Adventures / surf

Surf and Rain Showers in Panama

There has been but few cessations in the rain in the past twenty-four hours. The weather bands cloak Isla Cebaco before extending their long and dripping hands landward to take hold of the Queen’s beach. In a place like this, all you can do is embrace the holdfast.

The thunder here sounds like the shaking of rusted sheet metal. The air smells of wet dogs, jasmine, and stagnant water. The river is swollen and saturated with driftwood and detritus; it consumes the shallow seas to the west, south, and east. The beach is littered with single shoes, plastic, and cobs of baby corn. There is little movement on the streets; only stray dogs seeking shelter and sympathy. The air and our attitudes are wet with indecision.

This is now. Here is then.

We crossed the peninsula Thursday afternoon after several meaty beach break surfs in Playa Venao and a right point break session to ourselves off the untamed coast of Playa Cambutal. I had my first experience with homemade hojaladres (Panamanian fried dough) in Cambutal as we waited for the right tide. Leon walked to the tienda and bought four eggs for eighty cents and asked the woman at the fonda (equivalent to a soda in Costa Rica or a small, typically family owned and operated restaurant that serves homemade traditional dishes) to cook them for the three of us. We sat in the backyard of a house on a river and ate. Three women were already prepping for lunch at nine o’clock in the morning. The perfume of onions and cilantro wafted through the yard.

The road led us through rivers, past pastures, into bare boned towns, and in peripheral view of the sunset as we arrived in Mariato. We ate rice, lentils, and fried chicken with pineapple and lime chicha (a sugary homemade juice mixed with water) at a fonda with painted gourds hanging from the rafters. We were asleep by 7:30.

Entering the water here felt septic. My hands completely disappeared with each stroke forward. Tiny twigs and decomposing plant matter filled my bikini and tangled into my hair. I spit and flushed my nose after each duck dive. The water felt lifeless and the waves took on a tidal bore-like texture. The sea seemed void of salt. After one set wave, one overhead, open, top to bottom hackable wave, I noticed nothing displeasing.

When your days are heavily centered around the tides and you are staying in a town with no name, the common cure for antsyness is taking unnecessary risks. We decided to try and drive down to the river mouth via the patch soft sand, dry tributary indentations, and driftwood and rock piling topography that separated the shore from the parallel riverbed. Rental car, four-wheel drive, and finger counting the tide, a risk on the mind cancels time.

The river mouth session had the makings of a dirty dream. What looked like nothing turned out to be a peeling perfectly sculpted left point break. It was a rare period of time where I had absolutely nothing on my mind…until a large reptile caught my peripheral eye, then I had crocodiles on my mind as I made the long paddle back to the take-off spot alone. In that seemingly lifeless shoreline, I think the sea turtle appreciated our company.

That was the last surf before the great storm. The sky unzipped with such force that I’m afraid that the zipper might have broken, as all of my zippers seem to do somehow. We drank beers, ate soup, watched Jaws with subpar Internet from a hammock, and still felt no relief from the overbearing weight of October. With the certain uncertainty of the season comes the opportunity to practice patience. We are but bystanders in the wake of natural forces that are beyond our control. We did have a car though.

There’s a frustrating and inexplicable art of decision making in a triad of indecisives. However, the morning monsoon graced us with a decisive decision. We drove north to head west to end south in Santa Catalina with pessimistic weather and optimistic minds. The sky can’t cry forever. The wind will eventually tire of blowing onshore. And, when it’s least expected that one wave will start the show. Until then, we sit and stare at the sea.

Written by Jenn Parker

Photos by Jenn Parker

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