Monday, April 27, 2009

Island Hopping and Funny Money

April Panama 129I'm not sure what my reasoning for not writing very often is.  I guess I could try to make up some excuse like I am super busy saving the world but that isn't exactly the case.  It's not the other way around either though, which I'm sure my parents are pretty happy to know.  On this small island there are many temptations to go out every night with beautiful beach island bars having really cheap specials.  With that said, Justin and I have only been out twice in the two and a half weeks we've been here in Bocas del Toro.  We’ve taken our Spanish class very seriously and have realized that we work really well together in a school setting.  Also, since money is VERY tight, paying for language school is not something taken lightly and showing up to class with our brains not fully functioning is not in the cards.

Two weeks went by quickly and we really loved our experience at Spanish by the Sea.  The set up is great, the teachers are really cool, and we feel very welcome there all the time just hanging out with everyone and getting to know the other students and teachers at the BBQ’s and such.

This week I’ve decided to cut back on a bit of my class time and take one hour a day of private lessons.  In the past two weeks we covered SO MUCH material that I feel like some self study and one on one practice will be more beneficial to me than continue with a group setting where you can’t spend as much time needed on certain subjects that don’t come as quickly to you.  I start today with my teacher Adrian.  He’s very energetic, fun, and very good at getting you into learning.  He’s from Costa Rica and doesn’t miss a chance to mention anything about the Costa Rican culture……Pura Vida!  : )  Anyhow, I’m excited to try private classes because I think the dynamics of learning the language will be a lot more intense.  Justin is taking off of classes this week to catch up on the grammar and vocabulary.  He’s doing self study with all the material we received. 

After two weeks of living on a very tight budget, not going out to eat ever or going on any of the boat tours of the islands, we’ve (meaning me ) have become a little frustrated since Bocas is most famous for their restaurants and beautiful islands.  Justin knows the owners of Mondo Taitu here on the island because they are the same owners of Luna’s Castle in Panama City, where he stayed for 3 weeks a few months ago.  They are three very cool guys from the San Francisco area.  We’ve taken on a part time job there promoting their bar a few days a week.  It’s fun and only a few hours a day four days a week.  It’s a very chill place so I find it nice where I don’t have to grill anyone about coming to the party.  Pretty much a lot of people end up there anyhow since it’s one the the most well known bars on the island.  We use this money to buy food and sometimes use it for our fun money to go out and do things like the boat tour we just did this past Saturday.


  April Panama 124


We had such a great time going out all day island hopping spotting Dolphins in Dolphin Bay, playing around on Red Frog Beach, as well as Snorkeling around the reefs on Isle Solarte with beautiful Coral and some stinging jelly fish.  We had two characters on our boat joining us as well.  Jesse and Jason, who are wild Canadian guys traveling around together added some hilarious entertainment.  

So far promoting is going well, school is going well, and Bocas is still the life.  I guess I’m still not much in the blogging mood because I have so much to catch up on but I thought I’d just put a little something up.  Maybe I’ll feel inspired sometime soon.  I have to go study.  Sorry to cut it short.  I miss everyone!  : )   

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bluff in the Buff

We're really starting to settle here in Bocas. The town is small. There are only a few main streets that are known by the gringos that hold the "higher end" restaurants and coffee shops. We live about three blocks away from the main street which basically means we live in no mans land for the gringo community. Our set up is awesome with our apartment being one in a cluster of four apartments in the back of a very well respected woman and her family's house. The woman and her sister are very helpful and someone from their family is always up in the front of the house to say buenas and wish us well on our day or welcome us home each night. I feel safe here, I feel happy, and for the first time I feel like I'm really living in a different world, getting to know how people live in less developed countries.

Alright, I said I was going to talk about adventures this blog. We've had some really cool ones so far. I think Playa Bluff, a beach six miles from town was so far the best adventure. Justin and I, last Thursday after class decided to rent bikes from our school and take the dirt/sand/pot hole paved road to the beach from town. People were slightly surprised when we said we were planning on biking there because of the conditions and the distance but at that point we were ready for a bit of a challenge. A challenge it was but worth it in the long run. Justin has this really strong desire to find an amazing sunset. I think us living on the MV Explorer for three months and seeing incredible sunsets over the big blue gave us both this obsession with light/colors/natural beauty. Well, Playa Bluff is on the East side of Bocas and a sunset over the water wasn't exactly what we got. Alright, I'm jumping around here...let me get back to where I was at. Bike ride! Ok, so it felt amazing to hop on a bike and get behind a moving vehicle after so much walking we've been doing day to day. I loved speeding down the road covering so much more ground than my measly little legs could ever do. It's an exhilarating experience sharing the road with the taxi diablos that zip through town like their getting chased by the cops. About a mile and a half into the bike ride was the first bit of terrain. Moist beach sand isn't the easiest to trek through but with the ocean next to us and palm trees swaying, the sweat drenching down our faces didn't so much matter to us. The rest of the 4 or so miles were quite hilly with some stretches of smooth paved parts but for the most part we were winding through sometimes foot deep of potholes filled with mud while dodging large trash trucks almost swiping us by everytime they sped on by. It was mostly beautiful scenery til we encountered, after climbing a pretty steep hill a huge plot of land that was filled with burning trash. It was absolutely disgusting. During the day I was freaked out driving my bike through, but the way home was a scene from a scary nightmare.

We made it to Bluff, after about an hour or so...we stopped a few times to take some pictures obviously. It was a really fun ride and difficult at times, (exactly what we needed). We searched for a spot on the beach.....which is easy to do when you are the only couple on a famous and gorgeous beach. After the long ride we were so excited to go into the water. Well, after getting about knee deep I realized if I was ready for the end, ready to meet my maker, I would have dove in all the way but something in my brain told me I've got maybe a little more time in my life before I do something stupid like that and get myself killed in paradise in Panama. I guess Justin didn't have that same feeling. I watched him for a good 5 minutes fight the ginormous waves that continuously wanted to sweep him in one by one. The way the undertow was too, I can't believe he stayed in as long as he did. Now, I don't worry that much but honestly, I've never been a lifeguard, I'm not the best swimmer, and know that if I had to go in there and save him, there was NO ONE around to witness or help. I was freaked. Thank god he had enough sense to come in when he did because he looked extremely exhausted after that bit, almost like he was just wrestling a bull.

We didn't go into the water again that day. Well, maybe for a second to wipe off the sand but it was definitely a relaxation period for the next few hours under palm trees while we waited for the "picturesque sunset." We had a great time chatting, napping, and practicing our Spanish while the sunny day turned into a beautiful dusk. The light was tender and sweet for a good while and quickly went from a shadow under the trees into bitch black blindness. I'm not sure if I just couldn't adjust my eyes after squinting all day from the sun or if it really was just THAT dark but I started getting the ibby jeebies being out there, just the two of us, on a beach, having to trek back home through a snake and spider invested jungle path. I don't know if I showed my terror to Justin as much as I was scared but I was REALLY freaked out. Luckily with me, I have this ability to talk to myself and literally get myself out of terror by just thinking everything is going to be ok. That took me a good five minutes but once that was up I really embraced the darkness. There was a quiet peacefulness that shot through my bones and the terror turned to serenity. We stopped our bikes, looked into the sky and the stars turned to spotlights illuminating the holes in the road saving us from toppling over on our bikes. The ride back was full of giggles everytime another chunk of mud would fly up into my hair or onto my white shorts.

Once we hit the firey trash dump I felt like I was in the scene of a movie set from a horror flick. I could smell the dump approaching and see the smokey air haze in front of us as we rode the hill to the path along the dump. With perfect timing as we approached the land fill a guy walking along the road appeared out of the darkness. It was almost like he was cued....I'm surprised I didn't scream and crash my bike into the sharp rusty metal fence that lined the narrow bumpy road in between the fill. Justin and I just had to stop and take in the scene for a few minutes once we neared the end of the path. There was broken old toddler furniture mixed in the road looking VERY creepy in the scene. Another great cue by the director of God or whoever was the ginormous sized cockroaches finding their way to my feet as I parked the bike. It was really cool if you can take something like that. : ) Maybe I'm crazy but I thought it was really fun. It's also really sad to see that the people of Bocas are not into protecting their environment by burning such horrible amounts of trash right along the beautiful water where many locals and tourists swim.

We made it back with incredible exhaustion. It was definitely a long day but one to remember in the Bocas adventure stories. Everyday we've done some sort of new thing while still trying to maintain a lot of our day to studying our Espanol. In my next blog maybe I'll just talk about some of the other cool stuff we've done with a little less detail. It's been some pretty busy times here in Bocas and I think I can speak for the both of us when I say that living by the beach is really different and such a cool experience to try out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Clase de Espanol

We're into a few days now of our language classes. In our beginner class we have Justin, Me, this girl Elisa from Newport, Rhode Island and this guy Koos from The Netherlands. It's a really unique school being half a block from the beach and all outdoor classrooms. We sit in our classroom named the Solarte, have a fan blowing full blast onto us while we go through our ejercicios y vocabulario. It's quite a nice tropical set up. Our main professor is named Melina. She's from Canada but her Spanish is fluent and look is very Costa Rican (She rocks some sweet dread locks and is tatted up quite nicely). She is also in charge of running the school and organizing the activities. Unfortunately, Justin and I are on a pretty strict budget and most of those activities are a bit out of our daily spending. Monday (Butterfly Gardens), Tuesday (Scuba diving Certification Course $225), Wednesday (Panamanian cooking class $10), Thursday (Salsa dance lessons $5), Friday (BBQ-Free drinks but bring your own food), Saturday (All day Catamaran Tour $33), and Sunday (Local beach clean up). Of all seven activities I think we're going to only do the BBQ on Friday since we can bring our own food as well as the beach clean up on Sunday because that is the beach we've been to most and actually were talking about how we should organize a clean up.
Even though we're not going to do much of the organized activities we're filling our day each day with so much to do. Spanish all morning, internet, lunch, some sort of outdoor activity, buy food for dinner, cook and hang, study and homework, then either reading or a movie before bed. It's so weird how you can be on a Carribbean Island where most people get lost in doing nothing or drinking beer all day and feel like you wish you had more time in the day. Each day is LONG, yes, but I have to say I enjoy it so much and LOVE waking up in the morning. Also knowing I have SO MUCH to learn is something that gives me anxiety. I wish that this damn vocabulary was just ingrained in my brain and I just need a little sprucing up but that definitely isn't the case. I have so much to learn and I think Justin and I know this is going to be a process. We're helping eachother out and luckily we haven't gotten on eachother's nerves yet for anything. I think we are on the same page with making the most of our time here in Panama as well as with taking courses.
With that said, I know it won't be impossible and once we leave Bocas after a month it will be good for us to move to a smaller town that is less touristy. I am thinking a homestay is going to be necessary after this. Ideas Ideas Ideas, we shall see. I'll keep this update short and sweet. Next blog I will explain more about our adventures and lifestyle. We're off this afternoon to the Botanical Gardens with the couple we hung out with in Panama City. Ciao for now....Mara

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bocas del Toro...Sun, Spanish, and a little bit of Fun

April 7th I took off for what will be a 2 and a half month Panama Spanish learning adventure. Flying to Panama is almost as easy or possibly even easier than my short bus trips from DC to NYC. The flight leaves quite early in the morning (one could even say the middle of the night) and gets into Panama City late morning leaving you with pretty much a full day to explore. The whole traveling process is quite a blur because with two hours of sleep the night before, a quick trip to the airport, and a sleeping pill, it almost feels like I dreamed that I escaped the nasty weather of Maryland and landed into paradise. Oh wait, I did. It's honestly such a short trip and goes smooth most of the time (last time my parents bags didn't make it but that didn't spoil things). My bags made it, I found a nice brand new SUV cab ride to a hostel I found in Casco Viejo, picked up Justin and my bus tickets to Bocas del Toro for the following day, and met up with Frank and Joyce (a really nice couple that live in Panama part time) to hang out for the rest of the day until Justin's flight came in later that evening. I spent a couple hours in their house watching "The Other Bolyn Girl" while munching on almonds, and some fancy cheese and crackers. Hospitality is just amazing with the people I've met here it's unbelievable.
I only had to wait an hour or so before Justin showed up and it was a happy reunion after not seeing him for two weeks. He left me the last time in my kidney infection state (103 fever and convulsing shakes was quite the change in appearance to this time around). It was sort of late when he came in so we went to bed early so we could walk around Casco Viejo and enjoy the morning. I won't go into too many details but Casco Viejo is definitely a spot in Panama City you should stay in. It was my first time and I only stayed one night but I fell in love with the beautiful French architecture and small cafes. The old buildings are getting reconstructed and it's becoming a very sought after real estate market for obvious reasons of the views of the city skyline and smaller town feel than the rest of Panama City.
We had to check out of our hostel around noon and our night bus to Bocas didn't leave until 9:30PM. Frank and Joyce left the door open for us at their house and invited us to hang out at their place and relax a bit before we had to leave. It was a very nice day of relaxing in a beautiful air conditioned home before a long trip ahead of us to the Caribbean coast. They drove us to the bus station and we had a nice dinner before we departed ways.
Once we got to the Bus Terminal it was absolute chaos. I've NEVER seen so many people in line to catch a bus in my life. I can't even tell you how long that line was. Just a ton of people standing around waiting and waiting. I'm not sure where they were going or if they were waiting to purchase a ticket. I suppose they are headed to the interior or some place for Semana Santa. After a bit of asking around, using the Spanish directions I remember from Rosetta Stone and my one week of training in Boquete we made it to the right line in the right place. Blah Blah Blah and we got to Bocas del Toro.
With no places really taking reservations it was really lucky of us to take the night bus and get into the main Bocas town super early. Justin and I got the last private room at the Hostel Mondu Taitu and the two girls that were on our trip got the last two beds in the dorm room. It's a packed town! We've kind of decided we love the Caribbean. Who wouldn't right? lol....We checked out our school and with the price and the quality of what it looks like, we've decided we're going to stay more than the two weeks planned. I saw an ad in the local newspaper for apartments to rent per month starting at $300. We found a place close to our school for $400 a month. It's a one bedroom with a good size kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and little living room. The location of the apartment is on Calle 6 and Avenida D. Basically we are two blocks away from the main street and about a 3 minutes walk from our school. It's not right on the water but it has everything we need, and for the price we each are paying $6.60 a night to live in paradise. Who says you can't be happy on the cheap? Luckily Justin is an amazing cook and with creativity we can eat well for pretty much pennies. A walk to the closest beach is about a mile away. I'm thinking about renting or buying a used bike so that we can take rides around the island and check out some other awesome beaches. There are a ton. Snorkeling is great! The water is clear! We're possibly thinking about taking a scuba course certification here since it's about $200 for a couple times out and certification. That is something I will think about after a few weeks of studying and see how my money situation is. Anyway, there's tons to do here without spending the money so until I get really bored of wandering around the beauty and studying Spanish all day I'll consider that more.
Lastly, I want to mention that we do not have internet at our apartment, which is a big let down but at the same time there are a ton of places all over town close by that have free wireless or if you buy a drink they let you use it for free so I'm sure it won't be too too much of a problem with checking e-mails and such. Our school has internet as well so that is good news. Ok, I'm going to wrap this up since it's almost dinner time and we have to grocery shop and still buy a bunch for our apartment. It's really been amazing so far how things have worked out and how great Justin and I get along. I love getting to use my Spanish around town and really look forward to classes at our school Spanish by the Sea.
I miss you all so much but honestly life can't really get much better at the moment. I hope all is well and look forward to hearing from you. And do know, you are welcome at our apartment here in Bocas! We are here until May 10th so if you can make a trip down to Panama you have a place in paradise welcoming you! Mwah....