June 28: Quepos, outside Manuel Antonio park
Daniello Jimenez loves eco-tourism. It's the European eco-tourists that are problematico. Especially the Italians. "Malcreantes," he calls them. His cafe is in the central market, where Danny and his wife, Graciella, serve heaping plates of rice and black beans laced with cilantro. Huevos fritos, too, and Costa Rica's finest high-altitude coffee beans. Danny moved his family--he has a boy and a girl--down from the central valley to this tropical village on the Pacific to feed the touristos. Quepos, it's called, after the Indians who are no longer here.
We're here for the lowland rainforest at Manuel Antonio National Park. Costa Rica's smallest, yet most popular park. Central America's Yellowstone.
"You Italian?" Danny jokes. He's being muy sensitivo to this Yankee tourist. This town, even in low season, is crawling with refugees from California. Birkenstocks, nose rings, surf shirts, ponytails. Looking for the pura vida, as they say in Costa Rica.
Tanner and I, too, are looking for the good life, and we find it on Playa Blanca in the national park, the third beach down a lush jungle trail. A tunnel of bamboo, palm, and strangler figs. Park signs warn not to feed the monkeys because three children have been bitten in the last month. Signs that say the riptides on the first two beaches kill as many as ten swimmers each summer because Costa Rica cannot afford lifeguards. Or because Italians can't swim or read Spanish.
A three-hour window of equatorial sun crisps us into the early afternoon. The beach is white sand, pale blue water, framed by the deep green jungle. Something out of Blue Lagoon. Or Mosquito Coast.
Then, when a curtain of clouds falls over the sun, the scene becomes Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. A white-faced capuchin monkey is doing his Johnny Weismuller routine in the trees just behind us. Tanner spots a three-foot white-throated iguana. Then, a "pisote," a cross between a raccoon and a small coyote, peaks out from the dense understory. We walk back to the trailhead semi-nude, in rain warmer than my morning showers back home.
And then we see the sloth. Not the Italian tourist variety. This is the two-toed sloth. Moving through a tree at one-quarter speed, browsing in the canopy. Oblivious to the rain. Just before dinner, when we wade across the tidal creek at the park entrance, we still have the sweet rankness of monkey fur in our noses.
Next: Night hiking at the volcano, hot springs, and bus rides.
Other info on travel in Central America
| Notes of an accidental eco-tourist
Postcards from Central America. Our correspondent
rambles in search of answers to the eco-tourism myth.