Twelve Days of Christmas…Surfing
This is a repost of a surf trip back in December 2013. Arrived in Tamarindo Costa Rica on Sunday December 1, 2013. The following is a daily update of people and surf in CR.
The trip actually begins with day 0 where it consisted of an early morning flight from Chicago O’Hare Airport to a 5 hour flight to Panama City Panama which is described by my fellow passengers as a bad day in Miami. On the good side, the plane circled over Panama City and took a couple of steep turns that allowed a full view of the canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic. That was a sight that I will remember for many years to come, and I probably can cross the canal off my bucket list. Unfortuanately, a connecting flight was not until a 9:30 am flight the next day. The hostel I stayed at was nice enough compared to a Boy Scout overnight that they call a “polar bear”, and a whole lot warmer, but not much nicer. The food was edible but it was helpful to be on the starving side in order to finish the better half of a hamburger and fries. Also, it is necessary to add that there is no phone service, and the internet speeds along at 0.15 kbs which is slighter faster than pouring syrup from a frosty refrigerator. I managed to get one email out (of course no attachments) to a wondering wife who probably is going to string me to a coconut tree by the time I get home.
Sunday December 1, I flew into Liberia and quickly made my way through customs in a nicely located airport in the Northern Section of Costa Rica. The Manager of CR Adventures, Alvaro ( hope I am spelling his name correctly) not only took me to my hotel in Tamarindo with a guided tour of the bustling town in this tropical paradise, but he set me up with great waves at Playa Grande on the north side of town. Everything was nicer in Costa Rica, less humidity, scenic grasslands and mountains, or big hills depending on your prespective. The waves were breathtaking as the sun glisistened off near perfect cyclinders peeling on a white sand beach. The sound of a wave curling over your shoulder is a sound that almost every surfer hears once in a lifetime.
On Monday , December 2, after a super breakfast at Kahiki Restaurant of huevos rancheros with camerones, Rigo picked me up and it was back up to Playa Grande for a great session of surf, friends and fun. The water is about 82 degrees and the air is about 86 so no need for a wetsuit. Today was a bit of a challenge as the jellyfish outnumbered the surfers about 6 to 1. A jellyfish is a very unique creature becuase it is almost transparent and it has long spirling tentacles that sting at the first point of contact with a pasty leg of a Michigan surfer. I had come over 2,000 miles and surfed in 40 degree water in two foot Lake Michigan chop, so it was going to take a least 8 to 10 encounters with a jelly to get me out of the water. However, we all managed to ride a few good waves before surrendering to anti-itch remedies at the end of the day.
Tuesday, December 3rd started with mostly cloudy skies as the sun decided to hide away which wasn’t all bad after a couple of days of bright sunshine on Sunday and Monday. Even equipped with spf 70, the sun always manages to find a spot or two where I fail to apply the necessary lotion. Tuesday we packed up 7 people and it was off to Playa Avellanos which is only a few miles down the coast, but in Costa Rica that means a 45 minute ride down their bumpy roads. I tell my Costa Rican guides that they could really use my wife’s expertise on building a few smooth roads that are equipped with both water and sewer, plus a light or two. The waves were very fun, even though the light winds were not enough to hold the waves up into nice clean barrels that we found on Sunday. The surf session was cut short as one of our new comers caught the board in the head leaving enough blood to exit the water and head to the Doctor. Overall, it was a great day of wave riding despite the medical incident, and I welcomed the end of our surf session after more than enough rides on this tropical day.
It’s hard to decide where to start Wednesday because apparently Tuesday is party night in Tamarindo. About 10 pm it sounded like a fiesta in my room as the walls were rocking like a party set on auto. As I lay in bed I felt my bed rocking to the constant beat of a base drum and Latino music in an endless procession of rock and roll. It was great sound although not necessarily great to fall asleep to. Nonetheless, Wednesday, December 4th began with sunshine and only the sounds of birds and nature. Kahiki Restaurant was first up on this tropical day. I don’t know how I missed this on the menu, but Kahiki has invented something called “the Elvis” which is a peanut butter and banana sandwich made out of french toast. When they served the meal with traditional syrup, I was embarrassed to ask if they could drizzle chocolate over the meal. It was a wonderful concoction that was certain to send my chlorestreal into the upper digits. After a quick stop with a Doctor to check some strange dermitological malady that had taken hold of my extremeties, I was pronounced ready to go surfing with my amigos. The fix involved a few ampules of steroids administered in the backside which was a less than great experience. The Defender which is a 4 wheel vehicle arrived promptly with Rigo, Alvaro, Gustavo, and Jean-Paul smiling in anticipation of a great day of surfing at Avellanos. After a couple of hours of fun waves we loaded up the vehicle and hit the dusty trail. The attached picture shows my quatro amigos who are getting to be better friends each day.
Day 5 which is Thursday December 5 started out on a very mellow note. I realized as I was walking down a dusty road in Tamarindo that my pace had slowed considerably. It usually takes a few days to get the edge off from traveling to far places. I showed up at the Kahiki Restaurant and knew the drill. Grab a big glass of chilled water and a coffee con leche, and sit down to the food bar for a Tico Tipico breakfast of huevos, rice and beans with a side of guacomole. I was tempted to try the Nutella french toast, but after yesterday I was concerned about my tryglicerides going into orbit from a banana and peanut butter french toast ensemble. I tried a couple of Costa Rican puzzles from the local paper, but realized that the sudoku was more than I bargained for and left it for another coustomer later in the day. After breakfast it was off to the Witch’s Rock Surf School to look up Robert August of Endless Summer fame to talk with him about my surfing encounter with his dad in Mexico in March of 1971. I was only 18 years old at the time riding my 9′ 0″ Weber Feather at the mile long wave in San Blas Mexico. It was only my brother, Aquadoc, Robert August Senior, his friend and me on that memorable day. Aquadoc said that we needed to go south from Mazatlan where we had been camping since January of that year because he said the swell was rising. Doc was absolutely right on as we scored San Blas on an epic day of overhead waves that traveled the better part of a mile. The rides are so long that six rides is a full days work and anything more is improbable. Just the walk back through the jungle and getting three tacos each trip was more than I bargained for. Anyway, after my second mile long wave and maneuvering an overhead wave past a rocky point and into the bay, Robert August’s dad said “you do pretty good for a crummy board”. I took that as a compliment and filed that statement away even into the end of 2013 which was over 42 years ago. Robert August was probably around 60 years old back then so I probably won’t be able to thank him in person, but I do hope to relay the story to his son who is 67 years old at this time. On the surfing side of things it was a grand day today on Thursday December 5th, (my good friend Bob Pushaw is celebrating his 60th birthday today), as my new friends from CR Surf Adventures, and three other guests went to Playa Grande in the afternoon and found some fun waves that were pretty mellow much like the rest of today. Tomorrow we start two a day surf sessions so it will be necessary to get an early bedtime in and dream about tomorrow.
Starting Friday December 6, we started surfing in the morning and again in the afternoon. Just a short walk from the hotel is the rivermouth in Tamarindo that is the most consistent spot right in town. It’s located on the north side of the downtown area, but the town is small enough that it is pretty easy to get anywhere in Tamarindo on foot even while carrying a board. Even though the waves were only waist high, the good shape of the waves made up more than enough compared to a choppy day on Lake Michigan. The wind was blowing offshore which is always a good sign for a quality day. After a break for lunch, my surf hosts CR Adv. picked me up and took a few of us up to Playa Grande for a few hours of waves before the sun sets at about 5:20 pm. The surf was good although a ocean breeze had developed in the afternoon which gave the waves a look more like Lake Michigan than this popular Pacific Ocean surf spot. Playa Grande is a fun place, and it is a bit unique to me that there is almost always someone selling coconuts when we get out of the water. After buying a coconut for several days after surfing from a Costa Rican named Tom, he had his eye on me when I was putting my board back on our truck. Tom holllared “hey William you want a coconut my friend?”, barely before I can get 1000 colones out of my pocket. I asked Tom where he gets coconuts from, and he said they are shipped from San Jose and originated out of Panama. I was thinking he probably was pulling my leg just so he can get an extra 500 colones ($1). Anyway Tom cuts the top of the cocunut off and puts a straw in the hole, and after the juice is gone he cuts the nut in half and a chip of coconut shell can be used to scoop the white coconut filling. My hosts said we are going to switch to 6 am surf excursions becuase high tide is now in the morning. so it was an early night and setting the alarm for 5 am to start our first weekend.
Day 7, Saturday December 7, was very dark when my eyes popped open at 5:04 am. I got to wondering if the sun would even be up by the time I was to meet the truck at 5:45 am. Even near winter solstice the sun came up a few minutes before 6 am, and the truck piled with about 9 boards came slowly up the street. Any hope of coffee was quickly dashed when Rigo our Surf Chief said well we have breakfast on the river this morning, and what he meant was we were breakfast for the reported crocodiles that have made themselves famous recently with attacks on surfers back in October this year. We parked at the riverbank and eight of us on boards, including our cameraman Jean-Paul toted our boards to the river and Rigo said “follow me”. After scanning the banks for crocs, I launched into the river right behind Rigo, and ahead of a younger surfer who looked more appetizing than a leathery old surfer which is me. I am not sure if I have ever paddled faster this morning, and was very relieved to reach the other bank without even losing a limb in the process. We walked another 100 meters down the beach and made it to a beach house owned by a local Costa Rican. After surfing a couple of hours in some really nice waves it was time to head back across the river and see if any crocodiles were waiting for our return. Fortunately the tide had gone out a bit and the river crossing was considerably shorter with a lot less anxiety. It was about this time, around 9:30 am, I realized I had gone surfing three times in the past 24 hours and I didn’t even have any coffee yet. Usually, back home, it’s hard to open my eyes until I have had at least one cup of java. I was exhausted, hungry and on a mission for two cups of great Costa Rican coffee which is famous for it’s high quality. After breakfast my hosts said, well William it is time for your activity which I had hoped meant a nap, but they said you have a reservation on a catamaran for a sailboat ride this afternoon. I was relieved that I didn’t need to paddle a surfboard, or even get wet, I could simply lay on the deck of this boat while it traveled up the coast for a sightseeing tour. With plenty of refreshments, great sights and lively music, it was a lot of fun, although I did nothing but sit and eat food. Now it’s back to the villas and check email, and get ready for another 6am surf session on Sunday morning.
Day 8 arrived early at 5am on Sunday December 8, as my alarm clock awoke me to salsa musica on the local radio station. One hardly needs an alarm as the howler monkeys really go nuts first thing in the morning. Fortunately an early bedtime on Saturday night made it a lot easier to jump out of bed and into my bathing suit for a day of sunrise surfing at Cassitas on the north side of town just over the river. Today was a bit more comfortable after I survived the crocs on Saturday quite easily. The waves were equaly is good, small but nice shape for a great day of surfing for the whole crew. Each day a person or two leaves and another one or two arrive into our camp which makes for many greetings and goodbyes on a daily basis. After surfing which is around 11 am, I head to the the local breakfast spot for my meal of the day. Today was fun because American football started up right after I finished breakfast at 12 noon. Even though the Detroit Lions spoiled a perfectly good day in Costa Rica, I diverted my attention to the beautiful weather and the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. It was early to bed again as we were scheduled for a 6:30 am surf start on Monday.
Day 9 was a special day because it is my 47 th birthday as a surfer in which I have surfed almost every birthday since the later 60´s and today was going to be one more. When our group got together my surf buddies had a birthday card with great birthday greetings for my special day. Rigo are surf boss, decided to take him and I to Playa Grande as a birthday gift on this day. He even stopped at a local bakery where I could have a cup of coffee and a some birthday cake on the way to the beach. Rigo and I discussed how much we missed our families, and how we are looking forward to them this holiday. The waves were small, but very smooth so I was excited to catch my first wave this day. Rigo said, “if anyone gives you static, have them talk to me”. Fortunately everything was realy cool as I caught well over a dozen well-shaped waves all the way into the beach better than a 100 foot rides each time. I have had a lot of super birthdays in the past, but I will certainly remember this special day.
Day 10 which is Tuesday December 10 came quickly as I was still dreaming of my chocolate birthday cake and ice cream the evening before. Monday night at my favorite restaurant called Patagonia, which is an Argentinian cusine, was a festive atmosphere that had a group of newlyweds and their 20 guests from San Diego, California celebrating their last evening in Tamarindo before an early flight out at 7am Tuesday. It turned out that the groom’s father was also celebrating a birthday so we had two separate renditions of Happy Birthday with plenty of cake and ice cream for all. Back to Tuesday, I found a source for coffee at 6 am, however it was the strongest cup of coffee I ever had because the percolator had grounds for 12 cups, but it only brewed a cup and a half on this morning. Anyway, I was really charged up at our surf spot callled Avellanos on this sunny and tropical morning. Again the waves were on the small side but the offshore wind created some very nice rides for my friends and I on Martes, Decembre diaz, 2013. After a few hours of surf it was back in the car for a 45 minute trip back to our hotel. It was a hot day as I noticed the temperature was 33 degrees Celsius at 10:45 am which I believe is 91.4 degrees Farenheit.
Wednesday December 11th started quite peaceful with the sounds of howler monkies at around 6:28 am, or two minutes before my alarm. The last thing I remember about Tuesday is the Latin Musica from a nightclub called Fisch just down the calle from my hotel. Fortunately between turning up the fan and a/c, plus being worn out from many days of surfing I managed to get to sleep quite nicely. Wednesday is Day 11 and we were off to Avellanos at 7:30 am on this sunny and warm day. I did feel a little guilty with the temperature of both the water and air at 84 degrees as I entered the water at 8:25 am on a popular beach about 7 miles south of Tamarindo. The wind was blowing about 7-11 mph offshore creating nice crisp waves that glistened in the sunshine on this tropical day. There were about 11 of us in our group, counting the photographer as we took over the surf spot. Many of the locals were surely sad to see us pull up and take to the waves with cheers and smiles. It is important to take turns and be courteous which is the custom of both our group and the freshwater surfers of Lake Michigan. Tonight is my last night in Costa Rica for 2013, and my return is uncertain at this time. Therefore, we are going to have a beach party at a restaurant called Lola´s which is at Avellanos beach. Time to pick up some gifts for the family and say goodbye to my new Costa Rica friends, and pack my bags for an early Thursday morning plane ride. I didn’t think anything too significant could be happening after bed on Wednesday night, but I do need to add an event that happened in the middle of the night. Going back to my first few nights in Costa Rica, I got up in the night which is not too unusual, except in my hotel I found out that I was sharing quarters with a clan of red ants. If I wasn’t too itchy from my jellyfish bites, it really wouldn’t be a big deal. However, I learned to turn on a light before venturing into the bathroom just to avoid squishing the litter critters. However on this last night in Tamarindo, I awoke at 3:30 am and thought I could negotiate my way in the dark by now. Then I thought, well it might be good to turn on a light or two. When I turned on the lights I noticed that I must have missed a spider the size of a small dog when walking in the dark, and now it was guarding the toilet which was my main objective. It was at this point I reconsidered if I really need to use the bathroom, or could I wait a few hours when the sun arrrived and my uninvited guest would scurry back to wherever it had originated. I considered squishing the litter critter, but because of its size, that option seem to be unethical or the fear of Costa Rica’s branch of PETA would get me jailed or at least deported. So I sat and waited with my legs cossed and off the floor as the spider decided to come out of the bathroom and cruise past my bed in a show of strength. The 8 legged varmit was heading to the door, and I wasn’t going to stop him, but when I sprang to the door and flung it open into the darkness of the night, there was a pair of eyes getting ready to strike. Both the spider and I stopped dead in our tracks as I slammed the door shut leaving the spider trapped in the room. It was a showdown as I picked up a large paper bag and tried to prevent the spider to go back towards my bed and/or the bathroom. The spider kept coming as my tennis shoes became weapons that pulverized the paper bag and everything that was underneath it. The spider lay motionless but still intact as I pushed him under the door and out of the room for a meal to another predator that eats “octo” legs. However, the spider had become lodged in the door and awaited the next hotel guest as I checked out of my room in the morning.
Day twelve which is Thursday December 12th began quite well at 6:30 am. I walked over to Kahiki Restaurant and found that I was the first person at the restaurant at 7:01 am, even though it was advertised as open at 7am. By the time the cook arrived and the server at 7:18 am, I was lucky to get Priscilla’s Dream and and a cup of coffee and return to the hotel for an 8 am shuttle to the airport. All went well as I was at the airport gate by 10 am for my flight at 11:10 am. Landed in Panama city at 2 pm and enjoyed another view of the Panama Canal from the air as we landed in Panama City. The airport is very nice and modern, as I was able to charge my computer and get internet in almost a week. Also, the airport is air conditioned so it hardly feels tropical although it does look steamy outside. Since I am inside Customs and can’t leave the airport, my last taste of the tropical weather will be my walk through the tunnel to the airplane at 6:43 pm tonight. Wow, was it ever hot while getting on the plane, I’ve been in saunas that were cooler than that. I don’t want to exaggerate, but 118 degrees is probably a good estimate. I guess that’s what happens when a 50 foot long airspace with limited ventilation is cooking in the sun all afternoon. My flight is to Chicago and as the cabin is pressurized, I am become aware that I am going to be switching climates shortly. When we landed in Chicago it was 15 degrees at 1 am as I was dropped at parking structure with my three bags a long sleeved shirt and jeans. Unfortunately my hat, gloves and coat didn’t make the trip, but were safely locked in my car. The parking structure was only 4 floors, but it didn’t look very familiar as I roamed from floor to floor in a shiver that was becoming worse by the minute. I found the car, and turned the key and was so happy that it started up reluctantly on this frigid night.
Technically, it was Friday while driving back to Grand Haven at 2 am December 13th. As I was reflecting on the trip, I was thinking of how lucky I was to be able to spend time in the tropics on my birthday, and get to surf at the age of 61. What I started to realize since I was traveling alone, and my main companions were the surf guides from Costa Rica, I had really gotten to know not only a lot about Costa Rica, but also many things about the Costa Rica people in this tropical country. Virtually everyone I talked to for 12 days spoke Spanish and I was constantly trying to converse in their language. Overall it was a great and fun experience, but also a wonderful opportunity to learn about what other people think and hold important from other parts of the world. We are a lot more the same, than we are different. To those I interacted with on this trip, I thank you. For those I know back in the United States and interacted with on SurfGrandHaven, I thank you for your interest in reading about the people and sights in Costa Rica.