“Excuse me, I’ll need to see your onward travel confirmation”. My heart sank a little as the words rolled off the airline check in clerk’s tongue. No boarding pass for me unless I could come up with the goods.
Panama. A place where it rains. A lot! So what can one do but embrace it? Dancing in the warm rain is kinda fun!!
Making my way south from Costa Rica, the first port of call was Bocas del Toro, a gorgeous archepelago in the north, which responds exactly to the vision of “tropical carribean island” in my mind… Rainforest which melts into beautiful white beaches, and crystal clear waters.
A highlight was lunch at Playa Estrella (starfish beach) when our fresh crayfish was literally pulled out of the water in front of us!
We had a great crew at the hostel Heike – and after spending a couple of days there together, mostly chilling out and cooking shared dinners, a few of us decided to check into an airBnB to have our own little space!
After spending the day out snorkelling and visiting Playa Zapatilla, the crew came back for yet another family dinner night – of course we made tacos 🙂
Packing up our backpacks, we took a water taxi across to Isla Bastimentos where we planned to stay the night at the Eco tent lodge right on the beach – but unfortunately for us they were full 🙁 Red frog beach was lovely though, and we spent the day there before returning to Heike.
Taking the Overnight bus to Panama was an experience – they aren’t kidding when they tell you to dress warm – the ambient air temperature was a bone chilling 17C. Hard to fall asleep when you can’t feel your face, so I arrived in Panama city tired and weary at 7am after a 12 hour journey.
The Luna’s castle hostel is a converted old mansion in the centre of Casco Viejo, a very pretty historical centre in Panama City. They have an awesome area upstairs where you can hang out in a hammock and watch the (daily) lightning and thunderstorm outside. Downstairs in the Relic bar, happy hour beers will set you back 50c, or an outrageous $1 for house spirits. Needless to say we took advantage.
We also starred in a video for the hostel – which involved a (slightly staged) pancake fight!
Panama is a really modern city and it was a great feeling to be back in a place where you could get anything you wanted (though, that also makes everything more expensive!) While it was raining outside we took the opportunity to see a movie – Xmen – which was awesome!
A tough decision lay ahead of me – whether to make the five day sail across to Colombia via the beautiful San Blas islands, or fly which is the much cheaper option, although that way you miss out on seeing the gorgeous untouched islands. I made the tough decision to fly, all things considered it gave me three weeks in Colombia rather than only two – but I bet I’ll be jealous of everyone else’s amazing photos!
It was a fantastic experience and I left wishing that I had been able to spend more time in this beautiful corner of the world 🙂
Arriving in Nicaragua towards the latter end of a fourteen hour bus journey, having made three border crossings in one day, I was understandably weary and ready for a rest! However, that wasn’t to be the case as plans had been made, and I was duly informed that I was to go on the hostel’s infamous Volcano boarding tour the following morning at 8am. Instantaneously glad that I had US currency in my pocket, having not had the chance as yet to withdraw any local money, I stumbled toward the bar and ordered myself a beer.
The following morning my alarm didn’t sound (probably because in my tired haze I had forgotten to set it) and I jolted myself awake just ten minutes before the tour left, quickly throwing some clothes on and trying to make sure I had the required equipment for the day. Everyone piled into the hostel’s troop carrier, and soon the suburban streets of Leon were long behind and we were making our way along dusty tracks, passing horses carting people and farm produce, making our way towards Cerro Negro which is one of the most active cinder cone volcanoes in the world.
The sun was intense and our hike up to the top was not made any easier from carrying our volcano boards, the wind picking them up like sails. Carry them bottom side down, we were instructed as otherwise the glue holding the all important slide panel would become unstuck, and that would mean we would go nowhere fast.
Our guide Oscar inspired us with tales of all the crazies who had gone before us, including the Aussie who invented the sport (who also happens to own the Bigfoot hostel) along with others who had ridden bicycles down the volcanic slope only to have them disintegrate on impact at the bottom and wind up in hospital with every bone in their body broken.
Stopping at the crater rim for obligatory photo poses, the guide stooped down to uncover something with his hands. Pulling up a plastic bag, he them surprised us with baked potatoes which had cleverly been left there the previous day – the volcanic heat had baked them through, and they were tasty (particularly so after missing breakfast in my hurry!)
Pulling on the orange “safety” suit, I sincerely hoped everything was going to work out just fine… I’ll admit the piece of wood I was holding in my hand made me a little nervous. Brakes? “Just use your feet, but don’t dig them in if you are going fast, you’ll break your legs” we were told. Great. Just great. So why am I doing this again? I wondered as I sat down making sure I was centred on the board. I leaned all the way back as I shot off down the slope, careering down whichever way the board felt it wanted to go, faster and faster until I was seriously worried that crashing was going to cause serious injury.
Coming down on to the final stretch, I saw someone in the track below me and sat up to slow down in an attempt avoid crashing, only to find myself out of control and rolling off across the volcanic rock, arms held up over my head to protect my face as I finally came to a stop. Shaking, and in mild pain, I looked myself over for injuries to find that I’d broken a couple of nails, and torn most of the skin off my right forearm. It could be worse, I told myself as I climbed back onto the truck and held a cold Brahva (beer) against my arm to try to stop the stinging. I was told my speed was 89km/h, a mere 2km/h off the all time record for a female – and my first thought was, I could totally have gone faster!
Arriving back at the hostel, the fastest man and women of the day have two “privileges” to attend to. Firstly, publicly shaming the slowest people of the day with a nice ice cold esky bath, and secondly a free entry in the Lava Shot challenge and the chance to earn Bigfoot hostel legend status. Three shot glasses were lined up in front of me, two singles and a double, each containing ghost chilli infused tequila (?). The rules were simple. Fifteen second between each shot, and a thirty second countdown after the last shot. No drinking anything until time is up, no kissing, and no throwing up to win. Completing the challenge, the worst part was actually how quickly one gets messed up by drinking that much so quickly! I definitely earned that “free” shirt.
Today I achieved something that I never considered possible.
I became a certified Open Water diver!
It may not sound like much but after having childhood asthma since I was three years old, which I suffered with for most of my life, it’s amazing that I’ve finally managed to “grow out of it” and be physically able to breathe underwater.
I must say I felt pretty distressed the first time I had to take my regulator out of my mouth underwater, but the fear soon passed and I realised that the calmer I am the easier it is.
My dive buddy Iona (look her up at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I took the course over the three days, tackling our challeges and celebrating our achievements together.
We were treated to Grey Nurse sharks, Moray eels, slippery dicks (yes that’s their name), stingrays as bug as me and all kinds of crazy colourful fish on our first series of dives here on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I’ll admit to having the Mario Bros song in my head from the underwater scene as we swam amongst the coral, an almost surreal feeling at first. But right now I’m stoked that I’ve been able to explore this underwater world 🙂
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am one of the most clumsy individuals on earth… You know how this is going to go.
Let’s say it’s just my luck for me to hurt myself within two hours of arriving at a beautiful surf beach, and I hadn’t even been surfing yet!
After making the two hour journey from San Juan del Sur in less than comfortable conditions (two boys, two girls, nine beers and four backpacks in an old Hyundai accent that had deinitely seen better days), I wanted to stretch my weary legs with a quick sunset jog up and down the beach. Exercise isn’t something I see too much of these days, and I enjoyed it.
Red faced and feeling the searing heat, I threw myself into the welcoming sea water, joining in with the two Mexicans, Alvaro and Isael, bodysurfing the waves. All was well, until one set started to build, the next wave stood up ahead of me. I could see it coming and knew it was going to be bigger than the others. I dove under and grabbed the sand on the bottom with both hands. The turbulent water hit me hard and I tumbled. The darkness under the water due to the black sand made it hard to detect the surface, and I came up gasping for air. No sooner had I surfaced, but the next wave came looming, a quick breath and down under I went for the second time. I wasn’t enjoying the experience so much, and relieved to find the surface once more.
I hadn’t realised I was hurt at this point, but when I went to put my foot down on the bottom to steady myself, I found that my foot wasn’t working as it should and I screamed out in pain. I wasn’t able to bear my weight, and the Mexicans helped carry me to shore where I collected myself, still in intense pain and just hoping that nothing was broken.
Over the course of the next day it because apparent that my midfoot was sprained and I wasn’t able to walk more than the distance between the beach, hammock and the dorm, around 50m at most. This specifically excluded even a walk down to the shop which was around 200m away, and I had to rely on the help of others to get me water and food as I lay pondering my predicament in a hammock.
Trust that the one place that I am the most remote – there is no doctor or even a pharmacy in town – I would need assistance, and there was no way I could carry my bag or take a bus. I didn’t know what to do – should I lodge a travel insurance claim and get them to bail me out to the nearest hosptital in Managua ($120US for a cab there), or just stick it out and rest for a few days? I felt like I would be making a fuss over nothing, so after a quick consultation with my sister the physioterapist over the internet, decided to take more ibuprofen and stick to the RICE strategy.
My travel buddies left this morning for Ometope, a wonderfully hilly place which I just know would mean I wouldn’t be able to do anything. So I chose to stay at the beach for a few more days with new Norwegian friends Christina, Gro and Panilla, and a likeable American named Kenny.
Still there are worse places in the world to be stuck… it’s actually been nice to have a rest and not do anything, as much as I hated it to begin with. While there’s no creature comforts – fan “cooled” rooms, salt water showers (cold of course), and only a mini mart to buy your groceries, the small town’s charm grew on me day by day. The highlight of my day was listening for the vegetable truck to arrive in the morning, the loudspeaker blaring with details of whatever the produce of the day happened to be.
After almost a week I was able to walk again, and explored the natural rock pools with the crew, a great place to cool down in the searing heat! But as we discovered, you can only make it there on low tide (or face a gnarly climb up over the rocks with the powerful waves crashing down on you).
We made the journey down the beach on Saturday night to party at Magnific Rock, up on a cliff and built jutting out into the ocean. I wish I’d made it there earlier to watch the sunset.
As a friend wisely advised me, maybe it’s just the universe conspiring to avoid me being in a place later on to keep me safe!