Playa Negra

The soft rustle of distant ocean surf crashing weaved it’s way through the flickering of leaves and wind.  Warmpth and humidity, the screeching of insects hidden away in the green foliage, a german shepard walks past uninterested in my unpacking.  I take out all the bags from my pack and organize them in the shelves near the bunk bed, sunblock and DEET prominently placed at the front.

The bunk room was simple yet impressive for having been built with the supervision of the bed and breakfast owner, Manuel.  It had two bunk beds, a few places to put your things, and a fully functional bathroom.  In the front was a plastic table and a few lawn chairs, immediately I laid clamed it as my end-of-day brew spot.  Manuel shows us a few things, his quiver of boards against his building which was available to us for 10$ a day, and the breakfast area, a small outdoor seating area with tables, board games, and a hammock.

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“Would you like to see the beach?” said Manuel in his thick French accent.

Adam and I look at eachother.

“Sure!”

We thought, a quick stroll down the road and we’d be there, Manuel mentioned a way to drive there but it was less direct so walking was the best option.  We followed, quietly, conversations brief and far between, we just took in our surroundings.

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The dirt road lead us to the entrance to the entrance of Hotel Playa Negra, a man sat in front and Manuel directed us to a very lightly worn path to the side, we assumed they didn’t like people walking through the property.  We continued to follow.

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I couldn’t see the trail most of the time, it was thick, grass blades and brush impeded swift passage through the trail, I had to duck under tangled branch after twisty vine.  I looked at Adam thinking, “Is this man leading us to the entrance of the Temple of Doom?”  This was all before our first barbed wire crossing.

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Manuel casually cautions us about the wire, and slinks through like it was just another leafy branch, Adam and I, flexibility lacking, strain to commit to the limbo game of dodging rusty tetanus fangs.  Once your nerves get the best of you, other inconveniences start to ware, I became keenly aware of the notion I was now thick in Costa Rican brush, crossing through barbed wire boundaries being lead by a French surfer, bugs were flapping in my face, crawling on my feet (good thing I was wearing flip flops), and the peircing, screeching racket of living creatures thundered from beyond.  I thought a fun mixture of “fuck” and “fuck it.”

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Luckily, about a quarter mile more jungle and one more barbed wire fence permitted us an unobstructed view of the ocean.  It all made sense in that moment.  This was why we came.  The ocean was perfect, crisp unbroken lines of water formed smooth and became these beautiful little waves, inviting and unintimidating.  The shore hid small pockets of people, some in the twisted branches of the ocean trees, some in the waves, no more than a handfull in the entirety of my visual field.  I couldn’t believe that such a beach would be this sparsely populated.

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Cruisin for cafe leche

Meandering past roadside pit stops and the occasional “cafe leche” we are waved down by an official.  Pulling to the side, my friend looks to me with curiosity.  A man walks up to the car, and begins speaking, prefacing his words with “I don’t speak much english.”  Trying to understand his broken English we attempt to absorb what it is he is trying to say.  Something about the speed limit, how it is slower, how he will have to take our passports and we might not get them back, a ticket could cost $200, and doing it with the city would be a cumbersome process.  He looked to my friend, “you understand?”  He looks to me and asks, “did you get any of that?”  Thinking for a moment, I looked back and said, I am pretty sure I know what’s going on.  The cop repeats “you understnad?”  I turn to my friend, “this dude wants a bribe.”  I look to the official, “how much?”  He says $100, I fumble with my wallet, we only have $80, he says that’s okay and we give it over, he wishes us a good day.  As we drove off, I looked at my buddy, “dude, we just bribed our first cop!”  Instant high five.

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Roadside kitty says hi to us as we sit and enjoy a coffee.  After a little driving, we happen on the Playa Negra area, we were told to contact the B&B patron once we got to a soccer field in the middle of the small town.  There were kids in the field kicking around a smaller version of a soccer ball, a few businesses and bars open.  Our cell phone had no reception so we decide to wander up to a bar, the bartender asks, “Cerveza?”  I say, “no, telephono??”  He looks confused and repeats the offer for beer, I pull out my phone and make a gesture up to my ear and he points to a store a block away.  We walk down the street after thanking the gentleman and into an eclectic shop where a guy is selling pocket knives, sunglasses, and assorted refreshments, we ask for the phone and make contact with our pickup, he states to continue down the road and wait, he’ll be there to grab us on his bike.  Lo and behold, he comes meandering down the path on his bicycle to take us to his humble little surf camp, about a half a mile away from the beach.

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San Jose to Playa Negra

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After a delicious Costa Rican inspired breakfast, we hit the road, saying goodbye to San Jose & our cool little B&B.  I completely fell in love with the butter here, which was cultured, yellow, and rich with flavor, it went so well with avocado on toast next to some papaya.  Mmmmm.  We got directions from our B&B proprietor and took to the road to check out the countryside for ourselves.  The streets were remarkably well maintained in all honesty, going from San Jose and heading west.  We were told to avoid the northern routes as they went through the mountains and opted to head direct west, many toll roads later we happened on the coast, our first view from the ground of the beautiful Costa Rican Pacific!

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Costa Rica – Phoenix to San Jose

Empty airports, red eye, the single few chairs occupied by closed eye travelers awaiting their boarding.  The airport this morning hadn’t even begun to bustle with the flicker of life, distant planes landing and empty stalls, specifically where I want to acquire my boarding pass.  I wait and flip through a book that a beautiful girl I know had given me.  The Power of Habit, deconstruction of our most inherent capacity, the under workings of why we react, our habits.  Unmotivated, sleepy, the reading is stunted, I look around and see other glassy eyed people, a few from a church going on their mission trip, “Belize in hope!” it says on their shirts, other unassuming individuals trying to fight against their heavy eyelids.

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After acquiring the boarding pass, I make it to the plane with a friend, and we begin our Costa Rican journey.  I build up a steady underlying layer of anxiety in the plane seat, knees rammed up against the seat in front of me, I try to sleep but end up merely increasing the soreness in my neck.  My travel buddy snores next to me, I look upon in envy.  Around me, the cabin is dark, a light here and there marks other people who either find their minds best honed in the dark, or perhaps unable to sleep.  I listen to music and close my eyes.

When I arrive in the airport, It’s not perfectly obvious I am outside the states, everything is as it should be, the restrooms are down the hall, people of all nationalities walk around.  After taking a few turns through the immigration system, I can see towering green mountains surrounding the airport of San Jose.  A police woman walks outside wearing reflective aviator glasses, looking badass and reminding me of a female version of the T1000 from Terminator 2 in his cop suit.

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One stamp on my passport later, and a shuttle to the car rental place, and I am overcome by the different-ness of where I am.  We drive past a park, people playing soccer, little horses slowly making laps around it with excited kids on their backs, cars veering every which way to get to where they need to be.  The roads are chaos.  It’s aggressive, instinctual driving, I knew this was going to have a slight learning curve, but as always I am very excited to partake.  We laugh as I dart through cars and traffic, I woulda inspired serious road rage home but here it seems to be how it goes.

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Language barriers slow the car rental process, my phone doesn’t work and I can’t get my confirmation number for the car, I use their computer slightly terrified that every password I enter is being recorded to be used to steal my identity.  We show the clerk our map that shows the location of the bed & breakfast where we are to stay, it was the wrong place, he corrects us and we’re off.  The freeway is a bit scrunched, there are tons of motorcycles, and the vehicles are a mix of brand new with very old, some that I was amazed to see functioning at all.

We arrive in a neighborhood, everything is behind iron gates, fenced in, I look at my pal and we wonder if we’ve entered a warzone.  We hypothesize about past riots after soccer games, or government coups, and after talking with the homeowner he un-excitedly reveals to us that the neighborhood is very safe, and that it’s just the style.  The b&b is cool, banana tree and hammocks in the backyard, random people here and there.

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We take to the streets after settling to grab a bite, everyone looks at us like we’re the weirdos, I kinda like it.  After walking through a restaurant with some unspectacular looking grub, we find ourselves an Argentinian empanada place, we communicate with meaningful gestures with its proprietor, she takes a few of the bills in my hand as I panic to try and recollect the exchange hoping she didn’t just take a small fortune, it checks out and we eat the most delicious deep fried meal I’d ever had, with a blueberry drink that tasted like shit.

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