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Colorado to the Caribbean

Our creative director and contributing writer headed to a small Afro-Caribbean town in Costa Rica to discover their surf, food, fashion and art scene.

Article by Livia Hooson @laraliviahooson

Photography by Alexandré Hooson @alliehoo

Originally published in Cherry Creek Lifestyle

Most people think of Santa Teresa or Guanacaste when they think of Costa Rica. But a day-trip south from the capital city of San Jose takes you across the verdant mountains to the Southern Caribbean Coast to a place far different than the guide books portray. 

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Limón Province is a melting pot of people from around the world, including Jamaica, Central and North America, and Europe all living amongst the dense jungle and white and black sand beaches. Between the unpredictable weather, iconic surf breaks, fresh ron don soup, soca music, howling monkeys, and the friendly and multilingual locals, this place is the truest form of “Pura Vida.” Alexandré and Livia Hooson from Boulder Lifestyle and Cherry Creek Lifestyle Magazine spent a month documenting their travels and conversations with the locals regarding identity, culture, fashion and food that stamps this Caribbean locale in both color and character. 

Walk with us as we share our favorite captures from Puerto Viejo...

Take it Easy
IG: @TakeItEasyCaribbean

Chris Whitehorn Malcon is best known in town for his mouth-watering and belly-filling Caribbean food served beachside in Playa Cocles. Strolling up to his stand reveals an open parilla flanked with seasoned jerk chicken while international travelers gorge on full plates of fish and veggies served on banana leaves. Reggae music blares in the background while Macon cooks with ease and focus while serving his guests all poised under swaying palms. A visit to Puerto is simply incomplete without a stopover to Take it Easy.

In addition to his memorable and savory dishes, Malcon shares his identity openly with waving red, green, and black flags referencing the African Diaspora and lacquered tables with the faces of African warriors like Winnie Mandela and Malcolm X. He identifies with both the Rastafari culture and his Indigenous Costa Rican blood, and is humbled to share stories of his Jamaican grandparents who impacted him greatly. Malcon credits most of what he knows about food and discipline to his granny, Josefina. Their Saturday evening rituals meant plucking the feathers of a fowl, killing the animal, and then seasoning the meat to perfection. 

“Food was always a part of my life,” shares Malcon. “You are always in the kitchen, always helping. And Josefina was a star, man. Granny taught me to clean, wash, and cook.” 

He would also spend time as a teenager hunting in the jungle and fishing, cooking over a home-made fire with friends by his side. He would eventually put in work at a family-run restaurant where he got more business experience and then opened Take It Easy around seven years ago. His discipline learned from Josefina has paid off as Malcon wakes early to food prep, some days that means rising at 4:00 a.m. and working into the evening to cater to the weekend crowds. His curiosity of chemistry and different recipes led him to begin experimenting with his own spices and flavors. 

“I feel that food is something you should explore with,” Malcon says. “This is why my food is a little different.” 

Thyme, coconut milk, and spicy Panamanian peppers make up the base of most of his recipes. Expect tender curry chicken, crispy BBQ jerk chicken, fish with coconut and veggie peanut stews all served with a heaping pile of the local’s favorite rice and beans and a leafy side salad. He prides himself on making his food accessible to everyone (4,500 colones for a large plate is roughly $7.00). 

“You can sit down at these tables with people from all socioeconomic levels. Both the big man and the small man like my food,” he shares. “Different backgrounds, cultures, and people can sit down and have a conversation, it’s a way to bring people together to partake over food.”

Malcon is also a father of three and a passionate DJ. You can catch him performing at Salsa Brava bar where he shares his selection of diverse reggae roots.

Adorned in Luna May 
IG: @LunaMay.CR 

A Luna May garment is easy to spot in a sea of fast-fashion. The brand makes accent pieces that are never made twice in the same print while incorporating lightweight fabrics that seem to float effortlessly across shoulders in the sun and traipse with ease while walking the white sands of Playa Cocles at sunset.

 

Luna May, the founder of the clothing and jewelry company, describes herself as the daughter of an adventurous Spanish mother and Colombian father who was raised in the picturesque island of Providencia in the Caribbean Sea. The tiny archipelago is rich in Afro-Caribbean gastronomy and music; where the aroma of coconut bread baking and calypso music blends beautifully together. The vibrant attire worn with sophistication by the proud Black women in her community were also an element of inspiration that directed Luna’s own sense of fashion.

 

Her understanding of textiles was in part cultivated during her time spent with an Indigenous tribe in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains when she was a young girl. She learned the process of planting, harvesting and weaving cotton, which was then made into the tribe’s traditional attire. Luna began making her own designs from there while traveling between Guatemala, Ibiza, and the UK where she started selling in boutiques and at fashion events. But a pull to her roots would bring her back to the Caribbean, this time to Puerto Viejo, where she would open her first Luna May boutique. Her iconic storefront showcases a colorful array of fabrics, from flowing summer dresses to graphic men’s shirts, splashed with photographs she takes of the beautiful locals and the spectacular landscape they call home. 

 

“I am drawn to the beautiful ever-changing shapes of nature and the beauty and curious lineages transcending in human faces,” Luna shares. “To me all humans are beautiful because we are each a unique mix.” 

 

Some of her standout textiles feature pressed cacao leaves, coral, insects, trees, hand-sketched drawings from her son Rio, and of course, the annual portraits taken of the locals, neighbors, families and artists living in Puerto Viejo. 

 

“This is a place that makes you feel proud of your roots,” shares Luna. “I have truly enjoyed photographing such a varied community. So many beautiful mixes here and everyone is so proud of themselves.” 

 

Luna has been moved by her own upbringing in the Caribbean and continues to work with limitless creativity while residing in this free-spirited community. 

 

“To me, Afro-Caribbean culture teaches us to be forward. To be proud of who we are,” says Luna. “To not just show our roots, but to flaunt them!” 


 

Rooted in Movement 
IG: @Cishel.Crawford

Cishel Crawford is a proud Afro-Costa Rican woman who is both a Yoga and meditation teacher and manages her own wellness space in Playa Negra. Asante Journal Art & Movement is a little slice of magic on the coast, where the public can host workshops and retreats centered around healing and expression. 

Crawford found her way to Puerto Viejo after spending most of her life in the capital city of San Jose where she studied agricultural economics in school and then worked in both tech and agriculture. She was also involved in many organizations focused on elevating the Afro-Costa Rican voices through performances and festivals. With ancestral roots in Jamaica and the nearby port town of Limón, she grew up with a strong sense of her culture. Her father is the founder of the Limón Roots Afro-Cultural Festival, one of the biggest cultural events in the country, and runs a magazine called Limón Roots that promotes the values of the ethnic groups across the greater Caribbean. 

Having traveled across Honduras, Brazil, Kenya, and Trinidad and Tobago, Crawford has drawn her life experiences from locations with African influences as well as the elders in these communities who inspire her direction. 

“I feel connected to who I am and because my ancestors came through these Caribbean waters,” shares Crawford. 

Exploring identity and representation seems to be at the core of Crawford’s work. 

“For a long time our voices were not being expressed the way they should have,” Crawford says. “In the books, you don’t find our Afro-Costa Rican history, and when it comes to art, you see a lot of appropriation. So, a part of the work we are doing is to not only put ourselves out there to acknowledge our culture but to visualize how important equal representation is.” 

Alongside her sister and professional dancer Sharifa Crawford, they conceptualized a docu-series called “Color Piel.” This sensual and provocative display of identity depicts the stigmas against African women based on their appearance with the intent to educate and empower other racialized women, describes Crawford. The sisters were also a part of the powerful performance “Negra Soy,” which was adapted from a famous poem titled "Me Gritaron Negra”' from Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruz and performed around the country. Their original play included musicality and featured 10 Afro-Costa Rican women. They don their natural hair in the show and portray the many facets of womanhood and race through artful depictions of such heavy topics as racism, common stereotypes, and denial of identity. Crawford was both a performer and assistant producer while Sharifa was creative director alongside Erick Rodriguez.

Crawford plans on continuing these creative roles to tell stories that are often overlooked in mainstream media, saying that “through art and wellness, you can shift a lot of things in the world. I want to be a voice for other young girls to know their value.”

Raised by Waves 
IG: @DexLew

When Dexter Lewis isn’t ripping across the swell at Salsa Brava or Playa Grande, you may find him in between shifts as a tour guide reading Eckhart Tolle. 

As a first-generation Costa Rican with Nicaraguan parents, Lewis was practically born into the warm, turquoise sea tracing the edge of Puerto Viejo. Whether it was swimming, fishing, surfing, or boogie boarding, he and his young friends found entertainment on the water, oftentimes being led by a woman from Jacaranda who would take the kids on field trips to the water’s edge. Surfing came into their view when travelers and professional surfers started discovering the famous Salsa Brava swell and would leave behind their old shortboards for the kids to ride on. 

Lewis would begin competing around the age of 14, learning from American surfers and the nation’s sponsored professionals. His love of the sport had him committed to progression, but eventually, his competitive side would soften into one of pure connection to nature. This is when his business Lewis Brother Surf began. Instructing both travelers and locals on the range of breaks across town, Lewis teaches purpose over perfection and that perseverance is what stands between you and riding the wave. 

 

"The more you fall, the more you are actually getting better because you are more aware of yourself, and not so much aware of showing off,” expresses Lewis. “And When you do catch that ride it becomes so much more enjoyable.” 

 

The high season for surfing in the Caribbean runs from December to March and was one of the defining elements of the tourism boom in the region. And although the swell is known to get pretty heavy here, there are moments of ethereal stillness savored in the early light of the morning. 

 

“We often think about what we want, want, want, but don’t stop and enjoy the little time that we have,” he shares. “There is a joy to be found in just being out on the water."

Lewis also works at House of Roam, a local surf shop serving up some of the best coffee in town, and as a tour guide, leading cacao tours in the jungle for Caribean’s Chocolate & Coffee. He represents the athleticism and hard work that defines many people here; embodying a surfer, a teacher, a guide, and above all else, a human being. 

Another Lewis lesson derived from the ocean: “If you want to know somebody, it’s not only about what they do, you have to spend the time to really get to know them."

 

As the Caribbean of Costa Rica still proves it’s potential to the rest of the country, Lewis has settled into a place of gratitude for the sport that has brought him closer to the elements, and to himself. He does hope to see the impressive talent from the younger generations recognized on a national level, while reminding them not to forget why they love the sport to begin with. 

SIDEBAR:

Sounds of the Caribe

From reggae to calypso music, here are the local artists you should be jamming to: 

  • @DJChrisCR: Christian Brayant 

  • @DJSoundsCR: Sebastián Bent

  • Youtube: Junior y Sus Calypsonians 

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