When Valerie and Gaylord Townley first visited Tamarindo, it was a simple fishing village. The only visitors were pioneering surfers (Gaylord was one of them) and sport fishermen. There were a few small hotels, only a few phone lines, and no TV. The number of permanent expats could probably fit in one of today’s larger restaurants.
“My husband’s a surfer,” says Valerie. “So one of the main reasons we moved there was for surfing. Back in the early 1980s it was almost unknown. We were also looking for an alternative lifestyle. I guess we thought there was more to life than a small Southern-California town.”
Today’s Tamarindo is a major tourist destination, with large hotels and high-rise condos—still funky and laid-back, but definitely on the radar of travelers and expats.
With good reason. There is a cosmopolitan vibe, thanks to the visitors and residents of every nationality. And there’s nothing better than escaping the heat of the day by sitting under the palms at one of the many bars and restaurants that line the beach. And, according to Valerie, it’s still home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
“Life here runs at a slower pace. We like the small-town feeling. We have felt more in control of our own destiny living in Costa Rica versus the States,” notes Valerie.
“When I visit back home I like how clean and organized everything is. But I don’t like the amount of stuff everyone has. To me, simple is better. Who needs five of everything? Why go into debt over it?”
The Townleys had to make a living when they first arrived, and they showed that do-it-yourself, self-sufficient spirit common among expats in Costa Rica.
“Another reason we moved was there was work here. Tamarindo has always been known for its sport fishing, leatherbacks, and bird watching. There was a way to make a living,” says Valerie.
And for 13 years, while Gaylord ran a sport-fishing charter boat, the Lonestar, Valerie ran a supermarket, the first in Tamarindo. “The supermarket was the hub of the town,” says Valerie. “Back then we pretty much knew everybody.”
And that was only the beginning. There were plenty of niches to fill. Valerie later ran a B&B for six years. And the couple started one of the town’s first schools, Escuela Tamarindo, and managed it for 15 years. Their two daughters, both of whom came back to Costa Rica after college, attended it. So did other expat kids.
They were busy but made time for the important things. “We got to spend a lot of time with our kids. They know the meaning of family and community. I think that’s lacking in many parts of the U.S. And it was nice for them to grow up bilingual,” says Valerie.
These days, though they still own some properties in the area, they have slowed down. Gaylord is still surfing. Valerie focuses on her art. It’s a mixed-media approach, combining fresh-picked driftwood—Playa Langosta, just south of Tamarindo, has the best, says Valerie—with wood putty, recycled paper, and acrylic and metallic paint. If you’re in Tamarindo on a Saturday morning, be sure to stop by to see her work at the farmers’ market. It’s in front of Cafe Tico and the Jaime Peligro bookstore.