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Hiking Khao Lommuak

Jo and I rose early to meet a local and her son who had invited us for a hike to the top of Khao Lommuak.  We had met Ploi and her 13-year-old son Noi Noi several days prior to the hike at a restaurant called Da-DoDo (by Dubai) that she and her husband (a native Italian) run.  From the first time Jo and I had gone to Da-DoDo, the reception was unbelievably welcoming and warm.  The food was also very delicious, and since it was only located a couple of doors down from where we were staying, well obviously, we had Italian more than just a few times, much to the dismay of my waistline, but NOT my taste buds! 🙂

We really weren’t all that keen about having to get up so early (we met Ploi at 6am) but knowing how hot it gets as soon as the sun rises around here, it made the most sense to get the hike started as early as possible.  We hopped in to Ploi’s car and headed out to Khao Lommuak, one of the tallest of the islands in Prachuap that divide Ao Manao and the Prachuap bay.  It really was a good thing that we had gone with a local because though Jo and I had already planned to do the hike at one point, we would have gone to the wrong place for it to begin with!  See, we had already walked to the Ao Manao beach several days earlier and had spotted signs for the National Park just before reaching the beach.  But this entrance is NOT the entrance to the hiking trail… So had we gone on our own, we would have been very lost as to actually finding the place.

In any event, once we arrived at the hike entrance, we were greeted by some lovely monkeys that live at the base of Khao Lommuak.  I had never seen this particular primate before and came to learn they are called dusky leaf monkeys or spectacled leaf monkeys!  They were quite the friendly bunch and eagerly accepted any food items we gave them.  I had some peanut butter crackers I had bought for breakfast and as a snack on the way up the hill, but of course ended up giving them all away to the beautiful monkeys!  Apparently, while the adults have a brown/black coat, the babies have yellow fur until they are about a year old, then it changes to the adult color:)  We didn’t see any babies during our first visit, but were fortunate enough to see one when we came back down.

After about 20 minutes playing with the monkeys, it was time to get the hike on!  The hike in total was 6 kilometers (round-trip) to a height of 240-ish meters from sea level.  Honestly I was shocked to hear how little of a height that was, since it seemed a lot higher as we climbed up and looked down!!  We started up the trail which first was just a series of steps with Noi Noi in the lead.  I can’t recall now exactly how many stairs there were, but generally to keep myself distracted from the pain of climbing stairs I simply count.  If memory serves however it was over 500!  We were all taking breaks of course to catch our breath, drink water and collect ourselves before moving on.  And of course I had to use the excuse that I needed pictures in order to rest a bit 😉

It was just before the stairs turned to a natural dirt and rock path that little Noi Noi decided to turn back.  He had done the hike the day before and wasn’t up for doing the whole thing again, so he headed to the car.  I had gone ahead up to the end of the stairs and started to climb up the rock path until I reached a little cave.  Not sure of whether anyone else was going to join me however, I headed back down a bit to see what the plan was.  Ploi also had apparently gone back down and Jo seemed uncertain of how far she would make it since Ploi had described part of the trek as ‘only using ropes to hoist yourself up to the top’…  She was game to try as far as she could, but wasn’t certain yet how far that would be.

I was determined however no matter what lay ahead so I continued on.  The natural path was outlined the entire way by a rope that clung to trees along the path.  Honestly, as you can see from the picture above labeled ‘safe and secure’, the rope really didn’t seem to be all that secure (though it felt secure enough) because sometimes the trees that the rope was attached to were barely thicker than my ankle and they were rooted on the cliff edge!  Kinda scary, but again it did feel secure enough.  Up and up I went, at times literally feeling like I was rock climbing with the rope as a guide and assistance at times but otherwise just feeling my way up the rocks (which were really petrified coral so very sharp at times!!) until the next area to rest a bit.  As I climbed, the views became even more spectacular as the vistas opened up to a panoramic view.

I won’t lie, there were some times while climbing up that I honestly questioned how in the heck I would get back down!  Ploi had told us that the day before there had been a class of 40 students and a teacher doing the trek and all I could think of as I lay flat against the rock, trying NOT to look down and freak myself out, was that if we were in the States, there would be NO WAY a trek like this would be allowed for students to do without all the proper safety measures in place!  It was quite impressive to think of, especially for the fact that it was 40 or them scrambling along the teeny path!

Finally, the end was in sight as the teeny Temple that stands at the top of Khao Lommuak began to come into view.  The view from the top was absolutely incredible and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat, it was well worth the climb!  I hung around enjoying the views for about 10 minutes or so, but since I didn’t know whether Jo and Ploi were behind me or whether they had gone back to the car, I didn’t want to spend too much time at the top making them wait on me.  I was just about to start heading back down when both Jo and Ploi rounded the corner!  Happy day!  Now we could all enjoy the views and chill for a bit!  As we relaxed and enjoyed the rest, more and more people started to show.  It was nice to see that no matter the age or fitness level of the hikers, everyone was dripping in sweat as they climbed to the top (so it wasn’t just me being out of shape, lol!!).

I will say it was quite impressive to watch the locals walk around the top of Khao Lommuak.  It was just their comfort level being up there!  While I kept being very cautious of where I stepped and not getting too close to the edge, the locals just walked about and went freely to the edges as if they were walking on sea level.  I was amazed and in awe of their bravery!  At one point, an older falang made it to the top and stomped rather hurriedly past us to get to the Temple to ring the bell.  He stayed for all of a minute, then headed right back down the path.  Ploi explained to us that that particular gentleman did this hike 3 times EVERY DAY.  Every day!  Up to the top and back down 3 times in a row every day…  His speed was remarkable as during the time that we were heading back down, he had passed us on his way up for the second time, down for the second time and up again for his third!  Absolutely unreal!  And he wasn’t a spring chicken either!  He claimed the only reason he did the hike was to keep in shape so he could drink more beer… I can relate to that!  Lol!

After all the pictures were taken and our energy was refueled by rest and water, we headed back down ourselves, stopping again to feed the monkeys (Noi Noi had spotted a baby this time!) some fruit purchased from a nearby fruit stand.  It was only about a quarter to 10am, so instead of going back, we opted to head to the Ao Manao beach for some R&R.  Though I did get a little R&R, and while the water did feel great on the muscles, I was exhausted more by the beach time than the hike!  Little Noi Noi (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) and I came up with game after game to entertain ourselves and each other while playing in the water.  First it was a hunting game where I stalked him pretending to be a shark, his only defense being to splash me, to which I would immediately retreat.  Then we became hunters of the sea life on the ocean floor finding all sorts of crabs, hermit crabs, and huge clams!  Of course everything was returned to the ocean floor, especially since Ploi kept saying things like ‘oh, those clams are really great to eat!’.

It impressed me that even without speaking each others language, Noi Noi and I were able to communicate and play for hours on end in the ocean.  Just goes to show you how unnecessary the spoken word really is.  We left the beach in the late afternoon (they had to get back to open the restaurant) and of course ended up having Italian for dinner that night.  It was such an amazing day!  The only ‘downfall’ was that the blister on the bottom of my foot that I’d gotten the day before popped open during the Khao Lommuak hike and stung like crazy as I swam in the ocean.  But heck, for a day with so many other blessings, I can’t really complain!

On to Ao Manao

Back to Thailand

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Manuel Antonio National Park

The next morning thankfully turned out to be a sunny one and we prepped ourselves for the Park.  As mentioned in the last post, the walk to the National Park was only about 300 meters from our hostel.  As we walked toward the Park up ahead in the Park trees a bunch of the tree tops began to rustle and a deep, penetrating roar could be heard coming from the rustle…  It literally reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park with a T-Rex about to emerge from the dense forest, roaring as it did!!  It was a little unnerving until I was informed that it was only a Howler Monkeys making the noise and that there was nothing to fear.  When we arrived at the entrance (about 8am) there were already a ton of tourist groups lined up in various places getting their troops together to enter the Park.  B, A and I purchased our tickets (again $10 for tourists though this time I paid with colones and paid less than $10… perhaps it was because of the current daily exchange rate that the Parks do pay attention to) and entered the Park.

A few things we were told through the grape-vine about the Park prior to entering was #1 do not hire a private tour guide as many other tourists do this so you can always “bum” in their tours by simply looking where their tour guide is pointing to find something interesting and #2 go off the beaten path when possible away from the rest of the tourists and you will be guaranteed to see much more!

Keeping that information in mind we set in our walk without a guide.  Both pieces of advice above came in great handy as alone the main path of the Park several tour guides had already set up shop with their binoculars on tripods pointing out insects and crabs to their hired tourists or pointing high in the trees sharing interesting information on a particular plant or tree.  Luckily for us, B was a botanist (there is actually a more accurate name for his title, I just can’t recall what it is… Sorry B!!  But I do know that his work involves cataloging every species of plant and tree!)  and he knew just about everything there was to know about every plant so in a sense we already had a fabulous guide for that portion.

We made our way along the path sighting many spiders, a scorpion eating a wasp, a variety of crabs hidden in a variety of clever places, a toucan (YAY!!!) and lizards!!

At a certain point we came across a point of crossroads where we could either go straight, right or scootch our way around the “closed” sign of a path to our left… Well of course we chose the path to our left!! 😉  The path was closed because it hadn’t been groomed recently, but it didn’t bother us at all.  We made our way up the path to a quiet area where no sounds except that of nature could be heard.  It was amazingly blissful!!  So quiet with only the sound of the wind rustling gently through the trees.  It is quite an amazing thing to stop and just listen to the beauty of nature!!  We stayed there for a bit taking in the sounds until some new sound caught my attention high in the trees.  Of course curiosity took over good sense as I followed the noise only to spot my first Howler Monkey!!!!!

Such amazing creatures!!  These small, black monkeys with faces so familiar in human features and hands even more so familiar are just an incredible sight to take in!!  They travel in troops usually anywhere from about a dozen to a dozen and a half!  There is only one alpha male of the group and the rest are females or young males and it’s also pretty common to find a new mom in the troop as well.  Their hands and feet, as well as the underside of about the last 6 inches of their tail do not have any fur on them so they can easily grip surfaces.  The roar of the alpha male can be heard from great distances around!  I have since found out that they only roar early in the morning or to announce to another approaching troop that they are coming too close to their territory, or if rain is approaching!

As I gazed above me in wonder, they simply gazed right back wondering what it was I was up to!  I of course took a few photos and kept my voice low as I called my friends over to see them as well and then we continued up and up and up the path again passing many other lizards and even an Agouti or a Tapir that ran off too fast to take pictures of (hence why I’m not entirely sure which it was exactly… but it was definitely a land mammal).  The path ended on a platform at what seemed like the top of the world!!  Though it wasn’t a 360 degree view, it was still magnificent!!  You could clearly see the bay below and the jutting rocks that formed it, as well as a little cave carved into the rock, as well as the land clear south of us all the way to what we speculated to be the Oso Peninsula!!

After several pictures we headed back down the path to the main portion passing many other tourists who had also opted to take the “unbeaten” path.  Now sadly, it was about this time that the batteries in my camera started to fail… I was able to get a picture or two in, but then would have to shut the camera down, take the batteries out to rest for several minutes then reload them and pray they would work again for a few more pictures!!

There are about 5 walking trails in the Manuel Antonio National Park and we ended up taking each of them to their various destinations.  Along another path of interest, we came across a tourist and his young son.  They were surrounded by a large troop of Capuchin Monkeys!!  The Capuchin monkeys are most famously recognized from their white faces and black bodies, as well as their “star” quality.  They can be seen in movies such as Outbreak and the Hangover Part II, as well as in the TV show Friends.  Now I don’t advocate the use of wild animals for our entertainment, nor was I thrilled about the scene we had encountered.  Despite the Park rules that warned to NOT FEED THE ANIMALS this father was blatantly ignoring them as he and his young son continued to offer the monkeys a variety of fruits.  While it was quite an amazing feeling to have so many monkeys coming at you and around you in every direction all trying to get their piece of fruit, I opted to remove myself from the center as I do not agree with feeding wild animals, and this next bit is part of the reason why: At one point the young son was trying to offer one of the monkeys a piece of fruit.  The monkey was quite reluctant to simply take the piece of fruit from the boy’s hand, so it didn’t.  The boy, probably too young to understand the wrong in his behavior and not being told otherwise from his dad, continued to push his arm forward toward the monkey, trying to entice it to take the fruit.  A few moments later, the monkey had had enough and literally slapped the outstretched hand of the boy away and screeched!!  The father finally stepped in and told the boy to no longer feed the monkeys and they headed away.

Wild animals are wild folks, and should remain that way!!  We have no business interfering with their nature and even less business trying to tame them.  Ok, I’ve said my peace on that topic for now… moving on!

This particular path ended at a magnificent lagoon-like beach!!  Unlike the black sands of Manuel Antonio beaches in the “city”, this beach had white powdered sand!!  Hermit crabs were everywhere by the hundreds as well as a variety of crabs once again.  Sadly, myself nor my two companions had realized there were beaches in the Park to swim in, so none of us had our suits on to be able to swim!!  So for all of you out there who are planning to visit the Park, please take that bit of advice as your #3 lesson:)

We hung around this beach for a bit wading around the water and taking pictures (camera battery pending) and then started to head toward the exit.  The exit path went right along another large and lengthy beach portion that once again made me “tisk” at myself for not thinking to bring a suit.  Many tourists were lined on the beach taking in the sun and enjoying the water.  We even spotted some caper bandits (i.e. raccoons) going through some tourist bags that were left on the beach for some goodies they could eat.

All in all we had already spent about 4 hours walking around the Park, so each of us were ready at this point to exit and get something to eat and of course a cold brew.

When we reached the exit, we were greeted by a few men with little row boats.  Indeed the only way to exit the Park (unless you were willing to walk ALL the way back to the main entrance) was to cross a little river, too deep to wade through (another reason the suit would have come in handy!!) for $1.00 a piece!  With no other real choice we all paid and took the maybe 15 meter boat ride back to the “main land” and headed back to the hostel.

The rest of this day was spent simply relaxing, enjoying good food and of course some good beer on the beach!!  It was quite a nice ending to a fantastic Park day!  It was during this afternoon that B, A and I shared our plans for the next day.  “A” had only a few more days in Costa Rica and planned to spend them in Montezuma (on the tip of the Nicoyo Peninsula).  “B” opted to spend his remaining days in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio, and I planned to continue heading South to Uvita.

Back to Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park Pictures:

Manuel Antonio

All the way down to Manuel Antonio I chatted up with the two fellow travelers, henceforth known as “B” and “A”.  They were from the States and were traveling friends down in Costa Rica for vacation.  Together we made our long journey through a long lay-over in Puntarenas and a drive through Jaco (which has been recommended to me by several people who have previously visited Costa Rica but locals have said not to travel there and frankly consider it one of the scars of the Country because of the large party and drug atmosphere there) and finally arrived late in the afternoon to our final destination of Manuel Antonio.

Upon exiting the bus (a small 15 minute and 250 colones ride from Quepos) we were instantly “attacked” by several people trying to get us to go to whichever hotel or hostel they worked for.  Backpackers are targets for these workers who get commission for every person they bring to whatever hotel or hostel there is in the area.  At first we were quite reluctant to follow the advice of the individuals who met us as most looked drugged out and some reeked of alcohol.  Nonetheless, since it was a backpackers hostel they were recommending to take us to, we followed.

We were led to the Costa Linda Backpackers, about a 500 meter walk from the beach and a 300 meter walk to the Manuel Antonio National Park and after checking out the accommodations decided it was a nice enough place to stay for the weekend.  We had also agreed on the way down that we would share a room while staying there to cut down on our costs.  For the first night we were able to score a private room with a private bath for $15 per person, but as this room was reserved for the next few nights, we had to move to another private room with shared bathrooms for $10 per person per night for the remainder of our stay.

Despite the initial sketchiness of the place, this area turned out to be one of the best places I had visited so far.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

As it was late in the evening with the sun already starting to set, there really wasn’t a ton to do except, well what else but get drunk!!  Ok, one other little factor played into our decision to leave the exploration to the next day, and that was that within an hour or two of us arriving there a fantastic thunderstorm erupted!!  So since we were bound to stay under shelter by a beautiful storm we opted to stay in the restaurant that was just at the entrance and part of the Backpackers to toast the day and the beauty around us.  I really don’t recall how much beers were at this location, but I do recall them being cheap as we had several rounds that night toasting the lightning and thunder as it clapped and struck around us and chatting the night away.

As all the drinkers out there know, once you get started the inevitable million trips to the bathroom begins.  I had not yet “broken the seal” but had need to at one point and borrowed the keys to our room so I could use the bathroom.  I happily made my way into the room, went into the bathroom and even though I was the only one in there, I closed the door to the bathroom…

BIG MISTAKE!!!  Or well, perhaps really it was much better that I did as you will soon learn… You see, behind that door on the wall was (no joke here) a spider with a leg span of about 5 inches!!!  I know that as an arachnophobia our memories and stories tend to make these fearful creatures out to be much larger than they actually are, but in this case I’m not exaggerating!  And this wasn’t one of those large daddy long-legs with large leg spans but teeny bodies… No sir!  This one had a long but slender body!!

So there I was, one hand on the button of my pants, my eyes focused steadily on the spider, my body frozen in fear.  Thoughts began to pass through my drunken brain… “What do I do?!?!?!”… “Perhaps I can just pee really, really fast then tell someone about it when I leave cause I really, REALLY need to pee!!”.  The showdown continued for probably another 30 seconds like this with me staring at the spider and the spider staring back… I was about 2 seconds from just peeing really fast then leaving when the spider moved a single leg about 2 millimeters to the right.  And that’s all it took, I was out of there!!  I flung the door open and ran as fast as I could to the exit of our room, out the hall and back to my friends at the table who were still chatting along happily.  I sat for a moment wringing my hands waiting for a moment to interrupt their conversation.  Then I shyly told them that we have a HUGE spider in our room and that I need it removed immediately!!!  I of course told them too that I was arachnophobic and was sorry to make such a deal out of it, but it had to go!  “B” got all excited as he was quite interested to see the large arachnid (Lord only knows why!!) and he said he would go take care of it.

While he was gone, “A” and I exchanged stories of fears, which for privacy purposes I won’t reveal hers here but I will say it was quite an unusal one!  We continued to chat until “B” finally came back and said “sorry it took so long, I first wanted to get some pictures of the spider, and then it took quite some time to get him out of the room as it kept trying to bite me!”  Thankfully he didn’t go into too many other gross details of how he removed the spider but as my relief for knowing the spider was out of the room set in, my now even more extreme need to pee returned!!  But before even thinking of returning to the room, I had to know exactly where the spider was taken too…  “B” then informed me that since it was so hard to get it out, he was only able to get it as far as the hallway… “I’m sorry, WHAT?!?!?!?!  You mean it’s in the HALLWAY right OUTSIDE OUR ROOM?!?!?!?!”  This made me even more paranoid and though I really didn’t want to have to go back to the bathroom, my body was telling me otherwise.  So I begged “B” to come with me and walk ahead of me to the room just in case the arachnid was in the hallway or on a wall of the hallway on the way to the room.  Such a nice person he was as he acquiesced and allowed me safe passage back to our room so I could finally relieve my bladder:)

The night continued much happier and arachnid-free from there as we continued to fiesta the night away until we all finally crashed and slept soundly.  We awoke to a stormy morning the next day and therefore opted to wait to go to the National Park until the next day when we hoped the weather would cooperate.  After breakfast and taking a picture of a “cute little guest” (see below picture) we moved into our new hostel room (private room with shared communal bath), met a local lizard who was always hanging out in one area and whom I fondly named Miguel, and generally hung around waiting for the storm to recede.

“A” had to get to a bank for more money, so about mid-day when the rain finally stopped, we all headed on a walk back up toward Quepos where the only ATMs were found.  Along the way we spotted several Capuchin Monkeys making their way across man-made ropes that stretched from one side of the road to the other.  These ropes are part of the “Children Saving the Rainforest” project and can be found throughout Costa Rica.  When electrical wires were first being erected to provide electricity to various areas, the monkeys thinking they were useful items to climb across to get to where they wanted to go, would often get electrocuted and die when they gripped them.  This was quite a large problem in the beginning, but it was quickly remedied as the “Rainforest” group stepped in with their fantastic idea of providing safe and non-electrical passages for the monkeys to use.

After our walk back up into town and a nice lunch and beer, we headed back to Manuel Antonio and A and I spent the rest of our afternoon “butt surfing” in the ocean!!  Now for those who don’t know what this is, Butt surfing is where you sit in shallow areas of the beach and allow the coming waves to toss you around the shallow beach as if you were simply a grain of sand.  It really is quite amazing the power of the Ocean as we literally were tossed and pushed and pulled and pommelled by the tiniest of waves!!  Due to the anywhere from small to large rocks and pebbles on the beach however, at times it was quite painful!!  But still fun nonetheless:)

Our night was spent again with good food, good conversation and company, and of course many great beverages.  If our hopes were to come true, the next day would be a sunny one so we could visit the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Back to Costa Rica

Pictures of Puntarenas and Manuel Antonio (including Costa Linda Backpackers Hostel and critters of the area):