Our last couple weeks in Panama

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Central America Caribbean » Panama
February 11th 2013
Published: February 11th 2013
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Adventures in bus travel: Sitting on the bus from David, waiting for them to pack it to the brim, reminds me of a scene out of a comedy. There are about seven babies aboard, and about eight people yelling in Spanish on their cell phones simultaneously. These bus rides are not for the claustrophobic. Even I feel like the walls are closing is as they cram every last inch with people, even resorting to sitting on buckets or standing in front of the doors. The aisles have disappeared; not that they were more than a foot across to begin with. The interesting thing is the majority of the people in Panama are moderately overweight, or have a few kids on their hips. This country is all about procreating! Even when I get sat next to an average size person I still only have about one and a half ass cheeks on the seat; which isn't ideal when some of the bus drivers take the windy roads way too fast. I'm surprised I haven't been flung into another persons lap! If I happen to fall asleep and we take one of those turns I will literally be in someone else's seat. I swear I'm not venting, I find it pretty hilarious. Except for the time we were sitting in the front row with our groceries, and one of the guys working the bus rode with the door open for about 10 miles. I thought we were gonna lose our shit! Despite everything they're pretty reasonable, $14 round trip for both of us, and it's a beautiful drive. If we decided to cab it we'd be paying close to $50 one way! Not worth it, this is how backpackers travel...Even if I have to listen to babies burp and cry for the next hour.
El Mirador: This morning we woke up well rested since we moved out of the bar into a private for the night. I love the bed in the Olingo cabin, I didn't want to leave it yesterday to make it worth while. We get half off the privates as volunteers so it's only $15, but paying for a room kinda defeats the purpose of staying here. A group of volunteers and guests wanted to hike to the river so me and Kevin decided to join them to the saddle, then branch off to the Mirador (or lookout point). Prior to hiking, Erica another volunteer from South Carolina, got "iced." For those of you who don't know about this prank, you hide a Smirnoff Ice and when the unsuspecting victim finds it they have to kneel on one knee and chug it in front of everyone. Erica has been picking on Cat ("our manager") for weeks now, so we decided to get revenge last night on her bar shift. Kevin hid one in the liquor cabinet behind the Malibu and we all went up to the bar pretending to play foosball, awaiting Erica's demise. She took her sweet time stocking the fridge, eating her dinner and we all were starting to suspect that she was on to us. When she finally found the Smirnoff with our note I expected a lot of cussing and a crazier reaction, but she was so upset that the tables had turned she just had a pissed of look on her face. So worth it!This morning they had hid the bottle in her hiking backpack, sneaky sneaky. She chugged it right before the hike commenced and it didn't stay down more than a quarter of the way up. Poor baby, karma is a bitch! The group went down to the river and us up to the Mirador. It's only about ten minutes off the trail but straight up. The view from the top was incredible, you could see clear to the ocean and over the tops of the rolling hills. I would love to be up there during sunset, or after dark when the starlight isn't obstructed by the clouds or lights of the hostel. I just wouldn't be willing to hike back down in the dark. Even during the day you can't lift your eyes off the trail for a second or you'll trip over a root. The tree roots snake across the ground like vines and even though the trails are well maintained they are still very natural and rustic with fallen trees and other obstacles in the path. I feel like Alice in my own personal wonderland, and even though the trails are well traveled, you feel completely alone in the jungle. The only difference between me and Alice is she got to encounter all sorts of characters. The only critter we've seen so far was a leaf bug, that we would've walked by without knowing it was there if we didn't stop to catch our breath right in front of it. I keep hoping to see a monkey or a snake or a bird but no cigar. We keep hearing this obnoxious bird that sounds like a metronome, timing our steps as we hike down. The most impressive thing we've encountered so far was Tree Beard in the Forest of the Elders. It's a giant, ancient Strangler Fig and the only one of its kind in the forest. Its bark twists up the trunk like rope and it has vines hanging from the top that resemble something Tarzan would swing from. You can actually walk through the center of it, and that's where one of the clues is hidden on the treasure hunt. The waterfall: We got up early after a night of disruptive sleep (mainly because of these rowdy Canadians that came in last night); and a group of volunteers took a bus to a nearby waterfall. Turns out it wasn't as nearby as we thought and our perceived 20 minute bus ride turned into almost 40 minutes. That wouldn't of been so unbearable if we didn't have to stand in the aisles gripping the hand rails with all our strength through the twists and turns. The bus ceilings weren't even high enough for Kevin to stand up straight and had his neck in a kinked position the whole way. Interestingly enough not more than 10 minutes into the drive the climate and foliage had already changed from what we were used to. We passed the hydro dam, which generates 40%!o(MISSING)f Panamas electricity. The scenery looked much more jungly, reminiscent of Jurassic Park or Planet of the Apes. Once we reached the waterfall the uncomfortable bus ride was totally worth it; though we had to walk over slippery, jagged rocks barefoot to get there. It was beautiful, tucked away in a narrow gorge. Once we got closer the mist and wind the waterfall was generating was really powerful. There was so much water splashing in our faces we could barely see as we climbed up it to take refuge in the rocks. The water was cold and shallow, and the pool it descended into was no bigger than a backyard swimming pool. It would've been a more enjoyable experience if the sun had come out but we still managed to shiver our way to get a closer look. Future Plans: Kevin and I finally decided that it's time to venture on from the lost and found next Thursday the 14th. We booked a room at the hostel Mare Iguana (sounds like marijuana) in Bocas Del Toro where we may have another potential volunteer position. You trade 20 hours of work for a week of free accommodation. We might pass on volunteering in Bocas because we got accepted to volunteer at Envision, a five day festival in Uvita, Costa Rica. The festival starts Feb 27 and I don't want to spend all our time working in Bocas and not get to enjoy it before we have to trek to Costa Rica. We should have about 8 nights on the islands to hopefully soak in the sun, even though rain is common even in the dry season. That should be plenty of time considering that Bocas is notorious for its party scene. I'm so thrilled we got picked for the festival, not only do we get our ticket paid for ($500 value for 25 hours of work), a free meal a day, and I'm curious to see how a festival is run and anxious to contribute to it. Unlike burning man, which is participation based, Envision is more structured and has scheduled workshops by influential speakers, mass yoga sessions and hours of musical entertainment and performances. I'm interested to see what schedules we'll get and what jobs we'll be doing. The application was pretty extensive and we each signed up for several distinct duties. I'm assuming we only work 5 hours a day and get to join the festivities when we're not on shift. I'm hoping we can find sleeping bags in Boquette, since we were completely unprepared to camp on this trip. Sleeping bags would also come in handy on the freezing cold overnight express buses. I'm looking forward to Sunday because we signed up for a hot springs tour with a drop off in Boquette. Boquette is a small town with similar features to where we are now. It's scenic, surrounded by coffee plantations and has hiking trails and white water rafting. Rafting is too expensive so I think we're going to rent a scooter instead and cruise around the coffee fields or to another waterfall. Apparently it's a popular spot for American retirees. It's only about 45 minutes past David so I figured we should check it out before we leave Panama. I just got my schedule for Envision and I'm really happy about it because my earliest shift starts at 2pm, and the latest I'll have to work is 10pm. I think this schedule will really give me an opportunity to enjoy the festival because I can stay up until the early morning hours listening to electronic music and sleep in the next day, or get up and hit a workshop or yoga class before my shift starts. They have me on dinner service, and as of now I'm not sure if that means I'll be working on a cafeteria assembly line or at an order pick up window. I heard that the food is predominantly vegetarian so finally it won't be a struggle to eat. I really hope one of the vendors sells falafel, that would make my day! I was talking to this guy staying here who used to own a restaurant in Bocas, and he told me about this Tribal Awakening festival happening this month in Panama. It sounds really interesting because all these indigenous tribes from around the World gather to talk about sustainability and permaculture techniques. Unfortunately it ends the day before Envision begins, so maybe we'll catch it next year.


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