at the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica. In July, the ‘wet season’ or winter, brings little tourism to the area, despite warm weather and beautiful beaches year-round.

 At the top of Hell’s Hill, not far from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is “La Terraza” – an outstanding restaurant with an open patio (the new normal), overlooking an ocean dappled with mini islands just offshore.  Across the street from La Terraza the beautiful Hotel Costa Verde offers spectacular views of the national park from its restaurant situated in the canopy of the rainforest.

This is where, cradled in comfort, I take in breakfast each morning seated in one of the oversized, deep cushioned sofa-chairs watching families of sloths linger upside down and monkeys play in the treetops nearby. Pure heaven.  But sadly, during the “wet” season (notice the sub-out word for “winter”), Costa Verde’s patio restaurant is only open from 7-11 a.m.

After the first storm I encountered upon my arrival in Quepos  – apparently tied to the tail of the hurricane that struck New Orleans a few days prior – the weather calmed down and began to feel rhythmical. Mornings are consistently sunny, while in the afternoon things get questionable with thunderstorms that can be momentarily intense yet very manageable.

It is still hot and intensely humid; that sensation never seems to lift. It’s all about life inside the sauna here in Manuel Antonio, in late August 2012.

 Eventually I broke down and purchased a uniform: Flip flops (classic rubber baby), for $8 a’ la Rite Aid, and a sarong which cost a whopping $11 US from a vendor at the entrance to the park. But hell, these were desperate times.  Even a one-piece bathing suit is suffocating here.

In this heat and humidity you might guess it’s a bit tough getting motivated. Another angle on Pura Vida: Just chill, because with the slightest movement you will soon be drenched in your own pools of sweat, glorious downfalls of pure clear water oozing from each one of your pores from head to toe. And you will feel exhausted from it all! So chill baby, chill…

That’s when you realize the important significance and influence that climate and environment has on the culture of a people. It’s refreshingly obvious.

Hanging out on the beach today, where service happens in the sand on lounge chairs surrounded by Coconut and Banana trees, I met Ryan and Marta from Tri-Cities Washington.

They gave me the skinny on the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant there – the “accidents” and  “the cleanup process” that according to Ryan who worked as a general contractor, “would take over 150 years just to get to a safe spot. And that’s just according to company news, not from EPA.”

“We sure won’t see it in our lifetime, you can bet that,” he said. Marta sat beside him and nodded with a defeated and sarcastic expression. “Yeah, you can tell everybody back home that you met two glowing, radio-active people,” she added.

Marta explained how her own father – an engineer on cleanup duty – had to wear hazard gear each time he went out into the fields surrounding the plant. I was shocked to hear about these accidents at this nuclear plant, and why I’d never seen coverage. “They try their best to keep it under wraps, but the locals know what’s going on,” Ryan said with the air of a spy.

“Kind of like Erin Brockovich?”  I asked them.

“Exactly,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Marta said.  “I’m really dreading going back; I don’t even like my job anymore.”  A lawyer specializing in contracts, Marta worked for a large engineering firm, the one involved in the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Plant.

Marta explained that one of the top computer techs responsible for in-house security measures had been found with over 1000 rounds of ammo stashed in his office, and subsequently he’d been fired. It happened last week, the day before Marta left for vacation to Costa Rica.

“It was really creepy. Everybody was scared he was going to come back and kill us all. The company put file cabinets in the hallways – just in case we needed someplace to duck and hide if he returned on a shooting rampage,” Marta exclaimed.

“Yeah, as if a thin piece of metal and some papers is enough to save you from an AK 47 Riffle.” Ryan said in disbelief.

“And one of my colleagues was sent home because she had open-toed platform shoes on.” Marta added eyes wide open.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you can’t run in those shoes. It’s too hard. You can’t run for your life in high heal shoes.”

What a crazy world we left behind, I said. “Pura Vida is all one can say.”

“Yeah, Pura Vida,” Ryan answered and Marta nodded as they said good-by and headed off the beach and back up the path I call Hell’s Hill that leads from the beach side bar at Hotel Arboleda to the main road.

“Hell’s Hill” leads from the ocean to the main road of Manuel Antonio, at the entrance to Hotel Arboleda and La Terraza

Hell’s Hill has now been baptized Hell’s Highway.  This ex-hill should be a training route for the marines the grade is so severe. Secondly, this steep driveway looks more like the 405 after you’ve had a few days to climb up and down this, this, you-know-what.

With my apartment situated smack in the middle, I’m forced to climb and descend this highway twice a day, just short of 1200 steps round trip. I know; I’ve counted.

Let’s start with the small guys carrying big loads. Armies of ants that defy logic regarding what they are able to support on their backs.  You can see them from a distance: big clumps of oddly shaped green leaves and twigs moving across the highway at top ant speed! I have to broad jump just to pass by that intersection – daily.

Next you’ll find  lizards of all shapes and sizes that sunbathe, always in the same spot, and their numbers are staggering. You can’t see the small ones because they are so well camouflaged against the pavement.  Their coloring is remarkably exact, matching whatever surface they rest upon.  You only notice them if you step on one or when you frighten them.

Suddenly it feels like something from a horror movie under your feet as the ground comes alive and starts moving rapidly beneath your unsuspecting body. It just gives you the shivers for a moment.  It’s very startling. But the reptiles are all harmless, and it’s just the visual, constant jilting of your senses that gets your attention.

Reptiles in Central America

Iguanas are everywhere in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The iguanas are next on the highway chain. Creatures of habit with a gentle disposition,  they stick to their own neighborhoods and sunspots. It’s the same handful of reptiles guarding prime territory every day. They are big – some longer than my limbs.

In the trees above, monkeys play, and sloths do what sloths do. Not much. Pura Vida!

 Walking up Hells Highway tonight, I could hear Jordan’s music. He comes to play on Tuesdays and Fridays at the restaurant La Terraza. He’s also a nature guide at Manuel Antonio. I ran into his tour the other day. I spied on him, a few feet from his group. He was a good guide. It was cool to see him  playing music in the restaurant that same night.

Jordan, 19, was playing Eric Clapton’s song ‘Here in Heaven’ as I rounded the corner on Hell’s Highway, drenched from the heat and breathless, with my computer in my backpack eager to get some work done.  It was heaven to finally reach the patio and set up my office with a 180-degree view of the ocean, despite the humidity.  After about an hour the sky changed. Dark clouds moved in fast.  We were perched on a bluff above the ocean, with a clear view of angry waves building.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an enormous gust of wind blew in through the patio.  An invisible blast of energy from beneath the hillside sent dishes, glasses and flower vases flying, crashing to the ground. The lights went out and instantly rain fell in massive sheets as the wind continued to whip through the delicately constructed structure. I dove on top of my computer, grabbed the tablecloth for cover and ran for the bathroom. Inside I carefully dried it off and wrapped it with layers of paper towels and put it in the backpack.

It wasn’t a hurricane but it felt like one. Exciting, but I didn’t make it home for over an hour even though my house was a five-minute walk down Hell’s Highway.

Manuel Antonio – Images | sallyricefotos


About sallyricefotos

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