Colombia Map

The Colombians Are Coming!

Before saying goodbye to the Americas, there’s time for one more Panamanian adventure. South swell season is here, and I’m dying to catch a few waves before the long Pacific crossing.

A voice comes over the VHF radio as McKenzie and I approach a forested and picturesque bay, three weeks after finally leaving Panama City. After an epic first stop for surf, Kemi had to head back to Mexico for work.

“Swell, Swell, this is the Lost Coast Explorer, do you copy?” I recognize the voice of one of the guys from the charter yacht we had met while surfing on another island earlier that day.

“Yes, Lost Coast Explorer, this is Swell. I copy you,” I call back.

“Hey Liz, I’m calling to tell you: Do not go to the beach across the channel,” the crewmember warns emphatically. “Some Colombian drug-runners are at large on the island. They were being chased by the Panamanian Navy today and ran their boat aground on the beach there. They fled into the jungle and while one of our crew was on the beach he narrowly escaped being kidnapped. Come over for dinner after you get anchored and we’ll fill you in on the details.”

Colombia Map Photo Gallery

The buzz about the Colombians is at full-tilt when McKenzie and I arrive aboard the old fishing trawler that had been converted into a deluxe surf charter vessel. Captain Chris and the LCE crew are hosting paying guests from California, Brazil, and beyond, but they make us feel wholly welcome. The large table of men step on each other’s renditions of the dramatic chase over dinner, but McKenzie and I are distracted by the melody-in-your-mouth, multicourse meal that keeps pouring out of the galley. We nearly fall out of our chairs when it culminates in an ice cream-covered peach cobbler.

From what we gather, the LCE had anchored off the beach for a surf earlier in the day. One of the guests broke his leash and his board washed ashore. As he recovered it, one of the suspected fugitives had run at him, whether to grab his surfboard or to capture him to hold him hostage, no one knew. In any case, the guest got away just in time.

Neither McKenzie nor I know what to make of it all, but we nod in agreement when they insist that we come for breakfast in the morning. “We should all surf together for safety,” they reason. Okay by us. We’ll happily find out what’s for breakfast and ride their speed boat across the channel to the best surf spot around.

To be honest, I’m not worried about running into the fugitives. So far, I’ve used what I envision as a bubble of positive energy to keep clear of dangerous people. I refuse to let my mind play out scary scenarios that could happen I simply can’t. Locking the cabin at night would make it hot and stuffy, so I never do it, and, so far, I’ve had no thieves or intruders. I don’t carry weapons other than a flare gun, Mace, and some bear spray. I try to do good things for others, and I’m quick to surround myself with good people in a new port. I take obvious precautions like avoiding being out alone at night, and I often wear oversized clothing so as not to attract unnecessary attention to myself. I try to move away from sketchy people or situations before anything escalates.

When the sun peeks over the mainland the next morning, we are already bouncing across the channel toward the beach break full of coffee and pancakes. Any notion of danger quickly melts away as the island comes more clearly into view. Towering green mountains ease into a thick forest of coconut palms spanning for miles in both directions. The trunks of the front row of palms lean way out over the wide strip of beige sand.

The island has never been inhabited by humans, and exudes a noticeable, vibrant energy that I haven’t felt in other places. It feels divinely in harmony. A tranquil little estuary reflects the colors of the sunrise and the pinks, reds, and greens of the flowers and foliage lining it. Morning rays illuminate the large logs washed up around its edge. A pair of scarlet macaws squawk and chase each other above the tree line.

The beach break, too, is a heavenly work of nature. The swells seem to wrap in from both sides and reunite into hollow, thin-lipped, A-frame peaks that peel off, up and down the long stretch of sand like the sketches I used to draw on the borders of my schoolwork. McKenzie and I squeal with delight and leap into the warm sea. We spend the morning grinning at each other between sets from our own personal peaks. At one point, we meet out the back and sit together shaking our heads in disbelief. A crewmember is even waiting outside the sets in the boat with a cooler full of ice water and sandwiches.

“We are totally spoiled,” McKenzie says with a smirk as she shakes her cute blond dreadlocks out of her eyes. We both look up as a luscious A-frame comes feathering toward us.

“I’ll go left,” I say.

“Perfect! I’ll go right,” she replies. We split the peak, drawing turns all the way to shore.

After gorging ourselves on waves that morning, we decide to sit out the afternoon session and relax aboard Swell. Peacefully whiling away the afternoon, we recount moments in the surf, write in our journals, and dismiss any real threat from the drug-runners, until suddenly we hear a panga pull up outside. One of the LCE crew calls out, “Get your anchor up as fast as you can! The Lost Coast is leaving! See that boat? The Colombians are coming!”

McKenzie and I fall speechless. After considering the situation for a moment, I reply,

“Well, there’s no point in trying to outrun them in Swell. They’ll be here before I even have the anchor up.”

“Well then, grab your most valuable possessions and come with us!”

Stunned and in disbelief that a scene this serious might actually be unfolding, we bumble around Swell shoving our passports, cash, diaries, and other odd material affinities into a backpack, lock Swell’s entry, and climb aboard the panga. The dark vessel bears down on the bay. We hear the Lost Coast throw its engines into gear, but we speed away much faster in the panga.

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