One morning I awoke to find Pavones flattened and overcast. The marching lines of waves had slowed to a dribble of diminutive looking soldiers washing up drunkenly on the shore. I had suffered through two days without tap water, submersing briefly in the mucky river after each surf, tentatively dipping my head under the surface, shiny with oil and bubbling with patches of brownish foam, gingerly picking dead leaves from my hair, not quite clean after the shoddy attempt at a bath. I had wiped my dishes clean with a handkerchief after cooking, rinsed my hands with a splash of water from my bottle, squeezed paste onto a dry toothbrush, gone to bed with a sunscreen smeared face, brushed the sand from my cut feet and cleaned them as best I could with a handkerchief moistened with alcohol, my insect bites singing for want of a shower all through the night. Oh yes, I did all this without complaint, and more, so long as those shapely waves kept wrapping around the point and fanning out in lustrous splendor. But the morning the waves ceased, I packed and planned my exit.
The owner of the hostel took pity on my cumbersome load and drove me to the bus stop. I made sure to make acquaintence with the bus driver and request that he notify me when we reached my stop (lesson learned). He spoke rapidly in Spanish. All I could gather was that I needed to look for kilometer 14 and change buses once? Twice? Something about Rio Claro? He helped me load my board bag through the back door and lay it across the aisle. I took my seat and we were off, tossing back and forth across the rocky dirt road as we made our way out of Pavones.
The bus driver was a saint. Kilometer 14 turned out to be a bus station where I had to change buses, and he transferred my boards to the new bus. I dropped my backpack in order to help him, but when I turned back for it, it was gone. Shit, I thought in panic, looking around maniacally. Great place to get robbed, miles from anywhere. “My bag!” I shouted anxiously in Spanish. Silly me, it had already been loaded onto the back of the bus for me. I took a seat up front in order to communicate with the new bus driver. “I’m going to Dominical,” I started in Spanish. But he cut me off, “The other driver told me where you are going. I will let you know when you need to get off. But it is better if you sit in back with your bags,” he replied clearly, in English. “Some people, they like to rob.” Indeed.
I took a seat on the back of the bus and struck up a friendly conversation with the tico couple across the aisle, asking if there were cocodrilos (crocodiles) in the river. With conversations like these, my Spanish is steadily improving. Along with hand gestures and body language, I can usually get the gist. It sounded like the guy was saying that he captured a baby crocodile, which grew so big he was afraid it would eat him, and so he let it go in the river. Each time we passed a river, I asked him if this was where he had released the crocodile. Eventually we passed a notably large river, and he indicated that this was the one where the crocodile was set free. Excited, he pulled out his iPhone – almost all ticos, of all classes, have smartphones and love to share their pictures and tell the story of each one – and showed me a photo of himself with a 5 ft long crocodile. No kidding.
As it began to rain, we came to a stop where I had to change buses again. The new driver was none too happy about my board bag. The bus was full and there was no storage space underneath. People crowded the aisle, gripping hand rails. The bus driver told me the bus was full, that I couldn’t come on. As I turned and started back into the rain, head hanging in defeat, he relented and told me I could board after all. I crammed the bag in the back door, stood it upright in the aisle and wedged myself in among the people. There was no room to set down my backpack, so I kept it on, propping myself against the back door for stability and bear hugging the bag. As the bus jolted forward I looped a handrail into the bear hug to anchor myself. I stood like this for nearly an hour before it was time to change buses again in Rio Claro. I wedged myself onto another bus and stood some more. Though I hadn’t gone for a surf that morning I still felt like I got a fair amount of exercise and balance training.
After a total of four buses and several hours, I arrived in Dominical, the last person onboard. It was after dark when we pulled in, but the town was lit up with bright lights that, to me, seemed some sort of Costa Rican Vegas, advertising sushi, air conditioning, beer, and 23 flavors of hot wings. Young people roamed the streets. I asked the bus driver about my planned accommodation. He didn’t know where it was, but he recommended a hotel at the end of the bus line, adjacent to the beach. It was clean, quiet, and cheap he told me. Sold.
For about $14 a night, I rented a private room with a shared bath. After wrangling my bags off of the bus, thanking the driver, and settling in, I went for a walk around town to acclimate. I came across a pool hall, wandered in, and ended up playing teams with a tico and some Australians. They were behaving rather peculiarly; one kept disappearing to the bathroom and complaining of a runny nose. I cracked a joke somewhere along the lines of “must be all the coke that’s making your nose run” and was promptly offered a line. It seems I had found the Costa Rican Vegas after all. I thanked him for the offer, and declined.
I woke up early the next morning to an abundance of very large iguanas and head high, glassy beach break. I’ll admit, beach break has never been my favorite due to the fact that it’s a lot of work. The wave doesn’t always break in the same place, and is typically more prone to closing out, requiring a greater effort than a point or reef in exchange for fewer, shorter waves. On the plus side, beach break typically magnifies a small swell better than a point like Pavones or a reef like Matapalo. So the novelty of a new place, buoyed by the knowledge that most other spots were flat, left me floating in contentment.
After catching a few waves, I hurried out of the water to a yoga class I had seen advertised the night before. The space was beautiful, with lossy hardwood floors, a peaceful shaded garden, Hindu and Buddhist accents sprinkled throughout. I had entered the yoga center on a whim, but it turned out to be a powerful point of connection to the Costa Rican yoga community. I found out later that Michelle, who I had stayed with in Matapalo, had a friend and business parter who worked there. Michelle’s friend Maria and her husband Beto generously invited me to dinner the following night at their home. And what an intimate and welcome experience it was, to sit at the table of a real family after dining alone in restaurants.
My yoga teacher and mentor, Kelly Blaser, also introduced me electronically to a “bitchin babe” with a connection to the same studio, Ashleigh Sergeant. We met for coffee and shared stories. No matter how far I travel in this expansive world, I find that I gravitate towards epicenters in the global network of surfing and yoga. These places have a finely distilled brew of people that move fluidly throughout the globe. Among the billions that inhabit the earth, I encounter the same people, share a plethora of common threads. How reassuring it is to take refuge in this quilt, woven of people who are cut from similar cloth.
And then there is the sparkle of making new friends, speaking Spanish, and seeking to understand a lifestyle totally different from my own. The community in Dominical is rich in both worlds, the familiar and the foreign, the juxtaposition striking a rich note of accord. This segment of my trip is not the raw raucous symphony of the jungle, it is more like an old Eagles song – a familiar tune with undercurrents of reggae, a mellow and mysterious edginess, a harmony that you can’t help but sing along.