Friday, 17 August 2012


All good things must come to an end.. After almost three months of missioning together, Hector and I decided to part ways. Not due to any falling out; simply the fact that I wanted to hit South America (mostly Peru & Chile – a goofy footer’s paradise with an endless supply of lefthand points).. and Hector, being a regular footer wanted to travel up through Central America and score heaving right hand barrels.

Fortunately for Hec, my mate Tom was travelling up from South America towards Mexico with another Kiwi bloke named Greg. We met in the City of David in Panama; the boys bought a 4WD Ford Explorer off an Aussie contingent who’d driven it down from Mexico. One English speaking lawyer, a solid fee and a heap of paperwork later it all appeared kosher and we were on our way back to Costa Rica to score the next swell at Pavones.  After a cursory bag check at customs on the border we make our way to immigration. Big Problemo. The vehicle isn’t allowed back into Costa Rica until September unless the original owner is with the car. It wasn't intentional, everyone thought it was all sorted. Our slight problem is that the ex-owner is on his way to Columbia! 

The boys didn’t have much choice but to get assistance from a ‘helpful local’ who sorted some temporary paperwork to keep the traffic cops at bay. He also had a ‘friend’ in immigration who could update the computer system to make the car appear legit for when the boys wanted to leave the country. A $100 deposit was thrown down, promises were made, and the deal was to meet in three days to finalise the deal. Not dodgy at all. 

At Pavones we celebrate my 28th birthday in liver-sacrificing style.. a good ol’ Kiwi beach bonfire, beers, wine and rum & cokes preceed a vicious hangover. Of course the surf picks up overnight but I’m too busy wallowing in self-inflicted misery to get out there until around lunchtime haha.
I’ve only got a couple of waves under my belt when a cheeky local drops in on me.. not one of those accidental ‘shit, sorry I didn’t see ya there mate’ drop-ins, but a blatant ‘I can see you’re on that wave but I don’t give a shit ‘cos I’m a local and I can take any wave I want’ drop-ins. I carried on surfing the wave and caught up to him.  A sharp double handed shove sent him tits-up, giving me some instant gratification as I carried on surfing the wave. The problem was after this I’d made enemies with just about every other local out there who witnessed it! Things got a bit heated in the water and on land, with one obnoxious American not willing to let things go.  We were in an isolated village and things could get a bit messy if I engaged him (as satisfying as it would’ve been), we managed to diffuse the situation with words and avoid any punch-ups on the beach!

10.30am a couple of days later back in the border-town and our dodgy local helper with the friend in customs is predictably nowhere to be seen. We made a rookie mistake giving him most of the money before he'd actually completed the deal, but you get in these pressure situations and can make bad choices in the heat of the moment. Lesson Learnt. At least it wasn’t a huge amount of money.
Adios Amigos... 
I’m on my own from the border and am heading down to Santa Catalina, a town with a reasonably well known right-hander on the Pacific Coast of Panama. No one is speaking any English at any of the bus stations and it’s a little daunting trying to figure out how the hell to get there. 

I arrive in a city called Santiago, I finally find a taxi willing to take me and my coffin case full of boards to the next bus terminal. I tell him in my borderline Spanish that I want to go to the bus terminal to get the bus that will take me to a town called Sona (from there I need to get a second bus to Santa Catalina). My trust in this dude evaporates quickly as we end up in some rural area and I know there’s definitely no bus terminal near us. I’m thinking this guy is gonna try and rob me. My hand wraps around my recently acquired pepper spray ready to use it if need be.. (my escape plan is to spray the shit out of him, bust out some Muay Thai if necessary then take off in his taxi!) I firmly tell the guy he needs to take me to the bus terminal; the message gets through and I get there in one piece. In hindsight, I don’t think his intentions were as sinister as I thought - pretty sure he was trying to take advantage of my mediocre Spanish skills and coerce me into taking the $150 cab ride directly to Santa Catalina.

Santa Catalina is epic. I meet up with my Kiwi mate Willie (haven’t seen him in ages as he’s been travelling Latin America for the best part of a year).  Over a few days we score some epic waves and drink too much. We are staying at a hostel called Surfer’s Paradise. It overlooks the main break, and is run by a bloke named Italo with the help of his wife and sons (these guys are rippers). The place has a great chilled out vibe and they really make us feel welcome. 

One evening I find myself out for a sneaky evening session where the wind had just swung offshore. The swell’s a decent size and still has a bit of a bump on it, but there are only three of us out there so we’re fizzing. I take off on one of the bigger waves, get bounced off and fly through the air ahead of the wave and my board. As I hit the water I feel a solid thud in the back of my leg combined with a touch of sharp pain as the nose of my board buries itself in the back of my leg about the height of my kneecap. Immediately I know this one is more than a little scratch. One of the lads in the surf confirms it so I make the ten minute paddle back to the hostel with my leg bent to try and stem the bloody burley trail that follows me!  
Fortunately Italo had planned to drive the few hours into Santiago that night with some of the others from the hostel, so I can get a ride with him to hospital.

After a bit of emergency first aid (cheers Willie) I decide that it’s a good excuse to drink more rum (at around $7 a bottle I don’t need much convincing haha). The others on the journey help me finish the bottle.. by the time we get to Santiago we’re all feeling pretty good! A quick feed of Maccas then it’s off to the hospital for this drunken patient. Five stitches later I’m worried about not having my travel insurance documents with me but I find out that the fee is only $2USD. Stoked.

A combo of my leg keeping me out of the water and Willie having a bit of a fever which is also keeping him out of the surf sends us to Panama City earlier than planned. We had a good night out with a couple of Aussie boys, Mike and Chris, who we met at the surf camp in Santa Catalina. I also had a visit to the Panama Canal; pretty cool to see that in action.

Wils flew out to LA and I joined the Aussie lads on a five day boat trip from Panama to Columbia. Incidentally, there are no roads from Panama to Columbia due to the Darien Gap; a couple of hundred km of dense jungle frequented by the FARC guerrillas from Columbia, drug lords and others who would tear us whiteys apart without question. The only realistic option to go south is to fly or take a boat. The price is around the same, but the boat goes down through the Caribbean via the picturesque San Blas Island, which seemed like a pretty good option.

Our boat, The Independence, is a big old 85 foot ketch, we’ve got shared rooms where we’re packed in pretty tightly. There are around 25 or so of us on the boat including the crew, the overwhelming majority of us on the boat are guys, which basically gives us an excuse to be feral and drink too much rum. The Captain, Miguel, has an odd superstition about whistling on the boat.. He was dead-set that if we whistled while on board we were gonna attract a storm. We whistled a fair bit just to test the theory and made it through unscathed haha.

The first three days of the journey are spent travelling through the San Blas islands, most of the larger islands are inhabited by the native Kuna Indians, who sold us beer, coconuts, and cheap-as-chips fresh crayfish and fish. The islands are your classic picture perfect postcard setups; white sand, a sprinkling of palm trees, surrounded by crystal clear water. The last two days were spent on the open ocean; a few people on board were hating life on this part of the trip.. being balls-deep in seasickness is probably not an ideal way to spend two days.

We make land in Columbia at the Port City of Cartagena; it’s had a pretty chequered history. The ‘old town’ is surrounded by a large masonry wall, built back in the 17th/18th century to keep invading pirates out. There’s also a massive fort lined with cannons for kicking pirate’s arses when they tried to attack. The place is a maze of narrow pathways, with a heap of quaint, inexpensive restaurants, shops & cafes (about $4 gets you a pretty decent breakfast). A few days into Columbia and I’m well and truly hanging out for a surf after almost two weeks without waves. I see a solid swell is going to be hitting Peru and on a whim I book plane tickets.

Twelve hours later I’m in Lima, staying at the Flying Dog Hostel in a nice area called Miraflores. It’s pretty touristy and there's park in the middle of town loaded with dozens of oddly healthy looking stray cats, but the food is good, the beer is great and, unlike Central America, they actually know how to make a decent coffee. Stoked.  Once I'm setted in there I have a go at taking my stitches in my leg out myself.. it’s a little tricky seeing what’s going on behind my knee and I screw it up and can’t get one of them out. A quick visit to the doc’s the next day sorts me out.

I also find out that Hec and the boys ran into a bit of trouble with their car at the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border when trying to leave Costa. The bastards wanted them to pay $2k duty on their wagon.. the thing only cost them $3k so they had to make the tough call to ditch it at the border. Ahh the joys of travelling in corrupt countries...

I catch the overnight luxury bus (9hrs) from Lima to a town called Trujillo, then it’s a short cab ride to another bus terminal for another 2 hour bus ride to the town of Puerto Malabrigo, home to a legendary break called Chicama. It’s one of (if not the) longest waves in the world - one I’ve dreamed about surfing for years.  And it’s parrrrmping!!

The wave isn’t linking up all the way but with four or five waves I cover the full 2.2km from the tip of the point to the pier at the end of town. The walk back up to the point takes me a good 25 mins. It’s ridiculously long! Three hours of this and my calves are cramping up big time. I’m spent. Epic times!

Episode 2 of man-vs-wave video here:

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