Nicaragua: Leon and Grenada; and Panama: Playa Teta and Panama City
As mentioned it was a mad dash through Central America, one which turned out to be even quicker due to a last minute plane ticket home, to see the family one more time before jumping the gap. To the surfers, I apologize for the lack of surf content. For one thing, when there were waves, I was in the water rather than taking pics of them, I am sure you can understand. Second, as you can guess, there are no secret spots left in this modern world. I hope to get pics of beautiful beaches with waves, but wont be saying where they are aside from which country, you can find that info all over the internet. There have been countless beaches that were empty, but just as many ruined by one or more resort complexes or giant gringo homes. Central America is full of surf, so if your looking for a surf trip my best advice is to go out there yourself, don’t worry you will find it. I also didn’t do much surfing due to the revised schedule, knowing I will be back to focus on it more later. Of course I plan on Surfing in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chili, and possibly Brazil so don’t worry, there should be more to come. There is a lot more to see down here than just waves, so it was a tough line to walk on when to stay near the beaches and when to head inland.
1 US dollar = 23.9600 Nicaraguan córdobas
1 US dollar = 499.6000 Costa Rican colóns
1 US dollar = 1 Panamanian Balboa
Back to the traveling, I stopped in Both Grenada and Leon, two cities in Nicaragua that people seem to love. I could once again take them or leave them. They were nice enough, and due to the rush I didn’t have time to stop and take a step back to really get a feel for them, but once again they didn’t have the Central American feel I was looking for, though I will be back to give them a second chance. With Grenada especially, it is clear that there are two distinct parts of Grenada, the touristy section that they want you to see, and the real, poorer Grenada on the outskrits, almost banished in shame. Once again it seems these are cities “tourists” like, as opposed to travelers. They come in, see a nice section and say they were there when they fly back home.
I then proceeded to Costa Rica, where I spent a full day of driving through the country to setup outside of the border, ready to cross in to Panama the following day. I am sure Costa Rica is great, and there is that surf stuff down there as well, so I will give it a chance…another time. Even in Panama I only spent one day surfing, followed by another day of beach camping, before heading to Panama City, where I would end up spending more time than I really wanted to.
Playa Tela, Panama:
This beach I am naming for a reason. As I was flying home before heading to South America I wanted to be near Panama City as the flight date approached to make sure there were no problems making it, as delays are inevitable in Central America. Playa Tela is a beach break located about an hour outside of Panama City. Popular with the locals due to its ease of accessibility, and the somewhat consistent surf, I headed that way 1stbefore seeing if I would need a more isolated beach. I found the turnoff and followed the dirt road to the end where I came out onto the beach, with no people, or waves, in sight, sigh. I had decided I was camping here regardless so parked along the side of a natural rock wall and walked out to get my surroundings. This beach is another example of what I hate seeing, as there are several enormous new houses along the beach, most likely built by rich gringos from countries north of Panama. I am one of those people who would love to see only locals being able to own land or homes, but what can I say money talks. Usually people sell the land because they need the money, then rich gringos or resorts move in, and drive the prices up, forcing the rest of the locals out, ruining it for just about everyone.
Turned out there was one other guy tent camping just around the corner, with a board leaning against the nearby tree. He was relaxing in his hammock for an afternoon siesta, so I decided I would wait till later to head over and get the lowdown on the area. Some cops then immediately showed up, so I verified this was in fact Playa Tela, as there are several beaches in this immediate area. Once they left I took advantage of the solitude and did some quick Astro maintenance greasing the zirks. No I have not gotten too intimate during all this time alone with my van, that is what it is actually called. Later during the day a family with Cali plates rolled up and hit the water, hungry for any scraps they could find. Being a polite surfer I gave them 45 minutes before making my way out as well, as I had been waiting here all day to get some waves of my own after all, and there was more than enough room for everyone. I said hello and mentioned the Cali plates. They had moved down to Panama just two weeks ago, so didn’t have a whole lot of info on the area, but seemed excited to be in the area. We shared some mediocre waves, and eventually they went in. I decided to stick it out, as it had been way to long since I had really surfed, and just getting out there always seems to make it worthwhile, regardless of the session itself. A person here or there would show up and surf for a bit, and then leave, but overall I had the waves to myself, and the tide finally cooperated. I don’t know why no one came back out, but I had the best waves of the day to myself while others stood watching from the shore, they were probably intimidated due to my awesomeness out there. Now that’s my kind of day!
I eventually came back in and tried to talk to the guy in the tent rather unsuccessfully, but he told me there were 3 of them, and one of his friends spoke English. Turns out his friend had lived in the same place as where I spent some time living north of San Diego, and mentioned he couldn’t go out as he forgot his leash. Hello sir, have you seen my van overloaded with way too much crap, I have a leash, and possibly can throw in a microwave and airplane for free, who knows whats really in there. Even though my arms were tired, he immediately talked me into heading back out for a sunset session. I tried to convince myself 25 years old was still young and mentally prepared myself to head back out. As I am heading back to the van to grab the extra leash he warns me that Playa Tela has a bit of a smash and grab problem, where the young locals are breaking into the vehicles here, so I should park where I can see my vehicle from the water. I continue around the corner to my van and see too young guys hanging around the Astro. They are not right by the van, but also not where anyone would hangout for a day at the beach, so decide I had better head his advice and move. Its quite possible that they were just there not causing any problems, but I got a bad vibe from them after hearing the smash and grab news, and wasn’t taking any chances. They then left around the same time I moved, so its also probable they were up to no good. Either way I enjoyed some more waves even though it was getting dangerously dark out. I was slightly bummed as I paddled in and noticed the pile of firewood I had gathered before moving my van was now blazing, as someone had helped themselves to it. At least it was a good fire. We stood around talking for a bit and suddenly the skies opened up and we all retreated to our shelters for the night, so it would not have mattered anyway as that fire went out quickly, and the people took off to escape the rain.
It had gotten dark early, and after about an hour of rain it finally let up around 8:30. I hear a knock on the window but cannot see out my windows, so roll them down to find one of the guys who only spoke Spanish from my new Panamanian group. This guy is pretty small, and soaked to the bone. He is asking for a ride to the store but I figure he just needs a tarp or tent, but we still cannot connect on exactly what he needs so I tell him to get his friend. Why they sent him is beyond me, but at least it forced more Spanish on me. I am also not sure why they waited in the rain an hour before stopping by. While he is off getting his English speaking friend I jump out and open up my never ending back of stuff to pull out the tarp, as I am sure that is what he is looking for. Seriously, if I keep digging I am pretty sure I can find the entrance to Narnia somewhere in my van. The other guy shows up equally soaking wet, does in fact need a tarp, and I once again save the day. I throw them a towel I have and wish them luck on what has to be a terrible night ahead for them. I get back in the van, crack the front windows, and open the side windows that open outward as its getting real hot without the rain. The only thing within reach are my board shorts and rash guard hanging to dry so I don’t mind opening these windows, as the threat of theft is low. I then pass out to the sound of waves crashing, is there any better sound?
I wake up the next morning to a different, though familiar sound, almost like foil flapping in the breeze. The reflectix curtains I use are made from a foil like material, so with the windows open they blow around a bit and often wake me. Probably due to the smash and grab story in the back of my mind I awake from a deep sleep and lift my head to look over, even though I usually hear this sound and just roll over to continue my sleep. I see a young guy probably about 15, with his face up in the small opening the side windows provide, with his hand halfway in my van pushing the reflectix to the side. He freezes for a moment, and I whip my leg up into the air, and extend it fully connecting with his face knocking him back to the ground in his own pool of blood. Well, that is what I pictured doing in this scenario anyway. Instead I hesitate not sure if its the small Panamanian friend in case he is looking for a dawn patrol partner, as my vision is still a bit blurry while I come to my senses. The clearance from my bed to the roof is somewhat cramped to begin with, so any chance of extending my leg into this would be thief’s face is pretty low. Add that to the fact that I am a bit sore from too much surfing, and this guy could have had a sweet rash guard. Instead we lock eyes for a brief moment, and he suddenly puts his head down, turns and breaks off into a sprint. Not that easy I think, and yell out “Fuck off bitch!” Yeah I showed him, I am so clever 1st thing in the morning.
At that point I am up, go about my normal morning routine, and eventually the Panamanians get up and come hangout. We discuss going to another beach as this one is flat again, and don’t think it will pick up until at least 4 in the afternoon. I like this plan, but we sit around anyway as its getting hot and we have the awning providing some much needed shade. Just then we see a mini cooper with tinted windows coming down the dirt road to the beach. A chick is driving, and like a fortune teller I am hit with a vision, and instantly know she is going to get stuck, yup I got skillz. Before she hits the sand I say “we should probably go help her, but none of the guys move”. For some reason that no male driver could ever understand, she pulls onto the beach and drives along the rock wall, then backs up to turn around , backs around, and then tries to pull forward, digging herself deeper and deeper into the sand. She then jumps out, and hold on, this chick is pretty attractive, and not wearing very much for clothing. She grabs a stick to put under the tire, and while its clear this will accomplish nothing, I have to commend the idea as she is on the right track. Next the other doors of the mini open and like a clown car 4 more super attractive girls pile out. Suddenly I am not the only one thinking these girls need help, and my Panamanian friends stop watching and finally get up to help. Of course by then its almost too late, as 2 cops show up out of nowhere, as well as some random dude to help free these girls from the sand. I am pretty sure we were the only ones on the beach a minute ago, but you get a group of hot girls in bikinis in distress and people come out of the woodwork I guess. While still an idiot, maybe she is smarter than I thought, as she clearly will never have a problem getting stuck on a beach assuming she normally dresses like she is. The mini is freed easily, and since I have lost all confidence in my Spanish skills from the 2 Panamanians that cant talk to me, I foolishly let them do most of the talking.
Basically all I get from the convo is that they are local, 4 Panamanians and a Venezuelan. Well once again I am reminded I NEED to learn to speak Spanish as letting those guys do the talking ends up being a huge mistake. I don’t know what they said, but whatever it was did not impress these girls. After thanking us they wander off wanting nothing to do with them. At least that works out for you, as we can chalk this up to another failure story to share. With no hope of getting to know these girls I am forced to take a stalker pic for the good of the blog as that was the best I could do. Hey I didn’t want to, but I have to keep my fans happy.
Later in the day everyone took off and it began to rain again, so I made a run to the store for some food. I came back expecting to do one more night of beach camping, but as I was driving back to the beach I find a parked taxi car that was not there when I left. In the hour or so since I had left this guy parked his car and headed down to the beach. Unfortunately when he returns he is going to be met with the same sight I saw, the shattered glass of a smashed window. I obviously decide that this place has to many petty theft problems and head out to find somewhere else to sleep for the night. Obviously this can happen anywhere, but I would avoid this beach, it just isn’t worth the risk, especially for the average waves I saw.
A day or so later I headed off to Panama City, which after months of relatively empty roads left me sitting in hours and hours of traffic. There is construction everywhere, and no matter what I did I found myself behind the wheel, mind wandering back to the beaches or deserts free of this madness. Luckily I wouldn’t be here long, I just needed to catch a flight home to visit family before I jumped the gap. Of course the week earlier I had called and asked my family what their Thanksgiving plans were, as I figured this would be a great time to go home and see everyone at once, as well as working with my loose schedule allowing me to return to Panama and focus on the daunting task of shipping the van to Colombia, as you should know by now you cannot drive from Panama to Colombia, you must ship your vehicle across. I purchased my tickets and sent them the itinerary so they could pick me up. My mother then informed me that the tickets were for next week. Yeah, that’s right, I want to come home for thanksgiving before I go to Colombia, we just discussed this, man old people cannot remember anything. Well, turns out thanksgiving is in Nov. this year, not Oct! I told you I had no concept of time anymore, and considering my birthday is 2 weeks before thanksgiving you would think I would know where it falls by now. Luckily as I am the favorite sibling, this just meant everyone would drop everything and an early thanksgiving dinner would be had in my honor. We had turkey, stuffing, a large variety of vegetables, an apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip pie, key lime pie, rhubarb pie, chocolate pudding pie, cookies, a chocolate cake, and I am sure I forgot something else…(Giant Inhale of air) whoo I feel like Bubba Gump. All proof that I am the favorite kid. It was great seeing the family, and my mix up with scheduling worked to my advantage as I got to go home during fall rather than the cold cold northeast winter upstate NY provides in late November, though I was delayed from the hurricane, but eventually made it out. As I write this they are now being hit by a nor’easter, if you don’t know what that is consider yourself lucky!
After being delayed several days due to the Hurricane, I finally arrive back in Panama to find myself in more traffic. Son of a Bitch! It isn’t consistent, some days its awful, other days there is hardly any. Today though, it is awful. Just so you know I am not bitching, on a weekday it took me 10 minutes to drive somewhere in the city from where I was staying, and 1 hr and 30 minutes to get back during rush hour (7-8:30 pm), and that is no exaggeration. Anyway no matter where I turned the main roads are closed,I am forced up one way streets going away from where I want to be, and quickly going nowhere fast in the stop and go traffic as cars cut in and out of lanes with no regard for each other. Luckily every once in awhile someone realizes that everyone is probably just not paying attention, so they lay on the horn for 30-60 seconds to politely tell people to go, even though there is nowhere to actually go. Thanks buddy, it almost worked, maybe you should hold it longer next time! Eventually I realize there is going to be a parade, not sure why but it is Saturday in Central America and sometimes that is reason enough. I crawl back towards the
Casco Viejo, a touristy part of town that is nice, though immediately next to a rather rough area of Panama City. There is a lot of restoration going on there, so construction equipment is everywhere and I previously learned I would not be parking in that area as its currently a zoo (of course that was a Saturday the day I tried as well so it may be ok on other days I didn’t try again, it sucked that much). I somehow find a spot to park somewhat near the area and not too close to the slums, and walk towards the action. Turns out it is Panamas Independence day, so everyone is ready to party. See, these bonuses happen all the time if you stay down here long enough, I had no idea what I was going to do all day, so Panama City provided the answer for me. The parade was actually pretty good, the bands really got into it, as did many of the people who lined the streets. At one point there was a group of drummers who rocked, though they really got intimate with their drums which gave me flashbacks to the Astro getting dry humped by the military, something I had hoped to block out. They also threw the drums up in the air and caught them. Things really started heating up so one guy decided to use the shoulder strap to almost hula hoop the drum around his neck several times, until it finally flew off his head into the crowd, both hitting a spectator and denting the drum in true Central American fashion.
The next day was Flag Day, so the roads were again shut down for parades, which seemed a bit excessive to me, I mean how many parades can you go to in a row? I now know how Bill Murray feels in Groundhogs Day.
The following day was Monday, and I was hoping to start the shipping process for the van, as I knew I needed to load it on the container Thursday, possibly Friday, otherwise I would have to wait a whole week to get it on the next boat. Turns out due to the holidays everything was closed Monday so I couldn’t do anything till Tuesday, so there was one day lost. I drove around to find the place where I would need to do the Police Inspection so I would at least know where it was for the following day. If they find any problems they will send you off to the aduana to fix before allowing you to continue the shipping process. They also run your info to make sure you have no outstanding tickets in Panama, thus giving you permission to leave the country. I already know I have an issue on my Vehicle Import which needs to be fixed at the aduana before I can ship, even though I had read warnings previously. After hours at the border I thoroughly checked the paper that my VIN and plate were correct, as always. NOTE: Whats also important here is that your VIN (assuming you don’t have a motor #) is also listed as your motor number, not the normal N/R they usually put. Well mine said s/n, and the next box had the VIN, so my VIN was listed twice, which I assumed was correct. What I hadn’t noticed till days later was that she put my Astro down as being grey colored, so I wanted to get this changed to avoid any problems down the road just in case.
Turns out the S/N is also incorrect, and the VIN should be listed 3 times in a row, I will provide a picture of the form later, so either way I needed to hit the Aduana. The other issue is regarding timing is that once loaded it takes about 1 more week to get your van back between waiting for the boat to arrive in Colombia, waiting for them to unload the container, and finishing up the paperwork. This is clearly going to set me back time wise, and mentally I am ready to get to Colombia, so the sooner the better. Of course the latter, longer option is the one which developed, so it looks like I will be killing some time in Panama.
I will save the shipping information for the next post, but figured a good drug story should be told here as many wont need to read the shipping post. Naturally I am sure this is butchered, but this was the gist of it. I met a couple from Europe during the shipping process, who had flown to Toronto to purchase their vehicle for the trip and head South. Somewhere in Belize I believe, they started having some sort of electrical problem so the guy checked the fuses. When those were fine he decided to follow the wires and see if any were loose, or if he could find additional fuses. While running his hand under the dash he was surprised as a large brick of powder fell from the dash. As you can imagine this got his heart racing and they did not know what to do. They knew someone in the police force back home and sent him a picture asking for help. Their friend finally got back them that they had a brick of heroine or cocaine, and they should probably contact the embassy. They asked the embassy what to do, and if they should bring it to them. The embassy did NOT want that, and not wanting to keep this on them in a foreign county they then eventually did what any smart person would do and ditched the brick, hoping to avoid becoming stars on the locked up abroad show. They informed the embassy that they no longer had the brick, and arranged to have their car searched with dogs and endoscopic cameras to make sure that was all that was left, which of course was not, as yet another brick was found! Again this car was purchased in Canada, so not only did they smuggle drugs into the US, the smuggled drugs out of the US as well, don’t even get me started on the wasted money of this “War on Drugs”.