"The Unknown League Of Dardos Ticos"
I had no idea what I was about to discover. As I've said before, finding darts in Latin America is no easy task. In fact, it's exceedingly rare. I should know-I spent more than a year in Uruguay, touring and searching all over South America from Ecuador and Brasil south. I've also traveled all over the Caribbean, and have never found something like I would uncover this day.
But first, I did what I normally do when I travel: I see the sights first, experiencing the culture and nature of a place, and look for darts second.
I woke late, with a happy hangover, in Galileo Hostel in San Jose, Costa Rica. Last night was Thanksgiving, which means today was Black Friday-the day when stores offer massive discounts to kick off the Christmas shopping season. I didn't realize this psuedo-holiday, unlike Thanksgiving, is celebrated worldwide, as I'd soon learn.
Jules, my Australian travel buddy, was already awake, surfing away on her computer in Galileo's Rugged Pineapple bar. We had plans to check out downtown, and as soon as I appeared showered and fed-more pancakes and bananas-she flipped her little red laptop closed, and gave me a warm, "G'Day mate! Ready to see the city?"
A few blocks from Galileo, we hopped a local bus straight into the teeth of downtown San Jose. Right away, we noticed the heavy stream of pedestrian traffic, crossing and walking every which way in the commercial district of the sprawling and widespread capital city. Unlike Panama City, downtown itself wasn't too daunting; a decent cluster medium size skyscrapers formed the nucleus of San Jose, which slowly spirals out into a maze of barrios, many of which most typical tourists wouldn't want, need or dare to visit.
We poked in and out of markets and shops, soaking up the atmosphere and ambience of the busiest shopping day in the capital of Costa Rica.
After a couple hours we headed back to the hostel-Jules wanted to research Nicaragua, the next country on our list. I, of course, was eager to get back to Ozzy's Sports Bar, near our hostel, where three dartboards suspiciously hung.
I went to Ozzy's alone this time, around happy hour, hoping to find some local players. To my surprise, there was a man throwing alone as I entered the pub, and my hopes shot up. I bought a couple beers and introduced myself.
His name was Jose, and his English was about as good as my Spanish, not very. But, it didn't take long to explain who and what I was-a travel writer for a darts magazine, hoping to discover the darts scene in San Jose. Jose's eyes widened, and he quickly began telling me what I never expected to hear: there was a large league in San Jose, thirty bars and hundreds of players strong. Immediately, he got on his cell phone, and texted another friend to come join us-someone who, much like me, loved darts and spreading the sport. While we waited for a reply, Jose and I began playing with all the joy of little boys on Christmas.
Jose began to teach me the games they play and how to use the bead counters. Basically, they strictly play Cricket, plus two variations called Francesa and Americana. Francesa involves closing the triples and doubles as well as the standard Cricket numbers, while Americana is Cricket without points. I quickly absorbed the new strategies, and soon realized that the players here were experts on the triples and doubles, despite no sign of ever playing 501.
Soon, Jose's cell phone buzzed. His friend's name was Gustavo, one of the top talents, promoters, and enthusiasts in town. Judging by the quick conversation, I could tell Tavo, as he's nicknamed, was equally excited to hear someone like me was in town. After their conversation, Jose explained that Tavo would be here soon, to meet and greet me, and, if I was interested, take me to a local tournament tonight. Was I interested?! I was beyond belief at my luck and this opportunity.
Tavo showed up around six, and like Jose and I, we quickly became friends. We talked and played for an hour or so before splitting up for dinner. But, Tavo had promised to pick me up at Galileo Hostel at eight and personally take me to the shoot later that night.
I excitedly waited outside Galileo that night, dartcase in hand.
Tavo arrived, with Jose, all three of us smiling. I knew what a unique opportunity this was-I was about to see the real San Jose, through the eyes of authentic Ticos, as Costa Ricans affectionately call themselves.
The drive itself was a thrill. Tavo is a local guide and driver and knows every corner, neighborhood, and shortcut through the city. For thirty minutes we wound through San Jose, barrio after barrio, and the maze of seemingly unplanned streets that connect it all. By now it was dark and dank, as night and some tropical showers moved in. Right away, I could tell I was in places that most outsiders would never see-places that may not even be safe for a giant gringo like myself, if it wasn't for the comforting company and security of being with Tavo and Jose.
Eventually, we arrived at the venue: Bar Veteranos, a two story tavern with four dartboards, two on each floor. Instantly, I was introduced as some sort of celebrity, to the owner and at least two dozen players ready to do battle. In many ways, it felt just like a small event back home-everyone pays an entry fee, brackets and flights were created, and the competition began. The beers were flowing and, honestly, I couldn't care less how I was throwing, I was just so thrilled to be in this place, doing this thing. I'm sure everyone expected me to be a fantastic player, but dartitis was still plaguing me. Nonetheless, when I lost, my opponents were humble, gracious and yet proud to beat the strange visitor I was. I got bounced by the quarter finals, but happily kept spectating and taking pictures while my new friends Tavo and Jose pushed into the semis and finals. Two things dawned on me: one, the darts talent here was very good, and two, this league of players was virtually unknown to the rest of the world. They certainly had players with the skill to compete on higher, international levels.
It was late in the wee hours by the time we finished, and everyone was beyond blurry after a fun night of darts and cervezas. After my final thank yous and goodbyes, Tavo, Jose and I loaded into the car for the drive home.
The three of us were starved, and Tavo had another surprise in mind: late night grub at the Tico version of McDonald's, an all night fast food chain called Snax, a place I'm sure foreigners rarely enter. We ordered burgers and fries and sat, stuffing our faces, laughing and talking in both languages about darts. Then, Tavo asked me a question.
"There's another tournament tomorrow night. Would you like to go?"
Without hesitation I agreed. We finished our food, and eventually I was back at the Galileo, giddy with glee. Tomorrow, Tavo would meet me again, for another night of darts in San Jose.
Over and double out.