The first thing we noticed about Costa Rica was that it was windy as f&*k! So windy infact that we passed a huge white metal wind turbine pretty much folded in half. The thing had totally buckled in on itself and luckily it hadn’t fallen across the road. The other thing we noticed is that we were glad we’d filled up with gas in Nicaragua, as there was no sign of a gas station for ages. Our preconceptions that Costa Rica would be more western and therefore more ‘American’ with gas stations and Starbucks on every corner were already proving ill conceived.
With the day long in the tooth, combined with the three hour long process of the Costa Rican border crossing, somewhere close and easy for the night was needed. Tamarindo seemed to tick all the boxes, with its draw of a microbrewery on the beach, so with few closer alternatives we chanced driving far beyond the security of daylight. Fronting up in town the place is a Gringos spring break paradise (which we knew) and is reminiscent of Playa Del Carmen, with plush hotels, a few flashy casinos and oldies draped in revealing attire showing they originate from cold climates from far off lands. Being a Gringo orientated beach side town, the place is full of plush hotels and over priced hostels, especially in low season, so don’t come here looking for a bargain.
Choosing a carpark adjacent to the brew pub, the security guard scoffed, in a friendly manner, at our questioning if it was safe to park there for the night. Taking his advise and moving the van to the lamp lit street, the three of us (Canadian Erin still part of the crew) polished our appearance and were heart broken that Volcano Brewing Company pub had NONE of their brews on tap. What kind of brew pub doesn’t have their own beer on tap?? Moving ourselves down to Sharky’s Bar, they at least had California brewery Lost Coast’s beer in the fridge, so we plonked ourselves down after a long day and watched the plethora of big screens showing all kinds of sports.
Sipping a few Lost Coast Great White Sharks, interspersed with smoke breaks, the place sharply packs out and the three of us question why? It soon becomes obvious that there’s a huge UFC fight on, and we’re glad to have a seat amongst the adrenaline infused crowd. Not caring for the brutality of the sport, conversation becomes drowned out with ladies and gentleman releasing boisterous bouts of machismo cheering. The only respite we have are the breaks outside talking to the many local hustlers desperately applying their game on us. Though friendly enough it does get a little bothersome and repetitive, there’s only so many ways you can politely tell the same person you don’t want to buy cocaine. Funnily enough we yet again bump into another pair of girls from Utila Honduras, and Sarah and Erin repeatedly join them in the queue for ladies free drinks (guess they had to get the ladies out of the room somehow to make more space for the manly crowd to watch the UFC).
Having parked on the wrong side of sunrise 7am has us awake with puddles of sweat gathering on any bodily dip and the local howler monkeys ensuring we didn’t sleep any later. Realising that Gringo style Tamarindo isn’t for us, we make tracks heading down the Costa Rican coast towards Nosara, a chilled and laid back option which had been recommended by friends and fellow travellers on the road. Great, though all of them forgot the minor detail that the Nicoya Peninsula’s roads are COMPLETELY unpaved, shitty if you’re in El Porkchop!
A jarring, sweating 70 kilometer trip, with a couple of beach stops to calm ourselves down, took us over four hours. Combine this with a desperate small town refuel of 16ltrs via 4ltr plastic bottles, two small river crossings (one so deep Sarah had to wade in to see if we’d even make it) and a hangover, you can understand why we were totally relieved upon reaching the small dusty town of Nosara. The most positive part of the trip was a completely random dirt road run in with French friends Tomas, Sandra and Charlie, whom we’d spent NYE with back in Antigua, Guatemala. We can’t even explain how ridiculous it was to run into them out here.
A hedonistic place which takes a 4WD and cavernous pockets to visit, hot and bothered we stumped up the cash to spend the night in a hostel semi private for USD$40, minus air con or simple fan. And by semi-private we mean a room within a dorm with walls that didn’t reach the roof and a door you couldn’t lock….but it was the only beds available and we were too traumatised to spend the night in the van (when you consider Sarah’s 13.5 hours sleep.it works out to about $3 an hour, which we decided wasn’t too bad).
Hostel 4 You is a lovely place with a boutique flavour, run by a cool French bloke and his eccentric wife (although she wouldn’t allow us to continue our stay sleeping in the private carpark in the known comfort of the van). Desperately searching the web for any alternatives, we discovered the only campground option had been converted to a skate park, and after asking around we were soon out of options. Seems the place has become so upper class that only travellers willing to part with big bucks are welcome to stay here. But the beaches were nice and unspoilt so it’s not a bad place to spend a few days if you’re into that kind of thing.
Lucky enough a few friendly younger expats who knew our plight pointed us to the next adjacent cove. Costa Rica has a law that all beaches are publicly owned and 50 meters from the high tide mark is fair game for vagabonds wishing to free camp. Playa Pelada only has one restaurant and a neighbouring mid-priced hotel, other than that the place is a perfect haven for the likes of us.
Positioning the van perfectly parallel to the water and within the requirements, we had a big tree with large canopy to give us one of the best free camping location thus far. With the tide out and the sun setting low the fauna surrounding us begins to change. Cooking dinner in the dark and needing to drain the pasta we soon became aware that the beach is alive with creepy crawlies. Sporting our head torches to inquire who our new neighbours are, we spot hundreds of hermit crabs doing their thing in search of food or a housing upgrade.
Tiredness arrives and we’re peacefully tucked up into bed. Not being in town we had a slightly restless sleep as the possibility of being robbed stirs us. Just after midnight we’re awoken to the sounds of two stroke motorbikes progressing to the beach. Bricking it and reaching for the nearest weapon, the Oliver Twist novel, two headlights shine upon Porkchop then they cut the engines.
‘Shit who is it?’
Thankfully peering out the back window Sarah discovers it’s only the local cops checking out the place and happily letting us be. Back asleep the next interruption is locals coming down, children in tow, for an impromptu picnic, all under the three in the morning moonlight!!!! Next to come are the early morning fisherman and we’ve all but given up on our free peaceful nights rest.