Tank Tops Flip flops Newsletter edition no. 18
When we left our hero, he was in a jeep, loaded with beer, heading north from Manual Antonio to Jaco Beach, Costa Rica. For those of you who have been asleep this entire time, I am the hero, by the way. The drive was brutal. This was not a road, this was a riverbed. It reminded me of those old photos of the moon. The pot holes were so big; you would literally drive INTO the pot hole, and come up and out the other side. It was July, middle of the green season, and the Southern Central Pacific gets some of the heaviest downpours in the entire country. Sure enough, we found out the hard way. It was as if the sun just disappeared from the universe instantaneously. It got dark so fast; we didn’t even really have time to react. In my entire life I have never seen so much water fall from the sky at one time.
They call this area a rainforest. Key word: RAIN. The road turned into one of those water theme parks except we weren’t in a log, we were in a jeep. “Save the beer!!!!” were the first words out of my mouth, as Travis grabbed the handle of the cooler. “Hold on! We are going in!” Huge ass water falls were shooting out of the mountain on both sides of us: the road beneath my tires just seemed to disappear and I felt like Noah and his ark. We were sloshing and bumping, skidding and bouncing, and I thought for sure we were going to be washed over the edge of the cliff, gone forever. Nobody would even know we were here. We were in the middle of nowhere. Somehow I kept it together and we found a little turn off a few kilometers up the road and we stopped and waited it out. Thank God for Pilsen. Wow.
It finally stopped, and we continued our journey. It seemed every mile or so, there was some poor guy broken down on the side of the road, fixing a flat, changing the tire. It is a well known fact that the cars in Costa Rica have more breakdowns than an entire psychiatric ward. As we got closer to our destination, we came upon a bridge, where over 100 people had stopped their cars and gotten out. Lord, please don’t let the bridge be washed out from the rain. I don’t want to spend the night in this jeep. We parked our car and got out and started walking towards the crowd. Dozens of vendors were on the side of the road, selling all the usual goodies you would expect in Latin America. Wood bowls, hammocks and glass ashtrays, along with key chains, jewelry, beer cozies, T-shirts, hats and sandals, so I knew this was not a serious problem, but somehow more of a tourist trap. And then I saw them!
I remember shivering as goose bumps shot through my body. “Look!!!!” Laid out on the sandbanks of the river, about 50 feet below the bridge, were 20 or 30 of the largest crocodiles known to mankind, and people were feeding them live chickens. Now, remember, this is not Disneyland or the San Diego Safari Zoo; not some Florida Gator airboat park or some other controlled environment. This is on the side of the road, on a so called Highway. There were houses just a few feet from the banks of the river, and some people were actually sitting on their porches, enjoying the sunshine, checking out the show the way I sit and watch my dogs fetch tennis balls. Twenty feet long, EASY, and at least 1,000 pounds, these looked like something out of a horror movie, and that Guns and Roses song was creeping back into my head. “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby. You’re gonna DIE!!!!!” Definitely not in Kansas any more Toto. Those things were in my dreams for weeks, I couldn’t shake em. I get the willies just visualizing it now.
After what seemed like an eternity we made it to the party capital of Costa Rica, Jaco. Being just a couple hours from the city, it is the Daytona Beach of Costa Rica. Every weekend thousands of young kids pour out of the city and head to the coast, where they do all the crazy stuff we all did when we were 20 years old too. Brought back memories; they are lost in a haze of smoke, but they are still in there. Jaco is also one of the only areas in Costa Rica where the beaches are titled, unlike most of Guanacaste, where the beach front is a concession or a lease. The downside to this is that over the last decade, developers have completely over built that town and it looks like something out of Cancun now, with high rise towers lining the sand. The Papagayo on the other hand, has some of the strictest building codes in the country, which is why you will never see a building more than 3 stories tall on the beach. NEVER. But this is also for another Newsletter. Back then, there were nothing but a few dirt bag surfer hotels, but we didn’t care, we were roughing it.
We went to a little beach called Playa Hermosa. It is funny how that name just keeps sucking me in. There are actually 3 or 4 Playa Hermosa’s in Costa Rica; being specific is not one of their specialties here. To this day, we will get an inquiry on our web page and the client will ask, “How’s the surf?” and we have to tell them, you have the wrong Hermosa man. This was also the first time in my life I had ever seen black sand. Really cool. My first reaction was that I didn’t like it, but after I got down and checked it out, boy was I mistaken: absolutely gorgeous, but hotter than hell on the bottom of your feet. Ow ow, ooh, ooh, yah yah yah yah yah as you run across the sand. We checked into this deplorable little surf hotel, as it was the only one with a room left. And they had just that: ONE room: with ONE bed. There was this moment of pure terror when my friend and I realized that we were going to have to share a bed that night. Guys don’t share beds. We don’t do it. We just won’t do it unless there is absolutely no other option. Well it was late and we were tired, so we slammed a couple beers and called it a night. I don’t think two people could be further apart in the same bed if they tried. We both spent that night on opposite sides, clinging to the edge for dear life, doing everything in our power not to even let our feet touch. But actually I think I had the best sleep of my life, and I still enjoy the corner to this day. Every man has had to do this one time in his life and it stays with us forever. Ladies, you ruin it for us when you want to cuddle. Just leave us alone, on the edge, sleeping in peace. Don’t touch us. I have lived on the edge my entire life; I might as well sleep there too.
The next morning over breakfast I was talking to one of the waiters, and asked him if he knew where we could see monkeys. I never get tired of seeing monkeys. “Oh yeah, I always know where the monkeys are. Kids always want to see monkeys so you got to know where they hang out.” I still remember these comments years later. You see the biggest nightmare for a real estate agent is kids. We hate them. Nothing is worse than when you have to show property to a couple, while they drag their child along with them. It isn’t the kid’s fault; all they want to do is play. They are in Costa Rica on vacation. But the parents want to look at condos and houses and for some crazy reason feel they need to bring along their 5 year old child for his or her opinion. People! Do us all a favor. Leave them at the hotel with a babysitter. But no matter how politely I try to encourage them to just dump the little rug rats off; they always seem to bring them along. So I have to bribe them. Be a good little boy, all day long, and I promise I will buy you an ice cream cone and take you to the monkeys when this torturous day is finished.
So, you gotta know where the monkeys hang. One time they bombed my car with mangos, that got everybody fired up let me tell you. (It is amazing how the real estate Gods work. Literally one hour after I finished this, I get an email from my client. “Oh we forgot to tell you, we have two little daughters who are going to tag along while we look at property with you.” LOL Looking forward to meeting your girls Bob. See you soon.)
Costa Rica has some of the biggest surf waves in the world, second only to the North Shore of Hawaii in the Western Hemisphere. So common sense would tell you, that no grown man, unable to surf, should even consider entering the water. Well, common sense is not one of my strengths, risk taking is, so we were going in. “Damn the torpedoes.” We found a little surf shop and bought ourselves a couple of boogie boards, and started to paddle out. They actually had little iguana stickers on them, along with frogs, fish and other kiddie decals. It was actually very calm at first, so it didn’t seem to be all that precarious of a situation. As we were laying there, the deep blue Pacific Ocean beneath our preschool Styrofoam floatation devices, waiting for a wave, this guy paddles up on a very serious long board. You could tell this guy was Mr. Professional Surfer; reminded me of Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “Dudes. You guys are nuts. Crazy. Stupid. What are you doing on boogie boards man? Get out now, before you die. This is not some game.” Before I could even answer this wave appears out of nowhere, and I turned and started kicking like a little kid forced to eat his asparagus. Somehow, magically, luckily, I caught it just perfect, and I rode it all the way in to the beach. I can still feel that rush of adrenaline to this day, racing at 30 miles an hour on the inside curl of a big wave. I took it all the way to the shore, and everyone on the beach erupted. I felt like a rock star all over again. Yeah!!!! How’s that? No big deal dude! I yelled, and I paddled back out for more. Fear was not an option. Boy was I going to get a rude awakening very quickly.
I was hanging on my boogie board once again, waiting for that next rush, shooting the breeze with Travis. Maybe it was the thrill of the first ride, and maybe it was the hot bikini clad Tica on the beach, but I just didn’t see it coming. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I felt this itching on the back of my neck that told me something wasn’t right. I turned and looked back and the first thought in my head was, “Oh man, that’s a big wave.” It is one of the only times in my life where I felt completely hopeless, no control, like the ship in the Poseidon Adventure. And then it hit me. It hit me so hard; I didn’t even have time to react. The wave must have been at least 10 feet tall, maybe bigger: Absolutely monstrous: Tsunami style man. BOOM! We were gone. And within seconds I was 20 or 30 feet down, bouncing on the bottom of the reef, tumbling, bumbling, rumbling. It probably only lasted 20 or 30 seconds but I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down.
When you have a boogie board or surf board tied to your leg, the board will automatically shoot to the surface. So if you can just find the cord you can follow it to safety. Easier said than done. Especially when you are bouncing around on the bottom of the ocean, upside down, face dragging in the sand, running out of air. Miraculously, I saw the cord and felt it stretching on my ankle. I turned and swam as fast as I could after the board, and somehow made it to the top. At the exact moment, Travis also shot up out of the water and we found ourselves face to face with each other, our eyes as big as saucers. I took the biggest gulp of air I have ever breathed in my life, and then I saw Travis’ eyes get even bigger. Wave number two. BOOM. Down we went again.
But the problem this time was that because we were so close together, we went down in a tangled mess, twisting, turning, bumping each other, and when we hit the bottom again, Travis’ cord was wrapped around my neck. Of course he didn’t know this and his only concern was to get back up for air, not realizing that as he swam, I choked. It is almost comical now, because I lived, but we were actually fighting each other 30 feet under the water for probably a minute and a half. I was pulling Travis BACK, so I could get the cord off of my neck and he was kicking me in the head not understanding why I was holding him down, and we were both running out of air very very fast. I can honestly say that it is the only time in my life, where I really thought I was going to die. It was like a movie, in slow motion, and I can still see the silhouette of Travis right now. Yet I managed to stay calm, stay focused and look for a solution. Somehow, miraculously, we made it up, we made it out and I am here today to tell you the story. But I really didn’t think I was going to make it, that scary day in Jaco. I have a lot more respect for waves today, let me tell you, and I would never even consider going in the water on that beach again.
As I lay on the sand, thoroughly destroyed, Spicoli walks by, shakes his head and gives me the look your parents give you after you back the car into the garage door. He grabs his board, grins and paddles out to sea, leaving this old peddler hanging his head in shame. I was exhausted. My get up and go just got up and went, and the only thing I wanted was a cold beer and a nap.
We spent another couple days in Jaco, soaking up the sites, reveling in the sin. I originally never planned to move to Costa Rica, this trip was purely a search for property, a spot in paradise. But I knew that this town was not where I wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong, I had an absolute blast, and as the saying goes, what happens in Jaco stays in Jaco, so you won’t hear any details from me. I tell people that this is a perfect place to be if you are 25 years old and going to a bachelor party. Well, I am a lot older than that, and so far, thank God, I have no plans for that going away farewell funeral bash.
I was determined to find my little piece of heaven, so we packed up the jeep and continued heading north. I just knew that somewhere out there it existed; I just had to keep searching. I remember thinking to myself, how cool will it be, to be home in a bar and tell someone “I own a property in Costa Rica.” Awesome!!!
I had heard from quite a lot of people that Guanacaste was the place to be, so we pulled out our map and charted a course. There was a dotted line going from our coast to the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula, directly through a huge volume of water, and I have never traveled on a dotted line before. So we set our sites on the city of Puntarenas, loaded the cooler with beer and filled the jeep up with gas. There is a ferry that leaves every couple hours and travels across the bay, saving you the long and boring drive around. We bought our tickets, drove into the loading bin and hiked the stairs to the top, determined to find the bar. We found a little spot on the sun deck and sat back to enjoy the ride, the cocktails and the view.
This nice Costa Rican gentleman asked if he could join us, and we were happy to have the company. It turns out he was a Doctor on his way to his weekend house at the beach. He told us that he enjoyed going over on the ferry as it was a way for him to relax. He said that he didn’t like Jaco, as it was just too wild and crazy, but he loved Guanacaste, considered by everyone to be the most beautiful part of the country. He went on and on about it, for close to half an hour. Even the Ticos know Guanacaste is where you want to be. It was like having our own personal tour guide, as he helped us plot our next 3 or 4 stops, and pointed out the various sites along the way. There is this one particular island, that is very remote, and he told us it used to be a jail. He pointed out the entrance of the famous Tempisque River, which has jungle crocodile tours, monkey excursions, thousands of exotic birds like Macaws and Parrots and he even showed us where they planned to build a bridge someday, if they ever could save enough cash. The river tour is called the Palo Verde and it is one of my favorite trips in the country, but you guessed it – Tune back in for another Newsletter.
The bridge is built now, but I still try to take the ferry every once in a while, just for old memory sake. It really is an incredible ride, I recommend it to everyone. We walked to the very front of the boat, so we could see our future before us. I always like to know where I am going; I never seem to care where I have been. I have always said “Michael Simons has no rear view mirrors.” I wasn’t quite Leonardo DeCaprio in the Titanic, but it was still pretty cool. As I stood there and enjoyed the breeze, hearing the wave’s crash against the front of the boat, I found myself wandering back in time. I was on a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas in 1992 and…………….. Oops. I am taking a little too long aren’t I? Sorry about that. Better save this one for another edition. Please check back soon for Part Four. Take care. Hurry down. Ciao.
If you have had a great experience with my office and Costa Rica, I want to hear about it. Please send us a video of yourself telling us WHY and I will post it to my website for everyone to see. Or send me an email and I will put it in my Testimonials. I appreciate your business and that you have decided to read this Newsletter more than I could ever tell you. THANK YOU. Please take a little more time and check out the entire site. We have added a lot of information lately that I am sure you will find helpful. Also, please forward this to any friends you think might be interested in learning more about Costa Rica. Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course, but you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop procrastinating and hurry back!