The boat was at a ninety degree angle on its side.
My white knuckles held onto the rough edge of the boat. If I had let go, I would have fallen into the ocean’s turquoise blue depths.
My feet inched down towards the water. I kept bending my toes to try and prevent myself from slipping, but to no avail. My backpack, with my GoPro, iPhone, journal, and wallet, weighed down my right arm, making it that much harder to keep myself inside the boat.
My friend Bridget was on the other side of the boat, the part that was submerged. I could only see the top of her head and her left arm, which grasped the side for dear life. My other friend Artiom had one leg and one arm inside of the boat, the other half of him was trying to push the boat back over.
The boat heaved one last time before both of my friends jumped back inside. It crashed against the angry waves as I fell to the bottom, happy to still be inside.
An eruption of pent up laughter bubbled up. I couldn’t contain myself.
“We almost flipped,” I said, stating the obvious. Bridget stared at me, her eyes growing in size with each passing millisecond.
“You’re damn right,” she said.
We were on our way to Wizard Beach in Panama, part of the islands in the north. In order to get anywhere, you need to take a water taxi. The ride to this particular beach had been a bumpy one. I ended up with a bruised spine and a sore ass.
Prior to nearly capsizing, our driver had initially attempted to bring us to the deserted shore; however, he soon realized he couldn’t because the water was far too rough. He had jumped off of the boat in order to turn us around and take us to another beach, supposedly a 20 minute walk away.
He got back into the boat, started the motor, and off we went into the horizon.
“I lost my wallet with $70 in it,” the driver said, fifteen minutes after our first attempted docking. We had already been on the boat for an hour, and were itching to lounge on the beach and do nothing.
“We can turn back and go get it,” my friend Asher said.
And that’s when things went downhill.
The driver’s mood went from zero to one hundred in about 3 seconds. The motor roared and we bounced over the ocean. The small boat rocked back and forth as it crashed into the waves, gaining more and more height with each wave it hit.
Suddenly, we caught too much height. The boat flew over a giant wave, as all five of us bounced a few inches off of our seat. Bridget, who was in the front, got the most height. She grabbed onto the back part of the bench, which flew into the air with her. She crashed down with a bang as the wooden part of the back seat fell to the ground, bringing half of her body with it.
“Ouch!” she said, which came out more as a scream. We scrambled to pick up the piece of wood and put it back into place before the driver could see what had happened.
I felt my spine starting to bruise from the constant forward, backward motion of my back slamming against the seat. The driver suddenly slowed, causing his motor to sputter out gurgling sounds as it got closer to the shore.
“I’ll swim to shore and look for the wallet,” Asher said, carefully stepping out of the unstable boat. It rocked side to side, seeming like it could tip at any moment. His head floated towards the shore, letting the waves carefully push him to dry land. We all sat, our stomachs churning with anticipation.
From a distance, we could see his arms waving side to side, his body lifting into the air as he jumped.
“He found it!” Bridget said. I turned around to look at the driver’s face, which instantly lit up with joy. I let out a sigh of relief, thankful that we didn’t have to be stuck in a rickety boat with an angry water taxi driver any longer.
The waves rippled as Asher swam over. Bridget grabbed the taxi driver’s wallet and handed it back to me to hold. It was soaking wet and heavy with sand. I handed it to the driver, and watched as he opened it. His face sunk inwards. Something was wrong.
“Twenty dollars. Missing twenty dollars,” he said. He swung his head back and looked into the sky. “I have only fifty,” he continued. Okay, so at least he has more than half, I thought, trying to reassure myself. It didn’t work.
We wanted out of the boat. Bridget and Artiom tried to get off in order to walk to shore, so we wouldn’t have to stay inside any longer.
And that’s when the boat almost flipped. Asher had decided to swim back to shore, unable to get into the boat. The three of us decided to leave him, stranded on a deserted beach, and circle back to meet him there in less than an hour.
Within 20 minutes, we were at another beach on the other side of the island.
“I’m coming with you,” the taxi driver said as he balanced the boat and jumped onto the dock. We all glanced at each other, a bit relieved that we would have someone to guide us to Wizard Beach.
“I’m going to look for rest of money. The walk should be 20 minutes, more, less,” he said in broken English.
He led the way across broken, decaying wooden planks laid over the mud. Birds flew from tree to tree, and then sun’s rays gently cooked our skin when we weren’t in the shade. Children ran between us as I balanced to keep myself on the plank and not fall into the murky, wet grass.
The damp, grassy woods turned into dry, hot sand. The waves crashed against the shore, and I felt relieved that I wasn’t on that damn boat anymore. I took off my shoes and let the hot sand burn my feet, knowing they would soon be cooled in the water.
The taxi driver sharply turned left and started walking into the woods, saying nothing. I looked at Artiom and Bridget, shrugging. We had no choice but to follow.
What started off as a gorgeous nature hike quickly turned into a trek through the jungle. Trees grew higher, branches grew longer and skinnier, and the path turned less obvious.
Then I stepped in a pile of mud that swallowed my shoe with my foot still inside of it.
“Crap!” I bent over and dug for my shoe as I clumsily fell into the mud with my left hand and other foot, losing my other shoe. I looked like I was playing a game of twister, my hands between my legs and my feet slowly scissoring farther apart. I decided to ditch my shoes and trek barefoot.
The taxi driver was slowly getting farther and farther away from us.
“Where is he going?” I said, trying to speed up my pace, with no luck. Artiom turned around shrugging, trying to keep up with him.
I turned around to look at Bridget, who was covered in mud, even her iPhone.
“This seriously sucks, it sucks,” she said, over and over. I bent over, hysterically laughing. The woods had gotten denser, and there were no signs of civilization. We had put all of our trust into this taxi driver, and had no idea where he was leading us.
Strange noises and peculiar chirping came from the trees overhead. I looked up, afraid of what was lurking above. I scrambled to move forward, not wanting to stay and find out. I could see some small animals scurrying around the woods in the distance.
Twigs and thorns reached out cutting my legs as if I were invading their property. I could only think about standing on the light sanded beach, with the wind in my hair and waves against my muddy feet. The 20 minute walk quickly turned into an hour.
“We lost him,” Artiom said a few moments later. “But I think we’ve made it.” An opening in the bush signaled the end of the path and the start of the beach. I put on my flip flops with a sigh of relief.
“Finally!” I said, running forward. As I stepped through the opening, small twigs sticking straight out of the ground stabbed my flip flop. I lifted my foot and fell backwards, wondering what the heck I had just stepped on. They looked like miniature trees without the leaves. Will we make it out in one piece?
The path took us along the sand, however, the tide was high so we were forced to keep walking on the path in the woods. Water rushed against my feet, cleaning them off ever so slightly. There was no sign of the taxi driver, and no sign of Asher. I was unable to immediately appreciate the beauty of it all, considering I barely made it without any injury. The tiny shadows from the small animals I had seen in the woods now darted around on the beach. I prayed they weren’t monkeys…
Asher suddenly appeared out of the bushes.
“Guys! This place is great. It’s paradise. Look.” He pointed to a part of the beach that was purely sand and water. We all looked at each other and ran over. I almost kissed the ground.
“What have you been doing this entire time?” Artiom said to Asher.
A grin creepily spread on Asher’s face as if he had a big secret.
“Oh, you know,” he said. “Relaxing in paradise.”
He then ticked his head towards the small group of animals running about on the beach and laughed. “With feral pigs.”