Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Travel Notes: Costa Rica 2001 (Aka Pic of the Day)

This morning I checked my email to find this photograph in my inbox. There was no text attached and yet I knew exactly what it meant. My smile was instantaneous. The Imperial label said it all. My friend Bob Pokorney was back in the land of "Pura Vida", one of the most amazing places on earth, Costa Rica. In 2001 Bob and I spent a winter down in a small town right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. I rented us a house for $800 and we went down with nothing but cash and a couple disposable cameras in our pockets and surfboards on our backs. Recently I dug out the following pics and the memories were brilliantly vivid. It was a time when we had nothing and wanted nothing. Surf was on our minds, our journals were packed to help us figure out the next chapter(s) of our lives, and otherwise it was just about the adventure of it all. We didn't realize it at the time, but that trip would help to mold us into the individual, professional men we would become in the almost ten years since. It's important to remove yourself sometimes, take time to reflect, challenge your ideas and see where they take you, and then try and move forward, fearlessly following through, knowing the experience alone is going to make you a stronger person. That's how you learn who you are, and who you want to be.
This entry is for Bob, wherever he may be....

We traveled through the night from a frost-bitten New York and fell out of the clouds to a tropical green paradise we couldn't believe. From the airport in San Jose we found a taxi able to take our surfboard bags and us to the ferry in Puntarenas. Everywhere I looked the lush foliage and the brightly painted houses perched in the hillsides was such a contrast to the bleak Long Island winter from which I had come. I must have looked a bit shell-shocked at first.

Here's Bob getting into the swing of things on the ferry over to the Nicoya Penninsula.
Luckily for us the taxi drivers in Costa Rica know the routine all too well and weren't frightened at all by our oversized board bags. We breathed some major sighs of relief when we found this guy. He was great!
The catch was that I rented the house over the internet and didn't entirely know where we were headed. The last email from a mysterious guy named Murray just said, "when you get into town look for a white fence with blue paint and you'll find me there". Everyone, myself included, thought this was a bit vague but on we drove with eyes peeled, and eventually we found it.
There in the southern section of Mal Pais, a town only as big as it's two kilometer gravel road, we found Murray and our little house rental, what he called "Man's House". Some weeks later we would meet the owner himself, a gentleman named Man Leon, and get to thank him for allowing us a stay in such a perfect little sanctuary.
The house was equipped with everything a few surf bums could need. The house was at the base of some foothills and in the trees out back of our house the howler monkeys would deliver quite the concert.

This was our alarm clock, which would reliably go off every morning at 6am and get us up for the dawn surf session.
Our neighbors...
Across the street the property had all kinds of citrus trees and mangoes and pineapples and coconuts so finding breakfast was easy. Don't mind the sign. ;-)
If we were lucky in the mornings we might catch the local bus which would carry us up the road to the better surfing beach.
There you'd find a few mile stretch of great rolling waves. Different spots had different breaks but pretty much every morning and every evening we surfed, and always found some waves to enjoy.
In the evenings we retreat back to the porch and hammock at Man's House and catch up on the day. This day Bob had gone down to the southern most beach in town where the fishing boats come in and he was telling us about the different catches and what he decided to bring home for us to cook for dinner.
The house we rented slept five people so we did the only logical thing being bold young men and invited three beautiful women to join us. We all got along well and enjoyed getting to know each other. One day we decided to rent bikes and check out a nearby park called Cabo Blanco.
It was a long and arduous day trip but we pushed through and the scenery was fabulous.

Eventually we saw our destination in sight and we pedaled our rickety bicycles down the other side to the ocean's edge.
When we finally got back to the beach we found this amazing park, full of the most incredible snakes and birds and flora. I really love this stand of yellow bamboo dwarfing Grace and Kam as they make their way to the beach for a swim.

But most days we ended up back at the surfing beach. Some of the guys and girls traveling for as long as we were would build and set up their own surf camps right at the water's edge. Some of the camps were pretty ornately decorated with old boards and bottles and found objects and we wondered if we might have been better off. But then the police would sweep through and breakup the camps and the squatters and we realized we were much better off playing by the few laid back rules the town did have.

Even though all three girls tried surfing and loved it, they wanted to travel some more to other parts of the country so they decided to leave us halfway through our stay. For the final night we went to Mary's, a local restaurant, and feasted on their amazing homemade ice cream.

After the ladies left the focus was back to nonstop surfing and writing for Bob and I so we treated ourselves to a few "luxuries". The bike and surfboard rack made out of PVC pipe and pipe fasteners was one of the greatest discoveries while down there, which we ended up selling for the same modest price we paid for it. The radio we acquired in the next town over so we could listen to a funny station called Radio Dos which played a funny mix of American pop hits from the 60's, 70's and 80's.

We did a lot of walking. With no necessary agenda we went where the day naturally wanted to take us. The flora and fauna was forever catching our attention. Flocks of pelicans caught Bob's attention and years later he would make this great piece of art, Pelicanos.

Between the palm groves and the beaches with their rock formations and the shells and different finds our consciousness was raised and the days seemed rich with discovery.

The local stops for snacks and bites to eat were called "sodas" and each one had it's specialty. Near us in the more residential part of town was a church and school and soda that served the best fresh ceviche. Here a local green parrot of some kind must have been curious to see what the gringo was snacking on.
Most mornings we didn't see anyone on the road at 6am so we walked silently and relished in our peaceful morning routine. It wasn't uncommon to see the monkey mothers carrying their young across the power lines that zig-zagged the main road, but you never tired of the sight.
The Bambu was a little wooden cafe that had a full-sized restaurant oven precariously perched out back under a huge blue tarp where they would make the most delicious banana and nut bread.
At that time there were still a lot of vacant lots we could cut through so we felt like we got to know the little town pretty well in the time we were there. We also met some really memorable people, like "Cowboy", the local bartender who we helped out of a jam one day while on our way for a sunset surf.
This is one of the worst shots of Bob and I from that trip but nothing compares to how we felt when this picture was taken, relaxed, confortable, and psyched about life.
We'd surf in the morning from 6am until it got too hot and then we'd paddle out again and surf until it was too dark to see. Those were the days. And as you can see from Bob's tan line we both thinned down a bit, which wasn't a bad thing for me by any means.

Eventually we would have to pack up and prepare for our last dusty ride north on the gravel road. But first one last swing in the hammock and bit of sun on the toes, for soon I'd have to do something I hadn't done in ages, put on shoes!

The final day I would be the last to leave, so I splurged and spent $70 to take this puddle jumper back to San Jose. What a wonderful trip it was. Some day I too will return to Costa Rica, some day....

1 comment:

Robert said...

My oh my, Flip. What a wonderful recollection of such a wonderful time. You've retold it with grace and humility... and given me some perspective as I sink into the routine of another trip down here. What can I say except: I'm honored to have come down this road with you, my friend, and look forward to doing it again. PS it's exactly as we left it.