Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Manuel Antonio

Although I am back from Costa Rica already (sadly), I still want to recap the events that occurred during my trip.  After the last events that I had previously posted we embarked on our first weekend trip to Manuel Antonio National Park.  The trip was fantastic!  On the way to our destination we stopped at a bridge and saw crocodiles that were lounging in a river.  The sight was one that I have never encountered before and it felt like a glimpse into a prehistoric world.  I felt lucky to see such creatures in the wild because who knows how much longer they will be around on this planet.  In fact, these wild crocodiles are being impacted from humans everyday as more and more tourists visit the area, throw down food and other trash and disrupt the crocs natural habitat. 

Upon arrival into the Manuel Antonio area we stopped at our hotel to have a personal meeting with the owner to discuss sustainable tourism.  The conversation was quite enlightening because he shed light on the issues he faces as a small business owner trying to compete with larger hotels while enforcing sustainable tourism policies and programs.  Costa Rica has a leaf rating system that ranks hotels based on their environmental, socio-cultural, and economic policies.  This program is called CST or Certification of Sustainable Tourism.  Although it is beneficial that Costa Rica has such a program, we learned that it impacts both small and large hotel operations in many different ways. 

That night we went and had a fantastic dinner in Quepos, a small town near Manuel Antonio.  After our meal we walked down to the beach and found out that walking around without a raincoat or umbrella was not such a good idea. 

The next day we got up early and headed to the National Park of Manuel Antonio.  Walking through the jungle was quite nice but after spending our time in such a small village (Turrialba) it felt odd being around so many tourists.  We learned that Manuel Antonio hosts thousands of tourists each year and that it is one of the most popular Costa Rican destinations.  This makes sense as the park was beautiful and the beaches pristine.  However, you could see the impact that the guests had on the area, such as the monkeys on the beach who acted very aggressively towards people, steeling their food.  This human-wildlife interaction has many implications.  The monkeys have started eating a diet of human junk foods they gather in the park. These foods are not even healthy for humans, let alone our for our primate relatives. 

My favorite encounter in the park was seeing the sloths.  These creatures are remarkable and yet very lazy (which is probably why the Spanish word for them is the same word for ‘lazy’).  I also enjoyed spending time at the beach, breaking open my first coconut, and seeing iguanas sun bathing. 

Later, we went and participated in a tour of the Arenas Del Mar Hotel with the Sustainability Director.  This was very interesting for me because I did similar work for a property in Washington State last year during an ‘Environmental Internship’ with Aramark Parks and Destinations.  This property demonstrated that a hotel could be both a five-star and a five-leaf (the highest leaf rating in the CST) property simultaneously, despite the myth that luxury and sustainability counteract one another.  It was interesting to hear that they encountered many of the same challenges that I faced while in my internship, such as employee engagement, public interpretation and education, and infrastructure investments.  It was really interesting to hear how the sustainability program saved the hotel a lot of money, created positive relations with the local community, and assisted in environmental preservation.

The next morning we got up and tried our hands at surfing, which none of us had done before (except for our instructor Eric).  The waves were very large though and all of us pretty much walked away feeling like the ocean had beat us up.  I absolutely loved it though and I am so glad that we tried it.  I cannot wait to try again under better circumstances.  One word of advice – do not take any money or credit cards with you unless you have a pocket that zips as my Velcro failed and I lost mine : (

Overall, it was a superb trip to a very different part of Costa Rica, one that differed greatly from the Turrialba region.          

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