Antigua – Panama City VIII

Costa Rica & Panama

10th-13th November, Days 22-25

We leave the cloud forest of Monteverde at 7am, headed for the spectacular beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast.  It’s a 5½ hour drive, and the scenery as we descend from the cloud forest is quite stunning, with the Pacific Ocean visible in the far distance.  Halfway along the Pan-American Highway, we stop at the infamous Tarcoles River Bridge, to view some gigantic Costa Rica crocodiles!  As Duncan drives Betsy over the bridge, we walk across it and observe that the river is teeming with crocodiles, approximately 12 feet long.  It’s quite a sight but we’re very happy to be viewing them from high up on the bridge.

We head for Manuel Antonio National Park and on our arrival, we join a park naturalist for a guided walk and see sloths, howler monkeys, iguanas at the top of trees, lizards, frogs and colourful crabs. Of course we see a tarantula, but we’re all so over them now it didn’t even warrant a photo stop. Those big hairy spiders are just too common in this part of the world. The Park, is the country’s smallest national park and contains a combination of the rain forest, beaches, and coral reefs. The beaches are lined with lush forest, and apparently the snorkelling is excellent but we didn’t get the chance to find out, not enough time, our yellow bus just keeps moving!

One of the most fascinating sights that we experienced in Manuel Antonio, was the leafcutter ants who upon investigation turn out to be some of the most amazing animals on the planet. Leafcutter ants live in huge colonies on the forest floor. Their colonies are very complex, and every ant has a specialised role to play within the colony. Take a look at them in action.

Leafcutter ants are often seen in lines, bringing pieces of leaves back to the nest. The leaves are used to feed fungus, which is grown by the ants in a special ‘fungus garden’ in the nest. This fungus provides food for the colony. The fungus can’t survive without the ants, and the ants can’t survive without the fungus, a beautiful ‘symbiotic relationship’. You have to keep your eyes peeled wherever you go in Central America, there’s animals coming at you from just about every angle.

We eventually arrive at our hostel that has a great view down to the Pacific, to be advised by Jules & Duncan that there’s money in the kitty for pizza and rum punch. Safe to say it’s a very messy evening but so much fun. A group of us ended up in the pool where it got very silly. Brownie ended up on my shoulders as we wrestled other nameless members of the group and safe to say I could barely move my arms the next day LOL!! Safe to say I think I’ve recovered from being quite ill in Nicaragua.

The next day we sign up to join a kayak tour, exploring the mangroves of Manuel Antonio. The drive is around 40 mins and en-route it becomes very apparent that this area of Costa Rica, is home to a hefty tranche of palm plantations which is quite a shock for a country that prides itself on its green eco credentials.

As we drive the Pan-American highway, we can’t fail to notice acre after acre of palms grown in neat ordered lines. These are the trees responsible for the huge deforestation and subsequent wildlife issues that has caused so much damage in South East Asia, particularly Indonesia. Homeless orangutans et al. It seems that the lucrative crop is filling the economic coffers of Costa Rica and even they are not immune to the vast profits that can be made from this quite frankly evil planet wrecking plant. The palm fruit, is harvested and processed into palm oil, a product whose versatility means that it can be used in everything from cooking oils, biofuel, chocolate, cosmetics, chemical and farming. Further investigation when we return home, informs me that much of the work at the palm oil plantations, is done by Nicaraguan migrant workers. It’s backbreakingly physical and notoriously badly paid.

Rant over, there’s only three of us kayaking with a guide and we have a wonderful tranquil meander through the mangroves. Our tour provides us with a great opportunity to see a multitude of colourful iguanas, Jesus lizards skating across the surface of the water oh and a bloody great crocodile slither into the water about 20 feet in front of us!! We also see a multitude of birds from colourful kingfishers to menacing vultures.

The next morning, we again leave at 7am, headed for our final country on this overland trip, Panama. We’re headed for Boquete, a picturesque small town in the stunning green hills of western Panama, close to the Costa Rican border. Its cool climate, and its incredible forest scenery is promoted as some of the most beautiful in Panama. It’s another long drive, approx. 8 hours down the Pan-American highway but we’re excited for country number 8. The border crossing takes around 3 hours, there’s long queues to enter Panama and security is strict as all of our luggage is x-rayed and in some cases opened and inspected. Sadly, whilst we’re queuing to get our passports stamped to leave Costa Rica, we see a large group of migrants attempting to enter and continue the long often dangerous journey through Central America headed ultimately for America.

Our group is staying in self-catering apartments for the next 2 nights and each apartment group is responsible for preparing something for dinner as Jules & Duncan have hit the Panamanian supermarket and Duncan Bar-B-Q’s a fantastic fillet of beef. Yet another drunken evening ensues, great food, a bit of dancing, a lot of alcohol and Duncan treats us to some late night guitar playing. Sore heads and sore throats absolutely guaranteed the next day as we sing the Beatles into the early hours!

Apparently, ziplining in the Boquete canopy is a great hangover cure, actually it really was despite the fact that we were literally scared out of our wits once we’d kitted up and walked to the first platform. We decided, in our infinite wisdom to zipline high above the pristine rivers and waterfalls that make up the incredible natural landscapes bordering the National Park La Amistad and boy what an adrenaline rush it turned out to be.

The ziplines total 4.5 km in length, divided into 12 different lines and we glided through the trees desperately trying to take in the beautiful surroundings as we fly past at 40mph.

The trees support the zipline cables as we hop from platform to platform suspended between 100 to 200 feet above the ground. We turn from complete chickens who felt sick before we started into whooping and hollering children as we complete the final zipline. What an experience, we absolutely bloody loved it.

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