Spooky tree.

The swell jumped up at Playa Negra, and I scored more epic waves, pulling into several barrels and even getting my bikini top blown off, an event which everyone in the lineup found very exciting.

Bob Witty said the swell looked promising for Northern Guanacaste, and organized a Real Surf Trips expedition to Santa Rosa National Park, where we planned to surf Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point, two spots I had heard about, but doubted I would have the chance to see due to their inaccessibility.

Witch’s Rock can be reached by car, but not by bus, and Ollie’s Point is only accessible by boat. I was thrilled at the chance to visit these remote breaks, and to go on another adventure with Bob and Mariah.

I woke up at 3am and set off for the boat launch in Flamingo with Bob, Mariah, and Gustavo. We loaded our boards onto a small, comfortable speed boat with Christian at the wheel, and cruised out of the harbor in the shadowy dawn light. I was immediately struck by the unique beauty of the desolate landscape.

Dark, rugged cliffs towered above the water, adorned with a mantle of blackened, leafless trees. Cactus grasped ledges of jagged rock, groping like ghoulish green fingers at the sky. Sinister black birds with forked tails swooped in foreboding arcs and occupied the branches of skeletal trees; pelicans huddled on bleak outcroppings of bare rock. Strange, spooky islands rose out of the water like ghosts, hunched in beastly forms. I was terrified and amazed by the eerie landscape. It was like nothing I had seen in Costa Rica, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

As the boat approached Witch’s Rock, I asked Gustavo how it got its name. He said that when the wind blows a certain way, people say that the rock emits a mysterious noise, akin to a cackle. As we closed in on Witch’s, I didn’t hear the noise, but it still gave me chills. The rock loomed threateningly above the water, perched on a tapered base weathered by the surging sea. It stood solitary and watchful over the deserted beach, secluded from the shore, not a shred of vegetation visible on its barren form.

The offshore winds were relentless in their force and persistence, battering the tops of the waves mercilessly, sending plumes of spray bolting out to sea. The boat hurdled over the building chop, launching and plummeting rhythmically over the swells. We decided to give Witch’s Rock a pass – the swell was large and the waves were closing out – and move on to Ollie’s point. The wind persisted.

Though the swell direction was excellent and the waves were lined up, the force of the wind made for difficult surfing conditions. I joined Bob, Mariah, and Gustavo in the lineup, but I felt the linger of seasickness, and was inexplicably drawn to explore the ominous landscape. Bob warned me to watch out for crocodiles; he said had been chased out of the water by 15 footers at Ollie’s.

Undeterred, I took a wave in to the beach and scrambled over the rocks onto shore, where I was confronted by dark, twisted trees covered with spiky thorns and engorged with blackened wasps nests. I tentatively inched my way into the arid jungle, curious what might lie deeper within its shadowy corners. Sharp, thorny branches punctured my bare feet. Giant horseflies and black wasps swarmed my skin, biting meanly through my rash guard. After only a few steps, I became overwhelmed and frightened, slapping frantically as I ran back to the relative safety of the ocean.

I paddled farther down toward the mouth of the estuary in the hope that I could find a better place to land. The current intensified, threatening to pull me into the heart of the desiccated forest. I hesitantly put down my feet, wary of crocodiles, and hurried to the beach. A sand dune lined with rough, stalky grasses separated the ocean from the estuary, and I hugged this tiny refuge. Its banks were deep as quicksand, my feet swallowed up to the calf with each step.

After a short stretch, the twisted trees invaded even this small haven, their barbed, tangled, branches reaching like claws into the estuary. I waded tentatively into the brackish water, suspicious of crocodiles, aware that at any moment, snapping, murderous jaws could rush out of the water and tear at my limbs. The cadaverous vegetation on the floor of the estuary bubbled to life with each step, sending gasps of air up through the water, putting my frayed nerves on edge.

I spotted a kayak and waved happily, eager to cling to a lifeboat of familiarity in this hostile domain. It was a group of ticos from one of the boats, fishing for dinner. They said they had seen two small crocodiles just around the bend, that I should get in the kayak if I wanted to go exploring. Two of the men ascended the shore, and Jaco invited me to board the kayak with him. I gladly accepted. Once I was on the small boat, I felt much safer, confident that a crocodile would be less apt to attack a large piece of artificially colored plastic than two ripe, wiggling legs.

We paddled around the estuary, exploring its nooks and crannies while I spoke Spanish with Jaco and he baited lines for fish. Eventually, he caught a decent sized specimen, and we returned to the shore so that he could reconvene with his two companions. I paddled back out to the surf, and then to the boat, lest my friends think I had been eaten by crocodiles.

I was relieved to have made it back safely, and glad that I allowed myself the opportunity to have this unique experience, that I didn’t force myself to surf when I wasn’t in the mood, when I felt called to something else. I’ve gotten a lot of great waves in Costa Rica, but I’ve experienced nothing like the bizarre beauty of this harsh terrain.

While I was on the kayak with Jaco, I told him I was looking for a word to describe my experience of this peculiar land. I threw out every word and phrase I knew in Spanish that could relate:

oscuro – dark
negro – black
brujas – witches
fantasmas – ghosts
los arboles tienen espinas – the trees have thorns
los insectos son gigantes – the insects are giant
me da miedo – it scares me

And Jaco seemed to understand the feeling I was trying to convey. Macabro, he said. I don’t know precisely what it means, but it is how I will always remember that bedeviled and bewitching place. It haunted my dreams, crept into my nightmares. But I’m glad I gave into the temptation to set foot on its forbidden ground.

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One thought on “Bewitched

  • Posted on May 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Hey it looks like you made it to Popoyo. That’s where Dom and I went! Check out the food at Club DSL Surf Popoyo. They have wood fired pizzas and the steaks have a superb chimchimichurri sauce. The owners are Italian and make such amazing food. Also check out Yolanda’s cafe pretty classic nica food there!!


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