Since a week of bliss in Belize wasn’t enough relaxation for me, Katie Dowd and I started our epic adventure at the beach. We beach-hopped from Costa Rica to Panama before heading towards the jungle. First stop: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
On the south eastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Katie and I rented bikes and rode up and down the long, hot, and humid coastline until we found a seemingly uninhabited beach: Punta Uva.
We looked up and down the coastline and there was no one in sight. We were thrilled to have our own private beach until we saw warnings posted on the coconut trees. Apparently looters and thieves also enjoy sand in their toes, wind in their hair and a casual lurk in the woods. Who can blame them? For fear of losing our beloved digital cameras, we took turns in the ocean and vowed not to fall asleep.
But of course, we slipped into sun-infused comas. We woke up abruptly, not to looters rustling the bushes, but to chunks of sand pelting our faces. Two huge grey beasts were thigh deep in sand tunnels with no regard for our presence. As we stood up and gathered our things, the identical dogs looked at us curiously before galloping into the waves.
The combination of sun, salt, and a long, sweaty bike ride sucked up all of our energy and we were ready for bed by an undisclosed, embarrassingly early hour. To avoid the gringo-hunting mosquitoes, we bathed in repellent and wrapped ourselves in gauzy nets. In our little cocoons we slept, dreaming of our next stop: Bocas del Toro, Panama.
We hopped on a local bus at 6 am and made our way to Panama. Customs was…shall I say lax? The bus dropped us by a decrepit bridge. We looked around for a building, a sign—anything—but all that lay ahead was a long, narrow bridge. We followed other passengers over the patchwork of wooden planks, minding the gaping holes that led to the river of phlegm below.
On the other side of the bridge there were more taxi solicitors than border patrols. We presented our passports to a tiny little man in a tiny little office and moved along. After a few minutes of unbearable harassment form the taxi men and no signs of local transport, we agreed to accept a ride to the boat launch, an hour away. We drove through/around/below/over hundreds of acres of banana plantation before we reached the dock. From there, we were quickly shuttled into a lancha, or water taxi, that chugged along until we reached Bocas del Toro.
The first two days in Bocas del Toro were beautiful: sunshine, white sand, jade water, etc. We took water taxis to far away, deserted islands and tanned our hides. But too soon, our luck turned. By day three, Katie and I were stuck in the hostel with nothing to do except play poker and drink. So that we did. Thanks to my unreadable poker face and a little bit of luck, I won the first round of poker, emasculated the men in the hostel, took their money, and went out on the town.
In a nearby hostel, Mondo Taitu, there was a hopping bar, free hookah bongs, lots of travelers and tropical drinks. Katie and I had a few too many Cuba Libres and spent most of the next day in bed, not missing much except for more rain.
On the third day of rain, we joined a snorkeling tour with our witty, charming, and may I dare say, adorable, English friend, Simon. Simon rivals Nick for “favorite person met while traveling.” He had the same kind of modest, unassuming nature with an open mind and a great accent. So, yes, on our last day in Bocas we went snorkeling. In the rain. It was terrible.
Cold, miserable, and more than a little bit pissed at Panamanian weather, we hung our suits to dry and gave up on the beach. Next stop: Cloud Forest.