What a Ride!
Having been kindly asked to write this guest editorial, I invite Howler readers to join me on a trip down memory lane to 1996. From my vantage point as retired co-founder of the magazine, we’ll look back on an incredible journey that was launched from a bumpy but unshakeable start.
Nearing closer to the quarter-century milestone is no small longevity feat anywhere, especially in Costa Rica where businesses can rise and fail in a very short time. And If that is still a reality for many entrepreneurs here nowadays, try to imagine the obstacles they would have faced barely a century ago when Guanacaste remained a barely pioneered new frontier.
Road conditions were notoriously dreadful. Today’s short trek from Tamarindo to Villarreal took half an hour on the pitted lastre road, and driving on to Santa Cruz would take another 90 minutes.
There was no bank within miles of Tamarindo, but there were travelling tellers who made a weekly bus trip to town and parked in The Circle. You lined up on the left side and handed in your dollars to a teller who wrote down the serial numbers of each one. Then you went to the right side of the bus where another teller recorded the serial numbers of the colones you received in exchange.
There were no phones in town, except one for public use at a Tamarindo restaurant in The Circle. You gave the number you were calling to the attendant who dialed it. When your party answered, she handed you the phone and hit a stopwatch. At the end of the call she charged you so much per minute. There was another public phone at Las Palmeras in the main street that also offered a fax service.
In a moment of lunacy, my friend, Lee, and I decided to publish a magazine to inform readers about local happenings. The first edition was an eight-pager — two double-sided wide sheets stapled in the centerfold.
The Liberia print shop we chose to produce 500 copies told us the job would take a few days. Not having a car, we relied on buses that made only one round trip daily from Tamarindo, three hours each way. Arriving at the printer on a Thursday to pick up our magazines, I was assured they were “almost ready.” What awaited inside was chaos, with hundreds of loose sheets strewn around. The two-step manual collating process required one muchacho to punch the staples through the center of each unfolded pair of sheets and his co-worker to flatten them in folded place with a screwdriver.
Seeing no chance of the task being finished without missing our return bus departure, we grabbed all the finished magazines and the loose sheets, plus the stapler, and dashed off. At home, we finished stapling the 500 magazines before proudly distributing them around Tamarindo, Flamingo and Potrero on our bicycles. The road from Huacas to Flamingo was all lastre (Costa Rica’s renowned gravel and dirt road surfacing material) so it was strenuous work.
For the Howler’s second monthly issue we found a small firm in Santa Cruz to print 1,000 copies. All seemed fine until our return bus trip from picking up the finished magazines. We discovered too late that rainwater during a torrential downpour en route had leaked through a bus floor hole where our backpack full of magazines had been placed. All our Howlers were soaked! We hung them on a clothesline to dry, which took a couple of days.
Our sole reliance on bike transportation served us well during month three. With no threat of rain, we cycled to Santa Cruz, dropped off the magazine content file on a disk and cycled back three days later to pick up the printed copies. The all-lastre road between Tamarindo and Santa Cruz gave us a great workout, which continued during the days we spent distributing the magazine by bike.
Our publishing venture then took some turns for a different kind of worse when we started sending each magazine disk to a printing service in Cartago. Not only did this printer always fail to ever deliver the magazine on time, but was nothing short of a liar.
One month he told me,“We printed it on time, but we had a break-in.”
“What?” I said, “they stole all the Howlers?”
“No, Don David,” he replied. “But they broke in through the roof and it rained overnight, and guess what was sitting under the hole? The Howler … it was ruined.”
I called back a couple of days later to see how the reprint was going, asking the receptionist, “Any news on the break-in?”
“What break-in?” she answered.
Countless times, my friends would wonder, “Why don’t you give up? It’s an impossible job.”
Well, the words ”give up” do not figure in my vocabulary, so I persisted in finding a great printer, Ardu in Curridabat, who never let me down. Thanks to its writers and loyal advertisers over the years, the Howler has grown in stature until the present day.
In the meantime, the Tamarindo area has seen many improvements. The road to Villarreal was paved, as was the road to Flamingo, and then to Santa Cruz. A really posh bridge now crosses the Tempisque River; no need to go to Liberia to get to San José. Everyone has a phone, and all banking services are available at all three banks in Tamarindo. And, lo and behold, they are paving the road to Langosta!