Well, I promised to write about Panama and although it’s taken me a while, I’m doing it! I should have done it sooner, while the memories were fresh and beautiful, but this will have to do! Of course there are many things I’m not including, momentarily forgetting, and I’m sorry about that…
I spent the first part of my trip traveling with the best travel partner I’ve had in years, who shall remain nameless… It was so much better than I had anticipated going it alone. We enjoyed the old town, getting some amazing ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate, petting random dogs and cats, and generally having an easy-breezy time. Then we hopped in our SUV and headed to the Darien.
Why, you ask? To visit an American missionary family that has been living out there for the past 3 decades. They had some very interesting stories to tell us of some hostilities and life in the jungles of Panama. I can’t wait to hear more (OK, I can wait and have waited, but it’s all very intriguing). Among other things, they have a moringa farm, which I was interested in learning about. We didn’t get to visit the actual farm on this trip, but we did come away with a giant bag of moringa powder, which I’m still using in my morning smoothies and fruit bowls. We stayed at a cute little hotel not too far away, where we watched hummingbirds flit around as we ate breakfast.
Speaking of food, this was a rough journey. You would think in a land where bags of mangos go to waste, fruit would be easy to find. Not so, not so. I can’t even remember what we ate. Eggs. And on the road, fish and strangely unripe-tasting cooked plantains. But no fruit was ever on the menu, or even in the little stores we would pass by. Only once did we find mangos and boy did I stock up. We couldn’t even find fish as a meal at several places. I’ve learned since then that ignoring an empty stomach actually does not get as painful as you would think, and you can survive several days on a few peanut butter cups. Apparently the reasoning is that mangos (and other things) grow so abundantly in everyone’s yard that there’s no point in selling them at the stores!
We spent a few nights a little closer to Panama City and spent hours enjoying a gorgeously clear and warm river (I’ll show you a picture but I’m not telling you where it is because IT’S ALL MINE) before making the trip up to the San Blas islands.
We had a vision of being on a secluded white beach enjoying turquoise water…. well. We were first taken to a very tourist-filled beach with no hopes of any privacy whatsoever, and then to a second one that was not much better, before negotiating a deal to be dropped off on an actual deserted island. We had a very limited amount of time to spend there, so we got right down to snorkling. At one point, some people came in a canoe-like boat and collected water from a small spring on the island. The last to leave was an older woman. We were so caught up in just observing (without staring) that it didn’t occur to me until too late that maybe we should have offered her a hand with her jugs. One more thing to feel guilty about. 😛
We stopped at one more even tinier island before heading back to shore…. this one had a small hut built on it to claim it… and somehow I managed to get extremely sunburned this time. Of course, when I had my bikini top back on. Blah! Tan lines!
It took us longer than expected to get back home, down the winding jungle roads… our hosts were a bit worried about us but we couldn’t get signal to really reach out to them. But we made it back.
We said good-bye in Panama city, and I was left on my own. Well, with my couch-surfing host, who worked at the Panama canal and took me there to see the new canal that was being built.
From there I took a few days, rented a car, and drove west, over to Coronado Beach to stay at the same BNB I stayed at on my first trip to Panama. It’s a great place to just sit and chill, and that I did.
While there, and also while in a high rise apartment couch-surfing, I experienced the loudest thunderstorms I’d ever heard. One knocked out the internet briefly. The thunder was what I would imagine bombs might sound like. My ears actually hurt. And the lightening was crazy.
From Coronado Beach I also drove up to see the Purely Natural farm, where I’m saving up to invest. Gotta think of the future! It was funny… the girl who gave me the tour said she and some of the others were happy at the idea of someone young investing. Apparently only old men seem to consider this. Also qigong. I’m actually writing this blog from China, where I’m taking a qigong workshop. I happen to be the only one here this month, but the teacher said most people who come are over 40. Am I just ahead of my time with everything? I also really loved my vegetables as a kid. Who knows.
I made my way back to Panama City, and then from there drove to Sabanitas where I was once again couch-surfing. It turned out that two of my future cruise-mates were also staying at this place! Thank goodness, because the neighbourhood was a little sketchy to me. We had a good time together (despite the heat and humidity that kept me awake all night long breathing into a cup of ice) visiting a river muddy from recent rainfall, and a nice little beach not too far away. Then I drove on my own farther up the coast to Portobelo, where I would spend the next two nights before meeting my girl friend in Colon to catch our transatlantic cruise!
Portobelo wasn’t exactly what I had been led to expect, and a quick trip around the town was enough for me. I stayed in a bed and breakfast which was not currently offering breakfast because the owners were in the hospital expecting a baby, leaving me in the care of a foreign volunteer, 3 dogs and 2 cats. We had a good time together, and even found veggie burgers at a more American place in town. When I arrived at the bnb, I discovered that there was an incredibly steep incline to climb, with a car parked perfectly in the way. And it was raining. So my new host drove me and my luggage up on a four wheeler and we later got my car. Then I was afraid to leave. But I did, once. For internet. Because other than the internet on the cruise, this was the worst internet I have yet encountered. I finally braved the steep driveway and found a seaside bar with wifi on my last day.
From Portobelo I made my way to Colon, to find my cruise ship at the dock. Everyone had warned me, “don’t stop the car! Lock the doors! Don’t talk to anyone!”… apparently it’s dangerous there, so I was a little freaked out at the possibility of getting lost. Which I did, because my GPS kept telling me to drive down streets that all ended at a fortress. A wall. I forget what it was called… a duty-free zone… well I asked the guard where to find my rental car place, found it, took ages to return my car (and witnessed some cruisers pouring alcohol into a giant water bottle… silly… should have taken the Monarch, free drinks the whole way across…), and hopped in a taxi for the 2 minute ride to port. There I met my couchsurfing buddies and my next adventure buddy, an old friend from Los Angeles. The Panamanian adventure had come to a close, and the transatlantic adventure was about to begin….