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Road Trip Through Azuero Peninsula

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 31 July 2006 12:55
I had been wanting to get away from the everyday annoyances of working in the city—the car horns and the phone calls and the 6 AM roaming broom merchants. More specifically, just over the past week or so, I had been exhausted from that fast-paced work atmosphere of the city, of pesky people scheduling meetings. I hate meetings: “Rome didn't create an empire by having meetings,” I'd tell them. “They did it by killing people.” The excuse for this little trip was a person. Greeny. Greeny has always been a friend who is impossible for me to gross out and impossible for me to offend: our relationship based on the values of curiosity and trust. I could call him on a dark and hungover Sunday morning to tell him that I just threw up. “What color is it?” he'd ask. “No, like what shade of yellow?” Greeny is impervious to those kinds of things.

As you might have guessed, Greeny is not his real name, yet it was born in that hilarious way that college nicknames are—going from a totally logical nickname to this bizarre, unrelated alias over the span of four drunken and polluted years. While the lineage of his name is beyond me, I can surely say that the Greeny of today is exactly the same Greeny I met five years ago. It is of no surprise that the two things that I perhaps admire most about Greeny—his inquisitiveness and his numbness to gross things—have led him on the industrious path to becoming a doctor. Greeny is the sort of guy that, if left to his own devices, and access to some powerful dynamite, could probably take over the world. For our trip though, we just wanted to have some fun.

Only a few hours into our voyage, we paused for lunch in Penenome, a town known amusingly for its woven hats and beautiful coastline. Gallo Pinto (spotted rooster) was a small room of a restaurant, which actually reminded me of a Latin version of my middle school cafeteria, with that terrifying stainless steel buffet that fed children slop and muck. Only difference was, food here was great: a nice pile of chow mein, braised beef, lentils and a bottle of lime-green hot sauce called Devils Inferno. Hot sauce, I thought to myself, is one of the few things that can get away with giving pain to the person who eats it. Anything else—for example, say, a flaming pizza or a blueberry scone that electrocutes you—would not sell well. But liquid venom that sets your mouth ablaze, and hurts your throat going down...it works. Overall, the meal was good and it cost no more than a highlighter.

In the confusion and haste of packing for the trip, I conveniently forgot perhaps the one most important article of clothing needed when exploring a coastline: my bathing suit. I have this horrible habit of forgetting important articles of clothing for trips: see me shivering jacket-less in Moscow in the dead of winter, or me atop a steep hiking trail in Spain wearing a battered pair of flimsy flip flops. So, forgetting my bathing suit on a trip along the Pacific Coast was only fitting.

We stopped in Las Tablas, a small labyrinth of a town, easy enough to navigate and pleasing on the eye. I wandered into a few stores, asking about swim suits yet the only thing buyable was this little red Speedo, probably no bigger than a scrunched-up eye patch. “I am desperate,” I told Greeny, “but not that desperate.” Not desperate enough to parade around in a small scrap of stretchy red nylon. I eventually found a pair of surfer shorts—a light blue pair of long board shorts that reminded me of a pair of Jams I used to own. Mission bathing suit proxy, complete.

Although this was not my first time into the heart of Azuero, the rolling hills and gleaming coast never cease to amaze me. We reached Tonosi and met up with Edwin, a 70 year-old local and retiree who walked everywhere with no shoes. “Doesn't that hurt your feet?” I asked him. He responded with a Spanish proverb which most closely translates to “no pain, no gain.” Edwin was a thug. He was eager to show us a property he owned in Playa Bucaro (a microscopic fishing village near Cambutal.) Once out there, we treated Edwin to a lunch of fried snapper, in one of those moments that felt totally surreal and paradisiacal. We felt so removed from everything we knew. There Greeny and I were—sitting near the jungle, in a town so remote and secret, with the ocean waves lapping close by. We picked at the fish with our hands, pulling off giant chunks of succulent flesh and chasing them with crispy plantains which looked like thick little frisbees. They crunch and squish when you eat them. Greeny and I looked at each other in that life-aint-so-bad-after-all way and laughed. “Life aint so bad after all” we said.

The town of Tonosi is very rural and homey feeling and before departing on the next leg of our adventure, Greeny and I stopped at a little market to pick up some snacks for the turtle search—some crunchy pork rinds and a bottle of Panama's national liquor, Seco, or as I like to refer to it—rocket fuel in a bottle. Greeny, now fascinated with the fact that sodas cost $0.25 down here, bought two Cokes. I also picked up some Calamine lotion, being that for some reason, I am more feast-worthy of insects than others. If the Eskimos have over 1,000 words for snow, then I my friends, have over 1,000 words for bug bites. Fire bump, stinging pickle, and spicy pickle bite being several.

We took a boat taxi to Isla Cana—a small circular island inhabited by only a few hundred people. Our boat, a small worn-out lanza, was captained by two children whose combined age couldn't be more than ten or twelve years. Once on shore, we met our contacts Sr. Mercedes and Sr. Fernando, two important males in the community, and two men who would show us where to search for the turtles. Greeny and I set up camp right on the beach and after a game of pickup soccer and a sunset dinner of fresh clams, we began the search for the almighty leatherbacks—a species known to nest and lay eggs on in the winter months.

We bumped into a few fellow searchers, one of whom Greeny thought was a drug smuggler or a turtle egg thief, which was funny considering she was about 80 years old and had the face of a saint, yet with almost no teeth. “I've seen jack-o-lanterns with more teeth than that,” I said. This woman, Lucy, we'll call her, showed us where the turtles like to go.

Around twelve at night, the turtles arrived: giant inner tube-sized Czechoslovakian turtles began swimming their way up the sand to the dunes where they would lay their eggs in a deeply-dug hole. We had to help one because she was so tired and couldn't scoop out a big enough ditch. Greeny had to help another back to the ocean because in the midst of birth she had gotten confused and frazzled, thus losing her sense of direction. Helping these creatures was a pretty special experience, and one that I'll definitely think about before I order my next bowl of turtle gumbo. Or turtle fritters. Or turtle Mcnuggets.

The next morning I awoke early, as I usually do after helping large creatures of the sea lay eggs on the sand. I wandered out into the ocean and finally understood what surfers have been trying to convince me of for years now: the unbelievably enlightening feeling of being alone in the ocean. The morning mist was still settling over the mountains and the water was warm with the first rays of sunlight hitting it from the other side of the island. Supposedly, the only thing that can top the feeling of being alone in such a massive landscape, is being out there with a good friend and Greeny had just woken up. Things on Isla Cana were good.

continue on to Part Two

Or take a peek at the photos from this adventure: Isla Cana, Isla Cana set 2, Playa Bucaro, Azuero, Playa Bucaro set 2

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How come no part 2?
written by Dale , June 08, 2007
tried to read about the trip and see the pics but the links only lead back to the home page.

The place sounds just what I like - I hope to be there in November and I will remember my swin suit :-)

More stories like this the good and bad about panama is why I am here
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broken link
written by Mateo , June 08, 2007
hey amigo,
sorry about the broken links...all the price we pay for trying to make a new site. here's the continuation for ya http://www.thepanamareport.com...51-28.html
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Azuero Road Trip
written by Elvin Duncan , September 08, 2007
Your writing style is very refreshing and it sounds like you know the area pretty well. I'm hoping to locate a place in Panama that has good diving (clear water) while still having a nice beach and affordable prices. No bugs would be a plus. I suppose everyone is looking for something like this, but maybe you have some suggestions?

Thanks,

Elvin
Santa Rosa
California
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Inspiring
written by Chris , April 25, 2008
Having been thoroughly inspired by this road trip report, about a month ago I decided to undertake a similar one of my own. Aside from being completely conned by National Car Hire, it was brilliant, and I wrote about it at http://bigtravelweb.com/travel...peninsula/ .
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Last Updated on Thursday, 29 April 2010 23:36
 
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