Punta Chame. Kitesurfing in Panama with Rado Barzev
by Mira Nencheva
At the end of a narrow almost deserted peninsula less than 100 km west of Panama City, we get to a wild beach of extreme tides, black vultures and skeletons; of howling winds and flying people. An hour and a half drive from the city is Punta Chame, a popular kitesurfing spot along the Bahía de Chame in Panama, a prime destination for adrenalin-junkies from the city.
One of those adrenalin-junkies and kitesurfing maniacs is Rado Barzev, a tall big guy from Sofia (Bulgaria) whom we met the first week of our arrival in Panama City.
Rado’s family moved to Nicaragua in the 1980s when he was a teenager. He did his master’s degree in Economics in Chile and a doctorate in Holland. Today, he works as a freelance Environmental Economist consulting international organizations on environmental projects based in all of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean region. Thanks to his work, which involves a lot of traveling, he spends a lot of time in Panama City, a central strategic place for the region. His job is done in two stages: first visiting the place and then writing estimates and reports for the projects he is commissioned to work on, mainly from his computer at home. Rado, always chill, positive, and contagiously cheerful, is one of not many people in the world who actually love their work, enjoying the freedom of choosing his next project, working from home, and traveling for work. Thanks to this, he has visited some of the most beautiful natural, historical and cultural destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Nature and travel are the two most enjoyable things for him. Rado also makes sure he has enough free time on his hands, which he spends with his beautiful girlfriend Kenia, visiting interesting places, enjoying the mountains and the sea, reading, playing tennis, but mainly kitesurfing in Nicaragua or Panama, or wherever he happens to be.
If you ask me, Rado’s primary occupation is kitesurfing and his work is done in his spare time, that’s how it looks. He is constantly monitoring the wind forecast, and as soon as there is wind strong enough to fill the kite, he jumps in his car and an hour and half later is in Punta Chame.
“Tomorrow- good wind! I’m going to Punta, you coming?”, we get his messages once or twice a week and most of the time we pack Ivo’s kite, Maya’s and mine bathing suites, a couple of beers in a small cooler, and off we go with Rado to kitesurf in Punta Chame.
Once, we wake up around 7 in the morning and find a message sent at 3 o’clock at night: “There will be wind at 5 a.m., I’m going! You guys want to come?” We missed that invite, as we, unlike Rado, sleep at night. I think he has a beeper that goes off day or night, as soon as a good wind is predicted. A true maniac.
The first time Rado comes to Amador Causeway to pick us up to go kitesurfing is comical. He is about two meter tall guy and we expect he is driving some sort of a big car, a jeep maybe. A tiny Chevrolet Spark with a kiteboard on top shows up and from it Big Rado emerges, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. “It is much more economical and much better for the environment”, he explains smiling. “When I grow up, I want to have a car exactly like this one.”, Maya says. “And me, I want to become like Rado, when I grow up…”, Ivo is inspired. Incredibly, we all fit comfortably in the little car, with all the kiting equipment, the beer cooler, and even Maya’s friend Noee.
All packed in the Chevy, we start west on the Inter-American Highway for the first 70 km and after the turnoff for Punta Chame we continue on a narrow winding scenic road for another 25 km, past rolling hills and small ranches, along a vast bay lined by shrimp farms and mangroves, until we reach the beach.
It’s low tide and the beach is vast and wet with tiny craters formed by air bubbles coming out of the yellow-and-black sand. A strange and beautiful sight.
The wind here is unbelievable. A river flowing between high hills and entering the sea forms a large delta and creates a sort of a funnel, so even when there is zero wind in Panama City it can blow 20 knots in Punta Chame. Kitesurfers’ paradise.
Across the bay to the west we see the blue silhouettes of islands posing for spectacular sunset photos. One of them was property of John Wane.
Ivo and Rado unpack the kites and are gone for hours flying left and right parallel to the beach in the company of a few more enthusiasts and two yellow dogs. These must be the happiest dogs on the planet, splashing in the water, and running after the kitesurfers all afternoon.
While Ivo and Rado are zooming in the sea, Maya and her friend Noee play on the beach and even sneak unnoticed in the swimming pool of a near-by hotel, enjoying every minute of our unforgettable afternoons in Punta Chame.
Meanwhile, I explore the shore with my photo camera. It is one of my favorite most photogenic places in Panama: a deserted beach with huge driftwood sculptures, patrolled by hundreds of black vultures and frigate birds.
At low tide, the yellow and black sand, the sea, and the tiny sea creature create abstract patterns of colors and shapes on shore, with different textures every time.
At the south end there is a community of small fishing boats, abandoned and still, anchored in the sand without sea. At low tide the water beneath them disappears and they just sit on the beach waiting for its return.
Kitesurfing in Punta Chame with Rado has become the highlight of our time spent in Panama City, while waiting for the rainy season to end, before heading off to the mountains and volcanoes of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
If you are going to kitesurf in Punta Chame, here a few facts and some useful information about the place:
• On the Inter-American Highway going from Panama City to Punta Chame, there are a few very nice and clean gas stations with fast food restaurants, toilets, and small stores, where you can buy food and drinks.
• In the morning going to Panama City and in the late afternoon going to Punta Chame, you will experience some intense traffic jams on the main highway.
• After the turnoff there is a police outpost stopping every car, checking each passenger’s passport and immigration status. Always bring your passport with you!
• There is not much in Punta Chame besides a few hotels and beach houses. And the kitesurfing school.
• The kitesurfing season is between mid-November to the end of April, with strong winds. Occasionally, there are gusts even off-season.
• You can get kitesurfing curses during season from beginners to advanced. The school is closed off-season.
• There are a few nice and safe spots to park a camper van for free and spend time in the area.
• Often the sea is rough with waves and strong currents.
• The beach is with grey sand, wild and deserted. It is also extremely polluted with plastic garbage deposited by the sea. No one cleans and maintains it.
• At high tide there is virtually no beach and kiting becomes very dangerous, because of the proximity of the large rock wall on shore at the south end. It gets hard lo launch or land the kite.
• At low tide the beach is huge, but the shallow waters are full of stingrays. Swimming is not advisable at low tide.
• Not many services are available in the area, besides a few hotels and restaurants. It is a good idea to bring food and drinks with you.
• The small town of Chame is up the road near the highway and has a bank, an ATM and a few basic grocery stores.
• In the area you will find a few nice beaches: Playa Coronado and Playa Farallón, which are upscale beach destinations, the surfing beach at Playa El Palmar, and the white-sand beach of Playa Santa Clara.
Kitesurf Punta Chame Picture Gallery
Other stories from the blog about Kitesurfing:
About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page:Facebook/TheLifeNomadik