Surf's Up....

Okay so this blog post is a wee-bit late and yes, the title is kind of nerdy (I won't deny) but there's a reason Costa Rica gets a reputation for being a surfing destination! From the Caribbean Coast, Pacific Coast and entire coastline of the Nicoya Peninsula there's no shortage of waves forgivable to newbies and enticing to old pros. I hadn't planned on visiting it's popular surf spot, Tamarindo, which is equally (or maybe more so) known for it's wild (and touristy) side of parties, fun and lots of Americans who now call the town home, but...as the trip would unfold I ended up getting a flavor of the beach town aptly nicknamed, 'Tamagringo' ;-) My original plan was to check out one of the sleepier beach towns of either Playa Samara or Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula or Dominical or Punta Uvita on the Pacific Coast but... I ended up meeting some fun people along my way that were heading to Tamarindo to dive (which sounded enticing) so - decided to join them!

I arrived on Friday afternoon to a small town that was anything but sleepy - there's really only one main street, but there's no shortage of bars, restaurants, souvenir and surf shops. I did notice right away that it had more of a commercialized feel than Puerto Viejo with some restaurant chains (like Subway) and newly constructed condo buildings, but still the town had a fun buzz to it with lots of activity and people heading to and from the beach with their token surfboards.  The townscape instantly put me in the mood to find a spot in the sand with one of those sugary yet delicious beach drinks (pineapple garnish, paper umbrella and all) in hand and just soak up the sun and watch some surfing but….first things first, I needed to find a place to stay…oh if I only knew what was in store for me! I found two beautiful B&B's (Villa Alegre and another place I can't remember the name of)…anywho both were willing to rent me a room for $100 - which in hindsight I should've snatched up - and fast.  But….I was toward the end of my trip and trying to be money conscious so that oh-so-smart thinking landed me an $18 room sans air conditioning.  I patted, what I thought was my experienced budget traveler self, on the back and headed off to meet my friends for some happy hour drinks….

I met cousins -Sarah and Alan- hiking the Cerro Chato crater up at Lake Arenal earlier in the week. Both are avid travelers and just incredibly interesting people - I had a blast getting to know them and learning about how people travel all around the world and stay for free…couch surfing!  Seriously there is an organization and it's all based on sharing your place so that then you can enjoy someone else's place down the road, it's all free and Sarah said she's never had a bad experience. I may just start running my very own C&B (couch & breakfast - nice ring doesn't it?)…we'll see but in any event they made for enlightening & fun conversation! We went to the popular happy hour spot, Eat at Joe's and had great tacos (me - veggie & fish; them - fish & chicken)...it was a great night-We enjoyed drinks & live music beachside at Joe's, watched sunset over the pacific and then not long after saw a great thunderstorm roll in that gave us a spectacular lightning show over the water.

By midnight I was heading back to what I thought was my humble, but comfy little abode - it looked inviting enough with saltillo tile flours, a bed with decently comfy mattress (remember I was paying $18 for the night…breakfast included - oh how did I not know!), floor to ceiling windows and a charming bathroom with a large open-air shower….but how looks can be deceiving!  Remember I said I decided to go with no AC?  Well you get what you pay for....for $18 I got a hot & sticky room coated (I MEAN COVERED!) in mosquitoes…I pretty much spent the whole night with my arms flaling about like a mad woman trying to smack all the little blood suckers tormenting me in my attempt to sleep ---- needless to say by 5am I, along with my 25 or so mosquito bites, were ready to get the hell out of dodge and onto that dive boat!

But as it would turn out diving wasn't in the cards as the boat ended up being full.  I would say I was disappointed but actually it turned out great because instead I spent the day at the beach with Sarah enjoying the country's infamous surf!!! I took a 2-hr lesson with a Tico surfer - Gerard - it cost $30 (down from $40 - don't hesitate bargaining in Costa Rica!) and it was sooooo worth it!!!! Within 30 minutes I was up on the board riding some waves (ok....they were small waves but still - I was surfing and screaming and laughing and pretty much loving every second!)

What I learned about Tamarindo is that a lot of people really love it, while others not so much -  mostly I think because of the touristy element.  As for me?  Well.   I can see both sides, I think I'm on the fence.  I had a great time with my new friends and absolutely LOVED learning how to surf but I did miss the simple authenticity I found in Puerto Viejo and unfortunately I think my mosquito filled night and lack of sleep may have tainted my overall Tamarindo experience.   But through all the bug bites and sweat I'm glad I visited this beach-centric town.  My brief jaunt was so worth it for picking up my new hobby and I have no doubt I'll try surfing on any beach I go in the future, but on my next visit to Costa Rica I'm making a beeline for the more sleepy, yogic surftown of Montezuma :-)

Blog, travelJamie Wagener