The birds are chirping away, proud of their melodies. In my slumberous state I imagine animated Disney birds pulling the covers back, straightening out my flip-flops near the bed, wrapping a sarong around my waist and helping me out of bed. Above our casita, the monkey family is messing around in the trees moving from limb to limb in a breakfast parade for plantains. It’s nature’s wake up call. No need for an alarm here in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Time to get up.
I glance over at my friend. I let her have the queen bed. I’m on a twin, forced to sleep like a mental patient in a straight jacket. Her bed looks as if she’s had sex all night with ten guys. In her dreams, she likely did. She’s no early bird, so no worms for her. I slip out of bed, step on a dead cockroach and move to open the blinds in the kitchenette.
Bottled water goes into a pot and I light the gas stove. The coffee maker in our casita is clogged and doesn’t drip. This won’t do at all, so I boil water and pour it through the filter straight into my cup. The coffee is thick. With a mug of blackness, I leave the casita and head straight for the beach.
First, I cross the dirt road toward the Yellow Parrot nightclub, the place that thumps and grinds late into the night. When we arrived, there was a live Salsa band playing. Uncharacteristically, my travel companion and I were too tired from traveling to dance, so we lay in bed falling asleep to the latin rhythms we love so much. The loud music annoys some guests, and due to it’s snug proximity to la Lora Amarilla this is also why the property is gated. At check-in, we were advised not to wander over…unsavory characters hang out there, muy malo. Lots of drugs and bloody scuffles. It’s just enough to pique our interest…we’ll check it out for sure.
It’s still rainy season and last night it poured, so the only road through town is a soupy strip with pot holes the size of Smart cars; filled with sludge. After the nightclub, I turn left on a path to the beach. The signs read “Strong Riptides” in Spanish. Peligroso! Danger!
The hurricane has passed but it blew a lot of driftwood onto the beach and a smattering of plastic garbage with other flotsam and jetsam. Otherwise, the beach is pristine. No buildings, boardwalks, stately homes and whatever else destroys paradise. I head straight to the water to rinse off. The water is warm at 6:00 am and snowflakes are falling back home.
The daily ritual here starts with watching surfers. It’s my new reality. I’m learning to surf, so it gets me in the mood. I walk over to a big log and sit gazing at the horizon. The handsome men are stretching and doing light yoga poses before prancing into the surf. There are a few women among them in dental floss bottoms and surf tops. Others are sitting patiently on their boards out in the lineup. Some are catching waves and riding in. The surf is good because of the storm. Everyone is young, ripped and half naked.
That’s when the Lion shows up. A native son, chocolate brown and cocky in his stride. He’s built like a brick shithouse, born to rip the huge barrel waves and party all night long. His hair is braided into cornrows, dyed blond at the tips. A real Lion.
He says good morning and asks right away if I want to learn to surf. I say no thank you, I already have a surf teacher. He asks me if I want to buy some marijuana. I say no, I don’t smoke anymore. He tells me he gives great massages. I nod and say I’m sure he does. He tells me all sorts of things, some nice and some very naughty. It’s at this point that most women would have taken off like a gazelle being chased by a cheetah, but I know his roar is bigger than his bite, so I stay put. I’m intrigued. These are the moments you can’t plan and I revel in meeting authenticity. Makes for better stories and frankly, that’s what turns me on. He senses I don’t frighten easily, giving him the confidence he needs to move in closer and before I know it, he’s behind me rubbing my shoulders. “Very tense, you are. All you white girls from the north are so tense.” I laugh at his Yoda-ism. But he’s right.
The Lion continues to find and release old knotted lumps in my shoulders and back. He kneads them out and moves onto my arms. Man, he’s good. And with every miasma of old pain and injury, he releases, I feel lighter. He’s talking all the while, telling me to come back to his jungle cave for a full body treatment with the coconut oil he made himself. He tells me local scuttlebutt about the beach life in Santa Teresa, which ladies he’s had the pleasure of undressing, about the dickhead Argentine dudes who walk by, about his family, his father who was a local healer, about life here before the Argentine and American surfers showed up and took over ‘his beach.’ His accent is rich but his English is good.
“Who are you?” I ask. “I’m your man,” he laughs throwing his lion’s mane back. He points over his shoulder where the foliage along the beach is groomed. “I live right over there; surfed here all my life.”
Before surfers discovered this place in the 90s, there were just a few local ‘Tican’ families who fished and raised some cattle. “When I wake up in the morning the first thing I see are my waves. This is my home. Then these greedy fuckers showed up and stole it from us.” I know the story, it’s an age-old one. “The Americans are alright, it’s the Argentinians I hate—even their women I won’t touch.”
When movie star Mel Gibson and supermodel Gisele Bündchen built homes here, that drew some attention. But thankfully, there’s still no traffic light and town is just a 3-mile dirt strip of surfer-owned businesses. The buildings are low and nestled into the jungle foliage. The whole scene is on the DL. It’s not for everyone. It’s a unique place—super rural, yet exclusive in its own way with a sophisticated food culture and bohemian beach lifestyle. Thanks to a giant subterranean crystal, yogis and students from all over the world are drawn here. Everyone is friendly. Even the dogs smile. Why not? They’re free to run on the beach too, chasing canine dreams and waiting for their studmuffin owners to return from surfing.
Now he’s massaging my feet. Cracking my toes, my ankle is in his vice grip. He’s digging into my calves which are steel from cycling all summer. I’m starting to sweat and wincing in a pleasurable sort of pain. I don’t recall how we then got from the beach log to his man-cave on his family’s oceanfront homestead, but we did. That part’s a blur. We are now sitting on a bench. He’s rolling a large joint. I look around and notice the cave is built from old surfboards, driftwood, and tarps. He’s now massaging my quads. He wants to go higher, but I tell him no. We smoke. He rubs coconut oil on my lips and forehead. He massages more into my hands and then shoulders. I’m totally relaxed. He dips into a fine powder that he says will open my breathing passage and relax the muscles in my upper body. Before I can say no, he’s rubbed it on my temples and third eye. I smell menthol, but he says it’s a jungle plant root I don’t know. I think it’s probably high-altitude Peruvian cocaine.
In my altered state, I’m thinking to myself I just had the most badass spa treatment ever from a jungle Wildling with no education or “qualifications.” He doesn’t want anything for it, he just wants to see me again and go 4-wheeling, of all things. I leave $40 and stand up to leave; I have a surf lesson soon. He walks me back to my place, hugs and kisses me on the cheek.
I return to the gated entrance feeling fantastic, the same feeling you have after… My surf coach is there waiting for my lesson and sees the Lion. I tell him that we hung out and he’s horrified. I’m told the Lion is the local bad boy, the one the cops are always looking for on a Saturday night when he’s out selling pot and cocaine to the Western surfers at the Yellow Parrot. “He’s a bad man,” says the surf coach. “He yelled at me to get off his beach when I was giving surf lessons there.”
I nod. I don’t care what the Colombian surf coach says. I know what I experienced, what I felt, and that I was in good hands.
The Lion is misunderstood and feared. What they don’t know is the Lion is a natural healer. He is a fierce soul that can’t be tamed. He’s pura vida, simply pure. Sometimes nature is scary and fiery. But fire purifies. He is the essence of this place.