A Costa Rican Christmas Story

Beach at Dominical

Emma Claire is a highly desirable travel partner. Her general expertise in navigating foreign countries, absolutely stunning skill of making friends with everyone she meets, and here in Costa Rica, her ability to speak Spanish combine to make her indispensable. Also, she’s pretty cool chick.

So when we decided to spend my first holiday away from home together, I was pretty stoked. I knew I’d be in good hands. It also brought to mind many past adventures and our talent at bringing out devious traits in one another.

Emma’s delightful folks, Keith and Beth, were at the tail end of their vacation last Thursday when they picked me up from the farm and took me over to their luxury villa in Dominicalito. It was everything a 2-story luxury villa should be, complete with a pool and a stunning view of the ocean. Keith had, over the past week, perfected his ability to make Piña Coladas. I had the good fortune to have two. I also saw my first real Pacific sunset and had my first swim in the ocean since arriving over three weeks ago.

Keith and Beth departed the following morning and Emma and I swiftly moved into comparative poverty: a small room with a double bed and shared bathroom at the Sun Dancer in Dominical. Emma’s quick tongue negotiated us a rate of $20 a night.

Wandering toward the beach, Emma pointed out a kitten lounging on a table among various items for sale. I immediately felt the need to snuggle it. The feeling was mutual. It wanted to snuggle me and nuzzle its little face into my fingertips. The woman who owned the shop came out and greeted Emma, who stops by to coo at the kitten often. There are two kittens scampering about and neither have names, just “gatito.” Emma suggested “Tigrito” or “Little Tiger” for the striped one I  considered running away with.

A walk on the beach turned into a treasure hunt when we stumbled upon our first stand dollars, huge and completely intact. It was low tide, and every time the water washed back toward the ocean it revealed more sand dollars, each one better than the last. We couldn’t help but keep picking them up until we were carting at least 20 sand dollars back the hotel.

We passed Juan’s juice stand and I got a fresh squeezed cup of jugo de naranja (OJ) for $1. Juan is a stocky, big-bellied tico who always wears a bowling shirt. We speculated that he owned several bowling shirts, since he does not smell.

Every morning, Emma called out, “Hola Juan!” and he got this huge grin on his face. One time he handed us a mystery fruit for free. Behind Juan’s juice stand is Edgar’s Soda y Restaurante, where you can get dos huevos fritos con arroz y frijoles (two fried eggs with rice and beans) for 1,760 colones, or a little over 3 bucks.

Emma loves Edgar as much as she loves Juan. She greeted Edgar with equal enthusiasm, like they were old friends. He’s pretty much a teddy bear.

So Christmas Eve consisted of a nacho pile and drinks at Tortilla Flats, a popular restaurant overlooking the beach. Emma introduced the bartender, who she’d met the last time she stayed in Dominical, Eddie. We were confused because Eddie often would not respond when we called his name or asked his a question. Later, a totally drunk tico who spent a lot of time slurring “pura vida” at me gave us the very valuable information that the bartender’s name was actually Brad.

Christmas morning we gathered our beach gear and headed to soak up some sun. Christmas at the beach is a tico tradition, and many families arrived throughout the day, setting up camp in the shade and grilling out. At sunset everybody gathers to watch nature’s show. There’s a crowd of ticos, gringos, expats and tourists, all of them marveling at the beauty.

Dominical is largely a surfing beach due to the fierce waves and riptides. Trying to swim makes you look foolish, because foamy waves smack you in the face and knock you down. If you take a sideways stance as the waves berate you, you look cool and don’t fall over…most of the time. Many families just find an area where there’s a little tide pool and sit in it with their kids.

There are lifeguards at the beach. They’re official: they all wear red shorts. They are all men. They can be seen doing pull-ups intermittently and high-fiving each other.  I would do pull-ups too if I knew people were constantly judging my washboard stomach. Occasionally they blow their whistles, but no one knows which surfer or what offense they’re referring to. Sometimes it just looks like they’re whistling at surfers who make asses of themselves.

I thought it would be a really great idea to go for a jog on the beach. I’ve dearly missed running since being in Costa Rica. I decided this was a prime opportunity to flex my leg muscles and try some barefoot running. I put on sunscreen and jogged for around 40 minutes. Then I sat in a tide pool with Emma for a little bit. As midday hit decided to get out of the sun. In that amount of time I managed to burn the shit out of myself.

I was so burned my body was radiating heat and getting the chills at the same time. My goose bumps were dark red. Emma was nice enough to tell me I looked like a lizard. My burned leg next to her tan leg, we didn’t look like the same species.

I couldn’t move, so we watched Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens for siesta.

Christmas dinner was seafood at Tortilla Flats. We started with Piña Coladas, and I ordered the Tuna Deforce (about $16), a huge piece of sashimi grade tuna with a soy reduction, wasabi cream and coconut rum sauce.

Emma got the Creole Mahi Mahi ($11) with banana and pineapple rum chutney, fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes.

Sunday I decided I was too burnt to go back to the farm, and we walked to a waterfall in Dominicalito instead. The water there was fresh, cool and deep. A tico family showed up and a splash fight soon started. A surly 20-something tico guy with a tarantella tattooed on the inside of his arm climbed the rocks up the waterfall and down again to prove his spider strength. On the way back, we decided to try to catch a ride.

Hitch hiking is a common practice in Costa Rica, and ticos will almost always pick you up. Most expats will too, and tourists generally won’t. Many cars flew past without stopping for two lovely ladies with their thumbs out.

Finally a car pulled over. At the wheel was a skinny expat. In a past life he was from Chicago. Now he was on a mission to get ice cream in Dominical. That was the sole purpose of his journey. A couple of minutes later we were pulling into the ice cream shop and he was offering to buy us each a cone.

Never turn down homemade ice cream in a homemade waffle cone from the best ice cream shop in Dominical, purchased by a stranger. Mmmmm mint chip.

Feliz Navidad, mi amigos.



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