Throughout the last 7 months I have been highlighting the differences between Costa Rica and Alaska, today however I am going to key on a similarity. In Alaska, we always mused that we only had two seasons, 9 months of winter and 3 months of summer. Some would say breakup was also considered a season. Our springs were mired in the much of breakup and our falls, well they seemed to last about a week. So we endured winter and lived for summer.
Here in Costa Rica they have two seasons as well, the green or rainy season and the dry season. I posted several blogs during the rainy season, and man it sure does rain. It rains like I have never seen, like Forest Gump Vietnam rain. Well were are now a couple of months or so into the dry season and much like breakup in Alaska we are experiencing a new intra-season, the windy season. The wind here, like all great winds has a name, the Papgayo (I think there are 50 different ways to spell it) winds. These winds are fierce. They start rattling the palm trees at about 5:30 in morning, a natural alarm clock, and often die down about 12 hours later, before repeating the cycle. They are strong, gusting and loud. I mean these are the kind of winds that take a toupee to Panama. They will dry a clothes line full of clothes in 10 minutes or less. They will hurl a coconut down the street faster than a Roger Clemens fastball, post steroid use. These are seriously impressive winds. Winds that would frighten me if I was patrolling the Bering Sea in January like the old days.
Personally I have been enjoying them for they make being outside quite bearable. However, yesterday while hanging at the beach and doing a little surfing, I saw a glimpse into the downside of the Papagayos. You see if you have ever tried to sit on the beach in a bathing suit, during a wind storm,it is akin to being shot at by dozens of kids with airsoft guns. Basically, you are being sandblasted, the same method we used to remove paint off of our old steel boats in Alaska. It is slightly unpleasant. So to escape you jump in the water with your surf board to catch some waves. The problem there is that the wind causes a wind chop that has you taking constant green water over your bow, making it very difficult to navigate. Furthermore it pushes wherever it wants you to go, which is not where you want to be. The good news, if the hurricane is blowing off shore, then you get the perfect barrel for surfing, if you know what you are doing, and I don’t. So I usually end up upside down, holding my breath on the bottom of the ocean waiting for the thundering of the ocean to quiet down so that I can emerge to get some air, pull my surfboard back to the water as it flutters in the wind like a kite, paddle back into the wind, and try again.
So there you have it, Costa Rica is just like Alaska, two seasons and each with their good and bad points. Alaska’s interim breakup is messy and makes it difficult to be outside, Costa Rica’s windy season is messy and makes it difficult to be on the beach. A couple big differences, although I do take a ton of water over the bow, I don’t have to worry about icing up, and during AK’s breakup your toupee is not only safe, but a good way to keep your noggin warm. Here in CR, unless you are using superglue, best put that thing in lock up for January and February and get a little sun on your dome, after you sandblast off all the dead skin of course.
Here is a short video, with the full sounds of the winds in our back yard.
With the dry season now upon us, the only logical thing to do is to take to the water, which we did. BCC sponsored a sunset cruise aboard the Marlin Del Ray and the day couldn’t have been better. There were a smattering of clouds in the piercing blue sky, a slight breeze and perfect air temperature to be skimming across the slightly rippled blue sea. On board the cruise about 60 family and friends, drinks, fruit and food provided.
Nary 20 minutes out of Tamarindo we spotted some humpback whales, a calf and her momma and we veered course to ride next to them. They put on a nice show for all of us, breaching, spewing and generally delighting all those on board before swimming off into the deep. Immediately after getting back on course we were greeted by some dolphins who playfully glided by each hull on the 60 foot catamaran. Right along side of them was a small manta ray sunning his wingtips. Soon after that we sailed upon some Leatherback turtles having an intimate moment. They seemed slightly irritated as we slid by them 10 feet away. In between all this were fish jumping, snakes swimming, and the wind and sea slapping gently against the hulls of the boat. On board, kids and adults were laughing in glee with every new sighting.
Once we reached our destination, a private beach, the anchor was dropped and everyone hit the water with snorkels, noodles or life jackets. The water was not the clearest, but it was clear enough to see the plethora of colorful fish and sea life along the reef. I don’t know what kind of fish I saw but I do know that they were neon blue, yellow, rainbow-colored, small, large, fast slow and all curious. The beach itself was empty except for those of us from the boat, so it was ripe for a walk or a little beach combing. It was a small dark beach sheltered by small cliffs on each side, making the bay it hosted nearly glass calm. No surf to speak of, but great for some swimming and snorkeling.
The day finished with some food, singing and a typical Costa Rica sunset, the money shot. However, they always seem to be a little more impressive from the water. Something about being able to look back onto the beach having the same view the sun has makes it slightly more breathtaking. Cameras were smoking as their shutters flashed, and there was a slight quietness and stillness that enveloped the whole vessel as we waited for that magical moment when the sun disappeared over the edge of the world. We were not disappointed, as we never are. And as we were shuttled back to the beach in the 20 foot fiberglass, white open skiff, which got us close enough to wade back to the beach in the warm Pacific water, I realized that this was November, and we had just all been kissed by a touch of sunburn. I also realized that our reality had changed from shoveling snow, driving on icy roads and trying to keep my bald head warm, to trying to stay cool, dealing with jellyfish stings, and trying to make sure my bald head doesn’t burn. It is a change, but we are doing our best to cope.
P.S. There are so many pictures that I just put them in slideshow below for you to enjoy.
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.
What is a vacation? Can you have a true vacation while still at home? I think not. I think vacations are getting away from all the daily things in your life; work , meetings, appointments, clubs, practices, and work. The problem with vacations is that they end. It is impossible to have a never ending vacation, because at some point it becomes your “reality” or your “life”.
Now we will admit, we missed our kids and we missed our friends, but if we could’ve found a way to bring them all back to us, we would have. You could’ve all lived in our vacation for a while, and much like a tootise pop, we would see how long it takes a vacation to turn into life. My guess, when the money runs out.
To close out our trip, I thought I would just post some of our favorite shots of our trip. People seem to like the pics ( or really resent them Scott L.!) and I will work on getting another video together. Shoot, last time it only took me a year, and then it will be time for another vacation.
Well I went ahead and did a quick photo video, it was easier. I apologize for the quality, but it was a quick video just so for your enjoyment. The second video, well that is for all the doubters; those that doubt a 41 year, stocky Alaskan can surf. You can hear the cheers from the hot female in the background.
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.
I am a legendary body surfer and well known boogie boarder, at least in my family. However, I cannot say that it has always been my dream to be a surfer. This past Christmas, knowing we would be in Costa Rica together, Jason bought me surf lessons. In his words, so he would not look foolish alone.
Now I have watched hundreds upon hundreds of people surf, big waves, small waves, big boards, small boards, and for the most part it looks pretty easy. Catch a wave, jump up, balance and ride to the shore. Sure I knew it would likely take 2 or 3 times before I got the knack of it, but I am old and that is expected.
It was a gusty day on Tamarindo beach, blowing along the shore line perpendicular to the surf. The sun was hot, the spray was pelting and the flying sand stung those stuck on shore. Tracy stood by on the beach guarding our things and armed with a multitude of cameras. There were several schools of surf, all identified by their color of surfing shirt and their very close proximity to the shore, like me, Jason, Jrew and Jace, in our awesome surfer blue shirts. Further out, in the big surf breaking out 100 feet past us were the pros, with their wooden short boards, wild hairdos, dark skin, long shorts, taking turns catching the big waves. I knew soon, very soon we would be out there with them.
After our repetitive on shore session learning how to jump up onto the board, we were ready to hit the waves. Our teacher, Cairo, a thin tall dark Tico lead us out into the beginner surf and was soon holding our boards and shoving us one by one into the onslaught of waves. Now some of us were much quicker to grasp the concept of balance and foot position, unfortunately I was not one of them. Eventually though, I was able to stand up, and I think I actually surfed. Most of the time, by the time I was standing the ride was already over, but it still looked good in a quick photo.
Jace really seemed to get the hang of it, riding several waves all the way into the shore. Jrew also caught some great waves, and he even did a couple tricks, unintentionally, but they still looked cool. Jason caught a couple nice ones, but he injured his hip early on ( during the on shore session) and was suffering throughout the class. Yet he pressed on, and kept his word accompanying me in looking foolish. Me, well I can’t say that I became “one with the waves” but I can say that I became “one with the ocean bottom” several times. I never did make it out deep with the pros, but I was content to hang in the shallow surf with the other blue shirters, attempting to catch wave after wave. Will I ever surf again? Let’s just say I bought a brand new surf shirt today, but you won’t see me in Cook Inlet anytime soon.
What we learned:
The reason you wear a surf shirt is not for warmth,or to look excessively cool, but to prevent rashes, of which I now have many.
Not only is surfing much harder than it looks, sitting on the board is harder than it looks, swimming on the board is harder than it looks, and getting to the surf is harder than it looks.
Balance is key, and it is not a given.
If you surf once, you will almost always surf again.
Pretty much anyone can look cool holding a surfboard on the beach.
My wife can take some awesome surf pictures.
I think I got the video issues worked out, finally. Now I must pre-worn you, if you don’t like monkey’s, you probably won’t like part two. For some reason, when I was making this, I went particularly heavy on the monkeys. I like monkeys. I call my kids monkeys. So I am not apologizing for the amount of monkeys, I am just warning that you will see quite a few monkeys. There are also some sunsets, sailboats, beaches and all that stuff. I was also able to upload the whole video in its entirety onto Dailymotion, so I have included that on here as well. So sit back relax and allow yourself to be swept away to the land of beaches, sun, rain forests and monkeys, lots of monkeys.
This is part two from the previous post
This is the whole video, both parts 1 and 2 combined.