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Cemetery Island

“...the fear of solitude is at root a fear of oneself...” 

Sometimes, I like to drive in oblivion with nothing on my mind but the road while listening to my favorite tunes. It feels like escaping from everything. Will I ever go back? Do I want to go back? I could make a whole new life anywhere where the road leads me. Stopping whenever and wherever you like, no strings attached. This is how you get to know the places you will never think of planning, but even better, you get to know yourself. That’s how I ended up in Cabuya.

Getting to Isla Cabuya is quite a ride. After taking a ferry, you drive through small touristy beach towns. If you live in Costa Rica, you will know these villages and towns are famous for their beaches, tourist traps, and party paradises. I wondered if Cabuya would be similar, but as the road became difficult to access, I knew I was on the right track to finding a gem of a land. As I got further away, the road was rocky with sandy paved reefs that allowed cars to drive by. Small bridges with huge rocks that have fallen from the side hills made the road difficult to drive, but with patience and positivity, any car can go through (I was driving in the rainy season). The driver's side view was amazing! The road takes you through a rainforest jungle right by the shoreline. The sea is always by your side. 

I like being alone. It's relaxing, and you can get your head clear. I read that solitude can forge our character, away from the demands of others, maintaining our independence. I think this is very important and healthy. It's somehow a way to stay sane, avoiding losing our identity to what others might "cultivate in you."

For any outsider of Costa Rica and even for costaricans, getting to Cabuya is a Green Paradise, not virgin, but enough to be overwhelmed by its beauty. Because I was there in the rainy season, the restaurants, "sodas," bars, and hotels were closed. The welcoming small town is simple. It has a few coffee shops, one bakery, a bar, and a few beachfront hotels, all looking old and neglected.

The town has 2 or 3 main roads, each leading in and out of town. Other dirt roads take you to the Cabo Blanco National Park and one that leads you to where all the fishermen gather to set sail. ​

“It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

I arrived in Cabuya early. The first thing I did was find a room or somewhere to get settled. As it was low season, most of the few hotels around were closed, but lucky me, there was an Irish guy with a nice small place that lodges several cabins. The place was pretty decent, with a nice clean swimming pool; the cabins each had its kitchen, bathroom, hammock, parking lot, and a small meeting point that appeared to be a bar. The great thing about this place was that its beachfront had a view towards the Mysterious Cemetery Island. Strange enough, inside the hotel stood a small Irish cross that marked a burial - though I didn’t ask about it, as it might come too personal to the Irish owner.

Cabuya is not much of a typical beach that you would expect. It is rocky, and the sand is rough with shells that give it a harsh texture to your bare feet. It is almost entirely like that throughout its shoreline, but there are some nice "tide pools" where people usually seem to hang out. 

I’m not a beach person at all, but I was intrigued by the secrets and history of the Island. As soon as I settled in the cabin, I asked for directions, and they told me to walk along the shore towards the Island. The tide was already high, but the distance didn’t seem much. 

The sun was hiding between what almost looked like rainy clouds, so it wasn’t that hot, but still, the high humidity made it hard. There was absolutely nothing on the shore, no houses, no hotels, restaurants, or any other amenity, just me and the sound of the crashing waves as they haunted me with the rising tide.

To my surprise, I heard a rattling noise near some trees, two giant vultures lurking on a fallen tree, probably a mother and its chick. After I took some pictures, I just stared at them and tried to understand what they were doing. I kept walking, and what I saw was just weird. At first, I couldn’t identify what it was, or maybe my brain didn’t manage to relate it to something that should be on the shore. It was a cow's (or a bull's) half-chopped or eaten leg - I felt as if I was in the middle of no man's land where animals were kings. 

Further on the way, the tide was closing every chance to go back. But then, the animal kingdom drove my attention to a family of monkeys swinging just beside me. The experience got magical as they stared back at me as an unknown visitor. It felt as if I was their first human sight. I tried to play friendly, but sadly, I scared them away. 

Take a closer look.

The whole shore was a closed path with an impenetrable jungle. I forgot to eat something before I left. I was getting hungry, but luckily I had enough water.

I realized that I was getting into National Park territory, and the beach was disappearing just in front of a mass of greenery landscape covering everything on its way right into the sea as far as the eye could see.

I soon managed to find a way where some fishermen were getting ready to set sail, and from there, there was a road that connected back to town. But I stayed there and watched the sunset while the fishermen were getting ready under a colorful sky background that the sun provided as it went down to dawn. ​

Cabuya is a small fishing town on the Nicoya Peninsula. Its island is just off the coast, and what makes it so unusual is that you can walk to it on low tide. What gives its mystery is that the Island is a cemetery that dates back to pre-Columbian times. According to the owner of the Cabins where I was staying, it was a sacred place for spirits, guarded and managed by a shaman. Later on, settlers kept the tradition of using it as a cemetery.

While staring at the dawn and making a time-lapse, a curious fisherman asked me what I was doing. We started talking about the Island, and Dark humored me.

He told me,

“If you stay long enough and the town likes you, we might make room for you at the cemetery.” 

The haunted rumors of ghosts on the Island were roaming around, and the colorful sunset captured its magic in the air. The picture above shows a frame of the time-lapse I took. From a cloudy dark sunset, the sky cracked open suddenly and shot a beam of light right to the Island, while a whirlwind of purple hazy clouds rotated over the cemetery. I couldn’t wait to walk over and explore the Island.

Later that day, I went out to the beach at midnight to try and capture a starry night. The moon was almost full, and the clouds seemed to cover the sky like a blanket. I stood there for a while, and from time to time, looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I would feel like seeing those hallucinations that give shape to the void. I guess that was all part of the games the brain plays on you when you are in the dark. Maybe it was just the excitement of being near a place that holds numerous stories throughout its history. ​

Midnight beach sky.

Because the tide was high until midday, I woke up late. The day was sunny, with almost no clouds in the sky. I dived into the hotel’s pool to cool down the heat. I geared up my cameras and poured water inside my camelback from the kitchen’s tap water. This time I drove my car to the spot where I last saw the fishermen and started walking towards the Island through the reef cleared by the low tide. ​

I didn’t wait long enough for the tide to go down. Parts of the crossing were still underwater but shallow enough to go through. Walking from one land to another was exciting, but the arrival was even more thrilling. When you see the Cemetery’s entrance arch, it feels like discovering ancient ruins, and you perceive that you are now part of that mystical piece of land that centuries ago belonged to spirits and legends. ​

Getting closer to the entrance, two vultures flew and stood on the arch and the palm tree behind it.

The spiny agave plants that enclose the whole place and the dead silence inside create an atmosphere of enigma, letting your body know that something is out challenging you; you are in awe.

Once you’re inside and get acquainted with what you’re dealing with, you get used to being in a cemetery. What makes it more exhilarating is that you’re not inside a standard cemetery. You are in a burial ground surrounded by reefs and water. ​

The day was nice in that it made such a contrast that it looked like a pleasant place to spend the afterlife. I quickly understood why it was a sacred place and why it has been kept that way until today. The entire island is preserved clean and well-maintained, which is a sign of respect that honors those earthlings who have departed to a better place.

Huge palm trees protect the skies above, dancing and waving goodbye. The reef shields the land from the menacing waves that bulge with the tides to preserve intact the remains of long-gone memories. The agave and bromelia enclosure inoculates the bad spirits and any other unwanted entities that might threaten any disturbance. 

After experiencing the enchantment of the Island I walked its perimeter to find a small little beach with white soft sand, then continued back to the main entrance where one of the vultures looked as if he was waiting for me until he lifted off and so did I, I went back to the mainland. 

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