A monkey sat on my head!!!!!!!!

I'm going to cut to the chase here, people...A MONKEY SAT ON MY HEAD!!!!! It was awesome! His furry, curly tail and his leathery little hands and....well, allow me to explain. Today was the day that we had to leave Manuel Antonio for Costa Rica's capital, San José. We had some time to kill in the morning and decided to check out the local scene from a different perspective - the water. Luckily, our amazing hotel staff (Hotel Plaza Yara rocks ;) ) was able to book us a last-minute boat tour of Damas Island, known for it's variety of mangrove species and diversity of wildlife.

"Walking" Mangroves
Mangroves are a shrubby sort of tree that thrive in the estuaries of Costa Rica where the ocean meets the river, creating a salty, sediment-filled water that few plants can tolerate. Enter the mangrove. According to National Geographic, "the forests mangroves form are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on earth." They have crazy root systems that eventually trap sediment and dead leaves and actually CREATE land. Pretty cool.

But, enough about mangroves....back to the monkeys!! Our guide, Jorge, had lived in the area and run tours of the local waters for 15 years, and though he hadn't quite perfected his English, he HAD honed a relationship with a group of white-faced, or Capuchin, monkeys. As we approached a particular area of the mangrove forest, Jorge started hooting and hollering in a very disconcerting way...I was starting to worry that we had been motored into a complex ecosystem by a crazy man, but sure enough, the monkeys came running!!

They jumped onto the canopy of the boat and started pounding with their little fists until Jorge brought out a mushy half of a banana and gave them a little snack. Now, I know, I KNOW that feeding the animals is really bad for them in a number of ways, including losing a healthy fear of humans, ingesting pesticides, etc, etc...but, Jorge really seemed to think of them as his friends and himself as a bit of a caretaker. I know...it still doesn't really justify it, but before we even knew what was happening, there were monkeys everywhere nibbling banana...on our boat, on our heads, on our laps. Then, Jorge, took my hand and smeared a little mushy banana on it...one monkey grabbed my hand in his two little hands and licked it off. It was the weirdest sensation to feel his smooth, thick-skinned hands holding one of my fingers and my thumb and to meet his eyes that seemed to say..."yeah, I know this is kind of degrading, but, hey, I won't tell anyone if you don't." We watched in wonder as the monkeys explored the boat for awhile and then scurried off.

We wrapped up the day (after copious hand washing) with a typical Tico lunch of casado, which closely resembles breakfast...black beans, rice, fish (or chicken or beef), salad and potatoes, in a local soda. I was not a very good lunchtime conversationalist because most of the time I just thought about the monkeys on my head and giggled idiotically to myself...incidentally, I'm doing that right now and probably will be for some time :)


Sloths and monkeys and raccoons...oh my!

Exposed crater of Arenal from La Fortuna
On our last day in the La Fortuna/Arenal area, the volcano decided to show it's peak...but still no flaming lava :( Still, it was pretty cool to see the clouds finally part across the top of the jagged crater on a bright, sunny morning. This time, even though I was stuffed to the brim with a typical Costa Rican breakfast of black beans and rice, eggs, fried plantains and picadillo (kind of a veggie hash), I managed to avoid any major car sickness issues, although there were still a few hairy moments.

Due to the state of roadways, we had to head almost all the way back to San José before continuing on our southward journey to Parque National Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast. After almost six hours in the car, the first thing we did after dumping our bags at another lovely hotel, was to change into swimsuits and head for the beach! From the shore, we could see a series of jungle-covered islands off the coast, which James assured me were full of dinosaurs, à la "Jurassic Park." Luckily, I didn't see anything that could prove him right!

This morning, we woke up to another Costa Rican breakfast and headed out to the National Park. Within minutes of entering, we sponged off some of the tour guides to spot a couple sloths and a monkey or two! It was so amazing to see the animals out in the wild, just doing their thing...a long way from watching the poor stir-crazy critters kept in cages at the zoo! We hiked around for hours...always walking as quietly as possible and
keeping an eye in treetops, which led us to spot several monkeys and sloths on our own!

We found a few secluded beaches ringed by rugged black rocks and lush green jungle. Due to the humidity and steepness of the trails, we were dripping DEET-laced sweat, an unfortunate necessity to keep the killer
mosquitos and other biting insects at bay. I have been
maintaining a steady intake of Benadryl to cope with the itching...I have NO self-control and would have scratched all my skin off by now without it. At one point, we got a little too close to the waterline and
our hiking-shoe-and-socks-clad feet took an unexpected dip...fortunately, it didn't take too much of a toll on the rest of our Manuel Antonio experience.

After the park, we decided to take a dip in the Pacific to cool off...actually, that sounds far too calm...it was more of a battering in the breakers than a peaceful paddle! We tried to avoid getting knocked off our feet as we watched a few hearty souls taking surf lessons...seeing them get slammed over and over into the sand nipped any inclination I had to give surfing a go in the bud. Maybe something a little more sedate...

Oh, yeah...and this guy as per the title...
One of the highlights of this area has been the amazing food and fantastic happy hour views that we've managed to find! As soon as I caught a whiff of the ocean breezes on our drive into town, I set a goal for myself to only eat seafood at major meals...a goal I have proudly met! From fish steamed in a banana leaf, to coconut-rum sauteed shrimp to eye-popping citrus ceviche, everything I have sampled has been incredibly fresh, lovingly prepared and beautifully served...now, if I can just fit into that swimsuit a few more times....


Welcome to the jungle....

I'll let you finish the amazing musical reference that the title implies! I know that I owe y'all another post or two on the Germany experience, but since I am currently sitting at the base of a volcano surrounded by tropical flowers, I think I'm going to put that on hold and tell you about Costa Rica
instead! Flew into San José on Monday, picked up a hearty SUV and drove on really twisty, turny, bumpy, crazy roads for a couple hours to Arenal Volcano. I jinxed myself by proclaiming that I've never really had motion sickness and, of course, karma had her way with me...I spent a solid handful of hours praying for the drive to be over and focusing on not losing my tuna sandwich.

We made it to La Fortuna in one piece, sampled some local Costa Rican cuisine and went for a swim to rinse off the inevitable travel grunge. A surprise downpour caught us in the pool and gave us our first taste of Costa Rica in the "Green Season," aka the rainy season. So far, the sudden bursts of intense rain haven't affected our adventures too much, managing to always occur when we're already indoors or near a convenient grocery store or church where we can take cover!

Unfortunately, the flaming top of Arenal has remained shrouded in an intense cloud cover, but supposedly the light show of flowing lava is quite cool to see at night. Often, it's almost impossible to even tell there's a large land mass there to begin with...the clouds disguise it's massive bulk on a fairly regular basis. We did hike around the base and saw some old lava flows from the last major eruption in the mid-nineties. It was actually a little hard to imagine that the black, porous rocks had ever been molten and flowing like mud down the side of the mountain.

We continued our hike down to the base of Fortuna Waterfall, where we were able to take a (very!) refreshing dip in the pool at the base. The pounding water battered us around a bit against the rocks and some brave souls were proving their recklessness by jumping off a large log sticking out over the pool. I really wanted to jump myself, but found myself too self-conscious to clamber out on a slippery log in my bathing suit...too many opportunities for wardrobe malfunctions!!

Adrenaline junkies have plenty of options in La Fortuna, with ziplining, waterfall rappelling and whitewater rafting to choose from...not quite what I was in the mood for on this relaxation vacation. So, instead of zipping through the rainforest canopy attached to a cable, we hiked a really cool trail that brought us up to treetop level via a system of hanging bridges and
occasionally steep, winding paths. The bridges hopped and swayed underfoot and looking down, you could see the amazing diversity of the rainforest foliage from a bird's perspective. Pretty awesome!
We then did a bit of a wildlife safari at an eco-reserve and managed to spot a colorful frog or two, two sloths (that were so high up in the trees that they really just looked like really furry, massive coconuts), a couple caimans, tons of butterflies, a lizard that can run across water on its hind legs, and a primate hand (or foot) that he kept dangling in our view while he lounged, just out of sight, in the crook of a tree. 

Finally, we capped off our Arenal experience with a relaxing few hours in volcano-heated hot springs! Nothing like relaxing with an icy daquiri while your muscles turn to mush in a bubbling volcanic pool to really feel grateful to be here! La Pura Vida indeed!