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Wow Place #245: Anaconda Restaurant, Costa Rica

“The Blums are never late!”

When I was growing up, my mom, Shirley, maintained a very stern rule for the family. No matter what, we always had to be on time. To this day, Shirley never fails to comment on my promptness, or lack thereof. “You’re one minute early. You’re two minutes late. You’re right on time!” Naturally, I try to gamify it. If I arrive at her place ten minutes early, I sit in the car for 9 minutes so I can walk in the front door right on the hour. I know, it’s pretty silly…but it gives of us both pleasure, so why not?

It’s 3:55pm at the Anaconda Restaurant on the west coast of Costa Rica. As the clock ticks towards 4pm, the diners whisper in excitement, the tension building. And then, right on time, the family makes its appearance. A squirrel monkey family that is – ten members in total — with tiny, clinging babies hanging onto the backs of their mamas. It’s a crazy, surreal scene, all these monkeys invading an elegant, restaurant patio in the middle of a Central American forest, right on time and exactly on cue.

“Is this planned? Are there zoo keepers out there in the woods, with stopwatches, releasing the monkeys from cages?” I ask one of my neighbors.
“No, the monkeys just come naturally.”

It’s a mind-boggling experience. How do the monkeys do it? Do they have internal time clocks in their heads? Do they have a Mama Shirley herding them towards the restaurant at exactly 4pm every day, because “the Squirrel Monkeys are never late”? Inquiring minds want to know!

Apart from the wonder of the timing, the actual monkey visit itself is fairly pedestrian. The creatures hang out on a designated table for about 15 minutes, eat a few bananas, and then recede back into the jungle. If this was the circus, they’d probably take a bow and maybe pass a hat. But this is the real world. Without fanfare or showmanship, the monkeys quietly return to their lives, as if their short, daily visit with the humans is the most normal thing in the world. And perhaps it is.

The Anaconda restaurant, by the way, is part of the Hotel Costa Verde. Just a few miles from the dazzling Manuel Antonio park (Wow Place #10), the hotel is set on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It boasts 2 open-air restaurants, 3 outdoor pools, daily yoga AND suites built inside actual airplanes. No wonder the monkey family comes here; even they must find it a cool tourist attraction!

(Is being on time important? I mean, really? There are two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, in the bigger scheme of things, who cares about being exactly on time? Life happens. Traffic jams. Last-minute phone calls. What’s a few late minutes, here and there, between friends? On the other hand, being on time to appointments creates a pattern of reliability. You do what you say you’re going to do. You’re trustworthy. And how many people can you really trust in the world to keep their word and be there for you? It’s up to you whether you want to live a life of flexibility, or a life of trustworthiness. Myself, the die is already cast. I’m way too conditioned for promptness – thank you Mama Shirley! When it comes to being on time, I just don’t monkey around.)