There is a little town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica that will gleam like a jewel in your memory, as long as you don’t stay too long or get too attached to the locals. This is not to say that the people are bad, it’s simply like most things in life, in the sense that too much of a good thing can lull one into dreams that may not be reality. Let me start by saying that Manuel Antonio will always be that far off dream for me. I lived there for three months, knew the locals, and at times thought the dream could be real. But the longer I stayed, the more I understood, that paradise has an underbelly and it’s darker than most city streets.
Coming into the bus station in Quepos (the little sinister sister town next door), you look up and see the jungle hovering over the town. After a quick bus ride out of the dirty village you soon hit the money side of town where the rich have infested with gorgeous hotels, restaurants and things of that nature. Spidering off this single main road, however, are the little side streets where the locals live. Trails to get lost in that lead to the ocean, or to secret waterfalls deep in the jungle with the sounds of howler monkeys that make you think of dinosaurs stalking the trees. This is the real Manuel Antonio. This is where you could possibly make a quick friend or connection. Lost among the scenic backdrop of the jungles, and beaches that are strewn with the bodies of the older populace. When you think old you’re more than likely seeing images of elderly people in wool jackets. Here, most of the old might be in their late 40’s or early 50’s, and if they don’t own a little store somewhere in town then their selling drugs or empanadas on the beach. They prey on fresh faces stepping off the bus from Quepos at the end of the line, and they’re friendly enough, why shouldn’t they be? They hang out at the beach all day, are usually buzzed by lunchtime and are inhaling their own supplies to get them to dusk. While I never tested the beach products, I did become friendly with a couple of them. Simply by having common human compassion you could understand that while this may perhaps be one the most beautiful places in all of Costa Rica, it is a quicksand for these type of people.
One friend there, who was the first person to actually ‘talk’ to me instead of ‘selling’ to me, looked as if once in his life he was a smart handsome man with some ambitions. But now he is simply a man with nothing but hazy dreams and vague recollections of his past. His face, battered with scars; half his nose literally missing, and he was my favourite to talk to when he was sober. Everytime he saw me or my girlfriend he would drop what he was doing and give us big hugs then ask about our day and what we were thinking. It took me until my last days there to recognize that glassy look in his eyes whenever he talked to us. That look of longing and wanting. I have no doubt that if he didn’t enjoy us so much, he more than likely would have had us rolled, or even done it himself. I was very sad the day I said good bye to him, but he couldn’t have been happier. He knew the best way to enjoy his home was to get out while it was still a good memory; before the sunset. He’s far from the only one too. Since I left I have heard about several friends there that haunt me, and make me disappointed. But he knew it was time.
I still think of him. I still think of the others. Manuel Antonio is a beautiful and wonderful place. Just don’t stay after the sun sets.