Growing up in a flat, dull place has instilled in me a sick fascination with all things ocean and mountains—and with it my two greatest foes—sharks and bears. Now, the actual chance of encountering one of nature’s greatest predators is pretty slim, and chances are, they’ll be as freaked out by you as you are by them. However, this has not stopped my fear of ultimately being torn apart by one of them.
So, when snorkeling, I think I see my first shark.
We’re out in the Pacific around these little islands and rock formations. Our guide, Douglas, has told us that we can go all around this little island. I never feel fully comfortable in the ocean, but this day, after an hour of so of this, I’m feeling kinda cocky, so I decide to take off from the group and swim all the way around this thing.
I get about 100 feet away from everyone else and am swimming along, looking at stuff and then I see it…about 10 feet in front of me and about 10 feet below me…a long, gray body, with the fins, swimming away from me and disappearing into the murk. My first thought is, “Hey, that looks like a shark.”
Then my brain actually realizes that is may be a shark.
“Oh, fuck, that’s a shark!” Then I turn around and haul ass out of there back to the boat, because nothing says, “be cool” to a shark like frantic flailing.
I get on. “Hey, Douglas, you ever see any sharks around here?”
He looks at me. “No, no sharks.”
“Not even un pequena sharks?”
He starts laughing. Until I gesture with my hands what I mean by “un pequena.” About three feet long.
“Yeah?” he says. “Um, that’s possible. They don’t usually swim around here.”
“Where are they?” I say.
“Oh, they’re way over there,” he says, gesturing to a rock not 100 yards from where we are. Now, I don’t know what “way over there” means in Douglas land, but in my world, it’s not a 100-yard dash that a shark could make short work of in a few seconds.
So, I’m 83 percent sure I saw a shark. Another fear directly confronted.
Next up on ocean confronting is surfing. Again, I’ve never surfed, but I am fascinated by it as it looks super fun. So I sign up for surfing lessons.
So, Alvaro, or “Pai,” for short is my surfing instructor. We’ve got a few other chicks on board, as well as surfing instructors, but we have time to kill waiting for everyone on the beach. I chatted with Pai for a bit—he’s 23 and has been surfing since 14 or 15, he took it up after skateboarding. We’re talking about different sports, and I tell him about yoga, so he wants to learn some moves, and I teach him some basic yoga stuff on the beach, which is funny to watch a 23-year-old kid who is basically tan and all muscle fall out of basic poses.
Here’s how you surf in a nutshell. You’re lying on the board, you see the wave you want to catch, and you “paddle, paddle, paddle,” then you stand up, left foot, right foot, stay low and just go. I’m pretty terrified that I’m never going to be able to stand up, but on the first go, I’m up.
Here are Ticos teaching Gringos how to surf, and then the un pequena waves we learned on:
I quickly learn, that it’s standing up again that’s the problem. We’re on an easy beach for surfing, but battling that ocean is tough work—and I understand why surfers have such awesome bodies. You have this awkward board and you’re fighting waves just to get back out there far enough to get a decent ride in. At one point, after wiping out after several tries, I’m like, “All right, Ocean Motherfucker, it’s you and me.”
And then I start standing up a lot. You don’t get much time to do it—once, I’m pretty certain my bikini bottom was half up, um, my crack and that included the front side, giving old Pai a great view of the goods—and toward the end of it, I’m learning how to turn and maneuver that thing and cut into waves. I look up and think, “It’s fucking Friday night and I’m surfing! I’m not sitting in some shitty bar, drinking, do the same old shit. I’m surfing! How awesome is that?”
The last day, I just sit on the beach, killing time before I have to leave. Here is the beach:
For some reason, the rest of the trip, the only dudes who hit on me were early 20-somethings or 50-somethings. The 50-somethings are relentless—I guess they think they have nothing to lose. Whether they are full of shit or not, they all think I’m 28, no matter their age. Fuck it, I’ll take it.
I run into Bai a couple times on the beach—he and his 20-something friends have the run of the town. They’re young, surf instructors who take out turistas all week and have nothing to do during low tide but sit on the beach. He’s telling me about how he took out a girl this morning for a lesson and she couldn’t stand up—even though it was her third lesson—and then she was trash-talking him to another instructor.
“Do you have another job?” I ask him.
“No, why do I need another job?” he says. “I teach surf, once, maybe two lessons a day. Then I surf. I don’t need another job.”
I think this sounds pretty terrific.
“I notice there aren’t a lot of ticas here,” I say.
“No, no ticas,” he says.
“So, just you boys and hooking up with the random turistas coming through?”
“Ever get sick of that?”
“Nah, they stay one, two days, a week, a month. Then they go.”
“So, no girlfriends?”
I think this is not a bad life for a 23-year-old surf instructor. These kids are living the High Life. Then he asks if I’m staying that night.
“Nah, I gotta go make my flight.”
“Ah, stay, have cervezas.”
“I can’t,” I say. “But we could have cervezas right now.”
He looks at me like I’m crazy. “On Sunday?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Americanos drink on Sunday afternoon all the time.”
So, Bai wanders off for 45 minutes or so, and I go back to reading, thinking that is that.
Then he comes back with a beer.
“Seriously?” I’m like. “You did not have to go get me a beer.”
“That’s Ok,” he says. There is something very nice about a boy who maybe makes $20 a day buying you a beer who has already gotten a full-on view of your poontang. Also, he thinks I’m 26.
Bai keeps asking me to stay, and I’m thinking this kid is a little bored with this town. I ask him if he’s been to the States, California for surfing. “No, just Nicaragua, only time I’ve been out of the country.
“Why, in America and Europe, women have such problems with men?” he asks me out of nowhere. “Girls say, ‘My boyfriend is so mean to me, he says my tits aren’t big enough, or my ass is too big.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re beautiful the way you are. You’re boyfriend is crazy.’ I hear this all the time from white women.”
I sit and think about this question for a while. And think about my theories—i.e. some backlash from women’s lib, men secretly hating us for reaching their status in career/money goals? How some men are grown-man babies who need to date someone slightly dumber/beneath them to idolize them and tell them constantly how great they are to feed their egos (see John Edwards affair with that crazy bitch, etc.). How we’re socialized to think we need to fit one perfect mold, and if we don’t we’re ugly?
Anyway, it was nice to have someone notice how fucked-up Western culture is when it comes to this shit. And I’m not saying there’s not a lot fucked-up about a country that has all its young girls head out for the city once they reach fucking age, because they can make more as a hooker in a night at the Del Rey in San Jose than a year in a coastal town. I’m not saying chicks in the U.S. and Europe can’t be as mean as guys.
But I’m saying, in a town I spent a week in, where almost everyone I saw was pretty beautiful in their own comfortable way, the strict standards we impose upon ourselves are pretty ridiculous. And as I’m feeling ridiculously healthy and strong right now, I’m pretty lucky that I could go do the stuff that I just spent a week doing, among such easygoing, beautiful folks.
And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be anyway?
P.S. My new camera is awesome. Here are two of my favorite shots: