This post isn’t going to be anything fancy. It’s not going to be edited or polished or full of poetic turns of phrase or carefully selected adjectives. It’s free flowing, from my heart right onto to the page. It might not even totally make sense. I don’t have time to think about any of that, because I have to write this post today — my last day at Playa Venao, and the second-last day of my 2+-month adventure in Central America. I can’t write it tomorrow. I suppose I could have written it earlier in the week that I’ve been here, but that’s just what happens sometimes when you get to the beach. Time flows with the rhythm of the tides.
When I looked at a map of Panama last fall and discovered a tiny surfers’ village nestled somewhere between Middle of Nowhere and Really Far down a long squiggly road on the Pacific coast, I couldn’t have known what was waiting for me. But I knew I liked beaches and remote places, so it seemed like it might be a good place to end my trip. Like usual, I added it to my travel agenda and hoped for the best.
And nine hours and 3 bus rides from Panama City later, oh, did I get what I’d hoped for.
As I said earlier, I can’t write about this place tomorrow. I can’t write about what it felt like to have the warm air filling my lungs, or to have had sand be my only carpet for a week – I have to write about what it actually feels like while it’s happening. Right now. In this moment. Everything about life here is a reminder that this moment is truly all we have. And it will all be different tomorrow. To write about it as a memory would be to do it an injustice. Playa Venao is a reminder that there quite literally is no time like the present.
For the past seven days and nights I have not been out of earshot of the ocean’s pounding surf for more than a couple of hours. It has become my soundtrack, my rhythm, my lullaby, my alarm clock, my breath. Though I’ve visited oceans dozens of times before, somehow this is different. This time, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like without that sound.
There’s no real reason that I can explain for the feeling I have in this place. Playa Venao is just one long, wide, semi-deserted surfer’s beach, with a few places to stay and a couple of tiny restaurants in ‘town’ (a single dirt road about 200 metres long). There’s no grocery store, no coffee shop, no ATM. No distractions. Very few people.
So maybe that’s the reason, after all.
I awaken before sunrise, in competition with the birds. Most mornings, I win. I run or walk the length of the crescent beach, marveling at how the tides force a new configuration every day. Overused words like ‘vitality’ and ‘rejuvenation’ that had all but lost their meaning to me suddenly spring back to life in these moments, swept along on the salty sea breeze and slipping between the palm leaves. Everything is cool and shadowy and pinkish as the beach slowly wipes the sleep from its eyes.
And then the sun slips over the horizon. It begins its determined ascent into a cloudless sky, hitting hard and hot and refusing to let up until late afternoon. It’s the kind of heat that stops every living thing in its tracks. We give in, take cover, lie spread-eagle and sweaty on shady hammocks and lounge chairs and sand while we eat handmade ice cream on a stick. When the sun finally begins to show us mercy, we all start to stir again. The air cools, music wafts from the beach bar, vacationers stroll the beach, surfers navigate the intimidating waves in the ocean that never, ever stops. The golden hours have arrived.
There is so much more I could say about this place, but it’s almost happy hour and there’s a beach party tonight. I’ve got goodbyes to say, a backpack to stuff one last time, and a long day of bus rides ahead.
I finally know what it feels like when life really is a beach.