After an amazing and unforgettable two weeks in Bocas del Toro, I boarded a dual prop puddle jumper from Isla Colon to Panama City. It wasn’t easy to leave the island paradise of Bastimentos, and there was definitely some sadness when I departed. There haven’t been many places during my travels that have made me quite as happy and satisfied as Bastimentos did. I know there will be opportunities to return in the future, but it is unlikely that any future trip will quite the same to my first time there. I will probably always be comparing any other stays there to my first time in March, 2015. While I am ultimately excited to get back to the States, there are also some mixed emotions about having another incredible travel adventure come to an end. I also knew that my last stop on this Central American journey was going to be Panama City, so getting on that plane from Bocas meant both leaving an area that I loved as well as flying to my last destination for this trip.
The hour flight felt insanely short, since I have been used to five hour bus rides at a minimum. It was nice to have a really short, simple, and easy transition from Point A to Point B after several months of Bus-Taxi-Bus-Ferry-Bus-Bus combos that took five plus hours. However, once I got to Panama City, I was reminded how little I missed the craziness of a big, urban environment. First, I got to enjoy some amazing third world inefficiency. The Albrook Airport, which is the main regional/ domestic airport in Panama, has a pretty sweet baggage claim system, which wasn’t quite as amazing as the one I experienced in Bandung, Indonesia (with a single line conveyor belt), but it was still pretty good. Baggage claim employees brought all of the bags into the tiny terminal while the passengers, like me, waited behind a roped off area. Then, the workers individually called out the numbers from the baggage claim tags, waiting for someone to raise his or her arm, matching the tickets, before finally giving the bag to the rightful owner. I am guessing this is a security measure/ precaution, but it was still pretty amazing, and nothing I had seen before at any airport. Needless to say, it was not a very fast or efficient system.
Then, after the fun baggage claim game, I was treated to one of my least favorite things about international travel: trying to get scammed by the taxi drivers. ‘Scammed’ is a strong word for what happens, but basically they want me to pay FULL GRINGO PRICE for a taxi ride that is several times the normal, local price. After navigating around the taxi guys patrolling the inside of the terminal, I got into a normal yellow cab that was waiting out front. As with any foreign taxi, I should have negotiated the price before the car got going, but I figured it couldn’t be too expensive. Only a few minutes from the airport, I was treated to huge streets packed with cars. In other words, insane traffic. There wasn’t a single car on Bastimentos, and only a few on Isla Colon, so it was definitely a bit of a shock to be thrown right back into such a crowded and traffic filled environment. Mr Taxi Man and I got a bit lost on the way to my apartment building and drove in a few circles before finding the right place, where I rented a room through Airbnb. Because we had driven around for awhile, the Taxi Man demanded $20, which I knew was a high price for the ride we just took. I did my best to bargain down to $10 or $15, but he was having none of it. Not wanting to get into a fight or argument with a local taxi man over $5, I paid the man his money, knowing that he definitely squeezed me out of a few extra dollars. Sometimes it is the literal price I have to pay for being a foreigner in a strange land.
I knew that the apartment I rented was about to give me special treat after the flight and taxi: no working elevator in the building. The Airbnb host let me know this, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it still wasn’t super fun trekking up six flights of stairs with all my luggage. As you could imagine, I worked up quite a sweaty lather by the time I got to floor numero seis.
At this point of my time in Central America, I am a little burned out on doing a lot of day time activities, so the majority of the last few days have been spent on the apartment’s nice balcony, writing while watching a variety of birds feeding on sunflower seeds and sugar water. Hummingbirds constantly drink from their feeder, and parakeets enjoy sunflower seeds all day long. I hang out on the balcony overlooking the street below, writing, editing the writing, and checking in with the world. Being on the sixth floor without an elevator is also not a deterrent in regards coming and going from the apartment many times a day.
A few different times, I ventured out on some walks around Panama City to at least do a minor amount of urban exploration. What stood out to me was the amount of massive apartment/ condo buildings along the water and the amount of people out enjoying some sort of sport. People were playing soccer on basketball courts, others were playing basketball on basketball courts, people were running or biking, and I even saw a flag football game in action. Unless Wednesday afternoon was an anomaly, the people here in Panama City sure enjoy a variety of athletic endeavors, which was cool to see. For awhile I was standing on a pedestrian walkway over a main street, just listening to music and watched the world go by. Similar to when I go to other countries, it is always incredible to observe the sheer volume of people going about their day, living their lives, playing sports, selling food, walking around, working or whatever else. After my health issues back at the end of 2013, I appreciate moments like these more than ever: a great song playing in my ears while seeing how another country lives. Simply being here, in Panama City, my ninth country in the last year, feels so goddamn satisfying. Every once in awhile, like on the dock in Bastimentos, or the balcony in Manuel Antonio, or on that walking bridge in Panama City, I do my best to stop, look around, and simply enjoy the moment.
Because I know there are no more destinations on this trip, it is nice to not have to decide out where to go next, figure out the transportation to get there, and where to stay. At the same time, there is definitely feeling of sadness knowing that this lifestyle I enjoy so much will end, at least for a period time. Being home in the State will also be amazing: lots of gym time, playing basketball, hanging out with friends and family, great food, delicious IPAs, sports on TV and MY OWN CAR are some of the things that top my list. However, after spending roughly six of the last twelve months in foreign countries, it seems more and more apparent to me that life on the road is something that I really enjoy. Meeting new people, exploring new places, and just being in other countries gives me pleasure and satisfaction that few other things in life can, and there aren’t many things I really miss from home. Yes, I will love to see my family and friends, and I really enjoy certain things that only the US can provide (food, sports, beer top the list), but, in general, there really isn’t that much that I am homesick for. There have been other travelers who were on the phone for hours to people from home, and it was weird to me. Maybe because I have been writing about my travels and sharing that along the way, I haven’t had any desire to make a phone call at any point. Although, now that I think about it, a frosty cold IPA with an NBA game on the TV and a burrito in my hand does sound pretty great.
So, while my 2015 Central American Adventure comes to a close, other travel doors will soon open. I am not quite sure yet where those doors will take me, but part of the fun is exploring all the possibilities. There are so many potential countries to visit, all offering their own unique advantages and disadvantages. It is such a big world, with so many places to discover and explore. There are some ideas of where to go next, and I have done some research, but nothing is set or planned yet. I just know I don’t intend on being in the States for an extended period of time in the near future, if ever.
A big thanks to all the wonderful fellow travelers and locals I met along the road for making a two month excursion to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama even more memorable. I am sure I will stay in touch with some people I met during my travels, and hope to see a few of you soon as well. Being able to share some of this trip with my family, and a friend from home, was incredible as well, since it is rare to have familiar faces along with me for any portion of my recent travels.
Another unforgettable and life changing trip comes to an end, and I will return back home to the United States of America with thousands of photos, new friends, and priceless memories from Central America.
With the wind at my back, and the sun in my face, it is time to go home…