Surf. It is the major part of our adventure. So after the flat Caribbean oasis of the San Blas Islands we headed out of Panama City toward the pacific coast of Panama.
Snag # 1: two recently purchased second hand surf boards… not standard taxi issue. Only standard taxi’s available. Bus leaves in 45 mins…
Somehow Anthony works his magic and fits them in sideways inside the taxi, as long as no one makes any sudden movements, including the taxi driver. We make it to the bus terminal with ten minutes to spare. A bus driver sees the foreigners with the surf boards, says “Santa Catalina” and takes us straight to the bus… snag # 1 averted.
We were on our way to Santa Catalina, and our hostel in panama city had phoned ahead for accommodation at a surf spot they knew about. The only difficulty was getting there. Our plan was to take a bus 5 hours to Soná, hopefully in time for the last mini bus out to Santa Catalina which leaves at 4pm. From there we knew they’d be some sort of hike with all our gear to a neat spot up on a hill.
The 5 hour bus ride started with an assortment of Spanish dubbed action movies played on full blast from the box TV up the front, followed by latin music video clips, all of which seemed to feature a hot looking blonde female draped over a small tubby latino man playing an accordion. My iPod decided this was the perfect moment zap all battery life, and with it, mine as well. So I spent the last few hours of the bus ride feeling incredibly concerned for the small tubby latino man with the accordion, as attractive woman after attractive woman left him… I felt that if only he’d put down the acordion his luck might change.
I stepped off the bus in Soná and walked straight into the face of a man who was yelling “Santa Catalina, Santa Catalina” and pointing around the corner. We took our backpacks and found the small bus. My backpack was taken from me and loaded onto the roof… I looked at it questionably… It had been a long time since my pack saw the roof of a bus like this. All of a sudden from behind me I heard an English voice cloaked in a heavy accent “Ah, you are Bryce??” we all turned around confused to see a man in a 4WD, his head sticking out the window. We fumbled out an “ahh yes??” he replied with a smile “Yes, you stay in surfers paradise?” We smiled, it was Italo, the Hostal owner. He was in town running errands and thought we might be on that bus and came to offer us a ride the next hour into Santa Catalina. Avoiding for us a 1.5 hour chicken bus ride and a long hike with our backpacks. A nice reminder of the kindness of strangers.
The inside of the old 4WD was missing anything that wasn’t entirely necessary for the car to function. The insides of the doors, a front window, the glove box, a door handle and so on. Bryce and I promptly fell asleep in the back as Anthony and Italo discussed the best surfing spots around, and a huge storm came in. Saved by Italo for the first time, and potential mishap with bags on roof of bus in storm averted.
Santa Catalina is a one street town… literally. There’s no atm, no taxi’s, a tiny corner store, a church and a few restaurants… and that’s it. It sits on the Pacific coast of Panama and is frequented by surfers, divers, and those looking for good snorkeling at the close by Coiba National Marine park. As we drove through town almost everyone we passed either waved or stopped to say hi to Italo, he introduced us as “his Australian friends”, it seems like the whole town loves the guy.
Hostal Surfers Paradise sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a rustic place with all rooms looking out over a huge balcony which is lined with hammocks. The only thing separating you from the ocean is grass, a few palm trees, and a cliff edge. It was perfect. Real Remote Paradise. I remembered a review I had read on tripadvisor slating the place, someone claiming it was a rubbish place to stay because it didn’t have hot water and Wi-Fi. I stopped and looked around at our bright cosey room with ensuite and the location we were in… we were paying on $15 a night each. Yes there was no hot water (but that’s the norm in Central American hostels) and yes there was no Wi-Fi… but what is wrong with people, I thought. Paradise… real, remote paradise, does not come with hot water and Wi-Fi… it’s paradise after all. I’m not exactly a 5 star hotel kind of girl, and this was my version of a little paradise. For us this place was beyond perfect.