After a great stay in Playas del Coco, Priscila and I hopped in a car Monday morning-ish and made our way down to the third stop on our trip, Tamarindo. The roads between Coco and Tamarindo are what you would expect: paved and with lines. I only mention this because of the “adventure” of road travel around the coast that would soon come. A couple of close calls with buses later, we reached the hotel where we would be staying and got settled in before going out for lunch.
I have to be honest: I kind of didn’t want to leave the hotel. For this leg of the trip, we stayed at Hotel Luamey (on Facebook here) and… It. Was. Heavenly. From before we even arrived at the hotel, Luis and Myriam, the owners, were so wonderfully kind and helpful. True story: one of Priscila’s underlings had suggested the Luamey and provided her with the name of the owner. When I called to make a reservation, I asked for the owner by the name provided and was thoroughly embarrassed to find out that there was nobody even working there with that name; that Luis who I was talking to on the phone was, in fact, the owner. But he was very gracious about the error and so I didn’t feel like a tremendous bumbling boob. Later, the four of us connected the dots over where the name came from (some random family member) and had a good laugh about the whole thing. (By the way, Priscila, don’t forget to fire that guy.)
Back to the current moment, though, we arrived at the hotel, Myriam met us at the gate, and after crossing our private patio, we walked into our room. Good grief, it smelled fantastic! Priscila and I were inhaling deeply through our noses and exclaiming “Aahhhhh” as if we had just spent the day riding behind a trailer transporting chickens. (We hadn’t.) And smell is such a powerful sense that the right scent can so easily transport you to such a good place. In this instance, though, the aroma was simply complementary to the setting; our suite/cabaña was already a great place. Beautiful and stylish tropical decor throughout, fresh flowers handpicked from the property laid on the bed and in the bathroom, our own private terrace with comfortable furniture to lounge in, the gorgeous pool steps away from the terrace… So much wonderful, I really just can’t say enough. Muy tranquilo.
We eventually managed to pull ourselves out of the hotel and go out for some much needed lunch. Prior to arriving in Tamarindo, Priscila and I had made plans to eat at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp and, more importantly, to meet the legendary Robert August(!!!) of Endless Summer fame. For the unaware, Endless Summer is a landmark surfer film, released in 1966, which follows two surfers around the globe as they search for the perfect wave. But it is so much more than that; it captures perfectly the pure essence of surfing.
For decades, the film has inspired surfers and would-be surfers alike to pick up a board and hit the waves. When my two sons were very young, I decided I wanted the three of us to surf. And so we did. And all three of us fell in love with every single bit of it. Surfing is so much more than just standing on a board and riding a wave. It’s a sort of zen, almost a spiritual connection you experience when you get up; everything is as it should be. During those early days of surfing, we must have watched Endless Summer a dozen , maybe two dozen times. So to meet Robert August, one of the main surfers in a movie that transformed our lives, was a serious treat.
Lunch was great, by the way. Sitting under tiki umbrellas on the outdoor patio beside the beach, we ate “nachos as big as your ass.” That’s not hyperbole; that’s the actual name of their gargantuan and delicious nacho plate that we wasted no time devouring. The beach is massive (and, naturally, gorgeous) and like a lot of towns along the coast of Costa Rica, it has a serious surfing community. Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is kind of a large complex, housing a bar and restaurant, a surf shop, and then a hotel as well. Oh, and of course, they offer surf lessons through the shop as well. It was after lunch that Priscila and I had the incredible experience of watching Robert shape a board. And here, I was impressed, not so much by the fact I was standing in the presence of this legend as he carved a surfboard, but by the scene playing out in front of me.
When we walked into the shop, there were five little children sitting on a ledge, ten little feet in Teva sandals kicking back and forth, watching Robert work. A mother and a couple of dads were present. The board he was shaping in that moment was to be a surprise gift for the woman’s daughter. As he worked, Robert engaged in conversation with the children and the adults alike, answering any and all questions with a deep and genuine smile. And all the while, I moved freely around to photograph and shoot this entire process. It warmed the heart, seeing this legend share his lifelong love of surfing with children. None of them could’ve been old enough to fully appreciate who he was, but it didn’t matter in the slightest. Throughout my time in his shop, people would come in and watch and Robert would keep on doing his thing, happy to share his passion. Very, very cool.
While I was there, I also learned about Pirate Radio, a local show that broadcasts live on Fridays from 5-7pm, highlighting some of the best of the area, taking a “floats all boats” approach with content, including featuring other surf camps apart from Witch’s Rock. Very nice.
After leaving Witch’s Rock, we visited the new site of Volcano Brewing Company, Costa Rica’s only microbrewery, and met up with Shaun who gave us a quick tour of where their distillery was going to be located: right next to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. Completely logical, of course, once I learned that Volcano Brewing Company is actually owned by Witch’s Rock. Great location, still under construction, right on the beach. Oh, and the beer (which I had for the first time at lunch) is muy bien.
Following this, Priscila and I walked around town for a bit and checked out a few shops before heading back to the Luamey for a delicious dip in the pristine pool. I swear I could’ve stayed in there all afternoon; perfect weather, perfect temperature, perfectly beautiful setting. However, we weren’t in Tamarindo to just lounge; Priscila was here on a mission from Miami to find a beach town in Costa Rica that fitted her personal lifestyle and I was doing the same, looking to possibly move out of Jacó. We dried off and set out again to wander around the city and get a feel for the town and the people.
I would like to draw attention to two very important points.
One, our search for the right community had as much to do with the people as it did the infrastructure and personal appeal of the town. So talking to people, hanging out in bars and on the beach, getting a feel for the community from locals was actually just as important as seeing the towns themselves.
Two, and entirely related, traveling with someone who is both outgoing and speaks Spanish with near perfect fluency makes a world of difference. Priscila was able to pick up a conversation with anyone and ask about any topic at all. And often, the conversations would turn personal. The unexpected and awesome benefit for me in all of this was how much it helped me with my Spanish. I mentioned briefly before how every interaction we had with Ticos was excellent, but it was for both of these reasons: that we got the inside scoop and it was helping my Spanish. In every situation, I knew the context of our conversations and so it was easy to follow along and also chirp in and take part.
What time does the bus come?
How many children do you have?
You lived in Orotina?
Is there a super close by?
I have to say, too, that it helps tremendously that Ticos so passionately use their hands, their arms, and often their entire bodies when speaking. We would talk to people about how long they had their business, how long they lived there, how things have changed in the town, and so on. Whatever was relevant in that moment. By myself, with my current level of Spanish, these conversations would’ve likely never happened.
There were times, too, when it was kind of like having a personal translator on hand. A couple of instances, I would be trying to communicate en español and couldn’t quite understand what was being said. I’d call Priscila over and she would jump the language hurdle. In casual conversations with others, if I ever lost context (as topics sometimes drifted), Priscila was awesome in bringing me up to speed with where we were at. Then I could jump back in. And then sometimes, she would even make me ask the questions we wanted answered. Excellent.
Throughout our trip, I can’t even count how many people we talked to and how many people had such interesting stories to tell us. It seemed like hundreds.
Back to reality: after we cleaned up, we walked back in to town and watched a couple of skater kids making use of a very cool little bowl set up for skaters, browsed the “property for sale” adverts displayed in the windows of a couple of real estate offices, and then shopped a little. Lots of cool little shops in town. We stopped in a store by the name of 70 (which I cannot find online anywhere and good luck finding it with The Google) and got a few items. Had some drinks at Wild Panda and did a little people-watching before walking around some more. Immediately ran into a cute little pooch.
Priscila is a HUUUUUUUUUGE dog lover, having two pugs of her own, so we spent just about as much time talking with los animales as we did the humans throughout the trip. It’s worth noting here, too, the dog situation. I live (and have traveled around) the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In the region where I live, there are a lot of dogs without collars that are wandering the streets. Some have homes, many do not. In Tamarindo, I noted for the first time an abundance of collared dogs. Dogs that were well-kept. Neutered, spayed. I found this to be interesting and, in our travels, it was NOT the only place where this was the case. But it’s worth noting that it isn’t like this everywhere; organizations like the McKee Project are highly involved within communities throughout the country.
After a little more doggie love, Priscila and I wandered out to the beach around sunset and watched the various people strolling up and down the sand. Mariachi band here, surfer girl there. For being low season, there seemed to be a number of people in Tamarindo. We made our way back to the hotel, showered, and walked out again to see what the nightlife was like. Oddly, the people that were all out before seemed to have disappeared. There wasn’t a lot going on, that we could tell, but we didn’t know the town so wherever stuff was happening, we weren’t there. The casino we passed was pretty much empty. The large sort of Jamaica-style resort on the beach was fairly barren. In talking to locals, though, we got the impression that the town is mostly an early evening crowd. I can’t say this is fact; this is only what we saw and what we heard.
What DID happen, though, was that we stumbled upon The Falafel Bar (on TripAdvisor here). I was beyond thrilled because as soon as I saw the place, I knew that I would soon be eating a shawarma, which I had been seriously craving for about a week prior to that moment. Sadly, since it was either too close to closing time or they were done making them for the evening, my consumption of a shawarma did not happen on that day. The staff was super-friendly, though, and we wisely bought some freshly baked pita pieces and homemade hummus. It was fantastic. So fantastic that two nights later, farther down the coast on our trip, we would finally be finishing off the large snack bag of those delicious baked slivers of pita bread, the hummus long since gone.
Walked back to the hotel and settled in for the night. Tired but still very curious about Tamarindo, we decided that we would stay another day and night at the Luamey. And so ended the third day of our trip, feasting on tasty snacks, lounging under comfy sheets in our air-conditioned cabaña, watching television en español in Tamarindo.
When I cover our second day in Tamarindo, I’ll attempt to explain why locals will sometimes refer to the town as Tamagringo.