Saturday, April 4, 2009

Playa Negra - Thursday 4-2-2009

In the morning, I eat breakfast and handle emails using the wireless router Nicolas had installed at Cabinas Marielos. He is taking it with him, so there will be no wireless if I return here since Nicolas is headed to his new life in San Jose tomorrow. In the afternoon, he and take his truck and three German women who check out today and who Nicolas befriended this morning take their rental car and we meet at Kike’s Place, a bar and soda attached to a small hotel at Playa Negra. Playa Negra is only about three kilometers north of Playa Tamarindo on foot. By car, it is much longer because we have to drive around Parque Las Baulas nature preserve. Nicolas and I reach the open air soda fifteen minutes after we set out. A few patrons are eating and drinking beer when we arrive. Nicolas greets the owner. Having been in Tamarindo for four months, Nicolas knows many people in the area. The women arrive and they have a friend with them, a Tico from Liberia who has traveled south from that city to meet them. All four will continue to Liberia after our afternoon together. I order a flavorful casados with chicken breast for about 3,500 colones and wash it down with a Cuba Libre, about 1,000 colones. Nicolas has the seafood rice, which he has raved about before. It is basically seafood paella. The three women, their Tico friend Saul, Nicolas and I trade stories over lunch. Two of the women have known each other for a dozen years – they used to work in a bank together. One became a teacher and met the third woman, also a teacher. One of the women studied Spanish in Liberia seven years ago and she knows the Tico. The women now live in Northern Germany, one in Osnabrook and the other two in Bremen.

Saul works in tourism and I talk to him about tour companies. Profit margins in Costa Rica are thin because there are so many operators, and because the operators have to contract with transportation companies to take the tourists to and from the tours. The transportation companies charge high prices for their services, further thinning the tour operators’ margins. This year is particularly bad because there are so few tourists. Saul says industry overcapacity is a real problem. Worse, some tour guides are cocaine addicts or alcoholics. This hurts their job performance and leads some to unethically ask for tips at the end of every tour. Both damage their employer's reputation. He tells me that some tour guides he admired and who made good money because of their knowledge fell victim to drug abuse and now beg for money on the street.

After lunch, we drive about one mile to a parking lot at Playa Negra. Sadly, I have forgotten my camera. The parking lot is next to a small luxury hotel. Eight people are on the sand beneath a line of palm trees enjoying the afternoon. Playa Negra is a long, wide beach. The waves are coming in strongly, but the beach is so wide that it looks like low tide. The parking lot ends where the sand begins, and you could still walk three hundred yards towards the ocean and be only knee deep in the warm, clear water. We walk on the beach away from distant Playa Tamarindo, which we see on the far side of the bay. Away from the luxury hotel, the beach is deserted. We pass a small condominium complex, or perhaps a second small hotel, but no one is on the balconies or on the sand. The tree line changes from palms to short, thick green trees with white branches reaching out over the sand. Further on, scrub brush replaces the trees. We continue walking on the Playa Negra away from Tamarindo and towards a huge, black, rocky outcropping that looks like a chunk of coal dropped onto the beach. Shallow tide pools break up black rock surrounding the outcropping. Tiny fish swim and small hermit crabs walk awkwardly in the warm pools. Waves crash loudly against the parts that jut into the ocean. Past the black outcropping, we follow the bend in the beach to the right. We all walk further, and then Saul turns back, and I go into the water. Nicolas and the girls keep walking. I wade in the surf for half an hour. Then we regroup and explore the tide pools. Some time later, we all walk back to the cars where Nicolas and I bid Saul and the German women goodbye and watch them drive off to Liberia.

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