Monkeys on a plane?

Well it didn’t happen that way, but our day got so mixed up it seemed like it could happen.


We broke camp saying our goodbyes to our new friends at Swiss Palm Garden, Inka and Jorg were great hosts. We had a fantastic time getting to know them, going out to eat Italian and a lot of talk about the old country Switzerland. This Swiss couple had a lot of interesting life stories to share, especially Jorge, entertaining us thoroughly. Sailing the high seas from Florida to Spain, not once, but two times. One of those times he picked up Cuban refugees, but that’s a story for a different blog post.


Their campground was a welcoming rest with a pool, gardens, fast wifi and two great dogs to pal around with. Just what an overlander needs, a little normalcy. We also met up with a German couple we saw some time back when we where in Nicaragua near Lake Apoyo and met another couple Heather and Scott of Tin Can Sprinter Van, also heading to Argentina.

It was also a great time for Scott and I to work on replacing the AC/DC converter in our rig that has been out of service for almost a month. Fortunately, we had some friends visit from the States, and they bought us the parts we needed to get the job done. Thanks Jefferson and Keith!


With the weather looking good, our route was to take us down the Pan American Highway with a detour to Manuel Antonio Park and a quick stop to see the famous plane at El Avion.


This is not your typical restaurant. El Avion is built into and around an actual, real, historical airplane! Not only does El Avion have great food, great views and great décor, it also has a really interesting history.

Have you ever heard of the Iran-Contra Affair or the name Oliver North? This plane played a big part in the history of this scandal. This C-123 cargo plane was built in San Jose in the 1980s, and after the US government purchased it, to be used by the Contras. This was all part of a bigger scandal that involved Oliver North and the illegal selling of arms to rebels in Nicaragua. The plane that eventually became El Avion had a sister plane which took to the skies on its mission first, and was shot down.
The capture of passengers from that plane is what started to unravel the Contra scandal, and because of this, the second plane never took off. This sealed its fate as a dust-catching, mostly-forgotten relic in a San Jose hangar….until some enterprising and economically-conscious entrepreneurs came along and gave the plane new life. While this plane has never and will never fly, it managed to make the long journey from San Jose to Manuel Antonio – but of course it was not transported in one piece. The owners of El Avion purchased the plane for about $3,000 and decided to put it to good use by recycling it into an unforgettable restaurant. It had to be disassembled for transportation, and the large plane pieces were brought over by land and by sea. Many pieces had to be brought by ferry, as they were too big to get past some of Costa Rica’s smaller roads and bridges.



We got there too early for lunch, and the restaurant was closed, but we did get some good eats from the bakery. Now onto Manuel Antonio Park.

Manuel Antonio National Park, is a small National Park in the Central Pacific Conservation Area located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, just south of the city of Quepos, Puntarenas, and 82 miles from the national capital of San José. Established in 1972,  it is the destination of as many as 150,000 visitors annually and well known for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails. In 2011, Manuel Antonio was listed by Forbes among the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks.

As expected we saw a sloth, many monkeys, huge iguanas and some bold raccoons. Although Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest national park, the diversity of wildlife in its 3 square miles is unequaled with 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. Both brown-throated three-toed sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth are a major feature, as are three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species — the mantled howler monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, and white-headed capuchin monkey, black spiny-tailed iguana, green iguana, common basilisk, white-nosed coati and many snake and bat species are also common in the park. Included in the 184 bird species are toucans, woodpeckers, potoos, motmots, tanagers, turkey vulture, parakeets and hawks. Dolphins can be observed there, as well as the occasional migrating whale. Scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking provide opportunities to experience the tropical wildlife that enriches Manuel Antonio.

It was certainly a day in the history books for us as the most mesmerizing wildlife encounters and a beautiful beach.

Stay tuned and keep following. Soon we’ll enter our last Central American country, Panama and face the Darien Gap!

Published by bernardbarbour

Expedition leader, writer and photographer @Tales of the Pan American Highway. Currently on the road to Ushuaia Argentina. Follow me , 4x4 overlanding. #overlandsouthamerica #overlandcentralamerica

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