Monday, 12 January 2009

Hasta Lluego

We greeted New Years day watching the sunrise followed by a leisurely breakfast with the monkeys before a grueling eye-bleeding 10 hour drive East across Panama back to Santa Catalina — I like it there. The combination of a new swell pushing through to the Pacific coast lighting up the main point for the first time since I’d been in Panama with the end of the holiday season meant town was full. We found a room on the bluff between town and the point, ate at Viankas and slept, the sleep of a thousand monkeys. Having shown SR all the sights, the next morning I made the 20 minute paddle between the rocks to the main attraction and inadvertently found myself right in the takeoff spot and caught myself an overhead right which walled up ahead of me growing in size and getting hollower as I shot down the line. A few instinctive top to bottom S-turns and a cutback kept me in the game until my final top turn just happened too quickly for me to control and my board shot off without me… my best wave ever!... Again!

We wandered in to town with the vague notion of getting a fish for dinner and arranging a snorkeling trip to Isla Coiba, one of the world’s premier dive sites and a nature reserve who’s only rival in terms of diversity and species numbers is the Galapagos. On the way to Rolo’s to arrange the Coiba trip we bumped in to a man, still dripping from his dive, with a spear gun skewering all manner of sealife. Our eyes were drawn to the enormous Snapper which we secured for $2. You don’t even see Snapper that big in the UK but it must have been £30-40 worth of fish in our sweaty mitts. A makeshift barbeque from a tinfoil cooking tray and a metallic washing up drainer and SR’s preparation, care, attention and garlic & ginger marinade provided me with one of the best meals I’ve had.

Isla Coiba is home to all manner of wild beasts from anacondas to sharks to crocodiles to whales to rays to prisoners — this island was a former prison colony and an unknown number of prisoners still reside in this wild island. The discernibly raw and untouched flora and fauna of these islands prompted a feeling of regressing millions of years as we approached. As the boat passed between two outlying islands we could see the submarine topography with absolute clarity beneath the limpid sea. Our excitement was palpable.
On signing in with the park rangers we saw a saltwater crocodile hanging about waiting for breakfast to slip by and then headed off for a tiny postcard-based desert island for us to snorkel around. We saw a kaleidoscopic array of colourful fish and coral in these pristine waters but the appearance of a gang of 4ft white tip sharks had SR scrambling for the safety of the rocks. With a little acclimatisation to the grey suited presence we continued and saw 2ft wide head of an indeterminatebly large shark lurking beneath some rocks and another 6ft white tip alongside huge shoals of fish in their brightest attire. The sheer magnitude of life around these rocks was breathtaking. When a cruise ship anchored nearby about to unload it’s cargo of 100 passengers we scuttled off to another nearby island with the most pristine white sand beach imaginable, clear turquoise waters backed by dense, dense jungle. A set-designer would have trouble coming up with a more perfect tropical beach.

A dawn surf on Sunday provided even bigger, double overhead sets but it was chock-a-block with locals guys demonstrating their skill and intimate knowledge of their wave. I caught what I could on the inside sections which wasn’t much but it was worth getting wet before our drive back to the city of David for SR’s trek back to San Jose, Costa Rica to get her flight back home.. A cursory check of the tickets when we arrived at the hotel in the early evening struck panic among the troops, we’d erroneously thought her flight was 4pm on Monday, allowing enough time for the 9hr journey the next morning and a fond farewell for us that evening. Oh No! It’s only bloomin’ 7.45 am. It was late already, there are no buses from La frontera after 9pm, it takes 1-2hrs to get to the border and 1-2hrs to get through the red tape at the busiest Panama-Costa Rica crossing and about 6 hours bus ride from there to San Jose. A quick bit of mental arithmetic determined that SR was in the shit. We booked a taxi, clothes were flung in bags and a wide-eyed stressful hug later and she was gone. Three hours later I was startled by the room phone ringing. SR was clearly in distress. The border crossing was a confusing nightmare and the last bus refused her passage and she had to watch it disappear without her. Endorsed taxi’s were quoting $300 but she found someone willing to do it for $200. But of course the cashpoints weren’t working that evening in the wild-west-like no-mans-land! The vulnerability of SR’s position was made manifest when the unlicensed cab took her down unlit streets into the countryside. With no common language between them her fears were only alleviated when he took her back to his house, wife and kids and allowed her to use his phone to call me. A midnight dash in a taxi to the badlands, my pockets stuffed with filthy lucre enabled SR’s 30-hour home-bound journey to commence.

1 comment:

Highgate said...

Swimming with the sharks?- sounds rather too adventurous but also amazing.