Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two days in Manuel Antonio

We all took a little trip to Manuel Antonio for a couple of midweek days last week. I'm always slightly apprehensive about leaving my home in the hands of another (my MIL, in this case), what with four cats and nine dogs and all, but they were just fine and I really ought to quit worrying.

On the drive down, we stopped at the Spoon just outside of Jaco, where we were all hungry for palmito rice. This particular Spoon doesn't have palmito rice, so it was a simple lunch there instead. There's also a Chinese place there that looked decent, and an AutoMercado if you'd rather just get picnic-type stuff instead. Or bring a lunch from home. I'm sure there are other decent places to stop along the way, but I don't know of them.

After about a 4-hour trip from Grecia, we arrived at Arenas del Mar a little after 1:00 p.m., where we were greeted with fresh fruit drinks and cool towels. We stayed in the apartment suite, which had its own jacuzzi tub on the balcony overlooking the forest and beach, and we put that to use almost immediately. The beds at the hotel are absolutely divine! Probably the most comfortable bed I've ever slept on -- right up there with the one time I stayed the night at my friend H.'s house in Pacific Grove, and between the pillow top and down comforters, her bed was seriously like sleeping on a cloud. These beds were right up there! All in all, the hotel was really quite nice.

Comfy, comfy beds.

The view from the balcony of our room at Arenas del Mar.

Two things I have a gripe with the hotel about, though: 1) They say they are 100% sustainable (on cards you find inside the rooms). That is absolutely impossible, and a pretty disingenuous claim, if you ask me. No hotel can be 100% sustainable. They had to cut down trees to build the hotel; they had to bring in all of the furnishings (none of which can be considered 100% sustainable, either); all of the paint, bricks, wood, etc. used to build the hotel; all of the water used to run the hotel; all of the meat served at the hotel; to say that you're 100% sustainable is a really poor idea, when you are sure to have people staying at the hotel who know about these things. They do a lot of sustainable things, granted -- such as solar power, recycling -- but it would be far better to say that they strive to be the most sustainable hotel in Manuel Antonio or some such thing instead.

2) Breakfast on the second day was an almost total disaster. Breakfast is included with your stay, and it's a la carte, not buffet, which is nice. The first day we had no problems whatsoever. The second day, however... I ordered a chorreada, which is a typical corn pancake that comes with sour cream. Our waiter brought mayonnaise instead (bleh), which I didn't even notice until after I'd slathered it all over my pancake. Son had pancakes, and of the two, one was completely uncooked in the center (how do you cook one and not the other?). I can't recall what esposo had, but I do remember it wasn't right, either. Only my mother had no problem with her omelet. And granted, the waiter was a young man, but he made far too many excuses for himself instead of just saying, I'm very sorry, I'll fix it. I don't want to hear excuses. When you're staying at a hotel with prices like theirs, you do expect a higher level of service.

We went to Manuel Antonio National Park, of course, because there really isn't much else to do in Manuel Antonio! Son made his first foray into the Pacific Ocean and enjoyed himself thoroughly. Esposo got stung in the face by a wasp, so when you're at the beach, be very careful where you hang your clothes! We saw several animals, including a beautiful green snake on a banana leaf, a coati, an agouti, a couple of raccoons, and a sloth asleep in a tree. But no monkeys. I read a few years ago about the monkey population dropping drastically in Costa Rica over the past 10 years (by about 50%). Several other international tourists we spoke with were also disappointed not to have seen any monkeys during their visit. No one we spoke with saw monkeys in the park that day. Of course, you could always head over to that restaurant that will remain unnamed where they illegally feed the monkeys to get them to come around, making them dependent on humans for food and possibly passing on human diseases to them in the process, but personally I would never support such a business. I would hope that you out there reading this would not support such businesses, either. Right?

Iguana on the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park.

Look out badgers, it's a snake! A snake! Ha ha ha...

We had a couple of nice meals, for the first time since I've been going to Manuel Antonio. I don't know why, but food there has been (in general) piss-poor and very expensive for years. Well, it's still expensive, but at least we found a couple of spots that were worth it. One is Plinio's, located not too far up the road going into M.A. They had wonderful Indian food, and lots of vegetarian choices. I had ghee bhat (Indian friend rice), some veggie thing I can't quite recall, and naan. Esposo had sag paneer, rice, and some lumpia and naan. Son had a fit, luckilly there were no other diners there at the time. Once the bats started flying around the trees, though, his mood improved greatly.

We also ate at a little Italian deli in downtown Quepos called L'Angolo. We had eaten there before, and loved it years ago. It's still there, and still as delicious as ever. I had eggplant parmesan, esposo three-cheese pasta, and my mom had penne with porcini mushroom sauce. They made a nice plate of cheese and antipasto veggies for son, and they have these wonderful Italian sodas in the cold case (the lemon soda in a can was great!). They also make things to go, and we picked up subs for everyone the last morning for the ride home. Their prices are still very reasonable, and I highly recommend this little cute spot. Guaranteed not to leave hungry!

The deli at L'Angolo in Quepos -- don't miss it!

We tried to visit the Bat Cave Bar at La Mansion Inn, but no kids under 12 are allowed in. Maybe by the time son is 12 they'll still be there.

On our last morning, as we were packing up and getting ready to head out, we finally saw monkeys. At first, one capuchin was spotted flinging through the trees, and in a few minutes, it was followed by a mother with a baby on her back. So precious! And just a few feet from our balcony. On that note, we headed home, where we ran into hurricane weather (how fun!). Thankfully Margot (my RAV-4) did great, and the only sketchy moment came when we came upon a mudslide being cleared, and did a little slip-sliding on the mud.

Finally! We saw monkeys just before we left.

Mama capuchin and her baby.

Manuel Antonio used to be one of my favorite places in the country. Sad to say, it is no longer so. For being rainy season, it was absolutely full of people, and I can't imagine what it would be like during dry season. New developments are everywhere, surely affecting the wildlife (or lack thereof). I would think the city would be smart enough to curb some of this, because when the wildlife goes, there isn't going to be much of a draw to the area -- you can see much less crowded beaches at quite a few other areas in the country without having to pay such premium prices for everything (though there are several backpacker hotels and hostels in M.A. now). I think this will probably be my last trip to M.A. for some time; I'd rather go to Arenal or Monteverde or the Caribbean. How about you?

Could overdevelopment be a reason the monkey population is dwindling? This massive hotel is being built right on the edge of the National Park (the trees on the left are the park borders. It's shameful.

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