Every morning I leave the house on foot at 6:30 AM to explore Bahía. There’s dozens of long dirt roads leading to nowhere, beach access points, and unmarked trails through the jungle. It’s kind of a thrill.
Thrill aside, running is how I find balance. Not only does a 3-mile run balance out the fact that I sit at a computer all day, but it reconnects me with an animal energy that I often under-utilize in my roles as father, husband, and computer nerd. Running also deepens my connection with this new community where I live, balancing my intense home life as husband and father of 3 young children.
This morning, I left the house, followed the Bahia’s Calle Principal up to Calle Curinga, took a right, and enjoyed a few kilometers of empty fields, rustic cabinas, and a low-key local soda where I’m sure you can get a deliciously bland casado for $5 USD. The only traffic I saw was a 2 guys who zipped past me on a motorcycle, one operating the bike and the other behind him clutching surfboards under either arm.
The road turned to gravel, crossed over a little creek via a crumbling bridge, and continued straight for roughly a quarter-mile until arriving at Playa Chaman. This beach lacks public parking and is considered a “secret” among the local surfers. The entrance is typically gated, but this morning I spotted a little door that was left ajar. I slipped through, unnoticed. As a lone runner, I afford myself 1-2 potential trespasses per week, reaffirming a balance between following rules and breaking them.
On the beach, I could immediately see the unkempt curly hair of a few serious-looking leather-backed surfers who were stretching and chatting quietly. I ran along the beach for a few minutes. The sand was still wet from high-tide. It made running difficult. I veered back to follow the jungle trail running parallel to the beach. A dense canopy of palm and almond trees dimmed the morning light, making it difficult to spot rocks and roots along the trail. To my right, jungle. To my left, ocean, albeit through a thin line of trees. There was no sign of life, except for the occasional primitive-looking clearing with hut and a smoldering fire and one female surfer who sat cross-legged in quiet repose next to an elephant-sized metal buoy partly buried in sand.
As a jogged, I was reminded of the era before Costa Rica had paved roads and motor vehicles. During this time, the beach at low tide was the most reliable route between 2 places. After all, a huge swathe of hard sand is perfect for riding a horse, pulling a cart of produce, or simply walking for long distances without impediment with a duffel bag over your shoulder. Many directions consisted of: (1) descend x mountain road, (2) walk along beach until y landmark, and (3) ascend z mountain road.
Uvita has one of the highest concentrations of sloths in Costa Rica. More specifically, this precise environment – undisturbed ocean-front jungle just after sunrise – is a perfect time and place to spot one. Sloth-spotting on a jungle run in Costa Rica is no easy task. Because you can’t stop to scan each almond tree without losing your elevated heart-rate, you have to instead modify your gait. I will call it the “sloth step”. This modification consists of (a) slightly lower pace, (b) slightly elevated knees, (c) willingness to occasionally delay steps to negotiate trail irregularities, and (d) quick tree identification, as it’s only worth focusing on almond trees which have the highest probability of containing a sloth. Sloth stepping is applicable in any situation that demands a careful balance between efficiency and open exploration. Please reuse without attribution as you please.
Eventually, I crossed back onto the beach found a trail of bootprints going in the same direction in the freshly-exposed sand. There was no return track. I concluded there must be some kind of exit. Eventually, I reached the end of the island and the bootprints disappeared when they met a stream. The only possible route was to leap over 3 feet of stream onto an old tree which had fallen from the opposite side. Specifically, I had to land on a small dry top of a sturdy-looking branch, which was partially sub-merged but appeared to be firmly connected to the main stump and capable of transferring my weight to the tree trunk without snapping. It was risky, but did I have a better option? Besides, the guy in the boots did it!
I’m 34 years old and don’t appreciate second-guessing, so I took a brief look left, a look right, squared up to my target, and launched over the water. The leap and landing were perfect, except for that the sturdy-looking tree was actually loose and submerged as I landed, soaking my feet and ankles instantly. “Perfect leap”, I told myself, “Soaked feet was just an act of God”.
After I scrambled to the shore and began to jog, I passed a Tico guy trudging along barefoot and a pair of soaked boots. I asked, “Was that you that left the trail on the shore over there?”. He laughed and said yes. In goofy Spanish, I cobbled together the phrase, “I was running there, and I saw the line of boots following one way only, not going back. I thought: there must be a bridge of some kind!” He laughed and said something about the high tide.
On the way home, I detoured to meet the kids and nanny at the park where they pass many early-morning hours before school. As I talked with Rio (4), I felt like a different person. Energized, present, balanced. While there’s no specific word in English or Spanish for “the moment of rediscovering balance”, I offer this blog post and wish you lots of them in 2023.