4/15 “Do you wanna go to Panama?” It’s a common question around here. “We (sic) gonna renew the visa and shop a little,” the French guy said. Anytime someone had a rental car, people from the hostel piled in and zipped off to the border. When visiting Costa Rica you have to renew your visa here at least every 90 days by going to another country and getting your passport stamped as you return. I’ve seen people get stamped for as low as 15 days; Costa Rica requires that visitors have reservations to leave the country before they can enter it. Airlines in the US won’t even let you on the jet unless you can prove how you’ll be leaving CR. I was given the full 90 as always. In this case, it was interesting for me to be so close to another country but not visit it. Panama was just… over there, down the road an hour. It was tempting… but not too tempting. Apparently some smart people set up a mall right on the border. Luckily I don’t feel a need for a mall.
Bombs came peeling off the point once in a while; I could see what Pavones was capable of and why it was so famous. When the wave is ‘working’ sections link up and flow along the curving bay. There were 3 sections while we were there and they occasionally linked but it never came close to the 1km that the place is famous for. I got some fun ones but was always out of position for the best waves. Close but out of position. Reading the ocean and knowing how a spot behaves are key pieces of the surfing equation. The classic experience for me (and some others) is that if I was just 10′ further I would’ve gotten it…
4/16: One thing the forecast had gotten correct was that the swell was tapering off. I was hungover from too much of a muscle relaxer and 6 flavors of chocolate but wanted to get a last session in since we were leaving later in the day. Besides the extremely intense, vivid dreams the chocolate had me feeling strange for the last 36 hours. Part of the previous night had been spent giggling and snickering uncontrollably while David played ukulele. The surf wasn’t very good but I have no right to complain. We hopped in a cab and David slept most of the way down the bumpy roads back to Golfito. The weather in Golfito was stormy and he told me about his first time flying into the place: It had been a blind landing coming, dropping steeply into the landing strip that was hemmed in on one side by a steep, jungly hillside. The story wasn’t something I needed to hear but our flight wasn’t so bad. We went to a hostel and David checked thoroughly for bedbugs. He was freaked out. The epidemic has reached Costa Rica so he does have cause to worry. Early to bed for an early flight to Tamagringo.
4/17: Playa grande. Why couldn’t we get a taxi at the small airport outside Tamarindo? Apparently we were almost half an hour’s drive from our hotel and there were no buses. A guy started trying to get our bags into his suv as fast as he could after our flight arrived but that’s usually a bad sign. I put the kabosh on it but once they have your bags in hand you have to go backwards in the process and get to the negotiating. He was the only taxi around and game to drive us part way to Playa Grande for some outrageous price. When we asked about getting to Tamarindo he gave us some song and dance about police preventing taxis from going that way. We got out of the taxi part way down the airport road and walked to the main road. We tried to hitch hike or hail taxis but were failing until a guy pulled over a tiny, beat up car and agreed to our price. He obviously wasn’t a taxi and almost certainly didn’t know where our spot was but he seemed game to make a little cash by giving us a ride. We threaded the winding roads asking the way from anyone we could and when we arrived at Playa Grande Surf Camp the driver wanted more money since it had taken longer than expected. At least that was the pretense.
The surf camp was basically empty except for two women I assumed were traveling with each other. One of them left a day later and Noelle became our buddy for the rest of our time there. She was the best thing that happened to us – which is a lot more than it sounds like considering that Tamarindo is complete tourist trap and the surf in Playa Grande was pitiful . Before we got a chance to know Noelle though, I wanted to see the most famous town in Costa Rica. So I got rough directions for a path through the estuary, strapped my little backpack on and took a water taxi one minute across a river to the north end of town. It takes almost half an hour to drive there, but walking and riding a water taxi takes fifteen. I didn’t see any crocodiles but maybe they saw me.
It looks like a strip mall from California has been dropped on the beach of Costa Rica. One of the first things I came across was a shop owned by Robert August, one of the guys who starred in the 1966 classic The Endless Summer. Ok, check. Drug dealers. Check. Expensive restaurants. Check. Same drug dealer. No. I still don’t want it, bro. Thanks. Then I saw one of the most famous landmarks of Tamagringo – something I’d heard about for years. The Subway. There was a KFC too. The oversized American tourists that fill this town more each year need their comforts.
My mother always said the way to get to know a place when you’re traveling is to walk it. So I walked. And I came back with David and Noelle multiple times in following days but the food was expensive and generally god-awful, while the surfers were assholes who paddled within centimeters of you because they have warped minds. It’s fair to say you can learn a lot about a town from by how it’s surfers behave. I did catch one really beautiful wave but I earned every bit of it; 45 minutes after figuring out where I didn’t want to be in a crowd of douchebags, I snagged a wave that formed from a mostly submerged rock. Getting up next to a rock like that is freaky because the water swirls around and you can find yourself dropped onto the rock or pulled to it quickly as a wave comes. But far from shore the rolling swells turned from a hump of water to a wedge that sucked up off this particular rock. I made my way out and jockeyed until I was gently lifted to get a view unlike any I’d seen before. The wave allowed me to stand easily then turned so steep that the lip of it was just above and out from my cheek. At least that’s how it seemed. But I had a perfect view of the wedge as it formed in before me, the front half of my board sticking out as my rail cut into the face of it. My trailing arm was almost limp at the shoulder but it bent at the elbow to allow the tips of two or three fingers to caress the surface of the wave. I rode it well and got the fuck out of there to shittier waves where no one would hang-dog me. David and I met on the shore in another 45 minutes and it was the first time I’d seen him frustrated by other surfers. He’d basically struck out. The paddle across the estuary was barely worth the risk for what he’d gotten. Ultimately I’d finally come to the Tamarindo area and could check it off my list. To boot, a gorgeous wave from the trip stands out in my mind and I chilled with excellent people.
4/25: It didn’t feel like I had much of a crew when I returned to Casa Zen but Leon and a couple of Swedish sisters remained. Then there was Lonne, who’d I’d have bet good money was from New Zealand. The money would have been lost and should know to by more careful by now. The first time I learned this lesson about the quality of people’s English was in Ibiza, one of my first trips abroad on my own: I was walking the street when a guy offered to sell me some ecstasy. I didn’t buy the drug but we talked a bit and I asked if he was from California. He sounded like he was but actually it was Amsterdam, he said. Oh the Dutch. Lonne’s Dutch, left home at 17 and has been traveling almost 10 years, living at least 5 of those in NZ and now sounds like exactly like a kiwi.
When we went to a restaurant or whatever, Lonne and I got the habit of her riding on the handle bars of my bike; she’s damn near as tall as me so it’s a bit of a sight. But people ride around here everyday with dogs sitting on their motorcycles. It’s not unusual to see 3 people crammed on a small motorcylce or a toddler (with no helmet) seated in front of their parent, so we weren’t far from the norm. However it did seem to elicit some smiles or the occasional cheer.
Koji’s was closing, signaling an end to the high season. It was a sad night for STCR but a good reason to go spend some loot on excellent sushi.
4/26: Galim neki. Clean waves. And really blue sky with blue water; my normal 1.5 hour session turned into 2.5 hours. Days like this are why I go into the water. Just about everything was just perfect. I could’ve used a little more sunscreen though. My skin was fairly well adapted to the sun after months of surfing with no shirt but I felt like I was getting burned and got off the board to hide in the water. It didn’t work. I suspect that the holes we have in our ozone layer will sometimes shift location (possibly the work of the Illuminati? No)
4/27: Funky Monkey cheap sushi and circus night. A young woman from our hostel had some inspiring words for me as we sat in the packed restaurant.
4/28: The monster swell that was predicted has mostly become a mess. There might have been some waves at spots that required transport to reach, but it was too far to bike on the chance that I’d score. However I woke up feeling inspired to interview yoga teacher Tori; showed her the site and she was down. So I borrowed Lonne’s camera and we did it.
There was a transition in waves, weather, and the town’s residents.