Robert Parker in Bali

Robert Parker in Bali
blog contributor Robert Parker Surfing Bali

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Costa Rica April 2013: Day 1 - Logistics of a Nicoya Peninsula Surf Trip on a Budget OR Tolerating the Worst Airline in the World to Squeeze Out One More Night in Paradise

John and I needed a vacay and plans to do so before the current theatre production I was working in didn't materialize. Add to the scheduling nightmare that J's work does a huge pro-bono night and that was end of May and his services would be required at least 2 weeks prior. And my daughter and grandkids were coming in June. Possible productions, weddings, workshops crowded the July horizon. I was definitely getting an aneurism and John was irritable with my crankiness. Imagine! But being the consummate planner and head strong to boot, I figured out if we left the night the show closed we could squeeze in 13 days in Costa Rica. Done!

 Spirit Airlines- what can we say. They still let you wear the clothes on your back and have one purse, small backpack or camera case without charge. But everything else costs-. But we have this figured out. $100 each way for a surfboard bag but here's the curious thing for a company that gives parsimony new meaning- they don't have a height restriction (longboards rarely can fly the Friendlier Skies) nor a weight restriction. They only say " maximum 2 boards per bag". So our 7'6" surfboard coffin with wheels holds 2 boards( The Thumper- a custom fun shape 7'2" that catches every kind of wave possible and a 6'11" big wave gun plus hoards of towels, rash guards, bathing suits, flip flops, all sundry items and snacks. Then the rest of our needs like camera, IPhone, IPad, t-shirts, shorts, sundresses fit into our small backpacks. 2 1/2 hours from Ft. Lauderdale at midnight lands us in San Jose, CR. BTW- we got tons of applause for outwitting Spirit with our board bag strategy.

Immigration was not crowded at that hour and after a small wait for the board bag, clearing customs and there's our name on a small hand held white board ready for our free ride courtesy of the Trapp Family Country Inn where we planned to grab 5 hours of sleep and collect our car. The shuttle was a taxi- but paid for by the hotel and oops- gotta always mention that there's boards aboard. But the board bag was squeezed in by a determined cab driver who was not going to lose this fare- and we took a bumpy ride less than a mile from the airport through that really sketchy part of San Jose. Down a small rough road amongst heavily barred Tico houses and pull up to a guardhouse with gate. Once inside it was hard to imagine the rough slum like streets we'd rumbled on to get here and aside from hearing the jets overhead, hard to believe that the airport was around the corner. This beautiful, immaculate compound with patios, pool and gardens was like another world. We were led to our room quietly and we were pleasantly surprised with two over large queen beds, TV with cable, private patio, large heavy Spanish colonial furniture. A touch worn, but still extremely clean and attractive. OK mattress and we got some sleep. (

 Morning we went to the restaurant area for the most beautiful breakfast imaginable and we had the place to ourselves. Fried plantains of course- an obligatory offering at every Tico meal, rice and beans, scrambled eggs, coffee, OJ, toast with tropical jam and slices of pineapple that tasted like pure sugar.
Our host called Adobe to make sure that our car would be delivered on time and also recommended that we get the GPS. It would be worth the extra $9 per day. Jump in the pool since we had 45 minutes before the car arrived, but a couple of laps and it pulled up. Hairo, with Adobe, was a sweetheart and we sat in bathing suits under the veranda and filled out our car rental agreement. And of course, he brought a GPS just in case, which by this time we were sure was going to be a good idea given the area to which we were headed. I've rented cars all over the world and have NEVER been so relaxed or well treated as in the quiet and spectacular beauty of our hotel. Props to Nelson Chacon, Adobe manager, who made these arrangements, under the recommendation of Rich Burnam from SurfingNosara website. ( More on these guys later when we hit Guiones)

Oh its a 2013 Hyundai Tucson 4 WD and voila- the boards fit inside. Off we go after programming the GPS and saying goodbye to Trapp Family Inn- travel tip... This place was $107 total for the night through Kayak and with the breakfast, security and comfort it afforded? Priceless! GPS- also priceless as no roads have any signs or markers. However we planned to take the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera and the GPS doesn't calculate water routes. Garmin wanted us to drive way up to Liberia and then around and down. Fortunately we figured this out before we went too far past Puntarenas but it got John agitated and he got all "slam, bammy" until I put in 2 routes- one to the Ferry and then Paquera to Mal Pais- our destination. In Puntarenas we found the Ferry after a guy on the street holds up a sign that says "Ferry". When we stop, he gives pretty good details on how it works, getting in line, getting a ticket, then taking the ticket to the fares office to pay which gives you the boarding ticket, getting your car lined up in the loading queue. All that info for a measly $3000 colones- $6 people. So we gave him $2. But it was good intel for the money and we made the 70 minute crossing on the 2 pm Ferry for $28.00 ($30 if you count our knowledgeable buddy).

The first thing one notices upon embarking in Paquera is a simpler, less fearful quality. Houses don't have huge gates and imposing bars at every window and egress. It's more agricultural and Brahman cows are everywhere- including around corners of steep, narrow, graded roads which Garmin dubs "unpaved". It was after 4 pm now and we had about an hour left on these bumpy, twisty roads. Our first view of the Pacific caused us both to squirm a bit with excitement.

 Mal Pais and Santa Teresa are pretty much the same town defined by a cross in the road. Mal Pais goes south, ST goes north. We head for Vista de Olas for our Living Social* 4 nights with extras. Up a really steep, no I'm not kidding, steep road that makes us glad we have this vehicle, we pull into our digs. Roger, the owner, meets us and the bad news is our A/C is on the fritz in our villa, but it will get fixed mañana. That's a scary forecast in CR, but this time, it was true. However, it’s an interesting sort of customer service malaise to not offer some sort of recompense for this lack. These are, after all, $175 a night digs, though we didn’t pay that courtesy of Living   It's Costa Rica, end of the dry season, 85 degrees plus with no A/C?  But it’s “Pura Vida” here so no one gets too worked up. We followed suit. The crowning glory of the joint is an infinity pool with view of about 25 miles of Pacific coast. With swim up bar. The downside of the entire region is food, drink etc. is the same as the states. An expat who pays to use the pool tells us she blames Mel Gibson and Tom Brady, who both built huge compounds. The same thing exploded here as when Harrison Ford bought part of Wyoming. Everyone wants to emulate the celebs. (

Dinner is BarBQ and part of our package for one night of our stay. They give you the meat to grill yourself along with salad bar and potato. The Mahi-Mahi is fresh and yummy. The filet Mignon is huge but beef here is very lean and lacks the marbling for flavor we red meat eaters crave. The other guests are semi- aloof and we note that as odd. The villas are lovely with comfy King beds, coffee makers, refrig, a safe, and combo indoor outdoor shower. And the place abounds with the family dogs and 2 cats- Kung Fu and Panda. Kung Fu is super friendly and spends part of the night curled up on the bed. Sleep comes easy as it’s been a long travel day and surfing is on for tomorrow!
*No kidding people! You have to watch Living Social for these surfer deals. We paid $600 for 4 nights in Mal Pais (regular $175 per night ) PLUS Dinner at their restaurant 1 night ($50 value), bottle of wine ($30), ATV tour ($75) , surf/horseback riding or zip line for 2 ($100) and 1 night of happy hour (4 beers or 2 cocktails each). Well worth the money!

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