Planet Hiker
2004-09-21 Ducktape Galore at Playa Venao, Panama

Not being able to surf for more than 3 days was beginning to get on my nerves. So I packed my tent and headed out for Playa Venao. After a few bus changeovers I finally got to a nice looking ranch, conveniently situated about 50 miles away from the closest town. Things here were a bit different... What popped first into my eyes were dozens of vultures that were hanging around the house. Their favorite spot was the fence around the kitchen. It had evenly distributed support poles, perfect for sorting out the picking order. So that's what they did the whole day - just sat there, with their shoulders raised and their black, skinny heads tilted to one side, watching, always watching cautiously what went on in the ranch. Their little shiny eyes and crooked beaks were inducing fear in all who went by. But with all that ugliness, they tasted pretty good. Couple of times the rancher was short on chicken, so we had vulture instead - it tasted about the same.

Actually, the cooking habits were strange in general. Like, the rancher would ask "Do you want the chicken fried or baked with salsa"? But if I were to express my interest in the backed version, he would often reply that he doesn't have any salsa... I just figured that he preferred to tell people what he knows how to cook and that it did not really imply that he is going to actually cook it. But I had a lot of respect for him never the less. Apparently, he used to own a whole bunch of land all around the beach. Then at he sold some of it for $6 million dollars to some gringo. Yet he chose to maintain his low key lifestyle, content with what he had.

I liked his wife a lot too. She was an elderly woman with unusually wide hips. They made her look a bit squarish but it's not that she was overweight - she just had really wide hips. Every morning she would feed milk to a cow-calf with a giant, 4 gallon baby bottle. I am not sure if I can convey the humor of the situation but, there were enough out of proportion elements that made for exiting candid photos.

Playa Venao was treating me with a lot of interesting experiences. The waves were good and I was able to make significant gains in my surfing while scoring some really fast rides down 8-9 ft waves. But perhaps what was even more outstanding was the night when I got to witness a sea turtle lay eggs! I was with a group of American surfers (Jayson, Adam, Jered and Gered) and we hired a guide to take as turtle watching. So the guide calmly took $5 from each of us, walked 50 meters down the beach and pointed to the turtle. At first, while the turtle was digging a hole, we could not approach her as there was risk of scarring her off. But once the eggs started rolling out, there was no turning back for her, so we were allowed to examine her from all angles. The guide even reached in an pulled out an egg, which resembled a ping-pong ball in both size and color. And these ping-pong balls kept coming and coming by the dozens... To a point where it was questionable whether the egg-pile was smaller in volume than the turtle itself. In any case, after laying over 100 eggs, she covered the hole with sand and headed back to the sea, only to come back the next night and repeat the whole procedure.

Another unusual experience was waking in the middle of the night while being covered in ants. I still don't know what attracted them into my tent, since all of the food was hung outside. But, all I could say is that when I turned on the flashlight, my yellow shirt look more like black. I reasoned that I should be generous and let them have the tent for the night, as I jumped out and frantically dashed for the shower.

The next morning, I procrastinated a bit but finally gathered enough courage to peak inside the tent, only to find out that now there were even more of them. That's about when my hospitality ran dry and I began unloading bug repellent over clothes, the sleeping bag and everything else that was inside the tent. I was relived to find out that the bug repellent actually kills them on the spot (which makes me question just how "safe" is it using it on my own skin).

The next problem was patching dozens and dozens of holes that the ants made in the floor of the tent... That's probably what I was really pissed about - overnight a completely waterproof tent was made worthless while the food bags outside were not even touched! Treating the situation as just another challenge in the form of equipment failure, I got myself a roll of duck-tape and began remodeling. After an hour, what was a black bottom tent now began to look gray/silver. I then set the tent up on completely different end of the ranch, making sure that there are no ant nests anywhere in sight.

The following night I woke up again covered in ants. I jumped out, took a shower, sprayed some more bug repellent, and went to sleep in a hammock, getting ready for another duck-tape galore session in the morning. Since I still could not figure out why in the world were the ants eating my tent, I decided to cut my losses short and move on to the next destination, Playa Rio Mar.