Day 14: A Party and a Protest
Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge's owners were attending a rally in Pavones, the next and final stop of my trip, to protest the opening of a destructive tuna farm. We traveled together by boat to Golfito, and from there transferred to a smaller vessel for the hour-long journey to Pavones. The boat landing here was less than ideal. Enormous waves threatened our bags, cameras, and computer equipment. After waiting out three giant swells, the captain pulled the back of the boat up to the beach and our group of four, all with heavy suitcases, disembarked in less than 20 seconds. He hesitated for a moment longer than necessary, and a huge wave crashed directly on the deck -- nearly capsizing the boat.
Jamie and Aaron, owners of Castillo de Pavones, met us on the beach and escorted us to their hotel. Castillo offers dramatic views of the Golfo Dulce, with common black hawks and sea birds hunting just over the point. A short tour revealed a three-tiered restaurant, including a 360 degree view of the ocean on the highest level.
Next, Aaron gave us a tour of Pavones, known for some of the best surfing in Costa Rica. One main road circling the soccer field provides access to the major restaurants, two supermarkets, and a handful of shops. Waves are formed by a constant point break, peeling off of solid rocks instead of malleable sandbars. Aaron remarked, "It's like a wave machine. It never stops."
With a break at least 1/2 of a mile long (some claim that it begins farther up the coast), it is arguably the longest in the world. As a result, the ocean is densely populated with surfers, arranged in an arc according to skill level. The most talented of the bunch begin in the south at the start of the break, and the beginners on the opposite end.
Today, there was a hoard of people protesting the tuna farm with music, dancing, drinks, and typical food. Fish farms consist of floating cages in the open ocean. Newborn fish are kept in these coops until they have been fattened up to their appropriate commercial size, at which point they are exported to countries like Japan. Waste produced by such a large quantity of tuna, the domination of small-scale local fisherman, and other environmental hazards (including red tides and excessive amounts of nutrients in the water) associated with the project have the potential to cause social and ecological meltdowns in the Golfo Dulce. The protest's goal was to enact a referendum preventing this and all future fish farms.
Fittingly for Costa Rica, the rally looked more like a celebration than a protest. A boys' soccer game, food stand, and display run by descendants of the indigenous Guayami tribe were the main attractions in front of the plaza. Walking musical groups got the crowd riled up with their hand-held drums, maracas, and exceptional singing voices. A beautiful woman with a flowing set of black and gold butterfly wings danced provocatively up and down the street, and no spectator could take their eyes off of her. The group's enthusiasm was so great that bystanders couldn't help but dance along. The second band was also impressive, and had professional sound equipment that filled the entire center with rhythm and sound.
After a long afternoon filled with cultural activities, Vincent and I returned to the hotel for dinner. Restaurant Castillo de Pavones is only open to the public three days per week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Luckily, we arrived on a Saturday and were able to sample the phenomenal Brazilian-style cuisine. Chimichurri (Costa Rican version of pico de gallo), salad, pasta, and other sides were served buffet style along the bar, while Aaron came around to each table asking how we would like our meat cooked over the open flame grill. He treated us to a sample platter of grilled fish, chicken and steak. Marinated in a teriyaki sauce with garlic and Hawaiian sea salts, the filet mignon nearly knocked me off my chair -- and I am confident that it could have converted even the most hardcore vegetarian.
Even more sinful than the decadent food were Aaron's homemade mango margaritas. Freshly squeezed mango juice and 100% agave tequila was served to everyone in the restaurant in chilled, heavy glasses. For dessert, a rich chocolate cake with homemade frosting and maraschino cherries was placed on the bar, tempting everyone within eyesight. At this point in the meal I just had to throw my hands up in defeat. I couldn't keep up, and waddled down to my room like an overstuffed penguin ready for a hot shower and a long sleep.