Each morning at 5:30 a.m. Pedro, the bus driver from Playa Negra, starts his engine after checking the oil. Then he begins his long journey navigating the “huecas” (Way-KOS),or the ruts, in the unpaved road between Playa Negra and Santa Cruz. He makes the pass though Playa Negra again at 1 p.m. and departs from Santa Cruz st 6 p.m. to arrive in Playa Negra after dark between 7:30 and 8 p.m.
There are approximately 31 km or 25 miles between the two cities in Guanacaste, Province, in northern Costa Rica. It is a largely rural area with beautiful white sandy beaches at Playa Negra, Avellenas and Hacienda Pinella with waves which are popular with yogis and surfers internationally. The affiliation between yogis and surfers may not be evident at first glance, but a wipe out on the waves can cause spinal issues that yoga helps adjust where Guanacaste is a destination for both surfers and yoga practitioners.
The drive to Santa Cruz from the renown beaches for surf and yoga at Avellenas and Playa Negra takes one through rivers and jungles to grassy valleys. There, the beautiful Guanacaste trees grow in the fields and Hibiscus line the lanes where cattle, horses and goats graze. Horses often and wander unbridled like a scene from the Swedish Pippi Longstocking.. It is not uncommon for the bus to stop to allow a pig, horse or chicken to cross the road or beach there is a pig known as “Lola” who is namesake for the famous beach bar in Playa Avellenas and daily strolls the beach..
“Paranando” is one of the first words you will learn traveling the bus from Santa Cruz to Playa Negra. It means “stop” and there are many strings pulled on the trip between the cities -Playa Negra, Avellenas, Pinella, 27 de Avril, and Santa Cruz. The bus costs c1250 or $2.50 each way and is the most economical form of transportation as many Costa Ricans do not own vehicles. Motorcycles abound along with daily bread and vegetable deliveries and farmers markets Saturday’s in Tamarindo.
People get on and off along the route between the towns and villages and the bus is wheelchair-equipped with a lift located in the middle.
On a recent trip to Santa Cruz from Playa Negra, I met an English teacher offering lessons to Marriott employees in Hacienda Pinella, and a landscape worker who boarded the bus and sat down beside me with his machete sheathed in newspaper and his backpack. He got no argument from the driver, or anyone else on the bus, including me!.
My search for lye for making goat milk soap st Peace Retreat (www.peaceretreat.ca) led me on a bus trip from Playa Negra to Rancho Avellenas and Tamarindo to make a deposit for the “leche de cabras”. A local restauranteur suggested I check the pharmacy in Tamarindo for lye.
The two senioritas at the Farmacia, in Tanarindo referred me to a veterinarian who magically appeared as I boarded the bus from Tamarindo to Playa Negra. I learned she was from Santa Cruz and sold the lye. Karina Is a 26 year old woman and Graduate of Escuela de Saint Francis of Assisi in San Jose. She promised the “pastilles” I needed to make soap or “jabon” if I stayed over in Santa Cruz. A brief tour with her upon arrival in Santa Cruz led me a few blocks from the terminal to her office and the hotel Calle Acala.
A Stay in Santa Cruz at the Calle Acala
If one is in Santa Cruz for an evening, Calle Acala is close to the bus terminal although it is more expensive at $57 a night than its competition down the street.
A nights stay is worth it just to walk through the corridors as the doors are carved works of art that illustrate Costa Rican history. The beds and baths are comfortable and the rate includes breakfast beside the pool with a bar in it.
The hotel is down the street and over a block from the bus terminal and College of Law. There are shops that line the street next to the bus terminal and across the street from the bus terminal is the post office, the Correro, and Super Compro grocery store.
Mail in Costa Rica
Mail in Costa Rica from Guanacaste is slow and may take 22 days to arrive in the United States while $32 gets you an envelope certified with tracking to the US.
In Tamarindo, there is UPS next to ReNax Real Estate if you need to ship packages, it is an alternative to the Correro, or Postal Service. Mr. Tom’s in Tamarindo functions as the local Fed Ex Office with copies and printing near Arenas Surf Shop in a strip mall between the Bank of San Jose and Nordica Café. There is another Post office in Villarreal between Tamarindo and Pinilla, but no Post office in Tamarindo which is a a more popular destination for tourists. In Tamarindo you will find shops filled with Quicksilver, Hurley and surf boards and shops that cater to tourists. The Driha Hotel and Casino keeps those well-heeled in Tamarindo occupied in style. Yogi’s will find Mermaids and Sailors a yoga studio for Guanacaste practitioners opposite Surf Central on the second floor of an office building down the hill from the taxi station and ATMs. Marbella’s hotel near Aqua offers reasonable overnight rates $40-$50.
The role of the bus driver in Guanacaste is important because the cost of rental vehicles usually requires a $1000 deposit for a week rental which is justified by the “huecas”that challenge drivers and car axles. The bus driver’s role requires patience as he daily navigates ruts in the road and even must forge rivers often at a centipede’s pace. The ride could be one at an amusement park attraction with the drama, terrain and characters who occupy the seats on the bus. Climbing hills that are unpaved in the “Green Season” with heavy rains and high humidity requires slow and steady pressure on the accelerator and the downshift of gears on the curvy grades and descents through the Costa Rican countryside to the jungles that lead to the beaches in Pinella, Avellenas and Playa Negra.
The ride on the Centipede is memorable, but requires flexibility, patience and balance if you are standing – qualities surfers and yogis possess. The rewards of a ride on the Centipede include the scenic views during the day though towns with green soccer fields, roadside restaurants and the people you meet along the way. The best of these is Dennis the Driver from Playa Negra who can help you save a bundle and make your connections!
Spend a day riding the bus and you will find yourself in great company!
For those arriving in Santa Cruz from San Jose by the El Faro bus lines, the terminal in Santa Cruz is convenient and clean and connects to Playa Negra with early morning departures and a 11 am and 6 pm departure daily. Tickets sell out, so it is important to buy a ticket an hour before departure and get in line as it queues up a half hour before departure. The Tralapa terminal for buses arriving from San Jose stops at a terminal across town as you first enter Santa Cruz, so you will need a taxi to the other side of the small town to pick up Route 571 local to Playa Negra from Santa Cruz. It is an hour and a half ride of pleasure.
Perhaps the best reason to ride the Centipede or Ruta 571 is that it saves $30 each way which is the cost of a taxi from Tamarindo and Santa Cruz to Playa Negra. In the high season a Surf Shuttle runs from Tamarindo to Playa Negra for $6 from the center of Tamarindo near Arenas Surf Shop where taxis and ATM services are available.
For more information check online for bus schedules.