My beer was cold, I was with good company, and as the crimson, colored sky reflected off of the deserted beach’s dark wet sand, I thought to myself that these small, sleepy, coastal towns were the real paradise of Costa Rica.
Many people never get the chance to experience what these towns offer for a number of reasons. The main constraint is probably the lack of accessibility, as they are almost impossible for tourists to get to. The Costa Rican public bus system is very good however; the closest it gets to this part of the coast is Paraiso which is still about 5 to 10 kilometers from the beach and has no taxis. The other option of renting a car and driving is also undesirable for many people not accustomed to driving in Costa Rica. The back roads that lead to the coast in this country are a maze of dirt, mud, and potholes and the locals who drive them like to pretend they are racing in a rally car tournament where the prize, judging by their accelerated passes around blind turns and up hills, must be well over a million dollars. Unless you have always had a fantasy to race rental cars through turns that end in one lane bridges, I suggest you find another way to get here.
I had gotten to Playa Negra before, during my spring break; however, the journey was taxing and involved numerous busses through back roads, a friendly ride from a local family in the back of a pick up truck, and a little walking. I can honestly say that if I didn’t surf and there hadn’t been a perfect ten foot reef break waiting for me when I arrived, I would never in my right mind had made the trip.
The other factor that keeps many people away is that there is really nothing in these towns. Of the three similar towns I experienced on this trip, all of them consisted primarily of a dirt road lined with a few buildings and some scattered houses. There was usually a bar or two, (which I am guessing thrive due to the fact that from what I gathered, the local weekend past time consists of getting completely obliterated starting at seven in the morning at the bus stop outside the Bar), a local mini mart, and sometimes, a soccer field. That’s about it. This deters many would be visitors because despite the local landscape’s beauty, there are no dance clubs, not many other tourists, and very simply, not much to do unless you are a surfer or are just looking to relax in solitude.
Luckily, this was exactly what my companions and I were looking to do. I have an ongoing, unsatisfied hunger for surf and as I had had only a day or two’s taste of the waves at the world class restaurant of Playa Negra, I was craving another serving. My colleagues were merely in search of a relaxing weekend to unwind and get away; but either way, our destination meet our individual needs and it was nice to have company.
Other than having some traveling companions, this trip varied in one other major aspect: we had rented a car and driven ourselves across the country. The actual drive to and from San Jose is itself worthy of its own writing and I only mention it here to say that if you do want to see these areas, this is definitely the way to do it. Having a car allowed us not only to actually get to Junquillal with some degree of simplicity, but also allowed for a lot of exploring of the surrounding areas that we would have otherwise not been able to do. I personally loved having a car as I was able to drive to check all the waves at the nearby surf breaks and then surf whichever one was best. During my last trip I had been confined to only Playa Negra which is by no means a bad thing, but it was nice to experience the other areas as well.
The solitude of Junquillal allowed for a lot of reflection and as my companions and I walked the deserted beach, we considered why, amidst a developer’s talk of retirement homes and increasing land sales, anyone, including ourselves, would ever want to spend a significant amount of time in Junquillal. Of course there was the obvious beauty and all that, but there weren’t even significantly good waves here. Not even I as a surfer, who would move in a second to the similar, neighboring town of Playa Negra, would ever consider spending more than a few days exclusively in Junquillal. Why were people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on houses that they would barely use, and how sustainable was this? (A question in tribute to Dr. Bird)
It was with this idiosyncrincy we left Junquillal after a tranquil weekend, feeling very relaxed but also perplexed. I mean what could we have missed that was drawing people to this area and what was it that was sustaining this trend? As I drove out of town amidst a cloud of dust, a light bulb flashed inside my head and I realized what none of us had thought of. By cooking our own breakfasts everyday, none of us had tried the local Gallo Pinto. I smiled at my own foolishness of not realizing this sooner and as I shook my head, I thought to myself, “It must be the Gallo Pinto.”