this ocean is getting old — lets get a new one

Posted: February 24, 2010 in travel
Tags: , , , , , ,

After nursing my broken personality back to normal and getting a good 6 hours of sleep, we hopped in the water taxi to begin our journey to the Pacific side of things.  Oh yeah, I did finally get some hot sauce that morning before we left Bocas, too — a place called lili’s was happy to sell me some of their “Killin’ Me Man” sauce (tag line: “It Hot like a Caribbean”), a habanero/sweet pepper-y type thing, with a hint of mustard seed to it.  I love the smell of habs in the morning…. smells like… victory…

We grabbed another bottle of rum (it is somewhat inexplicably half as expensive in Panama as it is in Costa Rica, despite the fact that it’s from Nicaragua – taxes, I can only assume) and began a day of sitting in vehicles. The border crossing was painless and quick, and a mere 8 hours or so later, we were back in San Jose.  It was only when we reached the flea-bag hostel that I realized I had apparently made a crucial mistake in my earlier, seemingly well-deserved victory, which was to not check the hot sauce bottles to make sure they were tightly sealed — indeed, all 4 were not (who the hell sells hot suce with loose caps?  does it expand or something?), and suddenly most of my clothes were a little saucy… but on the bright side, most of the underwear remained un-sullied.  So I had that going for me.  Which was nice.
San Jose leaves something to be desired in terms of… well, water and trees and animals and peace and quiet and everything else you might come to Costa Rica for, but we were forced to stay the night, just long enough to hop a 6am bus to the Nicoya Peninsula, another somewhat touristy area and basically Mecca for surfers in Central America.  A very nice guy named Sonny who we met in Panama (he was on his visa run — you have to leave the country for 72 hours every 3 months to renew it) owns an amazing hotel with some villas and a restaurant here called Gumbo Limbo, and his Italian business partner makes the most amazing pesto, with basil grown from seeds his mother brought from Genoa, with the first truly great cheese I’ve eaten in a month.  Santa Teresa itself is… well, different.  Everyone has an amazing tan, 6-pack abs and biceps.  At 6’5″ and a buck-eighty-five, I am by far the most out of shape person here.  I’ve got very little upper body (hey, I’m a cyclist — we’re all below the waist) but by these standards, I am meek and feeble, someone you might find begging for change in Calcutta or something.  The beach here is incredibly nice, and covered, absolutely dominated, by surfers.  I met a Spanish woman in Bocas who had lived here for 3 months and her comment was “it’s all surfing there, just surf surf surf surf surf” and now I can see what she was talking about.  Well okay!  Lets try surfing!  The first day we were content to simply watch, swim and throw ourselves about the waves.  We grabbed dinner at Sonny’s place and got to sleep early…
…and I had a dream about surfing.  Actually, I’ve been dreaming a lot here, pretty much every night, very vivid, somewhat lucid dreams.  I had my first nightmare in over a decade while in Cahuita.  I’ve been dreaming about everyday stuff, about bizarre occurrences, about all sorts of oddness.  But on this night, I dreamed I went out surfing.  I was all alone, not a person in sight, and I strapped the leash onto my right ankle, paddled out, sat there for a second, and just stood up on the first wave.  First try.  A real natural.  I carved up and down like all those guys with 6-pack abs, and I was loving it.  I woke up smiling and eager.  The first bloody try!  (if you surf, you should be laughing pretty hard by this point).  I was like the Tiger Woods of surfing, except without all the practice and hard work and dedication and loose women.  Well, I guess I was more like the Amy Winehouse of surfing..
Obviously, I did not stand up on the first try.

Surfing… is… just… incredibly hard.  Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do.  It’s not like biking, or climbing, where you’re fighting gravity and wind and whatever surface you’re traversing, or snowboarding and sking, where you’re fighting terrain and physics, or team sports, where you’re fighting players with superior skill to yours — no, you’re fighting something much, much more bad-ass, something that’s been smashing at the earth and at humans and at vessels and at whatever else tries to be in it or near it, forever.  The God Damn Ocean.  At least, that’s what I was calling it that morning…

Paddling out is, in itself, quite challenging — and it’s not like I was going out very far to start learning, but staying in the shallow break, just the leftovers of waves that broke another 15 yards out or so.  You’ll paddle, paddle, paddle, then get smashed by something kinda big, then paddle a bit more, dive under a smaller wave (this takes a while to get a hang of), then paddle some more, then realize you really haven’t gotten anywhere.  A lot of learning is, indeed, just getting smashed to bits, and trying again, and getting pushed off, and shaking your head and hopping back on, and getting smashed to bits again.  It’s sort of like love, I suppose…
The first 30 minutes felt like 4 hours.  Paddling out and getting smashed is not just physically taxing, but mentally draining… the ocean becomes this huge, living thing, and sometimes, caught in a wave, the board yanking at your ankle, you can almost hear her whispering… “screeeeew youuuuuuu, niiiiiich!  fuuuuuck youuuuuuu…” and then you pop back up, sinuses full of salt, the leash all tangled around your legs like some sick nautical death trap, and you wonder how all those guys further out seem to do this so effortlessly, just popping underneath the big waves and covering so much more ocean, then effortlessly, effortlessly standing up, and riding these barrels, and bailing wherever they feel like it but rarely falling off inadvertently… all the 6-packs and biceps suddenly make sense — what, you think they get abs like that by eatin’ a bunch of pesto or something?
After finding a spot that was mostly just whitewater break, I started trying to get my stand on.  I had watched a ton of people in the days previous, kind of studying their technique for getting up — it’s not so much the physical action of shifting your weight on your front hand to lift your front leg up, but just timing the whole motion correctly — paddling in, with the wave, until the break just barely passes under the fins, then making that shift, lifting with both arms, almost a little hop to it, hopefully getting your rear foot about where it should be.  Again, more tossing about — I was on this tremendously huge longboard (a very newbie board) with alot of weight to it… the board itself was actually quite stable, but my lanky ass was not.  Four or five tries in, I actually get up, knees still bent, just for a second (well, it felt like 5 seconds), but the board shifts right a bit, and the break knocks it out from underneath me. 10 tries.  15 tries.  25.  I can get on my feet sometimes, but I can’t really “stand up” — that is, my knees will not straighten out without making my whole frame — which is more and more resembling burnt cookie-dough — lose balance and fall off.  After about an hour of this (felt like alot more), I walk in, totally broken, arms about to fall off.  No one there to witness my shame but me — an odd parallel to the dream, I suppose.  I had rented this damn board for 24 hours, and after the first 60 minutes I already suck.  Maybe I should have a good sit, I thought.  I dropped the board off for safe storage and the little guy running the place smiled pretty big.
“You do okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, great.  Here, grab this for a bit — I gotta go puke up some saltwater, maybe try to regain feeling in my elbows and scrotum.”
I went out the next morning, too, but the waves were breaking too fast, and a bit too close to shore.  I talked to folks, trying to get a better idea of how to navigate the break, asking stupid questions, and tried out a lighter board.  On day 4 of what I began calling ‘Operation Lanky Yankee’, I went out at about 2pm, at low tide, and it was real small and gentle, just perfect for learning… I found I could paddle out further, stand up easier, stay up longer, and stay out longer — my 2 hour rental actually felt shorter than 2 hours.  It wasn’t like I was carving around at all, or even taking any waves that could be considered “waves” — I mean, alot of it is just breakwater, but I was a hell of alot more comfortable, and managed to stand up “proper” a good five or six times, ride that little break slowly, right into the shallow, and jump back on, smiling and paddling…
So great it is to try new things, even if I suck at them!  I walked in from that water with this weird little mental note building in my head of all the things I want to try… and it turns out most of them are really quite boring, or at least in contrast to surfing.   I would like to build furniture.  I would like to learn yoga.  I would like to take EMT courses.  I would like to speak at least one more language fluently, ultimately several languages to some degree.  I would like to grow vegetables (I’ve never gardened, and even my house plants have a higher mortality rate than lepers in Malakai).  Someday, I think I want to be a high-school shop teacher.
And someday, I wanna live somewhere with waves.

That particular facet of this chunk of land (waves all year round) seems to be what brought most people here… you’ll walk to the internet cafe, or the corner store, or a restaurant, at 4pm, and the place will just be locked up, closed, deserted… ’cause everyone is out surfing.  No note on the door that’s all “sorry dudes, waves are too good today — will re-open at low tide” but yeah, it’ll be pretty obvious if you walk a block to the beach and look out at hundreds, just hundreds of people out there, carving, or paddling, or sitting, waiting for the right position on the right swell….  Swell!  What a great name for swell!

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