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Feral Panama

Stay Wild

Motorcycle Surf Camping on the Cheap

Story and Photos by Tom Bing & Sally McGee

We are skirting the edges of Panamanian culture. We have no idea what the food is like, we have barely spoken to any locals, and we don’t have a clear picture of what life is like for people in this country. We can’t afford to be here. Everything is way out of our price range, so we’ve been sticking to surf spots where we know we can camp. We buy food from the big supermarkets, trying to live as cheaply as possible. We’re struggling to find decent fruit or vegetables, but the pineapples are the best we’ve had in the world. 

We camped one night in hammocks under a shelter on a beach in the middle of nowhere. There was potential for good waves, but the swell was small when we got there so we left early in the morning. We might have stuck around, but the place charged $10 each for the privilege of a hammock with no lights, no mosquito nets, and no kitchen to cook in. 

The next day we moved a few hours west to an eco project hostel with jungle space for tents right in front of a beach break. They wanted $6 each per night but offered Wi-Fi, a kitchen, free drinkable water, showers, and shelter from the sun and rain. It was awesome: surfing in the mornings, then cooking good food, lounging around on hammocks and checking out the wildlife. There were howler monkeys everywhere in the trees above, waking us up with their threatening roar. We saw hummingbirds, geckos, and iguanas, and shared the tent with about 100 crabs. The beach break was busy but the swell was growing every day, so we hung around. The water was warm and the wind patterns predictable: no wind in the morning until the on-shores, starting at about lunchtime. 

We spent very little money besides the camping fees, which we were happy to pay in support of the project. Everywhere nearby seemed to have fallen victim to deforestation for cattle farming or tourism. The eco project was planting trees, working with permaculture, trying to improve the landscape for the wildlife that had been pushed off the peninsula. We felt proud to stay there rather than the big concrete development meters away from high tide, void of trees. 

Every day the plan was to move on, but we felt so content we’d end up staying just a bit longer. The surf wasn’t perfect but it was pretty fun, and it had a good vibe in the water. We were looking for somewhere a bit more remote, to surf without the crowds on the new swell approaching, a swell we hoped marked the start of the season. Brryn and Ehli, an English couple we met at the eco project, were keen to check out the place we had in mind, so we set off early one morning and made our way to a pretty remote part of Panama. After riding just a few hundred meters down a sand track, we found an empty lot (purchased and probably awaiting infrastructure before development) that had an old shelter facing the sea, surrounded by coconut trees. We pitched the tent under the shelter and set up camp. It was perfect. We were already feeling feral after a week of camping and were in our element there for four days, surfing the heavy beach break, cooking great food on the stove, and hunting for coconuts to provide us water in the afternoons. On the last night the sky lit up with lightning and we were surrounded by deafening thunder. It was incredible.

We didn’t see people all afternoon or evening, completely disconnected from everything. Just us, good food, coconuts, and a carton of cheap red wine. You haven’t lived until you’ve done the washing in the sea, naked at night and surrounded by bioluminescent plankton and fireflies.