Archives for posts with tag: San Blas

In the middle of the gentle turquoise and aquamarine waters, lapping at the sides of the motorboat we dropped anchor. Anxiety crept in as I swiveled my head around in all directions; there was nowhere to go, nowhere to grasp onto except the edge of the boat and plop myself down into the knee-deep expanse. After my relationship ended – it was long, meaningful and although the decision to part ways was mutual, it would take nearly a year to acknowledge that time as merely another chapter of my past.

At times, I felt as if everything was happening around me even while I was participating. I felt unraveled, detached and lost. I heard, but had trouble listening, conversed but struggled to truly engage. I sought to keep myself busy in the hopes that the passing days would ease the discomfort and offer the clarity needed to guide my next step. Time heals, right? So I made time; to cry, overanalyze what went wrong, come to terms with the part I played. I made time to pick up old interests, spend time with friends, family and said ‘yes’ to new experiences and people, and yes, over time, it seemed that I was bouncing back. Months passed, something was still missing.

I waded out to a spot where I could sit in the water surrounded by the largest, orange creamsicle-colored starfish I’ve seen. The cool, gentle ripples of the Caribbean ocean invited us to settle in and embrace the warmth of the sun, camouflaged by the cloud cover. Curiosity compelled me to slosh around on all fours until I could pick one of the starfish up and feel it’s pebbly casing and the subtle suction from beneath as I cradled it in both hands.

We were on our own private sand bar in the San Blas islands, a sprinkle of more than 300 remote islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. Time rolled by without restriction and illuminated the simplest of pleasures, like the two young boys from the lone Guna Yala family on the island duck and dive the waters near their boat before the sun came out in full force the next morning. Or handing over $1 to the same Guna Yala family to quench my thirst on slightly saccharine coconut water while I strolled back to the same log beneath the lone palm tree my travel companion and I found ourselves at most of that weekend. I was present while our travel peers chattered on about the cities they were just in – Bocas del Toro, or Bocas for short – and where they were headed next – Boquete, Mexico City, Nicaragua. I soaked it all in and noticed a shift had happened.

I felt it in the morning, where the only decision we had to make was whether we were going to post up against the log beneath one of the palm trees, or the washed up log on the shore. I tasted it from the first sip of Ron Abuelo and Coke out of a bright plastic cup while we waited on the grill to finish our burgers. There were many events and events within events that week that can be best described as a fantastic blur of laughter and reflection and as we returned home one typically sunny, Southern California afternoon one thing was clear; I found my reset button in Panama.

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A collection of insights I’ve gleaned after a week-long trip to Panama. In no particular order and some less practical than others, and nearly all involving food. Here it goes:

  • Eat your ice cream fast or the the sun will zap your treat quicker than you’ll have time to slurp up the slush.
  • There is no bus schedule. Headed to El Valle de Anton? Hail a taxi to the Albrook bus terminal (or maybe take the new Metro), look for your destination plastered on the row of windows, hand over your cash and board the vehicle with your desired destination and wait till the vehicle is full before departing.
Our rapidly melting treats from Granclement in Casco Viejo.

Our rapidly melting treats from Granclement in Casco Viejo.

  • For shorter shuttle service, $5-$7 will get you a cab ride almost anywhere within and around the city
  • The free zone, Colon: part holding area for goods on their way to Latin America and the Caribbean via the Panama Canal, part mega strip-mall at mega-appealing prices. For example, a pair of the latest Nike’s = $50. You’re welcome.
  • The Guna Yala people, the indigenous folks that call the San Blas islands home are some of the friendliest and good-humored people I’ve met. They are proud of their specks of paradise; I couldn’t help but crack an endearing smile when one of them, our boat navigator shouted over the roar of the waves as we whipped past, “Es mi Isla!” Quite literally, that was his island. (They are also quite adept at navigating the waters slightly inebriated)
San Blas, Panama

San Blas, Panama

  • Maybe this is a universal truth, but a mojito tastes best outside with the sun beating down and the humidity at an all-time high. Also, if you are in Casco Viejo and are in the mood for the refreshing beverage, the mojitos are better at the little place wedged between the Red Lion pub and the Italian restaurant.
  • According to our driver in Colon, Panama is one of the only countries where you can watch the sunrise over the Pacific and see the sunset beyond the Atlantic.
  • The local fruit is so sweet, and so delicious. I was skeptical at first (I too grew up in the tropics), but fruit cup I had at a fruteria in the El Cangrejo neighborhood made a believer out of me
  • Is it just me, or is Panama City severely lacking in dark beer options?
  • Air Conditioning is. a. must. Lesson learned.
Fruit stand on the way to El Valle de Anton.

Fruit stand on the way to El Valle de Anton.

 

Note: I traveled to Panama during the tail end of its dry season and was fortunate to spend a lot of time outside and travel quite easily through the mountains to get to San Blas from Panama City.

 

“Vamos a El Dorado, Chinatown?” I mumbled with self-consciousness and a smile as we piled into the taxi.

We were sun-drenched touristas back in Panama City; a combination of old and new friends thanks to a rambunctious camping trip in the San Blas islands the evening prior. San Blas: a peppering of 365 remote islands off the Caribbean side of Panama. Subsisting just fine on a liquid diet of Ron Abuelo rum and Coke (the real kind), we enjoyed a carefree and uninhibited time in the islands with nothing more than a lone Guna Yala family, the swaying palms and the mega-sized starfish to judge us.

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One of the San Blas islands, off the Carribean side of Panama.

It was divine, though back in the mainstream we were hungry for something more substantial. Dinner in Chinatown, in Panama City’s El Dorado neighborhood was supposed to be an easy fix. Placing an order at a restaurant was second nature compared to the acquired taste that camping can be for those of us who prefer the comforts of a real bed, a hot shower (or a shower in general) and a working toilet.

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