Guanacaste is the northern Pacific region of Costa Rica. The hottest region in the country, it was once covered in tropical dry forests. In the seventies, much of this was cut back to make way for cattle ranches but now under government sustainability programs you can see stretches of new growth as the land is rewilded and reforested. It is still cowboy country though, where they breed bulls and ride hardy Spanish criollo horses.
It is also where the best surf breaks are found and consequently where Menna and I made our home when we lived here in 2005. Cold and damp from the cloud forest, run-down, a little stressed, we make our way back there now.
We choose the beach of Avellanas as our base. This was a secret spot for us all those years ago and we share bleached memories of endless waves, pelicans, creamy banano con leche under the palm trees. Menna got tumbled in a barrel here and sliced her back to the bone on a fin, leaving a perfect crescent scar that we agreed was better than any tattoo. I think it was here too that I once saw a sting ray leap straight up out of the water. There was a difficult river you had to drive through back then, so Avellanas would be inaccessible for most of the wet season and somewhat off the main tourist circuit, but the surf here was always worth the trip. The wave was famous for holding a perfect shape in almost all conditions.
The area has been developed of course in the intervening years. There is a paved road now, more cabins and hostels, a handful of beachfront bars. Overall though the feeling is much the same: a dusty, sun-dappled, village where nothing moves fast except the hollow right at Little Hawaii peak; it is an outpost for the more adventurous expat settlers (mainly Dutch and Canadian). We stay with a delightful Quebecois couple who have just emigrated to Costa Rica to work remotely, learn surfing and run a handful of eco-cabinas down in the shade by the river.
Fine sands, rock pools and crazy sunsets, a dark mangrove jungle framing the beach – the location lulls us. We loosen our grip, let down our weary guard. It is hard to be street smart in a place with no paved streets and we need a break. We don‘t think about bogey men hiding away in the shadow of the trees. When you are in the sunshine you don’t remember the clouds.
It’s nice to be back here again after all these years, Menna and I whisper to each other. Who would have thought that one day we would be surfing here with our kids. It’s like a dream!
We go to a night market at the skatepark and eat burgers and drink beers with the expat crowd while Artie loops relentlessly around the concrete bowl with a pack of feral skater kids. We light an evening bonfire in our garden. We befriend a huge locust in our outdoor kitchen. Arthur and I get stung by jellyfish in the waves. Our alarm clock is the roar of howler monkeys in the trees above our cabin, as they define their territorial limits at 5am each morning.
We ease into a routine that is perhaps too relaxed, too predictable. Breakfast at six, early morning surf, morning homeschool at our favourite beach bar, Lola’s, where we can always find good coffee, cold smoothies and fast wifi. Then a picnic lunch, a siesta, a sunset surf, dinner, games, bed.
For three days we float around like this in a happy state of sun-dazed lassitude. But on day four they get us…
An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.Victor Hugo