Settling in to Bocas

Learning Spanish by only hearing Spanish is like trying to become smart by holding a book. Everyone keeps telling me that your brain just magically absorbs nonsense thats consitently uttered directly to your face. Like someday suddenly I’ll write beautiful Spanish prose, play the flamenco guitar, and strike a strong resemblance to Javier Bardem. Imagine your in a room full of people and the speaker asks “whats the square root of 1,5678,490?” and everybody looks at you wondering why the fuck you don’t know the answer. It’s like that every morning for 4 hours. Needless to say, I haven’t had an epiphany yet, but I’ll let you know when lightning strikes.

To further our indoctrination into the Panamanian Caribbean life, we are staying with a sweet grandma. She cooks us 2 meals a day and keeps us inline. While eating our tasty pescado last night, she would yell at us to ‘habla espanol’. A phrase has been utered to me in class more than once. As with all things travel, you have to disavow yourself of creature comforts. On the scale of Ritz Carlton to Guantanamo, our casa resembles more modest means. I learned when you touch the top of the shower head (which only dispenses cold water), you get a mild electric shock. See picture below. Yes, thats a giant wire running into a shower head where I’m standing a pool of water.

Electrotherapy Showerhead

Truth be told, I’m loving the nomadic life so far. Yesterday I bartered with the shadiest looking Panamanian in some backwater warehouse for a cheap bike. He pointed to a twisted pack of metal on his shopfloor/scrap yard/place to score drugs and told me that pile of junk would be a bike by tomorrow. I managed to explain that I’d be surfing in the early dawn before class and that I needed a loaner before then, which he abliged for a small down payment. If this loaner was a boat it’d be at the bottom of the ocean. Check it out. On the bright side it has brakes, wheels, and moves in 1 direction. It certainly buys a bit of freedom where the nearest surf break is too far to walk on this island.

Hooptie ride

This morning, I awoke in the dark, snarfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, grabbed my board and headlamp and made the maiden voyage on this hooptie of a bike. Our class starts at 8 am, so I have to be in the water by 6:30, which is the crack of dawn here, and out by 7:30. With a 20 minute ride each way, I need to ride the first bit in the dark with a headlight to warn me of potholes. I arrived at Paunch this morning and was in the water with just 4 other guys. This break was a cut above what I was hoping to get my surf legs under me. It’s a reef break suited for intermidiate to the advanced surfer. The first section is a pitchy barrel that turns into a solid wall. And today was big. Not like Hawaii big, but big for this Coloradan that counts my number of times surfed per year, not per week like I used to. Some of the sets were 8 - 9 feet that pitched in sweet little barrels. On the bigger sets it seems to suck up a bit. Needless to say, its a big boy drop. After a couple of false entries on my short board I’m still adusting to, I caught a wicked drop and a nice little left. Just enough to dust off the surfing cobwebs and I had to get back. I knew I was running late and but surely I could trust my steed to carry me to the gates of Vahalla and back. Alas, 3 minutes from home, my chain came off which caused a loss of balance with a board in one hand. As I went careening for the dirty street I kept thinking that road rash on this street carries the risk of some undiscovered form of bacteria that would have doctors scratching their heads as to why my leg is a special shade of purple. I ditched my poor board on the asphalt and did my best to stay upright. I managed to scrape up my leg a bit from the peddals locking up. I’m sure some locals got a good laugh, but the good news is my board is OK.

Paunch, same size as today
Paunch, day before

My bike snafu set back my tight schedule.  After some minor first aid and the time lost recombobulating after the crash, I was late to my class.  I felt like Spicoli coming in tardy to Mr Hand's class.  My nostalgia was quickly abated by the instructor speaking what might as well be Swahili.

Now that we are settled in, our days should be mostly rinse and repeat. Hasta luego.

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