Taking a break from the Costa Rican surf for a day, our pack of 11 teenagers and I headed to the Manuel Antonio National Park to glean some Central American culture.
For a reasonable fee we employed a local guide named Tonia, who seemed to know where every animal, bug and bird was throughout the park, which encompasses an area of about 682 hectares, or 1,600 acres.
“Stop," Tonia whispered, as she gazed high into a tree above. “Do you see it? There above, through the branches. It’s a sloth."
I must admit it took a while to adjust to the idea of looking intently at anything other than my iPhone and its tiny screen, but with a bit of time the crew and I started to gain focus. One thing I did notice was the striking parallels sloths and teenage boys seem to share "” separate but related.
As we turned the corner there was a scene right out of Fantasy Island. Macaws flew by, sloths hung in the trees, huge iguanas everywhere, and to top it off a large pack of white-faced monkeys swung by for a visit. It was slightly surreal.
After all the nature, the crew and I were ready for a dip in the warm Pacific, which straddles Manuel Antonio. The views were breathtaking from the white sand beach as we gazed out on a series of islands jetting majestically high in the sky and just off the coast.
After an hour of enjoying the playful shore break, it was back on the popular Perezoso Trail. Our mission had become increasingly clear, and the groms, who had been discussing it in hushed tones for hours, could no longer contain their exuberance and shouted to Tonia, “Where are the crocodiles?"
“The American crocodile is here," Tonia said. “But we must look closely to see one," she warned, with a smile slightly askew. “They could be almost anywhere around us, even now!"
The news sent the groms into a slight panic mixed with euphoria as they considered the thought of coming face to face with one of the largest and most feared creatures in the world.
Just then, as we crossed a bridge over a small flowing creek with tall grassy banks, Tonia stopped and fixed her gaze on a massive crocodile floating just below us.
We were stunned as we marveled at this beautiful wild croc, which looked every inch of 12 feet long and gave off a menacing vibe.
“Take your pictures, take your pictures," Tonia implored, and as we rattled off a few shots the giant croc faded underwater and out of site. “He might be under there for over an hour," Tonia said as we finished our adventure and headed to the park exit.
Exhausted, we all thanked Tonia for a wonderful day in the “park" and headed back to Playa Hermosa Beach full of magical memories.
CHRIS WILLIAMS is a surfing coach and Laguna Beach resident, and father of four surf-crazy sons. He can be reached at email@example.com or (949) 497-5918.