TAMARINDO, Costa Rica -- The town has somehow managed to maintain its flair for laissez-faire. While it may seem that anything goes in this town, that's not really the truth.
What the place does have going for it is fine food, unbelievable sunsets and quality surfing.
A trip to Costa Rica that does not include surfing would be like going to Paris and not ordering up a Merlot - not gazing at the Seine from one of those low-slung bridges.
Manuel Mignemi is a surf instructor with more than 6,000 lessons gone by (firstname.lastname@example.org), and he arrives most weekday mornings in the dry season in a flurry of sound and dust on his motocross motorcycle to the Tamarindo Surf School.
For him it's another day in the water. He teaches a mixture of Australian and American styles, he will tell you, and then it's off to the beach and sand where he makes his students do a couple of practice leaps.
Surfing, like great golf, is not impossible - it's merely unlikely. That is clear from the get-go.
Good athletes will talk about how it took them months to learn to surf. But it's possible to learn in a matter of hours. That's what Manuel is there to do. He will tell you too that he is not a great surfer, only a good instructor.
He was once a motocross racer but a broken bone here, here, here and here led him to take up another activity: surfing. He has a motion sciences degree, is an Argentinean and this flee-responsibility-while-you' re-still-young air is all about him.
His surfing advice will border on Zen: don't think about the board, he will say. Don't think at all.
You are a philosopher, he might suggest after one particularly weak attempt to find balance on the board instead of sand on the bottom.
Bite the wave, arrrgh. Or it will bite you, he might say as he leans forward into the chest-deep surf where he is standing full of energy and passion.
The school this year is offering a week of surf lessons for a family. For now the rate is a moving target; contact the school for more information. If you don't ride a wave in one lesson, the next lesson is free. When a wave is caught, the feeling is all-too-fleeting - like absolutely crushing a drive 340 yards and not having the foggiest idea how to do it the second time.
Manuel does his time in the water until the student is ready for shore. Satisfaction is guaranteed, he says. Manual is nothing if not dedicated.
TAMARINDO, Costa Rica -- The food is the allure for some who come to this village on the frontier of funk. Others want to mountain bike, surf or to just simply escape.
Few villages anywhere on the planet can boast of having this kind of concentration of fine dining and assortment of decent diner-quality food.
Chef de Cuisine David Scott at Stellah Fine Dining last cooked at the Ritz Palm Beach.
Expect appetizers to range from $4 on up, entrees start at $9 and end at around $15. Waiters will mob tables with service and smiles. Mahi mahi, wood-oven roasted chicken, swordfish and tuna are almost always on the menu.
Down the rutted road back toward the heart of the village at Pachanga, chef owner Eddie Vargas cooked at the Four Seasons Toronto and ran the five kitchens at Melia Playa Conchal before co-owning the nearby Lazy Wave.
He finally opened his own place, which only has about seven tables and says he likes to serve 25 meals a night.
Or maybe 30 meals. No more than that, though. It's enough, he says. Main dishes here are $10-$15.
Expect entres like pepper-crusted tenderloin, jumbo shrimp in a Cuban mojo sauce, seared rare tuna or blackened Mahi mahi in an orange glaze. He'll dutifully table hop but will quickly excuse himself because, after all, he has still has some meals to cook.
The Lazy Wave across the street is less formal and less expensive but still incredibly satisfying. The menu is written on the blackboard and it changes daily. Scraps go to feed the pigs that in turn grow to become appetizers and slices of roast.
Besides the food, Tamarindo has a casino, plenty of beachside bars and cantinas that serve tasty grilled chicken, retro-hippie trinket makers who come down to the square each night and quality fishing only a few miles out.
The Cuban cigars cost six bucks and are everywhere.
Eventually, you will want to golf, but only if there is time to get back for the sunset, time for some fresh fish as thick as a size 8 flip-flop served in a flourish with a couple of tiny flowers and a few sprigs of chives on top.
September 9, 2002
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