Our last two stops in Costa Rica were both beach towns, surfer towns to be specific. Santa Teresa on the eastern edge of the Nicoya Penisula was the first. Jacó, on the mainland to the west, followed a few days later.
Walk anywhere in Santa Teresa and you see shaggy-headed, bronzed-skinned dudes and dudettes with surfboards. On foot, on bicycles, on motorcycles, and especially on quadrunners, everyone had a surfboard. The “quads” as they are known were a primary mode of everyday transportation. Streets were not paved and it rained at least a little bit each day creating quad-perfect conditions- light mud on the rocks. Miraculously, the streets were not full of potholes and seemed well-suited to the conditions.
I keep saying streets…. the singular would be more appropriate. Santa Teresa was one street running parallel to the beach but set-back from the surf a healthy block. Smaller streets ran from the principle artery perpendicularly, but these graveled and wavy offshoots were more driveway than street. Don’t bother looking for any street signs either… they don’t exist. Everything you might want or need was located somewhere along that 2 mile stretch of Santa Teresa’s main drag. More than once Jessica and I enjoyed walking the length of it in one direction, then taking a trail down to the beach for a sandy walk back.
So straightforward and unpretentious was Santa Teresa; a true beach town. But I never figured out how it took on such a saintly name. The adjoining town, Mal Pais (bad country), was smaller and less alive, but clearly had the cooler name.
Not being big surfers ourselves, Jessica and I did a whole lot of taking it easy. Reading, napping, and going to the beach. It was an amazing pace.
Moments Like These
One lazy morning, Jessica and I strolled down the beach and found a nice little spot to watch the waves. It’s a surfer town precisely because the waves are big and fat and roll in with a predictability that surfers must dearly appreciate. For us, the waves were simply splendid to behold; the mesmerizing cadence and elegant power were beauty for our eyes and their thunderous crashing roars were a thrill ride for our ears. It was a bright and clear late-morning. The panoramic view before us showed the curvature of the earth as plainly as could ever be seen from sea level. Raising our eyes from the horizon, clouds of every variety were scattered across the sky. A rain shower draped over a small section of the ocean. From time to time pelicans and sandpipers flew across our stage, always in formation.
The last laps of surf were just able to reach us causing our heels to sink deeper into the beach. Jessica made mounds in the sand at her sides only to see them disappear when the next little wave with ambition reached up and around us. We sat there for some time, wishing to hold onto the scene for as long as possible. That’s when a cool gust of wind puffed over us suddenly. The rain shower we had seen offshore was moving our way. The cool rush of air was so refreshing, but we knew the rains would soon follow. Without hurrying, we gathered our things and began moving inland down a trail that would take us back to the main road.
Only a sprinkle pursued us so we continued taking our time. A quaint coffee/pastry shop called Almendras caught our attention so we dropped in to see what they offered. Their selection of creative pastries surely came straight from France! I landed upon a blackberry muffin and Jessica ordered a cup of coffee that was served with two little lemon cookies. The place was so tiny there was just one table for two inside and only a bench and a chair for two (or perhaps three) on the porch. We smartly chose porch. The rain began falling in earnest now and we had front row seats. 1940’s era night-club music played through the speakers to complete the seen. It could hardly have been more perfect.
Water Taxi to Jacó
To get from Santa Teresa to Jacó you can take the long way or the short way. The glaring reason to take the long way was to save money. Feeling like our budget could handle it, we chose the short way– water taxi from Montezuma. Montezuma is yet another one of the many hundreds of beach-side towns in Costa Rica. It’s about an hour from Santa Teresa by bus and the launch site for our water taxi to Jacó. Our original itinerary had us staying a night in Montezuma but we abandoned that plan in favor of an extra night in Santa Teresa. We’d save some money that way (since Montezuma is a good deal pricier) and go through one fewer round of unpacking and repacking.
We’ve been lucky to have great weather since arriving in Costa Rica and that luck continued as we boarded the 24 ft speed boat that would shoot us across the Gulf of Nicoya to Jacó. The journey took about an hour and turned out to be a true highlight of our trip. As the boat aimed away from shore it appeared to be directed straight out into open ocean. This wasn’t literally true, it was simply that our destination on the other side of the gulf was too far away to be seen despite the crystal clear day we had.
Winds were light and the grand ocean possibly as calm as it ever gets. Large and gentle rolling swells passed underneath our boat causing us to rise and fall softly. Tiny ripples tickled the surface in spots but mostly the waters were shiny like glass. We counted passing four large sea turtles along the way as they surfaced to enjoy the beautiful weather just as we were. At 1 hour in length, the ride gave us time to reflect on this moment in time. It was Monday morning… and we were not going to work. The feeling of indulgence was strong, but it didn’t keep us from smiling wide and long.
Surfer Town on a Different Wavelength
Jacó was far more developed than Santa Teresa. All of the streets were paved for starters. There were name-brand hotels (like Best Western, whoa!) and luxury condos lining the beachfront. Their main drag was wide and full of colorful shops, restaurants, supermarkets, banks, hotels and hostels. Again, lots of people carrying surfboards, but also many locals and American ex-pats going about their daily lives.
The waves in Jacó were even more regimented than in Santa Teresa. They often formed in one long perfect line stretching nearly the entire breadth of the beach. Surfers dotted the waves all along their length. We rented a boogie board our first day in Jacó and rode some waves ourselves.
Our hostel, Beds on Bohio, was among the nicer that we’ve stayed in. The staff was super friendly and helpful which always makes a difference in the general impression you have of a place. We enjoyed our own private bathroom, too. But there’s always a catch, right? This was the first hostel in which we’ve stayed that did not have hot water. Probably a good thing, really; we didn’t have a/c and a thorough cool down in the shower before bed surely helped us sleep better.
Our only genuine excursion from Jacó was to Carara National Park. Well known as a forest sanctuary for macaws and other colorful squawkers, we self-toured our way through the two-plus hours of trails with eyes and ears wide open. We heard some tree-top squabblings, but never saw a single macaw. Our lack of success in the aviation department was more than made up for in other ways. Somewhere in the middle of our hike, a 5 inch piece of husk almost tapped Jessica on the head as it fell from the trees. She said, “That thing almost hit me!” Things fall from the trees all the time, but Jessica nailed it when a moment later she added, “There must be something up there.” I looked straight up and sure enough…a monkey was snacking in the tree just overhead. Our first monkey sighting! Later on in the hike we would spot 3 or 4 more monkeys, too.
We also saw a trail side guinea, a psychedelic frog, an agouti and some hard-working cutter ants.
I am completing this post in the Costa Rican airport. The first stop in our amazing pace around the world has concluded. I think again about how remarkably strange it is to be doing what we’re doing. So grateful everyday.
Ecuador is next.