Nosara. Also now known as my own personal slice of heaven. I arrived just over 24 hours ago and I am already seeking out realtors. You might be wondering how I even chose this place out of the infinite options available to me, seeing as most people who’ve been to Costa Rica on vacation have never even heard of it. It is not a resort town by any stretch of the imagination – it is essentially a coastal wildlife preserve on the western coast of the Nicoya Peninsula with a bunch of surf shops and a few high-end hippie bungalows. It’s where jungle meets pristine beach. It’s an area where hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles come to nest. It’s a place where, in part due to the turtle migration, commercial development is banned within so many meters of the beach. Though I can’t quite recall my Google search terms, I discovered Nosara some year or so ago on the web. All I remember is reading about its focus on ecosystem preservation, its plethora of yoga schools and studios and its well-established expat community. It basically sounded like Boulder, Colorado with a Latin tropical flair, so after biting off more than I could chew with my poorly planned trip to Vietnam, it sounded just perfect.
And so far, it is. My problem with most beach destinations that Americans generally flock to is that they are flat. Think Florida, parts of Mexico and the majority of the islands in the Caribbean. Sure I love a nice clear, turquoise surf as much as the next person, but I also need terrain – rolling hills, mountains and valleys. That’s why for me Hawaii has always been the cat’s pajamas – lush, green volcanic mountains with dramatic cliffs overlooking the deep blue sea that is at times filled with what I believe is the animal kingdom’s most impressive member – the Humpback whale. There’s a reason they filmed Jurassic Park there. That’s exactly what Hawaii looks like and it is, without a doubt, nature perfected. On the other hand, it’s also one of the United States and in the middle of nowhere, making it one of the most expensive places on Earth. Looking over the Costa Rican landscape from my plane filled me with the same feeling I get flying into Maui except with the very real thought that, “this could be my home one day.” I landed at the relatively small Liberia airport and because this is the low tourist season, flew right through customs and quickly found my way to the Hertz rental location. My perma-grin took a temporary hiatus during the car rental process as I was firmly informed that my estimated $300 weekly rental was in fact going to cost me $600 due to vaguely-disclosed, mandatory insurance coverage, but it quickly returned on the 2+ hour drive to Nosara. Another reason Hawaii is so appealing when you compare it to other islands and 3rd world tropical destinations is that, because it is one of the 50 states, its standards for things like garbage collection and road maintenance are the same as they are in any of the other 49. Bali, on the other hand, while uniquely beautiful in so many ways, has poorly maintained roads, the sides of which you often find piled with trash. There are of course monkeys picking through it instead of rats and mice, but it’s still a mostly unpleasant scene. For the first hour of my drive through Costa Rica, I kept thinking to myself how beautiful the landscape is as I drove around one winding road after another, similar to at least a few places I’ve traveled to, but I couldn’t put my finger on what decidedly made this one different. Then it dawned on me – Costa Rica is clean. Not only are the ditches free of the trash you see in so many 3rd world countries, but even when you drive through the poorest of towns and villages with mostly aging buildings and infrastructure, the area around them is well-maintained. The homes, no matter how humble in stature, are extremely tidy and well-manicured. Of course I’m speaking only of the small portion of Costa Rica I’ve driven through so far, but I believe it’s enough to know that most “Ticos” take a great deal of pride in their own environment as well as the environment as a whole.
90% of the kilometers from Liberia to Nosara is newly paved two-lane highway. Ah, but there’s that last 10% – about 24km of gravel and potholes that takes about an hour to navigate. Once you get here, you don’t leave, unless it’s on a motorbike or a quad and it’s only a mile or two. But why would you want to? I am staying at the Harmony Hotel – one of the upscale, jars-of-local-organic-toasted-cashews-in-the-room places. I have a private outdoor shower and hammock. For when it rains (it definitely rains in October), I have a covered outdoor chaise lounge with its own ceiling fan in case I get a little too warm while reading my latest feminist memoir. There is a lovely pool and a yoga studio – excuse me, a “healing center” – and a juice bar. A real bar serving up blended homemade ginger-infused vodka concoctions (I’m on my third as I type this) and a sandy, jungle-y pathway to what is seriously the best beach I have ever seen. Which explains why two months ago you’d have found as many as 300 surfers in the water at any given time. But now that it’s low season, it belongs only to me and the 11 other people staying at the Harmony Hotel this week. I took my first surfing lesson today. It went about as expected – I fell and I fell and I fell and I fell. And I got up a few times. I’ll say this – there’s a reason you don’t see any overweight surfers. Runners, yes. Cyclists, yes. Baseball players, yes. Football players, yes (yeah, I’m talking to you Ben Roethlisberger). Surfers, no. In order to create the muscle memory needed to even get up on the board, you need a strict workout diet of burpees and chaturangas. That’s even before the art of balance and navigation of the board come into play. Because Playa Guiones (that’s the incredible beach I currently own) is so perfectly free of rocks, shells and coral, I still had a ton of fun. The water is warm and the waves are inviting.
I then took my first nap in years. Years.
Shortly after I woke up I was picked up by my tour guide, Alan (real name, Rio), to go see this whole turtle nesting process that everyone talks about down here. The arribada, it’s called in Spanish, or “the arrival.” Once a month on average, usually in line with the lunar cycle, hundreds upon hundreds of sea turtles come on shore here to nest and lay their eggs. Tonight I was witness to this incredible natural phenomenon. The beach where all of this hoopla takes place is maybe 5-10km north of where I’m at – it’s a black sand beach, which the turtles prefer because it makes it that much darker (they come onshore at night). Since white or bright light scares the mama turtles, the guides carry around special red lights so that we can see what’s going on without freaking them out. The female turtle comes onshore at high tide, usually at night, and digs and digs and digs with her back fins (fins?) until she has a hole that’s about a foot deep. She then props herself over the hole and starts dropping eggs that look like ping-pong balls. About 100 of them. As I watched one mama finish up this mass birthing ritual, I said to the all-male group, “Wow, she must feel SO GOOD now.” Especially since those eggs have been inside of her growing and growing for the last 4-5 months. About 100 of them. By the time we left, it had gotten considerably darker and the tide considerably higher so there were turtles everywhere- so many that it was important to stay very close to my guide with the red light so as not to step on one or, more importantly, get in the way of her getting 100 eggs out of her body.
Well, it’s late here and I don’t want to miss a minute of my second night’s sleep. All 10 blissful hours of it. Ah, la pura vida.