Coffee, Iguanas, Rocks, Pictures, Sunsets: Playa Hermosa with a Venezuelan Swimmer

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People who know me best know that I can’t stand the thought of seafood, things from the ocean just freak me out. Fish, crustaceans, seaweed…crabs, lobsters, starfish…it’s like another world to me and I can’t seem to wrap my head around how it could be appealing. Everyone has something that freaks them out. Mine is “things from the ocean”.

The water used to freak me out too. I used to be terrified of the Titanic story, all those people stranded in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go. The wet, black abyss filled with alien creatures able to attack you from under the water was not a comforting thought. Then there’s drowning. It’s crazy enough not being able to really see underwater, but having all that water engulf your head, and the feeling of it clogging your ears, and not being able to breathe, that’s something I’m genuinely afraid of. My body goes into survival mode, I’m not comfortable underwater and I feel like I need air immediately. Think Sonic the Hedgehog when the music starts. Terrifying!!!

If you combine all those factors together, you get a 26 year old man who’s never quite learned to swim properly. When I go into the water, I flop around trying to understand my environment while everyone else is doing cannonballs or breaststrokes. It’s as if everyone around me has magically transformed into fish and I’m suddenly the elephant in the room.

Having said all of that, it’s a real wonder my first trip to a Costa Rican beach was with someone who’s been swimming her whole life for sport.

When we met in a Liberian restaurant, we quickly started talking about photography after I noticed Photoshop on both of our computers. I quickly learned that she’s not a local Costa Rican Tica, but a traveler named Deines from Venezuela working abroad for accommodation. “Where can we take more good pictures around here? The beach, of course!! Let’s go!”

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This, to me, is one of the highlights of traveling around: living in the moment and meeting people who just want to be happy. “Good vibes”, spontaneous adventures, and having as much fun as possible. Experiencing the world together and being able to smile and laugh about it while learning more than you knew existed.

The bus ride to Playa Hermosa was only 45 minutes or so, but a challenge because we couldn’t afford to spill our hot coffee all over. When we got off the bus, we had a direct path to the beach passing touristy hotels along the way. Then we saw it. We were amazed, but still the tease of the sparkling blue Pacific Coast water wasn’t enough to overpower our stomachs. We had to EAT! It was still early so we sat down in a local restaurant for breakfast. SPLASH! What the hell was that?! Just an iguana being chased by a dog and jumping into the nearby pool, an everyday thing here I’m sure. The look on the pool guy’s face that had to fish him out seemed to suggest that.

Time to go into the water! But where? The main beach is too crowded and touristy, let’s look a little more…

Hard to get to? No problem, it’s worth it. A nice spot away from most of the beach-goers was right around the corner. The only problem was that we couldn’t actually walk there…Rocks were in the way and you had to go through the water to get there. Planning time. Deines suggested that I jump in and carry the bags above my head, no problem! No problem because I’m not actually swimming, just walking.

We got to the area, secured our bags, and raced into the water. I was standing, she was swimming, and she was far out. It was impressive to a guy like me. “Can you swim all the way out there, to those huge rocks?” “Yes of course”, she’s been doing it almost her whole life. Wow. Those huge rocks, by the way, were about a mile out.

Rocks are dangerous. I’ll tell you that first hand because I have a few scrapes on my chest and a little pain in my hand three days later. Let me also tell you, rocks are worth it. Why? Because they’re good for exploration!

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With every step came a new level of pain. Jagged rocks or hot rocks, take your pick. Jagged rocks will scrape up your feet, hot rocks will make them burn. The only other choice is to jump into the ocean, onto more rocks. No good. But like I said, they’re worth it! Walking across this painful landscape makes you literally feel the adventure, and who knows? After 10 or 15 minutes of hurt, you might just find a secluded beach away from EVERYTHING if you put in the effort. Is that worth it to you?

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Exploration is the definition of Costa Rica. New landscapes, new environments, new climates, new people, new experiences. My next stop is in Tamarindo on the weekend and Deines is coming along for some more photography adventures. My goal is to learn to surf! But maybe I should learn to swim, first…

John DeSarno

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