In a new country without the funds to make it to my return flight (I came with around $1300 in November and my flight leaves in late April) I was nervous. My plan was to really chill and stay put for a while. That plan lasted about 5 days. I’m not diggin’ Panama City and start rationalizing why I need to stay here and learn to like it. Liam (rock star) and Hilary (bamf) help me to realize that it doesn’t make sense to stay somewhere I’m not excited about. I have some money, Central America is cheap, so back on the road I go.
I take a night bus to Bocas del Toro with Hilary. She’s a sweet New Zealand chick that’s worked in more countries than I’ve stepped foot in. Bocas is a fun, loud party town on the north coast of Panama. Lots of cool day trips and activities available by water taxi. Hundreds of backpackers coming and going kill the local vibe, but a 2-day festival/parade for the city’s foundation give us a chance to feel the culture a bit. We saw children practicing late into the afternoon as we walked past schools upon arriving to the town. Kids as young as 6, in groups of 30 or 40, are wailing on snare drums with the timing and intensity of a Tool concert. OK, Tool cover band. The conductor signals for the rest and not a single off-beat. I can see him grinning a foot wide on the inside. The obnoxious drumming we have been hearing from our hostel is now an entrancing spectacle which we indulge along with some kickass street food. This is the first time I feel a pride connection (and a little less confused) with a Hispanic culture.
–Being from the United States of America (only saying ‘America’ aggravates most people down here because it references 2 continents and 36 countries), I am greatly distanced from the idea that there are other people with passions comparable to US citizens and college football or classic rock.–
Bocas is great. Avoid the wet season.
We jump on a bus for the mountains. La Fortuna has a hostel all by itself in a cloud forest (like a rain forest, but higher). Serene, but empty vibe. Hilary gets the scoop and it seems some of the volunteers are dying to get out of their one month contract. I meet the owner one night, who gets extremely drunk and reveals his bigoted, shallow insides to everyone. Since everything in the hostel has a sexual innuendo I can deduce his motives for opening a hostel. Creepy. He leaves the next day and some cool backpackers arrive. Full day of hiking jungle trails, fording wide, waist-deep rivers and walking through cold waterfalls feels like you are wearing a lead backpack. I cook some weird stuff. The critics seem happy and encourage my experimentation. Rocky Cloud Pie (named after a white-faced capuchin and a kinkajou that also live here) is made of cornbread minus baking soda, Vienna sausage, topped with spaghetti sauce and red beans. Sounds gross. It’s in a standard 10″ rectangular baking pan and disappears faster than a plate of Outback cheese fries. We watch The Watch (great slapstick, left-field humor). Shane, ex-lobbyist who instigated the waterfall excursion, has a moustache that Sean Connery would commend and we even have matching heart tattoos. Instant bros (just add beer). We DOMINATE foosball all night. In case you missed the emphasis, we won 15 straight games, while barely maintaining balance from laughing so hard. And I’m barely average at this game. Our opponents are laughing just as hard at the phenomenon that is taking place. GREAT night.
Four days in the cloud and we gain Elyna and hitch a ride toward the border. Some central american guys have eyes that look like they are wearing makeup. The dude that picks us up has eyes like this. With high-heels on the passenger floorboard, I have to check the Buffalo Bill possibility. My Spanish sucks, and he speaks no English, so I struggle to keep up polite conversation and find out if this guy is cool. (There’s always a few moments of tension on the onset. If you think about it in terms of incentives, only cool people stop for hitch-hikers, so you’re probably fine, but I try to be smart and do my best to read people, situations, and formulate a plan B.) They are his wife’s shoes. He’s 31 years old and has been a priest for the last 13 years. We drop off his car at his church and take a bus to the border. He gets off the bus and helps us get on the correct bus and then quickly pays the fare and says bye. We are a little stunned and joke about how badly he wanted us out of his country. Really cool dude.