What the heck? There’s a rooster in the office? Wait, where am I? I slowly wake up from what has obviously been a dream, perhaps even a nightmare. Monday morning, November 15th, 2004, 5:45 am, Boca Sierpe, Costa Rica. Maybe it was the dream but I jump up with a feeling of peace and tranquility knowing I am at home in my little casita in the boca.
Yes, it was roosters crowing at the break of dawn which is a very pleasant way to be woken up. It’s a quarter to six and fairly light out. I hear the waves crashing in the boca (mouth of the river), birds of many varieties each singing their special morning song. Howler monkeys are nearby in the jungle making sounds like huge espresso machines. I stand in awe as I look out the front windows at the ocean with its deep blues and whiter than white whitecaps. There is a huge cumulus cloud out over the ocean with the sun catching the top bringing out pink and blue tones along with the huge white billowing puffs. Ahh, this is the life. It’s too hard to roast my own coffee here but Costa Rica has the best coffee in the world so it isn’t a problem. I boil water that comes through a hose about a half mile away from a fresh mountain stream. I have a ceramic filter I run it through before boiling, but the locals drink it straight. I step out on the porch dressed in only a pair of shorts and a tee shirt to sip my freshly brewed coffee.
I see my care taker German (pronounced Herman) pulling the canoe to the water’s edge with two red tanks of gas in it. He looks up to verify that I’m up and at it and will be heading up river soon. Two giant Scarlet Macaws swoop in to eat the sea almonds we intentionally plant to draw them in. The sun is shining and the brightness of the reds, blues and yellows of these gigantic parrots is glorious. Their song, however, is like the screech of a large black crow back in the Midwest. Still, we love seeing them and do what we can to make them feel welcome. It’s Monday and I’m as anxious for the commute as I am to be at work. A quick shower, shave and bowl of oatmeal with bananas from a tree out back and I’m ready to go to work. I’m in my work clothes; shorts, golf shirt and Tevas with boat key in hand. A kiss for my darling and the usual “don’t be late honey”, “no of course not” and I start down the windy cement sidewalk to the white sand beach below.
Herman welcomes me with a smile that shows the gold in his teeth and brightens the beach. He always seems happy to see me which is a very good thing. He shakes my hand (“WE SHAKE HANDS HERE” – a Crazy Mark favorite saying) and says Buenos Dias Don Jim. We ask each other how we are as we climb into the little fiberglass canoe. The canoe is still on the beach and he is telling me to get in so as not to get wet but I help him until I at least have my sandals wet. My backpack and notebook computer are in my waterproof bag just in case we should tip on the short canoe trip to the boat. We put the two gas cans and waterproof bag into the 18 foot fiberglass boat that is tethered in an eddy just off the beach. I thank Herman and we say goodbye.
I hook up the gas, trim the motor down, start the engine, pull up the anchor, untie the rope from the buoy and begin the 40 minute commute up the Sierpe River. My commute begins at the mouth of the Sierpe River where we have a little house on a hill overlooking the river and the ocean. I work in Sierpe, a quaint little Costa Rican river town about 15 miles up river. I work helping others find the paradise I have found and have come to love. It is a great job as I am able to help Costa Ricans transition from small farm owners to more comfortable living in their golden years. I also help others, similar to myself, find a peace we didn’t know existed. When I can find a buyer and seller, everyone is happy which is a rewarding feeling.
Back to my 40 minute commute. I power up and head up river at a fairly slow speed as there are still swells from the ocean in the river at this point which make for a rough ride at high speeds. A look to the right I see Crazy Mark readying his boat perhaps to go to Drake Bay. We exchange a healthy wave but are too far apart to exchange condolences. I have missed all the rocks which I managed to find with my old propeller and start to accelerate.
Ahead there is a small boat without a motor and two men seemingly adrift. One of the men is waving a white cloth of some type. As I approach I see it is Reynaldo my neighbor in the boat with his son. Reynaldo raises great bananas and trades them with me for rides to and from town. Today it is his son who needs a ride to work. We shake hands, ask each other how everything is and the son climbs into my boat.
The river has many sand bars, all of which call me by my first name from the meetings we have had. I have nudged all of them at one time or another. I avoid them this morning and round the first big corner of the river. Ahead the water is flat calm reflecting three ranges of beautiful lush green Costa Rican Mountains. Birds scurry into the mangroves where they think I can’t see them. Some people can name each species but I just know they are neat looking birds. We hug the south shore of the river to avoid contact with a large sandbar not far from shore.
We are coming up on a long covered dock that comes out of the mangroves to the river’s edge then has a staircase down to the flats. Jorge who has lived there for years is doing a little repair on his dock but takes time out to smile and exchange a hearty wave. Around the next corner Melvin is walking from his house and spots us cruising by. He also smiles as we each wave as if to say: “Hello my friend”.
We are still the first boat on the flat calm river surrounded by mangroves backed by rolling hills and mountains in the distance. You could not paint a more peaceful, tranquil, beautiful picture as the Sierpe River in the early morning. We sail past the Rio Sierpe Lodge where there doesn’t seem to be any action yet. The owner, another Mark, moved here from Iowa 20 some years ago has been running the Lodge ever since.
At the end of the straight stretch we duck into a small channel to take advantage of a short cut only usable at three quarters to high tide. I always pretend I’m super boat captain here and go just a little faster than I probably should. The channel narrows to a point where two boats can barely pass and of course if you only meet one boat the whole way, this is were you will meet them. The narrow channel wanders through the mangrove giving you the feeling of a tunnel. It is a spectacular scene of quiet solitude which brings out tourists cameras faster than Matt Dillon could have drawn his six shooter.
Back out into the main river which is wide but none the less magnificent. The first boat of the morning commute appears ahead coming our way. As it nears I can tell by the shape of the boat along with the green canopy, it is Chicho a long time boat captain and Sierpe resident. As we pass each other we wave and smile. He has no passengers in his boat so he is more than likely off to Drake Bay or somewhere to pick up passengers. When I first came to Sierpe nearly 20 years ago Chicho took me fishing in both the river and ocean. He is a cautious and expert boat captain who knows the river, boca and ocean from a lifetime of navigating them.
Soon the river has flattened out and is once again smooth as glass. As we round the next bend we see a thousand white egrets that have come from various locations to roost in the branches of the mangrove trees hanging out over the river. It must be time for them to go off in search of food as they all take to the air creating a scene which is breathtaking. They fly along in front of the boat for just a minute before peeling off in several directions. Reynaldo’s son signals this is where he would like to be let off so we pull over to the shore at an opening. As always, he offers to pay for the ride and as always I refuse any cash, we shake hands again and he disappears into the jungle.
As I throttle up I see a small hand hewn dugout canoe under a branch of a mangrove tree. The man is fishing with a hand line for red snapper a culinary favorite of the local population. When he casts a glance in my direction I give the customary wave which is returned with enthusiasm. There is an unwritten law of the river that if any boat has a problem you stop to see what help you can offer. Several years ago I was going fishing and the motor on the boat I had hired conked out halfway down the river. I had been looking forward to fishing and knew the motor repair would take many hours, cutting my fishing day in half. The first boat going up river stopped, helped the boat captain remove the incapacitated motor, throw it in their boat, tie our motorless boat in the shade and took off up river. Within 45 minutes our boat captain (Chicho by the way) was back with a different motor, installed it and we were on our way to a great day of fishing. The whole thing took only an hour because people helped people with out any hesitation.
Ahead I see the telltale sign of a crocodile. Two little bumps moving across the river leaving a little wake. As I approach there is an enormous splash as if someone had dropped a bowling ball out of an airplane, and the 6 foot crock has submerged. Just beyond where I see the crock there is a family of white faced monkeys moving from branch to branch jumping swinging and watching me to make certain I am not here to hurt them.
Boat ahead! I see a boat loaded with 7 people heading up river. The tiny 4 horsepower motor barely keeps the boat moving. With the weight of the 7 passengers, the water is about two inches from the gunnel which confirms that I do not want to make a large wake. I slow down to a speed just faster than theirs to avoid swamping them. Before I can wave, they all wave simultaneously as if to say: Thank you and good morning. I am now just ten minutes from Sierpe, they are probably forty-five.
WOW! Rush hour traffic, there is another boat ahead. This is a larger boat and it is stopped near the river bank. I see by the boat it is Carlos the nature tour guide with a group of tourists each with either binoculars or a cameras pointing in the same direction. Carlos has spotted a three toed sloth high in a tree and they are all glued to it with their “gear”. Carlos and I exchange waves and smiles while the tourists stay focused on the sloth. I know the tour and glance at the bat tree he no doubt just left. The bat tree is a tree which grows out over the river where bats sleep in a row to appear as a snake for protection.
As I approach Sierpe there are water hyacinth dotting the river with thick green foliage and bright purple flowers, floating like little clumps of table bouquets drifting freely in this fabulous river. As I arrive at Sierpe I see the finish line. The finish line is an airborn waterline which carries the water to Sierpe from the nearby mountains. A four inch pipe runs over the Sierpe River strung on cables. It leaks in one area and sometimes if I’m really hot, I’ll take that spot for a little cool down. With certain friends I will hit the water spray intentionally and then tell them it is a sewer line. I am in the no wake zone and have slowed to a crawl as I round the final corner exposing the quaint little river town of Sierpe.
By the time I reach the Oleaje Sereno dock Edwin is there with a radiant smile and “Buenos Dias Don Jim”. He asks how I am and I ask the same of him. Almost before he grabs onto the boat we have the traditional hand shake. I like that. I take my backpack and notebook computer out of the boat and walk towards the hotel Oleaje Sereno. Edwin takes care of the boat and moves it to a safe place where it will rest until I start my equally as great commute home in the afternoon. There is a table outside of the hotel restaurant with several boat captains sitting around it. They ALL say hello, smile and shake my hand. Inside the restaurant Alfonso says in nearly perfect English, “good morning Mr. Jim” and shakes my hand. Sarah is behind the counter but comes out to say good morning and give me the feminine version of the hand shake where you put your cheeks together and kiss the air. My business partner, and Edwin’s wife (Sonia) is there smiling and gives me a big hug, a kiss and asks me how I am. Sarah has already brought me a cup of coffee while Sonia gives me all the updates, leads for listings and potential seekers of a piece of this paradise.
I pick up my things and walk two blocks to the grocery store where we maintain a small office for our little real estate business. On the way from the hotel to the grocery I see, Rafa the boat builder and boat taxi service operator, Jose a boat captain that my wife thinks looks like a stereotype pirate, Elias a farmer and friend, Jorge another restaurant owner and Henry the son of Chicho. All of them shake my hand, smile and ask me how I am. Once at the little grocery store “El Fenix” I am greeted by Cholo, Carmen and Lisette who all either shake my hand or put their cheek to mine and ask how I am.
It has been an hour since I left my little house at the boca and every single person I saw along the way greeted or acknowledged me in a positive way. I’m smiling and thinking to myself: “this is too good to be true”. I switch a couple of cords, plug in my computer, turn it on and click on the RACSA icon to get the internet up and running. It is slow but I have come to realize that life here is slow and wonderful. Eventually my email comes up and I am able to read my first email.
My husband and I have been thinking for some time of buying a little property in Costa Rica to get away from the harsh winters of northern Michigan. We want a little house and maybe enough land to enjoy the wildlife. We are looking for peace and tranquility but don’t have a lot of money. Any information will be greatly appreciated.
Don and Kim Anderson.
I get excited at the possibility of helping these folks find the paradise I love so dearly and cannot wait to start what I want to be about three pages of response. I reflect on the commute up river, think about the upcoming commute back home and realize that I ALWAYS look forward to my commute.
Jim Cameron is a 30 year veteran in the specialty coffee industry. His coffee related travels brought him to Costa Rica many times where he fell in love with a country and it's people. Jim now spends half the year in Costa Rica and the other half in Wisconsin where he sells green coffee beans to the home roasting trade.