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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Panama part 1


“Panama? Why the hell would you want to go there? It’s just a big swamp.” That was the adverage response I got when I mentioned to my friends and family I was thinking of heading to Panama to explore fishing and surfing possibilities. The other most common comments were: “Dude your going to get Malaria.” “I heard that they kindnap Americas and hold them hostage down there.” And “Watch out for the police. They are totally corrupt down there.” Traveling through any Central American country can be sketchy and Panama is no exception. I tend to be an optimist, so I figured the rewards of un-crowded waves, Pristine Jungle and hungry fish could far out way the risk and there was only one way to find out. I figure that if you just treat people with respect and don’t act like a dumb ass, chances are you’ll probably be all right. Truth is I’m more scared of most cities in California then those I’ve been to in 3ed world countries.

I first heard about Panama from a friend who had traveled through there on a surfing trip. I did a little research and found out that the word Panama has been translated to actually mean “Abundance of Fish”. When you look at Panama on a map, it’s easy to see why. Panama is littered with rivers and lakes. It’s bordered by the pacific and Atlantic oceans and has tons and tons of little islands, bays and mangrove estuaries along both coastlines. You can actually drive from one ocean to the next in just a few hours in most of the country. The pacific Continental Shelf drops off into deep water off the coast of Panama, making it a prime stopping and feeding ground for large schools of big game fish cursing in the pacific currents. The hundreds of rivers pouring in and estuaries they make, provide habitat for all kinds of forage fish and crustations and the predators that they attract. With Panama being a relatively sparsely populated country, and commercial fishing pressure being fairly low, Ocean fish still thrive in the nutrient rich waters off both coasts. Snook, Tarpon and snappers have worked their way up into most of the rivers. Panama even has a unique niche in that Tarpon have made it through the canal and now live in the Pacific there. Peacock bass have been introduced to some of the Fresh water lakes and now thrive. Over 30% of the entire country is protected in National Parks and Preserves, including hundreds of miles of coastline and islands as well as inland jungle and forest preserves. Me being a Nature junky, Surfer and Fishing Addict, I figured it could be a great place to spend a few weeks. I talked my girlfriend Megan into going with me and off we went.

Our trip started out as most do, in Panama City. We decided to rent a car for the month. I’d heard the usual stories about robbery, corrupt cops and bad roads, but I decided it would be the only way to really get off the beaten tourist path. The busses only go to certain places and at specific times. Having Megan along, I decided hitch-hiking wasn’t an option. I enjoy the freedom of having your own wheels and on a short tip like this, one month, it didn’t make sense to try and buy then sell a car. Even the locals warned us of some of the dangers of Traveling around Panama. You can’t let fear control your life, so we strapped the surfboard to the roof and headed out of the Airport at 11 at night into the strange city. It’s a 45 minute drive to the nearest zone with any reasonable hotels.

As soon as you leave the airport, it becomes apparent that your in a third world country. There are broken down cars all over the place, trash on the streets and skinny dog wandering around in the road. It took us a while to navigate our way to the central zone where it’s safe for tourists to stay. We found a hotel and hauled our bugs up the two flights of stairs to our room. By then it was getting pretty late, but we were thirsty so we decided to see if there was a store open where we could by some water. As we walked out of the hotel and tried to cross the street, a young black dude approached us from the shadows of a tree. He asked us if we wanted to buy some Coke. We politely said no thanks in Spanish and kept walking. We didn’t make it half a block before we decided it probably wasn’t a great neighborhood to be walking around at night and retreated back to the hotel.

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. Most people come here to see the Canal, but I really couldn’t care less. I just wanted to get the hell out of the city and into some more remote zone. I’d been looking on the map and found a small village near a lagoon on Lago Gutan that wasn’t to far away. A small passage in the Lonely planet mentioned that there was a small pier there where local fisherman usually hung out. I just assumed that it might be a good place to try and find someone to take us fishing for the bass that lived in the lake. We had no preconceived notion of what the place might look like, but off we went anyway and the adventure began.

To be continued.....

Video by: Megan Smith

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