Chapter II: Go West Young Man!
After 3 months in the urban rodeo that is San Jose I felt it time to move on. Accompanying a friend we set off for the peninsula of Guanacaste, bound for the azure blue of the Pacific and the small beach town of Playa Samara.
The journey out of the central highlands to the Pacific coast is well worth the roughly 5-hour drive (7-hour bus ride) taking you through many Tico towns, meandering landscapes and lush green surroundings. Traversing the peninsula of Guanacaste the change in climate, geography and vegetation become apparent: hotter, more humid, and oh the sunshine! The rolling hillsides seem draped with an emerald blanket, dropping smoothly into forested valleys as you cruise through farmland country dotted with livestock and crops and all manner of tropical flora on a winding two-lane road. During the rainy season many roads along the coastal inlands wash out, the rivers flowing over and leaving remote town’s cut-off for short periods. Traveling via Nicoya – a small city on the only highway essential for supply-runs – we soon descend to the coast and the village of Samara.
Arriving in Samara, the first thing you will want to do is see the beach and azure-blue ocean panorama of the protected bay. Get situated at one of the few beach bar/cafes, sip a cocktail, sit back and relax– now you are on Samara time!
Thankfully there are no resort hotels here, nevertheless the choice of accommodation ranges from absolute no-frills to quaint luxury villa easily tailored to individual budgets. Walk the road parallel to the beach to find a room for your initial nights, or look in the small residential lanes for ‘Casa’ so-and-so – private residences that have rooms or Cabinas for rent at decent rates (especially if you stay longer). It will only be a matter of time before you start meeting locals or expats, so don’t be afraid to ask about rentals. I started staying at a Cabina for about USD300 per month, but soon met people and was renting a 4-bedroom house on the beach with others for half that price!
It’s strange at first getting used to ‘Samara Time’; life truly slows down living in a sleepy beach-town, so don’t expect to get anything done urgently! Soon you will get adjusted and things become much more relaxed, allowing you to really appreciate just where you are…and where you are not! The first signs of Pura Vida! (Meaning pure life, but used for just about everything).
So, Samara is a place to relax, enjoy the sea, tropical climate and slow pace of things. That is not to say there is nothing to do: surfing is big here and the moderate surf of the Samara bay make for great beginner conditions, there are several surf schools, and neighboring beaches that are literally empty for all levels of riding the waves. For the most part life plays out mostly under the sun: swim to Isla Chora, or go beachcombing northward toward Buena Vista and you will find yourself mostly alone with the cliff-lined backdrop or south to the equally empty beach of Playa Carillo. Outside town go zip-lining over jungle canopies, discover scenic, hidden waterfalls and fish the rivers, or feed crocs in the brackish outlets.
Basically everyone is friendly and the town is very social, meaning you will know most everyone eventually. There are a couple fun night-spots that get rocking (like Bar Arriba… say hi to Glen!) and a beach disco (Ola’s) which lasts most all night.
Samara is a great place for artists and writers or for a laid-back retreat from the rat-race. Relatively cheap and a pretty well-kept secret it is far from the overrun party beaches thronged with drunken gringos, hookers and rip-off artists.
No sooner have I adjusted to the pace of Samara, the 3-month visa period is up… meaning: visa run!
Entering Costa Rica one receives a 90-day visa, free of charge (although by land USD 4 I think). Exiting however costs USD 25 if by air and USD 7 by land. From Guanacaste the quickest and cheapest route is to go to neighboring Nicaragua. It is a nice change, a little holiday for the required 72-hours before returning to CR, but gets old quick. The border is extremely slow and inefficient, something you should get used to (on all points) if living in Central/South America for a longer period of time! I always went to San Juan Del Sur; another beach-town an hour north of the border. Nicaragua is much cheaper and less overrun than CR and… well, that’s another story! It was always possible to hook-up with others for a ride-share, making the trip more enjoyable and convenient. There are even some tricks for a bit of extra cost… which you will learn if there for awhile!
The World Keeps on Spinning
I stayed in Samara for the remainder of the 2-years and loved it! Alas, the life of a nomad means eventually moving-on and 2-years is unfortunately enough time to start realizing the bad things of any given place. Certainly it is what you make it, and every place has its pro’ and con’s – the main thing is actually getting out there and living it!
I will close with a few tips that might stick in your mind:
Remember that to people raised in ‘developing nations’ you ARE rich: you emulate the wealth and prosperity that they only see on TV (even if you are on a budget, have dreads and a backpack); you possibly earn as much as a Costa Rican professor or lawyer in your middle-class job; you will always be a Gringo, Gaijin, Faring, or whatever, no matter how long you live somewhere and it is not necessarily a negative term; you will always pay more than a local – get used to it; theft is common in CR and often morally accepted – you have, they have not, so just use common-sense and don’t flaunt it! You will hear stories of men getting ripped-off by women here: a 60 year old man falls in love with a 23 year old Tica, he moves to CR, gets married; maybe she gives him a kid, then gets naturalized in his country, then divorces him and takes half of his estate. Duh, go figure, she has just pulled herself out of the hole, realized the American dream, and was simply slyer than a drunken old fool who was only thinking with his little head- tough luck Mac!