Have you ever heard of Heart Interface? They were the first ones to build a reliable inverter for off-grid and marine applications back in the 70’s. Did you know that that alternative energy brand was built by a long-haired barefoot man on a secluded beach in Costa Rica? I didn’t either.
That is, until we pulled into the calm waters of Ballenas Bay surrounded by hilly jungle on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. As we settled in, a fellow cruiser advised that we not miss the expat market the following morning, and to look out for Honey while we were there. I wondered how we would figure out which one Honey was, but it turns out my concern was unfounded.
As we perused the best selection of fresh vegetables we had seen in months, we heard a voice that could only belong to this woman named Honey. She was doling out instructions to the ladies around her in a stern but affectionate tone, as if she embodied both the sweet her name implies and the unavoidable sting that comes with it. She had a hypnotic way of speaking that will draw you in close and hold you there, hovering over her words. Her uncontrollable wiry silver hair augmented her charisma. One strap of her frayed white tank top was held together with a rusted safety pin. She was barefoot.
She chatted with us in that sweet stern way as she shuffled papers, packed up zucchinis and called out to the vendors. She runs this market, as well as several others, and it was time to set up in the next town over. As she packed up, she pointed across the bay to the cove where Halcyon bobbed on her anchor. “See that beach there? That’s my home”, she said. “Come by tomorrow and you can meet my husband. He’s a real character.”
While we had decided to leave the following day, we could not possibly skip meeting the man Honey, with her bare feet and wild hair, so casually called a “character”. So the next morning, we paddled to the beach and wandered along the rocks to a set of winding stairs. At the top of the stairs was a small clean pool set next to a simple sturdy open-air house. There was no sign of occupancy. “Hello?” We called out. “Honey?”
A tall athletic 30-something guy appeared from around the corner in nothing but a speedo, all muscle and tan and long arms. He greeted us and pointed us through the house and up a path to find Honey. As we walked away, he advised us to whistle or make noise as we approached. We passed through the open-air kitchen, where we encountered a young woman, also in her 30’s, bustling around tall piles of produce, washing and chopping. She walked us to the end of the house, knife in hand, and pointed up the path. But before we could take another step, she called out in a practiced piercing tone, “MA!!! You have visitors!”
Honey poked her head out the door and waved at us to come on up. “Let us just put some pants on,” she added casually. We exchanged amused glances with Honey’s daughter and strolled slowly up the path.
And that is where we met Heart, of Heart Interface. “Character” does not begin to describe this man. His wild long silver hair reached his shoulders, with a beard to match. He wore only a pair of stained and unevenly frayed jean shorts. His skin was dark and leathery. As we settled into the pair of rocking chairs on the porch of their small open-air casita, he dropped onto a cushion on the ground, with the flexibility and movement of a yoga master contrasting the hunched wrinkled appearance of an old man. But there was nothing old or wrinkled about his insanely intelligent mind.
Just as his appearance contrasted his impressive flexibility, the stories and ideas that tumbled out in a mesmerizing cascade to expose his genius contrasted the preconceived notion of a man’s mind who lives barefoot in a hut on a secluded Costa Rican beach.
We sat the whole afternoon, sipping Honey’s homemade limeade, as their incredible story emerged. Once upon a time, they had what we might consider a “normal” life in the states. She got a masters, he a PhD in astrophysics. But they grew disenchanted with the rat race, and uprooted to a hippie commune in Oregon. Once they started having kids, it became clear that the woods of Oregon were not far enough away for them. So Heart built a trimaran – in the mountains by himself – and one October over 40 years ago, Heart and Honey, with their 2-week old baby and five other people, floated the trimaran down the Yaquina river and into the ocean, headed south. Heart was the only one of the bunch who had ever sailed.
Somewhere off the coast of Oregon, they were dismasted and spent a winter without heat in Newport making the repairs. Eventually they made it to Ballenas Bay in Costa Rica, and they never left. Back then, the only civilization was a tiny fishing town with no roads, electricity or stores. Honey and Heart set up a small bamboo structure over a tarp, had their fourth of nine children, and foraged and fished for sustenance. They embedded into the small community, she as a midwife and he as a fixer of things.
A few children later, someone came to Heart and asked that he build a solar-powered system for their home. Heart found a company in the states to ship him the parts, sailed to Panama to pick them up (for a break on taxes), and built version one of his own inverter on the sail back to Costa Rica. Thus began a lifelong pursuit to shift the whole world onto sustainable power.
Honey and Heart know their dreams are ambitious. But they also understand the technology that could actually bring that dream to reality. To hear Heart passionately discuss his vision of worldwide solar power is to believe in its eventual certainty. As an active dreamer with an endlessly searching mind, Heart imaged what a society would look like –in detail – if it depended solely on solar energy. This revealed to him the missing pieces in today’s technology to reach that goal. And so he made them. He designs, develops and manufactures those missing pieces to give the world one less excuse to use alternative energy.
His newest project is called a transverter, and it is a small box containing every electrical component required for an alternative energy system. I would go into more detail on how it works, but though he toured us through the piles of transverters and various computer readouts, it is well beyond my technical understanding.
Honey and Heart live their perfect life. From their small open air home in the jungle above their own beach, Honey runs the organic markets and Heart develops complex electrical equipment in an attempt to forever change the world. Six of their nine kids live within five miles, along with a bevy of grandkids. The whole town across the bay runs on a solar microgrid that Heart set up and manages. It is perhaps not the life you’d expect from an astrophysicist and electrical engineer, but that is what makes it most beautiful.