Bastimentos Part 2: So Long, Paradise

A near constant debate during life on the road is “Where To Go” as well as “How Long To Stay.” Each country offers a nearly endless amount of potential places to go, but getting from one stop to the next is not always easy and almost never fast. Having the ability to travel for several months at a time is far different than going one or two places for five to ten days, where most the trip is planned before the first flight leaves the airport. Having months means I have a lot of options on where to go, and then, how long to stay in each place. A few days here or there is almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of the entire trip. I can very easily stay two or three, or seven, days longer at a variety of stops without really changing the overall adventure too drastically. 

As I was nearing the end of this particular excursion (about two weeks left), I had that same debate: where to go, and how long to stay. One of my least favorite parts of the travel life is actually moving from Point A to Point B. It usually involves a complex series of busses, taxis, boats, more busses, and lots of hours on the road. Then, that next place is an unknown, so I may or may not even like Point B. It is rare that I really dislike any place along my travels (it isn’t too hard to have fun with a beach, beautiful weather, cheap food and nice locals), but there is a chance I won’t love it for a variety of reasons both big and small. 

I had about ten more days in Panama, so I basically had one week somewhere before going to Panama City for a few nights, and then flying to LAX. After spending a week in Bastimentos, the question was whether I wanted to venture to another place in Panama (like the beach town of Santa Catalina) or stay in Bastimentos for another week. My first week in Bastimentos was spectacular, by far one of my favorite places I have ever visited in my life. So, I thought, why the hell would I leave? If I love it here, at best another stop would be just as good. At worst, I would have wished I stayed in Bocas. There is also an airport on Isla Colon (the one by the softball field) that has one hour flights several times a day directly to Panama City. Taking one of those would mean I wouldn’t need to survive a twelve hour marathon bus trip across the majority of the country. And, I found a place that shows the freaking NCAA Tourney live so I can watch the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games right here on the island. It really wasn’t much of a serious debate in the end: I was going to happily stay in Bastimentos for another week. No need to pack up and navigate a series of busses, don’t have to worry about booking new accommodations, or find new places to eat. 

If I was going to stay another week, I also wanted to save a few bucks, so I moved from Bubba’s hotel right next door to Jaguar’s hotel. I lost AC (a major plus in this hot weather), but also saved $20 a night at 50% of the per night cost: $20 instead of $40 per night. An extra $20 a day covers all of my food and beer, with plenty leftover. The owner of my new hotel goes by Jaguar, a nickname he gave himself during his years as a police officer at the beginning of his work career. He is a very interesting guy who teaches at the local school here on the island every morning, then comes by his El Jaguar hotel for most of the day to hang out and watch over the place. I asked him if I could come by his classroom to take a photo of his class, and he graciously said yes. It was an incredible experience going to the local school, which has three classrooms and really not much else. Jaguar introduced me to the three classes, and I said hi in Spanish and then English. My Spanish is poor to quite poor, so I wasn’t able to communicate too much, and I am not sure how much of my English they understood. After that, I went outside and some of the kids came up and said hi to me. I asked if they wanted a photo, and they gave me a resounding “yes!” From there, it was an hour photo session, with them wanting more and more photos. Eventually, I followed them to the “play area,” which is just an covered section with a large flat cement ground. Then, I took some video with my phone of them running around. I would take video, then they would all crowd around to watch the video I just took, before asking for “Una mas!” Seeing the local kids in their environment was truly amazing, and I felt like I got to know them just a little better by going to their school and taking some photos. It was definitely a day I won’t soon, or ever, forget. 

Jaguar also plays the piano and sings, so, one day when it was just him and me at the hotel, he brought his electronic keyboard to play some tunes. He played me some original Jaguar songs like ‘I Love Bastimentos,’ before improvising one of my favorite songs of all time: California Boy, written about me. It was the first time someone had written a song about me, which was a pretty incredible moment. A local from a tiny Panamanian island with 600 residents sitting on a dock overlooking the water singing a custom made song about me. 

The chorus was: California Boy, In Old Bank Town, He feels so good, He feels so fine… 

Then it included lines about me enjoying the island paradise, and smiling to the young German girls. A funny, amazing, and unique moment shared with me and a longtime local of Bastimentos. Not something I will ever forget. Keep an eye out on ‘California Boy’ shooting up the island pop charts. 

Getting to know Jaguar has been a really fun part of my trip. He is a really funny guy and a huge fan of the New York Yankees, sporting a variety of hats and shirts, and is always wearing his Yankees watch, given to him by a Red Sox fan. One of his Yankee shirts sports the name ‘El Jaguar’ on the back with the number 42, the same as one of the best Yankees, and baseball, players ever, who also happens to be Panamanian: Mariano Rivera. Jaguar let me know about the local language they speak, called Guary-Guary. It is a form of Creole that is spoken in the Bocas del Toro region, which sounds like a combination of Jamaican and English with some other words thrown in. I don’t even think it is a language that is written down; it is learned in the households, passed down verbally from one generation to the next. I find it really interesting that there is a local language, spoken for many generations, that only exists in a small corner of the world, on a series of Caribbean islands. 

Being here for two weeks has also allowed me to get to know some of the other locals a bit better as well; more than just a passing ‘hello’ at least. The local people here in Bastimentos have been extremely friendly and nice, most greeting me with a “Hello, Buddy. How are you, Buddy,” pretty much anytime they see me. Since it is an island with a population under 700, at least for the main ‘town’ of Old Bank Town, I see a lot of the same people over and over. They seem to live a pretty simple, and happy, island life, since there isn’t exactly a huge amount of options to do everyday besides enjoy life and appreciate this small Caribbean paradise. An extended stay has been a really enjoyable way to get to know the locals more than just at a surface level, and see how these friendly, warm people live their lives generation after generation. 

The extra week here in Bastimentos provided some other bonuses as well. I got to know Emy, an fun and friendly Argentinian guy who runs Bubba’s (the hotel where I stayed for my first week here), his wife, and two super cute kids. Emy took me on a super fun solo tube ride in front of the hotel, which was about ten minutes of arm deadening, laugh educing great times. He also invited me on a daytime adventure to a property he is hoping to purchase and expand into a jungle hotel. Right now, the property is quite literally untouched jungle land, so we stomped around in some extreme mud, sometimes swallowing up our legs almost to the knee. A group of us explored the several acre property, with Emy pointing out where he would like to put a series of treehouses for the guests, as well as the large dock over the water for a hangout/ restaurant/ bar area. I was really appreciative to be invited along for an interesting and unique day trip to what someday may be an entirely new jungle treehouse hotel. Bubba’s Two, maybe opening in 2017.  Emy’s two kids, Luka, 6, and Mia, 3, are super friendly and cute, and have taken advantage of my offers to swim with them, in which once in the water they never want to get out. Lots of “one more, one more,” followed up by me saying “Ok, ONE more” many times. 

Another amazing trip with Emy and his boat was to see some bioluminescent plankton late at night. We departed the dock around 10:30 pm and rode in the boat on incredibly flat and calm water until there was a spot that Emy felt was right to swim around in. The water was so calm, it honestly felt more like a lake than the Caribbean ocean. Once into the water, the light show from the glowing plankton was a surreal and unforgettable experience. It seemed like I was swimming with stars that had fallen from the sky; anytime I moved my arms or kicked my legs, there would be glowing plankton falling off of them. Another comparison would be from the glowing creature scene in Avatar, the sky (in that case) filled with slowly falling glowing alien things. This time, the glowing things were underwater, but the experience was really unforgettable: swimming around in the open ocean, in crazy warm water, with glowing plankton all around. Not something I see everyday back home in the States. Or ever. 

Staying in one location also provides me with some additional perspective on the variety of travelers roaming around, especially in this particular part of the world. I lived at Bubba’s for a week, followed up by a week at El Jaguar, so I have seen dozens of people come and go during my time in Bastimentos. There have been plenty of couples, a rare solo traveler like myself (really not that many), and larger groups of several people. A nice Irish couple is staying at El Jaguar for a month, part of their eight month travel adventure. A lot of European girls come to Central America, and especially Bocas del Toro; I met pairs of girls from Germany, Finland, Sweden, Holland and other European locales. There are way less groups of guys traveling through here, and even less solo dudes like me. Seeing a wide variety of groups come and go also make me appreciate traveling by myself. Solo travel is not ideal for everyone, but it works great for me. I am my own free agent every day, able to do anything and everything that I want to do. I don’t have to wait for someone else to be hungry, or go on day trips only when other people want to go. Each day provides its’ own adventure, and I am my own boss, which works perfectly for me. 

The one thing that I won’t miss about Bastimentos are the goddamn, good for nothing mosquitos. And here, I think they are invisible, because I never actually see any mossies, but definitely feel their bites. My feet, ankles, and legs have gotten destroyed by mossie bites, and I don’t remember once actually seeing a mosquito. Just like in every country, the damn mosquitos love me and my tasty blood, and my skin, in return, hates the mosquito anti-coagulants. There won’t be one second that I miss having my feet constantly covered in annoying, itchy mosquito bites. Especially from invisible bugs. 

Tonight is my last night in Bastimentos, bringing a wonderful and magical two weeks to an end. Without a doubt, this tiny Caribbean island has been one my favorite places I have ever been in the world. There are a handful of places I have been that instantly come to mind when I think about places I want to go back to. A few places in Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Rio all jump to the top. And now, Bastimentos, is right near or at the top of that list. It is a true island paradise with super friendly locals, who speak their own language, cheap and tasty food, crystal clear tropical water, and a million memories that will forever bring a smile to my face. The other day, I was standing out on the dock with nothing between me and a beautiful expanse of ocean, listening to music, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of happiness. By feelings of pure satisfaction. A year and a half ago, I was in a medical hell of chemotherapy and surgeries and tests and a bald head. Now, my dreams have once again become a reality. I have been able to spend two amazing weeks in one of the best places I have ever visited in the world, which is so incredibly far away from those times not long ago I wanted to be anywhere but in the Stanford Cancer center. I can promise I will never forget my time in Bastimentos, and truly want to come back again someday in the not too distant future. 

Tomorrow I head to Panama City for my last four nights of this adventure. Then, back to the United States of America. I am both really excited to get back home, yet know I will be missing the life and lifestyle of my days in Central America. While one adventure is nearly at its’ end, it now feels like this is just a middle chapter of a long and winding travel journey, as opposed to the end of a book. 

Bastimentos Part 1

Every once in awhile, I get to a location that is just…perfect. It fits my personality with perfect weather, cheap food, interesting and nice locals, and a few extra credit surprises. Finding these random gems in this great big world of ours is one of my favorite thing about traveling around. I usually only have a vague idea of what a certain location will offer, and sometimes my expectations are blown out of the water in a very positive wy. 

This particular time, the place is called Bastimentos, an island in the Bocas del Toro area of Panama. I arrived after a bus ride from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica that included sketchy border crossing, a shuttle, and two small boats. The border crossing itself was sketchy because of a really rickety bridge right in the middle, going over a large river. This particular bridge was made even more sketchy at the time I was crossing because it was raining, lubricating the old wood bridge with water and making it just slippery enough to make every step slightly more nerve wracking.

The rickety Costa Rica to Panama bridge in the middle of the Border Crossing Project. I was first dropped off by the Puerto Viejo to Sixaola bus in the middle of some teeny tiny town devoid of any signs for where the border actually was. I asked a local, and he kindly pointed me in the right direction. From there, I saw a bunch of people with big backpacks walking; a tell tale sign of BORDER CROSSING. Another local guy waved me to a little booth so I could pay my Costa Rica exit fee of $8. Like a lot of things in countries like this, at first I wasn’t sure if this was legit or a scam. I knew that the exit tax was real, but thought I may just be throwing $8 to a random stranger without anything in return. The Costa Rican guy in line behind me was reassuring that I was not about to get Gringo’d. 

After paying the exit tax, I then needed to go to Exit Costa Rica Station. This included a short line, zero words exchanged with the border crossing official, an exit stamp in my passport, and I was officially out of Costa Rica. Then I crossed Super Rickety Bridge, and was sort of in Panama. I think. There weren’t any signs, and I was then waved into a small trailer to pay my $3 ENTRY fee to get into Panama. After that, I think I was in Panama? From there, I had to walk to a different booth to get through Panama immigration, if you want to call it that. Once again, zero words were exchanged, I handed over my passport and proof of exit flight out of Panama (via a screen cap on my phone), and NOW I was in Panama. This time, I was confident of what country I was in. 

I asked around about busses to get to Almirante (the area to get a boat to Bocas del Toro), and was eventually convinced to get a shuttle (saving several hours compared to busses). I had to wait for some other travelers to make their way across the border, and then wait longer for them to debate whether to take the 90 minute shuttle for $7 each or take three busses for $4 and three hours. I did my best sales work to try and sway them toward the shuttle, which would prevent me from needing to pay for the whole car myself. $7 instead of $25 is major savings in Central America. Eventually, the group came to their senses and joined the shuttle ride to Almirante. 

While I was waiting to leave the border area, I also learned something about Panama that I had no idea about: they use American Currency. Before getting here, I had looked up the exchange rate in Panama, and saw that it was One to One, and had been that way as far back as Google Currency tracked. However, I assumed that Panama used Panamanian paper bills. Nope. They use American greenbacks, just like the rest of us in the States. It was a very weird thing to learn, and was also interesting to think about the process that the States must go though to ship billions of dollar bills south to Panama. 

The shuttle was eventually on its’ way to Almirante, and I was treated to one of my least favorite aspects of travel: Small Talk City. Meaning, answering the Four Questions:

- Where are you from? 
- How long are you traveling? 
- Where else have you been? 
- What do you do for work? 

Playing the Four Questions game is not my idea of a great time, especially after playing the charade dozens of times in the last month. It makes me think of the Tyler Durden idea from Fight Club about “one time serving” portions of friends and food while on a plane. You talk to someone, learn some relatively meaningless things about their life, I tell them some stuff about me, and then, poof, they are gone, likely never to be seen again. 

Once I got to Almirante, I paid my $6 for the boat to Bocas del Toro, and was quickly on my way to the first island. Once I got to Isla Colon (the main island of the Bocas region), I hopped on a second and smaller boat to the final ride from Colon to Bastimentos, my final destination. Then, around 6 pm, I checked into my hotel, which features a nice patio and dock right on the water, I wandered around the small island for food, since I hadn’t eaten since the morning, and found a little bar and restaurant, where I treated myself to a coffee, beer, burger and fries. The whole thing set me back $6. This was already much better than Costa Rican food/ beer prices, and I am on a tiny island. Right then, I knew I would like Bastimentos and Panama. 

Early in the night at Bubba’s, my hotel, I met some other travelers from the States and Canada who were talking about going on a trip the next day to an island called Zapatilla. I don’t often do these full-day tours, usually for two reasons. 1- they aren’t super cheap. This one was $35, which isn’t crazy, but too expensive a price to do something like that every day. And, 2- As a middle aged man of 36 years, I honestly don’t have the stamina to be out in the sun all day long every day of the week, so I need to ration and space out these big, adventure days. Otherwise I would be spending half the day asleep under a coconut tree.

After looking up images of Zapatilla (a small island which is part of a local national park), I decided that this was a place I would like to visit, and would be well worth the monetary cost. The trip would depend on the weather, however, since there wouldn’t be a trip if it was raining, and it had been raining pretty much non stop for several days. We joked about praying to the Weather Gods that night, and went to bed not knowing if we would be making the trip the next day to the remote island.

——————------------------------------------------------------

When we woke up the next morning, the sky was shining bright blue, there wasn’t a could in the sky, and the rain was gone. To Zapatilla we go! I paid the $35 for the day trip, got some water and snacks for the excursion, and got into a small boat, not sure what the day would bring. It took about 45 minutes to get to the island, boating through mangrove forests and more islands in the Bocas region. Once we arrived at the island, it was beyond stunning. There were no humans in sight, coconuts were laying all over the beach, the sand was bright white, and the water was tropical clear. It was an island paradise if there ever was such a thing. 

We unloaded our personal bags, snorkel gear, and a cooler full of beer on the sand and just…enjoyed the island. Someone asked me what you do on Zapatilla, and I said “You just enjoy it.” There isn’t anything you need to do on an island like that. I walked around the entire island (it took less than an hour), drank some beers, went for several swims in the warm water, enjoyed some Coco Locos (coconut water and rum) out of fresh coconuts right off one of the island’s trees, and had lots of laughs with the other people on the trip. It was a magical few hours on this pristine island, where I felt like I was pretty much on a different planet from the rest of the world. 

It also happened to be St. Patrick’s day, one of my least favorite “holidays” back home. I enjoy Irish beer just fine, but I don’t like being crammed into a bar with a million other severely intoxicated humans. THIS St Paddys, on Zapatilla island, was incredible. I was drinking cold Panamanian beer on a nearly deserted island with some fellow travelers, drinking Coconut Water and Rum fresh off a palm tree, and swimming in crystal clear warm water. For me, life simply does not get much better than that. It would have been nice to share the experience with some friends or family from home, but the beauty of traveling is you get to make new friends. 

The US/ Canada combo I mentioned earlier become my New Friends for this trip, and I hung out with them most of day. After leaving Zapatilla, we went on a boat ride featuring some tubing. If you have never been tubing (riding a large inflatable raft behind a boat), you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. Basically, you hold on to a large inflated raft, via some handles, as long as you can. I rode this water bull with a guy I dubbed Coconut Jeff (based on the fact he provided the previously mentioned fresh coconuts for all of us to enjoy) and another girl from a boat. Jeff and I both wore a Imperial Beer tank top from Costa Rica that day, so we dubbed ourselves Team Imperial: sponsored teammates in the Professional Tubing League, traveling the world and entering various tubing contests. The three of us (Jeff, the girl, and me) put on a valiant performance holding onto the tube as long as we could. After being whipped back and forth across the wake, my arms were devoid of energy. I really didn’t want to be the first person to fall off, but eventually I would have lost my grip. Before I let go of the tube, Jeff and the girl eventually flew off the raft. I waited until I saw they were clear of me, so I wouldn’t plow into them, and then let go of the intensely fun tube ride. After that, I watched other people ride and bounce and get chucked off of the inflatable fun-mobile. I dubbed it a giggle machine, which is an apt description. 

Later in the day, we did some snorkeling in the middle of several islands before making our way back to the hotel around 6 pm. Snorkeling is not my favorite activity, unless the water is full of really colorful coral and fish, which this area was not. Or turtles, because turtles are pretty much the best. This spot was ok, but nothing too crazy, although I am constantly blown away by the massive underwater world beneath the surface. Admittedly, I am also not a fan of getting just a touch of salt water in my throat, which is far from a pleasant and enjoyable experience. 

After a snorkel session, we rode the tube a bit more, and headed back to the hotel. I was completely exhausted after full day in the sun, drinking beers, riding tubes and snorkeling around. It was one of those days that felt like a week crammed all into one unreal, magical, fun day. A day filled with natural beauty, great laughs, cold beers, and a near infinite amount of good time. Without hesitation, I can say it was one of the most fun individual days of my life. 

And it was, by far, the best St. Paddys day I can ever remember. I could easily make Zapatilla an annual St. Patrick’s Day tradition. See you here in 2016. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------

One of my favorite things in the world to do is watch live sporting events, often via the magic of television technology. Foreign countries, especially developing ones, don’t usually have an overabundance of televisions, and, even if television supply is high, they rarely show any live American sporting events. Not being able to watch big sporting events, especially involving my favorite teams, is one of the things I miss most about being away from home. 

My stay in Bastimentos coincided with the beginning of the annual NCAA Basketball tournament, which, out of a year’s worth of sports, is definitely one of my favorites. Sometimes when traveling, I am able to watch sports via streaming on the internet, but the internet tube speed in Bastimentos was not nearly fast enough to even attempt such a technological feat. 

One one of my first days on the island, while wandering around looking for food, I found a small restaurant/ bar right on the water that was showing a live Champions League game (a big european soccer tournament). This was promising for potential future sporting event watching. I asked the owner of Roots Restaurant if he would have the NCAA tournament in a few days, and, to my pleasant surprise, the answer was… YES! Holy guacamole, I would be able to stay in an island paradise, drink $1.50 beers, eat $4 chicken meals, AND watch the NCAA tournament freaking live? Goddamn I love modern technology. As an added bonus, the TV at Roots is a certified, official HDTV, not a tiny 12” old, square TV like lots of places in this part of the world. 

Needless to say, I have been spending a lot of time at Roots. During the first four days of the tournament (Thursday-Sunday), which is the most exciting because of the amount of games that are played, I was going there twice a day for lunch and dinner. Around 3 pm, I went to watch some of the afternoon games, enjoy a few cold Panama beers and a large plate of chicken, rice and salad. Then, for dinner around 8 pm, I would do the same thing: games, beers, big plate of food. The owner, Mauricio, is really nice, and a big sports fan, so I have spent some time getting to know him as well. 

Clearly, my ‘heaven’ is not the same as everyone else, but being able to watch the NCAA tourney live via satellite on a beautiful island overlooking the water while eating delicious, cheap food and drinking cheap, cold beer is totally in my wheelhouse. The owner of Roots also let me know he plays on a local softball team that ws having a semi-final playoff game on Sunday. Of course I had to go see that. Watching locals play sports is another one of my favorite travel activities, and a playoff game would make it all the more interesting. 

COMING NEXT WEEK: PART 2 FROM BASTIMENTOS

Puerto Viejo and Adios Costa Rica

My fourth and final stop in Costa Rica was the beach town of Puerto Viejo. Well, technically I stayed in San Jose for a night, but pretty much all I did was sleep at the Holiday Inn Express and eat at an American style restaurant before going to the bus station in the morning. Hardly counts as a “stop.” Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and it definitely has much stronger Caribbean influence than other parts of the country. Most of the restaurants feature “caribbean flavor,” and a lot of the residents ancestors are from places like Jamaica. Lots of locals talk a Jamacian/ English/ Reggae hybrid language, which I can’t understand. 

Puerto Viejo was a very mellow little town with some nice beaches, although the weather wasn’t ideal while I was there. It rained the majority of the time, marking the first time I had been anywhere on this entire trip where water fell from the sky. Tropical rain doesn’t usually bother me too much, since it often rains hard for several hours before stopping, but in PV it was raining on and off most of the entirety of my stay. My first day in Puerto Viejo, it rained hard almost all day, which was actually nice as it gave me a great excuse to stay at my hotel and get a lot of writing and other work done. After that, I could have used mostly sunshine and dry weather, but that was not the case. 

As has been the case in the rest of Central America, scooter rentals are fairly expensive ($20+ per day), so I went for a human powered bicycle rental at a much more reasonable $5 per day. On my trusty steed, a rusted veteran of the bike game with chipped black paint, I rode several miles down the coast to other beaches in the area. Across the street from my hostel was a black sand beach, farther up were powdered white sand, and in between was a world famous surf break: Salsa Brava. There wasn’t much swell when I was in town, so I didn’t get to see the surf break showing off its’ most powerful waves. 

My trusty two wheeled steed and me. 

Salsa Brava

One night, I even partook in an age old favorite activity of tourists worldwide: partying. Going out drinking was a much more common occurrence during my younger traveling days, but now I usually opt for quiet nights at my hotel with anywhere from zero to three beers. I met some friendly german dudes at my hotel in Puerto Viejo, who generously poured a rum and coke for me so it seemed appropriate to at least go out one night. After some party fuel from the rum, we went to a fairly crowded hostel/ bar that had pool tables and a ping pong table mixed among the few hundred people in attendance. Reggae music was all that was played, and locals mixed in with the temporary visitors to Puerto Viejo. It was a fun night, but also a reminder that I don’t love to go out nearly as much as I used to, even if I have zero obligations the following day. Can’t stop the wheels of time, and I am not the young party animal from a decade ago.

Main Street, Puerto Viejo. 

In Puerto Viejo, I also finally saw an animal that I had wanted to see the entire trip: a sloth. The elusive and slow moving sloth had, well, eluded me. Finally, one night, I saw a bunch of people crowded around the edge of a balcony at the hotel. They all pointed to a sloth climbing in a tree on the property, and, with that, I saw my first sloth of the trip. It eventually made its’ way to a nice nook in some branches, and remained there for about 24 hours, which probably earned it some serious sloth street cred for sleeping an entire day. 

During my time in PV, I also reflected on things that I missed, or didn’t miss, from my ‘normal’ life in the States. After being on the road for over a month, it once again has given me plenty of perspective of the things that are important to me. Not having access to lots of the things I am used to allows me to focus on the things that are really valuable to me. I miss fast and reliable internet, which isn’t a really big deal, but it would be nice to have the option to stream TV shows, movies, and especially sports anytime I want. In general, I don’t miss watching TV, but there are a few shows I would love to catch up on. Most of the time the internet speed in third world lands does not allow for things like “streaming a TV show” and it definitely does not allow me to watch live, streaming sports, which is one of the things I miss the most. I miss the friendly faces of friends and family, and having people just around the corner to meet for a beer or to watch a Warriors game. 

I miss things like a variety of beers, besides BEER IN A CAN or BEER IN A BOTTLE. I definitely miss having my own transportation, as opposed to being reliant on busses, taxis, and more busses and a few boats. I miss playing basketball and having a gym to regularly work out at, although my travel gym of resistance bands has been a wonderful addition to this trip. The snack options in Central America leave a lot to be desired as well. There are zero things like beef jerky (or any kind of jerky) and snack choices consist pretty much of potato/ tortilla chips, nuts (which are really expensive), or things like muffins. Far from ideal compared to the options I have back at home.

With all that said, overall, I cherish these times with no real agenda besides enjoying each day and trying to get some work done. Days where I can get some work done in the morning before going on a several hour bike ride to some beach I have never seen before are pretty incredible. Each day is just that: a day, which is one of my favorite things anytime I traveling for a month or more at a time. There is no dreaded Monday morning, or trying to savor every second of those rare Saturdays (only four a month!). Each day is its’ own unique block of time, offering a new set of adventures, surprises, and fun. 

And, with that, my time in Costa Rica has come to an end. It was a lovely country, with beautiful beaches and jungle and very friendly people. I don’t see myself coming back anytime soon, as the prices for food and beer were not cheap. I will, however, do my best to live each day with the Costa Rican motto: Pura Vida. 

Tomorrow, exit Costa Rica, enter, PANAMAAAAAAA. 

Manuel Antonio

The last five days of this trip were spent in the beautiful, although expensive, area of Manuel Antonio. I got to enjoy it with a childhood friend of mine, Mike, who also helped me celebrate my 36th Name Day. Getting to Manuel Antonio included a full day adventure, which has become commonplace around these parts. 

My morning started bright and early. Much brighter and earlier than I would like. A 5:30 am alarm went of so I could catch the 6 am bus out of Santa Teresa. I woke up on time, put the final touches on packing up my stuff, and staggered out to the street to wait for the big green bus to cruise by. Thankfully it did, and not even that much after 6. That bus took me to Cobano (the town with the Costa Rican rodeo), where I waited for another bus to take me to Paquera, where the ferry leaves from. I didn’t have to wait to long for the ferry, and once it departed, I was crossing the Gulf of Nicoya to the port town of Puntarenas. After the ferry, I got a cab to avoid sweating profusely while carrying my bags in the hot sun, which drove me about a mile to the next bus stop. The next bus took me from Puntarenas all the way to Quepos, which is the small town next door to Manuel Antonio. So far so good, and I am almost to the apartment! 

Empty main street at 6 am in Santa Teresa.

Well, the last and final step didn’t go exactly as planned. I got my fourth and final bus of the day, which took me to Quepos to much closer to my apartment. I had only vague directions to the apartment, so I was on the look out for the landmarks to let me know which stop to get off at. As with most third world countries, and definitely true of Costa Rica, street signs barely exist. As you may have guessed, not having street signs can make it a little difficult to navigate new territories. Eventually, I saw one of the restaurants from the directions, pulled the cord to let the driver know I wanted off, grabbed my bags, and got off the bus. Only one problem: I brought three bags with me to Central America, but I was only holding two of them. 

Dammit. 

DAMMIT. Are you kidding me? Did I just leave my bag on the bus?? 

I looked around, thinking maybe I grabbed the third bag and placed it on the ground near me. Nooooooope. It was definitely still on that goddamn bus. I started sprinting after the bus as fast as I could, carrying my two other bags, hoping for that tiny chance I could catch it. 

Another resounding noooooooooope. The bus was soon out of sight, carrying the bag with all my clothes and toiletries along with it. This is also the same bag that I mistakenly left in Mexico City, so maybe it has a mind of its’ own. FUCK! Did I really just lose all my stuff? My heart sank as the bus and my bag drove away. I am such a moron. Then I thought for a second, and figured out I wasn’t totally screwed. 

THANKFULLY, that final bus I was on does circular loops from Quepos to Manuel Antonio and back, so I just had to (hopefully) wait for it to turn back around. I returned to the area that it dropped me off, now completely drenched in sweat from my useless sprint down the Manuel Antonio Super Highway and definitely a little panicked that I may have lost my bag for real this time. One bus came by, but it wasn’t the same one, so I returned to the side of the road to wait for another one. Praise be to the travel gods, the next bus was the original one I was on, and the driver had put my bag in the underneath storage compartment. My wandering bag and I were reunited once again. Hallelujah. I profusely thanked the driver, and was finally on my way to the apartment. 

It turns out the place we rented was about a quarter mile from the main road, so I had the pleasure of carrying all three of my bags that distance. By the time I reached the property, I was at the bottom of a massive set of stairs. At this point, before even conquering Stair Mountain, my sweat level had been turned all the way up to Full Waterfall level. When it is 90+ degrees out, the sweat faucet does not turn off on its’ own. I met the family who takes care of the property, which includes four rental units, and they let me in to the apartment. 

Holy shit was the stair climb worth it. The view was spectacular. There were clear views of the ocean from an entire side of the house, and the first night I was there, the sky treated me to a stunning sunset. About seven hours later, Mike successfully navigated the roads from San Jose to the apartment, and the two traveling gentleman were united for a five day vaca. 

Decent view. 

We spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach, drinking cold beers and swimming in the ocean. One day went to the National Park, which offered lots of walking paths to a bunch of different beaches. We saw some monkeys, but unfortunately no sloths. When not soaking up the sun on the beach, there was a decent amount of time dedicated to chilling on the balcony with the aforementioned amazing views. 

Birthday beers. 

The only frustrating part of Manuel Antonio was the high prices for food. Dinners entrees were regularly $10-15. Add in some adult beverages, and it could get to $30 pretty easily. Five days of this would hardly bankrupt me, but it is not ideal to be spending USA prices in Costa Rica. At least the food and beverages were tasty. 

Mike and I attempted to do a birthday fishing excursion, as his stay coincided with my Name Day, but the only options to go fishing were to charter the full boat, which meant a $1,000+ price tag. No thanks. I am not an avid fisherman, so it was not a big loss. Birthdays are always a bit weird to me, as we are constantly aging at the same pace, 365 days a year, but ONE time a year we “turn” a year older. For 364 days I am the “same” age, and then, one day, I am an entire year older. Odd. 

The five days were super relaxing, and made better that I could hang out with one of my good friends. Most of these recent trips of mine are done entirely by myself, so to mix it up with a familiar face, and someone I have known for over 85% of my life, was great. For my next stop after Manuel Antonio, I decided to go to the caribbean side of Costa Rica. This meant that going back to San Jose with Mike, who was flying out of there, was my best option. 

The drive back was fairly uneventful, spent chatting and listening to Spotify playlists. Mike and I found the car rental place to return the car, and that’s when things got a bit sketchy for a moment. We were on the shuttle, ready to take us both to the Holiday Inn Express, when Mike realized he didn’t have something. That something is the most important item to have when visiting foreign lands: your passport. He checked his bags, re-checked the rental car, still no passport. Damn. We researched the local consulate, and luckily there is one in San Jose. It would probably be a long day, but he may even be able to leave that same day. Thinking of all options, we found the phone number to the property caretaker back in Manuel Antonio and gave him a call. Mike doesn’t speak any Spanish so he handed me the phone. In my broken Spanish, I confirmed that Bismark (the caretaker) DID indeed have the passport. I must have asked him ten times “Tiene passporte?” because I couldn’t believe he actually had Mike’s passport. So, Mike RE-rented a car and drove right back to Manuel Antonio. Instead of a single three hour one way trip, he did three of them. But it was a small price to pay to get back his PASSPORT. 

I went back to the Holiday Inn Express to relax and eat some food. Being in a SUPER American hotel chain was really weird, since it feels 100% like every other generic hotel. You could have convinced me I was IN the States (unless you turned on the TV). It was definitely weird, and not common for me on my travels since I rarely if ever stay in a big hotel chain. 

After driving all the way back to Manuel Antonio, Mike did indeed secure his passport. He may need to duct tape that thing to himself next time. I still can’t believe he left that at the house. Thankfully it all worked out, and he was able to get on his flight the next morning, which was made all the crazier by the fact that a freaking volcano erupted later that day, delaying (or canceling) lots of flights. Meaning, if he didn’t find his passport, he could have easily been in San Jose for several more days. Crazy how life works sometimes. 

During this part of the trip, I also passed the one month mark of this particular adventure. Similar to other travel experiences, I have enjoyed several aspects immensely. The number one thing I love about long travel stints is the fact that I almost never know the actual day of the week. Monday doesn’t feel any different from Friday and Sunday feels the same as a Tuesday. A day is just a day, and it’s a wonderful mental place to be in. There is no dreading going back to work on Monday, or feeling like weekends go to fast: each day presents its’ own fun and adventure. Time also moves so much slower, probably because each location offers a whole new set of sights, sounds, people, food, bed, etc. I have been traveling for a month, but it easily seems like three to four times longer than that; in a really good way. Time stretches out, making the days seem longer and more enjoyable, even if I don’t really do much but read, write, go for a swim in the ocean, and take a nap. 

This Central American sojourn is halfway over, I didn’t lose my bag (again), and Mike didn’t lose his passport. It sure is hard to complain when living in Costa Rica, especially when you get reunited with your belongings. Next stop is the caribbean town of Puerto Viejo. Hope I don’t forget or lose anything between now and then.