Living The Sublime STX Life: Dominical, Costa Rica

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Our clients seem to fit a certain profile.

We are Travelers. Not Tourists. Having been in the travel/restaurant/hotel business, I have seen that there is a very distinct difference.

As Travelers, we don’t pop into a port on a cruise ship for a few hours or stay in a walled in all-inclusive resort. We like to hang out for a while and mix it up with the locals. Language and cultural barriers are not a problem. They are an opportunity to learn. We know that a smile and eye contact are our currency.

We are physically active. We enjoy experiencing the best and most challenging aspects of a travel destination. We are driven to try local cuisine (no matter how weird), and we jump at the chance to be included in a home invitation or just hanging out at the neighborhood bar imbibing in whatever the local specialty in the swill department might be.

Our clothing, and our clientele, are perfectly suited for swimming, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, kite boarding, sailing, water skiing, bicycling, yoga, kayaking, SUP, horseback riding, ATV’s, sport-fishing, casual wear for a night on the town–you get the picture.

When shopping, you’ll have the opportunity to “Meet the artist.” via a short video clip. Check them out. Interesting people in exciting places.

This is what takes life from the mundane to the extraordinary!

Trends in international travel are changing, drastically. I experienced this first-hand as proprietor of Bella Vista Lodge in Dominical, Costa Rica.

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Dominical, and the entire Costa Ballena is a magical place, located in the Southern Pacific Zone–just 40 minutes south of Manuel Antonio. For the most part, the world has not discovered Dominical yet. It’s a funky little surf town with about 1100 residents, Tico and Gringo.

The town boasts one of the most consistent, thick, large waves in the western hemisphere, and is a hot destination for “trustafarians” (those with the financial resources to travel for a few years) traveling the world to catch the very best waves in Bali, Sumatra, South America, Portugal, Australia, the States,and Africa.

Dominical is rustic and addictive. The town residents are a wonderful mix of Ticos and Continentals from all over the world. There are a huge variety of restaurants featuring local and international cuisine, and doing a damn fine job of it. Fresh seafood is abundant. You’ll rub elbows with famous musicians, authors, actors, models, cinematographers and photographers. You’ll also hang with surgeons, financiers, authors–you name it. You never know who is sitting next to you. It’s a great place to hide.

Town is right on the Pacific. This is one of the few places where the mountains meet the beach. The surrounding mountains are sparsely populated with beautiful homes with spectacular views, many of which are available as vacation rentals. A four wheel drive is necessary. Roads are a bit shaky, particularly during the rainy season.

Swimming on Playa Dominical is a bit iffy.  Wicked riptides.  If you’re going to swim, do it in front of the lifeguard shack.  There are 5 killer beaches within a 30 minute drive for a swim.

Neighboring towns, Matapalo, Uvita, and Ojochal are all unique in character. The area is the home to the annual Envision Fest, which is sort of a scaled down version of Burning Man. Places are over-run with Hippies, Gypsies, Beatniks, and Hipsters of all ages, many of whom are hygienically challenged, which drives the locals crazy. The musical talent is outrageous, fire dancers, jugglers, food booths, and pop-up bars surrounding the surprisingly sophisticated band stages. The air is redolent with the smell of weed, and hallucinogens are quite popular.

Fifteen years or so ago, there was one phone booth, and you would wait at the bar for an hour or two to use it. No cell, no internet. Now a 40 minute drive from Manuel Antonio/Quepos, back then it was a 2 1/2 hour drive on a rutted and potted dirt road. It was necessary to drive over rivers with rickety wooden bridges big enough for one vehicle. When bridges washed out, you would drive through the river rather than over it. Often when the rivers were running heavily, a tractor would hook up to your vehicle and pull you across faster than your vehicle could sink. The bank was a hardware store with a big safe and had the utmost trust of the entire town and surrounding area.

Now, internet and cell service are very good. The Costanera is the coastal highway and is in good shape and runs all the way to the border of Panama.

If you have an adventurous spirit, you’ll love it. To get there, fly into San Jose. The drive to Dominical is about 3 1/2 hours, but a beautiful one. Be sure to rent a 4 wheel drive. You’re going to need it. A less complicated way to get there is to take a small plane to Quepos and have your rental waiting there. It’s a 20 minute flight from San Jose and quite affordable. Then, a 40 minute drive, and you’re there.

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Some great stuff to do:

**Friday nights at the Roca Verde Hotel.
This place is great. Open air on the beach. The Howlers play, featuring Ben Jammin’ and Nancy Buchan. Ben is an extraordinary musician. Guitar as well as a variety of other instruments as well as a vocalist. He is jammin’, and has quite a history in the music business. Nancy is the Hendrix of the violin. She plays a custom 5 string electric violin and toured with Jimmy Buffet and Carlos Santana, each for 3 years. She has been featured on about 50 CD’s as well as movie soundtracks. In her spare time, she teaches classical music with a youth orchestra in San Isidro. They always have an extremely talented group of musicians playing drums, base, drums, and sometimes keyboards. Noteworthy visiting musicians sit in. When you leave Roca Verde, you’ll feel like you’ve been to a concert. Outstanding.

**Tortilla Flats Bar on Playa Dominical
TF was named a few times as one of the top 50 beach bars in the world by CNN. Jen is the owner,(and quite fetching I might add.) The bar and restaurant are open-air and right across from killer surf and the daily outdoor bazaar with clothing and locally made gifts. She has 18 rooms, cool, cheap, and popular with the surfers. She serves fresh fish, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s live entertainment frequently and you may be surprised at some of the people who show up to play. Be sure to try a passion fruit basil margarita. Killer.

**Dominical Sushi
Owned by Rocio and Jota, husband and wife. Roci is our beautiful beach model, and she is a brilliant sushi chef. The restaurant is in town on the Baru River. The food is nuts. Sushi with a local twist, with cool touches like ripe plantains, mango, and avocado. Fresh ingredients and wonderful people.

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**Hacienda Baru Wildlife Preserve
330 hectare mecca for wildlife. Guided hike up. All kinds of critters to see–toucans, sloths, the occasional kitty, and then zipline all the way back. Big fun.

**Nauyaka Waterfall
3 tier, 180 feet up, half a city block wide and great swimming hole. Horseback tours with Don Lulo. Don’t miss this!

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**Tree of Life Cabinas

Ben and Nate are your hosts. It sits on the mountainside in Escalaras and is close enough to town and yet far enough away.  Peaceful, and a pool with a spectacular view. Nate’s landscaping is amazing. Ben is pretty handy in the kitchen.  Great chef.  They have very nicely appointed cabinas, and if you’re not going to stay there, call ahead and go up for dinner.

I had the pleasure of living in Dominical for four years as proprietor of Bella Vista Lodge.
The Lodge had been closed for several years and was in pretty rough shape. The main building was an 80 year old mahogany finca house, largely open-air with rooms, an open kitchen, dining and bar overlooking the Pacific. I had a cabin and there were 2 more for guests. 1,400 feet up on the side of a mountain in Escaleras over looking Domicalito, with a 180 degree view spanning from Manuel Antonio to the Osa Peninsula. It was a gem waiting to happen.

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After working for 6 months restoring wood, fixing wiring, plumbing, chopping jungle, varnishing, and painting, we opened for biz. Even after all of that work, the place was very rustic. Shutters for windows, walls of wood planking (didn’t leave much to the imagination late at night), on-demand suicide shower heads (named for the exposed wiring directly above the head), horses running wild, visits from critters—fer de lance and bushmaster snakes, scorpions, howler monkeys, toucans, wild hogs, sloths, parrots, big kitties–you get the picture.

In the not too distant past, international travel for most people involved either an airline or a cruise ship, a hotel where they would be protected from the perils just outside the manicured grounds, or a 6 hour stop in a cruise port. In either case there was little or no immersion in another culture. Umbrellas in drinks, sunburns and polyester. Not for me, but, to each their own I guess.

When I fielded a reservation inquiry for the Lodge, I looked for key phrases. “Do you have bugs?” “Do you have air conditioning?” “Do you supply a hair dryer or should I bring one?” Ok, now these are valid questions, but we were sitting in the middle of the friggin’ jungle. I politely suggested that I help them find accommodations more suitable to their needs. I had to screen people pretty carefully. Bella Vista was a small place, and one pain in the butt could be a buzz kill for everybody else in the place. Travel is pretty pricey and time away from everyday life is a valuable thing. As a result, we had nothing but 5 star reviews.

Understanding and experiencing, really experiencing, another culture doesn’t happen in most cases. The majority of vacationers don’t leave their comfort zones. That’s ok. Previously, the real travel experience was pretty much limited to backpackers with a wild hair for adventure who didn’t have the cash to do the tourist thing, or the wealthy leisure class and trustafarians.

So now-we define tourists versus travelers.
Tourists are happy to get a break from the grind, or they’re getting on in years and don’t have the desire for too much excitement. They appreciate not having to worry about their daily needs. They like to be pampered. They’re willing to drop a lot of cake for a week or two to be in different surroundings and take a much-needed break. They’re into karaoke and shit.

Travelers, on the other hand like to shake things up a bit. They would be no more likely to sit in a hotel or cruise ship lounge watching a cheesy third-rate production of show tunes, than to crawl through broken glass. They look for the real thing when traveling. Go horseback riding to a waterfall with no safety helmets and eat lunch in the guide’s house where nobody speaks English. Do 2 surf lessons, and try out an overhead pristine break. Hike with pumas and jaguars screaming in the distance.

With the advent of sophisticated and immediate communications via internet, travel is possible more often for slightly off-center people. They can now keep their fingers on the pulse of their personal lives and businesses. I found at the Lodge that this group was more entrepreneurial and creative as a rule than the average Joe or Joette. Surgeons, musicians, writers, models, film makers, pro athletes, designers, you name it. There were some nights where we had 7 nationalities around the dinner table. We could have solved a lot of problems of the world right there. It frequently became a diplomatic love fest after dinner. Turn off the deck lights, feet up on the railing, splifs, red wine, and tunes cranked up. The night sky was amazing without the ambient light of a city.

Our clothing line relates to all of this. It’s part of a lifestyle.

In Dominical, our stuff is perfect for hiking, horseback riding, surfing, swimming, hang gliding, SUP, zip-lining, diving, waterfall rappelling, and snorkeling. I actually did a bit of bar-hopping and dancing wearing our long sleeved shirts. Worked out quite well for me by the way, and I’m older than dirt and look like about 6 miles of bad road.

There is just something about our clothing that encourages conversation. The artwork is soothing and fascinating. I am literally stopped by complete strangers at least 4 times a day in airports when I’m wearing our stuff, (and not just security and cops). People want to know about it.

You’re wearing quick drying, moisture wicking fabric with a UPF 50 sun protection rating. You have a huge choice of original artworks we have licensed to choose from. The artists receive a royalty from each garment sold. Pretty cool. Support the arts and look damn good doing it!

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Till next time,

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