Co-ordinates: 09°24’59”N, 84°10’34”W
Weather: Warm and humid with blue sky and some clouds in late afternoon
The final full day on Prince Albert II’s Voyage 7923 began early with breakfast in the Panorama Lounge at 6:00 am and disembarkation at Manuel Antonio National Park at 6:30 am. As I stood on the wide sandy beach waiting for the arrival of guest-filled Zodiacs, waves crashed against black basalt rocks at the side of the bay and everything was bathed in golden early morning light. Local guides pointed out a sleeping sloth, rolled into a tight fur ball, high in the branches of a shoreside tree. Given the early hour, I was envious.
Established in 1972, Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest park at 683 hectares. Despite its size it is a fantastic place to see plants and animals. We had a remarkable guide called Jana, who, armed with an elaborate and very effective spotting scope, was capable of seeing a well-camouflaged boa constrictor 15 metres away and telling us all sorts of interesting things about it. The highlights for me were: barkless trees, many varieties of palms, an osprey with a fish in its claws, a caiman, 2-toed and 3-toed sloth, frogs—including the red-eyed tree frog—and a troop of rambunctious howler monkeys.
We ate fresh fruit and drank fruit punch in a flower-strewn, open-walled restaurant overlooking a beachside boulevard just outside the park entrance. After that it was a short drive to Puerto Quepos, a picturesque, sea level village with four main streets and brightly coloured plank houses. Blue and green cables stretched across sections of roads, which cut through forest, allowing arboreal animals such as sloths and monkeys to cross from one side to the other safely. Our morning ended with a Zodiac trip back to the ship.
After a quick lunch on board, I returned to the mainland with guests for a boat tour of the mangroves. Once again, we had a very knowledgeable guide. Mike was able to spot animals hidden high in the canopy or deep inside the forest. We saw, among many other things, the smallest anteater in the world, a sliding turtle—which slid away from us as soon as we motored up to it—, raccoons, crabs, flycatchers, a rail, herons, egrets, snakes, and bats. Mike told us about black, red, white and pineapple mangroves (Rhizophoraceae), the international fruit company that used to economically dominate the region, and the composition of monkey troops. We visited the mangrove river delta and saw the Prince Albert II in the distance, separated from us by a white line of breakers and spray. The grand finale was a troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys who were waiting for us at the boat landing upon our return. A couple fought with each other, while others screamed in excitement and shook branches. In joy, they threw fruit and branches at our boats and onto the roofs of the land shelters. A perfect good-bye.
Tonight’s recap was nostalgic. Richard Sidey showed the second half of his gorgeous video of the voyage and Robin West called all the Expedition Team up on stage so the guests could say good-bye to us. It was a strange feeling. I know the guests by name and I share treasured memories of this voyage with many. New guests arrive tomorrow, and I know I will share fantastic experiences with them too, but it’s never easy to say good-bye.