Panama Trip:Part 3

Where to begin? Bocas del Torro, Panama, minus the scuba diving was so chill. There are plenty of places to wine and dine, or in my case… Down the local beer, Panama, and scarf down the local cuisine like I had never eaten before. One place in particular, La Pirate, had an unbelievably delicious baked chicken. The meat was so tender and slow roasted in a rotisserie. My mouth waters for it with this memory. Now I’m not one of those people who suck on bones or eats every scrap of the meal but I found myself ravished with hunger after scuba diving and I ate everything on my plate, stopping short of licking my plate clean. There were many mouthwatering eateries all throughout Bocas town and a few that, well, I questioned whether it was real beef, and some that made my butt sing-(clearing my fake cough) John’s Deli.

By nightfall, Bocas town comes alive and the streets are filled with the local kids, riding their bikes, rollerblades, skateboards; my ears are filled with the beautiful sound of their laughter, and the scary sound of their cracking whips! The children emulate the “Devils” that come out and entertain Bocas guests, and locals alike. They hold makeshift whips, and run around cracking them at other kids, and sometimes, adults, encouraging a high speed foot chace, and dramatic waves of pure joy and laughter- something I have not heard in a long time.

Ahhhh… Leaving my beloved Bocas!

Boquete, Panama

BORING! Unless your into seeing old white people (expats, vacationers, etc.) walk around in shorts, and sandals with socks. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love old people… I just don’t want to go on vacation and see them, unless I’m going on vacation to see old people you know. But hey, at least they are living. This was a cool, quiet and relaxed town. If thats what your looking for.

On a special note… I took part in this Facebook thing called… Scattering CJ. CJ was a young man who died by suicide. Haley, his mother, thought of a way to help her in grief, and to help her son travel the world- a dream in which, he was never able to see come to fruition. I had about ten days to message her and tell her that I wanted to help her achieve his dream. She sent me his picture and a little bit of his remains. I kept him in backpack, everywhere I went upon receiving him, telling his story to everyone I know. When I went to Panama- CJ was there with me. I took him, in hopes of finding that peaceful, yet beautiful place. Turns out Bouquet was it.

CJ was scattered in Boquete, Panama on February 14th, 2014. I chose this beautiful spot at the base of Volcan Baru and released him into the River Caldera, surrounded by lush greenery and a multitude of colorful flowers. Access to this area is off of Bajo Mono Road. I did as Hallie requested, thought of him and the people he helped live (organ donation), I told him that his mother missed him very much, and that she loved him with all her heart and soul, and that she was sorry.

Unfortunately, I somehow managed to corrupt my video file that I made for CJ’s mother. This made feel very sad. I was able to recover some photos… and a partial video from Red Frog Beach.

Anyway, that was the highlight of Boquete.

Next stop… Coiba in Santa Catalina, Panama.

Coiba was an awesome dive spot. I had an out of this terrestrial world experience. I was fairly new to diving, having just been certified at the beginning of my trip, so I was a little nervous. I must have been on THE SLOWEST BOAT IN COIBA because I saw all the other dive boats from different shops speeding on by… waving and laughing. (By the way, I dove with Coiba Dive Shop).

This was a lucky adventure for me for sure! I didn’t see much on my first dive but the next four were absolutely terrifying and stunning. The second dive I saw my first seahorse… which was one thing I wanted to see. The third and fourth dives… WHALESHARKS!!! They scared the shit out of me.. not literally, thank Buddha! Luis, the Divemaster noticed a lot of what looked like cloudy, jellyfish body parts filled water to me, but it was actually whale shark poop. Laugh out loud. We were than on a silent, and stinging mission to find the creator of this do-doo. I was steady no further than three feet behind my Divemaster- I’ll admit… my imagination often got the best of me. Next thing you know I see this shadow… off in the distance. As it creeps closer and closure, I steadily have a white knuckle grip on my Go-Pro camera, and lo and behold, I see this massive mouth, headed straight for me… I immediately grab my Divemaster and move him in front of me. and bubbles just start streaming out of my mouth. I thought I was going to be swallowed, but hopefully it would have been satisfied with my Divemaster. Hey, I had no idea they didn’t eat people at the time. Anyway I have great video. I just haven’t made it into something worth watching just yet. Needless to say, it was one of the best times of my life- so far.

When we finally surfaced, of course we bragged to the others who were already taking off their wetsuits, about the Whale Shark. And do you know what twiddle dumb and twiddle dumber did… thats right, they jumped into the water with a snorkel mask, no suit, and into all the little chewed up and pooped out particles of jelly fish. It was fucking awesome!

Besides the diving… Santa Catalina is a very tiny surfer/ diver town… not much else to do. Although, I did feed a very emaciated dog. I mean this poor dog was skin and bones and probably was on its last leg. I couldn’t help myself…. I prolonged the agony by feeding it a pound of ham, and some bacon. Hopefully someone else had the heart to help that dog when I left.

Next stop…Portabello, Panama.

There isn’t anything I could say about Portabello diving. The dive shop I wanted to dive with, was also part of the hotel in which I stayed. The service of the dive center, and hotel were not on par. It was like either everything was secret or they just didn’t want to deal with you. BURNT me up. So I stayed one day and night. Met an awesome couple, that I still connect with though.

During this one day trip I ate the most amazing fried chicken. It was fresh and by fresh I mean… the cook had to go chop its head off, pluck it and then fry it up. Sounds gross… but it was the best! Sorry, Im not vegan… I was given canines for a reason and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to rip the head off of broccoli… just saying.

I also went to see the historical port and forts. It would have been so cool to walk the grounds of the fort without having to see it littered with not only rubbish, but urine stench as well. There were graffiti etched into the old coral stone walls. It made my heart cry… I am a super duper senior, studying Anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology… and an Art History minor… I know.. boring, but it floats my boat. So seeing the carelessness of previous visitors or the local inhabitants just really ruined it for me. I would have liked to see it taken better care of.

Next stop…Panama City.

Panama City… home of THE CRAZIEST DRIVERS in the world. I think i left claw marks in the side of the door from holding on so tight. No lanes…. no laws- get in where you fit in… basically. Drove through a slum. My first. It really put into perspective, what I, and most Americans take for granted. I never really knew.. ok maybe I did.. I have seen slums on T.V. before, but never with my own two eyes… in real life. It was heartbreaking. I wanted to go to Old Town, but I’ll admit… I was intimidated. All the guide books said not to go at night- you could get mugged, or murdered for your shit. And being as though I had arrived later than planned (traffic was intense) and dropped off the lovely couple from Portabello that I met… I opted to just go to the hotel and relax.

Once we got the key… we’re waiting for the elevator (third floor), and get in with yet another old couple, who proceed to make small talk. I am struggling with my pack. It weighed probably 45 pounds and for my 5’3″, 100 pond frame… it was quite heavy. What do you know the old couple get off on the third floor and just yack, yack, yack away, while I stand there trying to be courteous and listen to them, al the while I have the leg shakes. UUUUGGGGHHHHHH. Efff my mother for raising me to have manners! Finally I go in the room and have an awesome view of the Panama Canal. DOPE!

The Panama Canal, is so awesome to watch! Just kidding…  I have some lengthy video of the opening and closing process. I need to edit it still. Oh man it was so freakin hot! My Balboa stayed cold for maybe three minutes… nothing like downing hot beer while bogarting the prime spot on the third deck. I mean I never received so many stank eyes in my life. Hey I’m making a video guys… give me a break. Anyway, three beers and and burnt shoulders… and three hours later… BAM… I got my video. I’ll post that later.. time lapsed of course.

Next stop…Pedasi

Pedasi… the worlds second most famous place to celebrate Carnaval, and they had some pretty awesome diving. We rented this condo… it was the best. Loved it. There was even a night visitor in the upstairs bathroom. I saw this creature fly from the bathroom… it was a freakin bat. I was scared but I armed myself with a broom, and a trash can lid. It was like something out of modern day medieval times. Eventually I got the dang thing out.

Anyway did some diving with an independent instructor, Kerry, and got a few more certificates under my belt. Didn’t see too much … I mean… other than an eight foot white tipped reef shark that had scars enough to show he had won the prime sleeping position- he was cradled within a coral reef opening. Yeah it was scary… but I made sure not make a sound so as not to wake him. Kerry also was stalked a= by a huge green Morra Eel… I thought for sure we were going to have to fight him off of her, but alas, she stuck her fin its mouth and it quickly decided to retreat. I also had what was described as a very special experience. A school of silver Jacks- i mean hundreds of them- swarmed around us… they involved us in their beautifully orchestrated symphony of movement. they held us in the eye of the school, as they swirled and sped all around us. it was like being in a tornado of diamonds…. amazing.

Carnaval… was similar… only a tornado of drunk, half naked humans. I was, at first excited to experience it but that quickly went away. I have severe anxiety and who knew… being surrounded, pushed and prodded through a crowd of drunkards would leave my mind going in a thousand different directions. I hate drunkards, and I hate them most of all when they touch me. I was groped. I immediately went into panic mode. I didn’t like it. Had to leave. Before the groping though I was close enough o a float that I saw the most handsome warrior god. Okay, he wasn’t a god…  but he totally fit the bill. I was encourage by my travel buddy to “live a little” and “go touch him.” I didn’t want to, i know how it feels to have men touch me… unwanted touching. So after the begging, I took my index finger of my right hand, and did the unthinkable- I ran my finger down his shin- from the base of the knee cap, down to the top of his second toe. It thrilled me- but also terrified me. I didn’t want to touch him and he didn’t ask me too but when I looked at his face- I saw the most beautiful smile on his face and in his eyes. I knew that I had not offended him in that moment. Was it worth it… yes.. oh yes.

Then I was groped. In my private cookie area… and that killed it for me.

After Pedasi, we headed back to Boquete for the night. We inched our way closer to going home- back to reality. But not before we had one last wild adventure. On our way back to Bocas, from Bouquet… we got the rental car hung up in the middle of a two lane road. Yes part of the road just dropped down about a foot… and instead of reversing straight back, the driver turned the wheel and got us stuck. Tire was just spinning and spinning… car stood still. No one was around… until maybe ten minutes pass and two guardian angels appear… in a taxi. They helped us unfuck ourselves and we were back on the road again… headed back to Bocas and then home.


Panama Trip: Part 2

Bocas del Toro, Panama
February 1- 12, 2014

Bocas Water Sports, located in Bocas town on the water, is where I completed all my diving certifications: Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver. BWS’ owner, John,  is an American from Oklahoma.  He was friendly and helpful, often providing his two cents worth of where to eat, drink and how to get around. All the Dive Masters (Freddy, Hector, Modesto, Leonardo and DM trainee Jake) & Boat Captains were freakin AMAZING at their jobs, and we’re just all around good people.
My Dive Master was Freddy who was like a black night in shinning armor. He is my diving Sensei! He was very professional but friendly and really made me feel extremely safe and comfortable in the depths of the sea. He made sure to explain every step of the exercises that I would have to perform in order to become certified.  During my initial Open Water Diver certification,  there were various buoyancy exercises that were easy peasy what a breezy. Yet, one of the exercises required me to remove my mask, but not the regulator which provides the oxygen. This was THEE most difficult,  and scary as shit exercise I EVER had to accomplish.  First off, I automatically want to start breathing through my nose once the mask is off, which can be deadly, when your twenty thousands leagues under the sea… I wasn’t that deep, I’m exaggerating, a little.
Anyhow, I was basically trying not to kill myself by breathing through my nose, whilst at the same time trying to get my mask back on my face, clear it and get some oxygen back into my lungs BUT NO! Sarah starts to freak out a little bit…. Freddy begins to worry… And I’m like a little baby, who clearly, does not belong here. Freddy, my savior,  places his hands on my upper arms, and sets himself in front of me… I immediately calm down and finally get the mask on, clear it and get a gulp of air with a minute taste of seawater mixed in there… AND I DID IT! I survived the hardest part of the test. My reward, other than the certificate,  was shaking Freddy’s congratulatory hand shake. I was so proud of myself and thankful to be alive.

Advanced open water was a breeze, seriously, the mask removal was the worst part about it all. I learned to underwater navigate, using a compass of course, deep diving,  night diving, wreck diving, and peak performance buoyancy. The most scariest thing about this training was the night dive, which I quickly overcame. I suddenly forgot about the deadly creatures that roam the seas… probably because I could not see past a foot of my mask, unless I pointed my flashlight at it. I became more concerned with not losing sight of my buddy. I was so deep in his ass like the video recorder on the end of the endoscope… I saw every crevous and palup in the lower and mid intestines… I might have made him uncomfortable, but I was perfectly humbled with my position. Needless to say, I didn’t get lost. We saw tons of lobster, crab, and fish; all if which, l imagined would have been like “God coming my mouth,” if they were sautéed with garlic, butter and dribble of lemon juice.
All was going well until Freddy pointed to a pile of rocks…and THE KRAKEN appeared… okay okay… it was maybe just about the size of an infants head… But i saw it’s full potential in my imagination!  Yet still, my tongue salivates just thinking of its demise. By the end of the dive, I was ready to pass out- four dives in one day is way to many.
Rescue diving was no joke. I’m already CPR qualified, so I got that. But the whole scenerio was intimidating.  I had to bring Jake, the Dive Master intern, and hottie (think… a younger version of the late Paul Walker) might I add, from the sea floor to the surface- about 30 meters, whilst keeping his regulator in his mouth. Once at the surface I had to provide rescue breathing every four seconds. The three seconds between breaths I had to remove, or unclip portions of his gear leaving one second to shake off water so I could pinch his nose and place my lips upon his beautiful, luscious… oh wait… I mean, provide rescuse breaths- all the while kicking and fighting the current back to the boat. Once I finish removing his gear I also have to remove mine, while still breathing for the both of us. And yes folks, I had to pick the victim up out of the water and into the boat where I would begin the ABC’s of saving his life. FML 🙂
Anyway… I did it… All while swimming with fishes and other inhabitants of the sea…. My second home!

Panama Trip: Part 1

The trip began very normal… Bags are packed- triple checked for everything I may need. Arrival at the airport was painless… except that checking in online was not accommodated. Apparently when traveling through Costa Rica, your passport must be in pristine condition, according to Frontier airlines. Zero frays or else you don’t get to leave the U.S., yet on the Costa Rica side… They take less than second look. They don’t check for frays, they flip it to the picture and take  a quick glance at the Picture and and even quicker glance at your face. And of course, no discounted online rate for checked baggage- something sounds fishy about that. I had two and half hours to kill before the flight- security was a breeze and there was no anal probe.  Pizza and Gin & tonic were on the menu- and my belly was calling it. Waiting to board. Boarding time came… And went. No delay announcement. No ” hey sorry guys, the flight is delayed.” Instead we get laughter from the customer service and threats of not allowing us to board if we keep on with the “attitude.” Since when did asking questions equate to having an “attitude?”  An hour and 15 minutes later… We board and depart. Within five minutes of locating my seat… The screaming and crying began. I’m on a red eye… Where I planned to rest my head  and close my eyes BUT NO! This infant did not stop screaming/ crying throughout the entire trip. I never in my life thought I would ever have a bad thought about a child in my life, until then. I wanted to choke it to sleep… I know I’m an evil person for thinking it… But hey… I was tired.  I never complained aloud or gave any type of stink eye to the parents… I had babies once… I understand completely. The delay of our take off time… Had a snow ball effect on our travel itinerary- causing an extreme mixture of stress, anxiety, and anger- a dangerous combination if I do say so myself. We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica five minutes before we were supposed to depart on our pre-paid shuttle to Puerto Viejo, where we would ultimately catch another pre- paid shuttle to the Panamanian/ Costa Rican border. We were able to talk the flight attendant into letting us off the plane first, a mini miracle in my eyes. We got to the baggage claim area, bought a phone card…. couldnt figure out how to use the phone… Anger starts rising. Finally our bags come out of the machine only to discover that one had been gone through and was not even packed properly back the way I had it… It was instead stuffed in the pack, nothing’s synched down, and thrown in a huge plastic bag. None of the zippers were zipped either. This made me angry but only for about five minutes. We hailed a taxi and thankfully he let us use his cell phone to call the shuttle driver. All is well in the universe, he had not left us behind! Our shuttle was only running twenty minutes behind for the other five travelers we were supposed to pick up. The road to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica was uneventful. We arrived at the Rocking J’s Hostel, where we would catch our second shuttle to get to the Costa Rica/ Panamanian boarder crossing. We ate lunch, it was pretty nasty… I ordered the “fish taco” plate which consisted of deep fried fish pieces and red cabbage. It was so gross… And greasy. Hostel life is not what I’m about. The place was nasty and probably full of hepatitis… Finally our next shuttle arrived. Next stop… Panama! After 19 hours of  non-stop traveling via private vehicles, planes, taxi’s, shuttle bus’, and a water taxi (boat)- we arrived in Bocas del Toro, Panama and the Bahia de Sol/ Koko Resort.  My own little slice of heaven. Stay tuned for the next part of this story… My Scuba certifications!