I knew that I wanted to go surfing while I was in Panama, so on Day 217, Maribeth and I split up in the morning. She is a certified scuba diver and wanted to go diving. I opted to take a surfing lesson.
Erica said we could do both activities at the same place, La Buga Dive and Surf Center. She set it up.
"Oh yeah," she said, while dialing the phone, "We'll get you a surfing lesson with Chapo. He's this gorgeous Venezuelan guy. He totally has a girlfriend, but whatever. He's completely nice to look at."
I laughed, but I didn't really think too much about her comments. Not because I didn't believe that Chapo was good looking, but because I'm not overly attracted to Latin men. I'm not not attracted to them, I just wouldn't say that they are my type.
That is, until I met Chapo.
We showed up at La Buga and within minutes, the Chapo that I'd heard so much about emerged from the back, living up to all of my expectations. He had super tan skin, messy dark brown hair, piercing green eyes and a super friendly smile. And he wasn't super covered in them, but he had quite a few tattoos.
"Hola! I'm Chapo!," he said, waving, like we'd been friends our whole lives.
And here is where I became completely uninterested and unaware of what Maribeth was doing. I'm not really sure when her boat left to take her diving, or even how her trip went because I was completely engrossed with what I was doing, and with what Chapo was saying, doing, eating, touching.
Chapo asked me if I'd surfed before, and I told him that I had, but confessed that it had been a while, so he shouldn't expect much and should definitely treat me like a beginner.
We walked to the back of the building towards the bay and Chapo did a short demonstration on a foam surf board, while telling me what I needed to do when I was out there. A lot of what he told me I'd learned before in other surfing classes, but he also drew pictures on a dry erase board, showing me how the surf break in Panama worked. He said we'd head out to the break by boat and get dropped off in the middle of the ocean. I'd never be actually surfing into shore, but rather surfing and then paddling out of the break to get back to him.
I nodded eagerly, trying to appear brave for Chapo, but inside I was a mess. I was nervous enough just to attempt to surf the way I'd learned how to in the past. Surfing a break in the middle of the ocean and never actually going to shore was a different story and therefore was definitely going to be Day 217's thing I'd never done before.
My attempt to appear confident was unsuccessful and Chapo said, "Don't worry, you'll be fine." He went on to say that because the break is so rhythmic and predictable, it's actually a good place for a beginner.
In addition to being nervous about surfing, I was also nervous around Chapo. Not because he was so attractive; he was, but I have been around attractive people before. I'm not sure why, but I really wanted him to like me. I wanted us to be friends. And I wanted to do well surfing. I don't know what I wanted the most.
We gathered our items, climbed aboard the boat and headed out to the break. On the way to our destination, Chapo and Roberto (the boat captain who was also coming out to surf a nearby break) were discussing how the recent rain had brought some great waves and we were in for a treat today.
My brother surfs, so I know that a "treat" for real surfers is big waves and that's not exactly what I was looking for. Roberto, like Chapo, could also tell I was nervous because in between bites of his oatmeal he kept telling me that I was going to be fine.
When we arrived at the break, we stopped the boat and threw the anchor out. Roberto grabbed his board, jumped out and started paddling in one direction. I put my rash guard on, jumped in the water and Chapo (wearing flippers on his feet), and I paddled in the other direction.
Once in place, Chapo told me to hop up on the board, like he showed me how back at La Buga. The plan was for him to hold the back of the board where my feet were and push me when the right wave came. One of the hardest parts (and there are several hard parts) of surfing for me is not paddling fast enough to get on top of the wave to ride it. So having him push me gave me the extra "umph" I needed to be in the right place at the right time.
The first ride was dismal. I was super shaky and instead of walking my feet from the back of the board to the center, I tried to pop up and fell almost immediately. But I did as Chapo told me and swam out past the break and then back to Chapo.
I made it back with no trouble and went again, right away. Each time, my rides were longer and more successful. I don't know that I ever achieved finesse or grace on the board, but I was doing OK for a beginner. And I was having fun. Honestly, I'm not sure if that's because of the surfing or because of Chapo.
Every time I paddled back to him, we'd spend some time waiting for the next wave just chatting. About ourselves, our lives, our families. His mother is Venezuelan, his father is Italian, so he grew up in both Italy and South America. He is the oldest of three and his younger brother and sister still live with their parents in Venezuela. My attraction to him grew larger as the day went on because I learned what a cool person he is. His real name is Nicolas. He's been surfing since he was a young teenager, and was actually given the name "Chapo" by a group of older Venezuelan surfers.
Chapo's girlfriend lives in Panama City and works as a graphic designer. They've been together for five years and he knows she's the one, but he knows that when they get married, his island life will be over, since she works in the city. He spoke very sweetly about her, and I couldn't help but hope that someday my hot surfing instructor boyfriend would speak about me in the same way.
I asked him if living in a vacation town is difficult with the revolving door of good looking tourists ready to get drunk and make bad decisions in Panama. There has to be a lot of temptation, right?
"Oh yeah," he said smiling. He seemed very relaxed about their relationship. Not in a "I don't give a shit," kind of way, but more in a, "I know I love her and she loves me. We're going to be together forever so even though I may have slipped in the past, she's still the one," kind of way.
I don't know that I necessarily agree with that, or that Chapo's girlfriend would either, but I liked his confidence and I liked how much he obviously loved her.
I wish that I had a video of this next story because I'm realizing that doing it justice in writing is going to be a challenge. So much about the charm of Chapo is his accent, and the way he explains things. But I will try. "Last night I went to Aqua Lounge and girls were getting crazy. Dancing like strippers, jumping into the ocean." I laughed, remembering that Saturday night was the big party model/bartender was telling us about. I absolutely hated that Maribeth and I missed it, but loved that I was hearing about it from Chapo.
"There were these girls," he went on after I was probing him for information about how many girls hit on him in one night, "From Boston . . .and they were so drunk." He emphasized, "so drunk" several times.
"One of them comes up to me, and, aghaghaghaghagh," he demonstrated how the girl from Boston literally chased him around the hostel bar trying to stick her tongue in his mouth. "I mean, she was so drunk, she didn't know what she was doing," he said. "Crazy American girls," he said shaking his head.
I wondered what he would've thought of Maribeth and me a few nights before."So did you kiss her back?" I had to know. "Nooooooooooo!" he said. "She was sooooooooooo drunk."
In addition to teaching surfing lessons, and getting chased down by crazy American girls, Chapo is also a painter, and a tattoo artist. Most of the tattoos he had, he gave to himself and though I'm not generally a tattoo kind of girl, I was impressed. And after a couple of rum punches that night, Maribeth suggested that I let Chapo give me a tattoo as another thing I've never done before. I seriously considered it.
In the context of his life as an artist and his girlfriend living so far away, Chapo said being an artist wasn't exactly an easy thing to be in Venezuela because there, men are expected to go to college and get big jobs. But that's not him, and it was hard for him to fit in. Though not exactly the same, I was comforted to know that even in Bocas, the town of seemingly no worries whatsoever, people are still struggling to find the place, the job, the person that best suits them.
Every time I took a wave and paddled back, it became more and more difficult. The waves grew larger, I was more and more tired. Surfing a break was challenging because there was no downtime. I was either swimming, surfing, or paddling. There were a few scary times when I kept getting knocked by waves and couldn't swim fast enough to get out of it before getting knocked by the next one. Chapo struggled a few times too and even lost one of his flippers.
We were out there for four and a half hours and I was partially or completely submerged in water the entire time, and completely involved in my conversation with Chapo and surfing that I was unaware, until heading back to the boat, that I hadn't reapplied sunscreen since that morning. I had been super on top of the sunscreen, buying 50 spf (this is before I knew there was 100 spf) and applying and reapplying religiously throughout the day.
One morning with a hot surfing instructor, though, and all of my diligence leading up to that point turned out to be for nothing and I got one of the worst sunburns I've ever had. On the backside of my body. The sunburn will come into play in some later blog entries, as it did a number on me both physically (it hurt so freaking badly) and mentally (I was so upset with myself for not staying on top of it, especially after my scare back in January). In my defense, I was on a surfboard in the middle of the ocean, far away from the boat and any sunblock, but still, it was not a situation I should have put myself in.
Chapo, who wasn't wearing a watch, put his arm at a 90 degree angle on the board and looked at the shadow the sun created and said we needed to head back to the boat. I took one more ride and then we both paddled back.Getting back on the boat was not easy because I was so tired, and my muscles were so fatigued, they were shaking. I needed Roberto's help to literally pull me out of the water and even with his help, it was not attractive, not graceful.Once back at La Buga, Chapo had the woman at the attached smoothie store make me a smoothie, because apparently that's what serious surfers do after riding the waves all morning: they drink smoothies. He and I, along with his dog, walked to a nearby dock and sat down to enjoy the view and our drinks.
I decided to take that as my cue to leave, lest be ignored by Chapo for this little girl. So I left and went in search of Maribeth. She was eating lunch and having a beer at a nearby restaurant. We sat out there and talked of our morning apart.
Later in our trip, I realized I have but just two regrets about my time in Panama:
1. I don’t have a picture of Chapo so you can all see how gorgeous he is.
2. I didn’t stop staring at Chapo long enough to reapply sunscreen (Actually this isn't true. Sunburn or not, I don't really regret not stopping our conversation.)