Bocas del Toro, Panamá
Friday: Let’s paint the picture… It’s Friday around 10am and we all arrive at Veritas ready with our bags for a weekend in Panamá. Finally the large, air-conditioned bus rolls up and we are all excited to travel in comfort. PSYCH. Then my friends and I are directed to a small 15 person van with no trunk space and told this was our transportation for the 8 hour ride across the border from Costa Rica to Panamá because we didn’t pay as much for the other transportation/weren’t in their group/blah blah.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t complain for a few minutes while crammed in the back. BUT, if you know anything about me you’ll know that I try to make the best of situations and after the initial annoyance, my friends and I ended up enjoying the ride; it definitely didn’t feel as long as it was but napping also probably helped that. Eventually we were at the border to Panamá so we had to take all of our belongings and get out of the van, go through immigration at the border, get our passports stamped, and pay a fee to enter the country (we had already paid earlier in the week to leave Costa Rica). Then we walked across the bridge and BAM we were in Panamá! I had never walked across an international border before so it was a pretty cool experience.
After another hour in a similarly sized van and a gorgeous forty minute ride by water taxi (how cool are water taxis!), we arrived at Isla Colón, one of the islands that make up Bocas del Toro. Immediately we were all struck by cute it was, with its docks and multicolored buildings. After settling into the hostel, we were shown around the area and then grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant. My meal of rice and mushrooms/peppers/olives (of course, the only vegetables I dislike) left a lot to be desired so naturally I downed it with a Panamá beer and loaded it up with hot sauce. In the evening a few of us decided to go out, so after a bit of singing along to Mike’s guitar playing, we stopped into a few bars until we found one where some other American students were dancing around and joined them!
Saturday: We woke up fairly early to get on a boat to do a bit of dolphin-watching. We briefly were able to see a few (!!!!!) and then the boat stopped so we could do a bit of snorkeling. The water was pretty clear and snorkeling was fun until I couldn’t stand how foggy my mask continuously got, and the little organisms that bite. Not a big fan of that.
After we all hoisted ourselves back into the boat, we were on our way to Starfish Beach. It’s a beautiful, calm beach with a bar and mini restaurant that is known for the gorgeous starfish that hang out in the clear waters. We spent hours there snorkeling through the mangroves, chowing down on some local grub, drinking piña coladas in the water, and fascinated by these awesome creatures. I even had a starfish suction to my stomach at one point; such a strange/cool feeling!
After getting back to the hostel and cleaning ourselves up, my group of friends and I headed to a funky restaurant right on the water. I got the most delicious passion fruit mojito, green papaya soup, and lentil curry AND I got to share a bottle of wine with friends- what could be better?! Everyone enjoyed their meals but then the waiter messed up our bill THREE TIMES. It was so bad that I got out my pen and was making corrections to it. Luckily, we didn’t let that get us down! I did a bit of window shopping- mostly looking for a bathing suit with no luck because they all contained only a minuscule amount of fabric… who are these things made for?? However, I did get to walk around and admire this cute little town and all its quirkiness.
Later on, most of us headed to Aqua Lounge by water taxi, which we had been told was the place to be on a Saturday night. We were told correctly! Seconds after we walked in to this beach bar, I was in the water. They have this huge deck built over the water where you can jump into a pool-type section of the ocean. There’s swings, a rope swing, and high jumps that make it an absolute blast. I was having so much fun that I didn’t use my free drink ticket that came with the cover fee until almost three hours after I had arrived. I felt like a little kid, in the best way possible! Plus, most of my good friends were there AND I got to meet a bunch of new people from all over the world. It doesn’t get much better.
Sunday: We made our way on yet another water taxi to another island where we went to Red Frog Beach, a private beach with awesome waves. The only downside was the sand bugs but we ended up in the water most of the time, or with our beach blankets up close to the shore. It was a beautiful, relaxing day spent hanging out with great friends and getting to know new ones.
When we got back to Isla Colón in the afternoon, I had my heart set on an Indian restaurant I had had my eye on. A group of four of us got there only to be informed that they weren’t open on weekends. Instead, we did a little shopping at the boutique- Lido Isle- we had stopped in to ask. The designer started handing us dress after dress to try on, telling us that she designs specific styles for certain body types. It was a whole body positivity experience that I really appreciated. She ended up picking out a gorgeous open back dress for me in purple, my favorite color. And she was right- it fit my body type perfectly! My new friend Justine and I both left the store with new dresses and big smiles on our faces.
We ended up at a chill restaurant on the water where I got a green juice, hummus appetizer, and amazing lentil burger while enjoying a lovely ocean view! Clearly I was a happy camper. After getting back to the hostel, I decided to take a nap but woke up on Monday morning. Oops! Two full days of sun and very little sleep had gotten the best of me!
Monday: A few of us packed up and headed back to the restaurant we ate dinner at the night before for breakfast. Apparently there was a miscommunication about the time we were leaving but it all worked out fine AND I was able to run back to the hostel to grab my leftover burger from the fridge that I had saved for lunch… obviously this was very important.
We did the whole water taxi to van to border to other van thing again. Unfortunately, this time the big bus with our peers had left much earlier than us that morning so we had to cram our bags with us in that tiny little van that was already squished enough. However, we made the best of a slightly annoying situation. It ended up being a very quick, enjoyable ride filled with conversation (and a bit of debate). How lucky am I to have connected with people who are so passionate? Overall I had a wonderful, relaxing, memorable weekend. Panamá, I’ll be back!