To Bocas or not to Bocas

The last morning on Chichime was moody like the first – grey skies and slight rain. We gathered around for one last United Nations egg and cheese-something breakfast and again boarded the ‘launcher’, this time the seas seemingly even rougher and the boat going slowly along with the current. I didn’t love this boat trip either (maybe I’d feel like less of a paranoid white girl if I didn’t have an obsessive fear of losing my phone or passport) but at least this time we weren’t imitating a rocket ship, making air with every large wave. I sat next to the Dutch girl, Hilda, and we shrugged as the rain came sideways at us. “What are you gonna do?”

Back on the grid in Panama City I was still reeling from my incredible time on Chichime, but the day was young and I needed to begin a motion for where I was headed next. Plans are funny, because people always ask me about them, but the more I’ve traveled the less and less I make them in advance. Reflecting on the first long trip I ever took overseas where I booked everything┬áprior to departure, I’ve turned into more of a laid back traveler (all the “box-ticking” through the city on day one was really not my style) and with no sense of urgency and a sort of blase attitude towards being busy on this trip, decisions aren’t always (or ever) quick to be made. Originally I planned, albeit loosely, to get to Bocas Del Toro on the western Caribbean part of the country, yet opening the iPhone weather app to see only 70F and rain for days wasn’t exactly pushing me to now make the move. Bocas is a bit of a ride from Panama City – 10 hours by overnight bus – which I didn’t really mind, but catching that bus would mean one more full day in Panama City waiting around, and a day of that was already looking a carbon copy of what I was doing today. I looked at other beach options on the Pacific side – SUNNY FORECAST! 80 DEGREES! but reasonable accom booked up. And if I’d want to go anywhere else, I’d have to take a cab to the Panama City bus station and attempt to navigate buying a ticket without being properly prepared with Spanish (I’ve never had a single lesson, and we already know how well my Spanish performed on San Blas.) Although I’d done these difficult bus/train/transit purchases a dozen times in Southeast Asia, this was suddenly all feeling so complicated for a 9 day trip. Am I lazy? Old? Or just holidaying hard? I couldn’t be bothered. The weather app is probably lying anyway – I went on and booked a flight. Bocas tomorrow. 45 minute┬átrip. Landing by 12pm. Done.

By now it was about dinnertime, a traveler’s witching hour of sorts, where everyone is finally “home” from their respective day activities, hanging about in common areas, cracking open $1 beers, exchanging so-where-are-you-froms, making connex, making plans, making moves. I was probably with my nose in my phone looking less than social, but Ivar talked to me anyway, a young Norwegian ostensibly from Babetown (can I say that on here?) passing through Panama City on his way to surf. We skipped the basic backpacker interview (how long have you been traveling, where did you come from, where are you going, zzzz, boring) and got right to ideas and dreams and what it would be like to set up a business based on a surfers getaway trip in the fjords of Norway. We rallied his travelmate, another youngin named Oliver, and Hannah, a girl they’d met from the UK, and grabbed a cab to Casco Viejo. This area is known to be the cultural center of Panama City, the old town, the history, the Spanish influence! Oliver wanted a pizza.

We found a spot and were seated outside at a pair of cafe tables, drinking those kind of beers that just never seem to give so much as a buzz, the Norwegians repeatedly urging me to try this weird Nordic minty dipping snus they had brought from home. Not at all a fan of tobacco my initial reaction was “no effing thanks” but the longer the idea brewed the more intrigued I became. The boys gave me simple instructions: dry out a part under your lip and stick in one of the snus packets. I followed their directions and there I sat, with a derpy look on my face, some tingly crap in a packet pressed up against my gums, like a sitting duck just waiting for whatever was supposed to happen next. The convo carried on, but it was only a matter of minutes before I looked across the table at Oliver and the two weaksauce beers I drank started to feel like ten. “NOPE!” I said – and out was spit the snus.

In the morning I bid farewell to the Norwegians, Hannah would be joining me in Bocas the following day. I’ll save the cliffhanger: the weather ended up being fine.