Photos by Jake Kin
Mixto. Mexclado. Mezcal…shit. How many have I had?
This is como—yo feel me—entiendes? Boarding a flight back out of a tiny strip in the midst of the jungle in Tambor, Costa Rica has me speaking in Spanish, thinking in English and dreaming somewhere between the two.
Almost eleven years ago to the day, I arrived in Costa Rica, a skinny little shit just on sixteen, wondering what kind of psycho I was to leave my family behind and go to school here. Back then, I had opted for a high school exchange student program so I could spend my last year in high school abroad, isolated from anything gringo. Now though, I’ve returned a lot less skinny and hopefully a little less shitty to stay at House of Somos, a mixed kind of hotel located on the popular surf break in Santa Teresa.
What brought me to Costa Rica the first time was escapism. I abandoned the mainstream traditions to chase something entirely different. I used to think it was this type of deviation from the norm that kept me closer to knowing who I was, but I realize now this same feeling exists for everyone. It determines what we’re chasing, why, and to what degree. But we’re all chasing something. My time at House of Somos was testimony to that.
A literal hop, skip and jump (and by jump, I mean charter plane with free beer) from San Jose, you fly along the Guanacaste Peninsula and land in Santa Teresa, a bustling hub of international ex-pats and tourists that call this place home. It’s also a mecca for barreling waves. Or at least it is right now. For a week straight, a massive swell is pitching non-stop waves along all sides of the coast, sending only the best surfers out and the rest to merely attempt to paddle out and pray to be intact when they return.
From the plane to the taxi, I’m offered a bag of edibles from some dude from Pennsylvania. Peeling onto a newly paved road, we weave past meandering tourists, women bouncing on quads, and motorcycles that occasionally swerve in front of us, tires squealing in impatience. We arrive at what I can instantly recognize as the House of Somos. Lined with new and vintage motorcycles outside, a hefty board rack, and a bustling restaurant situated in front of an emerald pool, I know I’ve definitely found the place I will happily spend the next week at.
What followed next were the type of days that blend together the way they do on all holidays. But it doesn’t matter, because having no plans and not knowing what the days will bring you is the cat’s pyjamas. What brings you to Costa Rica is one thing, but what you’re chasing? Well, that’s another.
Do: Rent a motorcycle, quad, golf cart, or car.
Just do it. You won’t regret it, and you’ll actually need it to get around if you want to see more than the surf in front and the shops next door. If you opt for the motorcycle, you’ll need a driver’s license, unless you’re lucky enough to book with a guy that doesn’t care. I recommend the quads though; they’re sturdy, easy to use and you can mob up some of the peninsula’s mountains without fear of lifting the front wheel and falling backward.
Don’t: Get wasted and drive into a ditch.
While you might feel like you’re in a lawless land, your body won’t know the difference if you’ve flown five feet into the air and landed on concrete, dirt or that infamous green vegetation that gives Costa Rica its chlorophyllic hue. Don’t be one of those tourists.
Do: Get out immediately and visit the surrounding areas.
Drive around Santa Teresa. Visit the bakeries, the shops, grab a crystal, do some yoga, and most definitely visit a ‘soda.’ Sodas are little Tican shops that sell little bolsitos, snacks, chips, baked goods, and, of course, the liquid gold Costa Rica is known for: coffee. Some sodas are better than others. I’ll leave it to you.
I recommend hitting up both sides of the Peninsula heading as far north as Manzanillo for secluded beaches and stunning tide pools, and as far south as Mar Azul where you can visit a fish market and score a nice left when the tide is high.
In my opinion, though, the best gems were on the other side of the peninsula. Beautiful waterfalls (of various heights and intensities) can be found at Montezuma. If you’re lazy like me, there’s a road by Sun Trails Tours where you can pay 1,000 colones to skip the hike and head straight to the falls. Other secluded beaches dot the coastline in between large residential sweeps that have kept the jungle intact.
Don’t: Only eat at the same tourist spots every day.
While Santa Teresa itself has recently exploded in amazing eats—El Corazon for vegetarian options, Koji for melt-in-your-mouth sushi, El Facon for Argentinian bites, and, of course, House of Somos for incredible dosas and Vietnamese fusion—you’ll want to explore something a bit local, too. Los Caracoles has a michelada that will have you salivating after a nice salty surf, and some of the freshest ceviche you’ll ever feast upon. My favorite though is to pick a spot, any hole in the wall will do, and ask for the cook’s favorite, pero de verdad. It might be terrible or the next best thing, as long as Yelp didn’t tell you to go there, you’re good.
Do: Get ready to surf every day, probably twice a day, maybe even thrice.
There are so many gems in Santa Teresa and the surrounding areas, including Mal Pais, Playa del Carmen, Hermosa, and Caybua located on the other side of the peninsula. I won’t tell you exactly where because the best part of travelling to destinations like Costa Rica is exploring for yourself.
Perhaps one of the best and most unique things about House of Somos is their shaping bay. They have the best boards in the area and a resident shaper every few months that puts their own spin on shaping based on the waves to create the most unique surf experience you’ll ever have. This osmosis between shaper and location is a type of creative interplay that I’ve only seen Somos do. You’ll have the most fun taking out a rental from their quiver; a different board for a different wave on a different day. Regardless, it’ll be fun and you’re bound to check your bank account to see if you have time to a) get yourself a custom board while you’re there, and b) extend your stay so you can surf it in time.
If you’re lucky, their resident glasser, Korna—an Argentinian with over 15 years experience—will be there. He listens to European house music, wears hideous crocs coated in resin and subsists on a diet of Imperial, Costa Rica’s staple beer. Other regulars are Mr. Minchinton himself, depending on the time of year. Just read the signs: if you go up to look at the shapers, you must bring beer.
Do (or Don’t): Santa Teresa has a nightlife.
Part of it is very much alive and well at House of Somos. Their architectural design has lent itself to a communal relationship between locals, solo travellers and groups looking for a new way to interact on their journeys. Somos has a range of rooms including dorms, private rooms and private rooms with communal areas. They also have a full restaurant and bar. Like, full bar. So you can really dial that notch up however loud you want to go. You may find yourself on the way to a party in the hills of Santa Teresa or a vibey beach rave where the DJ has a set up on a motorcycle with flashing lights that sync up with distant lightning flashes as you dance in the sand. True story.
Don’t: Be a ‘Tuluminade.’
Definition: the type of person who was called to Costa Rica by the universe. The universe also told them to quit their job and live off some unknown income source and have spiritual guides take them on ayahuasca trips for the strict purpose of posting about it on the ‘gram. Peace and love, baby. Don’t be this person. Or do. ‘Different strokes for different folks’ really does apply in Costa Rica.
Here’s my take-away from this trip: we’re all chasing something, and what that is isn’t the same for everyone. It’s waves. It’s women. It’s love or lust. It’s a spiritual journey for some and a debaucherous escape for others. It’s a connection with the locals. It’s exposure to something new. It’s the last frontier, of sorts.
You’ll notice something about the air here. It’s this stagnant humidity that sits on your skin, giving you the itch to catch another wave or rip through the jungle on a motorcycle. Life here is both fast and slow, and it’s in places like House of Somos that you find this mixto, this push and pull between those chasing a nomadic lifestyle that embraces an empty schedule and the local experience that is learning to work within the boundaries of a tourism economy.
House of Somos is a representation of this culture and is paving the way it will look moving forward. Neither a hotel nor hostel, it’s simply a place to stay. Somos refers to us, as a unit and as a people. It’s this combination of everyone both foreign and local that has come together to create a new type of lifestyle that falls somewhere in between. It’s chasing something. But what that something is is up to you, the guest.
Except for Dan. Be better, Dan.