“If you are going to do something, do it right.” is a phrase that was drilled into my head when I was growing up. Maybe it took thirty three years and coming to an island on the bottom of the Caribbean but I think I finally got it. My last weekend in Bocas was done right.
We got things going with a barbeque to celebrate our friend’s birthday. Then we headed to La Iguana which had become my favorite bar in Bocas because of its seaside deck, close proximity to the Spanish school and slightly less terrible music. We had a big group because we were saying good bye to three students who were leaving the next day. Unfortunately for me the three that left were the only three that did not speak German which meant that for rest of the weekend I got to listen to a lot of German. To all my new German speaking friends; you guys are awesome and a lot of fun, but seriously that language is rough on the ears.
At some point I got tired of La Iguana and headed back to the school to see what everyone else was doing. I found a bunch of the students playing a drinking game that they were calling “Truth or Duty”. It’s an interesting combination of spin the bottle and truth or dare.
After a few incredibly interesting rounds, during which I learned some things about my fellow student that I wish I could forget, we headed to Barco Hundido to attempt to dance to the worst DJ in the Caribbean. At one point the slightly boring German girl who never went to the bars climbed onto the rickety rafters and proceeded to hang upside down while do her best cirque du soleil imitation. No, wait, she did that twice. Finally, long after Trash 64’s show time (really late for you non-Raiders and non-Sumos), we were forced to leave the bar. A few people in the group tried to get into another bar but thankfully it was closing so we went home.
After a solid four hours of sleep I was awaked by the powerful Panamanian sun and the even more powerful desire to surf. I felt like a million bucks as I checked the notoriously inaccurate surf report. It promised four to five feet so I prayed that we would actually get some rideable three footers. After consulting the local surf shop, several boat rides and a swim to shore with our backpacks held above our heads, my two friends and I found ourselves on a nearly deserted beach. In reality the waves were not great but after days of waiting for a swell they looked wonderful as they rolled through the crystal clear water. It was my first time in the water since April and my friends had about twelve surf outings between them so we didn’t exactly put on a surf clinic, but the warm water and nearly empty break was glorious.
After two hours I climbed out of the water with my old rental board and settled down in the small patch of shade at the edge of the jungle. Normally I don’t like to just sit on a beach. I get bored if I’m not surfing, but the remote beauty of this beach, with its jungle covered shores and rocky islands, was overwhelming. While I had a snack I listened to the chorus of birds and insects in the jungle a few feet away. The hum of the jungle, heat of the day and the sound of the waves had a wonderful hypnotic effect that my friends quickly succumbed to, but for me the draw of the waves was to strong so I grabbed the longer of the two boards and headed back in to the tropical water. I was rusty and tired but I still caught several nice waves. The last wave of the day was the best. I rode it almost all the way to shore.
As the sun dipped low in the sky we tiredly strolled down the beach to meet our boat. The driver was right on time but anchored too far out which made for an in interesting swim back to the boat with our gear held out of the water with one arm while the other arm and both legs churned madly. As we pulled away from the beach we could see a dark wall of rain descending on our destination in the distance. Once we motored around the island the power of the storm in the distance became apparent. It felt as if we were sliding down the dark blue water into the grey abyss that had swallowed Isla Colon. In a matter of minutes the wispy white clouds and tropical sun gave way to cold pelting rain, low heavy clouds and choppy seas. The driver slowed down to reduce the force of the waves on the boat but occasionally the spray of a wave blasted us with sea water that felt like hot bath watered compared to the frigid rain. As one of my friends sat shivering and looking like a drowned rat I marveled at the power of the storm that could not penetrate my sense of pure contentment. I thought to myself, I was just surfing in Panama.
The rain stopped right after we got home. I was cold, exhausted and starving. The cold shower at the hostel did little to improve my condition. Once we had showered and dressed I recommended that we eat at my favorite restaurant in Bocas, El Pecado. I had an amazing steak and a Balboa which transformed my sense of exhaustion into one of happy relaxation. After dinner we walked up the street to the wine bar and sat on the porch and for a few glasses. It had been a near perfect day so I headed to bed relatively early with a smile on my face.
The next day I woke up and met my friend for a sailboat tour. We took a catamaran from Caranero Island to Dolphin bay. On the trip we discovered one of the great joys in life, lying in the net between the two hulls while the emerald waters of the Caribbean flowed beneath us. It was a combination of two of my favorite things in the world, being in a hammock and surfing. We saw a few grey dolphins and then dropped anchor near a mangrove for some snorkeling. At the first spot the fish were small and plain but the coral was amazing. A garden of green, purple, yellow, orange and silver drifted below us as we floated around the mangrove island.
After snorkeling we climbed back on the boat and had a sandwich for lunch. Then it was back into the net while we sailed to the next snorkeling spot. I stared up into the blue sky and watched the thin white clouds drift over us. The quiet lapping of the water on the hulls and rocking of the net made my eyelids heavy. I began to drift away, I was on the edge of a beautiful oblivion, when something woke me up. No, I thought, it would be wonderful to sleep here, but I’m not going to because I don’t want to miss a second of this. I hoped we would never arrive at the second snorkeling sight but eventually we stopped and I had to crawl out of my little paradise and get back in the water.
The second snorkeling site was deeper and had more fish. I spent half an hour chasing them around with my waterproof camera doing my best Jacque Cousteau impersonation. Right before it was time to get back on the boat I found my favorite type of fish. They were small with iridescent blackish blue skin and spots that shimmer and change color from dark blue to light green to silvery white. We climbed aboard the catamaran one last time and had some pineapple. After the pineapple I got back into the net but it wasn’t the same. I could see our destination in the distance and the perfect sense of tranquility that I had felt before was gone.
After we got back to Bocas we got cleaned up and headed to the sushi place for their martini happy hour. I have never tried a martini, I do not like olives, gin or vermouth but in the spirit of trying new things I got one. With no point of reference I thought it was not that bad. But my friend who knows about martinis tells me they were terrible. So if I ever get a good martini I might actually like it.
After the martinis we went to get dinner and then listened to Bob play at the local India restaurant. Once he was done playing we headed to the bars. Of course the only proper way to end such a good weekend was on the deck of the La Iguana until last call.
It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time. It was full of the things that make life worth living, sailing, snorkeling, beaches, food, drink and surfing. These are the things that I came to Panama for and they have not disappointed me. What has surprised me are the people. Doing all these amazing things with people who were complete strangers but are now friends is a truly powerful experience. But now it’s time for me to go. I’m off to see new things and make new friends. Hopefully some of them will actually speak Spanish, or just anything but German.