Perils of Polly: Do you see a monkey

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Her perils continue in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
A white-faced monkey peers through the leaves at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.

I contemplated the mud boots set in front of me. I shrugged. Another adventure. At least this one would be better than hauling a rolling suitcase through the mud! I put them on.

The ranger at Carara National Park in Costa Rica was honest and open, and even though Lonely Planet guaranteed I'd see scarlet macaws at this national park, he wasn't quite so optimistic. "You might see them. They are not easy to see. But we will see many other things. Probably poison dart frogs and monkeys. Maybe a sloth." And so we -- or at least he -- enthusiastically began our journey into the trail-less jungle of Carara. I began, but maybe not so enthusiastically. This was definitely not a place I'd go hiking around by myself.

Within the first five minutes of our hike, suddenly he yelled, "Macaws!" and three parrot-looking birds, nothing but black silhouettes against a light gray sky, flew overhead. As suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared. They were to be my only glimpse of what was supposed to be a fantastically beautiful bird.

The journey was only slightly uphill, and for that I was thankful, but we had to slosh through mud, climb over tree branches, and wade up stony creeks. But I did see cool things. Brilliant red and green poison dart frogs clung to the sides of rotten logs, spider monkeys screeched and swayed in the tree branches overhead, and howler monkeys treated our ears to a cacophony of noise.

My Costa Rican guide was an expert and desperate to make sure I experienced everything Carara had to offer. I experienced way more than I wanted to. Exhausted, muddy, and sweaty, I tried to hide my relief when the trek was finally over. I thanked him profusely, handed back the mudboots, delicately climbed into my clean rental car, and headed back to my room at the Restaurante Ecologico Los Cocodrilos.

I gratefully showered and then checked out.

This time, as I headed across the Tarcoles River bridge, I stopped and walked out onto the bridge to see if there really were crocodiles. Sure enough, the side of the large, muddy river was lined with about five of them. A couple were huge. I'd seen many crocs in Australia, so they weren't that fascinating for me. They just laid there. I'd seen them jump out of the water in Australia. I took a couple pictures and kept going, heading toward Manuel Antonio National Park.

A lot of this road was along the coast, which offered awesome views of beaches and oceans. But I kept going. My only real stop was forced. A bridge at Quepos simply cannot handle the traffic that wants to cross it. I waited in traffic three hours, observing the muddy streets of Quepos, until I finally began across its see-through slats. It was just wide enough for one vehicle. It's a scary kind of bridge, and is even featured on a Youtube video called "The Bridge of Death." I didn't think it was that bad. Once through Quepos, it's an easy drive to Manuel Antonio, which is tourism in extreme. And this was the offseason. I drove around first and then made a quick decision: I pulled into a decent looking place and pulled out my credit card for the $100 per night I needed to relax with air conditioning, showers, cleanliness, restaurant, and TV. After a good restaurant meal, I fell asleep in cool air, knowing I didn't have to worry about being bitten by a rat.

The next morning was my day to explore the national park. I found Manuel Antonio to be totally fascinating. I walked along the vendor-lined, beach-front street to a lagoon where I paid a pittance to take a boat across to the park. Once in the park, trails abounded. I shared the trails with other tourists, but there weren't so many that I could never be alone. In fact, I hiked up to Cathedral Point mostly alone. I saw the giant blue butterfly, numerous iguanas, two-toed and three-toed sloths, agoutis, raccoons, and all four species of monkeys -- howlers, white-faced, squirrel, and spider monkeys.

At one point when I was alone on the trail, I watched a whole troupe of white-faced monkeys descend from high in the jungle trees to a branch right above my head. I videoed one after another passing right over me. Finally I reached up and grabbed the tail of one of them. He turned and bared his teeth at me. I let go. The trails became confusing and at one point I got turned around and started heading in the opposite direction I needed to go, but finally found the main swimming beach.

I stripped to my swimsuit and dropped my belongings next to some friends I had met, and waded into the waves. This was my last day to really see anything in Costa Rica, as tomorrow I would be heading back to San Jose. I still had not seen a single toucan! I doubted, now, that I would.

Check back next wek for the next installment of Polly's perils.

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