Nos Vemos Mexico

It is June 10, 2018 and I am sitting in our casita in San Pancho, Mexico cursing the Mexican government for this crazy blackout they have forced upon us. For the last week our power has been going out at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and does not come back on until sometime the next day. Today, it is 11:00am and we still have no power. In the winter months this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the humid, rainy season is upon us and a fan would be so welcome right now. The cool breeze that normally flows through our house has halted leaving behind a still, sticky residue. Two showers a day does not seem quite frequent enough to rinse away the sweat and grime. We have returned to “air kisses” to say hello to friends because the normal cultural practice of cheek to cheek kisses is too sweaty and vulnerable to endure.

However, I didn’t sit down to write this blog so that I could complain about our power outages and sweat. My intension is to share news of our next adventure and some highlights of the past 18 months of our life in the region of the Riviera Nayarit. From Puerto Vallarta to Chacala we explored the many beautiful jungle hikes, beaches, and stunning vistas.

Mackenzie never has any fun

We also had the privilege to experience many cities further a field in Mexico, such as: Mazatlán, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Oaxaca City and Guadalajara. Most importantly, we met and spent time with some amazing people. People who like us, are seeking to experience life in the moment, arms wide open to whatever amazing adventures come their way.

Before I get too nostalgic and ramble on about the beauty of Mexico, I’ll start with our news. We are excited to formally announce that our next adventure takes us to Tucson, Arizona. We will be leaving our sweet home and community here on June 28th to start our northward migration. Jacob has accepted a full time job as part of the leadership team with the Tucson Tamale Company (if you haven’t tried these tamales you MUST! You can find them in Whole Foods, Natural Grocers as well as some other, smaller grocery stores. You can even order them online!). We are thrilled to help this family-run company keep their very exciting, forward momentum going strong. I look forward to finding a private psychotherapy practice to join once we get settled in our new home at the end of July.

We found two great schools for Mackenzie and Quinn. Quinn will go to a bilingual elementary school (Davis Elementary, how perfect is that?). In the end, She will probably be the best Spanish speaker in our family. Mackenzie will join a small, unique middle school (Paulo Freire Freedom School) where she will get to direct her own studies in a project-based, experiential learning community located on the Arizona State University campus. Luckily she will still have a regular Spanish class to keep up her skills too!

As for our highlight real of Mexico, I don’t really know where to begin. Today the memory that is in the front of my mind at this time of year, is one related to crabs.   Yes, that’s right. Crabs. The rain not only turns the dusty vegetation into vibrant green but it also brings out amazing flowering trees, huge toads and chirping frogs. However, the best part is that it signals the Mexican Land Crabs or Cangrejos Azules, to begin their migration from the Jungle Mountains to the ocean shore to find their mates.

I have heard hilarious tales of these crazy crabs hanging off door-frames in a sort of startling hello, sitting at the bottom pools, finding their way into toasters, and crawling into bed to snuggle up with whomever is sleeping there. The crabs are about the size of a dinner roll but their bravado is enormous. When you encounter them they often stand their ground, lift their arms up high and wide, and open and close their mouths like a hand puppet. The best stories are from people who describe the sheer volume of these crabs down at particular beaches in the area. One of these beaches is called Patzcuarito Beach and is the place Mackenzie and I ventured to one drippy morning last June, to collect our own story of Los Cangrejos Azules.

Like a scene out of a horror movie, the eerie scratching and tapping of crab claws moving over fallen leaves filled the air when we entered the overgrown, jungle path that would lead us to the beach. Peering through the palms and other foliage, we saw thousands of crabs moving like one giant organism through the jungle. With goose bumped-flesh and the flutter of anxiety in our chests we continued on our way along the shadowed path to the beach.

The normal smooth, flat landscape of the beach was lost to textured piles, mounds and sometimes hills of sand. The crabs had created little homes all over the beach. If you catch it on the right day, I understand you can witness the mass of crabs moving with synchronicity, all over the sand. What Mackenzie and I witnessed was the frequent popping in and out of their holes to find out what was disturbing their kingdom.

That is just one story. There are so many more and no way I can share all of them in this one single blog. Perhaps I’ll start writing them all out and share at a later date but for now I leave you with little flashes of my memories:

Looking out for whales on our Christmas Eve Whale watch. Amazing
  • Tacos Al Pastor with savory, thinly sliced, shawarma-spit-grilled pork tucked into handmade corn tortillas and topped with a slice of sweet pineapple for the perfect flavor balance.
  • Margarita sunsets with friends at Las Sirena’s and the numerous lost flip-flops due to forgetting how fast the darkness descends once that peachy sun plunks into the ocean.
  • The energy that buzzes in the jungle from thousands of years of ceremonies at the magical, fresh water pools near Alta Vista. The cool water cleansing more than the skin and the view from the pools of the surrounding rocks with their soft, river-carved curves, decorated with spiritual petroglyphs.

    Alta Vista Petroglyph Pools
  • The many, many days of beaching with friends, digging toes into sand, splashing in the waves, and infectious belly laughter.
  • Salsa dancing in Oaxaca.
  • Those itsy-bitsy ants and their love of secretly crawling up my arm headed for who knows where or why.
  • Mangos. Peeled like a banana, the best way to experience meaty, full-face bites with cheeks and chin that drip with the sweet juices.
  • The shock of giant iguanas that fall from trees because their even more giant brethren pushed them out. (ask me to tell you the story of the time one ran over the top of Quinn’s head! That was unexpected!)
  • Costa Verde International School: sweet bilingual performances, the most delicious school lunches on the planet, a 10-foot python slithering across the top of a wall and teachers wrestling it into a plastic tote to take it out of town.  Tales from our daughters of teachers saving students from scorpions, wasp nests and falling mangos.
  • Iguana poop that plopped in my soup. A direct shot from high above in a palm tree. I imagine he “high-fived” his buddy sitting next to him in the tree.

There have been times over the last 18 months when I was faced with the frustration of living in a foreign, developing country. Times when I have felt the pain of missing friends and family of wondering if I would ever find a family of friends in this community.  Many, many times of cursing the impatient drivers who dangerously pass a string of cars and the people who walk in the middle of the street even though there are perfectly good, empty sidewalks.

However, despite those frustrations, I fell in love with Mexico. I love the family-centered, rebellious culture and the warmth of people who would do anything to help you if you needed. I long for the music, the Mezcal, and the Mole of Oaxaca. Even though I probably complained, I love the loud, heart-stopping boom of fire cannons set off at 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00am every morning during the town’s eight-day festival celebrating their patron saint, Francisco.

I promise I’ll stop writing now and thank you for reading and sharing in our “Seize the Davi” adventures. In a way, this blog feels like a closure to a three-year adventure of travel and amazing experiences abroad. However, for Jacob and me our next chapter is just a continuation of this one and of the life we are choosing to create. A life that inspires us to keep thinking of ways to travel, stay curious and find joy everyday; especially those days when the power does not come back on until 3:00pm.

Viva Mexico! Que les vaya bien.

Travel with Kids: Health

Keepin’ It Real: Travel with Kids

Installment #3: Medical Mishaps

….and so I sit on the red twill couch in the sunny living room of our apartment in Sevilla, Spain. My knees propped up with pillows obeying the instructions of Dr. Ruiz from Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocio, who, after painfully draining it, told me I was not allowed move my knee for at least 24 hours. Jacob took the girls to their art and theater class for me instead of going to his Spanish class this evening because the girls deserve to get out of this house and do something fun. Sitting quietly and obediently at a busy hospital for two hours is a lot to ask of an 8 and 6 year old.

The growing pain and inflammation in my right knee had been haunting the back of my mind since we arrived. Each time we travel to a new destination, my knees seem to get a little inflamed but then it subsides and I am able to keep up with our adventures. So, I thought this is what would happen here too. I ramped up my yoga practice trying to be gentle on my knees, not over tax them. I found an English speaking Physiotherapist/Orthopedist/Eastern Medicine practitioner nearby and made an appointment. I surfed the Internet for an Acupuncturist as a treatment supplement. All while the inflammation grew and grew. The increased walking here could have been the cause or maybe over the last 5 months I have not properly rehabilitated my knee. Whatever the reason, two days ago I could no longer walk without looking like Igor from the movie “Young Frankenstein.” My knee was so inflamed it looked like an over full water balloon ready to spring a leak at any moment then burst.

Jacob immediately relegated me to the couch and instructed the girls to push me around on a rolling office chair if I needed to use the bathroom. He went to stock up on food and walk by an Acupuncture clinic whose website made it seem like they were still in business; however, their email bounced back and the message I heard when I called could have said it is no longer in service but it was in Spanish and so I wasn’t sure. He returned half an hour later with food and news that the clinic was indeed closed down. We spent the afternoon trying and failing to figure out options for English speaking doctors in the area. When that proved difficult, Jacob took to consulting with Dr. Google instead and determined that:

a. I have some strange disease I have never heard of

b. fibromyalgia is causing the inflammation

We decided those weren’t the most hopeful of prognoses and went back to seeking an actual doctor. After a couple of phone conversations with receptionists, the Physiotherapist I had an appointment with later in the week, texted me at 10pm to tell me he could see me at his office at noon the next day and included the address. “Wait”, I thought, “this address looks different than the one on his website, better consult Google again.  Hmmm, it isn’t showing me Sevilla, there must be a mistake”. I sent him a text explaining my confusion about the location and thanked him for rearranging his schedule for me. Alas, his clinic was NOT in Sevilla it is in Madrid. He hasn’t practiced here in over 4 years. Great. That’s only a 4-hour car ride or 2 and a half hour train ride away! I immediately started to cry. The pain was getting worse and the fear growing that our broken Spanish would not be sufficient to get treatment and we would have to go home. However, now here I am less than 24 hours later, relishing the relief from the pain caused by pressure in my knee and feeling more hopeful that with proper rehabilitation we can continue our journey.

A Keepin’ it Real blog post about health has been bouncing around in my head for a while now. What better time to write it than after seeking and receiving medical care in a foreign country?? I must admit, I sat in the waiting room of the hospital looking around at the mass of people awaiting their care and witnessed myself experiencing many different emotions. I felt a lot of trepidation about the quality of treatment I would receive immediately followed by a feeling of shame for that thought to come into my mind. I felt relief that we were in Spain and not in Panama or Peru when this happened. There was a sense of hilarity at the situation. For instance, about every five minutes or so, Jacob and I immediately stopped our conversation and strained to understand the name and instructions being said over the loudspeaker. When we were finally called to “Rayos numero dos”, Jacob pushed me in my wheelchair, out into the hall around and around a pole, the girls following behind like obedient little ducklings, trying to determine what the instructions meant since all the doors in the hallway were closed. OH! Of course, silly. It means x-ray! At the moment of our realization, the x-ray technician opened the door to “Rayos numero dos”.

Finally, after the x-ray and initial consultation with a nurse, I lay on the treatment table in the third and final room of our medical adventure and I felt the feeling of vulnerability. No matter the country, no matter the facility, lying on a treatment table in an unknown place is vulnerable; however, I also felt trust. Trust that this man was doing exactly what his education and training had taught him. In fact, looking back, it seemed they were actually more careful about sterilizing my knee prior to the treatment than the fancy sports medicine doctor I saw in the States. I even got a little numbing spray on the injection site prior to being stuck with the giant needle.

Knees aside, the biggest unknown about long-term travel for me is health. How do we stay healthy? If we get sick, how do we get the medications and treatment we need? All blog posts I have read say everyone at one time or another will get travelers diarrhea. So, when Quinn came down with it in Lima I was scared we would be unable to keep her hydrated. Happily, that was not the case. Common sense was our best ally. Even the common cold can foul up plans for exploration. As everyone knows, if one member of the family is ill it is likely to get passed to all.

We battled this type of illness beginning in Urubamba, Peru. It was our first stay in a hostel and there were three other petri dishes, a.k.a. kids, staying there as well. One of which already had a cold. So, you can imagine the cold found its way into everyone in the house then followed us around through the Sacred Valley. Airplane travel is another kind of petri dish so we likely picked up another bug traveling from Peru to Spain. All told, at least one of us was sick for a full month.

Even with all the precautions and immune system boosting protocols, the risk of catching a parasite, virus or bacterial infection is very real. Up to this point in our travels, our experience has showed us that in Costa Rica, Peru, Spain and Paris, one does not buy medications at a grocery store but instead at a pharmacy. Usually, you have to speak to the pharmacist to explain what you need and she/he gets it from behind the counter, even ibuprofen and vitamins. In fact, in many of these countries a trip to speak with your pharmacist is your first course of action.  Doctors are reserved for emergencies or when the pharmacist is stumped. One time, in my broken Spanish, I asked the pharmacist for fish vitamins instead of fish oil…oops what’s the word for oil again?? How about the word for fish when it is swimming in the ocean and not in lemon juice on a plate?

Trust is a big factor when it comes to medicine in a foreign country. Can I trust the pill, treatment or advice I receive is the same or as good as what I would find at home, where I am more familiar? I think this speaks to so many issues of diversity. Can I trust the unfamiliar? Can I trust that another culture is as good as or even better than my own or that I just might learn something from that other culture? More aptly can I accept this as a possibility? The experience at the Hospital in Sevilla taught me that yes, I can and at times I must.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Our strategy moving forward is of course, mindfulness and preventative medicine. I need to accept that I have some sort of problem with my knees and listen to them, seek out rehabilitative advice and do it.  I don’t want to avoid travel because of the fear of getting sick. I don’t want to make judgments based on secondhand knowledge or assumptions. I want to ask questions and research to find out what is available so I can negotiate treatment in a way that feels safe.  Otherwise, I am allowing my fear to grow and fester to an unnatural size and creating a self-imposed barrier to potentially amazing experiences and people.

Some tips to stay healthy:

  • Listen to your body and rest when needed.  Traveling is tiring and when you are tired your body has less energy to fight off infection. The girls are perfect, at times loud, little gages of when we need to rest.
  • Vitamins are important.  We are now taking daily multi and “fish vitamins”. Every little thing you carry has to be weighed according to its importance and cost.
  • Eat more vegetable soup. We thought we could get our nutrients through eating healthy foods and follow the advice of smart travelers ahead of us, only eating fresh veggies we have washed and peeled ourselves. However, when you are bouncing around a lot preparing your own fresh veggies can get tricky and in some places the risk of parasites on those fresh veggies is very real so you end up skipping it.
  • Carry hand-sanitizer everyday.  More often than not, there is no soap (or toilet paper) in the bathroom; therefore, I carry around a natural hand sanitizer made from essential oils.


So long, and thanks for all the laughs

I received a text from one of my sisters the other day that my grandmother was in the hospital and the prognosis didn’t look good. We were all laying on a bed in the highlands of Peru, exhausted from a long day of hiking when it came. I read the text to Amy and the kids and watched as my own feelings were reflected back to me: worry in Amy’s eyes, sadness in Quinn’s and confusion in Mackenzie’s.  Amy and I shared how the myeloma she had been diagnosed with had taken a turn for the worse and she was refusing life support.  Mackenzie immediately asked, “why would Yaya refuse a ventilator?”

We explained that sometimes people reach a point where they are at peace with shirley-weddingtheir life and the challenge and pain of treatment may not be the option they feel best for themselves.  We reminded Mackenzie that Mutti and Padaddy (great grandparents from Amy’s side) had made similar decisions at a comparable point of their lives. It was a reassurance to them both that Yaya’s choice to let come what may is a powerful one that brings her peace.  Ultimately, we all found solace in the thought that when she passes, she will always be with us, in our hearts and in our memories, helping us when we need her special brand of wisdom or guidance.

Later, after the children went to bed, Amy and I had a long discussion about what this meant for us and what we might do. This is one of the hardest parts of our decision to travel, knowing that moments like this might happen. Ultimately we decided that should this be the end, we wouldn’t return for a service. To me, a service is an opportunity to fortify those spaces in our hearts and minds that hold a piece of her. I lament that I won’t be able to share that with my family and friends directly. Instead, Amy and I chose to have a remembrance ceremony at Machu Picchu with the girls. It was a difficult decision, but one we felt Shirley would support. Throughout the lead up to and after our departure she has been one of our biggest cheerleaders, applauding us for having courage to face this journey with all its joys and even its sorrows.

My grandmother was a wonderful woman in many ways, but she was never a typical grandmother. Perhaps that is what made her so special to me and many others. Certainly she was loving and caring, those are great hallmarks of her life.  However, I can’t say that growing up I was ever especially close to her. She wasn’t the type of grandma that I went to for solace or attention in the way that grandchildren might do. But I imagine for even my sister, who was much closer to her, the relationship wasn’t typical. How could it be when you call your grandmother by her first name?

She was always Shirley to me. Never Grandma, Gammy, Yaya or any other name with which you might identify a grandmother. In part this symbolized much of our interaction when I was young.  She didn’t treat me as a child, rather a person who just happened to be her grandchild.  At first glance you might think that would be a terrible thing, but it wasn’t. We had discussions about life, spirituality, society, the future and more that never would have fit in the typical grandmother/grandchild box.  She was never afraid to broach any topic with me and always valued my opinion even if I lacked the equal experience or perspective she had. This is how she treated everyone, no matter the person or their history.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.’ May I try each day to always look within to the love, the non judgement, the compassion to finding peace. The world has many differing opinions on all things… me to see everyone as my brothers.” – Shirley B. Martin

The thing I will remember most about her is her humor. Many would say her humor was not always appropriate, but it never failed to hit the mark. A shining example of her humor was when one Thanksgiving, while I was in college, I had brought some friends to my house shirleyfor dinner. After politely asking one of my friends to pass the potatoes, she asked everyone to share how old they were at “their first sexual encounter!” Needless to say, the subtle nervous tension a stranger feels in an unfamiliar situation was stripped away in that one move.  Many around the table laughed, some feigned mock surprise that she would say such a thing and others immediately supplied the requested info.  In one stroke she changed the entire dynamic of the night.

“I find that humor is a wonderful tool for reaching people…true, loving humor. Sometimes I smile when alone at some funny, ridiculous thing about myself. And truth be known, I can find many funny, ridiculous things about me!” – Shirley B. Martin

Shirley cared deeply for her family and the people around her.  She understood that life is a beautiful fragile thing that must be tended.  While exploring Machu Picchu I was reminded that nothing lasts forever.  A small geranium was growing through a 600 year old wall. One day a flower just like that may cause the wall to crumble. At that moment I chose to make that day a celebration of her life rather than a day of sorrow. A day to marvel at the at the sacred place with a mind and heart she helped to shape.Shirley-flower

Thank you Shirley for all you ever were and all you ever weren’t.

sea and sky and a small strip of beach

Bocas del Toro, Panama

I have struggled to write this post. I think because I have mixed emotions about Bocas del Toro. We discovered its beauty and were privileged to share the experience with my sister, Crissey, and her friend Chris. It is also very dirty and there are frequently water bottles and plastic bags floating in the middle of the ocean, and larger amounts of trash lining the shore especially in Bocas Town. I think this reality has made me sad, disappointed in humanity.

Our time in Costa Rica came to a close and we were all excited for our 9-day exploration of Bocas del Toro, Panama (which almost didn’t happen). The archipelago is just south of the Costa Rican/Panamanian boarder in the Caribbean Ocean.   I had some friends who recommended we do a tour there from Costa Rica and after looking at pictures online Jacob and I decided we wanted more than a day to explore. As an added bonus, my sister and her friend decided to meet us and explore the area together for a few days.

Tip #1: You will be harassed at the Panama boarder and potentially barred entrance if you do not have a return ticket to your country of residence. BUT keep a smile and it just might work out like it did for us.

The Story: For $37/person, we booked a shuttle company (CarribeShuttle) to drive us to the Panamanian border, instruct us through the border process and then literally walk us across the bridge into Panama, drive us to Almirante, Panama where we would catch a ferry to Bocas Town. We had our hotel information and flight out of San Jose printed for evidence that we did not plan to stay in Panama indefinitely.  All went as planned until we arrived at the Panamanian boarder office to have our passports stamped. Jacob seems to have taken on the role of “keeper of the passports” and our general family representative. Perhaps it is my reliance on his better Spanish skills but more likely it is because he feels protective of us as the Dad. So, as we are standing in line, Jacob is trying to converse with the official behind glass who seems to be questioning Jacob in a way that sounds like there is a problem. As I move closer, I hear them decide to switch to English (Jacob is still learning) and the gentleman explain that our paperwork showing our flight out of San José to Lima is not sufficient for the Panama visa requirements. We need to show evidence of an airline ticket back to the US, our country of residence. Holy s*$#! What? Jacob stressfully massages his temples and says, “Is there nothing we can do? There must be something”. Oh no. I start drafting the email to my sister in my head “I’m sorry you came all this way, we won’t be able to meet you”. I must have been having this conversation with her in my head for awhile because all the sudden, Jacob is laughing and joking with the man and we are being asked to stand in front of the camera, as entrance requires photos for their computer records, and the gentleman behind the glass is telling us about the festivities expected in Bocas Town that weekend. Jacob is so charming and no, we didn’t pay him off. I’m still not exactly sure how he convinced the man to change his mind; you’ll have to ask Jacob. Of course, I’m not sure he knows either.

Tip #2: Weigh your priorities on where to stay and then be ok with the decision.

The Story: I am sitting at Indi, a restaurant in Bocas Town waiting for the bartender to bring me the café con leche I ordered. My stomach is doing flips with excitement at both the oceanfront scene I am looking out on as well as the solitude that was granted to me by my family. It takes a little while to discover the beauty of Bocas del Toro when staying in Bocas Town. I have awareness that I am viewing my surroundings from the lens of a privileged white woman from the United States and the shock of this area compared to the bliss we experienced in Costa Rica threw me for a loop. Bocas Town has houses in shambles, trash on the streets and in the ocean. The people do not seem as friendly as they were in Costa Rica. When walking on the main street, the restaurants, hotels, bars and tourist shops barricade the view to the ocean. The absolute beauty of this place is hiding behind the vast storefronts that line the street.

Buildings of Bocas Town along the water
Bocas Town

I cannot find the island feel. There is no public pier or place to sit and enjoy the water without making a purchase. The closest beach is a 20-minute walk, polluted with trash and overrun with sand flies, we did not stay there for more than a few minutes during our initial exploration of Bocas Town. We chose to stay in Bocas Town thinking that it would make getting groceries and other things we might need easier. There are accommodations on the other islands but we would need to take a water taxi to Bocas Town for supplies, which, for a family of 4, can get expensive.

So, as I sit here it is no wonder I am in such awe as I take in the scene in front of me. My heart feels so full as I watch the fishing boats and water taxis fly across the water. In the distance I can see the Isla Bastimentos about ¼ mile away thick, jungle forest fills the island and colorful houses dot the shore. To my left is the next closest island of Carenero, it seems like I could probably swim there from here it is so close. What is most striking to me during trips on the water to explore, is how huge the sky appears; nothing but sea and sky with dots of green islands that are dwarfed by the vastness. The sky is usually filled with giant, billowy thunderhead clouds that are gray and white and make an amazing painting at sunset. This is really a beautiful place, a simple life here. Bocas Town has its charm especially at night with the loud cacophony of music being played by groups of people in the plaza; seemingly a competition of who can play their favorite the loudest ends up as one confused sound. It baffles me why they don’t get together and make one large party and take turns with the music, but alas, there is my foreigner lens again. When we arrived, the school down the street from us was rehearsing their marching band performance for the upcoming Bocas Day Parade. This is a big deal for this community. All the school marching bands in the area compete for the large cash prize. There are even adult groups that compete on the last day. It was two full days of snare and base drums marching down main the street. We would have missed that part of the culture if we hadn’t stayed in Bocas Town.

Tip #3: Barter for the right price on water taxis and go to BiBi’s on the Beach for lunch.

The Story: There is so much to explore in Bocas and the only way to do that is by boat. On our first day we tried to get the lay of the land on the cost of taking water taxis. The closest island to Bocas Town is Isla Carenero and, as I said a moment ago, you could practically swim there so when the boat driver said we would need to pay $5/person round trip that seemed ridiculous. Indeed, it was. Our last day in Bocas we went to BiBi’s on Isla Carenero to have lunch, a beer and Squirt (remember Squirt?) We paid $1.50/person one-way and $5 for all of us to get back.  We asked a tour operator with Red Frog Beach Resort how much it should cost us to get to the resort on Bastimentos and she told us t $7/person one way. Later we learned from my sister it should only cost $4/person to reach the Red Frog dock or $3/person for the Old Bank dock. One of many reasons I am grateful Crissey came out.

Lesson here: BARTER!

I have to give a shout out to Bibi’s on the Beach on Isla Carenero. It is a little restaurant that has a few seats inside but most of it is a large deck that extends over the water. We had lunch here, which was one of the best we had while in Bocas. Jacob and I shared a platter of Pulpo (octopus) that was sautéed with onions in a smoky sauce reminiscent of teriyaki and came with long, thin, crispy plantain chips. The scene is so beautiful with the long view of sea and sky that I love so much about the area. We rented some kayaks for $5/90 minutes and paddled around the shore, the water so clear you can see the reefs below which are dotted with yellow and orange starfish. It was a perfect way to spend our last day in Bocas.

Tip #4:  Share an adventure with a sibling and do a boat tour

Amy and Crissey smiling on a boat with a beer
I love this girl

The Story: Quinn’s birthday and Crissey’s birthday are one day apart. What a birthday celebration it was! A man who works on the property where Crissey and Chris stayed also takes guests out on his boat for a tour of the area. Genaro is a very sweet and generous man from Panama. He is a descendant of one of the indigenous tribes in Panama and came to Bocas for a better life than the $2/day indigenous people are paid at his home on the main land of Panama.  The oppression of indigenous people seems to be a theme so far in our journey.  A topic of further investigation for another time perhaps….

On our boat ride, we saw sloths sleeping at Sloth Island, watched dolphins leaping from the water, held starfish, relaxed on an uninhabited island, and snorkeled in crystal clear water. My favorite was pulling up to a small wooden canoe inhabited by a boy no more than Quinn’s age. Genaro asked him where his father was and the boy pointed down into the water. Suddenly, up popped Dad with his snorkel and mask attached to his face. Genaro spoke very fast Spanish to him and then informed us we could buy two lobsters for $2.50, which we happily enjoyed with garlic infused butter made in the guesthouse kitchen at Chris and Crissey’s accommodations later that evening.

I can’t think of a better birthday for anyone, let alone a 6-year-old girl. Quinn was in heaven.Quinn on a boat with hair flying

I am so very grateful for my relationship with my sister. When she told me that she and Chris wanted to come meet us in Panama I was blown away and so excited. They stayed on Bastimentos in a little cabina owned by a woman who lived on the property in a bigger guesthouse. It had no hot water, no air conditioning and no fan. My sister, who hates camping because of bugs and dirt, is going to stay where? I could tell she and Chris were embracing it all and having an adventure all their own. On the day of their arrival, we met them for “happy hour” at Red Frog Beach. Jacob, the girls and I went zip lining there earlier that day and planned it so that we could meet them after for drinks.   I could not believe my eyes when they walked up off the beach. I kept pinching myself that my sister was actually there with me in Panama.

The girls were giddy with excitement to see their Aunt CC. My most favorite part of our time together in Bocas was when we both ended up back in the boat during the snorkeling portion of Quinn’s birthday party, because we both kept seeing so many jellyfish. The warm waters, due to the El Niño, are causing more jellyfish to populate the area. Those dang things are very cool to see gracefully floating in the water but the fear of them got into my head.   I kept thinking I was getting stung so I quickly swam Quinn (who was using a boogie board to stay afloat) and I back to the boat to safety. Crissey had the same fear and joined me shortly after which gave us an opportunity to share a cold beer and giggle like I can only do with her.

Looking back on our time in Bocas del Toro I wouldn’t change a thing. The area is really extremely beautiful. The trash, poor plumbing and infrastructure are due to the nature of a developing country. I don’t want to “look past” these differences but instead see it as a whole. The hustle of tourism and contrast of poverty with amazing natural beauty are what make up Bocas del Toro. As we stood on the dock waiting for the ferry back to Almirante, we ran into Genaro. Crissey and Chris left a few days before us and so we did not get to see him after the birthday boat ride. He stopped and spoke with us until it was time for us to leave. He said he saw us in town a couple of days before and called out to get our attention but we were oblivious. We gave hugs and heartfelt well wishes as we departed.   Perhaps it is not the people who were less friendly but instead my first impression of the area that had me viewing our surroundings in Bocas Town through a negative lens.  I am keenly aware of my privilege of being an educated, white, middle-class woman from the United States and often find myself feeling shame for having the means to go on this journey.  I am trying to find the balance of being proud of my own hard work and choices that got me here while also staying humble, gracious and respectful of all the people and places I meet and visit.  The colorful Caribbean island community of Bocas del Toro is beautiful from the people, to the houses, to the natural world and definitely worth a visit.  I’m glad we went.