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Costa Rica
The Good, Bad & The Ugly


Every trip has its great moments where all the good stuff just seems to come together.  Even the best planned sojourns have those uncomfortable moments where somebody goofed or took a wrong turn and things went awry.  Then, there are the disasters that have the potential of ruining it all.

Fortunately, Costa Rica in the winter of 2000, had much more of the good than the bad.  But there was some ugly too!

The Good

To begin, let's talk about nine days of sunshine and eight starry moonlit nights and temperatures in the mid-80s in the middle of February (winter for those of us from the North).

Tamarindo Steet SceneCosta Rica is incredibly clean.  We saw virtually no trash on the highway or side roads.  Even the area around the airport was pristine and the smallest villages showed the pride "Ticos" have in their country.  This may be a "third world" country, but it's definitely a First Class nation!

Fred Witt @ Playa LangostaSurfing was fantastic.  Offshore winds began about 8 a.m. and continued until about 5 p.m. and held up wave faces.  That makes the drop-in difficult at times, but once you get it wired, zoom!  As our boat captain said on the way to Witch's Rock: "When clouds cover the volcano, the wind blows."  The peak of the volcano was hidden every day.

Food was good, dishes from around the world.  Prices were excellent, about 
$5.50 U.S. for a huge dinner.

Ticos are some of the nicest people I've dealt with any place in the world.  There was no "maņana" attitude and they work hard making there homes and towns as pleasant as possible.  

Getting around Tamarindo is no problem.  Walk.  It's only about a mile from one end of town to the other, there are only a few cars bouncing down the bumpy oiled road and there's plenty of lighting.  I never felt insecure walking alone at night.  I did notice the women wisely walked in pairs.  Walking off the main road at night  might not be a good idea, you never know what critters lurk in the trees and shrubs.

El Coco was pretty much the same, but a little quieter at night.  There's a small plaza at the beach, a good place to watch the locals do their thing.  Only a few cars, a bit more than Tamarindo, and the bar across the street from our hotel must have been a real hot spot.

No problems converting $U.S. into colones.  Put a 20 down to pay the tab, get your change in the local currency.  The exchange rate was 295 to 300 colones per dollar.  But make sure your dollars are not torn!  I got stuck at one restaurant because the $10 bill I presented had a slight tear on the bottom edge.  "Descompuesto, Seņor," the waiter said.  I couldn't figure out what he meant.  Was it because the bill wasn't a 20?  It was broken?  Later I learned that local banks won't accept torn dollars.  Don't ask why, I don't know.

Monkey in a tree--TamarindoAnimals we only see in zoos run wild.  We didn't see any crocodiles, but we did see monkeys, snakes, iguanas, parrots and other interesting creatures.

We, naturally, are from the city and used to dogs, cats and the occasional garden snake. 


The Bad

One of the reasons I don't like red-eye flights is that I can't sleep well on an airplane.  It's not that I have a fear of flying, but I never have enough leg room in coach and I need to stretch out to catch some shut eye.  The Lacsa Airlines Airbus A320 was as comfortable as a mid-size jet can be, but after nearly eight hours in the air, my legs and back ached.  Also, the airline wanted us at the terminal three hours before the flight.  That meant sitting around the bar or cafeteria for at least two hours.  Bor-ing!

When we cleared immigration and customs, we were attacked by blue-jacketedJim Gildea and Bill @ the airport luggage guys who grabbed the board bags and suitcases out of our hands.  This happened on our return too.  Our rental car agency provided a Toyota mini-van to take us to our 4x4s and the luggage guys crammed all 12 boards into and onto one van. We started screaming at them when they walked across the boards on the roof to fasten the tie-downs.  Unfortunately, they didn't understand the American phrase "Get the )&*^&% off my board you @$*^%*%$ !"  I think that translates into Spanish as "Seņor, you are doing a magnificent job of providing my surfboard with new concave points that will surely help me ride it better."

Navigation in Costa Rica can be confusing.  Directional signs are too near the intersections or cut-offs.  Read the map carefully and be prepared to make your move quickly (but, of course, safely).  Signs were large and easy to read.

Traveler's checks were a bit of a problem, hotels and larger restaurants accepted them, but not some of the smaller souvenir shops or cafes.  Waiting lines in banks were long and I was glad I'd brought half my money as cash.

Although this was the dry season, there were still biting bugs about.  In Puerto Rico we called them mimis, in Florida they're no-seeums.  I doused my bare skin in the evening with Avon Skin So Soft (no jokes, please!) and it worked great.

Roads vary in quality.  The Pan American Highway (Hwy 1) was a decent two-lane road, but turn off it and it's potluck...or pothole if you prefer!  By the time we got from San Jose to Tamarindo our kidneys needed serious evacuation!  It took over six hours to make the trek.  There are some major holes in the road so it's not unusual to see cars in front of you weaving from one side of the road to the other to avoid suspension damage.

I was glad I brought a ding repair kit!  My tail block was smashed somewhere between LAX and Tamarindo.  I had to fix it about 9 p.m. and the resin was still tacky the next morning.  I surfed anyway.  My quick fix held out the water and when I got back home it cost me $50 for repairs.

The Ugly

Three things could have caused disaster.  They didn't, but the potential was there. 

1.  Twelve guys was too many for this kind of trip.  Four, six or eight would have been much better.  It was a logistical nightmare.  We needed six rooms with two beds each, three 4x4s with racks for the boards and seating for a dozen at restaurants.  By the time we returned from El Coco to Tamarindo we broke into small groups making surf spots less crowded and tables easier to get in restaurants.

2.  Our whole trip could have been ruined in the first hour in Costa Rica.  The car rental agency had only two 4x4s with racks.  We were still wearing our urban attitudes, were tired from a long flight and a bit nervous about being in a strange country.  Heated discussions with the rental agents continued for over two hours until a couple of other tourists showed up to return our third truck with racks.

3.  Confusion over whether we were "couples" or individuals reared its ugly head at our hotel that same night.  Not only were we tired from the flight, from haggling with the car rental agency and from more than six hours of rugged roads, we were hungry.  The hotel staff got us the proper mix of rooms, soothed our swearing with a pleasant attitude and fed us well.

None of the problems proved fatal to our trip and we finally settled into a fabulous week of waves.

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