At least once a year I try to add a new stamp on my passport as a way to expand my mind as an artist and feel more alive. This year I found myself on a last minute trip to Costa Rica with my two brothers….Vinny, an internet marketing business owner, and Chad, a LA County firefighter. We had been to Thailand, Spain, and Brazil together in previous years so I expected this to be another epic adventure. These are my highlights of our time in Costa Rica…
Mural for the Kids
One of my favorite things to do while traveling is giving back to the community however I can. While staying at our hotel, my brother, Vinny, signed us up as volunteers to help paint a local elementary school. We started our day off bright and early on a bus ride out to a mysterious location. After driving on paved roads for a while, the bus driver pulled off on a muddy pathway just barely wide enough for us. Navigating through the tall brush and after our 3rd attempt up a hill nearly flipping us over, we finally arrived at the school. Following a quick introduction, the three of us along with staff members from our hotel immediately got to work. My brothers did some repairs and exterior painting while I decided to paint a mural in the room where the kids all join each other for lunch every day. The colors on-hand were limited to just black, white, red, and yellow but ended up complimenting the lime green wall quite nicely.
I grabbed the two small brushes available and quickly started free-handing my concept. I picked the endangered jaguar on the spot being that it was a sacred animal and would work perfectly with my palette. It was important to me that I created a clear positive message for the kids, so I incorporated “PURA VIDA” at the end, the Costa Rican words to live by. My intention is for the jaguar to watch over them and make sure they treat each other with respect and stay on the right track. Lastly, I wanted to include their handprints in this mural so that they could feel like they each contributed to the place that will shape their young lives and give them the education they need to succeed in this world. Maybe even use art as a way to express themselves more. Art was the only subject I enjoyed and excelled at in school, so it was an unforgettable experience to be able to give back to this community and these kids by using what I’m most passionate about. The 3-hour timeframe we had mixed with the humidity didn’t allow the paint to dry properly so it’s probably not some of my best work. Looking at it now, it has a very raw-style to it that turned out just how it was supposed to. Definitely a challenge, but a very rewarding one that I’ll always remember.
Special thanks to Chad DeMartini for the time-lapse & additional photos!
Hike to La Cangreja Waterfall
We drove for what seemed like days to Rincón de la Vieja National Park where we would begin our journey to the majestic La Cangreja Waterfall tucked deep in the forest. The weather called for rain at some point in the day so I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be a “nice stroll in the park” kind of nature hike. I contemplated carrying the extra weight of my camera bag but there’s no way I was going to miss a photo op of some undocumented creature we could potentially cross paths with in the wild. As we began on the trail, all my senses kicked in full-force as I prepared for the unknown ahead. My brothers in their all-terrain running shoes took off as if the waterfall was surrounded by a surplus of snacks. I was fascinated and intrigued by everything while maintaining extreme caution to not die from contact with anything poisonous. The only other humans we saw quickly turned off on to a shorter route with no reward of a scenic waterfall. On our path, I remember looking down at every step I took in my trusty Vans as light quickly dimmed the deeper we got into the encompassing trees. Bullet and leaf-cutter ants flooded the ground while mysterious noises echoed through the branches above. Spider webs formed natural booby traps at face level while mosquitos treated us like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The trail eventually led to daylight and open landscape then right back to the darkness of the eerie forest. Manmade bridges guided us over flowing creeks; a sign the waterfall was very close. La Cangreja welcomed us with all it’s glory as it splashed into a blue pool of water known to be caused by dissolved copper minerals from the nearby volcano. “We made it!”, I thought to myself as I flicked a huge spider off the rock I was casually sitting on to get the best shot.
Quickly heading back before it had a chance to rain on us, it poured buckets about halfway through; becoming more of a hike for survival then for fun. While resting for a few minutes, I heard a really loud buzzing sound gradually getting louder as it got closer. The largest flying bug I had ever seen decided to land about a foot from my foot. This thing was, no exaggeration, bigger than an adult parakeet and entirely jet black. It was definitely part of the wasp family and had plenty of space to store enough venom to kill all three of us. As I took my camera out to capture this beast on film, it took off straight towards my brothers’ heads who were up ahead oblivious to what had just arrived. Their reactions were priceless especially after resulting in no casualties. The rain turned out to be a gift from the Gods as it kept us cool and hydrated the remainder of the hike back. I’m always game for hikes that lead to a destination worth challenging yourself to get to. This was undoubtedbly one of those hikes. Once back to working wifi, I immediately googled the black wasp to learn of it’s existence. No results.
Playa Avellanas, Tamarindo, & Coco Beach
Amidst all the ceviche in the Guanacaste Province, I finally found some delicious fish tacos at a beachfront joint called Lola’s in Playa Avellanas. If you see a huge muddy pig then you know you’re at the right place. If your car survives the drive out, Playa Avellanas is incredible with beach for miles and trees growing out of the sand. While exploring, I found a wooden pathway formed between dead branches hidden deep in the outskirts of the beach. I walked down it for a few feet to see if it was sturdy and to shoot the best angle but wished I would’ve taken it further to see where it led.
Tamarindo is your typical beach town with shopping, bars, restaurants, and slim parking. Fun place to spend the day walking around, surfing, and relaxing in the sun with a cold drink in hand. We discovered Volcano Brewing Company when searching for a place with local draft beers. We were escorted to what turned out to be the best seat on the patio. As our round of local IPA’s and homemade chips & salsa came out, a two-man reggae cover band was setting up. The sun set that day in perfect view while “Three Little Birds” played live in the background. “Tres cervezas por favor”, Chad said.
The closest “nightlife” to our hotel was a place called Coco Beach even though it was about a 45 minute drive each way in pitch black. One day we decided to scope it in daylight since we were already out and got there just in time to catch another beautiful Costa Rican sunset. Whether day or night, it reminds me of Rosarito, Mexico but with less places to get tacos. Always hungry, we found a little artsy stand nestled in a shopping center called ChoroTacos. “The Jerk” and “The Drunk” were equally delicious.
Sunset at Playa Prieta
On our last day in Costa Rica, we were told about a secret beach club a short shuttle ride away from our hotel. After another “Mr. Toad’s Ride”, we ended up in absolute paradise and had the whole beach to ourselves for the day. We swam in the warm ocean and bodysurfed waves into the black sand. We played pool in the bar/restaurant while eating chips & fresh guacamole and sipping ice cold local beer. We explored every inch of that beach and even jokingly contemplated missing our shuttle back to live here forever and sending for our loved ones. Before we knew it, the sun began to set as our fish tacos and another round of Imperials were just being brought out. The bartender informed us that we had officially missed the last shuttle out until hours later when the dinner crowd showed up. Fortunately for us, the sky put on an unbelievable show as we watched one of the best sunsets I had ever witnessed. Our phone and camera batteries started dying as the sun disappeared into the clouds. We enjoyed the last of our trip at the bar while mosquitoes got their final feasting in. Rain started pouring down right on cue as our shuttle finally arrived to take us back to our hotel for the few hours of sleep before we made our journey home.
If you can get past being consistently drenched from sweat and/or rain, every bug looking like they’re on steroids, and ridiculously long bumpy car rides then Costa Rica is a must visit. The vibrant green countryside looks mistakenly close to Kauai, the beaches stack up against anywhere on the map, and every fruit tastes like it’s in peak season. Additionally, there’s occasional “croc sightings” convienently in the lineup of the best surf breaks and plantains try to pass themselves off as tortilla chips. A place where only the words “Pura Vida” are an acceptable response to any dialogue with a local. Sadly, I searched high and low from Papagayo to Tamarindo, but unfortunately never saw a single sloth. I’ll definitely be back one day after I’ve crossed other destinations off my list first.
Muchos gracias, Costa Rica.
All photos are property of ArtLife, LLC.