I’m standing around outside of Oleaje Sereno restaurant waiting for the river taxi to Rincon Beach, a remote area that backs up to Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Osa Peninsula.
“Everybody knows it as Sierpe,” writes Samuel in WhatsApp, referring to the river taxi pick-up point. “It’s like two blocks long. (Laughing-smiling face.)” Samuel is the proprietor of the Jungalows at Playa Rincon and he’s sent me a photo of my river taxi captain, Gama, whom I now see walking towards the dock. A gaggle of backpackers and a handful of Ticos (native Costa Ricans) are lining up to get on board.
My luggage is sitting at the café from when my morning taxi driver dropped me off. It is an embarrassingly huge blue suitcase I borrowed from my husband without asking. My backpacking days are long over and I didn’t even try to pack light for this trip.
I seem to be the only one milling around the café, uncertain as to whether I’m supposed to follow Gama or wait for someone to come get me. One of the waiters asks me if I’m getting on the boat so I gather up my stuff and pretend to start hauling the big blue maleta.
Thankfully, he stops me and calls to one of the boat guys to come get my luggage.
“Something-something el gigante,” is all I could pick up, followed by something to do with “she’s got her hands full with bean and cheese nachos.”
The boat guy comes and picks up my gigante maleta and “con mucho gusto” readily takes it down the ramp, never looks back, and there’s not even a suggestion of wanting to be tipped for being helpful.
Standing on the dock with the other passengers, I’m peering over shoulders and backpacks to see if this is going to be anything like the “chicken boat” going down the Mekong River from the border of Thailand to Laos, a two-day trip on hard wooden slats, all of us facing towards each other with our luggage piled in the middle.
Thankfully, I see that we each get an actual seat and there are two big-ass, rumbling Suzuki engines on the back that would have made my father-in-law proud.
Gama instructs passengers to be seated in certain sections of the boat, according to where they’ll be getting dropped off, and in what order.
As the last few people pile on, the boat sinks a little with the weight but within minutes we are drifting away from the dock, the engines humming and the motors emitting a low rumble beneath the water.
The boat accelerates, and I am free.
Nobody knows where I am.
Nobody knows me.
Here I am “Carolina,” the Spanish name I was given by my sixth-grade Spanish teacher.
Here, I speak Spanish as much I do English.
My brain works differently because of it.
There are no reminders of home.
I am the expression of myself that I like the most.
I am in a foreign land far from any cities, towns even.
My experience is my own.
Nobody to care and worry about me.
To be concerned about boat safety or where on earth we’re going or what will happen there.
On either side of the vast Rio Sierpe (meaning “serpent”), the spidery legs of mangroves tiptoe into the river. Their thick, visible roots alternate with clusters of palms and other native trees—nature, singing green everywhere. Untouched by humans. Possibly ever.
A reverence comes over me as the boat engines drown out all human noise.
Now I am having an adventure.
Playa Rincon and Corcovado: Getting there is half the fun
Almost four weeks in Costa Rica and it’s been anything but relaxing, really, as I’m not on “vacation” per se, but rather looking into building a tiny house business with my husband and some pretty cool people we’ve been introduced to.
Aside from that, I’ve been working full-time, remotely, and taking a few days here and there. My vacation officially began yesterday but it didn’t feel vacation-like until Game hit the engines.
Almost an hour into the ride, the Sierpe River catapults us right out into the Pacific Ocean—well technically it’s Drake Bay but the mouth is so wide it may as well be the ocean—and suddenly we’re riding swells big enough that my butt comes off the seat and lands again with a thud as ocean spray splashes up on both sides of the boat.
There is nervous laughter (maybe it’s just mine) but soon everyone becomes livelier and more talkative as we exchange “oofs” and “whoas.” I was expecting some sloths dangling from trees along the way; nobody warned me to lay off the bean and cheese nachos in Sierpe. This ride rivals any amusement park sensation.
Sunset at Playa Rincon, Costa Rica
Four middle-aged Hispanic men are swilling Imperial out of cans in coolers they’ve brought. One of them is celebrating a birthday.
“Como se llama esta playa?” I ask the birthday boy, when we drop off some young Tico dudes on a deserted beach with a jungle structure up the way.
“I have no idea,” he laughs. “This is all new to me.”
It’s the third stop and I am still on the boat with the hombres.
Now I inquire, “A donde van ustedes?”
“I don’t even know,” he laughs again, and then questions the group’s leader. “Where we going anyway?”
“Who knows?!” and we all laugh again. “Wherever we stop.”
On my right, the waves are lapping us against the shore as a few people disembark. Soon there is a guy there next to me in the water, pushing against the boat to get the bow to point straight out. In boozy breaths, he tells me more than once that he’s lived there for more than 51 years, followed by something about “soy argencito.”
Or is it argencino? Or argentino? Argentinian?
I have no idea what he’s talking about but he grunts and laughs after everything he says, including something about an avion and Hawaii and I think I might have heard, “how about we take off together?”
A random wave splashes against the boat and like a bucket of water lands right on top of my head, soaking me and everything I’m holding on to. (These are the kinds of adventures I miss in all my domesticity.) I laugh out loud and el borracho, still there trying to steady the boat, laughs at me laughing.
It's all fucking perfect. Pura vida perfect.
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"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” - Mary Ritter Beard