84. Dominical, Costa Rica - Surf Lessons and Tsunami Scares

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August 17, 2007

Just as we were closing up our van for the night, the owner of the El Coco campsite knocked on the window and told us something in Spanish that we didn´t at first understand, but that we assumed was serious given his tone and body language.

After much gesticulating, we finally took what he was saying to be: "There has been an earthquake and a tsunami is coming and you need to move immediately to higher ground."

Given that the El Coco was just across the street from Dominical’s main beach, and given that the campsite had already been flooding each afternoon because of the heavy rains, we didn't have to be told twice to leave.

By the time we had packed the van up and pulled out of the campsite two minutes later (one of our team member thought for sure this was the end of us), Domincal was already deserted, except for a few lingering cops.

Not having any clue of where higher ground was, and up until now avoiding driving at night in Central America at any cost, we made our way to the highway, which was on higher ground than the campsite, but only slightly so.

Facing a ticking clock (we thought), we decided the best course of action was to drive up the only road on our map that headed inland, and see where it took us.

After about 20 minutes of slow driving on a windy, dark road – with only high-beam light smashed out long ago by a rock - we came to a corner store, the parking lot of which was already full of fellow gringo evacuees in busses and cars, all equally clueless as to the current situation.

The companionship of others calmed our nerves and, an hour later, the general consensus (based on radio reports in Spanish) amongst the parking lot chatter was that the tsunami alert had been lifted.

We followed the processional of vehicles back to town, but opted to spend a sleepless night in the Plaza Pacifico strip mall parking lot next to the highway, rather than return to our beach-front home.

We learned the next day that there had been a huge earthquake in Peru, measuring 7.9 of the Richter scale, which had led to the entire Pacific coast of Costa Rica, as well as the rest of Central America, South America, Mexico and Hawaii being put under a full tsunami alert for a few hours.

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Although development is occurring in Dominical, like everywhere else on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, for the moment it’s remains not much more than a dusty street that leads from the highway to the beach, and it still has a sleepy, easy feel.

More than anything, Dominical is a popular place to surf and because of the "gnarly" waves, we signed up for our fourth surf lesson of the road trip. In my mind it was the best, as Nick, a lanky guy of about 25 from Santa Cruz, California who has been on a board since he was three, took a thoughtful, almost philosophical approach, in his instructions and we both got up on our boards a number of times.

Although good for surfing, Dominical’s beach is littered with drift wood and weeds pushed that get pushed up by the tide, and is not overly attractive. It is, reportedly, not that safe to swim off either because of the strong rip-currents.

But these beach problems can all be easily solved by driving about 30 kilometers south of Dominical to Playa Ventana, which is located in a secluded bay and, to our minds, is one of the jewels in all of Central America

Key Facts & Figures:

-El Coco campsite: $4/night
-Surf Lesson: $35/person