May 1, 2008

Weathering the Costa Rican Storm

Pain, misery, occasional pleasantries, and the word WET dominated an adventure to Costa Rica, as explained in this letter written towards the end of the trip:

First off, take this lesson wisely and take it to heart: Never, EVER, come to Costa Rica during the rainy season. I've experienced French Polynesia, Hawaii, Mexico, and even Italy during the rainy season. It rained here and there, but it was also tolerable. Costa Rica, on the other hand, rains EVERY SINGLE DAY. Literally. If you're lucky, it times out well and you can have a clear day followed by torrential downpours (the kind where it feels like you're walking around under a high-pressure shower nozzle). In this case, besides the usual rain, we literally experienced a Category Two Hurricane. This can depress you like no other when you go on vacation.

It's also a very bad sign when the day of your trip, you experience food poisoning. I'm talking the worse kind, where things are flying out of you from both ends. Brutal. I think I'm laying off Indian Food for a while (particularly the Naan 'N Curry in San Francisco). I was extremely lucky to have a close friend take care of me, but I was in major pain.

So the first four or five days of our adventure were in Manuel Antonio. Got to San Jose, our buddy Tim magically awoke from a drunk comatose to strap on our surfboards to the car using just rope, and we drove four hours to Manuel Antonio. Now, I had heard that the surf here in Manuel Antonio was just OK, but in reality, and as I've learned during this trip that the surf during rainy season blows period, the surf at Manuel Antonio SUCKS. On top of that, the town is extremely expensive, it's spread out (hence hard to get around), very touristy, and with the exception of the park, which is absolutely beautiful, there's nothing to do except hang out at the local casino (where I won $200 playing blackjack) and get hammered. And when your stomach is recovering from a bad case of food poisoning, the party scene doesn't bode well for you.

The crew with the rental car and surfboards.
An iguana on the beach in Manuel Antonio.
A secluded beach in Manuel Antonio.
Monkeys are everywhere in Manuel Antonio.  The howlers make the craziest of noises at night.
Kissing a Halloween Crab in Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio.

A few of us did a day trip to a town south of Manuel Antonio called Dominical. Cool town, we had a drink at a place called the Rum Bar (where you can get a Rum and Coke to-go), but, like everywhere else, the surf, which is supposed to be really good, sucked. And the roads here are BRUTAL! Dirt and rocks throughout, watch your tires!

They serve rum and cokes to go.

One of our compadres, Steve, opted to head with his family south to Panama after his sister Nikki's wedding (the reason why we were in Manuel Antonio to begin with, beautiful wedding despite the heavy downpour, which I hear is good luck for a wedding). That was a bummer. He was my lone surf partner on this trip, in addition to being my best amigo, so it was a major bummer losing him (he was originally supposed to roll with us). We headed north, past Jaco, over a ferry, to the town of Montezuma.

The ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to Paquera.

This place is actually really cool. It brought out the closet hippy in me. Small town where you pretty much get to know everybody by the first night. A few really nice restaurants, the beach is nearby, and a 45 minute drive away are two supposedly good beach breaks and towns, Mal Pais (the break is Playa Carmen) and Santa Teresa. The towns are quaint, and if the weather was better and I was with other surfers, I could see myself camping here. However, the weather sucked (I got one really good ride, but the paddle out at Carmen was a bitch and the second day I couldn't surf Santa Teresa because our cute little Hurricane started dumping), and with a Hurricane surfing is pretty much ruled out.

Oh yeah, the mosquitos here suck major ass. Blood sucking cocksuckers are eating me alive.

I did meet some really cool people. As expected, my favorite was an Aussie named James, who gave me a good pointer on dropping into heavier waves (aim directly sideways right from takeoff). He was only in Montezuma for a night. And a couple of Swiss chicks who were at the end of their journey touring all of South America. Also met some cool chicks from Rhode Island (Katery, Kelcey and Caroline) who were as depressed as we were about the weather.

James is in the middle.

My tan is borderline gone, I only got one good ride THIS ENTIRE TRIP, and now the remaining crew, because they're sick and tired of the weather, want to leave the country early. I almost can't blame them. So the moral of this letter is this: Absolutely, under no circumstances, do you want to travel to Costa Rica during the rainy season. It BLOWS. Personally, I think Mexico still tops this place, even if the people are really nice.


P.S. A day after this letter was written, the weather cleared. We did a Canopy Tour, which included a zip line, and stopped at the top of one of the waterfalls, where we leaped 10+ feet into murky waters, swam for a bit, and used a rope swing. Vastly improved the mood of the crew. Later in the day we walked along Montezuma's beach and took the trail to Playa Grande. Beautiful day. Spent the night at a beautiful hotel the following evening in the town outside San Jose called Alajuela, before coming home.

Playa Grande.
Zip lining.
The rope swing.

P.P.S. One of the last nights in town, I crashed the rental car into some barbed wire. I was literally driving like 10 mph when the car just started sliding in this muddy clay and went right into a barbed wire fence. Amazingly a taxi or some sort of vehicle was driving by at the late hour and had a tow cable. However, because the car was resting on the barbed wire, when the car was pulled out of the muddy clay it dragged along the fence, tearing and destroying all of the paneling on the side. $1500 in damage! Needless to say the rental car agency wasn't all that impressed.

The last night we stayed in the city of Alajuela.
The rental car agent surveying the damage.
The damage to the rental car.

Apr 22, 2008

Surfing the Big Island of Hawaii

This story was originally published on the now-defunct Fuel.TV, when they were the official website for an action sports cable channel that turned into a MMA network and now, who knows what's going on there.

It had been exactly 12 years since my first visit to Hawaii. I knew that because my last trip was with my mom and sister for my 18th birthday. Only back then, we first went to Maui (amazing island, fun waves) and then to Oahu (not as nice due to the big city feel, great waves though, and it's still the tropics). 12 years later, with my 30th birthday only days away, I again embarked on a journey out to the 50th state, only this time my journey took me to the biggest island, the Big Island of Hawaii.

I chose the Big Island for a few reasons. I was researching different places to travel to for the big 3-0, and noticed that there's hardly any coverage of the surf scene on the Big Island. Yet countless people have told me that the surf there is actually really good. Plus, an old high school friend of mine Jenny moved out there years ago and told me I could crash at her house. The warm weather, adventurous-terrain, and surf didn't deter my cause.

I forgot how long of a flight it is. Five hours is relatively short compared to a lot of other destinations, but it's still a long trip and at least on the voyage there, the leg room sucked. Still, I made it, and decided to grab a hotel room that the lady at the rental car agency recommended, a cheap yet delightful spot called Kona Seaside. Relative to the prices of hotels at Kona (the main tourist town on the Big Island), it was cheap, and I got a room on the top floor with a view of the ocean. Really nice place (except for the bugs crawling around in the bathroom at night). I grabbed dinner that evening at a place called Quinns, and it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Filet mignon in a bowl of warm teriyaki sauce with veggies, garlic linguini and salad. Yummy. Passed out hard that night at 9 o'clock.

Woke up really early the next morning due to jet lag, around 5 AM. After shaving (which was a brilliant call because later I would realize that there are no bathroom mirrors at my friend Jenny's place), I decided to drive south to check out a few surf spots. There were a lot of crazy little breaks near sharp, jagged rocks that a couple of locals were shredding here and there, but after driving for 10-15 minutes I stopped at a spot that looked pretty good (with a lot of surfers in the water, shocker). A local from Oahu who was taking a vacation of his own told me this place was the legendary Lymans. And a short distance to the right was Banyans. This was the primo surf spot on the island.

I stayed there watching the break and the surfers for a while. At first it was small, then a surge came in and it actually got really big. I watched a ton of stand up paddle boarders (more there than I've ever seen in my life) take off wave after wave, big ones at that. Just ripping. I stood around and checked it out for around a half-hour, and finally decided to go for it.