by Jenna van Schoor
I remember the first time I walked the road to Playa Penca.
Becca, the Program Coordinator, was giving me my orientation tour on my second day in Costa Rica, and was showing me the town. So far I’d only walked along the slightly less picturesque boating bay of Playa Potrero, and already been impressed that somehow I’d managed to find myself not only visiting, but preparing to live here.
It was only when I walked past the wooden sign, and turned right at the big tree that I felt like the adventure had began. Somehow being introduced to Playa Penca was the moment that I felt like I’d truly arrived. “This is Costa Rica”, I remember thinking. I hadn’t had any real expectations when it came to what anything would look like, but for some reason Penca just fit some kind of subconscious ideal. Maybe it was the relative secludedness, the quiet, or the fringe of greenery in an otherwise dry landscape, but from then on I knew I would be spending a lot of time there.
On long walks to Sugar Beach over the hill on the tarmac and back around Playa Prieta and Penca along the headland rocks at low tide. On weekdays when I made time to swim in the ocean at sunset. At bonfires. With people and alone. Although I eventually began to spend time at the other nearby beaches, Penca was always a constant, especially since I could hear its waves from my bedroom at night when it was really quiet. And despite being convinced that there was a quicker route from the Pink House to the beach through the untamed terrain behind it, I always took the road.
First a walk past the offices, often waving at someone as I passed by, sometimes volunteers working in the office alone, or sitting outside on chairs giving classes. After that a right turn at the Green House, often noticing the security guard from Casa del Sol sitting on the steps outside Cafe Arabica, talking with friends. Then past Bar Penca, sometimes to blaring music from the inside speakers or dodging garden hose spray from the owner watering the dusty road outside. After that it was up and over the incline, past the tree with the now yellow blossoms overhanging the path, and the house with the squawking parrot, avoiding dog brawls on the occassions that Santi was walking with us.
Once I/we reached the massive, often boarded up mansion on the edge of the beach the walk wasn’t much further to find a spot. Either under the tree in the unbearable daytime heat, or just to the edge of the sandbank worn higher by the tide. I don’t think I ever spent less than half an hour there, especially when I was there to watch the sun go down as a bright, glaring ball, or a glowing red dot behind the clouds, next to or over the Catalinas Islands in the distance.
Being covered in sand from Playa Penca has become such a common experience that I know I will think about it often when I leave, which is soon. I know I’ll miss the quiet, the surrounding hills and the feeling that I always had when I was there. The feeling that no matter what had happened that day, or the challenges I felt I was facing, when I was sitting/playing frisbee/doing nothing on Playa Penca I was always undoubtedly in Costa Rica, suspended in some kind of beautiful bubble thousands of kilometres away from home, which made even just being there feel like a spectacular achievement in itself.