Okay, so I was wrong…

The west coast fights back. Costa Rica has its say. Irish woman proven wrong. Pick your headline. I am suitably chastened.  I said I was singularly unimpressed with the beaches on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. And while I’d still take the Caribbean, given the choice, the west coast has proven me wrong.

On our last travel-free day before we headed inland towards San José, we mosied up the coast to Playa Hermosa to check it out. And what a surprise. When we managed to find access to the beach that didn’t involve going through a hotel or a bar, we spotted lounge chairs. Eight of them. I needed some distance from the sand fleas and the ants and, anyway, the sand was too hot to lie on, so we made a beeline for the bar … with the chairs. The deal is that if you order drinks [extensive menu] and perhaps have lunch [best fish burger ever], you can lay around all day for free. [In Costa Rica, all beaches are public so even the likes of the Four Seasons [with its 3 king/2 queen suite at $24 000 per night] has to let you through to access its beach. I wasn’t particularly tempted. Unless they’d shipped in the sand from the east coast, I figured it would be more of the same.]

When we arrived, we got chatting to El Capitan (Cappy), a leathery Tico who was holding court under a big almond tree in front of the bar, La Casita del Marisco. He did a hard sell on a 3-hour boat ride that would include fishing for needle-noses, snorkeling to see a 100-ft turtle, and then an hour on a pristine white sand beach before heading home. And while we were snorkeling, his crew would be getting us some scallops, which the restaurant would then cook for us for lunch, along with the needle-nose fish or whatever we caught. The emphasis, though, was on fishing, not catching. Now, had we had this offer three days ago, we’d have jumped at the chance. And when he proudly told us that by coming out with him, we’d be supporting the local community in a country that has been without a standing army for some 60+ years (which, given its neighbours, is quite something), I nearly caved. Yep – he’d mastered the sell.

But it was a beach day. We had unexpected sun. And relatively clear water. And lovely friendly waiters with even lovelier margaritas made with José Cuervo Gold and fresh limes. And good food.  And Camile, with her massage table just two palm trees away [fabulous]. And the promise of a magnificent sunset [a tad too cloudy in the end].

The people watching was great. We saw Cappy snare four other tourists and send them off in his pink boat with his crew. We watched two others come back with some fish that the restaurant cooked up for them. Some locals dropped by for lunch. Others milled around. One beach hawker from Nicaragua finally sold one of his clay pots to a couple who sat and ate and drank for the 7 hours we were there. [I’d have bought one had I the kilos to spare but it’s looking like I might have to toss my toothbrush.] Apparently they make the stuff  and then come across the border to sell them in Costa Rica, as tourists are thin on the ground at home. They stay for a couple of weeks and then go back, and make some more. What a life.

Someone else was telling us that it can take as many as three days for truckers to cross the border from/to Nicaragua, if they haven’t hired a facilitator. And even then, there’s no guarantee that the facilitator won’t abscond with their money. And yet I’m sure when I was over the other side, I saw a three-country two-day trip advertised, which I assumed was Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. I never did check. I like the sound of Panama though. A shame all I’ll get to see is the airport.

The BBC has a good timeline of Costa Rican history, if you’re interested. I hadn’t realised that CR had a woman president back in 2010 – Laura Chinchilla. Or that former President Oscar Arias Sanchez won a Nobel Prize in 1987 for the peace plan he devised that was signed by Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  Or that in 1986 Oliver North finagled the building of an airstrip in Guanacaste in exchange for an Oval Office photograph with President Reagan [some of the best surfing in the region can be found at Ollie’s Point near the Nicaraguan border – now that’s a memorial].  And as for curiosities from the time, El Avion Restaurant and Bar, in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is actually an old C-123 plane purchased by counter-revolutionary Nicaraguan guerrilla fighters in 1986 with the help of the CIA. Next time.

Lisa Tirmenstein has a fascinating article on Costa Rica in 1856: Defeating William Walker while creating a national identity. To my shame, I didn’t know who William Walker was [apparently he was an American mercenary who wanted to turn Costa Rica into a slave state] and so wasn’t that pushed about travelling north to Santa Rosa National Park to see where he and his international band of mercenaries were defeated in 14 minutes. I was just happy to be on the beach [particularly Hermosa Beach, with the many fond memories I have of JNP and TM in a bar at a beach by the same name in California many moons ago].