Pavones, Costa Rica

Published: February 27th 2010
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The thrills of traveling always seems to uplift us when we allow it to do so and with every adventure regardless if it was exciting, enlightening, or perhaps exhausting; we must all value the lessons and memories we gain whilst visiting far off lands of the unknown to take back what we now know.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica for the first time in my journeys by invitation of a long time friend. I’ve often heard from many people how beautiful Costa Rica is and how seemingly amicable the people are known to be through their hospitality. I told myself I would eventually visit the country when the timing was right and fortunately enough, this time it was. I went to visit a friend of mine, Chris, whom I have known for a few years now originally from Rome, now residing here in sunny San Diego. He told me he had just finished his GMATS exam (since he is a smart little cookie) and was intending to take a much-needed holiday in Central America for a few weeks. At the very last minute of my visit, the invite was on the table to go down with the boys to experience the many reasons why Jacque Cousteau explored this timeless beauty along with the influx of surfers head down south to enjoy the elements of the rich coast.

My friend Chris along with his dog Brooklyn, left mid June for Pavones, Costa Rica situated at the southern end of the country, for a well deserved surfing trip. Also trademarked as the place that hosts the second longest left wave in the world. I, for one, have never surfed though I’m born and raised in San Diego. (Since writing this, I have surfed finally). I told him I will see if my schedule and boss would allow me to take off a week to go down and if so, I would make it happen. A few days later, I got the OK from my boss that I could take off for a week to experience a new adventure in a new far off land. I booked my flight for the end of the month and began brushing up on my Spanish to become familiar with the language again. Chris rang me once he was in Pavones to tell me his other friend, Gustavo, was also flying down the same day I was. He exchanged our contact info for us to meet up in San Jose and travel down together for the last part of the journey down. The departure date came, it was a Friday that I set off to leave San Diego, drive to LA and park the car to fly down south via Denver en route to Costa Rica.

I flew a red eye down to San Jose arriving at 6 am in the morning with no sleep as usual. Our regional flight to Golfito wasn’t until mid-day so I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with Gustavo who would be arriving from San Francisco via San Salvador a couple hours later. A surfer friend of mine mentioned the San Jose Marriott for breakfast so I jumped into a cab and headed over there to enjoy a nice hearty meal to myself, have an espresso, read a book, eat some eggs, fruits, and whatever else the buffet was offering. I was in no rush seeing that Gustavo still needed to arrive, so I took my time as well as photos of the beautiful hotel just situated outside the airport which I do highly recommend for a morning meal. As time went by, I met up with Gustavo at the Sansa Regional terminal after I checked in and having to, not only pay for my excess weight, but also having to wait for it to come in on the following flight because of the weight. After we got that situated, we all jumped aboard our 50-minute ride on a single engine 16 passenger Cessna plane on our way to Golfito flying over mountains and ocean into tropical clouds. I as always, had my face attached to the window for viewing pleasure during the flight.

Landing into Golfito was a thrill because as soon as you see it, you knew the outside world didn’t exist to you anymore. You are on the southern tip of the country towards Panama with exotic beaches and dirt roads to widespread towns and villages. Since we were able to see the plane land on a very narrow runway, most of us had out our cameras to record our entry onto our final destination. It was gorgeous and the people were extremely friendly with a laid back attitude. One thing I noticed fairly quickly is they live a relaxed life but if you need anything whether it be buying, info, wanting, needing, asking, they will take care of you as family and make you feel welcomed. While waiting for Chris and my luggage, Gustavo and I changed into more comfortable clothing suited for the heat and Gustavo quickly became a card-playing buddy for the 14-year old employee at the airport. Another employee was an amputee so he had one arm to work with, but he handled his business and produced service with a smile. Chris arrived to get us and not too long after my baggage did as well. Finally on our way to Pavones, which was another 1.5 hours away.

During the journey we had to cross a river on a two car ferry operated by a very old school motor, a couple of locals and rope. There are concrete beams in the river as a start of a bridge being built, but rumor has it something having to do with money halted the finishing of the bridge and even some pieces of the bridge being taken, interesting. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long to cross and
End of the dayEnd of the dayEnd of the day

Catching the last waves.
if you so happen to come at a bad time with lines, it can take you awhile to cross over. However, we had a short time to wait, the ride was amusing nonetheless and we continued on after to Pavones on nothing else but dirt roads. It was a fun little ride and having a 4-wheel drive SUV is vital in a place like this. Chris has already been down here for the past 2 ½ weeks so he was showing us points of interest like where the waves break, property for sale, Italian eatery, etc and then onto where we were staying, Castillo de Pavones. There, we met up with another great guy, Peter, who Chris is related to, dropped off the stuff and headed to the beach to catch a few waves at the end of the day while it was raining. I enjoy frolicking in the rain on a beach, done it many times before and I was destined to do it again. We all piled into the car, loaded the boards and drove the short 8-minute drive to the beach. The weather wasn’t very pretty but temperature was just right to be half naked. I went into the water for a decent amount of time and watched all the surfers get their last kick in for the day. That was the start of my weeklong adventure in a majestic land.

For the next few days we were there, the guys went out surfing in the morning and afternoons and I brought a few books along with me to read during my stay. I really wanted to utilize and maximize my time there enriched with paradise around me to calm my thinking system and get back to basics of life, reading for one. We are so prone to calamity with everyday life that being able to get away is just what my self-diagnosed prescription called upon. Not to mention that I was going to a place known for surfing, and here was a killer spot to set aside all reservations and attempt to try the sport. So one morning I tagged along with the boys while they went to a beautiful surf spot and village known as Punta Banco with endless beaches of exotic nature. Bliss. Very few people come here so it’s serene for you to have the beach to yourself more often then not and every once in awhile you happen to see a “Tico” wandering the beaches and you say to yourself, “This is the life.” Chris brought his short board out to surf on and I was so keen to do it that that was the first board I jumped on, a shorty. He gave me a quick run down on of the basics then we hopped into the water and away we went to conquer the ocean. He pushed me out a few times into the white wash, and I managed to get up on the board for .5 seconds before falling off. Then, I was so eager to catch my own wave that as one was coming, I told him I wanted to go for it, I paddled getting ready, got up and for maybe a second or two I stood up. Hooray for me. Obviously I didn’t stay on too long but I was pleased with myself and after living and residing in San Diego my whole life and never jumping on a surfboard, I fly all the way down to central America to finally be able to catch a wave and surf ride for hopefully 1 second. After all that was said, done, and attempted, we ended our session of surf lessons and the boys came in from theirs to load up and head back to the hotel.

Another day had come and there is a local woman known to make a home cooked meal for people if you make a reservation. We drove to her place and told her we would be back in 30 minutes to eat so she went into her open-air kitchen and started preparing the food for our hunger pains. Her tiny little house sits just in front of a beach and she has a fully equipped garden in the back that is continuously maintained for use of the vegetables. Her place is relatively eco-friendly and I bet her carbon footprint is respectfully tiny. A few friendly dogs that welcome you to her patio, compost pile on the other side of the kitchen, and everything freshly made. She made us fresh lemonade followed by a fabulous meal and finishing it off with some Costa Rican coffee, as authentic as you can get. We finished our meal, paid our chef and headed back to the hotel with one minor fender bender along the way. In this area there are quite a few bridges since all the rivers from the mountains run to the ocean. Well, some of the bridges are sometimes difficult to see on coming traffic until you’re half way across and we did not see a truck coming the opposite end. We drove over the bridge and as we crossed the end, it was miscalculated as to how close we were to the truck and we rubbed taillights fishtailing out of the small road, so we pulled over to inspect the situation. The girl who was driving the truck wasn’t too happy but Chris handled it appropriately by exchanging info and offering to help her get her truck fixed. In conclusion to this small debacle, I think she was more frustrated because of the difficulty getting things done in this area (remember it’s nothing but dirt roads, small homes, lush jungle and beaches). Chris assured her it will be taken care of the following morning and so with it being handled legitimately and respectfully, after all said and done, we got into the car and continued on.
The following day I went out with Chris’s uncle, Peter, for a session to Punta Banco 10 minutes south of Pavones to attempt to surf again. The waves were a bit fierce as oppose to the previous day I went out and I guess you can say I was taking a small beating, wasn’t easy for a beginner to battle the waves, as they were continuous and hard hitting along the shore particularly this time of day. I had no fear when it came to meeting the waves head on, and with the water being warm I didn’t mind getting pushed around a few times, yet. Luckily Peter was there to help me maintain my balance on the board while and I managed to get up on a few waves but didn’t stay on so after about 45 minutes in the water, I took a break and Pete went out to grab a few waves for himself. Chris and Gustavo later joined us for a while, and after a session in the water; it was back to the hotel.
The hotel, Castillo de Pavones, is situated at the top of a hill overlooking the bay with only four suites, a common dining room and a beautiful bar/balcony at the very top made to be a look out post. Aaron, the owner, is originally from the east coast and has been going to Costa Rica for quite a few years before buying the property and building the hotel. The view in the morning is absolutely breathtaking, seeing the bay off into the distance and how quiet it is, it’s completely indescribable and allows you to really love nature for all that it is worth. Imagining the life I would lead if I were to forget about the life I knew here and to leave it for the beauty of southern Costa Rica is tempting to make reality. For the few day I was there with the boys, I saw what the definition of enchanting was; horses walking on the beach, listening to tropical rain storms, feeding wild exotic birds, indulging in local dishes. I also watched soccer on a flat screen TV next to a beach with torrential down pore (no ATM in sight but have to have a flat screen) drinking great coffee, and being fortunate to watch various surfers local, transplants, and drifters all here living it up Pura Vida style.

Throughout the week I was there, Chris wanted to look at some property to possibly purchase and had set up some times to meet with local realtors who seemed like primarily all Americans. We went to one property that tucked away off the main road 20 minutes out and on a huge lot for sale overlooking the entire bay. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t clear skies and beautiful sunsets but the view was breathtaking. I would have to say it would be nice to own land down there in the future, secluded land that you can build on and maybe retire from everything living off the simplicity it brings to you. Many people do buy land there more often then not to build a small house and live quietly, surfing. I had a massage from a German woman who came to Costa Rica a few years back to visit a friend and intending to stay only a short time. Fast-forward to now, she’s been living there ever since and hasn’t left. She makes a living lugging around her massage table from appointment to appointment and you can definitely tell by her body it does her wonders, the lady was in impeccable shape.
Since being in Pavones for only a few days, I didn’t know what to expect but to expect to go with whatever was in store. There’s so much thrill going on adventures and randomness occurs because right there, you have to have faith in what’s in store. The experience is something to never be forgotten and what wild stories that can arise of it is invaluable so when came here, I just went with the flow and enjoyed every moment of peacefulness. The guys were great, we all had an awesome time, and I was the first one scheduled to leave the fantastic four on the 2nd of July. That morning, I packed my bags and the guys took off to go surf. I told them I would get what I needed to get done and meet them at another location 10 minutes the opposite direction north of Pavones. They drove off to a beach called Soleas to surf and after 30 minutes of packing my bag, I hopped into the SUV that was left for me and drove up to meet them. While roaming the beach watching the guys in the water, I collected seashells to take back with me as a souvenir of the beach and walked the dog around since he looked bored. The guys came in for a bit and I jumped on Gustavo’s board to go out for a session to give it one last go. Unfortunately the waves weren’t the greatest and I didn’t catch any, maybe one from this session. I had to go anyway as my taxi was going to come pick me up and take me to Golfito. We headed back and I made some last minute check ups right before I was scheduled to be off to Golfito airport. I said my good byes, got into the SUV taxi, and headed north. We crossed the river like we did the first time and I arrived at the airport 2 hours early from the hour-long trip, starving, I needed to find something to eat. The 14-year-old kid who works at the airport took me to a small hotel where they served food and with the very little money I had, I bought a cheese sandwich. He even sat there and waited for me to finish to take me back to the airport. There were only 8 people who were on the flight back, maybe one person speaking English. The weather was getting ugly, the clouds were rolling in very fast and I will admit I was starting to get worried about this situation. Let’s be honest here, a single engine Cessna 16 passenger plane flying in a storm? Then we heard it was delayed and I just thought, “oh great after a nice peaceful trip to CR, I have to hold my breathe for this part.” It finally arrived and I was nervous to board but I just thought to myself these pilots do this on the daily three times a day, they are use to the weather, but that wasn’t helping my nervous system much. That flight was the longest 50-minute flight I have taken yet, and on the outside I seemed calm but I was uneasy on the inside. Just think to yourself boarding a plane that bounces off clouds like a kid jumping on a trampoline, the rain pounding on the windows, zero visibility in front or around you, flying over the ocean and mountains. When we made our decent into San Jose and I could see land again, I admit I was jumping up and down inside. Finally!!

As we arrived in front of Sansa regional terminal, the pilot had my debit card because I had to pay for excess weight from Golifto to San Jose and because there was no ATM around, I had to let them hold on to it and make me pay when I arrived. That took sometime but after I managed to get it handled, I collected my bag and took a taxi over to the Holiday Inn Express just across the way. I didn’t have a reservation for the night so I just walked up and got a room. My flight back to the states wasn’t until the following morning at 7am so I had the whole night to relax holed up in my room. I walked over to the Denny’s right outside the hotel (yep the American eatery) and ordered a salad to take back. I didn’t leave my room until the next morning for the shuttle back to the airport en route to LAX via a 10- hour layover in Mexico City. I left San Jose having nostalgic memories fill my head of the past 6 days and the enjoyment I got out of it spending it with good people, taking advantage of a timeless opportunity to enjoy a little bit of the rich coast. Adios Costa Rica y hola Cuidad de Mexico.

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