Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Live like a tico

“Come. Come,” he commands in Spanish. Eat. Eat.

I stare at the hunk of white, muscly flesh embedded with bits of sand. It rests on a blood-slicked knife held by a gritty hand. Lacking enough Spanish words to refuse the man’s 2nd proposition, I reluctantly reach for the shellfish.

Three hours earlier, I had landed in Costa Rica. Shaking off the travel day, I set out to explore the area.

The beach at Playas del Coco is dark almost-muddy brown, and the water is not translucent. Parked out of the tide’s grasp are kayaks and stand-up paddleboards used to reach fishing boats anchored 30 yards offshore.

The tourist trade of Coco Bay has not yet stamped out the local scene. Neighborhood hotels and restaurants line the bay. Young teens practice at the skateboarding ramp as sightseers stroll by on a groomed pathway. Collarless, ratty-furred dogs bump from person to person hoping for a handout.

Late in the day, the nearby bar has sucked up the bulk of the tourists using American 80’s pop music as bait. Most of the remaining beach occupants are locals (ticos) tucked in the meager shade pulling food from plastic bags and coolers as they assemble dinner.

Men stand chest-deep in the murky water to handline fish with homemade circular reels. The tone of the chatter between the fishermen and their smiles as they swap positions to recast indicates good-natured ribbing.

Onshore, a stocky bare-chested barrel of a man whacks something against a rock. A pile of empty shells—black, bumpy exterior with a pearly slick white interior—lay beside him. Intermixed with the shells are blood and a bone.

Shells, blood, and a bone? Curious, I creep closer. He smiles and motions me forward.

I attempt a conversation using my broken Spanish and charades. What is this? What are you doing?

He mimes eating and offers me a hunk of meat. My brain screams an all-out warning. I don’t know this man. This isn’t a sanitary environment. All travel warnings say avoid uncooked food. Getting sick on day one of my travels is not on the agenda. “No. Gracias.” I shake my head and wave him off.

Frustrated, he frowns. His hand gesture tells me to wait.

A sprint to the water, he returns with a fresh shell that he slams against the rock. Using the knife to pry open the shell, he cuts the meat loose and splits it into 2 pieces. One-half he takes to mimic eating. The other half he offers to me on the bloody knife. “Come. Come.”

There is no way out. I pop the meat into my mouth, wondering if it’s possible to swallow it whole without choking. But a salty, sweet flavor encourages me to bite into the tender morsel. Surprised, I find myself savoring it, wanting more.

Watching my face, he devours his chunk. Nodding his head, he mumbles, “Mmmm. ¿Sí?”

Grinning, I wonder if “yum” requires translation. “Muy bueno. ¡Gracias!” I exclaim, fluttering my hand over my heart. He nods, satisfied, and bows slightly as I walk away.

The tone of my travels has been set—embrace the unknown. It’s time to throw standard travel advice to the wind and enjoy living like a tico.