As some of you may already know, I made a trip to Panama in April. Other than some brief weekends in Cabo, this was my first real journey into Central America.
Part of me feels silly, thinking about what to write, what was the same, what was different, what surprised me… as if I were the first person to discover the country. I didn’t stay there long enough to be able to give a deep commentary on the culture or people, but I feel like I should say something about my journey! I mean come on, this is my adventure blog! A journey anywhere helps us to examine ourselves and discover more facets to our souls, to see how similar we are to humans everywhere else, and to see how different we are as well, reflecting how we were raised and what we were taught. It’s a hands-on opportunity to share knowledge and to challenge one another.
I learned what a cashew looks like on the tree. I learned that junk mail doesn’t exist everywhere. I learned that the ideas of organic, sustainable, solar-powered lifestyles are reaching far and wide. I learned that not far from a city where people can pay thousands of dollars in rent for their apartment, live people in tin huts in the jungle… I still have many more questions, so much more to learn, than could be learned in 10 days.
I spent my first full day in a car, driving with another couchsurfer from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. It was a long drive, and we watched the terrain go from dry and brown, to a Jurassic Park-like lush forest, complete with several rainbows along the way. The drive was long, and we arrived at the docks after the last official ferry had gone. $40 later, we were on a ferry heading to our island. This ferry was not what I had expected (teaches me to expect anything! I keep thinking I’ve learned this lesson…), being a small boat with a motor and a tent-like enclosure that bounced across the black waves towards the faint lights.
The next few days were spent at a hostel called the Aqua Lounge, where we would observe mostly younger travelers jumping into the ocean pool, partying late into the night, and eating the free pancake breakfasts. The first night however, my travel partner gashed his foot on a barnacle trying to rescue a girls phone from the ocean, and we got the experience of a visit to the local hospital one morning. That experience was enough for me to cross Bocas off of my “I could live here.” list. But as my first ever experience in a hostel, not bad. The people were laid back and friendly, and it was set up for having a chill time over the ocean. Was not a fan of sharing a bathroom and shower with an unknown number of people (one of whom vomited in the shower during the party night, after I had gone to sleep), but there were no major problems.
The ocean was warm, and there were rumors of bioluminescence (I would ask several people about this, and rainbow eucalyptus), which will have to wait until my next trip for me to discover. I wanted more time, to climb through the tangled jungle trees, to swim in the ocean, to do all the things wood and water nymphs do.
On the long journey back into the city, we had to find an alternate route, because the main bridge was still closed thanks to the Summit. The city had nearly emptied during this period, because of all the road closures and hassle it had caused, and I wondered what it was normally like.
The film festival had begun, and it was time to pick up my fancy lanyard and other goodies, which included a 6 pack of beer. Because I was in Kendal the Explorer mode, I saw few films, and opted to experience a few days in Coronado at my couchsurfing host’s brother’s hostel (did you follow that?) Villa Lilimar, to try and get my fill of the ocean and a more relaxing existence. We were the only guests at the hostel, and spent all of our time with our host, driving around picking mangos and avocados from neighbourhood trees, buying our dinner at the supermarket (not the organic store, which doubled the price of several items that are currently in my fridge, and did not sell any fresh fruits and vegetables).
I enjoyed the stillness, the sun and the calm blue water of the pool, so much that I only went to the beach once. I mean, it wasn’t like the Bocas beach, anyway. It wasn’t freezing but it wasn’t warm. It had black sand (which is really cool! But really hot!). And I was told if you walked up a bit, the waves were calmer. But I was being lazy, and my friend’s foot injury prevented him from getting too crazy and adventurous, so I didn’t mind the relaxing days in the shade by, or in, the pool. We even discovered some giant balloons after a day or so, which became a foot condom for him, and he was able to get in the pool.
Back in Panama City, I walked around the old city for a bit before attending the closing night’s film, Whiplash. There, I tagged along with the only English-speaker I had met to the afterparty. We explored upstairs, downstairs, outside, ate appetizers and drank wine (I think everyone might have been tired of all the beer!), danced to the singers and the DJ, and said hello to everyone he knew. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The next morning, I had a lunch date with a woman I had connected with online, Rosalind Baitel. She’d been living in Panama for about 30 years and ran one of it’s only Crossroads-like secondhand shop, Promises. So of course I had to buy a few things, including a cute pair of pink Ferragamo heels. All profits go to charity, so hey, I was just doing a good deed! Luckily Copa lets you check your luggage for free. We talked for an hour or so, and I got very excited about the potential of Panama, for someone like me. I know “the grass is always greener” and I thought the same of Paris years ago, but this time I have that essential missing piece – contacts. Which I still lack in France.
I didn’t do a lot with the rest of my day, but hung out with my host in the evening while eating some (um, bad) cheap vegan food (basically rehydrated dehydrated seitan – but a take-away meal was $3.60!). Bedtime came fairly early, as my flight was at 10AM…. it had gone by so quickly, and I was a bit frustrated that I couldn’t just extend my stay to explore more… but my pets were waiting, and I have to prep for France, so… it was not to be.
I won’t get into my Panamanian-TSA rant here, we’ll save that one for another day, but let’s just say if anyone out there owns a private jet, I would be so grateful if I could just fly with you from now on. I’ll bake cookies, brownies, a meal, whatever. I’ll pole dance on the plane, just please, please don’t make me fly commercial ever again.
Back to Panama. Yes. I look forward to going back. To seeing my new friends. To making more new friends. To discovering tropical paradises and having new adventures. To figuring out what value I could bring to the country (I’m still figuring that out in regards to France, though I think it has something to do with vegetarianism). To exploring the nearby countries, and the Caribbean (because it’s about time!). And maybe next time, rescuing baby turtles in Costa Rica and visiting my brother down in Chile. I can’t wait.
If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos from Panama, click on the Instagram link above in the menu! If you want to keep up-to-date with me via photographs, be sure to follow me on Instagram, too. 🙂
And heck, while I’m here, enjoy this video, part of which was filmed in Panama. I didn’t have a clear vision going into the making of this video, nor a real cinematographer on hand… it’s a learning process! I also still suck on guitar, have some kind of allergies, and haven’t invested in decent recording equipment other than a lavalier mic that didn’t seem to want to work the day I was working on recording. But I’m not out to make things perfect, just to keep creating, experimenting, learning, (this time, I learned things about Final Cut Pro X, though if anybody knows what on earth this long black/grey track is that is attached to my main clip… email me. It’s making fade-in’s and fade-out’s impossible without exporting to iMovie) and hopefully get better at what I’m doing. Also if anybody is interested in collaborating on anything, let me know. I would love a talented team to work with! It’s really time to start polishing up my own songs… and they deserve REAL music videos.