Gardening

Gardens and Nature of Costa Rica – Day 10

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Yellow-headed Caracara

I was out at sunrise this morning to go yet again through Hotel Parador’s beautiful gardens and nature trails: after all, you see different creatures and plants each time. This time there were howler monkeys, parrots, black spiny-tailed iguanas and many small birds. The most remarkable sight that morning was a Yellow-headed Caracara, a bird of prey. The more colourful adult (the mother, I suppose) was showing her two drabber youngsters how to fly by putting some distance between her and them and then crying out to encourage them to come to greet her. They squawked and complained, but eventually did join her. Then she’d move on and start again. Very interesting to watch!

After an excellent breakfast buffet, the group headed for the Manuel Antonio National Park, just 4 km (2,5 miles) from the hotel… but with such a winding road, it took the bus 15 minutes to get there. This is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, only 1,983 ha (7,5 sq. miles), but nevertheless one of the most visited. Forbes magazine included Manuel Antonio in its 2011 list of the 12 most attractive national parks in the world! Manuel Antonio is renowned for its beautiful beaches, its extraordinary panoramas and the enormous diversity of its flora and fauna.

We arrived very early, at opening, to take full advantage of the relative coolness of the morning. We went in through the main entrance and followed the El Parezosa trail at first: an easy one that constantly but gently rises. And we immediately began to see animals and birds.

 

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Squirrel monkey

I was thrilled to see a small flock of squirrel monkeys, very threatened in Costa Rica and found only in the region around Manuel Antonio, because they are not seen by most groups. They are very cute little monkeys almost greenish colour. However, we didn’t see them up close: they were in fairly remote trees and constantly moving, so not easy to photograph.

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Two-toed sloth

Later we saw a two-toed sloth very clearly, with his sad clown face, and also many birds.

This year, two of the park’s major paths were closed for renovations (and to be quite honest, they really did need them). The only trails open were the main trail, which runs along the beach and the Cathedral Point trail. We took the main trail at first. Besides, you really have no choice: it’s the trail that links all the others together. There is a changing room at the trailhead and we stopped and waited while those in the group who were heading directly for the beach got changed before continuing on.

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Manuel Antonio Beach

We soon arrived at Manuel Antonio Beach, renowned for its fine sand, but Andrea, our guide, suggested we go on the Beach Espadilla Sur, where she knows a good place to settle down for a few hours.

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Capuchin monkeys

We had just arrived at the beach when a troop of capuchin monkeys arrived, settling in the trees behind the beach, so close we could almost have touched them. They have no fear of humans in the park and are easily photographed. We saw further capuchin monkeys as the morning went on: they’re very common in the park.

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Here a sand spit reaches what was once an island, forming a tombolo.

We followed the main trail along Manuel Antonio Beach, often called the Third Beach as it is the third one in from the town, then walked across the tombolo (a sand point that connects two land masses) to reach the Espadilla Sur Beach. Here Andrea showed us a place where you could sit either in the shade of some trees or in the sun, depending on your preference. And we had lots of choice, as the beach is almost deserted this early in the morning (and indeed, is never crowded at any rate, even on weekends). So the “sunbathers” rolled out their towels while the “hikers” left everything nonessential (towels, backpacks, etc.) and carried on towards Cathedral Point Trail.

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Islands rise from the Pacific Ocean off Cathedral Point.
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The two beaches across from Cathedral Point are called Playas Gemelas: the twin beaches. This sector is presently closed to park visitors.

 

Point Cathedral was once a rocky island and from its meandering path you can see some of the most spectacular views of the Manuel Antonio Park. There is a fair number of stairs to negotiate, but at least they are well maintained (few years ago, the trail was in pitiful condition and very hard to follow). Still, you don’t see anyone rushing, because, although it was only 10 am, it was already stiflingly hot.

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Blue-crowned Motmot

In addition to stunning views, we saw several animals, including agoutis and above all, a very stunning bird called the Blue-crowned Motmot with metallic turquoise markings on its head.

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Tree deeply marked by a twining liana.

We also saw giant trees, beautiful flowers and a few curiosities, like a small tree that has been squeezed so long by a liana (now gone) that the spiral is completely imprinted in its bark.

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Raccoon

At the end of the trail, we heard a young woman scream and at first I thought she was hurt! But no: a family of raccoons had just stolen her lunch and were running straight towards us, crossing the trail almost at our feet. I wouldn’t recommend bringing any kind of food into Manuel Antonio Park: there are two many eager scavengers (coatis, capuchin monkeys, raccoons) and our food isn’t good for them anyway!

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Some of my group cooling off at the beach.

We then went back to the beach to join the others for a swim. However, the turquoise water near the beach remains quite warm: you have to go a little further away from the shore and tread water to find a more comfortable zone.

Now well refreshed, we left the park just before noon, following the main trail to the end. But ¡ que calor! It had to be almost 40˚C (104˚F) by now and very, very humid! Walking was like wading through soup! So, although the exit was only 1 km (1/2 mile) away and the path was almost always flat as a pancake (except at the exit where there is a small rocky knoll to negotiate), the walk seemed to drag on and on. We left the park completely soaked in sweat! So much for feeling refreshed!

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Public beach at Manuel Antonio

Just outside the park is Espadilla Norte Beach, a public beach. What a difference! While on the park’s beaches, we were nearly alone except for a few scattered clusters of people and the only sound was that of the waves, but the public beach was a sea of people, towels, umbrellas and vendors hawking kitzy wares. What a contrast!

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A Jesus Christ lizard knocking at my door.

We walked on to eat at a restaurant only about 5 minutes away, but it seemed infinitely far away because of the heat,. Then we took the gloriously air-conditioned bus back to the hotel. I guess all the others in the group went swimming in the hotel pools, but I can barely stomach heat and so took refuge in my room for the afternoon to work on… this text, among other things! I didn’t go outdoors until around 4:30 pm to take yet another stroll through the hotel gardens and nature trails. I didn’t have to look hard to find wildlife: there was a Jesus Christ lizard lolling right outside the door of my room!

 More tomorrow!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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