How open to the elements were the holiday rental properties we stayed in at Manuel Antonio? Susan, our brilliant concierge suggested we leave a light on at night on each floor of Casa Elsa “so the bats don’t think it’s a cave”. She wasn’t joking. But there certainly was plenty of monkey business.
At the second property, The Beach House, there was a cute sign saying, “don’t feed the monkeys”. It was not there as a photo opportunity – once again there was plenty of monkey business!
On our first night at Casa Elsa, the massive trees next to the open dining room started making creaking noises. At first we were a little concerned that the wind and rain were going to knock the trees over, but as it turned out it was our first encounter with one of our furry new friends. It was a sloth.
The sloth had been nicknamed ‘Speedy the sloth’ because of his docile nature. After I woke every morning, my first fun task over a cup of coffee was to check out whether Speedy had moved. He had generally only moved a few branches away from his last spot! Sadly, after a few days, electricity workers came to trim some tree branches away from the power lines and Speedy retreated into the jungle.
Far more active were our daily visitors, the capuchin monkeys. The first sign that these guys were dropping by at Casa Elsa was the violent shaking of branches in trees far off in the jungle. Whoever first spotted the family of white-headed capuchins (so-called because they resembled the order of friars) would yell out “They’re here!” and the fun would start.
These guys spend all day foraging for food. We’d first see their ‘scouts’ coming — two males who swing ahead before the rest of the group. Their acrobatics were extraordinary, better than any high-wire circus act and the memories of them at full stretch jumping from tree to tree will be something I’ll never forget.
The night before we went to the tree-planting to protect the endangered red-backed squirrel monkeys, they made an appearance, just to let us know how cute they are! A family of around 25 made their way through the house, leap-frogging each other over chairs and along railings, looking cheeky, and audacious enough to open the fridge for a snack had we not been there!
As their whirlwind visit was coming to a close, the grand finale occurred. A mother and offspring perched at the end of the infinity pool performed a massive leap onto a neighbouring palm tree – with the baby monkey curling it’s long tail around the mothers’ tail for extra grip.
On one of our last days at Casa Elsa, we realized that we hadn’t seen a howler monkey yet. As Susan’s husband dropped us off at the house he took a look at the sky and incoming clouds and said, “You might get a visit from a howler monkey this afternoon”.
Later, as the almost mandatory afternoon rain began to gently fall, we heard a rustle that was louder than that of the capuchin monkey in the trees. As I quickly grabbed my camera and cursed the brooding weather, a big black howler monkey passed through the jungle in front of the house, sometimes leaping, at other times swinging in the rain from tree to tree.
We were sad to leave Casa Elsa and the daily drop-ins by uninvited guests, but Susan said we wouldn’t be disappointed at The Beach House, where she said the monkey business would continue.
On our second day there, I arrived back at the house after a surf, only to find a visitor blocking the gate. It wasn’t a tourist gawking at the beautiful beachfront property, but a capuchin monkey staring at me. He wandered off and as I made my way up the path to the house, I yelled out to Lara “They’re here!” only to look up and see several monkeys on the balcony above where Lara was lying in the sun. They were here alright!
Their regular afternoon visits were hilarious. The mischievous monkeys would hang upside down over the balcony, perform leaps from the trees onto the railings, stick their heads up against the glass windows and occasionally try to open the doors (see the video!). Even when we went to interview our ‘local knowledge’ guy, Ivan, they were above us in the trees on the beach, causing mayhem by throwing down fruit!
This year we’re staying longer in destinations to get a better feel for the pace and rhythm of places and to get into the groove of the daily habits of the locals. Here, a few hours away from any bustling city, we had found another rhythm, not one we could really be a part of, but one we were just happy to have experienced each day.