Wednesday, December 4, 2013

18 Hours in Panama

Taxi Service, Bocas del Toro

I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed on Thursday morning, it was piled up with posts about loving snow, hating snow, people getting stuck in snow, people skiing and pulling sleighs in snow. Snow was everywhere, and what was more the CP Holiday Train was due in Merrickville that night. My heart sunk a little, thinking about the holiday festivities I was missing. Pulling out my winter boots for the first time, feet crunching through fresh snow, looking up to the sky as the flakes fall. Most of all, I missed sipping hot chocolate and baileys with my bestie Danielle, watching the Holiday Train pull into town, completely lit up and blaring Christmas carols.

“It’s fine” I thought to myself, “I am going to the beach this weekend.” Pulling my attention away from the computer screen, I focused on the lawn outside my apartment. It was now a lake. The ‘rain shower’ was not letting up. If Ontario was getting 20cm of snow, I was sure that Turrialba was getting 40cm of rain. I suddenly understood why they call it ‘lluvialba’, when it rains, it pours, and it pours all day long. I packed my bag, put on it’s rain cover (amazing invention), my rain coat, flip flops and umbrella and made my way out to the bus stop along the highway.

Amelie and I, another Cuso volunteer, were going to Panama for a weekend 'getaway'. I boarded the crowded bus (standing room only), it was humid and wet, which coupled with a 2-hour drive through a winding mountain road, was enough to make me hurl. I looked up to the front of the bus; there was a sign that read, “If you feel sick, please ask the driver for a bag”. I was relieved not to get to that point. Five hours and three buses later we arrived at Point 1: Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. It was still raining. I figured this was meant to teach me a lesson: Don’t boast that you have 30 degree weather, to people in Canada that have to endure four months of winter, it isn’t their fault.

Determined to not let the rain get me down, I set out to explore soggy Puerto Viejo. The unpaved streets, quickly turned into ponds of mud, so I did a tour of the perimeter (it is only about the size of Merrickville) and returned back to the lodge. Feeling slightly defeated and let down, I cozied into the hammock on the porch of my room and opened up my book. It turns out the rain was a blessing in disguise, spending more time in a hammock, is now a life’s ambition.

Border Crossing
The next morning it was rise and shine early to catch the shuttle to Bocas del Toro, Panama. Having to cross the border by foot, we made our way across a very sketchy bridge. About half way across I was regretting not putting my camera and passport back in my bag, how much would that suck to drop your passport into a river while you are literally in between countries? I was just thankful it wasn’t pouring rain, it was hard enough already to not slip and catch your foot in one of the many gaps in the wooden boards. On the other side and several passport stamps later, we piled into a pick-up truck that read ‘Turismo’, our bags thrown into the back covered with garbage bags. Amelie and I just looked at each other, trusting that we would get to the right place. Several kilometers of banana plantations, rural villages and a water taxi later we arrived on the island.

Anxious to take this opportunity to explore and take advantage of the sunshine, we set out on our bicycles. We ate at a local ‘soda’, chatted with several locals, cruised by a deserted beach, searched for postcards, witnessed a man beat a dog with a stick on the main street, drank fresh fruit juice, ate delicious baked goods, slept on damp and potentially mouldy beds. That pretty much sums up 18hours in Panama.  I will have to go back and spend a few more days there, but by that point I was eager to get back to Costa Rica, where we are spoiled with potable tap water.

Waterfront view of Almirante, Panama

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