The most recent stop on this Central American journey has taken me to Playa Santa Teresa, which is on the south west tip of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. My trip to get from Tamarindo to here was something really fun, and unique to the experience of world travel. One morning, while I was sitting on my little patio in front of my hotel room in Tamarindo, a girl walked by asking about things to do in the area. I didn’t really have a ton to offer, but, after talking for a few minutes, she told me that she was driving to her next destination in Costa Rica the following day: Santa Teresa. Fortunately, I did not seem like a creepy weirdo, and within a minute I had a ride down south. Instead of figuring out busses or paying $50 for a shared shuttle, I had a free ride in the air conditioned comfort of a car.
My driver was an extremely friendly Peruvian girl named Carolina, who handled the extremely bumpy and rocky dirt road south like a pro. During the five hour drive, we talked about our lives at home, other places we have traveled, work, music, and other small talk. It was an incredible experience: driving through Costa Rica with someone from Peru that I had just met the day before. Again, something that pretty much only happens when wandering around other countries.
After that long and bumpy drive, I found the room I had rented in Santa Teresa. The house’s main tenant, Phil, was home with his five month old puppy Olive, and welcomed me as an extremely gracious host. Within a few minutes, we were all enjoying a cold Pilsen (one of the local Costa Rican beers), getting to know each other. Phil is from New Jersey, and spends about half the year in Santa Teresea working and doing a lot of surfing. Santa Teresa is known as one of the most consistent surf breaks in Costa Rica, so the surfing community here is strong to quite strong. There are a lot of other “seasonal” residents here from Europe, the USA and Canada, living the cheap beach life for about half the year before returning to their ‘other’ home.
I tried some more surfing this week, improving from my rough days relearning how to surf in Nicaragua. I still mostly got dominated and thrown around the ocean, as Mother Nature whooped my ass many times, but definitely got better after several hours sort of riding waves and mostly falling. After spending almost a week here, I can see why people love living here half of the year. There is a very friendly community of seasonal residents, good food options, and a beautiful beach a seven minute walk away offering pretty decent surf almost everyday. Pretty tough life.
One of the highlights of my stop in Santa Teresa was visiting the local rodeo. Once a year for about ten days, the local town of Cobano hosts a variety of rodeo activities. After driving the thirty or so minutes from Santa Teresa to Cobano, the road became blocked with a large group of cowboys on their horses, right in the middle of the street. The horses were dancing around, the riders drinking beers from the saddle. Now this felt like an authentic Costa Rican experience. Phil, Carolina and I grabbed some beers, and walked the several hundred yards from where we parked to the rodeo grounds. In between, there was a band playing with more people on horses dancing around. All along the road, there were kids and families sitting in driveways enjoying the horses and people walking down the main road. It was like a parade, but I didn’t see anything but cowboys on horseback.
Eventually, we reached the fair grounds, which had some rides for kids, a bunch of food options, and several dance floors. The Costa Rican music sounds identical to most other latin music, which is to say it sounds like one extremely long song. Or a single song on repeat several hundred times. Needless to say, I am not a big fan. Phil found a bunch of his friends, who had also come to enjoy the Saturday rodeo festivities. There were rumblings and rumors that anyone could get in the ring with the bulls, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I would learn soon enough. We all enjoyed some more cold beers and local food, and I topped that off with one of the best churro experiences of my life. It was a freshly fried churro filled with dulce de leche. If you think that sounds delicious, you would be exactly right.
Once the rodeo doors opened, we made our way inside the small stadium to find out just what a Costa Rican rodeo is all about. As soon as we enter, I see about a hundred people inside the ring, and these people are definitely not pros. So, clearly, anyone can get in the ring. There is some pomp and circumstance before everything gets started, and I still wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen. Then, the first bull is released, with a local rider on its’ back. The bull is big, and puts up a decent fight, but these bulls are not the totally insane variety seen at pro bullriding tours in the States. Here, the riders can fairly easily stay on the bull until they decide to dismount. What I am used to seeing, the rider has trouble staying on for a few seconds, let alone ten plus seconds. We all notice that the bulls balls aren’t cinched tight with a rope, which, I am guessing, would make the bull a lot more pissed off.
Then, after the pro rider dismounts, is when the real fun began. The bull ran around the ring freely, with anyone who wants able to taunt and run around the now riderless bull. It was quite an amazing spectacle, and something that would NEVER EVER EVER happen in the States. There were some really brave/ stupid people who would get really close to the bull, and, yes, some people got absolutely destroyed. It didn’t look like any of the amateur attendees got seriously hurt, but some people did get chucked by a bull, which would leave a variety of bruises I am sure.
After I watched a few rounds of this, I decided I had to get into the ring to experience this myself. There were bars to climb up and out of reach of the bull, so if you didn’t want to really tempt fate, you could stay pretty far away from danger. I admit: stepping inside that ring, even at a very safe distance from the angry bulls, was still a heart racing experience. Just to see these angry bulls up close, with lots of other people taunting them, was pretty intense. At any moment, the bull could turn its’ attention on someone or something else and go charging. I stayed in the ring for several bulls before returning to the seats for the rest.
A few younger bulls, still with full horns, were let into the ring one at a time without a rider. Clearly, these younger and faster bulls were more for the daredevil fans to challenge, as well as spectators in the stands like me to watch. The younger and horned versions were a lot faster and quick than their older counterparts, and a few people got seriously tossed by the bull. Again, it didn’t look like anyone got seriously hurt, but I would not want to be on the receiving end of an angry bull’s horns.
Overall, it was an extremely fun and memorable night. I enjoyed a local Costa Rican rodeo with some guys from America, a girl from Peru, and stands full of Costa Rican locals (Ticas, as they are called here). My week in Santa Teresa has been amazing as well. Phil, along with his puppy, has been an absolutely fantastic host. In stark contrast to Tamarindo, Santa Teresa is a much more mellow surf community, with seasonal residents combining with locals and short time visitors like myself to create an interesting little surf town. It has been very relaxing, a bit terrifying in the bull ring as well as getting thrashed in the ocean, and really hot. There isn’t much AC here, so I have been sweating pretty much anywhere I go.
The sunsets have been amazing, the food delicious (but expensive), the beach is beautiful, and the surf was fun (although crushed me a few times). If you are in Costa Rica and want a mellow beach experience in a surf community, put Santa Teresa on your list. You can skip Tamarindo, unless you simply love being around other tourists and local drug dealers.
My next stop will be Manuel Antonio, which I will be enjoying with my friend Mike, who I have known since I was six years old: about thirty years. In addition, he will help me celebrate my thirty sixth name day in Costa Rican fashion. It will be great to share some time in Costa Rica with a friend from home, sharing in the adventures abroad together.