Into the Jungle with Mayköl Espinoza

For the past 3 years, Thermal has partnered with Mayköl Espinoza as our go-to guide for the Osa Peninsula, in Costa Rica. For those who don’t know, the Osa is home to the 2nd highest biodiversity index in the world, after the Amazon Rainforest. It is also home to some pretty amazing surf.

Yes, please.

One of only four tropical fjordlands in the world, the lush green jungle and turquoise blue waters of the Golfo Dulce are teeming with life. A visit to the Osa is sure to reward you with plenty of sightings of monkeys and scarlet macaws, as well as the chance to see boa constrictors, toucans, jaguars, pumas, scorpions, poison dart frogs, and sloths. If you’re lucky, you can watch whales and dolphins as you cross the bay to surf Pavones.

Mayköl (pronounced Michael) is just one of a few incredible locals who offer lessons and guiding in the Osa. There’s also Aaron, Pollo, Eddie, Ronnie, and Tosh, to name a few. Together, they make for a rad crew of Ticos who are as home in the rainforest as they are in the waves. When you’re with them there are sure to be lots of laughs, waves, and wild jungle stories.

Riding shotgun with Mayköl and talking surf with Tosh Talbot, one of the best up-and-coming surfers in all of Costa Rica.

I first connected with Mayköl thanks to Ez Rivero, an ace photographer based in Santa Teresa, I had asked him if he knew any surf guides that could be good for Thermal and he said, “Yeah, I know this one guy that you might like man. Dude, he’s like a jungle whisperer…he handles snakes and scorpions. Amazing surfer too, super stylish. I’ll ask if I can connect you two.”

I was intrigued, to say the least, a stylish surfer + snake charmer is not something you hear of every day. Ez passed me his Instagram and I was quickly impressed and intrigued once I saw an edit that showed his surfing skills as well as his intimacy with nature–one clip showed a spider on his face, another showed him handling a scorpion.

Once Mayköl and I were on a call and my intrigue only grew. He spoke to me in perfect English, with the light touch of what I can only describe as a charming accent with a healthy dose of Rasta vibes. Although that first call was nearly 3 years ago, I remember it clearly, I told him about Thermal and Mayköl said something like this,

“Ya mon, thank you for having the interest in working with me–it is a blessing to be able to share the beauty of my country. I always bring positive vibrations to my guests so they can have an experience in Costa Rica that they will remember forever. I am grateful for this opportunity because I know there are many different tours available, some are even run by foreigners, and, no disrespect to them, but I think the best way to see Costa Rica is with a Tico guide.”

I replied, “Yeah I definitely agree, that’s the only way. We want to work with someone local who can show travelers an incredible experience…”

“Yes, exactly. Now, there are a lot of beautiful places and epic waves here in Costa Rica but for you to really understand, and to see who I am and how I work, you need to come down here to Matapalo and see for yourself.” I had been to Costa before but it had been nearly 10 years and I had only visited Nosara and Dominical and Uvita. At that time, winter was coming to a close in California and I was jonesing to for some warm water and tropical air. I told him I would look at dates and get back to him… 

One of my favorite roads in the world.

Less than two months later I found myself on the winding roads of southern Costa Rica en route to Matapalo, the small off-grid community, on the tip of the fabled Osa Peninsula. Mayköl (aka Scrappy) and I became fast friends and I could see that he was one-of-a-kind; when I later described him to my friends and co-workers I said that he was like a mix of Rob Machado, Bob Marley, and David Attenborough. Each morning in the Osa is like a jungle symphony that comes roaring to life, starting with the howler monkeys, at around 5 A.M. Now the name “howler monkey” is a bit misleading because they do not howl, not like dogs or wolves, they make a reverberating noise that sounds a bit like a garbage disposal. They can be heard from miles away and are recognized as the loudest animals in the New World.

Spider monkeys are just some of the Osa locals.

If that sounds a bit intense, well, it is. This is accentuated by the fact that nearly all of the homes and lodges are open air, meaning few walls, no sealed windows, no air conditioning, and little to no separation from the jungle itself aside from mosquito nets. To some, that may sound awful, to others (myself included) it’s glorious.

One of our friends down there, who is a property manager, told me a story of a guest from New York who checked in one afternoon for a weeklong stay. Later that evening he had phoned the manager asking if he could do something about the noise, specifically, if he could turn it off.
“What noise? The cicadas?”
“Yes! Whatever you call that awful noise!”
“‘I’m sorry sir but that’s just the jungle, I can’t turn it off. They will quiet down eventually…’ I found it better to not say anything about the monkeys that would be waking up soon (laughs).” The next morning he packed up his things and left after breakfast.
Local, fresh, and delicious. Mayköl's fruit plates are more than worthy of your IG story.

If you want to visit the Osa but don’t like the sound of open-air homes and no a/c, we have just the place for you– Osa Clandestina. Clandestina, as it's known to locals, is the most comfortable spot in the Osa with several air-conditioned rooms and, in our opinion, the best food around. They have a local organic farm to serve the restaurant which, in addition to the fresh seafood from Golfo Dulce, allows them to offer a menu that is almost 100% locally sourced.

That morning, Mayköl whipped up a delicious–and artistic- breakfast, and then it was time to check the surf. The spots around there are somewhat tide-sensitive so it didn’t make sense to go out at dawn that morning. When we arrived at the point there were chest-high to slightly overhead waves breaking in perfect formation and the forecast looked good for the week, I was stoked. Mayköl tuned me into the hazards to watch out for and where to paddle in and out to avoid the rocks. 

During our first session, after watching me catch a few waves, Mayköl said that he wanted to share something with me later about style and body language. After the session he told me that I was surfing well but that I should try and bring attention to my hands, to my fingers specifically.

Just one wave from an epic week in the Osa.

“Try and remember to bring attention to your fingers, you want to keep them open. It’s a small technique that will help with your style. If you notice all the best surfers, they surf with their hands open and use them to guide their turns. Sure, you could do it with your hands closed as fists too…but that’s not stylish,” he said with a wink.

Ever since then, I have remembered his advice and if you watch guys like Torren Martyn or Devon Howard, you’ll see that their hands are never closed–always open. The tip he gave speaks to Mayköl’s astute skills, he’s so tapped to what’s happening in the water and is always in the right place. Whether you’ve been surfing for 10+ years, or trying to catch your very first wave, he’s got your back.

Iguanas are basically modern-day dinosaurs.

As for his jungle skills, well, you’ll have to visit him and see for yourself but take it from me, he’s as passionate about the jungle as he is about the waves and has been immersed in studying and observing wildlife from a very young age. “I grew up doing jungle tours with my mentor, Andy Pruter, and he taught me about biology and the biodiversity of the Osa. It is an honor to teach people, whether kids or adults, about the wonders of Costa Rica. All they have to do is come with me into the jungle…”


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