What can I say about Bocas del Toro, Panama? Well, without sounding too over-the-top I suppose I’ll just casually say, HOLY BEAUTIFUL MOST GORGEOUS PERFECT PLACE.
Sure, it was a bit of tourist town, but that didn’t detract from it’s charm and natural beauty one bit. It’s a place where the beer is healthier than the water, the warm sea is clear enough to spot seastars and schools of fish from afar, the litter is primarily empty coconuts, and the locals are adorable dogs who are always willing to walk you safely home. Plus, you travel by water-taxi to the most gorgeous beaches and the bars sit on the Caribbean Sea meaning that when you get too toasty from dancing, you walk ten feet to the dock and dip your toes in to cool down.
THE JOURNEY TO PARADISE
As always, the journey there turned out to be a bit of a struggle, but I honestly don’t think I am capable of having a normal transportation experience if I tried. When I bought my bus ticket to Panama, there was only standing space left, so I took it. Mind you, it is a 5 hour ride from San Jose, or so they say…
Apparently one other man got a standing ticket like myself, and he was instructed to sit on the stairs while the driver pointed at me to sit in the co-pilot seat, the pull-down seat that you see as you walk up the steps to load the bus. I obediently pulled the seat down movie-theater style and hoisted myself up, awkwardly sitting with my feet dangling 3 feet above the floor and my knees a foot from the front window. “Buckle up!” the bus driver says.
Seeing as I was right in front with an obstructed view, you may think I had a spectacular ride filled with scenery (which to be fair, I did), but that view was also in direct sunlight. With absolutely zero shade. And no open window. For 7 hours. Let’s just say that I have some wonderful new tanlines. Occasionally the driver pitied me and opened the bus door to my right, and while very kind of him it had me on the edge of my seat, feeling like I’d fall out of the bus at any moment.
“Five hours” turns to six, and that turns to 8, and a banana crossing or two (literally bananas on an assemby line that crosses the road), a hiccup at the border, a water taxi ride, and 12 hours later… I made it to paradise!
My daytour which to the remote beach of Isla Zapatillas was absolutely perfect, plus it included transportation, snorkeling, a stop to Sloth Island, and a visit to Hollywood to see the superstars, aka starfish (Total Adventures, Inc., $35). I also tried snorkeling for the first time (crazy, I know) and concluded that I am much better as a land-based creature, though I loved seeing all the little creatures swimming about!
A SHORT TANGENT ON PEOPLING
In my small amount of travel experience, I’ve quickly learned that you meet a shocking number of people while on the road. Like, shockingly shocking. It is neat to encounter new people each day from all over the world, but it can also be exhausting to participate in identical coversations over and over again where we lightly converse about each other’s life in the most basic and least profound of ways before saying goodbye and never seeing each other again. “I’m originally from x, I’ve been in y for [insert amount of time here], and I’m heading to z next! How about you?” Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Being part of an international volunteer program only exacerbates this as I see new faces each week and constantly meet new people. Now I know this may be coming off as slightly anti-social of me (or slightly more than slightly), so perhaps now is a good time to clarify that I am by no means incapable of human interaction and am typically quite bubbly and energetic. However, truth be told, I often find myself more at peace when spending time with books and cuddling cats than people. But we all have our strengths, right?
All that said, I have met an incomprehensible number of amazing individuals since arriving in Costa Rica and have had the opportunity to hear about their personal experiences and learn where they are from as well as what they want to do in the future. I’m happy to meet so many people, but when traveling, it seems to be a fairly abrubt cycle; get to know a person, wave if you run into them again, ask how their weekend was, share a little laugh, add each other on Facebook, then part ways because it’s time for one of you to jet off to the next place. Never see each other again.
These are not shallow encounters per se, especially considering that we all mean well and in order to get to know somehow, you usually start with the basic questions, yet it often feels like a redundant and achingly conventional exchange that is merely expected and not particularly enjoyed. Then, before you know it, the people you met are gone and a new wave rolls in, as is the case with volunteering. I don’t want to come off as pessimistic because I have the amazing chance to connect with such a wide variety people, but if I’m going to be honest (and I am to a fault), I often don’t have time to really get to know them, so it unfortunately becomes more of a “hi, bye” relationship. Yet every now and then you get lucky and meet absolutely fantastic individuals that you really click with. This weekend I had luck on my side.
So there I am sitting in a cafe in beautiful Bocas del Toro and I am just about to order breakfast when these two people ask if I want to sit with them. Now, if you gathered anything about me from the last paragraph you know that my automatic response is something along the lines of: “Oh, that’s so nice, but I’m going to read and then take off, but thank you so much!” Spoiler alert: That did not happen. Instead, I surprised myself and said, “sure!” and moved on over and it turned out to be the best decision I made. Thank god for acting out of character, am I right? I ended up meeting two incredible people with a passion for travel, a wicked sense of humor and whose company was genuine and their kindness contagious. We ended up spending the weekend together drinking Panama cervezas, exploring the beaches, sharing bottles of wine, hitting the town and enjoying some seriously good Caribbean grub (shout out to that fish filet with mango and garlic sauce, you truly are the real MVP). We liked the same music and talked about the best concerts we’ve been too and I put on some tunes while we laid on the beach and swam. We found out we watched the same shows and swapped Game of Thrones theories with over-the-top enthusiasm (I know, geeky, right? But I have no shame– pun intended for all my fellow GoTer’s, teehee). We also mentioned what we were reading, shared our favorite books and even swapped suggestions. I realized I was really in heaven though when they used the same stupid movie quotes that I use on a daily basis. Honestly, whoever quotes Elf more than twice a day is automatically my best friend. I guess what I’m saying is that I was lucky to be with the most genuine company and loved how natural and easy it was to share the weekend with them. If you guys are reading this, then consider this a friendly reminder of how awesome you are and I’ll see you SLC and FLL soon!
When all’s said and done, I have been transported far out of my comfort zone, tried new things, met incredible people and am learning more about myself than I expected- what I like, what I don’t, and how to incorporate that into my future. And it’s only been a month. I can only imagine the shenanigans and growing opportunities I’ll face as time goes on!