I have changed my flight yet again…for the last time, I think! I fly home on June 4th and am very very sad that my journey is coming to an end. It has been an incredible trip that interestingly has improved as the weeks went by…I feel like I am finally in the groove of travelling, and alas, it is time to return to reality and look for work. Sob.
I last left you on my return from the top of the world after my climb up Huayna Potosi. I spent the next two days in La Paz as I was unable to change my flight to leave earlier to go back to Central America. As it turned out, I really needed the rest. The first day I just slept, got a massage, did email and then spent the afternoon going out with the boys to see the Sunday afternoon locals´entertainment of Cholita´s wrestling. What is a Cholita? It is an indigenous Bolivian woman living in the city who continues to wear traditional dress. It was supposed to be riotous fun.
It was not. I don´t know what had happened on the day that other travellers went, who had recommended this activity to me, but I´m not sure if I could describe it as fun. Public display of female abuse would be a more appropriate description. Whilst the fighting is only supposed to look ¨real¨, the message that it sent to the crowd was extremely disturbing.
We watched as guys fought, as the opening act, and then the first set of Cholitas appeared (one was a dwarf, or is it midget? Can´t remember which is politically correct) and we basically watched them get repeatedly punched, slapped, kicked and beaten to a pulp. At one point, the midget was hit so violently in the skull that fake blood poured down her face. Just as she was cowering and crying in the corner of the ring, the aggressor took one of her pigtails and lit it on fire. It was very disturbing and a bunch of people left. We just kind of sat and stared.
Afterwards, I felt quite tormented. The boys and I took off for a slap up meal which we found at the first restaurant I had visited upon my arrival in La Paz two weeks ago After, to dull the visions of beaten cholitas, we all went to the movies to see Angels and Demons which was a lot of fun. Then we said our goodbyes as the boys were leaving in the morning for Sucre. Ah….alone again! Sniff.
My final day in La Paz took me around the city actually as a tourist for the first time. I visited the Coca museum to learn the history of the leaf that is so negatively viewed back home (source of cocaine production), the Witches Market, strolled down the Prado and visited the Sopacochi neighborhood.
The next day was an epic journey day. I took a cab at 6am to the airport and flew from La Paz to Lima where I had a 2 hour layover before my flight to San Jose. On arrival in San Jose, I took a cab to an airport hotel where I unloaded half of my stuff in storage as I wouldn´t be needing all the winter clothes whilst travelling in the tropics. Back in a cab, we navigated a torrential thunderstorm to get me to the Caribe Terminal where I boarded a 4 hour bus bound for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a southerly Caribbean beach town near the border of Panama.
I was absolutely exhausted upon arrival and opted for my own hotel room where I could just take a shower and get some needed rest. I was hounded by some locals as I walked the five blocks to the hotel, and learning how many people were mugged over the next day in Puerto Viejo, I realise now how stupid I was to walk there alone in the dark.
It was very strange to feel the humidity in the air again…and to be able to breathe!! I was back at sea level, and very excited to experience some BEACH.
The following morning I set about deciding if I was going to stay in Puerto Viejo for the day, or if I´d catch the bus straight to Bocas del Toro in Panama. I set out for some breakfast to mull the decision over coffee and met up with 3 lads from Montana who promptly invited me to stay at their hostel and hang out with them for the day. We decided to rent some bikes and ride down to Manzanilla stopping at beaches and snorkeling along the way. Sounded like a great idea, and they even offered to carry my bags for me! Never gonna be concerned with travelling alone ever again!
The day was perfect. The ride was leisurely and the scenery lush. We spotted monkeys as we cruised along, stopping a couple times to swim and frolic in the surf. At Manzanilla we enjoyed one of the best lunches I’ve had on the trip: Garlic shrimp and coconut rice. Delicious.
Getting back to our hostel, I headed over to the beach to watch the sunset and met 3 people who would become friends over the next several days in Bocas Del Toro: Aurelien, Matt, and Kelly. We all decided to head over to a bar after dinner that was playing live music (I was hoping to be able to sing, which I did! Remey, one of the three guys I’d met at breakfast was quite the musician and played guitar while I sang “Me and Bobby McGee” made famous by Janis Joplin). It was a good evening followed by dancing at a club downtown which we arrived at in style after hopping on to the tailgate of a passing truck. Ah, good times.
In the morning, a group of us jumped in a minivan headed for the border and the backpacker haven (or should I say pit of sin) of Bocas Del Toro, situated on the beautiful Isla Colon in the blue Caribbean azure. The town didn’t look like much as we sweatily clambered off of the water taxi that had brought us here, but it would soon grow on me in its affection. I knew where I wanted to stay and began to haul my bags north up the main drag, losing the guys in the process to a haggler trying to sell them a dorm at his hostel. Weak, I tell you!
I was very happy with my digs, named Mondo Taitu, which became as much a character in my stay as the islands themselves. Mondo Taitu has a funky appeal with bright colors, hammocks littered across balconies, and a free pancake breakfast. Each night hosts happy hour with prices that make your head spin: beer for 50c and cocktails for a buck. We never missed a happy hour.
Matt and Kelly were already there and I added Christina, Abraham, and Carina to the list of friends whom I made during my stay. We became quite a connected happy little bunch. After a shower and a happy hour, I decided to lay down for five minutes in my dorm before heading out.
I woke up the next morning at 8am.
Wanting to head out and see more of the islands, I joined a sailing trip aboard a catamaran which took a leisurely day out to such points as Dolphin Bay and coral key, stopping along the way at choice snorkeling spots. I’d been told that the visibility was particularly bad here, but I was pleasantly surprised by the color of the coral which we found in the shallower areas. It poured out of the sky in the early afternoon and we all had to take shelter inside the boat and wait for it to pass. All in all, by 4pm I was completely mellowed out and operating on island time, blissfully ignorant of the time on my watch except for when it would signify happy hour, of course.
Stopping by the supermarket on my way back to the hostel, I was stunned to find they had fresh milk for sale. Not being able to resist, I bought the half a gallon bottle together with a slice of fudge cake and sat in the sun gloriously gulping down the white stuff that I hadn’t imbibed in nearly 3 months. It was spectacular.
Walking into the hostel I was greeted by a familiar face from Puerto Viejo: Aurelien (from Paris) had decided to travel south and spend a few days at Mondo Taitu as well. The whole “crew” from Rocking J’s was here. It was going to be a good stay.
That night we all got a taste of Bocas‘ night life, where every single night, women drink for free. It is shamefully hedonistic and blatant in its marketing, but it seems to work, because the entire town seems to visit only one specific different bar each night of the week, which makes for a fun, if slightly high school atmosphere. I happily danced the night away until sleep beckoned. Even then, Aurelien and I ended up hanging out on the balcony outside my room for the next several hours anyway…
The next day, having woken too late for a boat trip, Matt organized us into a beach targeted group and we grabbed a collectivo to the north of the island and a stretch of beach called Bocas Del Drago. It was picture perfect with little surf, swaying palm trees, white sand, and lots and lots of starfish. It was the perfect beach day with swimming, a delicious lunch of red snapper sitting in swim gear, snorkeling, exploring, and taking lots of pictures. This was paradise. Little did I know it could get even better.
The following morning Aurelien was distraught as his ATM card didn’t seem to be functioning. I offered to buy breakfast, and during the meal it occurred to me that when the same thing happened to me in Copacabana, Bolivia, I went to a hotel and they kindly ran my card through their merchant machines in order to give me cash back. After trying the story out at several retailers we found a dive shop who was willing to give him cash. Relieved at being able to “do” things again, we immediately booked a boat charter out to the one island I desperately wanted to visit before leaving this place:Isla Zapatillo. It is supposed to be the most beautiful and unspoilt of the islands, completely uninhabited and circumnavigable on foot in about 30 minutes.
Despite being horrendously delayed by this very strange Persian man who insisted on making 7 of us wait an hour for him while he ate lunch at a stop along the way, it was an incredible day. I felt like I was in a movie and luxuriously breathed in the incredible scenery and utterly crystal clear water that lapped at our toes. It was so so beautiful, and I think honestly to say it was the best beach I’ve ever seen in my life. We ate a picnic under a palm tree and then happily lazed away the next five hours or so we had before being forced (literally) to get back in the boat and head back to Isla Colon.
I knew I needed to leave this place the next morning in the same way I know I need to leave Las Vegas after 3 days. This kind of self indulgence was starting to get to me. So after another memorable night spent at a club that was designed around a sunken ship and artificial reef, complete with sand, I packed up my bags, and Abraham (lovely sweet Dutch guy from Utrecht who had been travelling with Christina for the past month and who was headed back to Columbia) and I headed down to the docks for our water taxi and subsequent buses on to the mountain, and coffee town of Boquette.
After five hours of buses, Abraham and I felt the shift in climate and donned another layer. It was a welcome relief to experience a little chill, and watch the daily afternoon downpour come down over the cloud forest, and this little town which is apparently rated as the third best place to retire in the world! Walking over to our hostel in the rain, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the unearthly quiet that abounded. I was debocasing. It was going to take a day or so. I was already missing my friends. The parties. The happy hour. The beaches. Mondo Taitu! But no, it was time to move on and travel.
After setting down our bags in our hostel of second choice (the first was full! Damn!) we headed out for a good meal to lift our spirits. And we found it in a little American owned restaurant called Bistro Boquette. As soon as we arrived, a server came over and poured us both ice water. It was so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes.
We happily dined on rather expensive (for travelling that is) fillet Mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, red wine, and a brownie with ice cream for dessert. It was fantastic. After booking a trip to go white water rafting the next day, we settled in for the night at our hostel by watching a movie with our fellow roomies (some of whom had also arrived from Mondo Taitu).
I’ll leave it there for now as its getting rather long…I am in Panama City now and will be leaving for the San Blas Archipegalo in a few days for my last dose of sunshine before heading Stateside.
Much love to you all!