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In search of tunnelitis: entrada solo a personal autorizado.

DOWN BELOW the equator, near the Tropic of Cancer, stories of lost gold have brought many from far away. But my quest was not gold, rather one of cement cylinders. Spillways of morning glory madness, to be exact.

On the Pacific side of Central America the rainforests are numerous and really quite dangerous. It's full of bugs and venomous snakes, and Lord knows what kinds of other animals stalk in the night. The mountains are very steep and the accumulated average rain ranges from 200- to 500-inches per year in some regions. This was where I wanted to go explore, hydrologically speaking of course.

My contacts in the nether world informed me in Espanol that deep in the greenery of the volcanic range lay a special place where dreams are made but always broken. You have to have the balls to go and the right time of year to explore. Plus the security on these dams are not taken as seriously as on our dams in the good ole US of A, but at the same time the dams there in South America are much more treacherous, being in the jungle and all. I was also enticed with tales of sun, sea and piracy, and I hit the nail on the head when they showed me a homemade backyard pool in the middle of Nowheresville, Central America. I shit you not.

So on the plane we went, booked out of Onterrible, California, on a mid-summer's day in the month of June. A one-hour flight first to Phoenix, Arizona, then on to the jungles near the Galapagos where rumor was if you got shipwrecked near the coast the currents would pull you to Darwin's Island of the survival of the fittest. Another six-hour plane ride sandwiched between Ollie's Bay to the north and the famous Canal where Teddy, the cousin of FDR, broke all the rules of Imperialism in the 19th Century.

The family debarked and the Ticos rushed us like madmen trying to win our hearts and souls for US currency. "Lemme heelp you," they barked in broken English. "Hey lady," they yelled at my wife. Latin persuasions always go for the blondes for some reason. Too bad the blondes never go for them. They tried to pry our luggage from our hands and the cabbies vowed to hail us a taxi ride, but the hotel shuttle showed up in the nick of time and we made our getaway in the non-air-conditioned van. Off to the hotel we went, spent from the long wild ride amidst the clouds at 30,000 feet.

We crashed like dead logs for the night, then awoke to another shuttle ride back to Sansa airport at 11:00am to take another hellride at 10,000 feet. The mosquitos were hella gnar and could give you Dengue fever if you were not careful to apply thick skeeter cream all over your exposed skin. So I'd heard. The air was hot and sticky like a big black woman's bosom under her bra straps. The heat and humidity could (would) kill you if no water was available. I have a new respect for jungle dwellers and their native skills that allow them to live in such a harsh environment. It was worse than a Floridian summer; you get out of the shower and walk outside and the next thing you know you're sweating bullets. At least I was.

We met our guide at the landing strip cut out of the jungle that was just wide enough to land a 12-passenger prop plane. Years ago I had met our guide Alessandro in Italy when I rode for Santa Cruz, and I've kept in contact with him ever since. He had been to Cali numerous times and I always took him pool skating with the boys, so he wanted to return the favor. Last time he was in the States he was learning to get his pilot's license at Cable airport in Upland, so I went looking for pools from the sky several times with him. He was inspired.

So he built a homemade, do-it-yourself pool in his backyard, the first one I know of in Central America with true transitions good enough to be skated. All the other pools in the region are no-trannied, square-bottom pools--nice to swim in and not much else.

Our guide set us up with a pad for 50 America dollars a day, and showed us the town that was to become our base for the next two weeks. Our living space had a stove to cook on, a fridge to keep things cold in (when it worked), a clean bathroom, a pool to cool down in, and the beach, 300-feet away. He warned us of skunks, raccoons, monkeys, scorpions, crazy-ass wasps, and lizards of all shape and sizes wandering in the fauna next to this house we rented. "Be careful," he said. But I wanted to see his pool he had toiled on for a month and a half. We drove a short distance to his house and walked into his yard where monkeys jumped in the trees and his two pitbulls imported from the States ruled the grasslands, taking out anything that crossed their path.

His pool was a sight for sore eyes. Was I back in Cali? It looked as good as anything here in North America and sported a round nine- and a half-foot deep end with two shallow side pockets. It kind of appeared to be a cock and balls set-up. Our guide told us that it was called the A-Hole. It had killer trannies and three smallish hips connecting the whole thing together. It was truly rad! The pool had been done for only a month so we got fight to it and started shredding the thing up with numerous lines previously drawn from my campground experience of the fire zone. The A-Hole frigging rocked hard, an A-plus.

We stayed in town to ride the A-Hole and ventured to the beach to escape the heat for the first three-to-four days of our trip. But nobody told me that the water was a cool 83 degrees. It was good to surf in, though. And I heard that Tony Roberts of Santa Cruz Speed Wheels fame lived nearby, but was away on another sick surfboat trip somewhere in Exotica. Sorry we missed ya. At night we feasted on flesh fish caught off the coast like Wahoo, mahi-mahi, dorado, blue fin and swordfish mixed with rice and black beans. We washed it down with locally flavored beers aptly named Imperial. Pilsen and Bavarian Dark, the smoothest dark beer I have ever tried. The kids drank Fanta and flesh fruit made into smoothie-like delights. It was paradise on Earth. Now I know why the Spaniards were so obsessed.

The next couple of nights we traveled to the volcano zone and stayed at a local hotel that sported a skatepark. We visited a hot spring with water coming directly from the volcano and ate at a soda bar near the base of the volcano, where the clouds cleared long enough so we could watch it erupt in the moonlit night. Bright reddish explosions rumbled as huge rocks fell in a mesmerizing tumble down the cascades of the mountain, all fiery orange and midieval yellow. The weather changed from brutal heat to mountainy flesh clouds that brought rain every evening and a nice breeze, like that of the Nude Bowl area of Yucca Valley. Huge windmills created electricity for the population along with a whole lot of hydro dams dotting the landscape here and there.

And this is where the real adventure began. We took off again in search of tunnelitis. We drove for miles to reach my dream come true--until Alessandro informed me that the pipe might be wet. We went anyway. I could see a huge morning glory near the riprap, which was a good sign. We crossed the dam near sunset and set off in the direction of the spillway where signs in Spanish told us of no trespassing. The fence was rotten with rust so we just walked through the hole in the fence like nothing. We cut across the no-man's land where the traffic on top of the dam could clearly see us, but no one said anything. No security at all, no guards with .45 automatics to scare us away. The mud was sloppily thick and would suck your shoes off in one second flat.

The dam area quickly gave way to the overgrown jungie. We walked in on a trail that was very box-like, with jungle all around us from top to bottom. The ground was wet with sticky mud, while overhead long vines hung struggling to touch the Earthen floor where pit vipers thrived in the night. You never knew what could appear out of the green growth, and for the first time ever in my search for pipes I was so scared I could hear my heart beating in my eardrums. Leaf cutter ants were all over doing their thing, making their way around and through anything that stood in their path. Howler monkeys screamed in the trees above us and the bugs' noise was deafening. We tried to come up from the bottom but the mud was just too thick to put your weight on so we decided another route. We crossed these four-foot wide pillars that went over the stilling basin full of moss--a 30-foot drop to brackish water below if you fell, and Lord only knows what lived in those black waters. Crocs, slithering snakes and whatever else would fucking jack you if you went down. Alessandro warned me of the slippery moss and I almost fell down on my first step across the concrete pillars of doom. By now I was really fucking scared; shitting-my-pants scared.

Down below were these stone corners, and the water fight beneath that. If the animals didn't get you the concrete would break your bones big time--and it was a long way to get help. We sketchily made it across and then had to contend with getting up on the cement walls for a peek. Grabbing this rebar ladder, we tried to walk across the mud but kept getting stuck. So we threw the ladder down and walked across it for 10 feet. We picked the ladder up again and repeated this for about 20-to-30 feet or so. When I did this my left hand either got bit or stung from something way burly. I threw the ladder down in pain. Meanwhile, Alex was laughing his ass off at me until he too got suddenly fried by some crazy looking half-red/half-black, inch-long soldier's ant I had been warned about. The attack felt like someone stuck a red-hot needle all the way through my palm. Man, it fucking hurt like a bitch.

We finally restored the ladder to peer over the wall to get into the pipe, but immediately the moss made going over the wall impossible to do. It was just too damn slippery to contend with. Plus the pipe was full of moss and mass plant life growing from every nook and cranny, but it did look so fun and good to skate in. It was a huge let down not to skate it, but come the dry season I will be back and the mission will be on again for sure.

Afterwards we walked back to the trail only to find a freshly decapitated animal laying in our path. We observed no brain, blood or anything, except for its jawbone and several broken teeth. This even freaked out my guide who'd never seen anything like it. We both wondered what kind of animal would rip off the head of something and not eat the body. A big cat perhaps? Your guess is as good as mine. We were gone for quite a spell and we left my wife and the kids in the car over a mile away, far, far from home. I knew they would be panicky so we jogged/ran back up the trail to the dam, then across the riprap of the dam proper. When we made it back we split for our home near the beach, but on the way I thought I saw another morning glory tower sticking out of the water at another lake. So we drove around for miles trying to find an access road, which we eventually found via some questions to the locals in Alex's perfect Spanish. We found the dam after a half hour of driving in circles and then drove right up next to it.

A guard with a pistol appeared and I had Alex tell him that I was a dam engineering student. We questioned him on the spillway and the MG, but he told us that we had to climb over the hillside to see the pipes emptying near the river. We did not have enough light left to do this so we asked for more pertinent information about more dams, and the guard said, "I know where more pipelines are on the other side of the country about six hours away." It was a fine trip and we gathered good intel to use for another day.

So back to the beach we went, cruising through the rainforests at 11:00pm on sketchy-ass roads that were washed out days before we made the trip. Potholes galore was the rule of thumb near the volcano's edge. Pure road anarchy was the theme of the day. The people in California drive like maniacs, swerving into your lanes and passing around blind corners and all. It was like the Wild West meets the beach except dudes did not carry around guns, only the policia did. No armies here in la-la land, just lots of Americans on the run from the law, surfers, and crazy-ass skaters like Alessandro and his crew of misfits like No-Mas Thomas, Conejo, Brian the Kingfish, the Chino Slacker, Francisco the Argentine crazy man, and assorted others.

Thanks for the good times, my friends. Tico land fucking rules. Alex, you da man.
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Author:Alba, Steve
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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