Brown Sugar

Nice left in front of the house in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
– Joseph Campbell

My friends Marie and Roberto live in Playa Hermosa, just a few hours bus ride to the north of Dominical. Looking back, Marie was an important inspiration for this trip from the moment it began to take shape. I met her three years ago in El Salvador. I was traveling with friends and she was solo; living feral on the beach with her tent and surfboard. A fuse lit up in my mental circuit board, expanding my comprehension of what is possible in this life.

Two years later I travelled alone to Mexico, randomly went to a left point break I had heard about, and rented a cabina on the beach. Who should move in next to me but Marie and her boyfriend, Roberto. We surfed together, shared meals, shared stories. They told me if I was ever in Costa Rica, I should look them up. And so I did.

Prior to leaving, I called Marie for consultation and advice; she’s a seasoned traveller. We sent messages back and forth during my trip, and she told me about the best places to stay in Hermosa, about 30 minutes walk from the house where she and Roberto live. She told me they surf every morning and evening when the conditions are good.

I got off of the bus in Playa Hermosa and checked in at the hostel on the side of the highway. As the sun sunk lower in the sky, I went for a walk along the beach to acclimate and look for Marie and Roberto.

The town of Playa Hermosa is the epicenter of surfing in Costa Rica. As I descended to the beach, I passed advertisements for surf contests, bars with loud music and beer signs, curvaceous women in designer bikinis posing with surfboards as they were photographed by muscled men with flashing white teeth. I observed the activity in amusement and walked on.

As I tread farther down the beach, I began to notice the exquisite consistency of the sand – it was the deep, rich color of molasses and yielded like brown sugar beneath my feet. Gauzy clouds covered the sky like chiffon, reflecting hues of rose, lilac, and honey. A luminous orange sun hung in the sky like a piece of fruit heavy with ripeness, on the verge of falling from the tree. Silky waves slid up the beach, mirroring the lavish scene flirtatiously before disappearing into the deep sand. In their wake they left stones colored turquoise, amber, ruby, quartz, and opal. Red-blue crabs scuttled amongst the jewels; tiny bell hops scavenging before withdrawing to their holes.

Eventually, I spotted a cluster of undulating palm trees, and as I drew closer, a gathering of luxurious houses huddled together beneath them. In the fading light, I could just make out Marie in a group of surfers out front. I took a seat on a wide piece of driftwood, polished smooth by the sea and washed up on a perfect vantage point for viewing the waves.

I dug my toes into the sugary sand and waited for Marie and Roberto to come in. How long did I sit on that seaboard throne? Five minutes? An hour? An eternity? I didn’t wait, I felt. I drank in the humid air, sensed its warm caress on my skin, let my eyes follow the birds painting patterns across the sky, felt my vision soften to a panorama, the sensation of each fragment tangible in the mosaic before me. It seemed like I reached a peak that I have heard about and strived for in yoga and meditation, but have never consciously summited. I try, wait, plan, analyze, recall, spinning wheels of thought like roulette, over and over. How rare it is to just feel what is, at an insignificant point in time, and for that to be more than enough, for that to be everything.

Marie and Roberto came in and we hugged, chatted, made plans to surf the following morning. I walked back, treated myself to bad pizza and cold soda, bought groceries and returned to the hostel, fought off the aggressive advances of an adolescent tico who kept trying to kiss me, finally smacked him and told him in Spanish, “No me molesta!” which literally means don’t bother me, but seemed ironic in this case, considering the particular flavor of bothering that this kid had in mind. There are drawbacks to being a woman traveling alone.

I washed in a tiny bathroom, inhabited by mosquitos, with a shower curtain that kept falling down. Then I went to sleep.

The next morning I woke at sunrise and walked back down the beach to surf with Marie and Roberto. I also met Derek, the owner of the house that they property manage. He was vacationing in Costa Rica for the week, and an avid surfer as well. The waves were fun and playful, and we formed a camaraderie, both being surfers from California. He invited me up to the house to hang out, but I wanted to get going before the dark sand started to cook under the merciless heat of midday.

I walked back on the road, and was quickly offered a ride in the back of a pickup truck by two ticos. They stopped for bags of fresh coconut water that a vendor was selling out of a cooler on the side of the road. They purchased a bag for me and handed it over the back of the tailgate. It was cold, sweet, and delicious in the building heat. A thoughtful gesture from two complete strangers who asked for nothing in return.

I spent a lot of time walking up and down the road to surf with Marie, Roberto, and Derek. I got a tour of the house, a three level with a rooftop yoga deck, lush gardens, air conditioning, exquisitely crafted wood, masonry, and artwork, and best of all, a living room with floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors that opened to the waves. The four of us went out for dinner in nearby Jaco, toured a ritzy casino resort with blacklight fountains and blackjack tables, surfed powerful, barreling surf out in front of the house as strong currents swept us down the beach and threatened to take us out to sea. At one point, Derek took me aside and said I was welcome to stay at the house for a few days. There is a silver lining to being a woman traveling alone.

The next day, Derek, Roberto, and Marie picked me up at the hostel, loaded my boards on top of the car, and unpacked me into an air conditioned suite with an ocean view. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Derek showed me the sights, taking me to nearby Punta Leona for beach combing and Villa Caletas for tropical drinks and epic views. We had meaningful and enlightening conversations about business, travel, surfing, and life. He was a chivalrous gentleman and became a good friend.

The four of us shared barbecues, waves, beers, and laughs. The air conditioning is drying up my cuts and mosquito bites. My computer seems to like it too. It’s been turning on cooperatively, even without a timeout in the freezer. And the beach break is making me a stronger surfer, forcing me to pay attention to the ocean’s subtle rhythms, to work with the force of the currents and riptides rather than struggle against them, to hone my intuition, to feel the sum of all these parts.

One of my favorite things about this trip so far is the beauty of not knowing, of having no plan. I get on a bus with a vague idea of where I am going, the road to my destination unrolling clear and pristine and endless before me, unmarked by plans, unmarred by expectations.

When I step off of the bus I am a chameleon, ready to blend in to whatever presents itself, and that is the greatest lesson of this adventure, that no matter where I go, I will be fine, I have the capacity for happiness. I am still me, whether cloaked in luxury or caked in grime, and I can appreciate the unique beauty of each environment.

The sensations are always sharpest when I arrive in a new place, eager, open, and receptive to whatever I might find. It may be simply a place to put down my bags and rest, a place with mosquitos in the shower and a curtain that keeps falling down. Or it might be a bountiful Eden filled with good friends, framed by sliding glass doors that open to the sea.

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One thought on “Brown Sugar

  • Posted on May 1, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Loved the blog and pix and particularly loved the ‘phone call a few mornings ago. It’s all so exciting. I feel like I’m there w/you, especially in the beautiful house : – ) Luvya, Nana


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