surfing

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The point breaks in Chile are legendary – bonfire rumors of long lefts, icy waters and uncrowded waves had both of us excited about our prospects as we rolled into Pichilemu, home to the world’s largest collection of left hand point breaks. Kels had hooked us up with a sweet camp spot, it was low season, we were with friends and there were waves to be had.

The point was roaring, I rented a 4 x 3 full-suit, got some pointers from a local and jumped in off the rocks at Punta de Lobos. It can be a bit of a tricky paddle, you have to time it between the sets or you run the risk of getting pushed back onto the rocks. Adrenaline kept me paddling until I was out of harm’s way, but after about 5 minutes I was slowing down and soon I could barely move my arms. It was then that I realised that I hadn’t been in a full wetsuit for years and that I was very unfit.

When we came back the next day the swell was gone, leaving no indication of the thundering lefts of the previous day. But I was happy, I’d caught a couple waves and we were lucky enough to see Punta de Lobos on a good day, the water is cold but the locals are friendly and the waves are world class.

we are here

we are here

Quito was fun but we decided that we had been cold long enough and headed to Ecuador’s coast in search of waves and sun.

Unfortunately for us, this was the wave situation:

Flat ocean

So we just kept on driving…

Ocean Potion

The past few months we have been outside surfing and soaking up the sunshine.  Worried about wrinkles I was pleased to find Ocean Potion.  This powerful face sunblock (clear zinc oxide) protects against both UVA and UVB rays, is water resistant for up to 80 minutes and doesn’t sting your eyes when you are out in the water!

We bought two containers in Costa Rica, priced at about $5 a pop.  Since both of us have been getting maximum sun exposure an entire jar has already disappeared, however at home I think this little puppy would last quite a while. Ocean Potion is readily available in the US – I can’t seem to find a Canadian retailer but it is sold online here.

We caught the ferry from Bocas to meet up with our travel buddies Chris and Kristin in a little town called Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast—which is also home to a really good surfing break (named after the town) and it’s touted as having the most consistent surf in Central America. A long walk out over volcanic rock and then it’s a fair paddle to a beautiful but shallow reef break offering fast lefts and rights, when we arrived the waves were about shoulder high. We camped in a nice spot called Oasis right on the beach with plenty of shade and fresh coconuts falling scarily close to our tents, like manna from the sky. Try boiling a cup and a half of rice in the juice drained from two freshly fallen coconuts in a thin camp pot … best eaten under undiluted galaxies.

shady-camping

A few tranquilo days later we headed inland to camp with a rasta yogi, known locally as ‘Swami‘ and his rainbow gathering crew, the cheapest accommodation we could find in a town that’s centered in the crater of an extinct volcano, called El Valle, about two hours outside of Panama city. When the Panama Canal was owned and operated by the States a few Panamanian officials were getting fairly good kickbacks and we were told that this is where their kids bought up large chunks of fertile land, building grandiose houses with rambling manicured lawns set amongst awesome tropical landscaping. We had read that the town hosts an interesting arts and crafts market and were a little disappointed to find it much of the same and our only real discovery worth reporting was the Maracuya (passionfruit) juice served in a small out-of-the-way cafe.

For those headed this way with a car make sure you arrive EARLY… around 6:30am, the ferry from Almirante to Bocas leaves at 8am sharp (Monday through Saturday) there will be a line up for miles and each driver will be vying for a limited number of spots. Marlin was the last car on, made it by the skin of his little black bumper, accompanied by some fruit and vegetables, we were only one car away from having to spend an extra night to catch the ferry the next day.

Last one on

Bocas del Toro is the biggest town on the main island of the Bocas Archipelago and it’s seriously Caribbean although tourism has run rampant in the last six years and the prices and scenery definitely reflect that. We chose to stay at the beautiful La Veranda, a 100 year old home, on the outskirts of town for only a little more than the price of the dorm beds in town. The ambiance of the second floor, large wooden veranda complete with rattan rockers and lazy fans helped lull us into the slow vibe of Bocas.

Looking for surf we hired a boat to take us to Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos. A boardwalk shortcuts across the island and as a local worker scuffed past us in his rubber boots, Tom asked where the red frogs were at. He walked directly to a tree, bent down and then presented us with a Poison Dart Frog.  They are so tiny!  Ok, we weren’t supposed to hold them but the young guy said it was ok.  (This was pretty dumb and we do not endorse it at all).

Red Frog

The red frogs are native to parts of Central and South America and live in rainforests.  They emit a funny chirp noise and their bright colours can range from vibrant red with black spots to  dark blue with pale blue markings which are meant to ward off predators. There are more than 100 species of Poison Dart Frog and the colours can vary within the species, they do carry a poison (which is why you shouldn’t touch them) but only three are apparently really dangerous to humans.  From what I could gather they need to inject their poison, which is lucky for Tom and I, since we just held them (DUMB). Interestingly the toxins are derived from creatures they eat like ants or mites, so should you choose to have one as a pet and control it’s diet, it could potentially be poison free. Generally their toxins can’t permeate our skin, however, I did have rather numb, red looking fingers (and a serious panic attack that I was going to die) after touching that damn frog and would NOT touch one again.

Warning Poison

One more interesting thing to note, it seems that the resort development aptly named Red Frog Beach, is rumoured to be encroaching on the habitat of its namesake and contributing to their declining numbers.

Bocas del Drago

Happy to be alive the next morning, Tom and I caught a bus and headed to Bocas del Drago which is on the other side of Isla Colon. It was all that you could imagine a Caribbean beach to be.  Bleached white sand, turquoise clear warm water and huge palms. If we had known how beautiful it was we would have opted to stay here, away from the hustle of Bocas del Toro.  After enjoying the serenity of the place, and the company of some great Aussie gals, we negotiated a boat ride back and took in the sights of the island lifestyle before packing up wee Marlin and continuing on our way.

Beautiful Bocas

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