I have heard the mantra over and over since we have been here. I have seen the t-shirts, bumper stickers, and signs; eat, surf, sleep. I never knew how serious it was until this last week. I was fortunate to be invited along for a men’s surfing trip to a surf spot called Pavones, on the very southern Pacific edge of Costa Rica. It is said to have the second longest left ride in the world, and even though I lean to the right, I was willing to give a ride. So me, Ben & Jeremy packed up for a post church 9 hour drive to surf. Two cars, 15 men, about 20 surfboards, probably 15 board shorts and half as many pairs of clean underwear headed south praying for great waves and good times. We were not disappointed.
The drive was long and tedious at times as the rains and darkness slowed down the last half of the drive. As we drove the tiny roads and crossed the many, very high, un-railed wooden homemade bridges it dawned on me that these guys really like to surf. And as I looked around, there was only one other guy in the group, over 40, who had just started surfing this last year. Everyone else in the group had been surfing since childhood, so either we were idiots or we were brave, time would tell.
Pavones, or turkey town, is a very small village, a couple of tiny stores, some local surf shops, and a couple of places for non-surfing, non-sleeping surfers to grab a bite. No pavement, no ATMs, no Walmart, just a spot near a beach for world class waves, and that was all we needed. We all stayed in a house that was converted to rent to loco surfer’s such as ourselves, some on beds, some in tents, couches, floors, anywhere away from the mosquitos and the rain, cuz we knew we just needed a place to keep our boards and to nap.
The first morning we were all tired, pulling in well after 10 pm excited for an early rise. There were many among us as giddy as schoolgirls before their first dance, unable to sleep. At 5 am the floor started creaking, bodies started moving and the coffee was being poured. As the sun began to rise, boards were being prepped, waxed, new fins attached, leashes made ready and the anticipation of the sun too much for us to bear. Qucikly, men starting walking the 200 yards to the beach to get a taste of a world class wave. Overcast skies, and offshore breeze, huge slow breaking waves greeted us all as we tip toed over the rocks seeking the quickest way to the shoulder.
Personally my arms turned to jelly on the swim out to the waves. It seemed like never ending strokes attempting to reach a mirage way off in the distance. Even the seasoned vets had to take a break before attempting to catch one of these endless waves. It was gratifying to watch man after man as they found they peak of the wave, stroked quickly, slid down the wave and rode on for what seemed like hours. Four hours later, stomachs grumbling, the waves subsiding just a little, we decided it was time for the eat portion of our trip.
During breakfast, exhaustion seemed to overwhelm us, or our adrenaline had abandoned us, because men were dropping where they sat, some with plates on their laps, forks in their mouths, or coffee in their hands. But as quickly as they fell they again rose looking for the next wave. Me, Lyle and Mike F. decided to try and find our boys who were surfing a secret spot. We had loose directions from Marcell, and set off on an adventure. Unable to find them, we went down a trail by some cabanas. As the trail became overgrown and jungly, we decided it was best to turn around, so we stopped and Mike ran ahead to see if there was an opening to turn around. We should’ve know by the way he bulleted back to the car that something was up. There were waves, big long waves he exclaimed, in short panting breaths. But the best part, no one, not one person was in the water. You can make it, he exclaimed, it opens right up. Open up was a very loose word usage, as we had to dodge Lyle’s car between trees, under branches and to the beach to get to the waves. But it was worth it. He was right. There were big long waves and we were the only three people on the face of the earth that day that got to surf those waves. It turned out to be the best 3 hours of surfing we would have on that trip, and possibly in our entire life. Wave, after wave, after wave of rides 100 – 200 yards long, with only each other to take turns with. No wind, no chop, just rideable wave after rideable wave. In all honesty, it has probably ruined surfing for me from that day forward, and I truly wish my skill level was better so that I could’ve rode the waves for quite a time longer. Unfortunately I have no photos for we were all in the water.
So that’s how the trip went, eat, surf, eat, sleep, surf, eat, surf, on and on and on. Our muscles were tired, our body’s were aching. Some of the waves were too big to ride, some were too crowded to ride, but every wave caught was better than any wave we could catch back home. Ben got barreled and Jeremy rode the longest waves of his life, by far. And because of this trip I now know how to eat, surf and sleep, and although it is certainly not as easy as it sounds, I can’t wait until I get to do it again.
The dry cold air encompassing your face, and only your face. A slight tinge of chill on your nose, ears and cheeks, while you feet are on the verge of sweating. You slowly open your eyes, not sure if you can see your breath but acutely aware that you are not in you bed at home. It is quiet, it is cool and the light is slowly and naturally filling your tent. You can see across a quilt of sleeping bags, mom, kids, dog, shoes, coats, hats, forming a camp carpet inside the tent. All you can think about, all you can muster is the thought that someone else, someone from another tent, got up, started a crackling fire and put on a pot of coffee. But it is just a wish, one that is nary fulfilled for you are that guy, the one who starts the fire and brews that joe. You are camp master.
Camping has been a part of our family for years, as you can see from some of my past posts (Ninilchik Camping, Homer Camping) I can still feel the anticipation and despair as we packed to prepare, assembling the tents to make sure they are whole, anticipating the rain and cold with extra clothes, socks and blankets. I can still feel that morning chill on my face as I psyched myself up to get out from my sleeping bag and start a post of coffee. I can still feel my body shivering just a touch as I slowly emerged from the tent in the morning, striving to keep all my parts dry, knowing once wet always wet. I can still smell the smokiness of the damp fire and hear the hard crackle of the wet wood drying. It was invigorating, tiring and a fun family activity. It was never luxurious, seldom relaxing, always dirty and always memorable, and that’s what camping is about, memories. In that aspect it never failed.
I remember awakening to a tent full of water and slugs. I remember wives mad because we left early to fish. I remember finding a hotel for night number two. I remember our food and fish being stolen during the night. I remember catching Silvers, Kings and Reds, cleaning them and worrying about bears. I remember seeing bears in camp. I remember back aches, side aches and longing for a real bathroom. I remember taking a crying dog out for a walk at 3 am in the pouring rain. I remember shooting stars, a smoke-filled tarp and rain, there was always rain. I remember watching the kids run, play, explore, fish and swim and loving every second of it. Camping is never short on memories.
Well we started a new type of camping this year, Costa Rica camping. Unlike Alaska camping, the packing consists mostly of food and extra swimwear. Instead of rising at the crack of dawn to fish, we rise to surf. Instead of huddling by the fire, we seek shelter from the sun and seek a stiff breeze. Instead of worrying about bears we worry about snakes and spiders and small creepy things. It is a new adventure and already it has created memories.
Memories of forgetting tent poles for the big tent. Memories of thinking we brought the queen air mattress only to find out it was the single. Memories of forgetting the power cord ( yes we camp with power in Costa Rica) for the breakfast griddle. Memories of sunburn, salty skin and crazy dangerous surf. Memories of sleeping in a running car all night to circulate air. Memories of a surf that was much too big for me, pounding me over and over to the bottom of the ocean and snapping a friends fiery red board in half.
It left us with the eternal memories of the kids, running, hiding, playing, eating smores, singing ,skim boarding, boogie boarding and just having fun. It was different, but the results were the same. Memories, more and more memories. Hopefully, as they grow the kids will recall these trips and smile as they recall all the good times they had with friends and family, unaware of the pain and suffering mom and dad endured to create these memories. And as the memories of the back aches, lack of sleep and bug bites disappear and are overcome by the flood of good memories, smores, fires, kids playing and laughing, only then will we prepare for our next camping trip, this time with tent poles, air mattess and the proper power cords.
During our trip to Orlando, one of the main things on our shopping list, besides eating at Steak and Shake, was a waterproof camera. Did we need a waterproof camera?That’s like asking if we need an iphone. And I am not taking my iphone out in the agua, that’s for sure. Although the new iphone 4S will be released soon, hmmmm.
So naturally, as with any new toy, we took it out to give it a test run. It’s nothing fancy, but it can get wet and still take pictures, so it met our criteria. Plus, it is a lot of fun to bring electronics into the ocean with you, it kind of feels naughty. In fact it took me about an hour to figure out that I didn’t have to hold it above my head and sacrifice my body and as the waves crashed around me to keep it from getting all wet. So today’s blog is just a bunch of pictures taken with our Fujifilm XP waterproof, freeze proof (important for here) portable camera. We are still learning the settings, and I am too lazy to edit the pics, so some are dark, some are light, some are blurry, some just right.
These pictures were taken during some outings over the last couple of weeks at Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo and Avellenas.
Since we live in an area known for its beautiful beaches, we tend to spend a lot of time on them. As you have seen in previous posts, each beach has its own personality, some for surfing, some for swimming, some for tanning and almost all for shell hunting. One of our favorite activities since we have been married beach combing on a beach, any beach. Funny thing, the kids have really gotten into this pastime as well. They view it as a treasure hunt. And if you are not surfing or swimming, it is a great way to get some sun and have some fun. In fact, we have cases of shells and beach glass that I have paid to move to at least three different houses. What do we do with them? Good question.
Barefoot in the warm moist sand, waves crashing against the beach, a slight breeze and the smell of the ocean as you leave a trail of slowly drying foot impressions behind you; You never know what you might see. By accident, last time we were here we found a very small beach, a lonely beach, with giant shells. We have been back several times since. However, surprisingly our most recent best finds came this past week at a beach we have been to a multitude of times, a popular beach known for surfing, Grande.
As me and the boys attempted to surf ( and I truly mean attempt) Tra and the girls decided to go for a walk. The tide was very low, hence the lousy surfing, giving a huge runway of beach to comb. As they walked they heard a clinking and decided to investigate. What they found was a small gully in the beach, right where two crests of waves were meeting to etch out the gully. In the gully, hundreds of hermit crabs leaving their current shell for an upgrade. They would crawl out of their shell, and then test out a new bigger shell, if it fit well they would stay, too big too small they would return to their old shell and try again. Amongst them, a treasure trove of shells, shells like we have never seen. All unbroken, all unique and all beautiful.
The ladies, they loaded up, but the day’s winner for sure was Kassie. As she walked along the shoreline, she was shin deep into the Pacific as kids tend to do, when she kicked up a nice little shell. She bent over and pulled out a gem, probably the best one we have seen since we have been here. An unbroken hand sized shell, a rarity for sure. So when you come to visit, and you see the silhouettes in the sun of people walking slowly on the beach, bent over at the waist and appearing to be looking for a lost wedding ring in the sand ( not saying it did or did not happen) be advised that they are simply shell hunting. And if you join them and happen to see a crab wearing a 14 carat gold belt, go ahead and grab him for me. I’m sure we’ve got a new condo for him here that will fit perfectly in return for the belt.
I am not going to lie to you, life has been pretty hectic. Not by choice, but by necessity. You see living in Costa Rica, according to what I have learned so far, is divided into 2 styles, minimalist and normal. Now the minimalist life means no car, no house, no air conditioning, very little comfort and very little concern. There is surfing, swimming, salty shorts, bus rides and perhaps the true meaning of Pura Vida. We have not chosen this style of life. Instead we went for the Ex-Pat style, this includes a bank account, a car, and a house, all of which lead to more red tape and procedures than a visit to the oval office. For some reason everything an ex-pat has to do requires an attorney and often an accountant, and most of all patience. I have met many people since we have been here and there are many tidbits of knowledge they have bestowed on me. One that really sticks in my brain is from a couple who have been here for 16 years, ” You will have to re-learn what patience is”. That is deep, and true, and turning out to be a lengthy process.
Time is relative, according to Einstein, perhaps he was trying to become a Costa Rican. Living here you quickly learn the practical application of this theory. Monday can be next Monday or maybe two Monday’s from now. 9 am usually means before 12, usually. Learning to live with it takes a lot more patience than I ever thought I had, but perhaps that’s Pura Vida.
Even with all the business, meeting workers, bankers, accountants, attorneys, teachers, shopping and more, we have worked hard to make sure and find time to hit the beaches, one thing there is not shortage of around us. As we visit the beaches we have come to learn that they each have their own personality. Some are dark some are light, some have surf others do not, some are crowded and others have nary another soul. It is our job and mission to visit them all and to see which fits our personality, which will become our favorite and our secret spot. This past week we hit a couple of beaches that we have been to several times. They are popular beaches with people vendors etc., but they are popular for a reason, they are good beaches.
Playa Conchal is about a 4 minute drive from our house; A white beach made of crushed shells. It is a little tricky to get to, but worth the trip. It is beautiful, warm with very small breakers if any at all. We chose this for a snorkel adventure. Although visibility was not as good as expected, there were a lot of fish to see and it was nothing if not relaxing. The beach is the front lawn of Reserva Conchal, a very nice resort area nearby. It is great for jet skis, snorkeling, tanning, swimming and picnics, but not a surfing hangout so the crowd tends to be family oriented, especially with ticos on the weekends.
Yesterday was a surf tournament sponsored by Christian Surfers at Tamarindo, and since there were people from our church competing, we thought it would be nice to attend. Now Tamarindo is an extremely popular beach and a very touristy location. It is littered with tourists shops and surfing stores. You can learn to surf from one of the hundreds of experts stationed all over town. They are usually very dark-skinned with dreadlocks, corn rows, Bob Marly surf boards and shorts to match. They all guarantee you will stand on the board before the end of you lesson or “NO PAY”!
There are way more people there than we tend to like, but it is known as a great place to learn to surf, and a great place for those who know how to surf. The culture is truly surf town and tourist town. But when we need to shop or find some different food options, it is Tamarindo we hit, a 25 minute drive from our house. Although we had no idea what we were watching, it was fun to attend a local event and get a feel for the culture. I can’t say the competition was fierce, because I couldn’t tell what was good or bad, and the announcers all spoke Spanish, but it was interesting. The food wasn’t half bad either.
We tend to time our beach visits with the sunset, arriving around 2-3 in the afternoon and staying until the sun goes down. I imagine, much like the moose and mountains back home, there will come a day when we won’t take a picture of every beautiful sunset. But until that day we will continue to share them on the blog with you; Perhaps you can get a sense of where we are finding our Pura Vida in the midst of the chaos.
Socializing together is very important for ex-pats in Costa Rica, as has become apparent to us this trip. In one week we have gone to two well attended fund-raisers. The first was here in Flamingo for a local private school. There we met many people from the community, people from the church, from the school, and just the area in general.
Tonight we went to another fund-raiser in Tamarindo, this time it was for Haiti. Again, all aspects of the community showed up for the concert, buffalo wings and company. The best thing about these get togethers is that they have great turnouts, they are cheap, and they are outside. It is a great way to meet people and feel part of the area. There is a tight-knit community here, and they take advantage of outings such as these.
Oh, and we found time to go surfing once again, without instructors. This time we hit Playa Grande, where the people are fewer the waves are bigger and the surfing is better. But, the surfing is only better for better surfers, not so much us. I am happy to report that I truly really surfed a couple waves. I mean stand up, ride the wave jump off surfing. And even though I suffered many minor injuries, I believe I will surf again, dude!
Things we learned:
It takes more than one day for surf wounds to heal.
12 passenger rental buses can catch air if driven at high speeds over a large speed bump.
It only costs about $2 to fix a flat tire, it only costs another $2 to fix that same flat again….
There are a lot of Americans living in Costa Rica, and they seek out other Americans.