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Adventures in Panama

by on Monday 15th June, 2009   2642 Views

La Isla © 2014 ElPelao

Since the last blog I had an amazing random adventure to Panama. This spur of the moment run to an unknown destination turned out to possibly be the most amazing adventure exploration on my trip. I’ve explored a lot of remote areas for surf on this trip but this one certainly sits near the top of them. Last week Ricardo started talking about wanting to leave the country to get a renewed stamp on his passport so he can stay legal while they’re processing his citizenship here. On Thursday he convinced me to go to Panama with him. I really didn’t want to travel like this, fast short long distance trips because they’re not economical & I have to time to travel slowly. I’m not working so I’m on a totally different pace. But I figured I would go, see about renewing my 3 month temporary import of my car into the country & search for surf. We had been to Santa Catalina in Panama on a previous trip but that was far for a 3 day weekend so we looked at the map for a beach close to the border. We found a small fishermen’s town on the map fairly close to the border & decided we would aim for that. So we wake up at 3am on Friday morning & hit the road. By travelling at this hour we can blaze fast through the dirt roads with no traffic, never have to stop at the one way bridges & make it to the border in nearly half the time as mid day. We arrive at the border & I find out some news that will alter my direction. I was under the impression that I could come back into the country for another 90 days so long as I left the country for 3 days. This is true for me but not true for my truck. My truck has to exit the country for 90 days to be able to re-enter again. And my truck’s importation is set to expire on May 23rd. So now I am happy I came on this trip because I was planning on going to Nicaragua for a few weeks & then returning to Costa Rica to hang out with my friends who are coming to Costa in July. I would have found out at the border that I couldn’t return which wouldn’t have been cool.

The borders are always a bit of chaos & even though I’ve been through this border before it doesn’t make it that much easier to deal with. Always harassed for money & people pretending to be officials to “help” me get through the border. The guy who inspects my car just flat out asks for some money to buy a drink before he stamps my papers, the usual really. The first interesting thing upon entering panama is that the main highway is blocked from driving, there is some sort of peoples protest going on. Our original plan was to start asking people about the place we saw on the map but maybe if that didn’t work out go somewhere else. Now the only road open was the one towards Puerto Armuelles so we’re going there or back to Costa Rica. As we drive in we begin to ask people about surfing there & there is little hopeful response. The only thing we found on the internet was boats and offshore islands but more for fishing. Per the usual we are stopping every so often and asking people the same questions, how to get to the beach, do people surf there, etc. We arrive to the beach only to see no waves but we keep asking locals & they keep pointing us to drive north, telling us to pass through a restricted oil area & keep driving on the beach for an hour or so. And they say you can only pass on the beach during low tide which luckily it is low tide at this time but also means if we go on this drive, we can’t return until another low tide. So we decide to hop on the beach & start driving on sand & reef. It’s something like I’ve never driven on before. We pass off the beach onto a horrible “road” beside the beach & come upon an older local guy & he asks for a lift. He tells us there is a place to stay if we keep driving on the beach for a while, until you can’t drive any further. Come to find out we get to spots that we think you can’t drive any further but there are no places so we’re forced to try to pass which we do. Eventually we land in a beautiful tropical jungle on the beach area and there are 4 cabinas & a camping area. At this point we’re thinking we’ve been quite an adventure to get here but we’re still not real hopeful on surf based on what we’ve been seeing. The camping is right above the beach & directly in front of us is an island. It’s hard to say the distance but we decide we’re going to paddle to this island & see if there are waves on the other side. Packing food would be ideal as it looks like a far paddle & maybe we’ll be out on this island for a while. But we can’t really come up with a solution for that so we pack a knife as the island is covered with palm trees & we’re going to get coconuts for drink & food. We paddle across open water ocean in an odd zone of currents as swell that wraps around both sides of the islands & collides with itself in the middle on our side. The paddle turns out to be 30 mins long, the landing is on reef & rock which makes walking around the island another difficult task. 45 minutes later & we’re on the back side of the island with sites of massive rocks sticking out of the waver & big glassy waves breaking all along this side. For me excitement kicks in immediately, for Ricardo he seems to be more concerned about the ability to surf with all these rocks sticking out of the water. We continue hiking around to look at all the spots & we see what I think looks like a rideable section of surf. There are rocks showing in the inside but it appears the outside is makeable. The fact that we’re on this deserted island of extreme tropical lushness & looking at what looks like incredible surf I can’t wait any longer and decide to give it a go. Ricardo opts to watch for now as he’s not convinced it’s safe which is true, the walk over rocks & reef isn’t fun to get out & the site of dry rock while surfing an unknown spot definitely keeps you on edge. And for me surfing alone in what felt like so far from anything or anyone was a bit scary & exciting. It felt like what I would imagine somewhere in Indonesia might feel like. As I paddle out I realize the size and power is bigger than I anticipated which is typically the case in surfing, it always looks easier from shore than when you’re getting smashed on the head by sets & too nervous about rocks to duck dive properly to get below the waves. A bit of struggle & I’m beyond the break. I finally paddle into a steep, glassy wave and have an amazing ride all the way into the rocky inside section & jump off the back of the wave unscathed. That’s when the feeling of realizing all the travel, adventure, patience, fear, & exercise it took to arrive to this spot was worth it & I was truly living a dream. It’s one thing to follow the rainbow but it’s amazing feeling to find a pot of gold at the end of it.

I’m overly excited & paddling like a madman to get back out & catch another, though really that was unnecessary as the waves were nonstop & there was nobody out. After 20 mins or so, Ricardo joins me & we trade off some amazing waves pushing ourselves wave after wave. We are in complete disbelief & have huge smiles painted on our faces. I guess this may seem like a bunch of surf chatter but really it was just an amazing adventure to arrive to a deserted island & find fairly uncharted territory. Surfing is so dynamic that it’s really hard to find good surf. You have to have the right swell direction, right tide, right wind & these are ever changing things. So we were over the moon that it had all worked out for us. After surfing we collected thatched palm leaves to lay on top of the rocks to create a space to lay & rest. We hunted for Coconuts as we need to rehydrate. Finding good coconuts proves to be tough, Ricardo spends a lot of time fighting coconuts off the trees with a long stick. We fight to get in them & end up drinking coconut after coconut and eating the meat as well. Sitting on this island, opening coconuts I began to wonder what my friends and family were doing. It would have been nice to share this with everyone & I was certainly reflecting on what an amazing group of friends & family I have and how I do miss everyone. I was able to get a little bit of video footage of most of the adventure. It turned out, as always, to be hard to get good surf footage of us as sitting on the inside with my camera meant you dealt with rocks underneath and massive waves in the head. And we weren’t typically surfing alone with the other filming. After surfing we have to paddle back to the mainland which is not so fun after surfing until exhaustion. That night camping there was a full moon (pictured) that lit up the beach & our camp, amazing night to go along with the amazing day. We had a sloth perched up on a tree above our tent & walking to the bathrooms I spotted an anteater, which is a first for me. Waking up the following morning to the intrusive sounds of howler monkeys & we’re ready to do it all over again. Another paddle, though we’re both fairly sore from the day before, another hike & hopes for another fun day of surf. The surf got bigger & we had another day of euphoria on a deserted island. The trip was short lived, we camped 2 nights & we were back in the car retracing our steps driving on the beach for an hour or so & heading for the border. Double check at the border that I have to leave which is a firm yes so now I’m back in Jaco at Ricardo’s and sorting out what I’m going to do next. It looks like I’ll probably be heading to Panama & I’m excited about getting back into the adrenaline of traveling in foreign land, I’m addicted to this feeling right now.

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