After a day of trekking, the desire to retire to my plastic table with an Imperial beer was strong. Distant flashes of storm activity loomed on the horizon, and I had difficulty estimating the direction the thunderstorm was heading. Leaves rustled forcefully as gusts passed through, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like on the coast right now. I said farewell to my travel buddy for the time being, and equipped my headlamp to make a drive out to the beach.
Every little crab animal was out wandering the shores. I could see larger sea crabs flitting back into their sandy caves as I walked past, ones in the distance still and suspicious of the artificial light passing through. Every intact seashell had feet, there was a mass hermit crab march towards inland greens. I walked through, cautious to not get my foot stabbed by walking little seashells, the smooth sand broken by cool splashes of the ocean water, the horizon was purple and distant flashes broke through the billowing clouds. Deep yet distant booms broke through, the sound wave so twisted and broken up it hardly resembled the hard crack of lightning a closer storm would provide. There was nobody on the shore, a few people still imbibing at the Hotel Playa Negra, and it was all my own to sit and enjoy.
Playa Negra wasn’t untamed, I saw more white tourists than locals by far. At the Hotel Playa Negra, we’d often stop by for an espresso, and it was funny to me to see American families sitting at the pool not but 50 feet from the ocean. The food was outstanding, and everything was probably decently priced for a resort area but didn’t feel like our dollar was getting stretched more than at home. 2$ for an espresso, 10$ for dinner (local products and so so good), 35$ for surfing lessons, 65$ a night for the bungalow. No complaints, because it definitely wasn’t a bank breaker.
Walking home, darkness slowly crept over the ocean. My board shorts were still wet as I sipped the last few drops of espresso. Adam and I headed home. It was dark, and the walk back home was slightly terrifying. We had trouble zeroing in on the trail but made it through our two barbed wire crossings without incident. We were getting eaten alive, mosquitoes were dancing on our skin, DEET was at the bungalow, and we decided to skip malaria prophylaxis.
“Dude we need to get the fuck outta here.”
In the trees, flickers of lights could be seen. Manuel eventually told me little bio-luminescent bugs were active at night, that was a first for me, wish I got a picture…
I sat and drank an Imperial beer while reading that night, then head off to bed.
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.
“Would you like to see the beach?” said Manuel in his thick French accent.
Adam and I look at eachother.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!