LOCO FOR COCO

Beach­front Bliss in Playas del Coco

Howler Magazine - - Contents - By Karl Kahler

The head­lands that en­close the Playas del Coco coast­line like a mother's arms make the shape of a C — which could stand for crazy, chill, caliente, cool, col­or­ful, ca­cophonous, cu­ri­ous, clas­sic, cat­a­strophic. And Coco can be all of those things.

“I love liv­ing here and I ab­so­lutely couldn't imag­ine liv­ing any­where else,” said Michele Sim­mons, a 45-year-old event plan­ner from Bos­ton who has lived in Coco for five years. “You can't bond with peo­ple that come and go. Here they stay, and you get to know each other, and you get to care about each other, you build a fam­ily with each other.”

Coco is the north­ern­most set­tle­ment on Costa Rica's Pa­cific Coast that's big enough to call a city, and the main street is usu­ally teem­ing with both lo­cals and vis­i­tors me­an­der­ing past the sou­venir shops, the bars and the casino. Coco has a rep­u­ta­tion as a party town, a re­tire­ment des­ti­na­tion and a mecca for wa­ter sports, and if you ex­plore it more closely you'll find high-end hous­ing, up­scale res­tau­rants and mag­nif­i­cent views.

But Coco is more than the sum of its parts. There is a vi­brant ex­pat com­mu­nity here of for­eign­ers who have found their home away from home, many of whom have no plans to leave. And there is a deep-rooted Tico com­mu­nity here dat­ing back decades, peo­ple who would sur­vive here some­how even if there were no for­eign­ers. But of course there are plenty of for­eign­ers.

There's a group of what my girl­friend and I call los vet­er­a­nos, the vet­er­ans, who gather un­der the big rub­ber tree in front of Bambú Beach Front Bar every day, drink­ing and smok­ing and swap­ping tales. You can also see these old-timers sit­ting at Zi Lounge every day, come hell or — as we learned dur­ing Trop­i­cal Storm Nate — high wa­ter.

“This is a place to meet peo­ple, all kinds of peo­ple,” said Nuria Bar­rantes, a 54-year-old real es­tate agent who first moved to Coco in 1989. “We are a friendly peo­ple, it's some­thing in­trin­sic to us. We are wel­com­ers.”

‘You never get re­ally bored’

I moved here in June with my Tica girl­friend, and pretty soon we were friends with seem­ingly ev­ery­one in town. It be­came im­pos­si­ble to go out with­out run­ning into some­one we knew, and usu­ally sev­eral peo­ple. All the North Amer­i­cans have gone na­tive in one re­spect — with­out a thought we greet the op­po­site sex with a kiss on the cheek.

“You never get re­ally bored of the same old, same old,” said Freddy Bara­hona, 53, a lawyer and owner of the Solo Bueno choco­late and ci­gar shop. “There's al­ways peo­ple com­ing, peo­ple that come here with a dream.

“I al­ways tell my clients when they come here and they fall in love, I say,

‘Don't marry the first girl that you ask to dance.' En­joy this visit, come back again, then come back again, and af­ter your third trip you make a de­ci­sion if you in­vest or buy a home or some­thing.”

Coco has the feel of a one-street town, ac­ces­si­ble by a high­way that turns into Avenida Cen­tral, where most of the res­tau­rants, bars, gro­cery stores, sou­venir shops and other busi­nesses are clus­tered.

This road leads straight to the beach, where there is a curvy side­walk with grass

“It’s a small town that as­pires to be big, but it’s en­chant­ing.”

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