Suspicious boats in the night
Dist: 70 km
Start: 22:50 End: 16:15
The only issue for me paddling this night was falling asleep too easily, as the water and wind was calm. But as there was still a strong counter current of about 1,5-2 km/hr, I couldn’t take much rest without getting pulled back. All was quiet out there, besides two strong motorboats heading along the coast after midnight. What were these guys doing out there at night so fast? But I was able to pass the two “bad” villages far out and unnoticed in the dark hazy night.
I was just almost around the headland behind San Juan de Unare, still far out, it was 3 am. Then the eerie buzz started again. One fast noisy motorboat after the other passed along the coast, all heading fast to the east. About twenty or more boats, until 4.30 am it got quiet again. I was sitting out there in my kayak, fortunately out of the way and protected by quite some darkness, each time another engine came up I was startled and didn’t dare to move, in fear I got seen and stopped. What the heck were all those boats doing out there in the darkness going just fast along the coast, obviously not out to go fishing? My fantasies went wild, there was no way they’d be going “to work” in another village further along. Or were they heading out to an oil rig? Or were they gettiseeking safety in numbers being the famed drug runners to Trinidad? I had no idea. Two boats were even passing me further out, one came quite close, not sure if he saw me and I was close to light a lamp not to get run over. Still no one stopped. I really felt this was the most scary hour in my paddle all around the continent!
At least the whole buzz stopped me from falling asleep, and when the dawn slowly came, it was calm and quiet. Very few single boats passed the coast, and I decided being past the “bad” villages to paddle a little more in, maybe 3 km offshore now. But now I was hungry, mixed my breakfast cereal with milk powder and water, shook it all up in my box, and started to eat. Was it the light swell now which made me feeling a bit sea sick after eating, or the reduced stress from the many boats in darkness? I kept on paddling, and at one point felt I needed to brush my teeth after eating all the sweet food all night. For that purpose and the possibility to stay out at night any time for any reason I always keep a spare tooth brush in my cockpit bags. But as I was using this brush occasionally also to clean my drink bottle and break fast box rims… not sure if it was the final disgust about the salt water soaked clean looking brush, or my sea sickness from the night, as soon as I started the job I also started to choke and to throw up. Mostly all my nice breakfast came out again, and I quickly finished the job with much fresh water, and felt much better after that! Fresh teeth, stomach pressure gone, I could continue paddling now much stronger after having paddled 25 km only in the night.
The day was without much incident, other than my backside getting really painful now. Not enough sleep and long hours of salt water soaked paddling took its toll on my skin. I had to pull out my last option for sore skin on my back – I took my sponge and positioned it between me and my back rest. The cool water was already a relief, and the additional padding of the sponge did a good job. I even pulled out my spare sponge from the day hatch and used this one to occasionally empty out the cockpit as I paddle mostly with open spray deck in the heat – and for peeing into the sponge…good to have two of them handy now! Fortunately the water out here was cool and clean, so I got enough refreshment from dipping in. I even jumped fully in a couple of times, to shake off my tiredness and to loosen my lower muscles. A treat! Still it feels strange to leave a floating boat on purpose, but I have no problem to get back in in these calm conditions.
I was looking at the time quite often, but always was wondering is it still so early in the day? Surely my body felt like stopping many times, but it would be a waste of these fore cast calm day hours and having made no sense with the additional night paddling effort. I forced myself to keep on going until 4-5 pm, passing a bunch of nice beaches with tiny housing settlements. The largest was Puerto Viejo with maybe 20 houses and ten boats to be seen. The rest were way less.
When it came to finding a place for the night, there were as predicted way less beaches, especially uninhabited ones. Aramis list was helpful, but I was not really up for going into a populated village beach. I was hoping around every corner to find a landing and camp spot with no house, but it seems again that any possible spot here has at least one hut. Even one beautiful gravel beach was occupied with a hut and even looking alive with a boat and people. I looked into a small narrow gravel beach at the bottom of a cliff, and I was almost close when another boat came along, nothing about unseen camping here… and that beach was not in a bay either and with that a bit out of the way of regular traffic. I decided to keep on going and passed the last “bad” village Aramis marked me, Tolete, which was actually only one deserted looking house on one of two beaches. Ideal to go on the other sandy beach…but I didn’t dare to go in as I didn’t know the reason for being marked “bad”. It was too early anyway I told myself…
Quite a heavy but short rainstorm came up, which I could wait out in a small rocky bay with my light jacket on. Not that I was not wet anyway, but the wind made things chilly. When it was finished, the sea and wind was calm again, and I just wanted to keep on paddling when I heard a very strange eerie howling sound from the mountains – was a hidden person warning or telling others about my presence? Well, after thinking a bit, this must have been the sound of the local howler monkeys, different to the ones I heard in Panama, but clearly monkeys, as I kept on hearing them all the further way along the coast.
One spot Aramis didn’t mention on his list eventually saved my night. A beautiful deep bay named Cacao came up, with two separate sandy beaches. The larger one had a small hut, but no boat and looked uninhabited. Still it could be a trap? I had to go in and was not able to be picky any more. Another night out in a row without much sleep would kill me and my already sore and open skinned back. I carefully watched the hut while approaching the other beach, but no sign of people. The other beach was about 50 m long and steep with white lose sand. A dumping wave made landing a bit tricky, but no problem. It was more of a problem to pull the heavy boat up on the steep beach. Surely just after I landed, a motorboat passed the bay, towing another empty one. I didn’t move and was hoping to stay unseen… I wonder…
I checked my beach, no traces of humans or whatever. Ideal! Just some old wooden sign across the river mouth, what may it have said? No idea. The access from the rear and from the other beach seemed to be unlikely through the bush jungle. It was even almost free of trash! I unloaded, flattened out a sandy spot high up and put up my tent. I had just dragged my boat into position next to my tent vertical to the water line for most “camouflage”, when a boat turned around the corner and headed into “my” bay. F*** ! Can’t I be left in peace for the night! I decided to rather hide behind my tent, waiting what they’d be doing. They surely saw my camp, drove up and down, from the side bay to the main bay, but obviously not being my neighbours living in the hut. As I stayed invisible, after a long hour of up and down they seemed to have lost interest. They briefly stopped quite closed to my beach, shouted something like “hey” to me to get my attention, but I was already “asleep”…
If I would at least have been out of my wet salty clothing waiting this useless hour until the boat finally went off when dusk came…I tried to make some useful jobs in the meantime inside the tent reaching just from outside in, always watching the boat through the fly mesh of the other door. There is nothing like a tent with two entrances for safety in any regard, watching crocodiles or hiding from nasty boats…
When I was eventually able to get my shower and to change, my ears and mind had always this terrifying engine sound in my ears, although there was no boat any more around all night. I was simply overtired and stressed…I barely was able to cook my dinner, some pasta with some powder sauce out of the bag, and had to force myself to eat eat before I fell into my deserved sleep on my cozy dry fleece blanket in the soft sand. Carefully avoiding to lie on my sore skin backside…