The unspoken truth about Costa Rica’s Animals

It took only one hour to go from me not feeling so great to me lying in bed in excruciating pain. The palms of my hand hurt (more like burnt) and I felt like knives going from my shoulder blades to the hands and back up again. I had never felt this kind of pain and Avri, worried, looked up my symptoms:
  • Do you have more pain on one side than the other?
  • Yes
  • Do you feel numbness or needles
  • Yes, both
  • Is the pain sharp and going through your limbs?
  • Yes
  • Well, it says here that you may be having a stroke but I think you’re too young for that.
It wasn’t a stroke but when he saw my shoulder blades we figured out what it was. I had lines of many ant bites that had swollen the whole area, it was red and disgusting and I, apparently, was having an allergic reaction.
Here’s the thing — in all the research I did for Costa Rica, nobody ever mentioned ants. I feel like there may be a government ban on it, a special censorship office that screens any mention of these horribly vicious creatures because, if it got out there, this place would cease to be the pura vida paradise they sell you. These big, red ants are everywhere waiting to harm you. They are in the jungle and the beach but also in your hotel and your bed. I splashed myself with insect repellent every couple of hours with a rigor I show in no other area of my life, and still they found me.
You see images of sloths everywhere — in tourist posters, food packaging and even their bills. But where are the sloths? They are waaay up there in the trees, not moving (as they are sloths) and you have to stare until your neck becomes stiff or the wind moves their hairs and you can see it isn’t just a blob of whatever. I propose a motion to replace the sloths on the bills with many many ants. Volume-wise, they have definitely earned it.
When we were in Medellin we met a guy who had just gotten back from Costa Rica, and he said that he reached the point where he was not impressed with seeing more animals, as there are so many of them everywhere. With our vivid (and sometimes unrealistic) imagination, we imagined we would see sloths and monkeys all the time: in our walks, on the bus, in the restaurant patios and on our windowsill at night. This was not the case.
We did several day and night animal walks, a canoe tour on my birthday and random spottings and we were happy about what we saw but nowhere near what that guy had told us back in Medellin. As we were walking out of Cahuita National Park, our last chance to see animals in the wild, we were laughing at what he said and at what we had pictured and we decided to just feel lucky with what we had seen. It was five minutes to closing time and 100 ft away from the exit when we started hearing them. Two monkeys flying through the trees that went over our heads. And then there were more, and more, and more! It was as if they had been waiting patiently for all the tourists to leave their jungle so they could come out and play. They were literally an arms length away and Avri and I started squealing with excitement. They were so cute! They nibbled on leaves and jumped from one branch to the other, they made their way to the beach and munched on almonds that had fallen from the tree and one especially cute one was staring at us. We saw them comb each other in a row, like I had only seen in postcards, and a baby jump around and curl its tail on the branches to free his hands for food grabbing. We were probably the happiest people in the whole universe, until we noticed the ants, and how they had crawled on us and bitten us when we were most vulnerable in our moments of bliss. Those little bastards could have eaten all those monkeys had they put their minds to it. Those little spawns of the devil which I am not sad to get away from. Next stop: antless Guatemala — or so I truly hope.