Friday, March 17, 2006

We´re a go

Monday, March 13

We had some housekeeping issues to take care of Monday morning before we could leave for Coiba. For one, we still hadn´t found our guide, Mali Mali. Chuck had called all his contacts, and we got a hint that if we went by Panama´s environmental authority office, we´d find someone with Mali´s cell phone number.

After a scavenger hunt of phone calls, we finally got ahold of him. He said that he´d been waiting for our call for the entire weekend, but since he hadn´t heard anything, he had taken other work. Without Mali, who works for the ANAM station at Coiba National Park, we knew we´d have to go through the Panamanian bureaucracy to get a permit to be on the island. So we headed to the ANAM office. Chuck used his social skills to pull some strings, and we soon had paperwork verifying the authenticity of our expedition.

So we headed off in our Toyota rental car to Santa Catalina, a surfers´ haven in the southwest coast of the Panama isthmus. Until sometime last year, you needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle just to pass the road down to the small fishing village. The road has since been paved, and the village has burgeoned into a small town where you can do some great scuba diving, catch some good waves, and more importantly, launch an expedition to Isla Coiba.

On the way down, Chuck played "miss the pothole" and the rest of us soaked up the great scenery. Brahma bulls littered the pastures on either side of the road. The countryside boasted rolling hills clothed in vibrant shades of green. The drive down there is no Sunday cruise, but the going gets easier when you hit the newly paved segment leading into Santa Catalina.

Our first order of business in SC was to find our boat captain, a guy named Casey whom Chuck had met on his last trip to Panama. Casey was expecting to take us to Coiba today, but our permitting problems had pushed our expedition back a day. We hoped he´d still be able to lead us out to Coiba Tuesday.

Chuck strolled up to Casey´s house, a 2-minute walk from Scuba Coiba. Casey´s wife told us that he had found other work because we had been late. Sound familiar?

So we got to work finding another boat captain. It´s interesting to see how God worked this out. Chuck had been in Santa Catalina a week or two ago shooting a story about a internationally known Panamanian body surfer who got saved in SC and is now a strong believer. While shooting the story, Chuck met a young guy called Chambon, a friend of the body surfer and also a brother in the faith. Chuck found Chambon, who hooked us up with a guy named Rolo, an entrepreneur in the area who owns some popular cabanas and a boat. After a lot of explaining and planning, Rolo agreed to be our captain, and we were set to leave in the morning.

For our last meal we went Bianca´s, one of the two nice restaurants in Santa Catalina. With outdoor dining complete with reggae background music, hammocks, and great lighting, the place has a great ambiance and some pretty good food. I´m of the breed that believes you should experience another country if you´ve spent your money to go there, so we tried the octopus ceviche as an appetizer. Chuck enjoyed it, but if your taste buds are American, I´d say try it at your own risk.

While waiting for our food, we plotted our course across the island. The conversation was dripping with bravado. We talked about sleeping under the jungle canopy while programming our GPSs and looking at the topographical map Chuck had gotten for us.

After our meal, we checked in at the Oasis (better link to come later), a quaint hostel situated directly on the beach. The rooms were small and far from luxurious, but the view was amazing. We had spent too many nights in the city. Out here, every star twinkles, and they look so close that I could blow them out like a candle. After packing my gear for the expedition, I sat in a lawn chair on the beach and read my Bible under the light of the full moon. Every so often, thunder swept up over the deep, roaring like a jet engine taking off.

All this blessing, I thought, and this isn´t even what we came for. We´d jumped through a lot of hoops, and the mission was finally a go. It´s great to serve a God who knows our needs before we ask.

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