It’s now been two weeks since I returned to Bocas. Although my scheduled bus from Boquete never arrived, when another one did, the journey across the mountains to the port of Almirante was spectacular. I loved my time exploring Panama City and Boquete, but as we left the mainland, I was excited to be heading to Bocas. After a fortnight of dormitory rooms, I was looking forward to having a room of my own in a place I knew.
During my seven weeks in Bocas before Christmas, I visited many of the archipelago’s most famous sites. Consequently, this time around I am focussing my energy on getting to grips with Spanish. The combination of personal study time and two hours per day of private tuition has seen my Spanish take a noticeable step forward and I’ve celebrated several small victories. Now I can frequently understand articles while reading them out loud and correctly identify the amount of money requested by a cashier in a supermarket. It might not sound like much, but they are irrefutable signs of progress compared with my language skills of only a few weeks ago.
Time spent studying Spanish grammar may be essential to learning the language, but it doesn’t conspire to create compelling blog content. Last weekend though, I took time out to see what I could find at a little known beach called Carenero’s Secret. It’s on the northern tip of Carenero Island and to reach it you have to walk past my favourite beach in Bocas: Black Rock Beach. Which is why I’d not found it before.
As I walked towards the beach I carried a couple of surfboards for an American girl I met along the way. She was heading to a competition which had been hindered by an underwhelming ocean swell. As the crowds watched the waiting surfers with disinterest, I headed on to see what I could find.
It was better than anything I had expected. I had a beautiful beach and clear turquoise water all to myself. I settled down in the sun and read my class notes. The tide slowly crept in and rather than move, I decided to build a sandbank in front of me. At this point the girl I had helped en route to the surf competition arrived with a friend. “Is that an adult man building a sand castle?”, she asked witheringly. I tried to explain that I hadn’t wanted to retreat up the beach, but she remained unconvinced.
When the surf conditions improved a few days later, I hired a board myself. However, on the boat journey to the offshore break at Black Rock Beach I realised it didn’t have a leash. In the water this led to some panic-inducing moments, when my board slipped out from under me and disappeared from sight. Five waves crashed over me as I desperately tried to spot it in the distance. Each time it proved hopeless as another wave drove me back under the surface. I knew exposed coral lay ahead and I feared that even if I did reclaim my board, it would be damaged. Fortunately, this proved not to be the case. I eventually reached the board and began the long journey back to the breaking waves. I surfed a few times, but my outing was curtailed after I stood on a sea urchin. I’ve previously been stung by a stingray, but this pain was far worse. I still have 20 fragments of the creature in my foot.
On a brighter note, Carnival is currently under way and being celebrated in the streets with a variety of music and dance performances.
This week I also watched La Misma Luna, an excellent Mexican-American film about attempts to cross the border. One of the leading roles is played by Kate del Castillo, who was romantically linked with druglord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and who is now sought by Mexican authorities to explain their friendship.
The weather over the past week has been mixed, so I hope it picks up soon. Two school friends of mine arrive in Bocas on Sunday evening and I want them to see it at its best. Until then I will have my head in my books!