Where the Wild Things Are

An early wake-up call marked the beginning of one of the most memorable days of my life.  As you may know, we were starting to doubt our luck/timing due to yesterday’s torrential rains. However, the TWB spirits were with us this morning as we awoke to the sight of a sleepy Sun crackling through the parting clouds.

We made the short drive to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio where we opted to pay for a tour guide to increase our chances of seeing wildlife.  We started off down the path and within no time we had spotted our first three-toed sloth. Perezoso!  The walk continued to yield treasures including more three-toed sloths, Central American squirrel monkeys, red lowland crabs, morpho butterflies, and, of course, the spectacular rainforest flora.

Upon arrival to Manuel Antonio Beach, we made an executive decision to quench our thirst for the tropical ocean and opt out of the remaining leg of the tour.  Here, encroaching jungle sandwiches the sand against the ocean to create a crescent-shaped bay of paradise.

White-faced capuchin monkeys dangled from branches, drawing tourists in close for photographs.  As with most things in this world, however, it was a game of give and take.  In exchange for beautifully close photographs, the monkeys took food and personal belongings for ransom.  One of the devious little thieves snatched a lady’s unopened can of Jalapeño Pringles…bet that tasted good!  William and I took charge of the matter and constructed a barricade of driftwood around our precious bag.  And, when an acceptable level of security had been reached, we prayed that the cunning little rascals be respectful, and we took off for the water.

The greenish blue water was a much-needed break from the sticky jungle air.  We lapped around aimlessly admiring the lively scenery.

A melting pot of life including white-faced capuchin monkeys, raccoons, coati, and sloths all call Manuel Antonio Beach home.  We kept a careful watch as a troop of about fifteen white-faced capuchins made their way toward our outpost.  More than once our delightful swim was interrupted when one of us had to scurry ashore to shoo away the hungry animals.  We took turns negotiating the treacherous rocks to the southwest where we could reach an alternate beach that was home to sun-bathing iguanas.  The biodiversity was incredible!

As we prepared to leave, we were lucky enough to spot one last sloth. This one was closer than any of the rest, and was active enough for a shot at counting its toes. 1, 2…a two-toed sloth!  Considering the two-toed sloth is primarily nocturnal, we felt blessed to have the rare opportunity of seeing such a mysterious animal in the daytime.  Jan soon disappeared, following her beloved raccoons to a small swamp that was located about 30 feet behind the beach.  William and I followed only to bear witness to what was about to become one of Mother Nature’s most brilliant displays.

The raccoons had led us to a swamp where I quickly spotted small lizards darting across the stagnant water.  My mind raced back to my National Geographic-childhood where these creatures were only real on TV and in my dreams.  While William and Jan fiddled around trying to focus the binoculars on the tiny reptiles, I refocused my eyes to find a full-grown male Jesus Christ lizard perched on a rotting log only a few feet away.  Its sinewy body gave way to a leaf-like tail and slender frill along its back.  As William correctly noted, the dinosaurs never left us…they just got a hell-of-a-lot smaller!

And Mother Nature was only warming up.  In the following few minutes we spotted a kingfisher propped up on a tree branch in the distance, waiting for the chance to stab at a fish.  In the foreground, the swamp came alive as a green heron came storming in.  “What I would do to see that full-grown Jesus Christ lizard run on the water,” I said.  I needed to only wait about a minute before my wish was granted and a raccoon entered the scene from the left of the swamp.  The curious raccoon made its way closer and closer to the lizard until eventually the lizard had had enough and, in a marvelous display of fast-twitch muscle fibers, scurried promptly across the water to an adjacent log.  By now the heron had started fishing right in front of us while more juvenile Jesus Christ lizards hung on tree roots.  The show was topped off when an unidentified rodent, one that looked like a miniature capybara, scurried across the edge of the swamp.

Three-toed sloths, two-toed sloths, white-faced capuchin monkeys, raccoons, coati, Central American squirrel monkeys, iguanas, an unidentified rodent, and a slurry of birds all dwell in this tropical wonderland of Manuel Antonio.  What’s amazing to me is that you can stand in one spot and see 3-4 of these animals in the same view; take two more steps and 3 more species emerge.

As we left, the haunting call of distant howler monkeys carried us out of the park.

To whom it may concern, we thank you for such a memorable day!