The cafe felt like a ship’s cabin during a particularly lashing storm. I watched intently from one of the small tables as the snow came down in white torrents while everyone else worked away diligently from their little wooden chairs, not distracted in the least. Must have all grown up around snow, I thought. For my part, being from Florida, experiencing a blizzard still felt like being on the surface of the moon, completely foreign. I shook myself from my reverie; there was work to be done, after all I was leaving that evening on a plane for the Caribbean port town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Well I was supposed to anyway; weather permitting. The airline’s site confidently declared the plane would be departing right on time. I didn’t see how any plane could be going anywhere, looking at all that snow. If it were up to me I’d shut down every airport in the Northeast for the better part of winter, and the freeways for that matter. In any case, it was beyond me to worry about anything on this particular afternoon, it was just too damn peaceful. Pale winter light streamed in through the large windows, steam billowed from my black coffee, it was warm in the cafe. All I had to do was get on the train and reach the airport, then I was free of winter’s grip.
Easier said than done. I waded through the snow trailing a surfboard coffin with two sticks and all my clothes. By the time I made it underground the bag had accumulated several inches of precipitation and I could barely maneuver the thing. I felt ridiculous on the train standing there with my enormous surf travel accessory, but to hell with everybody, I was going to the tropics!
The airport terminal was freezing. I couldn’t see why; what is this North Korea? I thought to myself. Can we not afford to get some heat going in the airport terminal at JFK of New York City? It didn’t seem possible, looking at the bleak runway and the poor travelers all bundled up and sniffling, that there existed a place at the other end of my voyage where palms swayed and everyone was in shirtsleeves. I would be no more surprised to get off the plane in a place where there exists no gravity.
The flight was delayed.
Then delayed again. It began to look like I would miss my connection in Miami but there was no way I was leaving the airport unless it was headed south on an aeroplane. At this point, after several hours waiting, I didn’t much care where down south it was headed, just somewhere in that general direction. Sometime around midnight I boarded the plane bound for Miami, just enough time to catch my connecting flight to San Jose.
I was still sporting several layers of heavy winter clothes when I walked out onto the tarmac towards the terminal at San Jose International. The sun was high, it was warm but not hot, I felt like I’d been away on some space mission to a frozen corner of the universe and finally returned home to the warm arms of mother earth. I found my bus bound for Puerto Viejo and settled in for the long ride. I'd been to Costa Rica many times, but never to the fabled Caribbean side. Every time previous, upon arrival we booked it southwest toward the swell rich beaches and coves of the Pacific side, which has its own charms. But the tranquil, lazy atmosphere of my old haunts there had slowly given way to crowded peaks and thronging nightclubs packed with dudes in surf trunks like some poor man's Huntington Beach. I was ready to go somewhere that did not attract surfers.
My dad had put the whole idea in my head. After several years without a proper surf trip of any kind, my old man-nearing retirement-suggested we go on a ski trip. 'That sounds terrible,' I'd said flatly, leaving icy New York to go to some snow bound mountaintop sounded like some sort form of civil punishment to me at the time (my father lives in Florida, had a different reference point naturally). In any case, not the least discouraged, he simply said, 'OK, well how bout a surf trip, somewhere warm.'
'Yes. One hundred percent in.'
'The Caribbean? Puerto Rico?'
We spent weeks going over options until I came across an old piece of surfing literature (if you'll permit me the term), 'In Search of Captain Zero.' An enthralling account from a Montauk based surfer/writer whose friend goes missing in Central America, and-as any good friend would do-he decides to load up his truck with dry goods and surf sticks, and hit the road to seek out his old pal along the surfable coastlines of Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, etc. Puerto Viejo receives an honorable mention and plays a significant role in the novel.
I suggested it to my dad, who seemed up to go just about anywhere, and readily agreed. He just wanted to go somewhere with good food, relaxing vibes, and something fun to do outside.
Puerto Viejo, as it would turn out, fit the bill. A coastal hamlet bustling with activity; a mix of dreadlocked Caribbeans, European expats, and weary backpackers, a handful of surfers. We appeared to be the only ones at our hotel/hostel with the intention of riding waves. It was a rustic arrangement, the inn, with something of a log cabin motif which was slightly bizarre, this being the tropics, yet it held enough charm to carry it off. A verdant garden defined the public area, overlooked by an expansive balcony replete with swinging benches and hammocks on which I would pass many an hour strumming my miniature guitar and sipping coffee. The lodgings boasted a brewery on site, which was shocking, Central America not being known for its microbreweries. And what's more, the beer was actually good!
Our first day out for a surf, we arrived to Playa Cocles-which had seemed placid enough in the photos I'd seen online-to find thumping A-frames, clear skies, and light offshore winds. Taking note of the size I told my dad we could look for a more mellow wave...not sure if he ignored me or simply didn't hear, but in any case he just waxed up and paddled out. We spent that morning taking pristine lefts and rights, some good licks as well, finally coming in once we were week with hunger. We loaded up the sticks on top of the rental sedan, and went in search of breakfast. My dad has a truly remarkable love for the morning meal. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad waking me up at dawn to go get pancakes at Cracker Barrel, or pulling into waffle house on overnight road trips to partake of the fine comestibles at Waffle House.
There was only one road back into town, on this we drove in search of a coffee house. We found one; essentially just a kitchen with an open air dining area. But they baked their own bread and had excellent, strong coffee. We were famished and ordered eggs, toast, jam, fruit, and cheese. As if to punctuate the freshness of the ingredients; the produce truck arrived while we were eating and the chef marched out to hand pick his mangos, papaya, bananas, avocados, and citrus fruits. Across the road children played futbol in an overgrown field, the crash of surf could be faintly heard. The produce man departed in his overloaded vessel, it was warm, it was paradise.