How much can you soak up in one single step, in one blink of an eye, in a single breath of air breathed in and out by centuries of people gone by before you? How much can you ingrain into the solitary blank space of a memory you are about to make in a given moment? How much do you choose to remember of what you experience? I tried for a moment and like a sunflower would turn toward the sun unnoticeably, I too morph into a hiatus being, observing all there is to observe, allowing my senses to capture every bit of detail there is to encapsulate in the moment. Barcelona can do that to a person. It makes you want to stay. It makes you want to remember every tiny bit of information on display along its roads that flow like veins, full of life and loaded with history.
What follows is a brief moment in time, coordinates unknown.
An old woman with a black beret and red scarf opens a large wooden door that has been attached to its copper hinges for many centuries. As she steps over the thresh hold she turns and smile at me. I thought I was being inconspicuous trying to take a picture of her but her friendly expression tells me she doesn’t mind and that she wants me to capture her portrait. While the door is closing behind her the moment seems to linger, as if the age old cracked up colorful walls around the door have eyes and that they relay the moment back to me. I wonder how many memories have been made behind the door. It leads to a world that has existed long before the instant I share, with the old woman whose name I will never know. I step back onto the narrow side street and prepare to walk on by. Like the shutter opening and closing when a photograph is being taken, my mind is kept open for the brief juncture in time and space. I see reflections on the ground and people inside street cafes, some in pairs and some in groups. Others sit alone remembering, reminiscing, reflecting. One thing they all have in common is the colonial setting they share along with the coffees they savoir.
Above me, a smattering of colorful window shutters line a wall that is only of an arms reach away from the wall across the road from it. Laundry is hanging from washing lines and pot plants sit on the edges of narrow windowsills, seemingly falling to the ground yet undoubtedly defying gravity for years gone by. A streetlight glows a warm yellow, even though the sun is still high. A tree with purple blossoms blocks out the sky while a man rides past on an old bicycle, in no apparent hurry in the most stylish way. The way his long coat tails in the wind, inches above the chain, tells me he knows his old bicycle well. The spokes of his bike have seen as much as him, if not more, among the mazes of this city. A waiter with a white apron is inviting a couple into his small street café. A bearded old man next to me lights his hand rolled cigarette with a match and the distinct sound offers me a brief but enjoyable rhythm to my interluded scene.
A moseyed sign on the wall to my right is written in Catalonian, and although I do not understand what it means, the font of it makes me feel something. It is a feeling similar to when you carry fresh baguettes wrapped in brown paper under your arm while holding a bottle of good red wine in the other. The reality of the scene becomes cemented with the power of the words that I don’t understand. I repeat the words to myself and in doing so I become part of the backdrop for my momentary memory encapsulation.
To the left I see a man with a guitar on his back and even though he is silently cycling away from me, his silhouetted movement strikes a chord deep with in me and I indulge in the momentary imagination of the sounds of a Spanish guitar.
When the door that the lady walks through finally shuts with a deep thud as the old hard woods meet, I withdraw from the moment and step right into the next.
When you travel a lot it can happen that you start taking new scenes for granted. I have met people on the cruise ships that never go ashore because “ They have seen it all”. I do not understand that attitude. There is always something new to experience, even if the experience lasts only for a short moment in time.
Learn how to ask for a beer or a coffee in another language, your accent will attract conversation. Travel on local busses and sit among locals in city squares. Don’t worry if old people flip you off on the bus and take advantage of being able to drink a beer while walking down the road.
Look above you once in a while, the clouds are always different. Listen out for music being played by the things happening around you and stop, smile and admire the moments you share, even if it is just to yourself.
Sultan Omar Mosque, Brunei
It’s been a while, but I have to wear long pants today. I don’t want to show my ankles or knees in this place. I also choose to wear a shirt that covers my shoulders because I really do not want to offend the people. I am also not allowed to wear anything yellow, because it is the color of his majesty the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah 29th in lineage. In this place they still chop off hands when they catch a thief. I am not a thief, but I do manage to capture some photographs of people doing their thing while they are not looking. Is that stealing? What will they chop off if they see me? I worry less when a Malay man sees me and then smiles at me.
I take off my shoes when I enter the house of a local man when he invites me in for some tea, and I bow my head when he greats me as he brings his hands to my heart as I say salamat pagi – good morning. I sit and eat sweet rice mixed with coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf and for desert we eat jelly made God only knows how, wrapped in Allah only knows what. It is nice. I have at least seven cups of sweet tea and ten banana wrapped rice sweets before the lady takes the plate away from me. Underneath us the water laps against the stilts that keep the house above the river and I can hear the comings and goings of river taxi boats rushing by. Inside, the house is covered with photographs of the Sultan along with Arabic writing mounted in golden frames.
Kampong Ayer water village, Brunei
Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Brunei
The Sultans Palace behind the water village
I can see the golden dome of the Sultans palace through the window of the local mans house. The dome of his personal mosque is made of pure gold and the way it shines almost hurts the eyes when you look at it. When I look out of another window I look straight into the lives of my hosts neighbors. A lady is preparing a meal over an open flame while she carries her child on her hip. Her husband is plucking a chicken and their son is fishing for catfish in the brown river. Even though the contrast is stark, I wouldn’t say that the people from the Kampong Ayer water village are poor.
Brunei must be one of the only places in the world where you will pay less for diesel than for water. The rich oil reserves pays for the opulent golden domes and most people own their own property. The income per capita is the fourth highest in the world.
Headhunters house full of skulls
But this country is also on the island of Borneo, a place where headhunting used to be the norm. It is a place where tigers still roam free and salt water crocodiles ambush their pray from the mangrove rich rivers while proboscis monkeys chatter high in the canopies of ancient rain forest.
We cross over into Kota Kinabalu in the Saba province of Malaysia, which is on Borneo. It is a wild place. The heat sticks to you like a fly would get stuck in a spider’s web – the more you wriggle to get comfortable the worse the situation becomes. Cicadas shriek and ground hornbills hop along like small dinosaurs. There is a sense of elegance here too. You see it in the way the people dress, especially the woman with their colorful silk dresses and burkas.
The variety of life in Borneo is incredibly diverse. The amount of languages and dialects spoken are as plentiful as the colors of the butterflies are rich. The plant life ranges from the world’s largest flower to the world’s smallest orchid and the people eat things ranging from delicious rice jelly to dried seahorses. Everything is vivid and some things are just plain strange. I like strangeness, it makes me feel like there is still so much more left to explore on this planet. You have to get involved when you travel. You have to taste, ask and listen. You have to respect but don’t always have to try to understand. You have to immerse yourself completely, because not only is that the way to leave something of yourself behind – it is also the only way you take something with you. We all pick pocket our way trough life, taking memories with us where we go. What we take though cannot always be seen. I keep what I take in my mind and then in private times I bring them out and smile, happy that no one can chop off a memory.
Moorea, Oponohu Bay
It is New Years Day on the Marquesas Island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia and if the air gets any thicker with humidity I will vanish and turn into a sweaty cloud. While I struggle to keep the beads of perspiration from building on my forehead, the local dancers seem totally at ease in the heat. The women are beautiful and the men have tattoos that tell long stories of their bloodlines. There are only a hand full of dancers, but their energy radiates like visible heat waves through the open-air arena while the drumming reverberates up into the mountains like thunder rolling in from a distant storm.
The older and more colorfully dressed woman sit crossed legged in a half circle while the younger woman, adorned only with palm leaves, weave their way into the sacred space. Their hand gestures are as intricate as the flowers in their hair are delicate. The woman portraying young virgins sway their hips fast- fast then slow- slow to the rapidly changing beat of the drum. It is beautiful. Their actions are perfectly choreographed and their twirling hand movements are as intriguing as the foreign song they are singing. They are luring the young men.
The chief initiates a change in mood by clapping his hands on his muscular upper thighs in an offbeat rhythm, a sign for the young men to enter the scene.
“ Ai ma’ruru pa haka oi, he chikata!” the young men chant as they perform an intimidating warrior dance. Contrary to the peaceful dance routine of the women, the adolescent men jump about and flex their muscular bodies in ways that are suppler than the bend of a swaying palm tree.
Nuku Hiva dancers
The ceremony ends with a drum solo loud enough to burst the clouds and to bring down a refreshing patter of afternoon rain. I cant think of a better place where I can initiate my new resolutions and step out from under cover into the downpour, the large island rain drops not only washing away the old year, but also making me feel very alive.
We traveled for forty solid hours to get here. The jetlag after such a long trip changes your perception on both distance and time significantly. It can make you do strange things and often you end up with a warped sense of consciousness. After skipping across twelve time zones, I thought nothing of it when I found myself walking really long distances. I walked eighty odd kilometers in five days, trekking through scenes and views that often had me saying out loud “ This is a dream.” To have wandered along the footpaths of seven very different islands is very much a dream come true. Some of the islands have mountains that cast a mystical presence, soaring above the ocean, like majestic gods forged in stone. The Tuamotu Islands on the other hand are flat. They are atolls that are completely surrounded by lagoons, large enough to fool your horizontal view.
Bora Bora view from Nunue Bay
Lagoons around Raiatea
And then there is Huahine. Although it is just a tiny dot on a map it takes up many gigabytes in my mind. In no other place have I had my imagination run as wild as here. There is just something incredibly beautiful about perfect empty waves.
When I saw the first one break over the outer reef I caught myself staring with my mouth open. When the second of the set reeled over the shallow waters I fumbled and stuttered looking for my surfboard that should be under my arm already. When the third one exploded gently and spat the pressure from the hollow chamber I almost start crying. Not because its so beautiful, but because I don’t have a surfboard with me. “Bru!!!” Its in situations like these that I start berating myself out loud. “ How can you not have a board with you?” “Are you special or just stupid?” Not too long though and the usual steps of acceptance come into play and soon I am on that wave, pulling into every barrel. I surf that empty lineup not only for myself, but also for all my mates. At least I am a really good mind surfer.
Empty Huahine perfection
I can’t keep out of the water. Like a big wet blue magnet the water pulls me in and doesn’t let go for hours at end. In the shadows of the mountains of both Moorea and Bora Bora I swim with black tip reef sharks, completely zoned out on their awesomeness. I even got to swim with a squealing pig in Rangiroa. I can’t help but wonder what would happen of the two had to meet.
Moorea Black Tips
There is such a thing as the most beautiful place in the world; you just have to travel through other most beautiful places to get there. Here at the edge of the planet life has a different rhythm, the kind of rhythm I would like to get my heart to beat to. If for some reason I ever disappear there is one of two places where you would find me. The first would be in some mountain range around Cape Town. The second of course, would be in that barrel on Huahine. Good luck trying to find me.
I love the feeling I get when I take a first step into a new place we haven’t been to before, especially if I instantly get the sense that things have been this way for a long time. In the Caribbean you have to walk down this way, then down that way and around a corner to find an area that hasn’t changed yet. For the past four months we have been hopping around the Caribbean Sea, visiting places that often left me reflecting on the positive and negative impacts we have as travelers on this planet. In most places there is a Margaritaville and a Diamonds International and around every other corner there are jewelry stores and Harley Davidson T-shirt shops polluting the streets. It seems as if the once utopian Caribbean has become subjected to materialism. In all honesty, it has been hard to find that idyllic space out here. But then again, my idyllic might be different to yours.
So it was always with great satisfaction when I stumbled upon a place that becomes a keeper in the mind.
From under a palm tree in the shade, on sand whiter than the Caribbean man selling coconuts bright smile is, I contemplate the surroundings. Other than the occasional hermit crab that crawls past, there is not much else happening. It’s too hot to do anything anyway. The slight ocean breeze brings with it a mellow melody of reggae music that is playing far down the beach to the left. Further to the right a local woman is preparing jerk chicken. The rum has got me thinking out loud: “ I want to casually interview a couple of guys on different islands about their way of life and how they benefit, and, or suffer from the influx of thousands of foreigners each day to their shores.” We are on a cruise ship after all, and often when we are in port there will be at least another two cruise ships already, which leads to a very congested vibe. At times there may be more than twenty thousand tourists off cruise ships in towns that can barely accommodate half that.
It must be the years, I guess, that the man has spent at hacking open coconuts that have left his hands looking worn out and creased, like the kind of hands you typically see on men who use them to earn a living. As I watch him perfectly slash open another one, I can’t help but wonder how many times he has done this. With an aged straw hat on his pepper colored head, incredible confidence and clearly a lifetime of experience, the shirtless local cuts out a spoon from part of the coconut shell with his machete while a cigarette dangles from his mouth. “To eat da juiiiiciest part of dem white coconut pieaaces afta you been sippin on da juices of dat coconut” he says to the customer in an accent that fits the setting better than the glass full of sweet mango rum fits in my hand. He puts the money handed to him in a makeshift cardboard box till, turns and dashes toward the dreamy turquoise water where he wallows until the next customer comes along. “ Idyllic”, I thought to myself. I have to speak to this man.
St Thomas USVI
After spending an hour or so talking with Nevis, I get lost in how cool he speaks. The way he talks sounds like it is coming from a reggae song. Its not just the words, its also his peculiar expressions and hand gestures that keeps me locked in conversation. He is an old man and has seen both the good and the bad of tourism in this place. His analysis is short and sweet. “ Everybody needs a bit of money. Some people just want a bit more so they go and make bigger buildings where tourists can have air-conditioned shops to buy their overpriced souvenirs from.” He points to a boy riding his horse up and down the beach and says: “Here in Grand Turk though, things are still unsullied”. That makes me happy.
Grand Turk & Caicos
Usually we would cycle down to the beach, but this one time only – back in Florida – we get into a cab to go to the beach. When I notice the Jamaican flag stuck on the dashboard I get the same feeling one would get when you bump into a long lost friend – a mixture of reminiscence and happiness. I loved Jamaica and would like very much to go back, but the ship does not stop there again while we are on board. The Rasta taxi driver and I chat all the way and he asks me if I like music. I tell him music gets me high and so he hands me his iPod. “Press da play botton mon you listen to some melodies I been listenin to whole day.” I close my eyes and within seconds I am taken through the headphone wires to a beach in Jamaica where I jam to the most irie of irie tunes. I ask him: “Who dat playin on the music box mon?” He smiles and says “ Morgan Heritage mon.” I still thought about downloading it when I get a chance but little do I know that I will get to meet a cousin of one of the band members, in a place most unexpected.
See, everything is connected in some way. Nothing works in isolation. The chain of events that eventually led to me meeting the second person I spontaneously interview, started out as something small just off the Leeward Islands in the West Indies. A low-pressure system developed into Gonzalo which eventually grew into a category four hurricane, causing major floods and wind damage in the Virgin Isles and the Bahamas. For obvious reasons the ship has to change course and the safest place to go is into the Heart of the Caribbean. We get to go back to Jamaica one more time.
I meet ultra chilled Mr. Clifford on a sunny Jamaican day in a busy market place. Unlike most of the vendors, he keeps to himself and does not ‘push’ to get you to go into his tiny tin roofed trading post. There is u huge collection of CD’s stacked behind him and you can pay three bucks to have a CD copied. He uses a music copying setup that is older than his long grey dreadlocks are and his eyes smile wider than the Rasta vendor across from us selling higher grade Jamaican Kush. “ You want some music mon?” I say aye and ask him if he’s got any Morgan Herritage. “ Me have many albums of Morgan mon, me one cousin is a member of da group.” He shuffles around and puts forward seven albums for me to choose from. I ask him to choose his favorite album and to burn me a disk. “ No problem mon, it will take I five Jamaican minutes to do so. Take a seat mon.” I sit on a small wooden stool and admire his music shack. He has music from all genres stacked to the ceiling and he clearly takes pride in what he does. I ask him if he ever got to meet Bob Marley in person. “ Me not ever meet Nesta, me only see the Natty Dread in concert once long time ago.” Respect mon, I tell him and we get into a conversation that casually takes us from talking about Africa, Burning Spear, Nelson Mandela and Bunny Wailer to home grown herb and vegetarianism. Clifford is one of the most interesting Jamaicans I converse with and so when I ask him what he thinks of the many tourists that flood the streets he tells me the following. “ Da hand that feeds da mouth is often not washed afta touching da money used to buy da food, but does that really matta? Jamaica thrives on tourism, so we welcome people from all over da world, no problem mon.” I leave his music shack half hour later with my CD in one hand and a photo of him signing it.
We have been to so many wonderful places, and most often we have the best experiences when we venture away from where the masses gather. In Puerto Rico my senses thanked me for walking off into areas where only locals are to be seen. The smell of Puerto Rican cigars along with pictures of Jesus goes hand in hand with the aroma of ground coffee and sounds of Latin music filling small street cafes.
There is a district in San Juan that is referred to as the Old part. When you walk down the narrow cobbled streets you pass colorful walls of houses and beautiful wooden doors. It is quiet around here and you can literally peer into the lives of the people through the rustic burglar barred windows when you walk by. I see two elderly brothers nimbly rolling and smoking big cigars. I see an old man reading a Spanish newspaper in a small side street bar while the barmaid prepares a Chelada for another man smoking his pipe. You see well-fed street cats. You hear Cuban music and see high ceiling fans in street cafes, barely rotating yet just enough to stir the humid air around, like you would slowly stir a vente macchiato.
Street art La Perla, San Juan
La Perla, San Juan
“Ola senor, you wan some teqeeeeela?” I had to look around for a bit to see where the question was coming from. From behind a rack stacked with beautiful bottles filled with different flavors of the mescal party sauce, Jose makes an appearance. He can’t be taller than five foot and I reckon it’s the weight in gold on his teeth that make his neck seem to disappear into his shoulders. He has slick jet-black hair combed back and a little something in his eyes that reads he is a sneaky little bastard. I say to him: “Mmm, solo estoy mirando amigo, gracias.” “Ah you can speak some Spanish?” “ Si senor, empoquito.” Big mistake. He rambles off in Spanish and clearly didn’t get that I told him I only know a little. I give in to his urbane manner and decide to have a few. He makes me laugh and unlike loosing control over inhibitions after a view of these, the free tequila starts giving extra grip around the Spanish words rolling off my tongue. By the seventh one the words come cracking out my mouth like a Mexican bullwhip. “ Quisiera comprar dos botella superior tequila por favor.” I went in just looking and ended up stepping out into a more potent sun with two pints of booze. I am buzzing and as I walk away I hear him trap another victim. “ Ola, you want some teqeeeela?”
Mexico has so many flavors that need savoring. In many ways I am reminded of the perceptions I had about China before I went there. Just like it is actually quite hard to find sweet and sour chicken in Chongqing, you wont just find tequila-drinking amigos wearing ponchos and sombreros sitting against cactus trees in Mexico, at least not on the Caribbean side. The food is simple but full of flavor, the chilies pleasantly caliente and tequila is not just chugged down with salt and lemon – you take sips at it slower than the actions of a Mexican emerging from a midday siesta.
The recipe for a disastrously good time
Lately, when we are out at sea, the ship has been making noises that will scare even the Kraken away as it rocks and rolls along the ocean dunes. The season has changed. The usually flat and calm Caribbean Sea is angry and wild. The changing color of the ocean in some places is indicative of storms approaching and palm trees are bending a few degrees more than when we first arrived. I go for a last walk on a beach that I fell in love with four months ago and with only a ghost crab to share the scenery with I cant help but wonder how much longer it will stay a lonely view. I have to drag myself away from the beach. The wet sand stuck on my feet evokes this thought in me that in the same way that a spiced Caribbean rum draws flavor from its wooden barrel, my blood has soaked up so much of the goodness that gets blown in by the same trade winds that brings both sustenance and change.
Caribbean colors, Cayman Islands
Don’t worry, about a ting
‘coz every little ting gona be all right
Singin don worry, about a ting
‘coz every little ting gona be all right
Rised up tis mornin
I feel right at home when I take my first step onto this land in the Heart of The Caribbean. The island sun feels good on the skin. It is busy and slightly chaotic but it somehow just feels right. It is ultra irie and Bob Marley is everywhere. It looks like Africa in the Caribbean and when I tell the Rasta I am from the Mother land, we immediately connect on a level much higher than the juiciest Jamaican spliff can make you feel.
Smile with the risin sun
Three little birds is by my doorstep
Singin sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
This is my message to you o oo
Here in Jamaica green yellow and red is as common as Spicy Jerk Chicken stands are on corners of busy streets. It is bustling with people trying to sell you their services, each one claiming to be a “certified” tour guide. I am glad I come from a place where you know when you are being ripped off. That helps when it comes to detecting the nonsense some people will tell you. We quickly learn that any price agreed upon, established for anything ranging from an entrance fee to the beach to a trip to Bob Marley’s house, is going to super inflate at a rate faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100 m dash. Everybody wants a piece of the jerk chicken and there seems to be very little regulation. I understand that the many hungry mouths are going to form buckets out of hands when a US$ is flashed, but local people should also realize that there is a big difference between a traveler and a tourist. Underneath the irie vibe there is this strange culture of expecting gratuities, a sad sense of entitlement. With that said though, I cant help but think about the following:
While, very fortunately for me at least, countries and destinations are starting to blur into one amalgamation of cultures, colors and local phrases, why is it that some places stand out so vividly against others? I think I have the answer. *
Don’t worry, about a ting
‘coz every little ting gona be all right
Singin don worry, about a ting
‘coz every little ting gona be all right
Rised up tis morning
You eat humbly in Jamaica. Even Bob sings of how he shared oatmeal porridge. The best meal (and not because it was also the only meal) we have in Jamaica is a quarter jerk chicken shared between three little birds sittin at Mama Marley’s.
Rasta Man vibrations eya positive…
The catchy base line in the Bob Marley tune Sun is Shining is vibrating through the taxi and spilling out of the windows into the narrow street we are going down on in Ocho Rios. The driver stops and talks with someone and I am amazed at how fast the people can change from speaking English with a catchy twangy accent to Patwa, the local dialect. It sounds amazing. I love the Jamaican way of talking; they make everything sound irie. That is one of the reasons you end up buying things you don’t need when a Jamaican sells it to you. You are sold to the accent. I have seen Rastafarians everywhere in the world, but there is something special about hanging out with a real Rasta. The man with the beautiful and true smile we meet down at the blue green river is named Standing Still Bob. Or was it Still Standing Bob? It could have been Bob Still Standing and he is by far the friendliest Jamaican I meet on this trip. His entwined and intriguing dreadlocks speak of years of irie vibes and while he grinds his ganja in one hand he fist bumps me with the other, saying “Respect mon” in a tone mellower than the sweet smell of Jamaican Kaya. Bob has been growing his beard since 1988 and the longer we stand around chatting to the man the more he starts looking like Mr. Marley himself.
Whether it was Bob Still Standing…
…Bob Still Smiling
… or Bob Still Rolling, it is the sincerity of the interaction you have with people around the world that make you remember some places more than others.*
The Blue Hole
We really want to go to Nine Mile to visit the House of Bob Marley. Of all the things I want to experience in Jamaica that one is still very high on my list. We can’t get there because it is too far away so we decide to visit the famous Blue Hole instead. It is beautiful. When you emerge yourself into the cool milky blue river water the heat from the surrounding jungle washes away downstream. Although time seems to go by slower than a burning roach it is not long before we find ourselves leaving as it starts getting busy with tourists.
Tourists wear rock shoes at places like this. Travelers wear smiles
The united colors of Irie
I will come back here someday. I know it. It is in places like Jamaica where I would like to get lost. People don’t care if you don’t wear shoes here, you be how you want to be. There is untapped surf here too, in the Bull Bay area. There is also an abundance of beautiful beaches and natural mystics all around. You just have to look past the broke down parts. Off coarse you have to haggle your way, that’s for sure, because if you are going to be a tourist and follow the pack you will miss out on the feeling you get by being a traveler, especially in a place like The Heart of The Caribbean.
Getting high in Jamaica 🙂
Or was it the other way around?
Both, as the title suggests, is of a temperature that can only be experienced when you are there. You have yourself that pure ground medium roast Nicaraguan coffee, brown-black like volcanic sand with no sugar to really savor the earthy aromas. Even while it is brewing it can fill an open-air kitchen with the most amazing of bouquets. It is not the kind of coffee you have bottemlessly, you make a good cup and then have an early morning affair with your java. The coffee is blue-chip in Central America. The only other coffee I have had that could beat this stuff here is the one my Ouma would make me when I was little.
Buying Chocolate in Granada
It is clear skies when we fly to Managua. We leave the towering volcanoes of Guatemala behind and soon San Salvador looks mighty from above. I cant help but wonder about the gang activities happening as I see this massive city from the safety of above. This is partly due to Ross Kemps on Gangs’ documentary on El Salvador. It looks like a pretty hardcore place. The Pacific Ocean stretches into the beyond and as we descend into Managua the sultriness can be seen through the small windows of the plane. It is seriously dry here, even though it is raining season. The donkeys look like skinny piñatas and cows and goats graze at the high branches where few leaves are left on Acacia like trees. The old man drives the eternal damnation out of the taxi van and gets us to Granada at midday. Navigating through the busy streets is mirror to driving through Umtata in the Transkei on a Saturday when there is a funeral happening. EVERYONE is out and about. The same guy selling you avocados can fix your watch if needed and you can buy a bottle of rum at the makeshift street pharmacy. It’s a mix match of chaos and awesomeness. It is so hot here that a beggar asked if he could have a bite of my ice cream. You have to get amongst it and I love studying the peculiar activities and sights. Granada has some very photogenic buildings and characters, but we are using it only as a stopover for the night. We need to get to the ocean.
You can write a book on San Juan Del Sur and its Sunday Funday vibes. It feels as if the cracked doors and walls of the sun bleached town could speak of an under the radar seediness that occur. It is a place where people from all over the world meet, its streets filled with backpackers. Some of the traveling folk avoiding sunscreen turn into pink crayfish at the end of the day wearing bright Sunday Funday tank tops. Clearly they want to make statements about how cool he/ she is for having been to one. The more traveled individuals however are shimmering golden brown in the fading light, lazily swinging in hammocks reading tethered Lonely Planet guides to other utopias. There are always chilled out Canadians though and they make up for the cliquey Israelites that seem to frequent the town too.
If the walls could speak…
We have a lot of bags with us and it may seem to the outsider that we’ve got it down on how to carry it around. But I assure you I curse my bloody bags more often than not. If I could I’d travel with just the clothes on my back and a board under my arm. Tam on the other hand is a pro at fitting everything into her bag. Magically, more stuff can always just fit into her bags. The stories our bags could tell would be a great read. We arrive at Playa Maderas and the hill we have to climb to get to our hostel has got to be tackled with a 4×4 only. We have to figure out where our hostel is but I can’t be bothered worrying. The fruit in the box full of food we bought got smashed on the bumpy road down but it does not faze me. Apparently there are plenty females in bikinis but I cant see them. Something else has my full attention. Like seeing snow fall for the first time, the waves breaking perfectly mesmerized me to the point where nothing else matters. Immediately I know I will spend 85% of the time surfing. 10% will go toward sleeping and 5% to the other important holiday stuff. I am stoked. After organising a board with Abe, the most relaxed hippy dude under the sun, I set about finding the Chilean guy to come and fetch us. When I get to Hostel Clandestino at the top of the hill I instantly know that this is where we are supposed to be.
Juan, the hostel owner, reminds me a little bit of me and it’s not because we have the same name. I haven’t figured out exactly why yet, but perhaps in him I see how I would be in another life. He has built a meticulously planned amazing open-air style backpackers among the treetops. A lot of time has been put into the place and his pride shows in the work and daily maintenance. He has a demeanor about him that speaks of patience and intuition. In this day and age you can tell a lot of a person by looking at the way in which they reply to your emails and from the first time we corresponded, while we were still planning our trip, I could tell that he is a nice guy. Juan takes me back down the hill in a classic Landcruiser that has seen plenty action in its life and we go fetch Tam and all our bags. We settle in quicker than the perfect offshore wind comes up in the mornings in Nicaragua and when we take a seat on our rustic balcony the howler monkeys greet us with their calls.
Besides just getting to surf a new spot, I always look forward to the point of view you have from the water. There are some places in the world where the landmarks are just iconic to that region, such as the aloes in Jeffreys Bay or Diamond head at Waikiki. The majestic views of the Kogelberg Mountains at Betty’s Bay or the rocky outcrops of Gurupuk in Lombok Indonesia could easily distract you to miss waves. Here in Nicaragua I find a view from the surf that is just absolutely mesmerizing. The invisible pallet in the sky keeps overflowing with reds as the sun goes down which turns the water into a fiery medley of contrast and shape. It is beautiful and I have clocked in my 85%. With the lightning, the thunder announces the arrival of the raining season and with that the heat of the day gets washed away and drains into the golden sand.
There is a well-used travel guide on Costa Rica standing next to the brewing coffee percolator. I take it and from the top deck I look across the bay and at the mountains of the Guanacaste region in Costa Rica. In my minds eye I go through the route from where I am to those two classic Endless Summer waves- Ollies Point and Witches Rock. It involves a bumpy ride to San Juan Del Sur to get a taxi to the Border. From there you need to catch a bus to Liberia, which will get you to a bus station where you take the next bus to Tamarindo. From Tamarindo you need to catch a boat out to the breaks. It will take a day to get there. I snap out of it and decide the waves down at the beach are closer. For now. It works best on high tide but I score some fun insiders on the low tide to the right of the beach. We quickly get into the laidback vibe, filling our days with fruit smoothies and long surf sessions. It is offshore everyday, all day. Lake Nicaragua is big enough to generate its own wind and God strategically put it there so surfers can have offshore winds 360 days a year.
The people you meet on trips can often change your plans. We did not plan to venture into Costa Rica but the stories shared about epic waves got us packing a small bag and we left for the border. Getting to Tamarindo was as it played out in my mind with a combination of transportation. It is a smooth trip though and we arrive in Tamarindo before dark to set about looking for a place to crash.
The best way to describe Tamarindo is to say its like little Hawaii. If you’ve been there you will understand. The vibe is mellower than a Caribbean accent and everything is based around surfing. My back didn’t see a t-shirt on it for most of the time there. We walked along pristine beaches finding classic waves. In times like these I miss my buddies most. I wish all of them could be here so we can catch a boat to some classic waves. I like solo missions and surfing on my own, but in some places you need to share that stoke with friends. My last session in Costa Rica is one I have on my own. There is NO ONE else out and I can’t believe it. I sit right next to a rock boil and take off quick to avoid getting grated over the reef that is getting shallower as the tide is going out. Once you are on the wave you have to pump and get as much speed as possible to make the barreling section. On my first one I pull in and the colors inside the barrel make me question the possibility of it. The green-blue water transforms into marmalade see through orange as the lip throws over and in front of me. I hold my line and gently touch the wall of the barrel and as I exit the colorful chamber I let out a scream of pure elation.
Costa Rica is about monkeys and afternoon thundershowers. It is about sandy bags at the end of a day as much as it is about the greeny ocean water that transforms the soul. It is about the smell of excellent coffee early in the morning and scent of tropical sunscreen throughout the day. Costa Rica burns into your tan and it leaves you wanting more each new day.
We celebrate Tams 30th by starting our trip back to The States. We pass the same farmlands we did two weeks before and it’s significantly greener. We stroll around the airport terminal and wonder what to do with the last few Cordobas we have. We don’t even think twice when we see it. We choose that medium roast Nicaraguan coffee and then pack it into the magical bag that can always take something extra.