Wednesday, June 10, 2009

10,000 miles later & no more training wheels

Buen Dia! It's been a while since I've been on the blog or even on the internet really. I've spent the last 8 days camping in Panama back at the same spot that Ricardo & I first found a few weeks prior. Which means my time in Costa Rica is now over! My temporary permission for my car expired so I left on May 30th. My time in Costa Rica was pretty amazing. I'm definitely going to miss Ricardo, Hannah & Kalani. Staying with them & Ricardo's mom got us all close, I was treated like family. I'm going to miss Ricardo's moms daily lunches. Their main meal of the day is lunch & she makes a full on meal every day along with some fresh fruit drink as well. I became part of a little community there in Costa Rica, started to know some locals & really got to work on my Spanish. My Spanish improved tremendously and it's funny that I've learned Spanish on the streets so my lingo is much more like the locals of Costa than say someone who just studies Spanish in School. It's like they say "hello, how are you today" and I say "What's crackin homeboy" I'm thankful for that time to learn Spanish with Ricardo & his neighborhood friends. I've enjoyed learning this way and now it's time to put my Spanish skills to the test. I've essentially taken off my training wheels because most of this trip I've had a native Spanish speaker with me. I had Ricardo & Fish that entire trek down from the States. Now it was time for me to face a border on my own & figure out how to get around using my newly fresh talking skills. I don't have a map or a plan, so my method is to talk to people. I ask people on the streets for directions & if they know anything about potential surf. I basically can strike up conversation with anyone, even if it's to ask a blind guy walking down the street in the rain for driving directions. Which was funny, I pulled up next to a guy walking with an Umbrella in the rain & slow down and yell "Senor, una pregunta. Para llegar a David" (Sir, a question. How do I get to David) but during the middle of my question he looks over at me and I notice he's completely blind. What do you do? Do you stop your question because not only does he clearly not have a car and drive because he's walking in the rain but he now also is blind to go with it. Or do you keep asking him & potentially offend him by asking a blind guy for driving directions? Well I just asked & guess what, he gave me some really detailed good directions. And like about everyone I've encountered, was really nice & helpful. The people are so approachable & warm when it comes to me asking for help & them seem to respond well to the attempted Spanish. In my last leg of Costa Rica I met a fellow traveler taking surf lessons from Ricardo at La Escuela Del Mundo named Emily. We started surfing together, or I was surfing with their surf classes, and after some time of becoming friends I invited her to travel with me if she so dared. She thought it over, talked with her family which was reluctant as she had some plans to go work in Maine doing some research and in the end she decided to take a chance and go on the adventure with me. So I went from having a tall black Venezuelan Spanish speaker copilot to having a white gringa with similar Spanish skills to me. It draws a new level of attention. In the past seeing Ricardo made people shy away, now it's 2 white folks in a big black American truck. So we left Jaco after her month of surf training was completed & I was due to leave Costa so we went south & spent a night in Dominical & then hit the border crossing to Panama. Thankfully I had been here twice before and was somewhat familiar with the madness that would no doubt occur. I get mobbed as soon as I pull up but now with my rapid fire slang I'm able to say something to all these guys surrounding me that let them know I'm not going to use their assistance. They immediately left me alone. It felt like a good start for me & my spanish. I was told by Aduana's that I could not return for 3 months, they just wanted to be clear. At this point my car was no longer in Costa Rica & we had been stamped and I had some anxiety over getting into Panama & not getting stuck in no-mans land. Through a few dollar bribes to officials in Panama, we get in Panama without a glitch. This made me happy as you never know what's going to happen at these borders. Now that we're through my plan is to attempt to reach the beach & head towards the same place I had before near Puerto Armuelles. This meant all of this border crossing timing was around the tides because we have to drive on the beach during low tide on the reef to reach the place we're going to camp, it's impassable on high time. We drive through a restricted Oil area & then off on the beach for a long run on sand & mainly reef. It's really a crazy drive & rough on the truck. We stop along the way when we're almost to the end, we get off the beach onto a 'road' where there are only cows & horses and mango trees. Emily climbs on the truck and pulls a good 20 mangos off the tree which we use for our daily intake of 2 mangos each per day. We arrive at our location which is a property owned by a gringo guy who lives with a panamanian woman from the area so her kids, nieces, nephews, brothers & sisters are around. They help us work on spanish engaging in many different conversations ranging from surfing to the local people to the United states to fixing my stove. My masterplan, which I never have, was to camp on this spot they have there with small pebbles & the oceanfront view to the island I want to paddle to. There was one problem, when we got to this place there was a guy who was already set up in that camp spot. He is the only other person at this place as it's extremely far & remote but he's a backpacker with a surfboard & he somehow landed there. That sort of deflated some of my excitement because we ended up make shifting another camp site which was on dirt and that only matters because it is now full on RAINY SEASON! So dirt is really mud and it was a dense tropical area so the spot had it's fair share of bugs & things. I wanted to settle in for some quality time in this area to explore around this place. So my plan was for us to stay for as long as we reasonably could. This area is really just magical & I was super excited to get back there. We saw 3 types of monkeys, turtles, other wildlife. We had an exotic island out front to paddle to and have to ourselves. The views were insane, the area was majestic & it was all ours...almost. It's one of those places where I felt like their couldn't be a more beautiful place. And though there was 1 other guy cramping my style, camping in my space, at least he didn't have the adventurous spirit to paddle out to that island and find the wave that I had found the previous time. He had been surfing some other reefs that are right off shore and much smaller. I made the trek to the island and dragged Emily along so she could work on her paddling conditioning. It's a long somewhat eery open water paddle between land & the island. Especially so because the first few minutes we were there Emily found a sharks tooth. Luckily for us the first day the brother of the lady, Luz who's place we were camping on, was going out to the island and picked us up as we paddled a little less than half way. He dropped us off, offered to snorkel and look at the rocks but I told him I had surfed there & it wasn't necessary. Another dream for me, sitting in this lineup & looking at a empty beach lined densely with palm trees. I had brought a bag with bottles of water, fruit & a knife so while Emily didn't yet have to endure the pain of getting in and out of the water on the jagged rocks I got to go in & stash it on the beach & left her to soak up what is actually happening. The waves were small & perfectly glassy & I was yet again overcome by amazement with this find. That day we ended up on the beach after surfing eating our mangos & oranges & drinking our herbalife. A couple of kids, of the guy who drove us in his boat, turned up on the island and hung out with us. It was a good day of practicing spanish for me. They were young & came right up and approached us and offered to help me find some good coconuts. I had a knife & the kid I was talking to was 11 and he wanted my knife to open the coconuts we found. I was hesitant to hand over my knife to a kid but I realized in minute that he knew what he was doing. And more so his older brother, 16, showed up with a machete a little bit later & handed that right over to his kid brother so he could easily hack it open with a drinkable hole & then get the coconut meat out for us. They didn't want any of it, they just wanted to get it for us. There is just a difference in kids that don't have all the luxuries that our kids have these days. They were so engaging & friendly, I mean he fought into that first coconut for a good 15 minutes before the machete turned up. We all laid around under the palms until it was time for them to go, they had been waiting on us but I told them we were going to train & paddle back. Now back to Camping in the rainy season; it poses an entire new element that makes camping less enticing. But the thing I love about camping is that you just do your daily chores, build your home, make your place to eat, dry your clothes, etc. It's really simple but it's rewarding. You constantly try to better your situation by figuring out ways to keep the place dryer or to keep your food secured from bugs to fixing a broken stove. My stove broke and at home after tinkering with it for a short time I would have surely just bought a new one. But here I am in latin America and one thing I've learned is that they don't just buy new anythings without giving it a serious go on fixing it and they end up fixing it. Now I have time and not money, though cooking without a stove leaves us with less options to eat & there is a bit of time pressure because I assured Emily we were going to have a lovely clean campsite & a kitchen-like stove to work with. BUT the other vagabonder was in my site & now my stove wasn't working, right away too. With the help Juancho (the gringo owner) & Miron (Luz's 18 yr old son) we tackled the rusted screws of my old camp stove. The thing is I walked up to the kitchen area & Miron was there & I started to explain I needed tools to try to take apart this stove & he just dove right in, without any hesitation. He started wrestling with my rusted, striped screws and we spent the next 2ish hours until dark (no electricity) taking every piece apart & testing the flow. The problem was my stove had a blockage on it & in the end we sort of ghetto rigged it up to work. Then it broke again and in clearing the blockage I managed to take down the entire piece needed for to compress the gas tank so my next fix included a tiny seashell. The problem we had now with the gas was that it was leaky & flow wasn't controlled and losing gas more quickly is a problem. And speaking of problems, after we camped for a couple of days we had the luxury of not driving which was great but led to my battery dieing. Now mind you we are in a place with no cars, people come by delivering food for Luz via horse. We actually had 2 problems, the first was the keyless entry wasn't working because the battery was dead & my key wouldn't manually open the one door with a key hole. I never use the key and it turns out at some point someone tried to break my lock because it had been dislodged & was loose & the key wouldn't work. So here I am with a hanger trying to unlock my door. I do manage, after repeated failed attempts & a good hour or 2 to get the lock reset into the correct spot & get in with the key. It's a good thing I'm no auto thief, I couldn't get the hanger trick to work for the life of me. The beauty of failed battery was that after my battery problem on my way to Bocas del Toro months back, I managed to buy this portable battery charger/compressor on a trip to San Jose with Ricardo. The problem was that my battery was really dead, enough so that the door wouldn't unlock. But after a half hour of charge & attempts to start, we were back in business. I'm sure by now Emily was doubting her decision to stay - we're camped in a muddy/buggy spot that's soaked, my stove is broke, my car door lock is broke, my battery is dead and I'm sure I'm looking far less enticing than I originally represented. Somehow we pulled through all the problems & even our other backpacker left a few days later without ever coming to the island to find my break. We moved our home, cleaning & airing everything out & we were blessed with a rain free day to do it. We posted up on a bigger, more spacious spot with gravel below instead of dirt & a breeze to die for as I am/was always burning up. It felt like such an upgrade, it was in a way nice to have to experience the less than perfect spot in such a perfect location & then get to 'upgrade'. Bringing a girl, or anyone for that matter, camping in the rain can be a big test but Emily withstood all the bad stuff and still saw only how insanely lucky we were to be in this majestic place. She also eats really healthy & has been enjoying having time to cook so I've been benefiting from this immensely. I've still been battling the kidney stone problem, impassable I suppose, and I've been taking many natural remedies daily from some plant from peru, linaza (linseed), aloe very drink, squeezing lemons into water, herbalife , eating as a vegetarian, & eating an endless array of daily fruits. I feel great beyond the one major problem. It feels good to eat healthy & exercise. At the place we camped in they have monkeys passing through daily. Some of which keep us up at night, those loud howler monkeys, but they have these adorable squirrel monkeys which they say are endangered. We were able to feed these monkeys bananas as they come passing through the area in packs of 50-70. It was surreal, having these monkeys jumping from all directions onto your head and shoulders, being swarmed. This became a daily occurrence when we were around & not off surfing, running, or doing yoga. After days of exploring reefs, paddling out to the island & surfing alone, and soaking up the surreal surroundings we were faced with a decision about leaving or getting more food & returning. Even the shells in this place were amazing, it's like constant sensory overload here. This is a place that made me feel like I couldn't go anywhere and find anything better. That's a bad feeling to get when you're on a journey anticipated to extend our further. It's like, why continue the search when you've found the ultimate place. From a surfer & explorer's perspective, this was the end of the road. After my first visit here & return to Jaco with Ricardo, I was a bit down. I was tired from the trip & unmotivated to surf back there & it just seemed uninteresting after being in this other spot. But this time we did have to contend with the rain however we were fortunate enough to have nice facilities built on the grounds for shower & bathroom which helped keep us clean & happy. But at some point you're ready for a bed & to be out of the rain. So we decided we would leave the following day. Our final full day there, Emily decided to go for a run on the beach but I was still relaxing from surfing so I hung back. Then a bit later, just before sunset, I decided to go run on the beach. It was a nice way to soak in the scenery & let some perspective sink in. I got in the groove, running over reef, rocks & sand and decided to go further than normal. I eventually came to pass another casa looking place & when I ran by a guy came out & flagged me down. He had a bucket full of baby black turtles & said he was about to release them and they are his last batch. It's some volunteer spot for turtles. He asks me if there is anyone else with me at the place I'm at so I tell him that I'm with a girl & she would love to see these too. He asks if I can run back with the box & release them there. He wanted someone to really enjoy it. So I head back, already with a few seashells, with a box of 50ish baby turtles going crazy in this plastic tub. It was about a 20 minute run back, this was the tide they were supposed to be released in. I saw this before when I was here with Ricardo which was a full moon night & we figured out that wasn't a coincidence, that the turtles were being released again a month later. The sunset was amazing, flaming reds & oranges across the sky as you ran up the beach & as I returned we had a full moon rising over deep purples & blues. And in the middle of the sunset & moonrise clashing was my island. I returned to our camp, interrupted emilys ab exercises to surprise her with a bucket of turtles to release. She was over the moon, claromente. We took some pictures, released the turtles & watched them hobble their way to the water & be swept away. The full moon rise was a great final touch to an amazing adventure, the following morning we woke up said our goodbyes to the locals & hit the road err or beach for a drive. Now we've landed in Santa Catalina which is a surfers town far off the map but known to many & it's back to 'reality' of sharing breaks with other surfers and staying in a hotel room with A/C! Sorry this episode was so long, too many things happen in a short time to get by with a short story! Salud