The following feature story was written by Halifax-based writer and surfer Luke Acker
On those painfully frigid days, when February shows no sign of loosening its icy clutches, many Canadian surfers begin to dread the endless winter.
The ice cream headaches and frozen feet begin to take their toll. Thoughts of escapism often take priority over other, less pressing matters like work, or rent, or car payments. It’s a kind of seasonal insanity. The cure? A surf trip.
For three Nova Scotians, 14 days of camping at Witch’s Rock, Costa Rica was just what the doctor ordered. The trip was a logistical challenge. Witch’s Rock is just off a beach called Playa Naranjo inside Santa Rosa National Park, and getting there is damn near impossible.
There is also no drinkable water, shops, telephones, lights and food of any kind at the beach. Fourteen days of supplies had to be carried in, and once we were in, there was no getting out. The reward: 14 days of perfect, warm, empty surf in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Santa Rosa National Park is a huge area of forest and unspoiled nature. Many people visiting Costa Rica never make it to the park, leaving it uncrowded and largely unknown. It is one of the natural wonders of the Guanacaste province.
Santa Rosa is full of magnificent hardwood trees, iguanas, deer, raccoon, jaguars, coyotes, turtles and monkeys. Most nights we were the only people camping. Walking back down the beach after the evening session, we’d see only our footprints on the beach. We were the only people for miles and miles.
We’d shine out lights into the jungle and see a million sets of yellow eyes staring back at us, but it was the animals we didn’t see that we were most concerned about. In Santa Rosa you’re just another species, and it is such an incredible feeling. After dinner the stars, moon and phosphorescence put on a light show that kept us fixated every night.
The beach is on the narrowest part of the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, just south of Nicaragua. Because the land is so narrow, the valley in front of the beach funnels warm Caribbean breeze offshore 365 days a year. We scored empty head-high glassy barrels every-single-day.
While Tamarindo or Playa Negra would get offshore winds by about noon, Playa Naranjo kept on pumping. There are lefts and rights the whole way down the beach. The wind keeps them mega hollow, and on low tide coming in they’ve got plenty of power. If you don’t get covered up, its because you’re not trying.
Getting there was a challenge. We tried to hike in from the top of the park, and that was definitely no bueno. The road from the top of the national park isn’t really a road. It’s a series of potholes connected by boulders and rocks. Thirteen miles of scorching trail stood between the beach and us.
We had enough water for about four miles. Not knowing that the water supply at the beach was a salt-water tap (making our water tablets useless), the trek sounded doable for the next day. We camped at the top of the park and prepared to set out at dawn.
Howler monkeys (they actually sound like lions) were out all night keeping us up. Bleary-eyed and dehydrated we packed up camp at first light and were about to head out carrying all our food and boards.
Just before setting out at dawn, a park ranger came jogging toward us. He told us that – with all the pura vida charm he could muster – if the heat didn’t kill us, the venomous snakes and jungle trail would. He gave us his phone and told us to call a number of a guy who could get us down there in a jeep.
The guy who showed up made the trip a huge success. “Eladio” had spent four years camping on the beach, and he was the local to have on your side.
His jeep was pumped up on steroids and we easily loaded our gear into it. He then drove us back to town were we could buy the water and food that we actually needed, not just what we could carry. The ride down to the beach was the heaviest pounding I took all week. We had arrived in paradise.
The camping site is about one mile from the rock. Eladio showed us jungle trails we could use to get to the breaks without getting fried in the sun. He shows us all the peaks and breaks along the beach, pointed out currents. He has an ‘office’ – a little hole in the mangroves about half way down the beach – where we hid from the noon sun between sessions.
He knew everything there was to know about the beach. He pointed out poisonous plants, dangerous animals and hooked us up with everything we forgot to bring – like coolers, chairs and hammocks. (For more, visit Eladio’s website)
Boats chartering other surfers would show up after our morning session at around 10 a.m. when we were tired from surfing since 5:30, and they would leave by the time we were ready to go back out at around 3:00. To get there by boat will cost you $300, and you’ll surf at the worst time of day. Don’t’ bother.
Eladio brought three of us down there for around $200 each way, and he hooked us up. He’ll also pick you up from the airport. One night in his guest house (with pool and AC), located about one hour from the park entrance and airport, will cost you $25 if you need a night to shower and relax before you leave, or just a break from the heat.
He also has tents and mattresses you can borrow, coolers for your food. After camping for four years, he has all the gear you’ll need. There is a BBQ pit with steel grill at the campsite; you can cook with pots and pans. There is running salt water to shower and do dishes, but you can’t drink it.
Things to remember if you decide to take the trip:
- You only need to bring one good wave board.
- Fly into Liberia airport (LIR) Costa Rica. Flights are around $800
- Call/email Eladio and get him to pick you up. He’s the most experienced, and definitely the best value. Visit Eladio’s website
- Bring light long pants because your pasty legs will get burnt from paddling on the first day. Trust me, those pants will save your skin.
- Do not walk along the beach after 11 a.m. or before 3 p.m. You will get burnt. Use the jungle trail.
- You never have enough sun cream – bring 60 SPF and lots of it.
- Bring toilet paper.
- Buy lots and lots of pasta and canned food. Rice and beans for 14 days were a bad idea.
- Raccoons will invade your campsite every night.
- Hang your trash high and out of reach of paws.
- Do not keep your food in your tent, unless you want to be spooning raccoons at night. Put your food in a cooler and tie it shut.