To my friend, the Surf Lady.
Hi world. Seasons grettings. Allow me to rewind back a month.. How was your Thanksgiving? If you were wondering, I did not celebrate Thanksgiving, although I did reflect on my good fortune and gratitude to my loved ones as I caught rays on the white sandy beaches of Costa Rica. Sinced I entered the country of Costa Rica, I took a sabbatical, from my sabbatical, beginning in the town of Fortuna.
It was late in the evening when I arrived in the town of Fortuna, in the north central of Costa Rica. I found the Bomberos (Firemen) station and was welcomed to crash on the couch for that night, with the intention to leave town the following day. I went out for a smoothie and email check at the Lava Lounge resteraunt. Armando, a raft guide joined me at the table, and after sharing our stories, he invited me to a raft adventure with his company crew. I agreed to join, under one condition if he could arrange a place for me to rest another night. The following day, after the gringo raft tour, I was given an extra bed in the cabin of Alberto. Alberto is one of the Costa Rican Descents founders. Days later, Alberto had a flight to Puerto Rico. To my surprise, he and his brother Warner, who co-owns the house, gave me the permission to stay, as long as I wanted.
I was a bit uncomfortable given a house with no set date of leave, just an invitation of “as long as you want”. I didn’t want to stay much longer, anyhow. I was packed, ready to leave after the first couple days. But after a case of the flu and nonstop pouring rain, I ended up staying for two weeks.
I hardly saw the raft guys. The times I did, was when they came to the house to pick up life jackets from the garage, or from across the bar as the were drinking beers with the tourist. Since I am not the social bar butterfly, quaffing beer and telling pirate stories, I remained distant from the raft guide team. I felt kinda strange to be lingering in the house with no host, only having a quick exchange of conversation with Warner when he stopped by. Yet, when I made apogolgies and predictions of when I was ready to leave, he continued to assure me that I was welcomed to stay. Well, if your are going to give me a cabin in an affluent touristic town of Costa Rica, i´ll accept the offer.
A small house facing the Arenal volcano, and minutes away on bike to the center of town. It was perfect. I could rest to read a book and had the privacy as it were my own home. But for internet and socialization, I went to Lava Lounge.
Everyday at the Lava Lounge, the artisans set up their tables at the spacious restaurant entrance, displaying their signature style work. The same good feeling reggae play list was on repeat, ad naseum. I put up with repeated reggae tunes, to sit with the artisans, watching over their shoulders to see how they made their jewely. The Cuban, Carlos, handed me the wire and tools and instructed me how to make a delicate pair of stone earrings. I had gravitated toward the macramé table as I always wanted to learn how to create colorful knotted braclets and necklaces. Dani and Naty, from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, gave me handfuls of waxy thread and called me over for every oppertunity to see a new technique of knotting. Everyday for a week, I was in Lava Lounge to chill with new friends and take lessons on macramé. The tiny smiling couple, Dani and Naty, were happy to show me how to tie macramé knots in the different patterns for different results. I was mesmerized and inspired by this clan of creative and cool artisans of Central America. I felt like they were good friends that I could of always had.
I adored the other friendly Costa Rican couple, Kco and Sophia.They and their 4 year old daughter, Cyan are planning a move on their tandem bike from Costa Rica to Argentina, next year! Cyan, is super cute. I fell in love with her at first sight when she showed up to Lava Lounge with a giant, yellow, gift wrap bow on her head. She is absolutely precious. Clever little girl, too.
I would stop by the Costa Rica Descents office to say “Hi” to Warren, if he wasn’t out on the Balsa River. He, his brothers, and co-workers, made me feel welcomed home. Warner and Alberto travel quite a lot. They have stories of going back and forth between the US and Costa Rica. At one point their rafts were confiscated by Mexican police. After living in the US doing rafting trips, they had a dream, to start their business in La Fortuna. I can see that these guys achieved the ideal union of work and play. For me, it’s very admirable, that these guys have the pride, yet are humble to extend their help to anyone. As Warren puts it, “I have been there, I traveled, and I want to help people like I was helped.
As I was getting more comfortable in Fortuna, I began to wonder if I should continue to stay. On one had, I was in the said, most expensive touristic town in the country. I spent money on groceries like if I was back in America. I wasn’t buying into the big package deals of outdoor activities, nor was I into the night entertainment of beer swigging at Lava Lounge with the tour guides and gringo tourist, or going to the discotecs/clubs. Just to eat in Fortuna was breaking my bank. At least if I continued cycling, my expensed wouldn´t be so high in the rural areas of Costa Rica, and I would be discovering more of the country. Remining indoors, letting the days go by, felt as if my adventures were going stagnant.
But on the other hand, I was in a lovely town with options to go to the hot springs or hike. I had a free home to live in. I could learn to macrame all throughout the high season. And I liked the nightly gatherings at Lava Lounge with the artisans and the daily increasing number of travelers.
So what to do? A tour guide in an office that asked “why not (I) get a job? It’s high season and English speakers are in demand.”
Work? That´s not voluntary? And be paid?
That day, I began a job search. It was the first time I had done this in over two years. Most of the offers were either work for exchange of free lodging or commission paid work. I didn´t need another free lodge, and I wasn´t going to harass gringoes after they exit a bus to pull them into a “cheap” hotel. At the end of my hopeless search day, I walked across the street of Lava Lounge to say “Hi” to the nice waitress working at the Sushi resteraunt. The sushichef, Angel, arrived and the first thing he asked me, wouldn´t you know it, if I was looking for a job. A waitress position needed to be filled on the beach of Costa Rica in a town name Mal Pais. Excellent! The universe provided! But! That meant.. I would have to leave Fortuna.
I felt at odds with this decision of sticking around Fortuna, or going to the next unknown town. I weighed out the options and tried to resist the sad eyes my artisan friends were giving me. I really didn’t want to go, at least not so soon. But, given the nature of my nomadic lifestyle, there is nothing to lose, as moving is what I do. A switch from the wet mountain town to the sunny beach was alluring, too. With his sincere smile, Angel guaranteed that this beach would be so beautiful and that I will have a great time.
I spent the last couple nights at Lava Lounge for a last day macramé lesson. Naty was dedicated to make sure I had a variety of knotting technique to take with me. When they heard that I was leaving, Naty and Dani invited me to stay a night at their home. There were two bikes for the three of us, so I carried tiny Naty on my bike rack, for a 20 minute night ride out to their home in the country.
They squat in a boarded-up abandoned house in a rural jungle. Their home stirred up warm memories of my year living in Michigan, living in an abandon home and growing a food garden in the overgrown forest. The rooms were decorated with dream-catchers and dried coral, and experiments of jewely layed around all corners of the home. In their home, I felt at peace. Besides their dog, Dread, humping my leg, I was comfortable and I got inspired looking at their collections of jewelry on the shelf. We shared dinner and breakfast of handmade totillas and a vegtable bean and rice dish cooked over an outdoor fire. We went out to their river in their backyard, past the neighbors orchard of oranges and cacao. We went wild picking for ginger on the neighboors property.
I admire my friends lifestyles. They create beautiful jewelry, signature with their personal style and work to support themselves. I was inspired and really touched by their friendship. I could have stayed weeks longer, braiding macramé with Naty, and eating fruits from the backyard, in their quiet country home.
Then.. To the Beach!
Last April, when I took my mystery tour to Costa Rica, I swore that I would never take long bus rides, especially never Central American bus rides, but I made the exception. I boarded the bus so that I could be ready to work at the resteraunt on opening day. I caught a 5 am morning bus ride to San Jose, with my new co-worker, Gravin. Mal Pais is located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. We took 3 buses to Mal Pais, and a ferry across the Nicoya Gulf. Below is what the view of the sunset over the Nicoya Peninsula looked liked:
After arriving in Mal Pais, we met with our boss and temporary landlord, Don David, or Doodoo, as they like to call him around here. Old, cranky, Isrealie. Imagine that for a roomate and boss. Actually, working with ol´ Doodoo wasn´t so bad. He gave us a camper in his front yard to sleep in. In his house, we were welcomed to use bathroom, kitchen, and to hang out on the porch.
The location was excellent. On the other side of the road we lived on, was the beach. I was a 7 minute bike ride away from work and all the markets. Our camper was surrounded by jungle, visited by monkeys and giant lizzards. The weather remained a cool 26 celcius (thats about eighty degress for those of you on the metric system). A coconuts throw away from the beach and there was wifi… what more could I want?
Alright, so there were some bad Mondays at work. As a result of joining this season mix of Umi Sushi saff, what I expected to happen and of course, was a clash of culture and personality. And if you ever worked in a restaraunt, then you may be familiar with the drama and gossip that cooks inside. For the first week I was having a bit of a hard time breaking though as the ´´gringa´´. I spoke broken Spanglish and couldn´t get all the jokes, which was like a reversal role of being the minority in the workplace who does not speak the local language. Additionally, I was the gringa who rode the bike from America, so that made me ten-times more stranger. After the first troubled week, I was good with the team. A little effort and charming humor of spanish slang made the Umi Sushi inatiation process quicker. Soon, it feelt like family as Don David and Gravin took roles like father and brother, constantly checking in on me.. “Where are you going, now?” and “Don’t be home late!”
An online status newsfeed caught the attention of my friend from SF. Conor read that I was hours away from where he was, at the caital, San Jose. He was Costa Rica to visit his family, in the city of his birthplace. Yes he’s a Tico, but fools everyone as a fairskin American boy. He took the ferry and met with me for a coule days in Mal Pais. This was the second-awesome-friend-from America-reunion, in beautiful Costa Rica. Conor filled me in with updates about the friends and my home, the Lee Ave house in SF, which was renamed to Rebel Base Camp. We spent a day surfing. The next day, he invited me to a horseride on the beach. He wanted to help add equestrianism to the “first time activity-sport” list that I have been racking up.
The last time I saw Conor was during a short visit to San Franciso, after I left on my bike tour across America in 2o1o. We had much to share about what happened since I left Sf, lived in Detroit, and left America. And I had already visited his second city he lived in as a teenager, in Zacatecas, Mexico. For me, it was a geat pleasure to have seen the countries and cities my unique friend had resided in. It was great to have you here Conor! Hope to see you again somewhere along this journey!
The last month I learned some new things that I have always wanted to do:
Macramé. Braclets, necklaces, anything could be made with colorful waxy thread. Colors can be mixed and patterns woven into infinite branches. Stones or other precious objects are included to create attractive jewelry. It’s a very simle process, once I understood the effects of tieing the knots in a few different ways to get different results. The rest is left to the imagination to create pieces for various accessories.
Horseback riding. Not a first time first time mounting on a horse, but a first to ride on a horse with out someone holding his leash. And, it was a horseride on a beach. Ideal! But, I couldn’t get the horse to gallop, or canter, since a gallop on the beach is paramount of the experience, so I understood. Gordo, my horse stopped to eat and was not so confident walking on the rocky paths. Trotting hurt my butt, but nontheless the tour along the coast before sunset was a lovely experience.
Surfing. This was the big achievement for me, since I always wanted to learn how to surf. I got my first lesson by Kuma, a friend of Blair, who I met on the bus on the way to Mal Pais. He showed me the basic beginners tutorial, and within three tries, I stood up on the board, and since that moment of bliss, I was hooked. I went out for the following days trying different boards, and was taught by different folks who willing to teach me how to surf. I learned on boards as small as a six foot, and large as an eight-eighter. I found that the board at six-eight was the most comfortable. I had some fantastic days of crusing on the board to shore. But, for each day of a smoooth surf I had four days of falls or no chance standing up. I learned how to recognize the beginner waves, read the tide schedule, and how to find the “gateway” through the waves. I learned something new and valuable from each person. Thanks to them, these guys willing to help, gave me the confidence to brave the waves of Costa Rica, some of the best in the world. It was the was one of the most memorable experience, thus far, during my tour. The connection I made the the surf was physically and spiritually gratifying. I hope to return some day to play again in beautiful Santa Teresa and Mal Pais.
Well I had another visitor in Mal Pais… Could you guess who it was?
Yes, Paul made a visit in Mal Pais. We kept in touch after the split back at the Costa Rican border. Paul rode to Panama for a short stay in Panama City, then a flight to New York to pick up our mailed gear (Thank you, Mom). After he retured to Panama, he caught a bus to the Nicoya Peninsula for a short visit before he will see his brother in Peru. Meanwhile, I will take another sabbatical to the sabbatical of my sabbatical.. I´m going back to Guate, for the ´´END OF THE WORLD´´Nonsense! As we can see, it wasn´t doomsday. The Mayans just ran out of calander date predictions, ending on a glalactic-shift party! Well, whatever it is, I´ll be there with cosmic shoes on dancing with some good friends from San Francisco for more awesome-friends-reunion-in Central America.
In the next post, i´ll share more of arriving back to GuateMaya… til then, I hope you all have a happy, merry Christmas.