The figures of the policía and their drug dogs twist and wobble in the blazing midday sun. "No se mueva!" they hiss at the Israeli rabbi who keeps trying to wander away from the police checkpoint to take a piss. Inside, our driver and his backpack full of weed plus a shirtless Italian hippie with an expired passport are being searched and questioned. I sit in a sliver of shade on the pavement next to my sun-bleached surf buddy who has snagged herself a metal folding chair. "Well, it's always either a good time or a good story," she says, "and it looks like this time it's the latter."
A little misadventure can be a good thing, but since departing Puerto Viejo, the series of travel-fails have seemed to make my life appear a little bit like a joke. But then again, I could've started this post with "a rabbi, an Israeli, an Italian hippie, and two surfer-girls get into a car..." so maybe I should just go with it.
When I left the Caribbean of Costa Rica, I made the bold choice to do it via Panama. I had shed a huge portion of my belongings when moving away but I still had far too many possessions. My surplus bag of food and snacks broke as I got to the first bus of the day at dawn (necessary if you want to make the trip in one day) and while I picked up the pieces the bus driver left without me. As a result, on the next bus I met some travelers desperately late and trying to make it to the airport in Panama, who covered the cab to the Pacific in exchange for the same amount I would've payed on the bus. So I got from one border, through Panama, and to the next in impressive time.
It's at this border that I met a chain- (joint) -smoking Israeli who offered me a lift to Pavones; another score. And so I made it to the goofy-footers mecca, the second longest left break in the world, in time for a sunset surf. Sure I cut my feet up pretty badly getting in and out with the rocky shore that I hadn't anticipated, but what harm could come of that? I was surfing front-side in peeling, glassy waves, and it wasn't even "good" swell.
I surfed as much as I could in the little time I spent there, but I left early due to an incident in which I accidentally consumed a cookie laced with LSD and promptly decided that I was no longer fit to share dorm rooms with 18-year-old backpackers. Do you know how hard it is to throw up an acid cookie on an empty stomach in between surfs? Almost as hard as watching the waves while waiting to see if you're about to trip your face off or if you can actually get another session in.
At this same time, I was being beckoned by friends who were surfing up the coast in Playa Hermosa, the offer of another free ride by the Israeli, and a general desire to be out of a popular tourism zone before the impending Semana Santa (Easter week) vacations descended. So I packed up again, donating a huge portion of my belongings to whomever I could encounter, and set off on the ill-fated car trip north.
Despite late departures, being held and searched by the police, and nearly missing the last bus north after the driver decided to try and replenish the weed stores that the cops had just confiscated from him, I did actually make it to my destination (not with enough time for a sunset session). However, the wind had turned onshore and the swell had faded, so after a couple of days of waiting for waves, I decided to make my way out of Costa Rica (after shedding another load of belongings, yet again).
It takes more buses than one would like to imagine to go from Playa Hermosa to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. You can take a private shuttle, sure, but local buses only cost about $25 door to door, which is a more than a third of the shuttle price. What it saves in money it costs in time, and when I finally arrived in Nicaragua I was exhausted. But I was picked up by buddies and driven up to their insanely beautiful, nearly-finished surf camp on the hill overlooking Maderas.
The next week of relaxing and surfing passed without any major issue. The offshore winds were very strong and the water very cold, but the waves were packed with buddies and the boys of Machete Surf Shop just so happened to have a spare women's wetsuit in my size. It was a nice time to just eat and surf, hiding from the corporate beer-sponsored parties that were taking over every other beach town in Latin America. I had a great time without a care in the world until the holiday passed and I was ready to continue on to El Salvador.
A day of travel later I was there in that beautiful country where a meal is less than $3 and the waves never quit. The only problem was that the ATMs wouldn't work. Or was it my card..? Turns out that while I was relaxing in Nicaragua someone had copied my card info and drained my bank account. It also turns out that during the 24 hours of bus travel — with my feet stuck in shoes — had caused those aforementioned foot-wounds to become infected with staph.
And at this point the comedy of errors had become just too much for me. Limping around, the challenges of trying to recuperate my money, receive a new ATM card, and to find a place to stay or a way to eat without either were just too much. On the brink of a breakdown, I started laughing and couldn't stop. After all, it was actually pretty funny... Better to laugh than to cry.
I bought a ticket for California and accepted that sometimes it's better to just accept that things aren't going to improve without taking a step back to recollect yourself. And in the end, you'll have your solid ground plus a truly killer story to tell.