I stared at the clock hanging above Sofia’s head, waiting impatiently for the little hand to point to the 12. This had been approximately the 12th time within the past 20 minutes that I anxiously looked at the clock. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Sofia, my Spanish professor who insists we call her by her first name, I was just overly excited to head to Manuel Antonio National Park for the weekend. It was going to be my first weekend living in San José, Costa Rica and I was ready to explore the sights I had only dreamed about visiting in person. And just like that, I heard a “ding” and finally the bell rang. I was off!
On our bus ride to Manuel Antonio, we made a pit stop. I assumed it was a bathroom and snack break, but I soon learned that pit stops in Costa Rica meant something a little more exciting. After descending from the bus, our bus driver, Luis, hurried us over to a bridge. Every instinct inside me told me it probably wasn’t a good idea, and I could already hear my mom’s lecturing inside my head. However, when we arrived to the bridge Luis shouted “ve abajo!” He wanted us to look over the bridge. To my surprise it was a lake, but not just any lake. It was a lake infested with crocodiles. When I say infested, I do mean i-n-f-e-s-t-e-d. There were crocodiles everywhere! Big ones, little ones, fat ones and skinny ones, too! This, I thought, was much better than a bathroom break.
Upon arriving to Manuel Antonio National Park, we had a tour guy meet us. He escorted us from the bus drop-off area to the beach because the location is unreachable by car. On our walk there we made several stops to admire the creatures that lived within the forest. At one point Emmanuel, our guide, pointed wildly at something moving up high in the trees. Soon, I realized he was pointing at a slow-moving, steady-climbing sloth! Fun fact: Emmanuel told us that sloths, in the presence of fear, have the ability to withhold going into labor for up to a month. What a gift.
Manuel Antonio was everything I could have imagined. I quickly learned why it is the most visited park in Costa Rica, as well as why Forbes has previously named it one of the world’s most beautiful national parks. The park is located in a tropical rainforest, which explains all the monkeys that were roaming the sandy beaches. We were warned to keep watch of our stuff because the monkeys have a funny habit of running off with visitors’ items. I didn’t believe what I was hearing until I looked over to see a nearby tourist yelling at a monkey who had run off with her backpack!
The park is under strict environmental protection to protect the rich biodiversity of both plants and animals that cover the land. This trip was a blast, we learned many interesting facts about some of the 109 species of mammals that live on the park, sun-bathed, and went on two hikes. I also learned to listen to my mom when she tells me to reapply sunblock almost hourly!
As an Environmental Science and Policy Major, one of the reasons I chose Costa Rica was because of its rich and breathtaking landscapes. I came with hopes of immersing myself in the Latin American culture while simultaneously learning about the environmental regulations and protection agencies that work to preserve its unique environment. Although it’s only been week one, I’ve consumed more rice and beans (or gallo pinto) than the average American does in their lifetime and am getting to know the environment through first-hand experience. With that being said, I can tell I’ll get exactly what I came for, and more.
This post was contributed by Andrea Calderon, who is spending her semester studying abroad with AIFS in San José, Costa Rica.