Panama.. What can I say about Bocas del Toro, Panama? Well, without sounding too giddy I guess I’ll just casually say, HOLY BEAUTIFUL MOST GORGEOUS PERFECT PLACE. That wasn’t too overexcited of me, was it? No, I didn’t think so either. 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 the seastars and schools of fish, 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 so when you get too toasty from dancing you can walk ten feet to the dock and put your feet in.
As always, getting to paradise was a slight struggle, but I honestly don’t think I could have a normal transportation experience if I tried. When I bought my ticket there was only standing room left and mind you it is a 5 hour ride, or so they say… One guy was instructed to sit on the stairs and then the driver pointed at me to sit in the co-pilot seat, the one you see as you walk up the steps to load the bus. I obediently pulled the seat down movie-theater style and sat with my feet dangling 3 feet above the floor, my knees a foot from the front window and was told to buckle up! Now you may think I had a spectacular view, and I did, but that view was in direct sunlight. Absolutely no shade. No open window. For 7 hours. I have some wonderful tanlines… Sometimes the driver pitied me and opened the bus door to my right and then I was really dangling over the edge, literally. But that was usually only in traffic or at a stop. Speaking of stops, I’m sure that while driving you’ve all waited at a crossing for one reason or another; train crossing, cow crossing, horse crossing, you name it. Well, in true Central American fashion I experienced my first banana crossing. Yes, I watched as your delicious breakfast and afternoon snacks chugged across the road on a questionable-looking little assembly system. So 12 hours, a long bus ride, a couple banana stops, a few hiccups at the border and a water taxi later.. I made it to paradise!
One of the best things I did was a tour which included transportation, snorkeling, a few hours on the remote beach of Isla Zapatillas, a sloth hunt on Sloth Island and a stop in Hollywood to see the superstars, aka starfish (Total Adventures, Inc., $35). It was a great deal and the day was about as perfect as it gets so I highly recommend it! I also tried snorkeling for the first time and concluded that I belong on land.. First, my tiny head made it difficult to wear the goggles- even at their tightest the water kept seeping in, but I can’t blame it all on that. Admittedly, it was really cool to see underwater and let me say that I love aquariums and marine life, just not swimming in open water with them. Put me in a boat and I’m good, but throw me in the water with the creepy eel things, death-stinging critters and killer sharks and I’m out. I don’t care if there aren’t really sharks and the plankton are terrified of me and the fish are only two centimeters long… I’ve never swam so fast as when I turned and saw a jellyfish inches from me. My already wild swimming turned even more frantic when I hit a completely harmless tangle of weird plant life. Let’s just say that I was very happy to climb back on that blessed boat. Maybe one day I’ll give snorkeling another shot, but I’ll stick to the shores for now.
But I’m going to switch gears here..
Let me start by sharing the most common tid-bit of conversation I have with people. No matter who I’m talking to it tends to be the same each time, nearly word for word.
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: Washington State.*
Stranger: Oh, Washington, DC!?
Me: No, State.
*Even after I added the “state” part nothing changed
** 90% of the time their face becomes a combination of sheer confusion and utter disappointment. Sorry, guys for being from the lame Washington..
I mention that conversation because I’ve had it upwards of 75 times. You see, when traveling you meet a lot of people. No, seriously, like a lot. Everyday you encounter someone new, are asked the basics about your life and then you ask the same in return. Being in a volunteer program exacerbates this and I see new faces each week in addition to those I meet when I travel outside of the city on weekends. Now I’ll admit that I don’t possess that innate super-social butterfly trait to begin with. Sure, I’m usually bubbly and I can easily talk to people so I’m by no means incapable of human interaction and I even talk to people for a living, however, I’m truthfully much better at spending time with books and cuddling with cats than people. But we all have our strengths, right? I’m making myself sound really anti-social here, and I’m not that bad, so I’ll get to the point… I have met an incomprehensible number of awesome individuals since arriving in Costa Rica and I have had the opportunity to hear about their experiences and learn where they are from as well as what they want to do in the future. I’m glad to meet so many people, but when traveling, it seems to end fairly abrubtly; get to know them, wave when you pass by, ask how their weekend was, share a little laugh, add on Facebook and then part ways because it’s time to take off to the next place. It’s not a shallow encounter per se because we all mean well and you have to ask the basics to get to know each other, but it often feels redundant or merely expected. Then, before you know it, the people you met are gone and a new wave rolls in. 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! Until then… ciao!