May 30 2007

Moe

I know this guy we’ll call Moe. Moe is a bartender, and like most bartenders in his part of town, Moe is quite the ladies man. He’s toned, wears the right clothes, smiles a lot, and is never at a loss for words – especially for the pretty ladies. And they usually respond in kind. So it was somewhat of a surprise when, after flirting with a beautiful female customer during her drink order, she came back to tab out and said something that completely floored Moe. He was frozen, slack-jawed, with an injured-puppy dog look, muttering, “I … I … don’t know how to respond to that.”

No one heard what he or she had said. We had to corner him later. Apparently it didn’t go down exactly as Moe had wanted.

“So when she was paying her tab, I said something completely over the top, you know, like ‘Thanks for the tip, you’re really beautiful, we should really have sex sometime.’ That’s when she stopped, frowned, and said, ‘We already have,’ and walked out.”

Ouch.


May 19 2007

Regressamos

Flying back tomorrow morning, and will be back in SD tomorrow night. I,ve shot over a thousand photos, so it,ll be a bit before I cull through them and and post-process. I,m considering trying to work them into a Costa Rico themed show, for those who may be interested.

Rest assured, still alive and having an awesome time.


May 18 2007

Costa Rica, 05-07-2007

Up early, rested, past immigration, and on the plane ride home. I don’t want to be leaving. We have our health, belongings, and memories; couldn’t have come out more perfectly. All is well.

(Well, except the snoring guy next to me stinks to high heaven, but it’s a small price to pay.)

Overall, I think Nae’s been very patient with my, as traveling brings out my already broad independent streak, and I tend to be willing to endure quite uncomfortable situations as either a test of will of just “for the story.” I think we’ve both gotten on each other’s nerves a little bit at times, but nothing serious. Just as I prefer to live along but often don’t, I prefer to travel alone, but rarely do. That said, she’s really quite a resilient and charming traveler.

Pura Vida.


May 17 2007

Costa Rica, 05-06-2007

The best part of the day is breakfast: a shared plate of scrambled eggs with cheese and a mixed fruit cup with ice cream. After that, it’s five hours on a full shuttle including an older American with a plodding monotone voice that doesn’t stop talking for the entire trip. The only surprise for the day is running into, yet again, Matt and Laura during our 15 minute rest stop in Limonal.

So, that’s how we got our first stalkers.

But that’s cool, we like them.

The evening ends in some generic overpriced American hotel near the airport. We request the Hampton Inn, but the taxi driver ushers us into a hotel near it instead. He probably has a kickback deal with them, as is common. It shares the sign with the Hampton Inn, and it’s so busy at the entrance I don’t see that it’s a different hotel until later.

Sneaky.

Twice snookered. I need to work on my awareness, particularly when I’m tired after long voyages.

We probably pay a bit more than the Hampton Inn, but they’re both overpriced, we’re exhausted (which is why airport hotels can always get away with the rates), and we’re two minutes from the airport for our 10 AM flight. The other closest hotel, back in Alajuela, was quite sketchy: chain link fences, razor and barbed wire, iron bars, bulletproof safety glass on the reception windows. Hmm. I’ll put up the extra dough for the last night.

We turn on the TV for the first time in a week, and at least get a full night of sleep at Hotel Gringo.


May 16 2007

Costa Rica, 05-05-2007

The night before we’d resolved to upgrade for our last night Samara; perhaps a place with air conditioning. The review Chad and Monica gave of their hotel was enough for us, so we decide to tell Donal we’d be moving along after trying to see the tortugas in Buena Vista. Unfortunately, the rivers are too high to get there easily, so we skip it for a day of relaxing on the beach.

After settling down under some palm trees for a bit, I noticed a group of Ticos out playing futbol in the hard-pack sand of low tide. I wander over and ask permission to take some photos. A few came over to introduce themselves, and I wish I could remember their names, but they’re a bit drunk and happy, with very thick accents.

Futbol Borracho

Those who introduced themselves push even harder once I raise my lens, and though there are some wild kicks, sweeping misses, and lots of falling into the sand after powerful kicks that missed their mark and fling the kicker back and around to the ground in drunken glee, they’re still amazingly dexterous with their feet. You can tell this is a regular Saturday morning activity, at least when there aren’t so many touristas around.

The game ends when enough players pass out on the makeshift field, having to be dragged home via friends under each shoulder. One of the Ticos smiles to me, and pointing to a friend, says, “Baracho. Comprende?”

I smile and laugh. “Ah, si, muy baracho!”

He says something else, but it’s too fast, too long, and perhaps slurred.

“Discuple, no se.”

He pauses for a moment, finds the word he was looking for, and smiles even broader, drawing his finger across his neck. “Muerte!”

“Si, si, comprende, muerte!” I echo, raising an empty hand to my mouth, miming drinking. We both share a good laugh before a parting _buenos dias_. It occurs to me these where probably the Ticos we passed at a local bar the night before, and they had probably been up drinking ever since.


We return to Donal’s before noon. There’s a group of Americans there in a taxi, asking for Posada Matilori, which is where we thought we’d been staying for the last two night. The location and farmhouse description fit, although Donal wasn’t Italian as guide said, we haven’t been too concerned.

The Americans have a brief discussion with Donal and the taxi driver in Spanish before speeding off in the direction of the _real_ Posado Matilori, where Chad and Monica where staying. We’d all deduced this the evening before. I explain to Donal we wanted to get “a little fancy” for our last night in Samara, thanked him, and proceed upstairs to join Nae in the packing.

Donal's Place

“Well, if there’s still only one room left there, it looks like those guys will get it.”

“Yeah, that kind of sucks, I wanted to see Chad and Monica again again before we leave.”

“Me too. Maybe another room opened up. Or we’ll just go somewhere else and see if we run into them on the beach.”

We finish packing and walk across town to Posada Matilori. Stefano, the owner, says there’s one room available and gives us the full tour (and then some). US $30 for the room, $35 with A/C. We opt for spending the extra five bucks.

“I guess another room opened up. Or maybe they didn’t like the sleeping config, with one double and one bunk.”

“Lucky. This place is awesome.”

“Yup.”

A Seat at the Bar? (Mal Pais)

Just then we see one of the Americans from the taxi walking in to Stefano’s office.

“How did we beat them? They left Donal’s 45 minutes ago in a taxi!”

“I don’t know, that’s odd.”

“Maybe Donal gave the taxi bad directions?”

“Maybe, but the towns only so big.”

“Well, we’re only staying for a night, they can have our room tomorrow.”

“Oh, shit, here he comes. Hide! I don’t want him to think we intentionally sniped their room.”

We slink into the corner of the room beside the window, out of view, and feel quite silly.


The afternoon is lazy: picking up some souvenirs for those back home that curried us to the airport, showering, setting up the shuttle home, and tea on the patio of Posado Matilori. We were planning on taking the city bus back, but the only one to San Jose leaves at 3 PM on Sundays, which would put us in the aforementioned Very Bad Part of San Jose well after sunset. I can see how renting a car here is feasible. Lunch is at a beach soda, sharing a decent tuna salad and scrumptious baked fish filet with butter. The salad was interesting only because of it’s contents: broccoli, cauliflower, pototoes, olives, carrots, egg, tuna, and: hamburger pickle slices.


On a local recommendation, we have dinner at El Samarena, a soda a block off the main drag. I’d promised Nae a nice dinner on the last night, and El Samarena didn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d be willing to say it’s the best seafood I’ve ever had. And I live in San Diego.

Mariscado and Bisteck Piizallola

Mariscado and Bisteck Piizallola

A Slight Mis-translation

A Slight Mis-translation

We split mariscada and tenderloin plates. While the tenderloin was good, the mariscada stole the show. It was a mound of shrimp, mussels, calimari, a fish filet, and a lobster. The one plate is enough food for two people, and at 10,000 colones — less than US $20 — quite a deal. I thought the shrimp was phenomenal, followed closely by the fish, while Nae reversed the rankings. Regardless, if you find yourself in Samara, treat yourself and order the shrimp or fish. You won’t be disappointed.


We waddle home, content to sit on the patio and drink some Cacique that a friend of Nae’s recommended. It’s a sugar-cane derived liquor, like rum, although it doesn’t have rum’s flavor. It’s 30% by volume, has a smell more potent than it’s bite, and taste a bit like sweet rubbing alcohol. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

There are two girls staying there, Madeline and Anna, on vacation from the Alajuela province. They’re drinking on the balcony with another friend, but periodically pop in and out of the kitchen for beers. I catch her on one of her trips and query her:

“Perdon,” pointing to the bottle of Cacique, “esta bueno o malo?”

She shakes in front of her, “Eh, mas o menos.”

“Que esta bien?”

She falters, searching for the her English — which is about on par with my Spanish — before signaling with a raised index finger and a parting _un momento_. She returns with a small bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. I chuckle with the thought of the Americanos drinking Cacique and the Ticos drinking whisky.

We spend the next hour stumbling through a pidgin language of English, Spanish, and improvisational sign language, learning names, professions, a bit of personal histories, and how we’ve liked Costa Rica. It gets a little complicated when she asks what Nae does, as wee have no idea how to get across “Film and Video Post Production.” My charade skills just don’t have the power. The best I can come up with is “Cine,” and “Editoria,” the second of which is just the gringo habit of adding an “o” to any word to make it sound Spanish. Madeline pulls Stefano out to translate, and he and I digress into our own conversations while Nae and Madeline communicate with the International Language of Giggle, aided by Madeline’s cell phone.

Madeline and Nae

Madeline and Nae

We find out that, apparently, the Posada Matilori used to be where we stayed the last two night, but they recently moved to their new (and much improved) location. Stefano is quite justifiably angry that Donal won’t sell him his old number, that’s listed in the Lonely Planet guide with a great review, and is telling taxi drivers and customers that his place is “under the same management,” or that Stefano’s place is closed now.

[It's not my fight, and Donal was very pleasant and charging the same rates as the old Posado Matilori, but he's also cashing in on the three years of Stefano's hard work in getting an excellent reputation and write-up. So, be warned. The summary comes down to this: Donal's place, which may be called "RBO's Habitaciones," is slightly less than Posado Matilori, included free breakfast every morning, and has a very uncomfortable bed with itchy sheets. Stefano's offers optional A/C, with a very well equipped common kitchen and dining area, exceptionally clean, with free laundry and use of boogie boards, coffee and tea, and a much more comfortable bed.]

There’s pseudo-conversation late into the evening, covering all sorts of topics, but in the end Nae and I trade email address with Madeline before heading off to bed. Hopefully, if my desire to improve my Spanish remains, I have a penpal at the ready to practice with.

A Slight Mis-translation

A Slight Mis-translation


May 15 2007

Costa Rica, 05-04-2007

I watch the sunrise through our window, unsure of whether or not I wanted to stay here another night. The sheets are itchy as hell, Nae doesn’t have a sleep sack, and I’m praying my irratated skin isn’t complaining about bedbugs. After chatting with Donal for a time, he offers to drive us to Playa Carillo 7 km away, and tells us about the torutugas (turtles) at Buena Vista. He said we should come back at 8 for a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. Nae and I went to get coffee, and we both agree that if we could shower before bed and sleep in some light clothes, it might be more comfortable. I don’t think it’s bebugs, and the itching as stopped, but I don’t bring up the possibility that we just slept with critters. Donal has been so personable and accommodating we felt it would be a little unfair to bail on him after accepting his offer of free rides.

Content

On the way to the soda for coffee, all the school children were in their uniforms, clumped together waiting for escuela to start. The horses, who appear to know where they live and return there uh-shepherded en masse, were grazing on the central futbol field.


Breakfast consists of white bread, black beans and rice, coffee, and a thick slice of local cheese with creme on it. The cheese has a hard consistency, and is a little sharp, similar to cheddar but white and not as potent. The creme is like a sweet-ish sour-cream the consistency of yogurt. They complement each other perfectly, and is quite filling for a small amount of food. I want to find out if I can get some back in the States.

Playa Carillo Airport

Playa Carillo Airport


We spend most of the day at Playa Carillo, lounging in the sun, shooting photos, and I venture our far enough to get little body surfing in. The waves are deceptively large; overhead in chest deep water. It sprinkles occasionally, but not enough to push us off the beach. On one of our strolls, a French-accented local girl waiting for the bus points out a crocodile. I’m glad it’s below the bridge and us above it, as she notes that there used to be three, but didn’t see where the other two went. It’s only a 15 meter walk to the end of the bridge where the crocodiles’ territory meets ours.

Playa Carillo Sentinel

Pinion

A large local dog adopted us. He was never really excited, nor did he ask for attention, but he would follow us around, and when we’d stop, he’s stop as well. He’d plop down beside us, back turned, as if spurning us. Occasionally he run off to roll leisurely in the sand or wash off in the water, but had a plodding gate and utterly unconcerned attitude. We named him “Tortuga”, or “Turtle.”

Tortuga


If intentions have karmic currency, I’m able to toss some in the bank on the way home. I’m in the back of the truck and Nae’s in the cab, and we pass a couple laboring along the side of the roads. I’m about to knock on the window to signal to Donal when he begins to stop. So, I don’t exactly have a hand in the matter, but the intention is there. We chat a bit on the ride, I snap a photo of Salvadore and Sarah, and gave them my email. They’re bound for CA eventually; I tell them to drop me a line when they get there.

Salvadore and Sarah

Salvadore and Sarah


We explore the town further, and end up at Shake Joe’s for a couple of drinks. It’s slightly more expensive, but there’s a nice view of the ocean where the sky changes to a collage of blue, pink, orange, magentas and purple during the sunset. A few drinks turned into six or seven as we sit with a Canadian couple, Chad and Monica, from Calgary. We have one of the few palapas there, and chat until almost 10 PM — late into the night by Costa Rican standards, as far as we can tell. Imagine having ever day of the years almost exactly 12 hours long.

Cotton Candy Sunset

As has become standard this trip, it begin raining and thundering furiously after sunset, but we four celebrate under our shelter, telling stories and talking travel, politics, and photography, and they invite us to Calgary for Stampede. Back at the B&B, we shower, sleep in our clothes on top of the single sleep sack, and sleep a bit better than the night before.


May 14 2007

Costa Rica, 05-03-2007

We sleep though my wristwatch alarm, but wake up in time to have some watermelon for breakfast and catch our shuttle to Playa Samara. We end up circumnavigating nearly the entire peninsula: from Mal Pais to Paquera, a shuttle change, Paquera to a shuttle change in the middle of the road in rural Guanacaste, from the to Nicoya for another shuttle change, and finally to Playa Samara.

There’s a little mixup at the Nicoya transfer, as the first driver wanted $17 for the first leg of the trip, and the driver at Nicoya wanted the full $70, which was supposed to be the full sum of the fare. A quick call to the office rectified the situation, hopefully with no hard feelings.

Church in Jicaral

Church in Jicaral

By the time we are out of Nicoya, a full scale thunderstorm has moved in, but just prior to entered Samara, it departs as quickly as it arrived. We pulled up to what we thought was one of the choice budget picks from Lonely Planet, Pasado Matilori. The owner introduces himself and takes us straight up to give us our pick of the three rooms. The double only has twins, so we take a triple for $25/night including free breakfasts. It looks doable, and the owner was Donal (if I didn’t mangle that too badly) is a very friendly and well educated Tico teacher. He informs us of some local points of interest and appeared quite genuine.


We wander Playa Samara for a while, up and down the beach, soaking up the beauty. Although Samara is distinctly more touristy than Mal Pais (although it is still definitely a tranquil small town), I get a more welcoming vibe here than in Mal Pais. In Mal Pais, I got the feeling that being non-surfers, we were seen as interlopers and precursors to an Americano invasion. I got this feeling more from the regular American visitors than the Ticos.

REI Model

REI Model


We stopped for some fruity drinks at Shake Joe’s on the beach, which looks like it probably caters to the young party crowd during the high season, but currently offers an array of large lounge-booths overlooking the ocean. We camp and relax. Upon returning to our B&B, Donal informs us that the power might be out for two hours, but the main roads should be lit. We head out again looking for a snack and some diversion, but the first small restaurant was full. In the second, a little open air soda across the street, sat a newlywed couple, Matt and Laura, that were staying in our adjoining cabina the night before in Mal Pais. Apparently they just up and decided to drive up to Samara for the hell of it. We join them for a few drinks and trade stories.

Playa Samara

Playa Samara


Most of Costa Rica is hydro-powered, and at the end of the dry season, there are frequently scheduled water and electric blackouts. There was electricity when we returned to our room, but no water.

The DEET still on our bodies and the itchiness of the sheets made for an uncomfortable night of minimal sleep.


May 13 2007

Costa Rica, 05-02-2007

We awake with a breakfast of granola on the patio and to cafe con leche at the soda prior to walking a few kilometers to the “Swedish Pools,” a series of tide-pools best explored in the morning. It’s positively beautiful, as most of this country seems to be, and I think I’ll let the photos tell the story. The portion they can’t relate, however, has to do with the millions of hermit crabs. Just like last night, they’re everywhere, although they were much more skittish than the night before, and would curl up into their shells at the slightest provocation. Perhaps because to the tremendous storm of the previous evening had passed?

The’re frequently climbing up the sides of rocks around the beach, sometimes as high as four feet up, but if they detect our presence, they all simultaneously retract into the safety of their homes, and, of course, lose their precarious footing on the steep rocks, and a waterfall of occupied shell cascades down. Surprising, amusing, and we feel bad for negating all the upward progress they’d made.

Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs


Returning to the hotel, Franz informes us that, unless the shuttle service to Playa Samara receives another call for a northbound passenger, we’ll have to pay the price of three passengers for the trip – $105. Cheap by US standards given the distance, but not cheap as in “cheap beer.” Since the taxi driver that dropped us off in Mal Pais quoted us $120 for the trip, and there’s still a chance that another party might sign up, we make the reservation. As the topic of money had been broached, we inquire as to how to pay for the remainder of the hotel fees. He enumerates the problems of currency exchange and bank transfers with paying by credit, and that he’d have to tack on an additional 13% in taxes if we go that route.

Crap. We were planning on credit. We don’t have enough, in dollars or colones.

Swedish Pools #1

Swedish Pools #1

Swedish Pools #2

Swedish Pools #2

Swedish Pools #3

Swedish Pools #3

Back to Cobano, this time in a taxi. I pull out US $300 for the shuttle, hotel, and spending money. I make enough small talk with the taxi driver to learn he’s grown up in Mal Pais and lived here all his life. He points out his abuela’s house when we pass it. Later, we would learn that there not too many original Ticos left in Mal Pais.


On the way out of Cobano we pass a couple of Americans hitching. I’m lost in thought, trying to remember various phrases and conjugations in Spanish, but absentmindedly nod at them regardless. Not until a few kilometers later do they bubble into my consciousness – breaking breaking through the years of conditioning my mother instilled in me regarding hitch-hikers (and the express forbiddance to ever do such a dangerous thing myself).

I’m disappointed in myself. My awareness was lacking, and we should have stopped for them. They were just a couple of Americans looking for a ride. But we’re nearly in Playa Carmen by now, and it would be silly to turn around. For, if they were just trying to save a couple bucks, then I didn’t help when I could’ve, but it’s not the end of the world. Or, they were truly broke, it’d be better than they were in the only town around with a bank, and therefore the only place to get money wired to them.

As if warning me of my freshly-acquired karmic debt, and that balancing it would require an even larger sacrifice, we passed two prostitutes thumbing for rides alongside a farmhouse.

Truckin'

Truckin'

I didn’t ask the driver to stop.

When I do balance that debt, I can be damn sure it’ll be a doozy.


It’s 7,000 colones for the ride there and back, and Franz says it’s a good deal, as it usually costs 6,000 each way. This I believe, given the distance, although his estimate before we left was 1,000 each way. Where and when he got this new estimate is beyond me, but I won’t hold it against him. He looked quite unsure of the original guess when he said it, I estimated it’d be 5,000, and I think we both knew it.


The sun is setting and we’re ravenous. We decide to try the Pizza by Moonlight outdoor restaurant just down the street. It’s named Moonshine, and I wonder if it’s an intentional double-entendre or a result of a rote translation. I feel somewhat conflicted about ordering pizza, considering all the great native cuisine about, but the location was gorgeous and we’d already sampled healthy doses of local foodstuffs.

The Gorgonzola and onion pizza ends up being some of the best I’ve ever had, and for $10 for the whole pie it’s a great deal. The real enjoyment, however, is Bebice. At least, that’s what I think her name was. Bebice was a little trilingual four year old, the daughter of a French ex-pat who just moved into a cabina adjoining the soda. Her mother is helping out for the evening as the owner accidentally took one of his mother’s sleeping pills instead of his antacid pill.

Bebice has an extraordinary amount of energy, beckoning me to follow her around as she points our rocks, sticks, leaves, shells, and soda cap bottle tops filled with sand for me to collect. We frequently curry them from the rocky beach to our table and back. Occasionally, we stop to draw pictures in the sand with a stick. She’s all smiles and excitement, and patiently teaches me the words for various objects.

Kaleid-a-crab

Kaleid-a-crab

Her mother tells us that Bebice understands English, French, and Spanish, but rarely speaks English. She usually flips freely back and forth between the remainders, using whichever word of the two languages is shortest. I now realize I have no idea in what language the words I just learned are in.

Her mother also spoke of how Mal Pais still has, for the time being, “magic.” Her old village south of Manuel Antonio “had the magic,” she said, “until foreign interests came in and bought hectares of land for pennies, wires, plumbed, and parceled the lots, and gradually sold them off at grossly inflated prices that pushed the Ticos out. DirectTV came, and the poison was injected, bringing images to the eyes of young Ticos detailing everything they ‘should’ have but don’t.”

“You see how the iguanas wander about on the ground here? They used to do that in my old village, but now they keep to the trees. Iguanas are vulnerable on land, and cease going there when they feel vulnerable. They no longer feel safe there; they retreat to the trees. In Mal Pais, they still roam the ground.”

Iguana

Iguana


May 12 2007

Costa Rica, 05-01-2007

Cafe con leche. It sounds better than just coffee with milk, and tastes better too, although I suspect that’s just because I’m sitting under a tree at a Soda in Mal Pais, watching the surf crash against the rocks that Piedra Mar Soda is named for.

Piedra Mar View #1

Piedra Mar View #1

Piedra Mar View #2

Piedra Mar View #2

Breakfast Company

Breakfast Company

Unfortunately, Nae and I have realized we’d only changed $20 each into colones at the airport, and ended up quite a ways from the nearest bank. With only a few thousand colones left – a few dollars – a local Americano at the next table informed us the closest ATM was in Cobano, a town we passed 11 km back on the way to Mal Pais. He noted, helpfully so, that it’s wise to get there early, as sometimes they run out of money.

With this info in hand, we asked the ever-present Franz about the best way to Cobano. Taxi, or he could rent us a quad for $50 per 24-hour period. It seemed a bit steep, but we needed colones, and it was also an opportunity to see the countryside.


I require a 60-second primer on the ATV’s operation, as I haven’t ridden a quad in over 20 years – not since hanging out with my friend J.R. in Prescott. For some reason, when asked how long it’d been, I said 15 years, and I’m not sure why. Not like it’d make a difference.

'Nae in Playa Hermosa

'Nae in Playa Hermosa

A few minutes on the road was enough to get acclimated, and I also understood why some of the regular visitors brought along their snow-boarding goggles: the roads are dusty as hell, particularly when you get stuck behind one of the many mini-SUVs or tractor-trailers for a hundred meters.


We’re in Cobano a half hour later. Before killing the motor, I turn back to Nae, who’s been riding shotgun, if that makes sense.

“I’m glad we didn’t rent the bikes for this.”

For, if I was alone, I would’ve ignored advice and taken a bicycle on the hilly seven mile journey, surely chewing up a whole day getting her and back. As it was, I was dusty and sweaty enough without exerting myself. But I still would have done it, if not to test my fortitude, then just for the story.

Card in, money out, and we’re in the super-mercado buying granola, milk, water, watermelon, and cerveza. Seemed like a balanced take at the time.


We’re lost. I’m having so much fun tearing about on the quad, I miss the turnoff for Mal Pais. We backtrack and try a different road. No luck. Fortunately, there’s a small farm house with the matron outside sweeping. I don’t know how large the gas tank is on this thing, if it has a gas gauge, or how far we’ve gone. If I had pride to swallow, I would’ve, but as it stood, I was just trying to remember how to be polite in Spanish.

“Disculpe, donde esta Mal Pais, por favor?”

I was taken aback that I was actually able to pick out “four kilometers” and “turn right.” I also hoped that the part I didn’t understand didn’t consist of the phrase, “what ever you do, don’t ….”

Relaxation

Relaxation


We’re only a few minutes down the down road when we pass a local rural cemetery. I was positively beautiful in it’s simplicity and it’s presence within a large open pasture. My mind is on finding the turn-off – which ends up being extra-ordinarily apparent – and how guess as to how much gas we may have left. I don’t think about stopping and taking a photo, despite having my rig with me, and I believe it may be one of the greatest photos I’ve never taken.


Franz has described how to get to Playa Hermosa, just a few kilometers up the road from Mal Pais. The directions are characteristically quaint: through Santa Teresa, past the bridge under construction, around the school, and it’s on your left. It’s bright on clear, despite the weather report we read before we departed LAX, so we hop back on the quad and make good time. Guessing as to our location, we strike off on a short path that lands our quad smack in the middle of a beautiful deserted beach.

We back the quad into the shade of a tree, as much to cool the seat as to prevent spoiling the beauty of this postcard moment. The sky is a deep blue with textured clouds deep shooting up from horizon, the sand unmolested, waves rolling over small rock outcroppings in the surf, and not a soul to be seen.

Playa Hermosa #1

Playa Hermosa #1

Playa Hermosa #2

Playa Hermosa #2

Bonus points for Franz.


Sated with sun and warm water (and a truckload of photos on my photos on my part), we roll back toward Santa Teresa. By now we’ve realized we hadn’t had a substantial meal today and stop in town to get some grub, postcards for those expecting them, and some new shades for myself as I’ve recently donated mine to the sea.

Mal Pais to Playa Carmen

Mal Pais to Playa Carmen

The place we’re looking for either isn’t open or isn’t serving food, and our hunger gets the better us. We know when we plop down in the distinctly European-styled cafe at the crossroads of town – which was under rapid re-development, looking much newer and “nicer” – we’d feel out of place. And we did. More than anywhere thus for, despite that proliferation of Ingles, panini’s with greek salads, internet access and track lighting. The meals were decent, but twice the cost of a local soda without any of the charm.


I just awake from a nap on the hammock, and Franz suggests going up the hill to a resort that has a pool with swim-up service and a great view. He’s right again, and we spend the evening swimming in a warm negative-horizon pool a couple hundred meter over the shore, watching the sun set over the kilometers of coastline stretching beneath us.

We get to talking with a few locals there, all ex-pats. The resort is run by Roger, looking the part of a tried and true Jimmy Buffet disciple. He’d left the US permanently back in 1980, and landed Costa Rica not too long thereafter. He and the other ex-pats all live here via the standard 90-day stints of in-country punctuated by 3-day trip to Panama, Nicaragua, or back to the US to visit family. Most work in tourism, running cabins or restaurants.

Sunset over Mal Pais

Sunset over Mal Pais

Both Nae and I take a shine to Joe and spend most of the evening talking with him. Joe tried his hand with a blind bluff selling condos in Panama, and found out he had a knack for it. He sold over 5 in his first weekend, and 70 within the first few months. Concluding he was on somewhat of a hot streak, he also decided to buy a strip club – price including all inventory – in Panama.

On the first night, he discovered the inventory consisted of precisely nothing, and had to run down to the local supermarket to by 200 beers.

And then all of his Columbian “dancers” were arrested.

But he took it all in stride, summing it up with the eternal wisdom that only comes with the sobriety of distance, “Just because you know a lot about this side of the bar, doesn’t mean you know anything about the other. Especially when it entails illegal Columbian strippers.”

Vista de Olas Pool

Vista de Olas Pool


We’re walking back to the quad, perched at the top of the steep and rocky road that lead to the resort. It’d dead-dark out now, with very little moonlight and no ambient streetlight to speak of. Hell, there wasn’t even a street, much less a dirt road. Mostly rocks, really. Nae asks an interesting question.

“Do you know how to turn on the headlights?”

“No, but there’s only so many buttons, one of them has got to do it.”

I do find the switch for the lamps, but I also drive halfway down the hill with my left-turn blinker on.


Back at the Piedra Mar Soda, between bites of casado con pescado, Nae and I notice that the ground is teeming with the subtle movement of what appeared to by june bugs or beetles. Leaning over, I pick one up, discovering it’s a hermit crab. All of them are hermit crabs. And they’re all scurrying about frantically, unconcerned with retracting back into their shells when they feel movement or are disturbed. Do they know a storm’s brewing?

Last Sliver

Last Sliver


May 11 2007

Costa Rica, 04-30-2007

We’ve finally arrived! As expected, it took longer than expected. After landing in San Jose, we grab a bus headed for downtown. It took some help from some friendly locals, but we finally found La Coca Cola Estacione. (Is everything branded now?) but it appears completely shut-up. Wanting badly to get to the coast, we walk a few more blocks to orient ourselves, ending up in a neighborhood bad enough that I wouldn’t want to be there after dark. It’s apparently dangerous enough that a local woman stops us out of the blue and seaks with and earnest concern in her voice. I don’t understand her rapid-fire Spanish. She backtracked to repeating a simple “Aqui, es malo. Es muy malo,” and making purse-snatching gestures with her own purse.

Yeah, we’re a pair of stand-out gringos.

We thanked her, but continued on, as we’re convinced the bus to Puntarenas is near. With the help of a few more locals, we discover we’re right. And that bus stations are never in a nice part of town.

$0.75 (equivalent) for the first bus from airport, $1.50 each for the second all the way from San Jose to Puntarenas – a 2-3 hour trip contingent on traffic and construction. Beat that, Greyhound.

Paquera Ferry

Paquera Ferry

After a $2 cab ride to the Paquera ferry, we’re set to hit the Peninsula de Nicoya and Mal Pais. We have some time and hunger to kill, though. Wandering a block or two from the high-traffic ferry “terminal”, we find a locate soda (cafe) and gobble down a home-made lunch of tacos and arroz con pollo. $3 per tummy and we’re stuffed. I love how far the dollar goes here, and I hate how poor my Spanish is. Es malo. Es muy malo.

Lunch at a Soda

Lunch at a Soda

One that note; I’m am surprised at how much has come back since my two years of high school Spanish almost 15 years ago. Thank you, Mr. Dunn and Ms. Colter.

In another, more recent flashback, Nae and I were seated on the flight out, a few rows in front of a later-middle aged woman with the worst travel attitude I’ve witnessed. A litany of comments to fellow passengers:

”My daughter just raves about Costa Rica, but I don’t know. I’m here to check it out, but I have my reservations.”

”Why is everyone wearing a sweater? My daughter said it’s always hot here. I don’t like this. Will I be alright? I don’t like this at all.”

”Where did we land? Where’s San Jose? Which side of the country?”

”What season is it here, winter or summer? I don’t understand.”

Lady, did you not do any research before you came? Leave your “reservations” at home, find out your flying into the center of the nation, and realize that you’re nearing the equator, hence, summer and winter mean precisely jack shit, and that wet and dry dry is what it’s about. I’ve never been to Costa Rica before, but I took the time to look up data like that. It’s only polite.


I digress.

From Paquera, we hire a taxi to take us to Hotel Pachamama in Mal Pais, as it’s a winding dirt road to get there, the sun has almost set, and it’s been nearly 24 hours since we left Nae’s house for LAX. Another hour and a half through pastures, crops, and one-store towns – ignoring for a moment some of the progressing foreign-dollar developments – Nae turns to me with a smile.

Sunset on the Paquera Ferry

Sunset on the Paquera Ferry

“Off the beaten path enough for you, baby?”

I smile back, legs and ass vibrating from the potholed washboard we’ve been tearing down in the dark, from edge to edge.

“Sure is, baby.”

Mal Pais

Mal Pais


Pachamama is the hotel we’re staying at for the first few nights; the luxurious end of the trip. I’d wanted to save that for the end, but with the schedule Nae’s been working lately, I acquiesced to the request. And haven’t been disappointed in the least. It’s a collection of a few cabinas and a house, some attached and some not, managed by a trilingual surfer Austrian named Franz. The room was small but clean, with a private bath and kitchenette, but perhaps most importantly, it had a hammock on the porch.

Pachamama Cabina

Pachamama Cabina

Nae’s asleep right now, and I’m out on the porch watching a lizard I’ve named Gerald – a gecko perhaps – hang upside down from the thatched awning. He’s comfortable but not overly so, kind of a flexible suppleness, hyper-aware without tensing. He’s seeing the world upside down, tongue darting out, tasting the air and catching the occasional dinner. As much as I want to run inside and capture his image with my camera, I realize more than that I want to just let him be. And I realize that, in a year or so, I want to live Gerald’s life: hanging upside down in a world apart, tasting the eddies and currents of my environment.