Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Costa Rica's Playa Santa Teresa - Lake Wobegon with waves

Great news.  No Crowds reporters Gary and Lorraine are back. This time in a magical spot in Costa Rica.

Off on Costa Rica's western coast - a hair-raising light aircraft flight and/or hair-raising car and ferry journey from the capital - sits Malpais, home to Santa Teresa beach. Because of its remoteness, it appears that time is indeed standing still, sometime in the 90's. If Lake Wobegon had an awesome point break, this would be it.

In Malpais, everyone has abs that are above average. Everyone has exactly your doctor's recommended body fat percentage - no more, no less. Every woman looks good in less than the average yardage of fabric required for a pocket hanky, and every guy wears only cool board shorts that don't expose his knee. Light tanning is universal, but melanoma is unknown. Everyone is bilingual, if not tri. The main street looks for all the world like a Victoria's Secret/Abercrombie & Fitch runway show, all day, every day.

The ocean is consistently at the same temperature that I keep my pool - refreshingly cool, yet not too cold. Every wave from the mighty Pacific is better than the last, yet none are big enough to hurt you too badly if you're a beginning surfer. Horses canter on the beach at sunset every day. Every restaurant, and I mean every restaurant, has romantic tables in the sand, and gorgeous flipflop-shod servers, who are of course, better than average.

Economists will puzzle for years over the strange economy. Well stocked grocery stores offer all manner of food and alcohol (spectacular sauvignon blancs from Chile, great local beer and dark rum, etc), but the food especially is very expensive. On the other hand, eating great food at a local soda (mom and pop restaurant with outdoor tables) will set you back an average of $10 per person, including wine and beer. Even higher end restaurants are very well priced, and there are dozens. Oh, and order at least one mojito while you are there - for 6 bucks, you will be transported.

And the funny thing is, there are lots of people, but no crowds. Even at sunset (which is a truly religious experience), the beach is only sparsely populated. The longest line we waited in consisted of three people in a grocery store. Every restaurant seems to be perpetually 50% to 80% full, so there is always a buzz from happy diners, but they always - always - have a table for you, regardless of the size of your party.

If you go, a few things to remember.

1. Eat the fish. Red snapper, tuna, and mahi bear no resemblance to the previously frozen, processed and shipped stuff we eat elsewhere. The supply chain runs from the local dock 2 miles away directly to every restaurant in town, and you can taste it in every bite. Sushi and ceviche places abound, and they're safe.

2. Rent an SUV with 4wd. Nothing else can handle the roads that you encounter in the last 10 km to Malpais. You could get a taxi from the local airstrip, but it's very helpful to have a car in town.

3. There are many options for accommodations, from high end resorts to surfer shacks. Research carefully, since price does not always reflect quality. Air conditioning is widely available, but believe it or not, you may not need it. It's comfortable in the shade in the daytime, even with temps in the 90's F, and everything cools down at night.

4. Remember you're in a tropical country. Costa Rica is well developed and cleanliness standards are high - we ate ceviche, salads and raw fruit with abandon, and didn't suffer, but others did. Ask your doctor for a Cipro prescription before you leave, and if you need it, it will cut the duration of a case of "la Tourista" from a few days to a few hours.

5. There are plenty of tourist activities (ziplines, trail riding to hidden waterfalls, cantering on the beach, etc), but be sure to leave yourself plenty of downtime to soak up the local vibe and walk/run the glorious beaches.

6. ...and finally, start working out now! Given how little you will be wearing, you will want to make sure you are above average when you arrive.

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