Tank Tops Flip Flops Newsletter edition no. 91
“There’s gold in them thar hills”
First off, I have to apologize for taking so long to write another Newsletter. Fortunately, business is booming, as everyone wants out of the Black Hole known as North America, and I have literally not had a moment to breathe in two months.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to venture across the Atlantic Ocean and settle in present-day Costa Rica in the area that is now known as Limon. While on land, they explored the nearby area and met with local villagers who were friendly to the new visitors. Most interesting to the Spaniards was the abundance of gold jewelry that the villagers seemed to have, and they named the area Costa Rica (Rich Coast).
Columbus returned back to Spain, with the idea that this region was full of rich gold deposits and other natural treasures. King Ferdinand of Spain sent Diego de Nicuesa back to the region in 1506, with the intent to settle the region.
Over the next several decades’ immense amounts of gold, silver and gems were discovered all through Latin America but it wasn’t until 400 years later that gold was discovered in Costa Rica. As expected it set off a considerable rush in the 1930s in Corcovado and the early mining methods had a very destructive effect on the local wildlife, fauna and flora. In 1975 then President Daniel Oduber, whom our Liberia airport is named after, banned mining in this area, and declared it a National Park. National Geographic named Corcovado “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” The citizens of Costa Rica have decided that the long term economic gains of Eco Tourism would outweigh the benefit anything created in the timber and precious metals industries and have since completely banned all gold mining and it was approved by a unanimous vote of the Costa Rican Congress in 2010.
Mechanized mining equipment is not allowed anywhere in the country, with tools like suction dredges. Simple hand operated equipment like gold pans can be used in some areas. To read the full account of the history of gold mining in Costa Rica, check out this link.
It has been estimated that there is still a tremendous amount of this precious metal all throughout Costa Rica, just waiting to be found. So when my good friend Alain told me of a flooded gold mine, Las Minas Desmonte, you just knew I was going to check it out. It is located in a little town West of San Jose and it is about as difficult to find as gold itself. It is not on any map, and as we found out throughout the day, very few people have any idea where it is. But I have always considered myself a wanna-be survivalist, so fear and defeat was not an option. I was in San Jose for the weekend anyway, as the good old IRS still forces me to file a tax return and that is where my USA accountant has his office. Just the thought of having to pay money back to that deteriorating country, when I don’t even live there or use any of their services anymore, is enough to make you want to go off the grid and pan handle for gold. But as a good client of mine has always said; Mike, I pay taxes, because I don’t want to be the richest guy in prison. So I pay taxes too. I would say “spend it wisely” but obviously I have to wait for the next President as this one has the economic common sense of a college student with Daddy’s credit card on Spring Break in Cancun. Can you say “shots for everyone in the bar?”
My good buddy Eric just happened to be in town as well so we decided to make it an adventure. We met at the brand new Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Santa Ana, and wolfed down a couple of Western Bacon Cheeseburgers and curly fries with Ranch Dressing for breakfast; Explorer food, and we grabbed a cooler filled with Pilsen and threw it in the back of the truck and headed out of town. I know what you are thinking; Carl’s Jr. Really? But after 13 years of beans and rice, a little fast food is good for your soul man.
As seems to be the case every other weekend, Costa Rica recognized another holiday. It was Juan Santamaria day, a celebration of one of Costa Rica’s few war heroes as they abolished their army in 1948.
What this means is another 3 day weekend and lots of beach traffic on the Caldera Highway as everyone heads out of the Central Valley and make their way towards Jaco. Every time I come to San Jose I remind myself WHY I don’t live here, or any big city for that matter. And knowing that 1 million partiers are going to converge on the closest beaches to the capital is just one of dozens of reasons why I live in Guanacaste and not the Central Pacific Coast. The toll road out of town was literally bumper to bumper, like Southern California, with thousands of motos and scooters, like a Vietnam movie; so we decided to be adventurous and use the “old’ road over the mountain. It is a curvy, windy road that meanders up and down, over and under, round and round the mountains. The views are spectacular, as you can see for dozens of miles in every direction, and the hills are green and lush as can be, but if you are the type of person who gets car sick easily, this might not be the trip for you. The first town we came to is called La Garita, and as you can imagine, we were starting to get thirsty already. “How about a Margarita in La Garita” I declared, and Eric cracked his evil little grin. Unfortunately, it was still only 10 am and the sleepy little town was not much more than a few kilometers of nothing and if there was a bar, we didn’t see it. Don’t worry, I told Eric, we will just lie and tell people we had a Margarita in La Garita, and drink it in the next town over. No one will know otherwise. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
We came over the hill into Atenas, which is famous for its weather, declaring itself the Best Climate on the earth. Well, maybe they have the best climate, but they could use some work on their bars. It is a little hick town, not much more than a few kilometers around, and there wasn’t much happening at all. We stopped in 4 different Cantinas, all looking like they were a set for a Hollywood Western, complete with half a dozen drunken cowboys and a black and white TV playing old Mexican soap opera reruns. In each little hole, we ordered the same thing and got the same results. Margarita please: and that blank stare of the unknown came across their eyes, like the look my dogs give me when I try to have a serious conversation with them about why they are not allowed on the white sofa. “No Senor, lo siento: Ron (Rum) y Cervezas, nada mas” and a Pilsen was served up. Atenas might have perfect temperature of the air, but not of the beer, and you find out quickly why Costa Ricans order a glass with ice when they drink their Imperials. It was the same at each and every bar, and I found myself missing my good old Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa, and the dozens of awesome bars that serve freezing cold bottles of brew with ice hanging to the side. I would assume that no one knew how to make a Bloody Mary or a Martini either, so I know that at least 75% of my clients wouldn’t last a week in this town. As beautiful as it was, and it is one of the nicest towns in Costa Rica, we were ready to give up on the margarita, move on, continue our journey and find the gold.
We stopped to get more ice for the cooler, and asked the owner of the little market if he knew where the mines were located. He seemed POSITIVE when he told us to go exactly 7 kilometers up the road, and look for the turn. What you find out very quickly in Costa Rica, is that EVERYONE is very happy to help. They are the nicest people in the world, really, but they also do not ever want to disappoint. They would rather give you WRONG directions and pretend to help, than have to admit that they have no idea at all. No Clue Bro, is not a Costa Rican saying. After 10 kilometers, we found ourselves going over a serious gorge; with no way to turn right (mountain) and no way to turn left (300 feet straight down) and we realized that we would need to ask again if we were going to find any gold. As seems to always be the case, in the wild times of Michael Simons, there was a cantina located at the very top of the cliff. Pilsen time again; I think I will write a song with that title.
There was this little shack, really not much more than the size of a small garage, just hanging off the cliff, hundreds of feet above the ground. If you bumped into it parking your car, you would probably send everyone hurdling to their deaths, like a 007 movie. The view from this spot was AMAZING. You could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean, miles and miles away. There were thousands of acres of pristine forest, as far as the eyes could see, spread out in front of you, and we soaked in the views of the hawks flying over while sitting on a wooden stool sucking back our beer. Life is good; it is always good, as long as you live in paradise. They say if you inquire 3 people for anything in Costa Rica, you will always get 3 different answers, so when we asked the waitress for directions, we were not overly optimistic they would be correct. As we continued down the road on the other side of the mountain, we came into this little pueblo, where there were two signs, both declaring the same fact. Best Chicarrones in Costa Rica! I remember Alain telling me that when you find the chicarrone restaurant you have made it to the right place and we turned onto a dirt road and headed into the wilderness.
Around a few turns, over a dozen creeks, bouncing around the dirt road, we finally came to a bend where about a half a dozen dirt bikes were parked. There was a nice old man, sitting on a rock, chewing on a piece of straw and he confirmed that we had found the famous, and very hard to find Las Minas Desmonte. We exited the truck and proceeded to follow the creek up and over these huge boulders and rocks. I remember asking Alain if I needed shoes, but he was adamant that sandals were fine. Note to self: last time I listen to a French guy, BRING SHOES to this dance people as this is how you can blow out a moccasin. It was about a half a kilometer climb, not the easiest thing in my New York Giants flip flops, but we finally arrived at our little Eden and were completely blown away.
There were 5 or 6 large pools, with waterfalls cascading down from one to the next, and about a dozen teenagers jumping off the cliffs into the ponds. The surrounding area, had some old mining equipment, all rusted and ruined, with the jungle having completely overgrown around it. I am sure somewhere was the entrance to the mines, but I wasn’t about to be a statistic that died climbing down some old shaft. We polished off our beers, and joined the young kids for a dip. The water was crystal clear, like out of an Evian commercial; very cold and super refreshing as it was close to mid-day when we finally made the plunge. We swam and dove, cannon balled, and splashed for about an hour and a half, when we figured it was time to head home, but we still had one last very important item on our list. Test the chicarrones at the Chicarronera el minero.
Chicarrones are made by frying pork in fat, and are associated with several dishes. Most Ticos usually eat them with lime juice, and a plate of fresh limones was set on the table in front of us. It was accompanied with fried yucca and tortillas, and it is also the main ingredient in a popular dish called Chifrijo, which combines red beans, rice and pico de gallo. Let me tell you something, these things are AWESOME. Now, I didn’t say they were healthy, just yummy, but think about it; nobody gets excited for broccoli. We dug in and polished off the plate, flipping a coin for which one of us would get the last piece.
I headed back to the beach the next morning, thankful that I didn’t have to spend any more time in San Jose and all the hustle and bustle of a big city. I might not have found any gold, but I surely wasn’t disappointed. Remember, I live in the Papagayo of Costa Rica, also known as the GOLD COAST.
Hope to see you soon.
Come on down baby!!!
PS I will make your life much easier. The GPS coordinates for the mines are: