By Phil Mansfield | firstname.lastname@example.org
This past summer a group of thirteen Spanish studying students from Flagler College went on a semester abroad and trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica. The program was five weeks of Spanish classes in the city campus of Heredia and one week of class on the beach campus in Samara. What went down in between April 26th to June 11th this summer was one of the best times of my life, and the following is the “spark notes” version of my trip.
My friend and fellow Flagler student, Andrew Gregorie, and I arrived in Costa Rica to surf in Playa Hermosa, the most consistent beach break in Costa, a few days before classes began in the city. From the moment we stepped off the plane in San Jose I knew I was in for something different; there was what seemed like hundreds of Spanish-speaking cab drivers trying to drive us to the beach. I think they got the hint we were headed to the beach because of our two huge travel surfboard bags. We went with one of the official airport cabbies, Jose, and headed to Hermosa.
Over the next few days we got a sneak peak of what the rest of our trip had in store for us: big, blue, beach break barrels, amazing breakfasts at Restaurante Las Olas, and air conditioning free nights in a hotel room where could see the waves from our beds. The days went by quickly, and after four days of non-stop surfing I was surfed out, and excited to see what the city was like. I quickly figured out, I don’t like cities.
Roger a.k.a. Mr. Hermosa, is the manager at the hotel we stayed at, Cabinas Las Arenas, and he set us up with a cab driver that would turn out to be our best Costa Rican, or as they call themselves, Tico, friend we could’ve asked for. His name was Turbo, and he drove us to the city where we met our host family.
The next day was the first day of classes where we met with the rest of our Flagler colleagues, and culture shock set in a little bit. Hardly anyone spoke English, which at first was intimidating, but it turned out that the best way to learn a new language is to be forced to speak it. The next five weeks went like this: Monday through Friday we would have class all day.
A few weeknights were spent at the local bar, Boulevar, or going to the movie theatre. I began to freak out mid-week because after growing up near the beach and it becoming a large part of my life, I learned I do not deal well with being landlocked. Then every Friday afternoon Turbo would pick up Andrew and I, sometimes other people would join us, other times not. But we would go back to Hermosa for more of the best banana pancakes and beach break barrels I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.
Each week my Spanish would improve, the group from Flagler would grow closer, and Hermosa would deliver waves to satisfy our surfing. At the end of the fifth school week, it was on to the final leg of our adventure. The weekend before going to the beach campus, our buddy and cabbie, Turbo, took Andrew, our friend Jeff Hoffman, and myself to what Turbo called, “Hermosa ten years ago.” This place was Playa San Miguel, and after many hours of driving and ferry riding, we arrived. It was laid back, desolate green country for as far as you could see. There was cow and wild horse fields, and the best part, the waves were just as good as Hermosa, but with no one else out.
That Sunday was one of the best days of my life. Jeff had come down with a cold, so Andrew and I went down to the beach around 8 in the morning to see exactly what we’d been looking for. Chest high to just over-head, glassy, barreling and rippable waves, and there were only two locals out, who Andrew happened to know from South Carolina. What went down over the next three and a half hours only Andrew and I will remember, but it was the best surf session of my life.
Then it was back to school but this time it was a lot more fun. After a very exciting drive from San Miguel to Samara, which consisted of some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen while driving through the mountains, having to cross to mini-river in Turbo’s tiny, beat up Honda Accord, which proceeded to break down and come back to life, we arrived in Samara. Samara was much like San Miguel in the fact that it was country, had dirt roads and cow fields, but with a touristy town and tiny beach houses scattered all over the dirt roads. School here was also much more relaxed; our new host family was much nicer and better cooks. They even let us borrow bikes and told us of a surfing beach called Buena Vista. Getting to Buena Vista was an adventure each time, we’d have to ride our bikes through ten minutes of muddy, hilly, roads littered with howler monkeys in the trees, only to come to a little river separating us from the path and the ocean. We would stash our bikes, paddle across the river, where we later learned a dog had been eaten by a crocodile a few weeks earlier, and then we could see the beach. The waves never got over chest high, there were no barrels, but it was always fun and once again, it was just us.
The end of that school week saw the early celebration of my birthday with a party put on by Danielle Baker which was a good time, final surf sessions at Buena Vista, and graduation from the language school. Next, it was a lot of hours of bus, car, and plane rides to all of our respective homes, but we all knew we experienced something special. When it was over, I knew I had learned a lot about surfing, Spanish, a different country and culture, and that I would never forget the time I spent in Costa Rica.