The local L.S.D. (long steady drizzle) has me once again ‘tripping’, and this time my tantalizing tropical tendencies lead me to the surfing enclave of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Hoping to be smothered in sunshine and soothed by a sloshing sea, this trip is one part adventure and one part 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 calls are sporadically interrupted by a few furry fellows appropriately called 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 either out surfing the waves, playing fetch with Fido using empty coconuts, or sprawled out on the beach protecting their blankets from the sun.
The aerial kingdom above the white sands is shared by an interesting assortment of feathers; including pelicans, parrots, magpies, frigates, and osprey. Running the beach, I share the sand with a bevy of beach bunnies who have apparently forgot to put their tops on, and I smile, thinking to myself that cleavage is like the sun; you can glance at it only for a second, but if you wear sunglasses you can look much longer!
Weather-perfect afternoons here sire dazzling sunsets, setting the sky afire as the swollen sinking sun welds together the sea and sky. Occasionally even the huge-humped, floppy-eared Brahman cattle mosey 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 the carbs with a beer and burrito. When inquiring about an alternative to the dusty roads, the owner mentions a dicey ATV jungle track allegedly leading back to Tamarindo; but tells me I won’t make it on a bike. Challenge accepted; I place this advice in my mental shredder and point my front tire down the path.
Ten minutes into the trail I wade across a river, mistakenly thinking this will be the worst of it, but the track turns into a real ‘Find Muck’, going from bad to worse with a risky cocktail of rocks, roots, and mud slipperier than a squid in olive oil; all designed to separate rider and bike. Appreciating any of the jungle scenery is abandoned due to my flailing at biting bugs and toppling off the bike several times.
There is nobody around for miles, and barely escaping any serious war wounds, I’m now suffering a slight corrosion of confidence and 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! This Tour de Farce is the most grueling ride my hide has ever attempted, but at long last I’m able to slither out of ‘Muck-mageddon’ when the tragic ‘trail’ spills out onto 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, we’re wearing enough mud to build a small village in Africa! But 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 to town to enjoy a hot shower and indulge my inner sloth with the calorific camaraderie of a few frothy cold ones; with my unemployed legs and buttocks 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”. Bursting out of a pile of papayas in front of me, the six inch red winged critter’s face is locked in a cheesy grin, and judging by his 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 later learn that ‘langosta’ also means lobster!
With the calendar page flipped to December, I embrace the new month once again tersting the power of the pedal; this time along the coast through the towns of Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, and Brasallito. The beaches are gorgeous, but bullying my bike through the soft sands on thick two inch tires has it engaged in a mutiny the entire way, that is now causing some ‘engine trouble’, taking 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, as right now my bike seat and butt cheeks are not the best of amigos. I morph from my steed’s engine to its radiator, and top up with liquid inspiration to continue my strenuous workout home.
Early morning when the streets are lean I begin my runs; avoiding squashed toads on the roads and the ugly, bald from the breast up vultures foraging through malodourous piles of roadside trash. However, soon trees begin outnumbering buildings and the running becomes more gratifying as I’m serenaded with the chorus of parrots, squirrel cuckoos, parakeets, gackles, and other boisterous birdies gossiping in the tree canopies. A few badass iguanas and long-tailed monkeys look on with concerned interest as I pass by.
On today’s run I hear the throaty call of a howler monkey and notice it tucked in the crotch of a tree peering down at me while scratching his butt. At the same time he appears to be giving me the bony monkey finger, so I stop to snap a photo. Only then do I realize it’s an ambush, 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 concerned about a latent poo shampoo, I curse the villainous ape before departing in a full-on snit; vowing that if I ever see this shaggy treetop terrorist on solid ground, I’ll lower my zipper, take out the dude in the turtleneck sweater, and return the favor! However, for now, all I can do is finish my run and engage in a thorough washing of both myself and my now nasty hat!
It’s mid-December, and Christine has flown down to join me. We love walking the amazing beaches of Tamarindo and Playa Grande, with waves smoothing out the sandy shores and creating a blank canvass for our fresh footprints. To cross the river between the two beaches we use the services of a small boat, to avoid the risk of having any important appendages nibbled on by the toothy estuary crocodiles in residence.
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 a chef pampering us with gourmet appetizers. I also partake in a little snorkeling before our five hour sailing trip culminates back in Tamarindo Bay amid an epic pomegranate sunset.
The month in the condo treads past and we move on to the sleepy town of Samara. However, due to a deceptive website, we regrettably find our woeful lodging in a lousy location with a piss-poor pool, zero privacy, and dark room resembling a bat cave. Adding to the room-gloom, head-down mosquitos working us over with penetrating proboscises have turned us into the Sultans of swat, and we have a clan of hermit crabs scuttling about in the dour shower that are about as welcome as a Nigerian email.
It’s 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 crawl into bed, eagerly waiting for daylight to hit ‘delete’ on this nasty hovel!
It’s a hectic time of year, but abandoning the crud-bucket hotel we escape a cruel Yule by gleefully finding a room at the more than agreeable 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 savored on the beach while sitting at a table in the sand, and bathed in the golden glow of the sun, now balancing like a giant egg yolk where the sky meets the sea.
This morning we are hauled from slumber by the polite lyrical fluting of a little feathered friend on our window sill, seemingly over-whelmed with the prospect of a new day. The cheerful birdsong is so dissimilar from the predominant inelegant guttural grunts of the rowdy howler monkeys sharing the treetops.
He-who-runs is at it again; opting for a 14 km out and back to the beach of Playa Carillo, which epitomizes the image of a tropical paradise with the azure horseshoe shaped bay fringed by coconut palms set against a jungle backdrop. I am alone in this tranquil Robinson Crusoe-like setting, and running miles of flawless beach with streams of sugar-white sand rooster-tailing in the air behind me is an ideal beginning to the day.
Returning to the room in Samara, I escort a large green cricket outside, and then down at the swimming pool, liberate a pissed off half drowned frog unable to free himself from the chlorine-contaminated, human-made pond. Now, with my good deeds done, I can relax and work on my tan; yes-sir, a good Samara-tan!
At a raucous rodeo featuring Costa Rica’s cowboy culture and bull besting events, we’re dismayed by local intoxicated Ticos climbing into the enclosure to bully the blameless bulls. If imbeciles could fly this place would be a frigging airport, and we seriously root for the bulls to kick ass!
While we’re catching rays poolside an iguana wanders out of the jungly landscape and the scaly rogue struts directly towards a lounging Christine, whose Zen-like calm turns to panic. As a little posturing ensues from my frenemy, I move in between them and playing matador with my singlet, manage to grab Iggy’s powerful tail and divert him in different direction, putting an end to this e-reptile dysfunction. Alas, another damsel in distress saved by the chivalrous ‘Sir Mark’, the dragon player. I try hard not to preen!
Our main activity in Samara is long beach walks, and today at happy hour, inhaling the briny-sweet Pacific air with our drink glasses puddling in the sun, we’re seated beneath a sign reading: ‘A good day in Samara ends with sand in the toes and a sunburnt nose’. Hmm, I guess we would find that one hard to argue!
I’m keen to show Christine the picturesque beach of Playa Carillo today, so we leave early to make 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 it like bees on a hive. Taking one from a cooler, the seller beheads it, and after we guzzle the refreshing liquid, he disembowels it with a machete freeing the white flesh for us to consume. A tasty tide over until we get back to dine at our favorite little French restaurant called Ma Ma Gui.
Today is a bungle in the jungle, and another reminder about bugs, and no, I don’t mean the first name of a bunny. Following an iguana into the bush, I not-so-cleverly trod on a horde of large army ants, and before I can react they sink their mandibles into me like they’re ending a hunger strike. I take four hits on my bare foot, which instantly starts to swell. YE-oww, the venom from the stings is ‘try-not-to-shit-out-your-spine painful’! With clenched teeth and trying to rub my foot, I’m hopping about like a drunk on a pogo stick!
On our last day walking the beach in Samara, a grin-inducing baby squirrel jumps on me, then runs up my arm and perches on my hat. I’m not sure why I allow this folly, as squirrels and rats are basically the same rodents; except that rats have been plagued with a rougher rearing and are possessed with tail envy!
As January introduces itself we return to familiar Tamarindo. The lack of rain for so many months is responsible for a fine dust from 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 and becomes just like asphalt, lasting for five or six months if it doesn’t rain.
Gone at dawn for a morning 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 on the fly-paper sticky surface. With the sweet smell tantalizing my nose hairs, it’s like running atop a hugeantic waffle, so I lengthen my syrupy stride to get my sweet feet out of the goop and back home for 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 do find their clamorous cacophony captivating, with their roaring bellows sounding much like a fight between a land lion and a sea lion.
Accentuating the positive, the loud-mouthed simians ensure there is absolutely no chance that the arrival of day will be missed by me 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 color-splashed sunsets, are must see nature; painting the sky with colors other skies can only dream about!
Well …. th-th-th-that’s all, folks, and before returning home to the land of the drenched, I must say thank you Costa Rica; for an amazing winter friendship in a special country that will not be soon forgotten.
Mark Colegrave 2014