I didn’t know anything about this place except there was a hike there that was recommended. When we arrived up in El Valle, it was cooler, and the mountains rising up all around us was a nice change of scenery. We met a couple Dutch girls at our hostel and were baited into having dinner with them after having already bought a ton of food from the market. I didn’t feel like eating anyway, so we had a three course breakfast in the morning instead. Then we packed up and headed out to find this trail. We followed the signs and ended up walking up a very steep road accompanied by a guide dog (we should have turned right at some unmarked road). It was nice to get some exercise, and take in the fresh mountain air.
Next, we go the hell out of El Valle, but didn’t really know where we were going. We just knew we were going West toward Santiago. And that’s exactly where we ended up for the night. Its not a place you want to spend any time, and now Cam was sick, so we had a really great night there. We we were going to Playa Morillo and had missed the last bus of the night. Its actually fortunate because Morillo has no stores or anything, and we weren’t sure if they rented surfboards either. So we found the
worst only hostel in Santiago, where Cam spent most of the night in the bathroom.
In the morning the hostel owner got her rocks off taking photos for her facebook page of me sampling gross fruit from her garden. When we found out Morillo had no food stores, we decided to go to Santa Catalina instead. In a few hours we were there and checked in at Villa Vento, where we would stay for the next few days. Santa Catalina has a couple beaches and a couple different surf spots, so we decided we’d do that one of our days. Every day we spent at Villa Vento, a new group of people would try to convince us to join them on a $75pp snorkel tour to see a whale shark. Only half of them ended up seeing it. One night while out for dinner, a kid was playing his gopro footage from the tour and we got to see the shark anyway.
We went surfing one afternoon when the tide was coming up. The place we rented would only let us take the boards to the beach break, and we were secretly relieved by this because it was a long paddle out to the point break. but we had a couple fun sessions at the beach with some decent $10 rental boards. We even scored some apres showers and young coconuts.
The next day we chilled out on the beach to the other side(North) of Santa Catalina. You cross a little river to get out there and at low tide, its a breeze. We spent a few hours over there napping, reading/writing etc. Then when the tide started to come up I misjudged it and thought it would be going down soon, but it only kept rising. We nervously tried returning across the river at hight tide with our electronics held high in the air. Waves were smashing against the rocks and water was spraying everywhere. We didn’t even get deep enough to test if we could cross before deciding to abandon our crossing.
We saw a trail going up the hill, away from the beach. I was thinking higher ground equals less water; it was the logical choice. Human trail turned to cow trail. Eventually as the sky began to dim, Cam suggested “we should turn that way”. He meant turn right, back towards the town, and he was absolutely right. But I’d led us too far now and the trails were thinning out. In our sandals and short shorts, with not much else, we hopped barbed wire fences and hoofed it up and over a few hills. Ever hilltop had us hoping to see the town below. When the moon came out, it was getting really dark. We were rationing Cam’s 20% of remaining cell phone battery, using the flashlight to guide us through dense bushes and across muddy swamp-creeks. Luckily for us the creeks were croc-free, but the thoughts of them still crept through our minds.
Finally Cam pulled up a map on his phone because the moon and the sound of waves were proving to be unreliable references. I explained to Cam that during my trip I did a lot of dumb driving: when I didn’t know where I was going, I would just keep going. It comes from the term dumb walking that Claudio and I coined in Asia when we would cruise around a new town without maps and never asking directions. Sometimes it turns out great and you find cool off-the-beaten-path places. A lot of the times its dumb and you become tired and get lost and far from where you started. I got into the bad habit of driving with this technique because I was always safe. i never has anywhere to be, I always had food and water, and a bed in my van. I figured if I was headed South, it was good enough. Cam replied to all of this that I should probably try to break that habit.
With the map out now we saw that we were a straight line into the hills, very far from the beach. We used the gps and headed back toward the ocean. Its surprising how quickly you can cover ground when you have a bearing. We hopped a fence and some dogs started barking. They sounded small, so I wasn’t scared, but they didn’t stop barking at us. After a minute, a light came on and I yelled out a greeting, and asked for help. Using our light, and the light by the dogs, we connected the dots and met an old lady that was clearly upset. I think I understood her say that this wasn’t an area for tourists, and it was very dangerous. After several warnings, she hooked us up and got us back on the trail to the beach. The river was now lower, but with the tide ebbing, the current across it was strong. We took deep breathes and stepped into the black water. The first few steps took us deeper into the abyss. But after tapering off, the other bank of the river sprang up and we were out of the jungle. I was happy I wasn’t spooning with Cam in my hammock that night, skipping supper.
At some point in Santa Catalina, I heard the bike project I was supposed to work on with Chris Van Dine in El Salvador was getting pushed back by a month. I suddenly had a choice to make: wait a month and go to El Sal, or go home. After serious deliberation, I booked my flight home to Vancouver for April 3rd, and decided to accompany Cam back to Panama for the third time. I wanted to line handle on a boat through the canal and since I had days to kill I figured it would all work out.