Personal Journey: Surfing and Christmas do mix

Posted: January 06, 2014

We sat on our surfboards and let the warm Pacific swell lift us and set us down in turns, waiting for the wave that would carry us to shore. Looking east, we squinted into the low morning light of a tropical sun and saw hot, white sand, steaming rain forest, and distant mountains all under a crystalline blue sky. For my wife, Amy, and me, it was the long-planned trip of a lifetime, repeatedly postponed because surfing the high season in Costa Rica meant being away from home and family during the holidays.

We felt guilty about going abroad and missing out on our yearly traditions, but at length we decided we had to follow our dream. So we left the ornaments in the box, traded snow for sand and holiday cheer for pura vida, and bought tickets for what was our first Christmas away from home.

We flew into Liberia, on Costa Rica's west coast, and weren't long on the ground before we pushed the last of the guilt out of our minds, picked up our boards, and headed to the beach. The surfing was the best we had ever known, with perfectly shaped waves breaking in regular sets, and quiet periods of still water in between. We surfed long days, coming out of the water only briefly to rest in the shade and refresh ourselves with fresh fish and fruit drinks served by beachside vendors.

After a few days of surfing, we left the sunny beaches and drove into the highlands, following twisting roads that took us past deep-green coffee plantations anchored in the steep hillsides. Once in the rain forest of Monte Verde, we walked and bounced over bridges suspended high in the canopy, saw toucans and hummingbirds, listened to the chatter of unseen monkeys, and stepped quickly and lightly around several unexpected snakes.

Our return trip took us back down to the coast just as the sun slid below the horizon. In the spreading darkness, colorful lights began to appear on houses and in all variety of trees, and suddenly we remembered it was Christmas Eve. Farther along and closer to our town, we began to see small, white, roadside churches with their doors open wide and their congregations spilling into the street, where families stood singing hymns and carols in Spanish.

Tired from the long day, we planned to turn in early, but across the street, an acoustic band in an open-air café began playing familiar Christmas melodies that flowed out into the street and up to our small room. The music stirred us and pulled us out into the night, and we soon found ourselves sitting with locals and tourists alike, celebrating the holiday together in a quiet corner of the world.

We had left home in search of a surfing adventure, thinking we were leaving Christmas behind, but instead we were charmed by its simple celebration in a beautiful land.


Keith Costigan writes from Lower Gwynedd.

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