Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rumble in the jungle....almost

Hola familia y amigos! Well I just got back to Jaco today from another interesting adventure. This time I ventured south on the pacific side to the end of the road, literally. The spot is Pavones, a famed "longest left" surf spot, and with a south swell looming, it already closing out at the beach breaks in Hermosa & Dominical, I decided hit the road for a solo trip to Pavones. Another nice drive along the beautiful lush green jungle countryside, sunny blue skies and for me excitement to see this place. Upon arrival I find that though pavones is small & remote, there are a lot of surfers there ready to see this long wave in action. It's mangroves, palm tree's, black sand beach and cobble stones that help create this epic wave. When I pull up, the swell has already arrived and when I see this place it looks unbelievable. South swells wrap into this bay, break on the cobble stones and peel for what seems like an eternity. The arrival into a new town is always a strange feeling for me. All of the people stare at me & my big black truck & when I park and talk to this gringo guy, he responds with someones going to break into my truck if I park where I'm at. There are quite a few surfers in the water, spread out throughout the different takeoff zones but certainly a large amount. Being a new person, the surf community doesn't quite accept you right away. No surfers really want to see more surfers show up, especially when most gringo surfers tend to be coming to costa rica to learn to surf and inherently make the lineup more dangerous. As you walk to the line up there is a wall off the only restaurant right in front of pavones and there are a grip of people that sit there and watch the surfers & also stare at me as I walk by. So being a bit worried about my truck and things in it, then paddling out without very many friendly faces starts me off a bit weary of being here. Then as I ease into the lineup, not nearly up at the point, I watch as person after person fails to link up waves, fall on drops and surf really bad considering these high performance gems are firing through the lineup. After a couple failed attempts of sneaking into a wave, I finally snag a nice reeling left and get a good ride down the line in front of the restaurant crowd and all the way into the bay at the end. It's like you can feel all the eyes on you to see if you meet the approval. After that first ride, all the worries and fears of whether I should be there are gone and I'm just so stoked to get to see a wave that breaks like this. Faces turn friendly, rides get longer & the day turns brighter. After a solid surf in the water it's time to find a place to stay. I find a room in a cabina for 10 dollars per night with what seems like a really friendly crowd. The cast of characters that "live" in pavones at the cabinas are fit to make a reality TV show. Everyone is super friendly but as time passes, you start to figure out that they are either a drunk, drug addict, hidden away from trouble, a combination of all of these or a die hard surfer. There is a regular group people hanging out at the cabina and there is a lot to laugh about with this group. First there is a resident named Dave who's from South Carolina with a refreshing strong southern accent, this guy should have a tv show about him. He says the funniest things and has the craziest stories. He's a little guy and as the first night gets a little late & his beer consumption has gone up, he begins to tell me a story where he confronted all the local guys at the Cantina about people stealing things and them not being cool. He told them that if they want a piece of him to bring it, "weaponize" and bring all your amigos. So later that night while he was at the bar, a fight started with him getting hit in the back by a 2x4 and then he proceeded to fight 6'ish guys. The details behind what exactly ensued are different depending on how drunk the story teller was and which drunken story teller told me. I was fed the town gossip by quite a few people because I made friends quickly after my surfing was up to par and people started making friends with me. As the weekend wound down, the visitors left and it was back to the just the regulars and me. It would be easy for me to stay in a town like this, it's extremely relaxing and stress free and most of the people are really nice and trying to tell me I should just stay there and surf all these other secret spots. The surf is incredible there and I've just had the longest rides of my life which really makes it hard not to have a big grin on my face. The rides can be somewhere between 200 & 300 yards/meters. So long you have to walk back up the point, it's pretty amazing really. I paddled out with my digital video camera one of the days, put it in my mouth, paddled into a wave, stood up & started video'ng and the ride ended at 34 seconds long. And that was a 'normal' wave there, not caught from all the way up the point. I was really happy that I felt fit because this wave proved very challenging from a paddle perspective and from your legs burning on such a long ride. Paddling up the point was like paddling up stream, extremely strong current directly against you. All the surfing and training Ricardo & I had been doing seemed to pay off as I was able to last out there for hours at a time and usually spent about 5-7 hours a day in the water which put me on a lot a good waves as most people faded out of the lineup quickly. I still managed to put in my exercise routine after surfing too & I only mention this because of some of what unfolds later. The testosterone level at the cabina seemed to go up when 2 new guys moved in, one of which is helping run the place. So now I little crazy southern dave, about 5'6 & 150 lbs. There is big bill who runs the joint, he's a dopey older guy, tall, 220 lbs and moved out of his parents house to be the mgr of this hostel for a friend so he's not the sharpest tool in the box but he seems nice, seems being the key word. Now i have mateo, aka romeo, who is a typical surf dude that lives in pavones. He's from the east coast of the states, blond hair, tan and full on surf guy talk. Then his friend sloan is there visiting too, which he's a slow minded meathead of sorts. There is a couple from Holland also staying there which means we have 1 female around but the dude level was a bit too much for her to hang with all the time. I sit around at night with these guys as they continue to drink, as they've done all day really, and I like to fuel the fire as they start to make claims of how tough they are. First, sheriff dave as I call him after the town fight over stolen slippa's and the likes, says 2 months ago he was doing 1500 pushups in an hour, think about that. But I know better than to say much cuz I have an inclination that there is something I don't know about this guy. Sloan is a muscle kind of meat head can't believe that and stars to challenge him on it, and dave rattles off he'll go diamonds, one armed, whatever you want and sloan starts to back down. I believe him on his 1500 pushups because he seems to be so into it, but as I sit back and think I start thinking that someone would need a lot of free time to build up to something like jailtime free time that is. This night I'm back to kidney stone pains and they're bad, real bad. I've surfed all day, exercised before dinner and now am in need of some sort of pain killer. Sloan offers me a pain killer which I accept, though he also thinks this opens the door to us being buddies and shows me this "awesome" thing he bought at the pharmacy which I don't know what the box he's showing me means in english and I open it to find a needle and liquid. It's steroids and he's trying to sell me how great it is to use these and pump up, it will give me so much engergy. I'm looking at this clown, who's done nothing all day and I say "man I woke up at 5 am, surfed 7 hours, did pushups, situps, lunges, squats do I really look like I need energy from steroids?" Back to the gang, these guys keep one up'ing each other on how tough they are (or were if you ask me)and because I'm the only sober one I just keep picking and pulling more out of them while I say nothing. It finally dawns on sheriff dave that I'm sober and everyone is starting to be bothered by the fact that as they say I am "being so healthy." The one thing you realize is other people start to feel guilty about not doing anything when someone else is exercising in your face all day & if they're not as drunk or on drugs like you are. It's not my fault though, I'm just doing my thing and not saying anything to anyone. All in all, I'm having fun laughing with these guys and laughing at them claim to be so tough and how fit they used to be in another less alcoholic state of their life. I did ask sheriff Dave if he was locked up in order to do those pushups and he told me he spent the last year in jail, details unknown to me. That's how you get to a point where you can do an insane amount of pushups, I knew there was no other way. You start to realize a lot of people in such a far off place like this are running away from a previous life. It makes me wonder if that's what I'm doing, but I then realize I'm on a completely different life journey than these guys. But it does make me sit back and think about what am I searching for on my journey and I had a lot of good time to think about some things. Pavones is a sort of town that everyone speaks english, it's a problem I have spending all my time in beach/surf destinations. Not enough chance to practice my spanish. SO I walk around, meet some locals and ask them if I could hang out and practice spanish which they loved the idea. They proceed to tell me how most of the gringos don't speak any spanish or even try & how disrespectful these guys that move here can be. They also tell me how the locals don't like sheriff dave or Bill, who I've been walking in & out of town with a handful of times. Anyways it was a good half day of spanish practice as the waves were smaller & I was unmotivated after great 6-8 foot faces of surf the past 5 days. So with the swell fading away and I'm a bit surfed & even though I could get stuck in town like this easily, I figure it's time me for me head north. The holland couple needs a lift out of town so I agree to let them ride with me. Well after driving for a few minutes, I realize I left my pots and pans in the kitchen and have to turn back. Coming back down the dirt roads, I make a turn only to see dopey bill steam rolling along in his 1980 van. We see him, then realize he's not looking or doesn't see us and I pop the truck into reverse and he finally starts to skid and bam we have a head to head collision. Mind you I'm really mad but since it's a guy who's been nice to me, I jump out of the car and say nothing just look at my front end that he's just smashed. He jumps out of his van asking if I have insurance then a few minutes later he wants to talk and asks me what I'm going to do to which I respond "nothing." My bumper is bent in to the point that my tire can't turn without obstruction. These local guys delivering flowers drive by, see us trying to bend my bumper back and in typical form them jump out and have a clever way of 'fixing' my problem. It seems when there is no mechanic or AAA around, everyone's resourceful. Bill asks to talk to me and starts getting weird, saying this was my fault and I'm going to need to pay him. We argue for a second & he says I'm going to get the police to which I say go get them. Meanwhile, our cars are blocking the only intersection in town and the news of a fender bender spreads thru sleepy hollow quickly and we have hoards of visitors. people come and go and bill finally returns with the policia. The beauty of this situation is Bill lives there but speaks no spanish and the police, thank god, speak no english. And my spanish is good enough to tell them the story and actually talk to them. At first I'm still being nice, translating for bill what they're asking him and translating back. The police look at the situation like a very small one, tell me that we need to come to our own solution and move on. But Bills only solution is for me to give him money and everyone in my car and the guy in his car all agreed it was his fault. He doesn't care, he's being an idiot. Bill is now saying he's going to take me to court. There are 2 diff types of policia in costa rica, one for tourist and one for traffic. These police in pavones are tourist police and the nearest traffic police are 2 hours away. They can call the traffic police to come out, write us each a ticket but they're telling me it's pointless to which I translate for Bill but he's being stubborn now. So he wants them called, wasting my day to wait for the traffic police. Even the local police didn't want to wait, they were hot in their uniforms and they asked me at least 10 times to come up with a solution. As the heat kicked in, the anger started to set in a bit more for me & mainly because Bill was lying about what happened. He said I hit him when in fact I was in reverse when he smashed me. The people in my car who also stayed at his place were arguing with him about it. I decide the nice guy thing is over & I start not translating anymore for him & when I do, I just tell him he's been drinking all morning and he said it was his fault to which they laugh. what kind of jerk moves to a country and doesn't speak any of their language anyway? And now I won't tell him what they're saying, he's asking me & I'm starting to give him mean responses now. Mind you this guy is 6'2ish and 220 lbs ( I know his weight because in macho man talk it came out). But I also witness the fact that he could only surf long enough to catch one day each day, then it was back to the chair and the beers so I knew that I had the edge & I knew that though all these guys were tough, only one of us was actually doing anything and that was me. Sheriff dave pulls up on his beach cruiser and is devastated that Bill & I are at ends. At this point my blood is boiling, Bill is being stupid, he's wasting my day because he thinks he's going to take me to court in Costa Rica. I am talking really loud to Dave & telling him that I'm about to snap on Bill. Dave was the ex con who fought 6 guys and I just tell him, look none of you guys can take me & I'm about to snap. I said while you've been drinking all day, I've been training and I have skills up my sleeves that I haven't been bragging about like all you guys. He knows I'm serious and says he doesn't want to be involved and leaves. 3 hours later, all the while I'm getting more and more mad, transit cop shows up. He, like the other cops, laugh at the fact that we called him for such a minor fender bender. I'm not helping translate anything, they all like that I speak spanish and finally Bill says another lie and even though they can't understand him I can't take it anymore so I get in his face (or chest really) and tell him he's one comment away from getting a beat down. I just told him with his beer gut, lazy ways & slow movement that I'm going to kill him & that he better find some friends or a weapon or both. The funny thing is he got really scared, after all this tough guy talk for days I had to endure when push came to shove, he was scared. So he tries to tell the cops on me but guess what, they can't understand him and when they ask me what he's saying I say that he is saying that he drank too much beer this morning. They laugh at me, tell me to relax & not fight him but at this point I'm ready to smash this guy's face in because he deserves it. I ask the police if we can just fight and the winner takes the money but they just keep laughing at me, especially pointing out how much bigger he is but of course I tell him he does nothing but drink and I'm not worried. He's cowered away now, under the bushes afraid to be near me. The transit cop writes us both a ticket that we can take to a town far away, he's trying to ask for a court date but they don't understand his terrible attempts of reading words from his spanish dictionary. They then tell me in spanish he can't do anything, I don't need to appear with the paper if I don't want to and this was all pointless. I translate for him that he needs to go to court at 8am in a town hours away to present the ticket. We part ways, I hit the road angry that I didn't just fight him but happy that I kept a cool control over a jamie correll like tempter that popped out of nowhere. So now I have a nice truck with a slightly damaged front end but it's not that big of a deal. I've headed back up to Jaco to spend a little more time with Ricardo & family. The time I spent in Pavones made me realize I probably should hit the road and head south, i want to get to panama, see the panama canal & the locks there and then try to figure out how to get my car shipped to ecuador. We'll see though, so many options! Sorry this story was so long & I never reread or proof read what I type so hopefully not too many confusing errors, my brain gets scattered! Hope everyone is happy & healthy

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bienvenidos a Costa Rrrrrica!

As always, so much has happened since the last post. Since then I've passed through the entire country and entered panama and back. Costa Rica is different than all of the other countries, it was immediately apparent that I was in Costa Rica the very first night after crossing the border. We went straight to Roca Bruja after crossing the frontier, the drive to witches rock is horrendous really. There is a reason that many people don't go there even though it's a magestic jungle/national park and is a world class surf break. Access is just difficult almost impassable and is impassable during the wet season. The drive there is terrible and here we are doing it at night, it's super slow technical driving that should be on a commercial for Chevrolet 'like a rock.' The reason it's apparent you are in Costa Rica besides the road conditions is the wildlife. Immediately there are night animals out running as we drive into the park. Camping there and you wake up to the sounds of unfamiliar birds and howler monkeys. If you've never heard howler monkeys before, this is a sound like no other. Seriously, the sound they bellow makes you think you are being stalked by a dinosaur or some massive wild beast. I can remember the first time I heard this noise on my first trip to Costa Rica while hiking with Camille, we were freaked out wondering what in the world was coming to get us from the jungle. Waking up to this sound made me realize I had finally made it to costa rica and here I am waking up at Roca Bruja, a place I've always dreamed of surfing. I had no idea this surf spot came with an amazing jungle atmosphere with constant noises, movements and sightings of animals. There wasn't much swell at Roca Bruja but you can get an idea of how perfect the surf could be. The winds were too strong offshore and the swell wasn't big enough to make more than waist to chest high perfect little waves. The second morning we walked to the surf spot at 530am, which is a pretty long walk, and halfway there, along with seeing puma prints in the sand, we stumbled across a giant sea turtle climbing up the sand, dig a perfect hole with her back flippers, lay about 60 eggs, fill the hole and drag herself back to the ocean. What a cool sight that was to witness. So with no waves for 2 days and Fish having zero dollars more, we were faced with decisions of what to do again. I wanted to stay at Roca Bruja and hike and just hang out in the jungle but fish couldn't afford more and since there were no waves he wanted to bail. We had plans to drive the entire northern peninsula but the surf forecast was small and Fish's lack of money situation was putting a cramp on my plans so we opted to bypass a big part of Costa and drive straight to Playa Hermosa to drop him off and for me to go to Ricardo's pad in Jaco. This was a good regrouping point for me and I was ready to travel alone again though it seems I never make that happen. For the next few days I surfed hermosa, esterillos and jaco with Ricardo and at times all of the girls that are taking lessons in the school of the world. I figured I'd be nice and "help out" :) A couple of days meeting the students, hanging around Jaco with Ricardo and his family and I started to feel like I hadn't done anything. I guess the feeling of constant adrenaline of traveling by car had been so much that 3 days of somewhat routine like familiarity started to make me feel like I needed to do something again. Sunday morning Ricardo and I had plans to surf at about 530 am but when I woke up he said this guy that we had seen surfing the other day just walked by and is taking the bus to Panama bocas del toro and he's going with photographers and the waves are supposed to be good. A minute of discussing and we hop in the car and go track him down at the bus station to ask him a few more questions like can a car make it on the island, does he want to split gas, etc. He's amped on me wanting to go and drive and within 10 minutes I decide to go and start packing. Ricardo can't come, he has to work and the family and all. So before you know it I'm in the car with this kid from Costa Rica and his 2 Argentinian photographers. JosyMar, from Costa, is apparently ranked 3rd in the open surf division and is trying to make the most out of his surf career. He's a funny character, thinks every girl loves him and talks to everyone with beach slang spanish which later I'm told that's the kind of spanish I talk. So anyway we're off in the car, seems like it's going to be a fun trip and the first thing that happens is he falls right to sleep. I have no idea where we're going and I keep trying to wake him up but first problem is he can't keep himself awake, apparently he was out all night the night before and hadn't slept yet and the other problem is he didn't know how to get anywhere. I guess he's always on the bus so again, like always, we are lost and asking people for directions which spins us in circles a few times because somehow nobody knows where the ONE road to the Caribbean is. I don't know why I thought this trip wouldn't be long but traversing across this small country is no easy feat. It's a beautiful countryside with ever changing climates; we crossed through mountains, jungles, cloud forests, rain forests, sun, rain, dry, humid, & paved roads and unpaved ones. On the drive there I nearly ran over a sloth, it was in the road and on a paved road which meant I was moving along pretty fast. Sloths are the strangest alien looking things to me, more sloth encounters later. Over to the Caribbean which is a first for me and the first noticeable difference is that it's totally different, as far as the people around. It's now more black dready guys and you don't see the Tico looking people much anymore. We went to look at the infamous Salsa Brava surf spot in Puerto Viejo which is know as a really heavy wave sending a lot of people home with injuries. That wave wasn't really working though the town of Puerto Viejo looks like a cool spot that I would like to spend more time in but not this day, only about 20 minutes and then I'm convinced that even though it's 4pm the border is close and we'll be surfing in no time. I try to tell these guys that passing a border with a foreign vehicle is usually a long dreadful task but they respond with "tranquilo maje, pura vida" so we head for the border. We arrive at the border at 5pm and costa rica frontier closes at 5pm, Panamas frontier closes at 6pm BUT there is a time zone change for one hour so 5pm in costa is 6pm in panama. A "helper" guy starts saying he can get us through, we have to run quickly though he's missing a leg so I'm running and he's crutching super fast. We get the car exported from costa rica, and head across the craziest bridge ever to get to panama side. More on the bridge on the return. We show up at panama right when the guy that does the temporary importation of the vehicles is leaving so he's not happy about having to work on this plus his wife is there waiting. So as usual he keeps me in the room, the other guys all waiting outside, and begins to lecture me about coming on time and him having to work late now. At least now my spanish is much better but I don't want to understand what he's saying because he's asking me for 20 dollars since he has to work late. In the end he won't approve my car until we give him some money so I get the guys to chip in and we come up with enough to make him happy and we're in. The legless guy at the border says the ferry for bocas del torro leaves at 8 and it's an hour away plus it's just about dark. Back to the car and there are kids at about age 7 to adults all saying they watched my car for me and want to be paid. So brush that aside and we're in the car heading somewhere and none of us know how to get there. Now mind you my lonely planet book says plain out not to drive your own car in panama, it's too dangerous. So we drive, ask for directions at least 10 times and it gets dark which I'm not happy about but we arrive to the Ferry before 8pm. We speak to some people around and find out the ferry does leave at 8 but it's 8 in the morning and there is already a line of truckers that are sleeping over night and the girl tells the guys I'm with we should just stay in line so nobody wants to drive back 30 mins to the hotel options. Soooo we sleep in the car, on a road, in Panama and I'm thinking for sure this has to be the dumbest thing I've done yet on my trip. How easy of a target are we? Another prob with that is it's off and on raining and my car has power windows so if anyone wants to roll up or down, they need me to put the keys in. So it's a long night of sleep, I have a bad feeling when I wake up about the car battery. At about 7, an hour before the ferry, I try to start the car and the battery is completely dead. Now I'm really thinking we are an easy target, we're sitting on a street with a dead car and everyone in the world thinks I'm a millionairre. But just as I'm having all these bad thoughts, anyone and everyone around begins to help us. I'm thinking it sure would be nice to call AAA but I don't think they have AAA Panama. So First we ask the guy in front of us to try to jump the car and no luck. We're working against time, thinking this trip is just turning into a disaster which it partially was already. All these people, speaking spanish at me really fast and one guy says to pull out my battery he's going to bring his, try to start my truck and then switch back to my battery. Anyone that knows me knows my car skills are that I don't have any, so just pulling out the battery is something I know nothing about but at this point I have like 20 mins before the ferry leaves. This guy comes running back from far away with a giant battery from his semi-truck, I have my battery detached somehow or another and he links up my truck to his battery and it starts. We switch the battery back to mine, which I didn't know you could do this while the car was running. So in a flash, I learned a little more spanish, learned a little about car batteries and learned not to judge an entire country by alleged bad news when in reality these people were much more helpful than I could have possibly experienced at home. That is a difference I've noticed being here and being at Ricardo's place, there is a community and people help each other out with's much more personal than at home where we don't really talk to our neighbors anymore. So back to the trip, we made it on the ferry and off to Isla Colon, the primary island of bocas del torro. The time spent there was pretty cool, though it did rain almost the entire time. We drove offroad, major mud driving and surfed a bunch of spots around the island only accessible by 4x4 or boat. The people there were all Rasta afro caribbean decent but when they spoke it was pure spanish. It caught me off guard, I guess I have an image in my head of what someone is supposed to sound like by the way they look and it was way off. I guess what's cool about this trip is meeting so many people, especially staying in hostels and traveling around. I find myself hanging out with people from germany, france, netherlands, iceland, australia, canada, argentina, chile and so many other places. It's interesting to meet and talk to people from around the world, it definitely changes you're overall outlook. Some of the nicest people I met were from France who typically don't like americans and Ricardo is from Venezuela and our countries are at ends but yet the truth of the matter is that people are people and you can't judge a place or person by some idea of what you think of it in your head. There is a personal transformation happening with me as I travel and learn more about other places and about myself. It's hard to explain it all but it's happening and I'm sure I will reflect and see it better after this trip is over, if it ever ends. So we stay a few nights in Bocas and start the trek back, nothing is easy with a car. The ferry leaves at 4pm, takes 2 hours to hit land again and the frontier closes at 6 BUT somehow my latin american copilots can't seem to do that math and think we should just go to the border and they'll get us through which I laugh. They don't want to spend money either so they would rather try the border and sleep in the car there if it doesn't work out. The drive towards the frontier was crazy, dense dense fog through a rainy rainforest with no street lights and zero visibility. We get to a town and head for a hotel as I refuse to go to the border and sleep in the car, I would rather fork out 10 dollars for a hotel room. So the border the next day, all goes pretty ok as far as borders are concerned BUT the bridge between panama and costa rica causes us a brief scare. It's not a car bridge, it's a railroad bridge perched about 50 feet above the water. Your car straddles the rails but with my big boat, when it is driving there isn't room for all the people walking so they have to hang over the ledge to let me pass. Well one guy just refused to move so as I was trying to avoid him, I manage to slip my right 2 tires over the rail which was an immediate disaster waiting to happen. I have 3 people yelling stupid instructions in spanish, like go to the right but what they don't know is my tire has no room to turn right and when you look left half of both tires are over the edge and the edge isn't straight so sometimes even more. it was so sketchy, I was certain we were going to flip off this bridge into the water. Now I have about 9 different people inside and outside the car yelling different directions at me in spanish, so of course I'm ready to kill them all. We're all sweating, could never get back over but in the end we made it to the end, at times with 1 entire back wheel in the air off the bridge. The scare was over, we enter costa with minimal headaches and back to drive across the country. While passing through the rain forest I see a kid with a sloth in his hand, so I stop and rewind back as Josymar would say or reverse back and got out to meet these kids. They had a little family, a dad, mom and tiny baby latched to the moms stomack. Sloths are crazy creatures and seeing one up close and holding it was quite a surreal experience for me, such an odd animal. That done, we traverse back across the entire country and I'm back at Ricardo's to regroup, change my oil, fix my tail light and clean my truck. I think I have my first visitor coming down, Dj is trying to come for his birthday at the end of March so I have some time to travel around until then. Pura vida!