How (Not) To Walk Across The Costa Rica/Nicaragua Border

You can learn a lot about a country by walking into it across a land border. VIP’s enter at the airport or zoom through in a car, but when you walk across the frontier, especially in a developing country, you get a window into how ordinary people and traders travel.

Before leaving on a recent trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I tried to research the logistics of how we would get from the Liberia airport, where we were supposed to drop our rental car, to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, but found no definitive take on how much it costs or what the transportation options are. So when a cab driver I talked to at a gas station in Liberia offered to take us from the airport to the border the next day for $80, I wasn’t certain if it was a good deal but agreed to it nonetheless for lack of any better ideas (with my wife and children in tow, we weren’t up for taking a chicken bus).

Francisco, our courtly silver-haired driver turned up on time, but we soon realized that his A/C was broken.

“Too expensive to fix it,” he explained. “Sorry.”

Not a good sign on a sweltering hot afternoon, but he said the ride took only an hour, so I had no problem sweating it out. We puttered along in Francisco’s old pickup truck as swarms of cars passed us on the Pan-American Highway. I knew we were going slow but had no idea how slow because Francisco’s speedometer was also broken.

As we neared the border, we passed a few security checkpoints where police officers checked for illegal immigrants, guns and drugs. The homes on the side of the road were smaller and more improvised the closer we got to the border and even before we arrived in Nicaragua it seemed as though we’d left the middle-class comforts of Costa Rica behind.

Our hotel in San Juan del Sur, the terrific Villas de Palermo, hooked us up with a company called Iskra Travel that was supposed to transport us from the border to San Juan del Sur for $45. But the driver was supposed to meet us at the border at 1 p.m. and Francisco was sputtering along so slowly that we didn’t reach it until 1:30, and we hadn’t even cleared customs yet, so I had no idea if the driver would wait for us on the other side.

There was a long line of travelers waiting to get into Costa Rica but when we asked where to enter Nicaragua, people in line pointed off in the distance. There’s a no man’s land that must be a good mile long between the two countries with very little shade. It was sweltering – easily 90 degrees (probably more) – and we were transporting two small kids, a stroller and a few pieces of luggage.

By the time we reached a uniformed Nicaraguan border guard, my shirt was completely soaked through in sweat. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, so the border area isn’t the kind of tense frontier where photography is a problem. I took advantage of the loose atmosphere by snapping a photo of my wife as the Nicaraguan border control officer examined her passport.

I assumed we were going to be waved into the country in a matter of moments but the guard had a problem with our passports. My wife and I both have very mediocre high school Spanish and it took us a few minutes to realize that he wanted us to go back to Costa Rica to get an exit stamp.

He said we all had to go back, not just me, and I wasn’t about to walk the mile in the hot sun with all the baggage again, so I hired a rickshaw driver to cycle us back to Costa Rica (see photo below).

At first, I was annoyed by the hassle, but within just a few seconds of being on the rickshaw my mood brightened considerably. There was a light breeze and being carted around felt like a beautiful little luxury that was well worth the $8 (round trip) our driver asked for.

Back in Costa Rica, we were directed around to the back of the immigration building to a room that was empty save a few officers at their desks. Lots of people were waiting to get into Costa Rica but we were the only ones leaving.

“They sent you back for exit stamps?” asked the Costa Rican officer, watching the beads of sweat pore off my chin onto my T-shirt.

“Yep,” I said, and the officer and a colleague sitting next to him laughed, as if our exertion was the most amusing thing they’d experienced in years.

On the way back to Nicaragua, our rickshaw driver asked me how much I paid for my camera. Given the situation, I wasn’t eager to admit that it cost $1,200, so I lied and said, “$100” (see video).

“I’ll give you a hundred for it,” he said.

“No thanks,” I said. “I need my camera.”

“OK, $150,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said. “But my camera is not for sale.”

“But I need a camera,” he pleaded.

I just ignored him and soon enough we were back talking to the same Nicaraguan official and this time he stamped us in. But our brush with Nicaraguan officialdom wasn’t quite over. We walked another few hundred meters and then stood around in the hot sun wondering where to meet our driver from Iskra Travel. We were 90 minutes late and I assumed he’d given up on us.

A trio of young men came by to hector us about buying forms from them. I was sure it was a scam and ignored them, but my wife, who is from a small town in the Midwest and can’t help but be nice to everyone – even annoying pests and con-men – entertained their sales pitches.

“They have badges,” she said, “they seem official.”

I examined the peskiest guy’s badge and confirmed that he worked for some travel agency, not the government. He wanted us to pay $1 for immigration forms that were supposed to be free. We headed off to the east of the road toward a cluster of buildings and noticed two car rental companies: Alamo and National – good choices if you want to use a company that has offices at the border.

We gravitated to a line where we paid about $4 to a bored looking clerk who then pointed us to another line right across from his booth. As we stood in that line, my older son made a card with his birthday and half-birthday on it to give to the Nicaraguans (see photo above) and a mentally-disabled person began to emit piercing calls, followed by maniacal laughter and ear-to-ear smiles. My older son covered his ears and everyone else smiled nervously or gave him some coins. It was a welcome to Nicaragua I’ll never forget.

A man carrying a sign with my name on it emerged and I was thrilled and amazed that he had waited for us. We made it to the front of the next line and the clerk asked us for $48 U.S. to enter the country. I handed him three $20 bills and then struggled to understand why he wasn’t handing us back our passports.

Clearly there was a problem with our poor Spanish; we couldn’t for the life of us understand what it was. I confirmed once more that he wanted $48 and pointed to the pile of bills I’d given him totaling $60. After a few minutes of mutual incomprehension, someone behind us in line came forward to interpret.

“He says one of your $20 bills is no good,” the man said, before handing what looked like a perfectly good 20 back to me.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, totally confused.

“He says there is a crease in the bill.”

The bill looked fine to me but luckily I had another one in my wallet that he found acceptable. After much ado, we were finally, officially allowed to enter Nicaragua.

Within a matter of minutes, we could see the twin volcano peaks of Ometepe Island rising like pyramids across Lake Cocibolca and we were bathed in the lovely artificial frost of fully functioning A/C. It felt great to be in Nicaragua.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

An Evening Of Costa Rican Rodeo Madness

The reed thin drunk was just barely sober enough to avoid being flattened by a rampaging bull. The crowd roared when he broke into a nifty little dance, complete with somersaults and a crash but many were also hoping that he’d be trampled (see video). I was rooting for the harassed bulls to teach the dozens of insane men in the ring a lesson, but I dared not admit that to anyone. Costa Rican law mandates that a cowboy should be sober while riding a bull, but there is no such requirement for the spectators, even though many of them choose to be part of the action, right in the ring.

I’m not much of a rodeo guy but they are an integral part of the culture in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, so when we heard about Expo Liberia, a rodeo and carnival that was supposed to be one of the biggest and best in the area, we decided to check it out.

As we entered the fairgrounds just off the Pan-American Highway in Liberia, a regional hub in Guanacaste, a police officer approached us with a warning.

“Be very, very careful here,” he said. “There are a lot of criminals and drug addicts around.”

Not exactly what you want to hear any time, but particularly not with your wife and two small children in tow. Nonetheless, we appreciated the warning and the fact that there were police officers everywhere. We walked past a row of bars that were competing to see who could play the loudest music from the most distorted speakers (see video). I’m not sure who won but the fact that there were so few customers at most of the bars seemed to amplify the noise and absurdity of the situation.

One of the bars had a guy singing what sounded like Costa Rican show tunes and it was completely empty. We felt horrible for him but not bad enough to subject ourselves to the music for more than a few seconds.

My kids had fun squandering a large chunk of our hard earned money on rides, inflatable jumpy houses and cotton candy and I was dismayed but also impressed to see freelance port-o-potty entrepreneurs charging the equivalent of a dollar to use their facilities. A host of small children hassled us to buy them tickets for rides and we almost succumbed until one of the Costa Rican carnies intervened.

“Their parents are here,” he warned. “You don’t have to buy them anything.”

“Where are they?” I asked.

“Probably at the bars,” he said, gesturing toward where the distorted, pulsating music was coming from.

After my kids had exhausted their tickets, we gravitated toward the rodeo ring, where my sons watched in fascination as a group of jeering men and boys poked, prodded and harassed a pair of confined bulls. They were obviously getting them in an agitated state for the evening’s show but I decided that I didn’t want to support their endeavor by buying tickets, even at just $4 a pop. (Though apparently the bulls aren’t actually harmed in Costa Rican rodeos).

But as we were wandering around the side of the ring, we noticed that there were just as many people, it not more, watching the show for free under the stands. Curiosity got the best of us, so we stood alongside other cheapskates and vendors, who flogged little bags of fruity drinks, nuts and other treats, and settled in for the show.

“All these people standing underneath the stands, this doesn’t seem safe,” said Jen, my wife. “What if this thing collapses on us- we’ll all be dead.”

I pondered this prospect and considered what a small news item it would be in the U.S. Dozens perish as Costa Rican rodeo stands collapse. But as soon as the first bucking bull came charging out of the gate, our attention shifted from the rickety stands to the action unfolding in front of us.

There were scores of men- and not a single woman- standing around in the ring, but I had (wrongly) assumed that they would take their seats once the action started. After the sabanero (cowboy) was thrown off of the bull, attention shifted to all the men in the ring. Some of them appeared to be trying to taunt and smack the bull, while more prudent guys hopped up on the side of the wooden stands to steer clear of the beast.

For the first few seconds, the bull was angry and he actively charged a few men. But then he kind of just pulled up and stopped dead in his tracks, as if to say, fuck this, I am not going to take the bait and chase you macho assholes around this ring. A few of the men tried to bait him but he just stood his ground and glared at them. Eventually, as the men became more aggressive, he took the bait and started charging, sending all but the most clinically insane scurrying up onto the lower wooden rungs of the stands.

I asked a woman standing next to us why there were no women in the ring and she chuckled.

“We’re too smart,” she said.

The scene repeated itself time and time again. The men wanted action and needed to harass the bulls to galvanize them to play along. I don’t care for the idea of proving one’s masculinity by tormenting animals and it was hard to reconcile why so many guys wanted to be in the ring.

I didn’t stay long enough to witness any injuries but apparently it’s common for at least a few people to get trampled each night. Brian Wedge, a photographer from Maine who blogged about an evening he spent at a Costa Rican rodeo, actually photographed people lying injured in ambulances at the rodeo he attended in 2011.

But while I didn’t get a kick out of the tormenting of the bulls, I loved the dancing, strutting drunk guy who commanded our attention. As you can see from the video above, he was, when he could remain upright, a very good dancer.

After nearly an hour of watching the spectacle from underneath the stands, we’d had more than enough. I was happy to escape before the stands collapsed or a bull came smashing through the flimsy wooden beams that separated us from him. But I wished I could have taken the bulls with me to spare them the indignity of sticking around to provide amusement to the locals.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Scenes From A Surf Competition In San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

I’ve never thought of surfing as a hyper-competitive sport. For me, it’s more of a lifestyle. I’m not a surfer but I’ve met scores of people over the years that have rearranged their lives to be in proximity to the big breaks. I can understand why surfers might want to compete so they can measure their skills against others but the surfing culture doesn’t exactly lend itself to competition.

It’s more dude-pass-that-joint than let’s-throw-down-I’m-going-to-whip-you, so when I was invited to attend and write about a surf competition/bacchanal called Pitaya Fest in San Juan del Sur, (SJDS) Nicaragua, I leapt at the chance to see what competitive surfing was all about.On a Saturday morning in February, I piled into a stifling hot van outside a backpacker hostel in SJDS with my wife and two little boys and found myself sitting knee-to-knee across from a host of beautifully idealistic young American do-gooders and a pair of German girls wearing royal blue T-shirts that read “Christian Surfers.”

The do-gooders were a delightful group of young people who were taking a year or more off after college to help people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and they regaled us with stories, including one about a girl they encountered who gave birth at age 9. I got the feeling that they’d learned more in their brief time in Central America than they did in college.

As we struggled to hold our ground on the bench seats as the van breakdanced across a rutted dirt track toward Hermosa Beach, outside SJDS, I wanted to bottle up the group of idealistic Americans and release them the next time someone anywhere in the world tells me that Americans are greedy, selfish people who don’t lift a finger to help anyone else in the world.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, next to Haiti, and it’s impossible for anyone with a conscience to visit the country and not feel motivated to help the legions of poor people who live in improvised, ramshackle dwellings alongside almost every major road in the country. Plenty of tourists come to Nicaragua for the beaches and the prospect of a cheap holiday, but are motivated to stay on as volunteers after they arrive.

Playa Hermosa is a lovely, huge, crescent-shaped beach where some scenes from Survivor Nicaragua were shot in 2010. I was told that the abysmal road leading to the beach was even worse before Jeff Probst and company rolled into town. Before we made it into the event, we passed by a security checkpoint manned by a guy with a bulletproof vest brandishing what looked like an old AK-47. In the last few years, a few tourists have been robbed in around Playa Hermosa, so they now have security to protect what is one of the country’s few privately owned beaches.

The 2013 Pitaya Festival Is Here!” from david kalani larkins on Vimeo.

The surfing competition was already a few hours into its second day when we arrived and the first competitors we saw must have been part of a beginners’ heat, because they appeared to have no idea what they were doing. In fact, none managed to remain upright on their boards for more than ten seconds at a time.

The event appeared to be co-sponsored by the Christian Surfers group (Quicksilver was the primary sponsor) but the DJ’s choice in music wasn’t very Christian. One of the first songs we heard went something like this:

(Unintelligible) Mumble, mumble, mumble
Shake that ass girl
(Unintelligible) Mumble, mumble, mumble,
Shake that ass girl

Later in the day, my wife saw the Christian Surfer group sitting in a circle on the beach, holding hands, eyes closed in prayer. Perhaps they were praying for everyone’s sins.

The sizable crowd was a fair sampling of the gringos who wash up in SJDS as visitors or expats. Backpackers in need of a shower and some clean laundry. White guys in dreadlocks with their tattooed, wasted-looking girlfriends and poorly groomed dogs. Middle-aged North American snowbirds, missionaries and assorted cheapskates looking for a cut-rate version of Costa Rica. Alcoholics attracted by Nicaragua’s cheap rum. Miscellaneous mid-life crisis and I’m here to change-my-life or maybe catch-something-that-I-might-be-ashamed-of types. The aforementioned do-gooders. Surfers, wannabe surfers and their dogs, some of them with coffee colored skin and incongruous orange-colored hair.

Aspiring North American coffee-shop revolutionaries in Panama hats and Che Guevara T-shirts who like totally aspire to stop the military industrial complex, global warming and the genocide in Darfur and various other places they know nothing about. Unemployable Latin American studies majors who aspire to start NGOs with vague goals involving “sustainability” and “empowerment.” Nicaraguans with substantial coolers sitting on uncomfortable white plastic chairs or lying on hammocks plus assorted riff-raff and ne-er-do-wells like me.

The surfing and the music got better. Much better. And the people mentioned above got more drunk and more stoned. At noon, I smelled my first whiff of ganja and wondered whether the surf announcer, who tried to sound like the beachside equivalent of Andres Cantor, the Latino soccer announcer famous for his GOOOOOOOOOOOAL! calls, would ever shut up.

Surfing isn’t much of a spectator sport but surfers make damn good company and they know how to party. I made a few lame attempts to understand what was going on, but it’s hard to stay engaged with a competition that has 56 different divisions and drags on for hours or days on end. From what I gathered, the surfers had 15 minutes in each heat to ride as many waves as they could, but only their two best rides counted towards their overall score.

Set back from the beach, there was a stage and a lineup of bands, plus a host of booths offering everything from $1.50 rum and cokes, chocolate cookies to pulled pork sandwiches.

I met a 40-something expat volunteering at a BBQ pit who told me that he moved to SJDS in 2009 to “do something different.” He said that that the town’s real estate market mirrored that of the U.S. There was a boom from 2004-7, followed by a bust and a sputter that lingers to this day.

“A piece of land that was 25K in 2007 was going for about 15k by 2009,” he said.

My children made friends with some gringo expat kids whose parents moved to SJDS from Lesotho (seriously!) and I met a host of interesting people as well. I was struck by how open and friendly people were and how easy it is to become part of this community in a place that I would assume is as transient as they come. I met more interesting people in six hours on the beach than I would in six months in Chicago. And I found out that the event was a fundraiser for local charities, which inspired me to have a few more rum and cokes, in order to support the good cause.

At 2 p.m., the surf competition DJ, operating under a tent on the beach, wisely shifted from the angry gansta rap to Bob Marley’s “Legend” compilation. What’s a surf gathering without some Bob Marley, right? Fifteen minutes later, a band took the stage and launched into Marley’s “So Much Trouble in the World” as the DJ played “Stir It Up” simultaneously. Competing Bob Marley tunes was still better than the gangsta rap (see video below).

Shortly thereafter, a small Nicaraguan guy in a faded tank top began puking just yards behind my little patch of shade underneath a tree behind the surf tents.

He was serenaded by a group of inebriated hippies who were mashing it up to Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier.”

Fighting on the Rye-ver, Fighting for Survival
Wye-yo-yo, Wye-yo-yo-yo, Wye-yo-yo-yo-yo!

Soon, a succession of drinkers followed, one-by-one, to piss in my general vicinity and I decided to move from what was becoming a de-facto toilet.

By three o’clock, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone as a “Grease” cover band called Bario La Planeta launched into their set. Only in Nicaragua can you wash up at a beach and find yourself singing “Go Grease Lightning” in the company of of junkies, flunkies, do-gooders and gringos with baffled looking Nicaraguans looking on in puzzlement (see video).

Late in the afternoon, guys and gals who actually knew how to surf – and how to surf well – got into the act but I still had no idea what the hell was going on and I’m pretty sure that most in attendance didn’t gave a damn who won. I’m told the party raged until 3 a.m. and Agusto Chamorro won the men’s open competition. In the world of competitive, but not exactly cutthroat surfing, I’m betting that none of the “losers” left the beach broken hearted.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Braving The Back Roads Of Guanacaste In Costa Rica, The World’s Happiest Country

Take a look at a road map of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula and you’ll see a jumble of squiggly lines that seem to meander in circles with no clear pattern. Before setting off in a rental car from Santa Teresa, at the foot of Nicoya, heading towards Rincon de la Vieja National Park near the Nicaraguan border, I was a bit intimidated by the navigational task at hand. And I’d heard that the roads in this part of the country were a disaster.

But when local cab drivers told me it would cost at least $300 to take a cab to Rincon, I decided to take the plunge on my own in a rental car. I found three rental car companies in Santa Teresa and Budget had the “cheapest” price: $280 to rent an automatic transmission Toyota Rav-4 for two days, including a GPS, a child seat and a surcharge to drop it off at the airport in Liberia. It was more than double the highest price I’d ever paid for a car rental in my life, but after spending our first six days in country carless and at the mercy of taxi drivers, it felt great to have some wheels and a bit of freedom.

We spent much of the first two hours of our trip on Route 160, which is mostly unpaved and ranges in quality from not-too-bad to thank-God-I’m barreling-down-this-cratered- track-in-a-rental-car-rather-than-my-own-vehicle bad. The thought occurred to me that the high cost or rental cars in Costa Rica must be due at least in part to the poor quality of the roads. I was driving carefully but the road was beating the hell out of our Rav-4.

I’m generally an impatient traveler who would rather take the fastest route between two points – no slow-going, scenic routes for me – but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed barnstorming through the decrepit, neglected byways of Guanacaste. The poor quality of the road forced us to take it slow, allowing us to digest the beauty and serenity of slumbering villages where we saw clusters of teens gather to check out someone’s new moped, men in colorful T-shirts and baseball caps selling watermelons and coconut water on the side of the road, and plenty of farm animals roaming free in the streets. In these timeless places, no one had air conditioning – life was lived in the streets and people had their doors open, so we could see right inside people’s homes.

The twisting, dipping and soaring back roads of Guanacaste are filled with buena vistas. Costa Rica literally means “rich coast” and nowhere in the country is that moniker better earned than in Guanacaste. Car travel in the U.S. can be mind numbingly boring. The physical terrain changes but the retail landscape is always familiar and there are no farm animals or people to look at on our highways. Here, there was someone or something to look at everywhere.

In one sleepy village, I hopped out to photograph a pair of teenage girls on a motorcycle and they acted like they’d been chosen to grace the cover of Vogue. In another, a collection of men made a futile attempt to explain what goes on at a lavacar. (Someone help me out here – is this a place to bring animals for a bath?)

On the road leading to a place called Playa Gigante, I stopped to take a photo of a handsome old man tidying his yard with a machete and was surprised when he greeted me in English.

“Hello, my friend,” he said. “What brings you here?”

“Actually, I just wanted to take your photo,” I admitted. “Do you mind?”

“I’m never too busy to make a new friend,” he said, extending his hand to introduce himself.

His name was Christian and he learned English while living in Glendale, California, in the 1980s. I asked him why he came back to Costa Rica and he said that his parents were old and he needed to come back to take care of them.

“Do you like it here?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, looking around at the collection of tidy, modest homes. “We have everything here and it’s nice and quiet.”

Last year, Costa Rica was rated the happiest country in the world by The New Economics Foundation and indeed, most Costa Ricans will tell you that they live in a truly wonderful, if expensive, place.

Eventually we merged onto the paved Pan-American Highway, which was faster but less interesting and we made the trip to Rincon in about five leisurely hours with plenty of stops for random conversations and photo opps. If you find yourself in this part of the world, I highly recommend taking the time to get lost on the back roads of Guanacaste. You won’t get anywhere fast but you won’t soon forget the experience.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Meet Pabrö Sanchez, Costa Rica’s Monkey Whisperer

A good guide can help a traveler interpret the local culture. But sometimes a guide can sanitize and filter your experience by telling and showing you only what they think you want to hear and see. Pabrö Sanchez, a guide I hired through the Florblanca Resort in Costa Rica to take me to the Curu Wildlife Refuge on the Nicoya Peninsula, is not such a person.

Before we’d even arrived at Curu, Pabrö, a 32-year-old anthropologist and archaeology student with roots in both Costa Rica and El Salvador, had given me an earful of his opinions. According to him, Costa Rica’s President, Laura Chinchilla, is the worst in the country’s history. And most of the businesses in town are owned by foreigners who hire other foreigners, most of whom have no legal right to work in the country.

I like a guide who isn’t full of shit, even if I don’t agree with all of their opinions, so I liked Pabrö immediately. But I realized that he was worth his weight in gold just a few minutes into our hike at Curu, a gorgeous, 175-acre, privately owned nature reserve near the Tambor airport, when we came upon a cluster of howler monkeys in a tree. They were unleashing their trademark deep, guttural howls and I asked him if he could imitate them.

“Of course I can,” he said, and proceeded to let out a series of calls that, if you closed your eyes, sounded almost the same as that of the monkeys (see video).

He explained that howlers are vegetarians with big throat cavities, which explains why their howl is so deep and haunting. We talked about how important monkeys were to Costa Rican tourism and the country’s economy and Pabrö said, “Maybe they should be running the government. They’d probably do a better job.”

As we hiked through a dense, tropical forest on a bright sunny day, we had the place nearly to ourselves, and I couldn’t have been happier. Every time we passed a bird or another creature, Pabrö could immediately recognize it. Hoffmann woodpecker. Mangrove black hawk. White-tipped dove. Owl butterfly. Black headed trogon. White tail deer. Jesus Christ lizard. Coati. Mot mot. Great tailed crackle. He knew everything or at least sounded confident enough to fool me.

Pabrö also knew about all the soaring trees we were walking past but lost me trying to explain how his fellow native Meso American peoples had a deep connection to trees and nature.

“Trees are very interested in humans,” he said, before going on to explain that trees signified 13 realities, and one needed to go up a tree in order to experience them all.

“To access reality, you have to use a tree to get there,” he said, as I nodded thoughtfully, fascinated but unsure of exactly what he was talking about.

Pabrö talked a bit about native people in the area and mentioned that there is a tribe that lives near the Amistad National Park in Costa Rica that has no interaction with the outside world and is hostile toward visitors.

“Even I couldn’t go there,” he said. “I would not be welcomed.”

We crossed a rickety bridge over a mangrove swamp and caught a glimpse of Tortuga Island in the distance, as Pabrö plucked some leaves from a pochete tree and insisted that I eat them. They were tart, citrusy and oddly tasty. As we heard more howlers bellowing in the forest, Pabrö said that there were four types of monkeys in Costa Rica: howlers, white faced capuchins, titis (on the Carribean side) and spider monkeys.

“But the spider monkeys are nearly endangered,” he said. “People poach them because think they taste amazing and some farmers believe the monkeys come and steal children at night.”

After a long walk on a deserted beach, we retreated to the car and found Hilberth, our driver, slumbering in a reclined positioned in the car. He was a bit overweight and his tight pair of jeans, weren’t really appropriate for hiking in the heat.

“Come on man, you could use the exercise,” Pabrö teased, goading him into joining us.

The three of us set off towards a mangrove plantation and I asked Hilberth why he didn’t like hiking.

“He’s lazy and also he’s probably embarrassed to be seen walking around with a tourist,” Pabrö said in his typically blunt fashion, answering for him.

Hilberth spotted a coati, and Pabrö could barely contain his excitement.

“He’s a male – look at the size of his balls! Usually they travel in groups but sometimes the alpha males like him will travel alone.”

We walked up to a distinctive Guanacaste tree and Pabrö talked about their significance to this region, which was the last province to join Costa Rica. Pabrö told me about how the Costa Rican army defeated William Walker, a diminutive American white supremacist and “filibuster” or military adventurer, who attempted to conquer Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the hopes of annexing them for the United States in the 1850s. I was struck by the fact that while I knew nothing about this episode in history, it’s probably taught in every school in Central America.

After a few hours hiking at Curu, we repaired to a Costa Rican “soda” or humble canteen and sat on plastic chairs next to a river enjoying a round of cold drinks. After a long talk about politics the conversation turned toward Santa Teresa and how much it’s changed since Pabrö moved there in 2001.

“The place is five times bigger than it was,” he said. “People come here to see nature and virgin beaches. How can we keep that?”

IF YOU GO: If you’d like to hire Pabrö as your guide while in Costa Rica, contact him at, 506-8996-9990, Sapoa Adventures on Facebook.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]