The paved road nearly reaches the destination, but ‘nearly’ never does. The road south from Liberia is littered with large overloaded sugar cane trucks rumbling and swaying their way to the refineries, leaving a trail of slithering sugar cane stalks in their wake. As we weaved in and out of the trucks and cane snakes, the wind gusted and shifted us, reminiscent of the winds of the roaring 40’s in Central Patagonia, nearly a year prior. After an hour of this hectic two lane traffic we spotted a small sign advertising a surf camp pointing to our way off the pavement and to a bearable gravel lane. Our route toward the less chaotic coast.
With a tight schedule of events aligned for the next ten days, Two special guests, Jackson and Kate, time was of the essence. After much deserved sushi, an airport pickup followed by a night in the parking lot of a fairly pricey yet dingy Liberian hotel, and an early morning super market sweep, off to the unknown we went. Thankfully I managed to bargain two nights in a destination that we’d only had a vague description of from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Good free camping on the beach in front of a great surf spot, nobody around and the holy grail to some, wifi from a beachfront restaurant 300 meters to the north. Some place warm, where the waves flow like wine, where other surfers don’t instinctively flock like the crowded waves of Playa Tamarindo. I’m talking about a little pace called Marbella, where perfect waves break consistently from December through March and often it’s just locals reaping the rewards.
Pronounced Mar-bay-ya, the pearl of the Tamagringo coast, a tiny rural village and the spot that does not exist in the index of any self respecting Costa Rican Surf guide. This must be home. As we worked our way down the rumple strip like gravel, we found ourselves second guessing the loud creaks and shuddering at the deep groans of our rust encrusted suspension. As the feeling of great anticipation nearly always does, the 45 minutes on gravel passed as slowly as the horse drawn carts that meander their way from the nearby fields into the many tiny hamlets dotting our route. The first indicator was a shack with a sign advertising ding repair, yet we were passing through arid cattle country and the coast seemed as far away as if we were on a dusty road in August, in central Montana.
The first sight of coastline was in stark contrast to the lush jungle-lined coasts, we’d encountered further down south on the Nicoya peninsula. This was now clearly a new biosphere here in northern Guanacaste and the vegetation was showing the aridity of this new-to-us climate. We pulled up to a large bay with rocky volcanic looking shores and scanned the horizon looking for waves of any measurable height. If we’d been on a day trip, I’d have turned around out of pure ignorance, because as far as we could see, flatness encompassed the ocean. Thankfully we were still eight kilometers out, the crew was willing to see what was beyond the next headland and around that corner.
Pulling through the small village, centering around a full sized fútbol pitch, nothing indicates the bejeweled bay that lies tucked into the coastline, merely a short five minutes from town. As we rolled around the last bend in the gravel, parallel to the coastline the large protected bay emerged, loaded with waves, with uncharacteristically few people surfing them. We quickly chose the first available campsite on the edge of the beach, under the shade of some large bushes and a few small trees. With the tide coming in and winds blowing off-shore, the clean A frame shaped waves peeling along drew me out into the hot sun for an incredible afternoon of steep walled right hand waves with the occasional micro barrel. Having yet to master the skills to paddle and to place myself in said micro barrels, the following days necessitated the steep learning curve of getting truly pitted*.
Years can pass between seeing friends, Things can happen, people can change, but when I saw my friend Titi honking and driving his moto onto the sand in front of the van, I immediately recognized his wild hair and bright white smile. It’s these time passed connections with friends from the past, that give me immediate goosebumps, despite the warm 80 degree water that day. Although he is pouring all of his time and energy into his all encompassing surf brand, Gallo Pinto TV, he made sure that we felt like his home was our home, and that we had everything we needed. Getting to spend time with old friends in their homeland has been one of the most rewarding parts of this whole experience and our time with Titi, his girlfriend Irene and their dogs(s?), was the most enriching and enlightening experience. In one long evening over a few bottles of wine, he taught us more about Costa Rica And Central America as a whole, through his experiences and perspective, than we had in the previous two months of travel.
Over the course of the next two days, more time was spent in the water than out, early morning sunrise sessions, followed by breakfast and water, waiting for the mid morning crowd of 5 people to paddle in for lunch, at which point we’d have it all to ourselves until the post lunch crew arrived. Which signaled us to take our lunch and siesta, waking to head out again for a sundowner catching-the-waves-close-to-dark sessions. All this despite the innumerable stings gifted to us from tiny bits of wave churned jelly fish remnants, acting like microscopic aquatic landmines. The cool water combined with a hot sun and good waves that just kept pumping, were a recipe for early nights and heavy slumber.
Surfline reported 1-2 feet for the three days we were there and all we saw were perfect offshore 3-5 foot waves. These were easily two of the best days of surfing for everyone in the van we’ve encountered on this entire adventure. Everyone scored waves and the atmosphere of camp was simply electric. Long days of surfing followed by good conversation over a few glasses of wine.
It’s special to see friends who are pursuing their passion, this was evident when we met up Titi. Without a doubt if anyone reading this needs some time in a wave filled perfect setting, Gallo Pinto is it. We’ll be back next year and I’m bringing all the boys with me. Thank you for the fun times mi hermano!