costa rica: the sun and the imperial Kingdom felipe apalategi   I  itai, felipe apalategi In a rusty iron ship. We’re in a noisy rust bucket of a ship. Up and down. We’re heave this way and that. Nicolas at my side has his eyes glued on me. We’ve been waiting for two hours. Anyone can see that dirty bus is never going to fit onto the ferry. But they just don’t care. The lads from CMTCA (Compañia Marítimo-Terrestre de Costa Rica) go about their job stubbornly and languidly. No way I tell myself. There’s noway that it’ll fit onboard. That’s when I remembered what had happened before. The first and last time I had spewed my guts up. All the rice, beans and gallons of Imperial beer I had wolfed down over the last 37 days had been heaved overboard. It seems like yesterday when I started getting the journey to this country ready.
I read a report on Costa Rica while I was waiting at the dentist’s. Spectacular stuff. It looked like just the place to go on a surfing trip. I was pretty sure that there would be some great waves there. I was also aware that I was a model for being pole-axed by Murphy’s Law. Nevertheless, it also looked like the kind of place that would allow for a plan “B”. Decided so. I opened up a map, grabbed a HB pencil (can you still write with one of these without being dragged off down to the Special Central Court in Madrid?) and drew a straight line from the North Pacific (Ozeano Barea – Calm Ocean according to the latest from Euskaltzaindia) down to the South Pacific. I wanted to try out all the waves.

I set off for the Nicoya Peninsula, leaving San Jose with all it’s people, brothels, Uralite, the smell of food and all the rubbish behind. I intended to surf at Santa Teresa, Malpais and Playa del Carmen. My first contact with the Pacific was good. Loads of waves: long and beautiful. That was where I started to understand what biodiversity was. Interactive nature. Animals didn’t stay where they were “supposed” to. They came over to where you were, where your things were, your body. They’re still coming. Each and every one had their own way of carrying on. There were pelicans, caimans, rabbits, butterflies, crabs, dolphins, whales, insects, insects, reptiles, monkeys, sharks That’s right, sharks. Apart from on Costeau’s Saturday Show and at the Aquarium, I had never seen sharks so close up. And The Calipso was nowhere near. You get used to it as time passes and you don’t even realise all those beasts are there.

Amongst them all I came across Nicolas. Your archetypical Swede. He looked as if have had just walked off a Bergman set. A blond-haired, beer-drinking, stubborn, travel-loving Swede of few words. And along with him, Peter Gun. One of the most interesting characters I have ever met and without doubt the most enriching experience on this trip. Peter Gun! The 70s porn star. We were amazed. Me and Nicolas would spend nights listening to his horny sexfilled stories (listening artistically) as we drank huge quantities of Imperial beer. We questioned him about all the things we had ever wanted to know about sex but had never dared to ask. Unreal. He had made a fortune from the porn movies he had made in his youth. He had shagged and bonked for years and then he had found his spot in Costa Rica. He had come there to die he said.

Seeing that Nicolas and myself shared the same lifestyle, attitudes, height and likes, we decided to continue on travelling together. We headed south. We tried out most of the beaches and waves we saw and heard, big or small and stone or sand sea floor. We weren’t in a hurry and we hadn’t any set plans. We didn’t use any kind of system, there was no special way of choosing a place to stop. We’d stick on a Frank Sinatra tape and when it finished we’d stop the van. This is grand. Unload the van. What’s this place called? That was how we found the following: 1) Jaco. One metre high. Good left and right waves. 2) Quepos. No waves. Imperial, beans and the sun. 3) Esterillos. Metre and a half. Good wave. Really good. Sand and stones. 4) Manuel Antonio. Few waves and loads of monkeys. 5) Manuel Ballena. Whales here but no waves. 6) Dominical. We got a really good left wave, about a metre and a half high. Lots of Americans with their pinkish-red Iowan girls. 7) Playa Hermosa. Lovely place and plenty of waves. 8) Bahia Drake. Great for long boards. Long and easy. About a metre high. 9) Matapalo, Matapalito, Pan Dulce, Pavones. These four are on the Corcovado peninsula. This place is visited by many heads. There are loads of waves and wild animals. Sharks and caimans all over the shop. In Matapalo and Matapaliton (which one is bigger?) we got really good twometre high waves. A few stones and sharks as well. There was no way we were missing this party. Pavones. Some of the longest waves in the world to be found here. Really firm and long. Stone wave. Loads of people in the water. Metre high waves (sometimes smaller), but really nice and a great kick.
*(In my calculations of the waves the correcting coefficient has been applied).

*The correcting coefficient:
The further you get from home, the falser the height of the waves and the surfing sessions you have done get. What I mean is: if your talking about some surfing story that happened in the States, you have to take a metre off the height of the waves to discover the real height. For instance, if “A” says he has surfed two and half metre waves in California, we apply the coefficient and we know that he surfed a metre and a half high waves. In Asia and Australia you have to apply a coefficient of about one and a half to two metres. In Africa (that includes The Canaries) about half a metre is necessary. You really look like a schmuck when you travel thousands of kilometres to find out that there are better, more frequent and more beautiful waves just down the road from your gaff. In this case, there is no justifying lies in order to save face.

There are better places in the world to go surfing and February is not the best time of year to go to Costa Rica. We didn’t come across the waves of our lives. But I still don’t care. In my case surfing is just an excuse to slap my beret on my crust and get off out into the big broad world to see that there are thousands of different peoples, cultures, places, lifestyles and ways of feeling things out there. Yeah, I know everyone knows that, but a little reminder every now and again doesn’t do any harm. It’s also a way for me to shake of that grey dullness that sometimes shrouds my day to day life. That’s all I want. It’s a lot more than you think.

If you don’t like surfing, I’ll explain plan “B” to you. Here’s a little guide book that will show what you can do in A PLACE LIKE COSTA RICA WITHOUT ALMOST TOUCHING A SURFBOARD AND NOT LOOKING LIKE A GOBSHITE IN THE ATTEMPT: 1) Compulsively greet people in the street. 2) Breakfast, lunch and dine on rice and beans. 3) Watch football matches. 4) Go fishing. 5) Eat the thousands of different types of fruit there. 6) Tear up and down volcanoes. 7) Say “Pura vida...” without looking like a right twat. 8) Trek across mountains on horseback. 9) If you make an effort, you might just get Malaria. 10) To be European.

Right, how do you not come across as an arsehole?
It’s not easy but it can be done. On our journey we spoke lots about Panenka and his penalty. He’s a guru and an example to us all. What a man! To tell you the truth I don’t know who it was against, but Panenka had to take the last penalty in a European football final sometime. He scored and the team won. He took the ball, looked at the keeper and softly stroked the ball into the back of the net. They won the match. Time has passed and we can’t remember any of the other players or anything about the game. We just talk about Panenka’s style and elegance. Few waves, serious heat, little money, bad roads and our revolting boards all across Costa Rica. But, in style: Who’ll remember the rest?
Until we meet again, Costa Rica.