It’s the beginning of the dry season in Costa Rica and I’m struck by the lushness and variety of life here. It seems as though every flowering bush is in full bloom, every bird with a pretty song is singing at full volume, every wave approaching the shore crashing magnificently blue and white and frothy onto the sandy shore. It’s nature in technicolor.
Other than a week long surf camp near Mal Pais, our schedule is completely blank. We deduce quickly enough that we’ll require a mode of transport. Public transportation is available, but just as we’ve kept our schedule open for the sake of flexibility, we’re also looking for freedom of movement. We decide to rent a car for the month. It’s a splurge – especially considering a 4×4 is required to get anywhere worth going. Some of the roads most commonly travelled here would be considered some of the worst in Canada. We connect with a local rental agency and for a decent price, have a shiny Daihatsu Bego ready and waiting. She might not have the iron guts of a Tacoma or the rugged good looks of a Jeep, but she’s got the clearance and decent mpg gas consumption to take us places. After three nights in Tamarindo, we venture inland, making good time along the Interamericana.
One of the first problems we came across here is that Costa Rica does not seem to allocate specific addresses to places of business or residences. For example, when flying from Thailand via the U.S. to Costa Rica, the agent at the check-in desk required the address of our destination hotel. Several minutes on Google quickly determined that our hotel had no address. “What do you mean there is no address?” she asked. “I don’t know!” I responded in frustration. She couldn’t check us in without one. We didn’t have one to give her. Tyler and I commiserated and decided to fake it. In a moment of brilliant creativity, we wrote down a fake address: 123 Tamarindo Street, Tamarindo Costa Rica 123456. Later, we learned that there isn’t a postal system here, so addresses aren’t necessary – unless you’re a couple of tourists trying to find your way around.
We opted out of the recommended GPS system – at a cost of $10 per day times 25 days would make the rental more than it was probably worth. Instead they gave us a relatively decent map and we set out with a realistic expectation that getting lost would be part of the equation. The first stop was at the Cabinas Piuri at the foot of Volcan Tenorio. After a particularly challenging hour of teeth chattering, bone jarring driving, we parked, stepping out of our Bego gingerly, so as to avoid the chickens clucking underfoot. A man with rubber galoshes introduced himself as Alexander, and gestured for us to follow so that he could show us around the property which was completely devoid of other guests. We had the place to ourselves.
Departing from our cabina early the next morning, we set out on a short hike naming the Rio Celeste as our final destination. The river is known for its stunning bright blue color and bubbling riverside hot springs. Legend says that after God finished painting the sky, he dipped his paintbrush in the Rio Celeste, coloring it a brilliant and milky cerulean blue. At the park entrance, we noticed only two names before us on that day’s sign in sheet. Coincidentally, they were from Canada. Even more of a coincidence was that one of them was named Arianne! Soon enough we came across this friendly duo and got to talking.
It’s funny how travelling admits you into this sort of club where discussing and debating travel experiences becomes the default subject of most conversations. Amongst travellers it’s about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and the crazy, thrilling, scary, unbelievable experiences you’ve had. You also learn quickly that there are countless interpretations of “how to travel”. These eager 19 year old Canadians were perfect examples. Take travel budgets for instance. While Tyler and I certainly haven’t been travelling on a shoestring, we’ve not been staying at five star resorts either. From Europe to Thailand to Costa Rica, $100 per night on a hotel night has been the limit. Lately we’ve been able to lay our heads down for around $60 per night and still have most of the amenities we want (Wi-Fi, air conditioning, often breakfast). So, say $60 on average, times 30 nights, we would need around $1800 to cover accommodation expenses for the month. In contrast, these two French Canadians had a total travel budget of $2000 that would need to last five months and cover everything from food, to transport, to accommodation.
Our way of travelling brought us to the park gates in an air conditioned 4×4. Their way of travelling meant rising in the dark hours of the early morning to walk from the nearest town up the mountain – around 10km uphill. Tyler and I would feast that night on Costa Rican casados – fresh fish, rice, beans, salad, and fried plantains. They would be rationing their remaining bread, cucumber, and cheap sandwich meat for the makings of a sandwich. As we settled into our bed, opening the windows to let in the sounds and smells of the forest, they would cocoon in $3 per night hammocks, gazing up at the stars. While I’ve gleaned a new appreciation for creature comforts like hot showers and clothes soft from the dryer, their vivid and adventurous way of travelling seemed in its own way, rewarding. We gave them a ride from the trail to the nearest bus stop, parting ways with a new appreciation for every dollar in our bank accounts.
Time for an intensive introduction to surfing. We head south to Shaka Surf camp for a seven day immersion.