Thursday 19 July 2012

Pavones and Panamanian Pandemonium

Apologies it's been a while since the last blog update; despite being on holiday it feels like I've been busier than a one armed man with crabs...

The last stop in Costa Rica was the point break of Pavones; arguably the second longest lefthander in the world on its day. The place is a mission to get to and needs a solid south/southwest swell to turn on. There's not much to do there when it's flat so Hector and I waited until we saw a good swell on the forecast charts before making the trip. 

The alarm rudely interrupted our sleep at 4am to catch the early bus from Dominical. We had no idea what the best way to get to Pavones was; nearly every local contradicted the other when we asked how to get there. It seems to be a Costa Rican trait to appear to know with absolute certainty how to get somewhere, regardless of whether they have a clue or not! We figured we'd just jump on a bus and figure it out along the way... Copious amounts of sweat, a series of buses and eight hours later we get our first glimpse of the ocean. Saw some nice scenery and Hector even met a nice chica on the bus! 

Just when we think we're home and hosed the shit hits the fan (almost gotta expect it in Latin America).. the bridge just outside of Pavones is under repair (the previous one literally bent in half when someone was driving across - check the pics of the bent beams and scrape marks on the abutment!). The bus can't go over the temporary wooden bridge so we're on our own from this point onwards. Ah well, just another obstacle to overcome.

We manage to score a ride on the back of a 4WD with some other stranded surfers, but that only takes us part way up the road and the rest of the way to Pavones is a long slog via the wai wai express (aka walking) - many thanks to you guys who helped us carry our gear!

Fun shoulder high waves greet us at Pavones.. we grab a feed and a mandatory banana smoothie as we watch waves reeling through the inside section. 

The swell built over the next few days, peaking at around double overhead. We scored some ridiculously looong waves - if you managed to get one that linked up all the way it'd be possible to ride a wave for over 90 seconds. I think the longest I managed was a bit over a minute. After a ride this long the lungs were burning and you'd have serious jelly legs going on.. but it was so good you just had to keep surfing even though you were broken. After a few days of clocking up big hours in the water I was wrecked and just wanted a day off. Didn't happen of course.

^Cheers for the pic Alison!

^One of many long walks back up the point

It wasn't all shits and giggles at Pavones.. one wave I'm going for the big closeout floater and the board flips out from under me in mid-air.. I cop a hit from my board square in the nuts and get smashed. When I pop up I see that one of the fins has ripped out.. My life flashes before my eyes - if my balls have hit that fin with enough force to rip it out then what the hell have I got left down there?! A quick pat down of my nether regions and to my huge relief everything is in place.. once the dull ache of the gonad trauma subsides I notice the small cut on my shin and realise that's what must've ripped the fin out! My board has a cracked rail too which I guess explains the hit to the balls haha!

The days became a blur at Pavones.. Typical scenario as follows: 
  • 0300hrs Wake up to rooster crowing outside window and swear this is the day he becomes burrito con pollo.
  • 0430hrs proper alarm goes off for the dawn patrol session
  • have a post-surf coffee and a feed of banana porridge for brekkie
  • break out into ridiculous coffee sweat
  • surf, banana smoothie, surf
  • drink a few Pilsen lagers and eat dinner while the evening rain/lightning show kicks in. 
  • lapse into deep satisfied sleep
During this time I was still battling with continued manflu symptoms and Hector had a gnarly ear infection which kept him out of the water a bit and took a bit of shine off things, but can't complain on the whole!
^ Coffee Sweats

^Hector shredding
We see a swell on the Carribean is forecast so make the call to check out Bocas Del Toro in Panama. Our first ever land-based border crossing is an experience. An American dude tells us that they are only letting you into the country if you have a bus or plane ticket that shows you're leaving. The catch is the ticket prices are highly inflated at the border as they know people have to buy them (there's undoubtedly a few backhanders between the bus companies and immigration guys who are enforcing the ticket requirement). Hector and I don't wanna blow $40 on bus tickets we're not going to use, so we quickly devise a plan.. make a fake itinerary on my iphone calendar with some imaginary flight numbers and times! 

After over an hour and a half in line we get to the counter and the immigration guy insists that our iPhone calendar entry isn't sufficient. He needs a paper copy. We spin some shit about booking the tickets in Costa Rica and not being able to find a printer there, and could we please use his internet and we can show him the email with the itinerary from the airline (god knows what we would've done if he'd called our bluff haha). We also notice he sounds a bit camp. We use this to our advantage and give him plenty of smiles and eventually he spits out "Welcome to Panama" - our passport is stamped.

The dramas don't end there of course.. There's a second checkpoint on the Panama side of the border and a chick comes on board asking for passports and a ticket out. Some quick thinking by Hector - he tells her that the guy in immigration saw our tickets on the computer. I try to conceal my nervous tension as she contemplates this.. fortunately she's satisfied and lets us carry on.. Yeuw!  

The minibus we're on to David (our overnight transit town) doesn't have room in the luggage area for surfboards so we have to chuck them in the last couple of rows of seats at the back. I think it's strange they haven't asked for our fare during the journey and when we reach the destination we find out why.. we are the last two on the bus and they're asking for $20 for the bus fare (it should be more like four dollars). These guys insist that since our boards were taking up seats intended for people we owe them.. our argument is that the bus wasn't even full so it didn't matter. We refuse to pay and start trying to walk off the bus with our gear when the doors close and they start driving us away from the bus station. It's a little bit heavy because we're not sure what lengths these guys are gonna go to. We figure it's for show and still refuse to cough up the full $20 .. eventually we settle at $13 which is still extortionate but we were a bit rattled and just needed to move on!

David doesn't have many tourists around (it's more of a transit point) so we decide to go and check out a local bar near our hostel for a bit of a cultural experience. It was so funny walking in there - we sit down for a beer and the locals are all staring suspiciously at us. We figure we'd break the ice and pull up a seat next to a group of young Panamanian dudes. We buy a round of beers and they're our new best mates! They're a good group of guys and with a combination of their broken English and our broken Spanish we manage to have a few good laughs! 

Yet another minibus ride from hell the next day Almirante (where you catch the boat to Bocas Del Toro).. all the seats are taken when we get there so we end up standing in the aisle for three hours.. normally this would suck but what made it REALLY suck was the low roof so you couldn't stand upright and the aisle was too narrow to sit on the floor. The quads were burning after holding some form of spastic squat for three hours.

Bocas Del Toro is a pretty cool place - the speedboat there takes around 20 mins. A heap of the buildings and bars are built out into the water. The area comprises of a few small islands which you've gotta get a boat taxi to/from. It's in the Caribbean Sea, the water is clear and there are some sweet beaches. It's also got a lot of Jamaican influence.. some dudes with full-on dreads and rasta accents, heaps of reggae and constant wisps of weed smoke wafting through the air.

^ Tropical Sausage

We had some fun waves in Bocas.. also had the pleasure of meeting the world's most loco local at a left named Carenero.. I actualy think this dude was bipolar. He blew up at me for riding 'his' wave after he dropped in.. the weirdest thing is that there were only three of us out there and plenty of waves! He blew up at another guy in the lineup and spewed forth a string of profanities.. He fully wanted to fight either of us.. he starts taking off his leash getting ready to get his biff on! He wasn't a big dude but even if I'd fought and won, I didn't fancy having his pack of mates hunting me down in Bocas and having to watch my back for the rest of my time there.. I later chatted to a few guys who surf it regularly and they reckon this guy is well known for being a f*#k-knuckle.. his mood depends on the quantity/quality of the weed he's smoked that morning haha. 

We had a bit of snorkelling and a night or two out partying (going bar hopping in a boat is a bit of a novelty). It's actually ridiculous how often you're offered drugs in Bocas. It seems everyone is selling.. from random dudes on the street, to hostel workers to tourist operators!

Hector and I heard rumours of a gym in Bocas with a boxing bag - we were keen to have a workout so we headed down to check it out. The gym was closed but someone mentioned there was a boxing bag at the police station you could use.. this seemed a bit strange but we thought we'd have a look. Turns out there was no bag but it was actually a full-blown boxing class so we joined them for a session. It was a pretty ghetto setup - a big concrete room with bad lighting, no fans and concrete weights in the corner. But the cool thing was they were going hard and loving it. They were pretty intrigued by the two white boys hitting pads and they stood watching us for a while. Hector and I threw a few Muay Thai elbows, knees and kicks in there too which I'm sure they'd never seen in person - it was classic watching the kids trying to mimic us.

The Caribbean swell forecast was still looking good so we decide to head to Puerto Viejo to surf a heavy reef break called Salsa Brava, which is just on the Costa Rican side of the border. We give a $10 deposit to a guy who works in our hostel to arrange transport there .. he doesn't show up again and our $10 is history haha.. at least it wasn't much money I guess. 

We arrange the transport ourselves in the end. It's a different border crossing this time on the eastern side of the country: we check out of Panama immigration, cross the river with all our luggage and try not to fall though the gaping holes in the rickety old wooden bridge deck (no way you'd get away with that shit back home!), we use the trusty iPhone itinerary trick with Costa Rican Immigration again and we're stylin'.

We're currently staying on the beach at Peurto Viejo, at a sweet backpackers called the Lazy Mon which has a great kitchen, a bar downstairs with a heap of live music, and most importantly it looks out over Salsa Brava so we can keep an eye on the the crowds and waves during the day. The wave is mainly a right but if you pick the right wave there's a short heavy left barrel too. We've scored some hell barrels already and it's looking good for the next week. Stoked!

1 comment:

  1. damn, I should have gotten more photo tips from you. Love the one of H above the lightning pic.