Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Costa Rica Surf Camp Experience

I was born in California, but after an unfortunate decision from my dad, I ended up growing up in the cold confines of Syracuse, New York. I huddled for warmth in the glow of our many computers and eventually became a computer geek like my dad, but I often wondered what I would have become had I grown up in southern California instead -- and because it just looks so awesome in the movies, I always imagined myself as a surfer chick. I'm pretty happy as a computer geek these days, but I like to keep my options open, so I figured I should eventually take the first step to surfer chickdom: learning to surf.

Even though I've lived in California multiple times in my life, and lived in the surf kingdom of Sydney for the last two years, I somehow have never managed to get my ass on a surfboard. At one point, I figured it was just one of those things that I swore I'd always try and never actually do. (You gotta have a few of those). But in November, I serendipitously discovered that my colleague had the same wish -- and the same amount of vacation days -- and within a matter of weeks, we had arranged a weeklong trip to the Green Iguana Surf Camp in Costa Rica. We were deciding between Mexico, Australia, and Costa Rica, but eventually picked the latter because a friend recommended it, and because I've been to Costa Rica twice before & have something of a massive crush on that country. (Plus, I miss speaking Spanish - it's a beautiful language and there aren't many opportunities to practice it in Sydney).

We arrived in the surf camp in Costa Rica on December 12 and left on December 20th, and we had an amazing time in that week. We of course spent several hours each day learning to surf -- practicing the basics of the "pop-and-hop" -- and washing off in the local waterfalls after (they're as common as pubs are in Sydney). But we also spent a lot of time just enjoying the local culture, like:

  • The food: We'd usually start our meals with an appetizer of "patacones" (triple fried smashed plaintains) & guacomole, then continue on with a "casado" (rice, beans, and a protein) or a full fried red snapper. After surfing, we'd visit a street stand & pick up a ceviche -- raw fish that cooks itself from the acids in a cup of lemon juice. On "Tuna Tuesday" at the local pub, we had seared tuna in wasabi sauce, and it was the most delicious tuna that I've ever tasted - it melted in my mouth. Apparently Tuesday was the day they received the fresh tuna, and they wanted to sell it while it was fresh. It sure was! For snacks throughout the day, we'd walk up to our favorite fruit shop and have them cut up a pineapple (with sprinkled salt on it!) or a mango.

  • The wildlife: We saw lizards everywhere we went, including the largish "Ctenosaurs" which enjoy sunning themselves on hotel & restaurant roofs (and have an awesome dinosaur-sounding name). We also visited the local reptile park, Reptilandia, and wandered around it drinking Rum & Cokes from a can & marveling in a rather tipsy way at the rather large reptiles ("OMG ANACONDA!"). Thankfully, we didn't actually see much sealife during the surfing lessons, besides the crabs scuttling to-and-from all the holes in the beach. I was happy to imagine that I was surfing in a scary-animal-free zone. :) During one visit to a fruit stand, we found ourself feeding all our banana to a very adorable but aggressive Pizote (he showed us both his claws & his puppy dog face). On our last day there, we went horseback riding on a beach, and listened to the local birds calling in the trees (there's one that makes a sound like laughter, and it basically sounded like he was laughing at us the whole time.. as if I wasn't already lacking in confidence).

  • The nightlife: I was surprised to discover that our little town of Playa Dominical actually had a pretty thriving nightlife. Our first outing was to a Karaoke night, where the locals sang love ballad after love ballad (I say "love", but in fact most of the lyrics of the songs were much more about jealousy and rage), and we sang American classics, like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "I want to hold your hand". Our next outing was "Ladies Night," and the club was absolutely packed. The DJ, who we'd happened to befriend on our first day, played a mix of reggae, hiphop, house, reggaeton, and salsa. I loved dancing to that blend of genres, and I even had fun when a local led me in a salsa dance (I don't usually do partner dancing). We went out a few more times after that, and it was always a really fun atmosphere.
  • And most importantly...

  • The people: Before we embarked on this experience, we thought it would mostly just be us two, and that we'd do a lot of solitary reflection and all that deep stuff. But pretty much as soon as we arrived there, we met the crew that would occupy our days going forwards: our fellow surf campers - about 7 people our age and a family with highly entertaining 8-yr-old & 3 yr-old-boys, our surf instructors - 6 guys from ages 15 to 55, plus the family that runs the camp. We had a lot of fun learning to surf & experiencing the local culture with that crew, but in addition to them, we also met many friendly locals -- like the boy that cut up our fruit every day or the taxi driver that snacked with us after our horseback ride.

In short, I loved every minute of the surf camp experience, even the ones where I was battling the saltwater in my eyes & trying desperately to catch a wave, and I'm so thankful to the people of Playa Dominical that made it a warm & welcoming place.

And, oh, yeah, I found out that I'm not that great of a surfer. Back to geeking I go! :)

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