Bocas Del Toro, Panama
I left Puerto Viejo early in the morning, it was pouring rain. It only took about an hour to get to the Panama border by bus, had to pay a $9 exit tax fee, walked across a bridge and through immigration, which was a short organized line where you just show your passport quickly and pay, along with filling out a few forms. After crossing the border, we drove another 45 minutes which took us to a port to take a small boat to Bocas Del Toro main island. I arrived at the docks and it was simple getting a taxi to my hostel, Pica Loca Bay Hostel, on the other side of the island near the airport (about 5 minutes away). As soon as I walked into Pipa Loca Bay Hostel, I felt more at home and it was run by this American couple from California, a really sweet couple and the cutest dog - probably one of my favorites along the way. It was this small hostel, only 2 rooms right on the bay with a kitchen, closed-in deck, and dock with a beautiful view of the many boats and sunset. There was also an Argentinian couple there that was somewhat obnoxious because they would talk on the phone really loud and it was pretty disrespectful when we were sharing such a small space (my first encounter of this type of situation). The afternoon I arrived, I went to this local restaurant, Tom's Restaurant, where I had fish and plantain patties that were super good but I had to make sure not to eat the bones from the fish because there were many and got me a bit nervous. Then I had to decide if I wanted to dive the next morning because I was only supposed to stay one night there but then decided it might be better to stay two if I wanted to dive. The next morning it was raining and I still couldn't decide if I wanted to dive at first, but just decided to give it a shot. I went to try to get coffee beforehand but the coffee shop that the girl at the hostel suggested wasn't open and so the diving instructor informed me to go to this German bakery a couple blocks away. This other girl had just arrived around the same time so we both were running around trying to find this bakery in the rain and eventually found this small local coffee shop. The other girl diving was experienced and had her certificate (from NC) and was at Bocas del Toro doing work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center. She gave me some pointers but was mainly butchering me about my plans and what I was doing there. Eventually I was put into a small room with this other girl from France who also was new to diving and we watched this short film on how to dive for the first time. I wasn't nervous about the diving aspect, I was nervous about my ears because I've always had ear issues (since I was little I would always get ear infections and even got surgery-one of my tubes had to be surgically removed when I was 3 or so). I didn't mark that on the waiver because then I wouldn't have been able to dive! Anyway, we were finally trained and ready to board the boat, the two instructors and the 3 of us girls. The one instructor and French girl and I split from the other instructor and NC girl. The first time being 4 or 5 meters down, I could tell my eardrums weren't too happy and I tried to relax and move my jaw around and swallow, and do all the things you're supposed to do to avoid ear problems. It hurt for like 5 minutes and then eventually went away. We practiced equalizing as we kept going deeper and eventually started swimming around the coral. The coral was beautiful, nothing I've ever seen before with many colors and shapes. Then we found a huge lobster and crab and schools of fish and then after about 50 minutes, went back up to the boat. We drove to another location and went next to a ship wrek and went further down under (about 11 meters) where we saw many stingrays, different looking fish and my instructor saw a hammerhead shark right in front of him but I didn't see it even though I was right behind him because it moved too quickly and I was worried about the stingray nearby (which I later found out the sharks were hunting for so thought that was pretty funny). We ran into other divers and it felt sort of cool to be under the the water, in this whole other world, in a community full of divers. I can see how people obsess over diving because there really is a whole other world to explore down under. Once we got back up, my right ear was clogged so I did everything I knew how to do to get rid of the water out of my right ear. As soon as we got back to land, I tried to get water out again and it wouldn't come out so I knew I needed to go back to my hostel right away. As soon as I got back to the hostel it started really irritating me so I thought to put drops I had brought (ear wax removal) for ear wax in my ear. I had the girl working at the hostel put some in and it only made it worse, started throbbing. It hurt even more as time went on so I tried looking up what else to do and was about to go get some alcohol but asked the hostel if they had some and they did so I used theirs and had the girl put some in. It didn't help at all, it actually stung really bad, and just with my luck, the power on the island went out right then and there so I was stuck with no communication with my family for 2 hours, listening to loud reggae music playing on the streets (it was a Friday and everyone was starting to party) while trying to relax and sleep. Eventually I got up after trying to let it drain for hours and it was still draining. I had to go back to the diving place to get my rings I had forgotten and had told the French girl, Marie, that I would meet up with her, so I stopped and met up with her but she was already with a guy so I left after a beer, bought frozen pizza and a green pepper, organized my backpack and called it a night. I had planned to go biking that afternoon but it actually worked out the next morning I went because the hostel guy had suggested I go to this lake on the way to the other beaches and I did and saw a Caiman! Thankfully my ear wasn’t hurting but it was clogged, I couldn’t hear out of it so I just let it drain naturally. I biked along the coast and it was magical, some boats, surfers, and a nice breeze, as well as all the other places you could stay (Pika Point-local and Sharkeys-American), and ended up getting lunch at Pika Point because it was local and it was super relaxing to sit and watch the surfers and drink a couple beers on the beach. I could tell this was off the grid, not a lot of people go all the way over here from the big island, would be a nice couples trip to go here on a romantic getaway. I had to leave at 5pm to go to the next island/hostel so I got back around 3pm and then met up with Marie at this restaurant/bar where the boat was picking me up, La Buga and we chatted for a bit and then I was off to Bambuda Lodge. The only other person on the boat over was this 22 year old girl from Austria, Tabea, who ended up having scars on her right leg from motorcycle accidents in Bali and Thailand! I was shocked because they were big and actually looked like birth marks haha but what a crazy coincidence. We chatted about all the places she had been to, which was mostly Asia and she loved New Zealand, so she gave me a lot of pointers and told me she could give me some more names of places later and then we arrived at Bambuda Lodge. My first impression was excited to be in a new environment but then realized the place was full with all these groups and couples and then we were like the only single/solo travelers. It was definitely a party scene so I was kind of disappointed because that was the last I wanted to deal with with my ear and I was tired. I figured I had two nights so make the most of it, sat at the community table for a $13 dinner and talked to this girl from Australia who gave me some pointers about where to surf when I go to Australia and called it a night. The next morning I slept in really late and had a nice chia seed bowl breakfast and then me and Tabea went to another island to somewhat get away (only 10 minutes by boat). She snorkelled and I sat and drank a pina colada (since I couldn’t get in the water)...we basically had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. The water in the bathroom didn't work and there was no toilet paper, the drink was $6.50 so we headed back to the hostel and hung out by the pool where we met these other guys who had come for the day (one from Scotland (Gavin)-had lived in DC for a couple years and a German). We sat and talked about world politics for an hour and I got caught up on what's going on with Brixit and other parts of the world, very similar problems (capitalization). Loved having that conversation, all four of us from different countries basically agreeing on the same position and also at the same time scared for our future. Had pretzels for dinner and tried going to bed early but couldn't and then it stormed really hard that night I could feel the thunder underneath me. I woke up early and did yoga again and it felt nice to get back into it after taking a short break. I could already tell that when I don't practice yoga, I'm not as connected or myself as much and it really does affect me. I was ready to leave that place and finally did the next morning, I set off to the sister Bambuda Castle in the mountains. On the way to the ferry boat, I ran around the big island to get some more cash and a shirt, sweating like mad with how fast I was moving but didn’t want to miss my boat. On the boat, I met these two 22 year old French Canadian girls. They gave me tons of pointers about traveling in South America, it was really helpful! And then met this American girl from Colorado (33) who had been traveling from Guatemala, down South who also gave some good pointers on Central America. We were waiting for an hour for the shuttle when the driver told us he would buy us some beers in exchange for waiting so long, he felt bad. So we went to this little bar with loud pounding Reggaeton playing and there were these locals drinking out on the edge of the dock. He gave us each a couple beers and we chatted about our travels with loud music in the background and the locals getting hammered - was quite the scene. Then it was finally time to go after a couple hours total of waiting and a small white car pulled up. Apparently there was an Uber protest that day in Panama so no shuttles were driving for a couple days. Had no idea that was happening, I guess I should be paying more attention to the news in each country I visit, but who has time for that anyway? Thankfully we had our own private car for the four of us and halfway through had to stop at this one bathroom stop place where there was a backup for 30 minutes where I got some rice and an empanada (a little nervous about getting sick, thankfully I didn’t).