Updated April 26, 2018 (See the notes at the bottom of this post. Original post was in mid-November 2016)
I awoke at sunrise; I always do. Usually, there were a few birds chattering with purpose that time of morning but that day my thoughts raced like ten madmen around a single chair desperate to get the one seat in the room. I was one of the madmen; never able to sit still or I might die of boredom. There would be no boredom for at least the next two months. I was on a property-buying mission with my son and two other friends that had come along as casual company and interested observers.
We were in Liberia, not far from the airport. We had arrived late—nearly midnight after collecting our things. Our drive to Los Pargos the next day would be a long one; we had to rent a car and get SIM cards for our phones. But that night, we were too excited to sleep so we gathered in Steve’s room to celebrate. Bob had brought along a bottle of rum which we passed around while Steve was on the computer looking up local information and Josh played guitar and we all sang along.
I was finally in Costa Rica and at that moment laying on a surprisingly comfortable bed in an inexpensive motel room in Liberia. It was a distinct time in my life, I felt like I barely existed but I could feel my toes and smell the humid air from the wall unit above the bed and reality was creeping in through a sliver of sunlight in the yellow polyester curtains that had been tied into a knot in the middle to keep them off the floor. We found that curtains in Costa Rica always seemed to be tied in a knot and I wondered why anyone bothered with curtains at all. In general, it’s good policy in in Costa Rica to keep things up off the floor—less likely to support the vertical ascent of one or more of a multitude of bugs that inhabit and share every space possible with human roommates. I wasn’t a bug-phob but I knew there was no way to avoid encountering more than I was used to at home and I had some apprehension about their size and number. However, that room was mostly bug-free and clean except for a few tiny water flies that hung out in the bathroom. Most of those were already were dead because they only live 24 hours, but they marked the white tile floor with an intricate black speckled pattern. If you squinted your eyes it would seem like a delicate silk pattern.
Although, we went to bed late, we all emerged early to start the day. First up, Steve and I would get a rental car while Bob and Josh met our first local—the father, and one of the owners of the family-owned motel. They were from New Jersey and had the accent to prove it. Their accent sounded out of place but they were well at home, having bought the motel nearly two decades ago. They now owned several motels in the area and managed them all themselves. Family-life is a thing in Costa Rica. Multiple generations stick together and participate in each other’s lives through every kind of disagreement and failure and miscommunication.
It should have been a two-hour drive to Playa Negra the next day, but there was a highway backup due to road construction and we got lost a few times on the back roads on the Nicoya Peninsula. It is almost impossible not to get lost. Unless you are in one of the bigger cities, roads don’t have names and locals describe end points with hand gestures and a location based on proximity to the village soccer field. We had no GPS coordinates to Los Pargos, only vague directions from the caretaker who kept referring to the “main” road as if one of the pot-holed dirt roads looked more significant than the others. As virgins in this strange land, all roads looked like back roads and we bounced and swerved for two more hours around pot-holes while dodging dogs or cows that walked in the middle without a thought.
The wildlife was as oblivious as the locals when it came to road use. Cars, people, motorbikes, farm equipment, produce trucks, and animals all travel the same narrow spaces just inches from each other’s soft spots. After a number of wrong-road decisions, we finally came to a place called Caramar. A large rusted sign marked the entrance to a gated development that looked like it had been started ten years ago, or more, but never completed. Later, we found out that observation was accurate. The development was in some sort of long-running dispute with the municipality about land rights. That would explain a lot of things about the maintenance and upkeep of the house, but there was much we could overlook when the house was nearly on the beach in such a perfect location.
Being at the gate was a big step—we thought we had it. The gatekeeper directed us to a home but didn’t have a key. We all got out—a light misty rain was falling and it was getting dark and hard to see. We looked around, but realized it wasn’t the house—not if the photos had been remotely accurate, but after a few phone calls with the caretaker we drove around the small development and saw her standing in the middle of a gravel driveway in front of an old blue metal gate.
The caretaker Margo was a delight—a single mother with a pre-teen daughter who lived about 4 kilometers away in Paraiso. After a few house issues to discuss including a broken toilet, we were moving in. The house was laid out with an open patio breezeway in between the two sections of the house— I had a bedroom a large full bath on one side and the main house where all the boys slept had two bedrooms and a kitchen.
The locals were an assortment of surfers who were also business owners who had moved there many years ago, and it was in this tiny unassuming little surf village where we began to meet all the right people. Within days Steve and Josh were making friends and having beers with the locals and we were eating spectacular food we didn’t expect. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Within 2 days we had been to Santa Cruz (a bigger town about 40 minutes inland) to buy food and a Claro mobile internet box. Within 7 days we had bought a car from a local and we all discovered how well Steve could communicate in Spanish. Days later we had all the paperwork done and had the car legally registered.
A few days later, we met an American that had just purchased a property in Los Pargos. She was a photographer and videographer and had recently purchased a new and very cool high-end drone. She was anxious to help us create our second video.
The music was written by and for this video and performed by Josh Lozada (check his music out here). Surf footage by Danny Langer and Ezio Cabalceta. I helped film; that’s me on the beach behind them in the white shirt with the GoPro. The video was put together by Steve and Bearfoot, while sitting on our patio overlooking Playa Negra and drinking rum.
All that may sound easy—it is easy to write about it here, but it was an intense 9 weeks and involved a lot of being out, meeting people and talking with the locals about the project. Everyone was interested and helpful.
Project update as of April 2018: Things are always changing. The world and everyone in it has a path and sometimes paths diverge. My son’s business partner (shown in the video) has had a number of personal challenges and has taken leave of this project. We are now actively looking for 1 or more partners to continue the journey and continue to build the farm, and the retreat and learning center.