One of the highlights of our trip to Costa Rica was suppose to be a hike through the jungles of Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific side of the country. The tour description boasted monkeys, sloths, big cats, ant eaters and a wide variety of smaller critters. The hike ended up on the country’s most pristine white sand beach.
We imagined ourselves walking through dense jungle paths swatting off mosquitoes, dodging venomous snakes and quietly stalking the big game. We were ready – cargo tropical pants carrying cameras, PEET insect repellent, and 90 SPF sun screen; breathable long sleeve Columbia shirts and Nike hiking shoes. The whole get-up set us back $300 each but, hey, how often do you get to come within 10 feet of a Howler Monkey?
Our first inkling that we may have miss-read the tour description was when we were standing in line at the entrance of the park for tickets. It was like the opening bell at a Disneyland entrance– scores of Americans clustered around tour guides getting their tickets and name tags. And dressed, by golly, for a Disneyland day – shorts, T’s and sandals. Half of them were toting beach towels, coolers, and miniature surf boards too.
Then we saw the jungle trail. It was basically a mile long dirt road from the park’s entrance down to the Pacific Ocean where the ‘pristine’ beach was.
We were there for the 8AM jungle hike. There must have been 30 guides each with a group of a dozen or so people walking along the road. The guides lugged portable telescopes and their goal was to find jungle wild life lurking of the road to show adventure craving Americans. Any kind of wild life.
So the did. On the walk to the beach we saw three types of frogs, two bats hanging from the trunk of a tree, at terribly poisonous snake sunning itself on a rock a hundred yards off the road, one sloth sleeping high above us in a tree and a killer deer. The deer was the only animal you could actually see without the telescope but it appeared to be mostly looking for a hand-out.
The monkeys were at the ‘pristine’ beach and they were definitely looking for hand-outs. The beach was filled with people doing beach things – sunning, playing in the surf, drinking beer, and throwing food at the monkeys. These were White Faced Monkeys and there were a couple dozen of them playing in the trees and begging for food. Cute for about 10 minutes but then, like what else do they do?
Nothing. And the beach was the end of the hike. You could stay at the beach or walk back up the road. Our jungle gear was not good beachwear (though it appeared to entertain a lot of the fellow hikers we passed along the road) so back we went to where we started. The guide had stretched the mile walk towards the beach to an hour by stopping every five minutes to watch a frog or lizard or whatever. The hike back took 10 minutes.
Then we were done. Our big jungle hike. A $100 to see a bunch of humdrum animals through a telescope. We actually didn’t feel ripped off. We had been in Costa Rica for the better part of a week and had by then learned that little in that country matched the descriptions of Fodor and that everything you did, ate, rode, or slept in, came at a big cost. It was thievery Putin could learn from – friendly, open and complete.