The local L.S.D. (long steady drizzle) has me once again ‘tripping’, and this time my tantalizing tropical tendencies have lead me to the surfing enclave of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Hoping to be smothered in sunshine and soothed by a sloshing sea, this trip has a hint of nostalgia, as the first time I stood upon the shores of the once tranquil fishing village was more than thirty winters ago.
Outside my rented Balcones condo tuneful bird ballads are sporadically interrupted by a few furry fellows appropriately known as Howler monkeys. Their ferocious roar is a most ‘un-timid-aping’ sound meant to protect both their territory and hairy mates.
The key to Tamarindo is its seductive beach. Having walked a lot of coasts in a lot of countries, I guarantee this one will have you dashing for your flip-flops. Ticos and Ticas are out surfing the waves, playing fetch with Fido with empty coconuts, or simply sprawled out on the beach protecting their blankets from the sun.
Running the gorgeous beach is a joy, with the aerial kingdom above home to a pleasing mix of feathers, including pelicans, osprey, magpies, frigates, and parrots. My two-legged meditation on the sand also incorporates a workout for the eyes; busily ping-ponging between a bevy of beach bunnies who have apparently forgot to put their tops on!
Tamarindo’s weather-perfect afternoons sire dazzling hall of fame sunsets setting the sky afire as the swollen sinking sun welds sea and sky together. Occasionally even a few floppy-eared humpback Brahman cattle roam out onto the beach to better appreciate the divine view!
After a grunt-filled cycling trip up the coast to Playa Avellanas, I stop at a roadside shack to replenish lost carbs with a beer and burrito. Inquiring about an alternative to the dusty roads, the owner mentions a dicey ATV jungle track allegedly leading back to town, but tells me I won’t make it on a bike. I don’t daunt easily, and place this advice in my mental shredder, pointing my front tire in the direction of the path.
Ten minutes into the trail I ford a river, mistakenly thinking this will be the worst of it. However, the track goes from bad to worse, turning into a real ‘Find Muck’ with a risky cocktail of rocks, roots, and mud slipperier than a squid in olive oil; all designed to separate rider and bike. Admiring the jungle scenery is abandoned due to flailing at biting bugs and being frequently dislodged from the bike by my muddy enemy.
The desolate path through the tight jungle growth is strenuous to say the least, and a slight corrosion of confidence has me questioning my cycle-logical fitness! I suppose any sensible sort would turn back, but then again, ‘sensible’ and I have never exactly been the best of amigos; in fact, many would argue we’ve yet to be introduced! Consequently, this Tour de Farce is the most grueling ride my hide has ever tried; but at long last I’m able to slither out of ‘Muck-mageddon’ when the swampy trail connects with a gravel road.
After the most brutal ride of its life, my bike is molting gooey splats of mud with every pump of the pedals; and along with myself, wearing enough mud to build a small village in Africa! However, after five hours in the saddle I don’t give a flying flamingo; I’m a man on a mission, focused on getting my bedraggled body back into a hot shower and indulge my inner sloth with the calorific camaraderie of a few frothy cold ones, with my unemployed legs and keister at ease under the trees in a comfy hammock!
At the Saturday market I have my first encounter with a monster cricket called a ”Langosta”, when one bursts out of a pile of papayas in front of me. The red winged critter’s face is locked in a cheesy grin, and judging by its size, could be Jimney’s jumbo Jurassic cousin! I try using my linguistically-compromised Spanishy phrases to inquire about the bad-ass bug, but locals look at me dumbfounded, as if I’ve just asked if I could borrow their underwear to blow my nose. I am later to learn that ‘langosta’ also means lobster!
With the calendar page flipped to December, I embrace the new month by once again testing the power of the pedal. Wending along the coast through the towns of Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, and Brasallito, the beaches are alluring, but bullying my bike through the soft sands on thick two inch tires has caused it to engage in a mutiny, causing some ‘engine trouble’ that’s taking my panting to a whole new level.
I cycle past a bar with a splotched sign offering a ‘two for one’ happy hour. ‘Two beer; or not two beer’; that is the question. Who am I kidding; this is a no-brainer! I am ‘wheely’ tired, and the sign prompts a quick dismount since my bike seat and butt cheeks are not currently the best of amigos. I quickly morph from my steed’s engine to its radiator, topping up with liquid inspiration for my demanding ride back.
Early morning when the streets are lean is a perfect time for running. I come to a group of vultures, with the flying foreheads busy devouring flattened toads on the roads and garbage-gorging in piles of malodourous trash. Fortunately the scenery soon turns a little more exotic and I’m serenaded by a chorus of parrots, squirrel cuckoos, parakeets, gackles, and other boisterous birdies gossiping in the tree canopies. Several stout, scaly, and leathery-jowled iguanas sternly spectate as I coax my feet over the roads.
I hear a Howler’s throaty call and can see it peering down at me from a tree while it’s engaging in some scrotum-grooming. He appears to be giving me the bony monkey finger, so I stop for a photo. Only then do I realize it’s an ambush! Peering transforms into peeing, as the sneaky simian shockingly urinates down on my hat; leaving me mortified, and forever altering the way I will see this species again!
Greatly pissed off at being pissed on, and worried about an ensuing poo shampoo, I curse the prodigious pisser in the off chance it understands English, and depart in a full-on snit; vowing that if I ever see the shaggy treetop terrorist on solid ground, I’ll lower my zipper, take out the dude in the turtleneck sweater, and avenge the sorry state of my hat! For now however, all I can do is avoid any further monkey-harboring trees, and return to my room to engage in a thorough washing of both myself and my piss-nasty hat!
It’s mid-December, and Christine has flown down to join me. We love strolling along the amazing beaches of Tamarindo and Playa Grande, with waves smoothing out the sandy shores to create a blank canvas for our fresh footprints. Crossing the river between the two beaches, we’re obliged to use a small boat to avoid the tooth-filled snout of any resident crocodile that may be keen to snack on our appendages.
Tamarindo is a calming kind of place, where perhaps the toughest task is making a dinner decision from the plethora of tasty restaurants in this ‘Garden of Eatin’. And speaking of eating, today we’re on a ‘Gourmet Sailing Cruise’ aboard Anteres, an 80′ steel schooner whose intriguing past includes winning around the world races and the onboard murder of its previous owner; treasure hunter Bo Kjaer-Olsenbeing.
The agreeable afternoon afloat is spent lazing about in beanbag chairs, entertained by a brilliant young musician and pampered by a chef supplying gourmet appetizers. After a snorkeling stop our five hour sailing trip culminates back in Tamarindo Bay; just in time to be treated to an epic pomegranate sunset.
The month in the condo treads past and it’s time to move on to the sleepy town of Samara. Our lodging is woeful due to a lousy location, zero privacy, and a room so dark we feel like a couple of moles! Adding to our room-gloom we become Sultans of Swat, batting away at unbashful mosquitos like windshield wipers set to high. Finally, our dour shower has a clan of hermit crabs clunking about that are about as welcome as a Nigerian email! Of all the amenities we are lacking, a grief counselor would be at the top of the list!
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and efforts to hermit-ically seal our room have failed miserably, leaving us fully focused on mosquito mortality. Why-Oh-Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitos on the Ark? Willing temporary amnesia we grumpily hit the bed, yearning for daylight to hit ‘delete’ on our horrid hovel!
It’s a hectic time of year, but gleefully we escape a cruel Yule by finding a room at the Belvedere Hotel. Ensconced in a brilliant jungle-like setting, the room is the perfect Christmas present to each other. Tidings of comfort and joy! Christmas dinner is on the beach, peacefully sitting at a table in the sand and bathed in the golden glow of the sun balancing like a giant egg yolk where the sky meets the sea.
On Boxing Day we’re hauled from slumber by a little feathered friend on our window sill singing his morning song; seemingly over-whelmed with the prospect of a new day. The cheerful sound is so dissimilar from the predominant guttural grunts of the rowdy howler monkeys sharing the tree canopies.
Taking a 14 km out and back run to the beach of Playa Carillo, I find it epitomizes the image of a tropical paradise, with an azure horseshoe shaped bay fringed by coconut palms and set against a jungle backdrop. Being alone in this tranquil Robinson Crusoe-like setting and running the flawless beach with streams of sugar-white sand rooster-tailing in the air behind me is an ideal kickoff to the day.
Back at the room in Samara I escort a large green cricket outside, and then at the swimming pool, liberate a pissed off, half drowned frog unable to free himself from the chlorine-contaminated human-made pond. With my good deeds now done I can relax and work on my tan; yes-sir, a good Samara-tan!
While catching some rays, an iguana leaves the jungly gardens and struts directly towards a lounging Christine, whose Zen-like calm turns to panic. Moving in between them I play matador with my singlet, managing to grab the scaly scalawag’s sinewy tail to divert his course and end his ‘e-reptile dysfunction’. Another damsel in distress saved by the chivalrous ‘Sir Mark’ the dragon player. I try hard not to preen!
Inhaling the briny-sweet Pacific air at happy hour, with our drink glasses puddling in the sun, we are seated beneath a sign reading: ‘A good day in Samara ends with sand in the toes and a sunburnt nose’. Hmm, I suppose that prose is hard to oppose!
I’m keen to show Christine the picturesque beach of Playa Carillo today, and getting up with the roosters, we begin the long walk. In need of hydration by the time we reach the beach, we find a vendor selling cold coconuts called ‘pipa fria’, and are all over his stand like bees on a hive. Taking giant one from a cooler, the seller beheads it, and after we guzzle the refreshing liquid he disembowels it with a machete to expose its white flesh. A tasty tide over until dinner at our favorite little French restaurant called Ma Ma Gui.
Today’s bungle in the jungle is extra reminder about bugs, and no, I don’t mean the first name of a bunny. Following an iguana into the bush, I trod on a horde of army ants that sink their mandibles into me like they’re ending a hunger strike. Taking four hits on my bare foot, it instantly starts to swell up like a puffer fish, and the venom is ‘try-not-to-shit-out-your-spine painful’! Not bearing my pain stoically, I’m howling like a gut-shot wolf and trying to knead my throbbing foot while hopping about like a drunken kangaroo!
Walking the beach, a flirtatious little squirrel launches from her haunches up onto my arm, running up to perch atop my hat. I love my new little squirrel-friend although I probably shouldn’t, as squirrels and rats are basically the same rodent, except rats have been plagued with a rougher rearing and suffer from tail envy! All the same, the pointy-eared one’s grin-inducing folly is a cute closing of our days in sleepy Samara.
Dipping our toes into January, we pack up and travel back to Tamarindo, where an absence of rain for so many months is responsible for fine dust off the roads causing respiratory problems for many locals. The town has devised a ‘sweet’ solution, by mixing molasses from the sugar cane harvest with hot water, and pouring it over the roads using a sprayer truck. Once hardened, the mixture bonds with the dust, becoming similar to asphalt and lasting for five or six months providing it doesn’t rain.
Gone at dawn for run, I unexpectedly find myself in a rather sticky situation on a road pockmarked with potholes, and freshly covered in this not yet hardened molasses. Weighing in at about a buck seventy, with gusts to 175, my strides start losing their quick. It looks and smells as if I’m running atop a massive waffle, so I focus on lengthening my syrupy stride to get my sweet feet back home for a welcomed breakfast.
In Costa Rica, 5 a.m. is ‘monkey o’clock’; with the shoutouterous Howlers serving as natures alarm clock. Even though these ‘quiet-averse’ simians show little concern for my privacy or sleep, I find their clamorous cacophony captivating, as the roaring bellows sound much like a land lion and a sea lion duking it out.
Accentuating the positive, the yowling simians ensure there is absolutely no chance that the arrival of day will be missed by sleeping in, and missing a glorious opportunity to watch the sun chase the stars from the sky. After all, Costa Rica’s sunrises, like its first-class sunsets, are must see nature; painting the sky with colors other skies can only dream about! Well …. th-th-th-that’s all, folks. Thank you CR for the wonderful winter camaraderie we have shared.
Mark Colegrave 2014