At the end of the day, or really anytime, when you get to the “T” in the road, you have two choices. Three if you count continuing straight and driving into the Pacific Ocean.
Turn right and you enter the bustling town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Small hotels, shops and restaurants line the bumpy main street paved, curiously, only in stretches of about a hundred feet here and there. Along this popular dusty thoroughfare walk or ride – primarily on motor bikes or four-wheeled ATV’s – an assortment of locals and foreigners (mostly surfers). The whole town has a surf vibe due to the quality of the consistent break that lies behind the trees off to your left as you drive into town.
If, however, you go the other direction at the “T” you’ll find only an isolated building here and there amidst the jungle that encroaches on the road. From the trees, howler monkeys gaze down and call out in voices too big for their diminutive size. At the end of this road lies the tiny harbor of Mal Pais (“bad country” in Spanish, a misnomer it seems to most modern-day tourists). Here, you can greet the fishing boats each afternoon as they bring in the day’s catch. If you feel like cooking your own fish, you can negotiate your way to a lovely rockfish or tuna.
Or, you could do what we did and have a fresh seafood meal prepared for you in a setting as astounding as the food.
Caracoles restaurant in Mal Pais has no dining room per se. Sure, there’s a covered area with tables and chairs next to the building that houses the kitchen and bar. But my wife, Kris, and I chose instead one of several tables out beneath the palm trees right on the edge of the beach. At first, it seemed more picnic than fine dining until we tasted the food.
Walk 30 feet from our table and this is the view.
As we neared the end of the day, it was still quite warm so we ordered something light and cool. For me that meant ceviche and a salad, both perfect. Kris, went for the shrimp in mango sauce. We both oohed and aahed our way through every bite.
And then the floorshow began.
We looked out over a strand of white sand between us and a stretch of rocky tide pools backed by the incoming waves. That scene alone, framed by palm trees, would be worthy of a travel brochure cover. But then, out of nowhere, a lone horse meandered down the beach like the opening act.
The view from our table as the horse casually wandered down the beach.
The real show began as the sun and the horizon met and the sky exploded. Blues and oranges bled and morphed. Pinks and yellows seemed to change by the second in a kaleidoscopic display of cloud and color; raw yet orderly, vast yet intimate.
We experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, a fitting end of the day.
But it made me realize something.
That same sun rises and falls each and every day. But sunsets usually pass me by unnoticed or at least, unexamined in their routine familiarity or even over-familiarity (after all, what inspirational poster doesn’t have a sunset on it?). But here, on this trip, all the factors aligned to get me to not only notice, but pursue the beauty as it unfolded. As the sky faded finally into a soothing deep purple and then into the color of night, Kris and I did not let the moment go unheeded. We watched. More than that, we were a part of it, consumed by each transition of light and color.
We understood then what the ancient Celts referred to as “the time between times,” the bookends of each day filled with extra possibility, awe and magic. We realized that the end of that day is what made that day. But more than that, we remembered what only beauty or affliction seem to force us to recall; that the possibility of wonder comes around every single day.
We will likely not see such a beautiful sunset any time soon. But at least now I will make more of an effort to look, even if there’s no horse or beach nearby.
For more on sunsets, check out these two entries: Why sunsets move us and How to take better sunset photos