Sunday, 9 September 2012

A close encounter with a Sloth

After leaving Monteverde, we descended down to sea level and enjoyed a picturesque coastal drive before arriving in Manuel Antonio national park. I haven’t heard too much about the area before, except that it was a prime wildlife spotting location (I was determined to see as many sloths as possible). It also boasts a beautiful beach, which accounts for the huge difference in visitor numbers compared to the cool highlands of Monteverde. Honeymooners and families filled the many restaurants and relaxed on the sand, but there was still some of the peaceful vibe we’d begun to realise defines Costa Rica.

Although not beach people at all, the waves seemed an appealing respite from the much hotter and humid temperatures, and we spent our first day splashing about in the surprisingly powerful waves and wandering the length of the beach. Mangroves offered plenty of shade as we watched surfers rising and crashing before us.

Although the beach was one of the nicest I’ve seen, the novelty always wears off pretty soon and we spent the bulk of our days at Manuel Antonio national park itself. Hiring a guide proved to be a good idea, as we watched people wandering through, oblivious of the mass of wildlife all around (just as we would have been if on our own). Our guide’s keen eyes and years of experience meant that he picked up everything, and we were soon watching sleepy sloths shift positions high up in the trees, more exotic birds, and a whole range of iguanas. Inquisitive monkeys hopped about on branches just above our heads, and we were amazed at how lucky we’d been.

Then we stepped around a corner, and my heart stopped.
On the ground, right in front of us, was a small sloth, carefully and slowly crawling its way across the road in broad daylight. Even our guide gasped, before explaining that it was young, probably no more than 8 months, and freshly separated from its mother. At that age, they haven’t always yet realised the rule of staying in the trees, and was likely heading towards a crop of tasty-looking leaves. A dangerous mistake if a ranger patrol car came hurtling along the path, but an incredible opportunity for us to see one of these gorgeous creatures up close.

Not wanting to leave it exposed like that, our guide gently lifted it up and deposited it on the opposite side, where it climbed the nearest tree and began to make its way into the forest. We watched it swing and push itself along, slowly and steadily, glancing back every so often until it disappeared. It was an incredible encounter and a real highlight of the trip.


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