I snapped my new Surfboard
Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
125Trip End May 26, 2008
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I left Bocas del Toro with an Aussie guy called Che. A bit of an older surfer bum and good fun guy. We caught a boat off the island towards the mainland. It was a scenic ride, passing through all the old banana channels where they used to ship the bananas before a new port was built. The narrow channels were made narrower by many fallen trees that our 200HP boat only just missed providing for a thrilling 45 minute ride.
A van was waiting for us when we arrived on the mainland and now, with my massive backpack, day bag and surfboard, I’m having a little trouble getting around. The bus dropped us in no mans land. A transport hub where we caught this taxi to the Panama/Costa Rica boarder, passing more banana plants than I knew existed. The plantations went as far as you could see in every direction. Huge bananas too.
The border was interesting. It’s a narrow, rickety one way old bridge. It’s shared by incoming trucks, cars and people heading both directions, taking it in turns. We got our exit stamp for Panama and waited for a big banana hauling semi trailer to pass then ran behind it, watching out for the rickety fence palings that were acting as a road and our only safety from falling into the slow flowing muddy river below.
We made it across and stepped in line for our entry stamp to Costa Rica. The border official was a complete tool and told us we couldn’t enter Costa Rica without an onward ticket. Meaning a plane ticket or something proving we will leave Costa Rica. Telling them that we didn’t want to stay in their expensive, American filled country didn’t seem to be enough so how’s this for corruption: next door to the immigrations office, is a pharmacy that sells fake bus tickets. The immigrations guy hinted that we go there and see what they can do for us. We said 'why would we go to a pharmacy to get a ticket’, he said ‘trust me’. So we wandered next door and sure enough they had a book of fake bus tickets that we had to buy for $6. The tickets didn’t go anywhere; they weren’t valid on any form of transport in the country but simply acted as a way to bribe our way into the country without actually bribing the officials. We paid up for the ticket, returned to the immigrations idiot and with our fake bus ticket we were stamped into Costa Rica.
Across the border a handful of locals came running up to us, ‘taxi taxi, taxi, where you go amigo? cheap taxi? Amigo my taxi for you’ they said. ‘No thanks, I’m waiting for the bus’. They tried to carry our bags and snatch our surfboards off us, but we held tight and found a rundown old restaurant and drank cold coca and played chess to the amazement of the locals and finally caught our bus to Puerto Viejo.
1.5 hours north of the border, on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is this sleepy little fishing village called Puerto Viejo - Old Port. Palm trees line the shores and banana plants grow like crazy. It’s a one street town, which because of its surf break is now one of the main tourist destinations in Costa Rica and full of backpackers and vacationers. There are 2 great surf breaks. One is a beach break called Cockles, with loads of big powerful sucking waves, churning up the sand as the pale English and Canadians watch on in horror. The other break, the most famous in Costa Rica is a big hollow reef break called Salsa Brava. I haven’t hit it yet, I’ve been watching from the shore. It’s crowded and it seems that my surfing skills will take a fair bit of improvement before I mess with the super talented locals carving it up out there. They are throwing down all kinds of aerial stuff and 360s and the moves you see on surfing videos. It’s a heavy wave on a shallow reef, so I’ve updated my travel insurance and ill give it a shot in the next day or two. Wish me luck.
This is what a Costa Rica surf website site says about Salsa Brava:
"A thick Hawaiian style wave that builds in deep water and breaks over a shallow reef. Offers both lefts and rights, however the right is generally faster, with a steep entry. This is the most powerful wave in Costa Rica and the best conditions are with an easterly swell which can produce up to triple overhead surf."
The next day I went out to Cockles for a surf and on the very first wave, I snapped my surfboard! My new board. My lovely 6ft 4 inch board that I delicately lugged from Bocas Del Toro in Panama all the way here. I only had 6 surfs on it and went out at the beach break here called Cockles. It was a pretty heavy day, but I made it out easily and sat out the back so I didn’t get pounded by the huge sets. A nice wave came along, and I paddled in, dropped down and got in a nice little barrel. It closed out on me and I popped up thinking, sweet, that was a great ride. I pulled my leash to get my board closer and noticed it was a little light. I looked back to discover that I only had half a surfboard attached to the leash. Damn! The other half was floating around out the back. A set came through and took it in. I was pretty upset at my bad luck and had split the board square down the centre. Even the stringer, the wooden strip was badly split which I knew would make it expensive to repair. I had cuts up my shin, from the wood or fiberglass and had blood dribbling down my leg. With a piece of board under each arm, I did the walk of shame, to the group from the hostel, waiting on the sand, looking on in horror.
Across the road from the beach was a conveniently located surfboard repair shop. I noted piles of snapped boards out the front. I wasn’t alone. Sebastian, the owner of the shop said it would be hard to repair and require loads of resin, meaning the board will be super heavy, and he would charge me 70 bucks. Damn, A new board would set me back 150 bucks, it’s a lot of cash in the budget of a backpacker. He also offered to pay me 30 dollars to take the broken board off my hands, which after a day or two of consideration and speaking with all the pros back at the hostel, was the best option.
Without a surfboard I was stuck with bodysurfing and lounging around on the beach. It was a good life and exactly what you would expect from the Caribbean. I was up at 8am or earlier every morning. Our little group would gather by the water’s edge, on a washed up log, with our feet in the warm water. Every morning, we would take it in turns to buy the fruit. We had a delightful Caribbean selection of cantelope, watermelon, mangos and bananas. We all sat and slurped out fresh fruit every morning while watching the steadily rising tropical sun flicker off the postcard waves and the palm trees swayed around in the gentle breeze. It was paradise. A few minutes go by in silence as we suck it in then someone would come out with a comment like, ‘Wow, I’m sitting on a beach in the Caribbean eating mangoes! Life is good!’ It never ceased to amaze us. How can you get tired of this?
Before the intense midday sun would hit, we headed to the beach break and got in some bodysurfing - nobody was game to takeout any surfboards now as a growing pile of snapped boards grew on the board graveyard site at the hostel. Every day someone would snap their board, almost in the exact spot I snapped mine. They need to put up a sign or something. So we watched from the beach and when the midday sun belted down, we would take shelter in the shade, playing cards and chess and swapping travel advice while eating fresh avocados that we pulled off the trees.
Seven hot lazy days by the beach, and 6 insane nights in Puerto Viejo and it was time for me to leave. I travelled with a few new travel buddies to San Jose - the capitol of Costa Rica.