Boquete, Panama – A Place of Firsts

By the time we reached Boquete, we were done. Exhausted. There had been many legs to this overland journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.  We were on a dusty, cramped bus.  Hungry, thirsty and with our four-year old who just wanted to run around and play.

Panama-physical-mapAfter a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel.  We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths.  The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive.  They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.

Across the street, there was a large dusty open field where several children would play pick-up soccer matches.  Leo, who was four years old, was in heaven.  He just wanted to run around and play with the children.  We went to the field and played frisbee, a game they had never seen before. My husband Dean and I enjoyed teaching the local children about frisbee.  They caught on quickly – very coordinated and fit but, not a word of English. Ricardo and Eddie proudly showed us two tarantulas.  They poked at these shy but deadly creatures with a piece of hay until their hairy mandibles grasped the hay. Then the children would swing the spider side to side showing us how the tarantula would hold on.  Next, the boys showed us the spiders’ casas, pointing and saying to us, ‘Casa! Casa!’, which was a hole in the dry ground.  The play continued with Leo getting soaked by the water “pistoles”, kicking the soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.

A few easy days passed which saw us walk lazily all over the town of Boquete and explored its various parks and markets.  I bought a huge bag of fruit and vegetables, plus pasta, butter, milk, cheese and eggs, all for less than $20.

One day we stopped into a small place to have some supper.  It was a couple of hours after eating there that Leo began to vomit.  He could keep nothing down, not even little sips of water.  The night hours passed in somewhat of a blur because we were up with him for hours and hours and praying and worrying for him to improve. At one point he was hot to the touch and he began to moan loudly and said’ please help my belly.’ He also screamed with the cramps, burped, vomited and then fell back to sleep. Then he would begin to vomit or wretch again.  I was worried.  In the morning he became listless and I screamed at Dean to get a taxi…NOW!  Destination, the medical clinic.

We walked into the clinic, Dean carrying a listless Leo, and within about five minutes, Leo was hooked up to an IV for re-hydration.  The local doctor spoke perfect English because he had been away to the States for a work term.  He answered all of our questions and re-assured us that Leo would be fine once he was re-hydrated.  The nurse came into the room and tucked a hand-stitched quilt tenderly around Leo.  I was left wondering if we would have received this level of care in Halifax.  Wait, first we would have had to shovel the driveway, drive the 20 minutes to the children’s hospital and then find parking.  Then we’d wait in emerg.  It would have likely been hours, depending on the triaging at the time of our arrival. Here, it was minutes and we were the only folks in the clinic and they were totally and completely sweet to us.  The fee was so small it was negligible.  Leo rested and slept with the IV in his arm.  When he was awake, we read to him and told him stories.  Later that day, we all walked out of there.

Unfortunately, the vomiting continued shortly after we got back to our hostel, so we had a repeat performance at the clinic.  Then we took Leo out to a restaurant and ordered him a bowl of soup.  He promptly threw up into the soup bowl.  After that, we were ‘soup-er‘ careful.  He directed what his tummy could handle.  It was in Boquete that Leo had his first ever can of pop. Canada Dry Ginger Ale, of course.  And, it stayed down. Boquete was also the place where Leo learned to tie his shoes.  Add playing with the tarantulas and having an IV re-hydration and it was the place of firsts.  We will fondly remember Boquete, even though we had a scare there.

From Panama we made our way back to Costa Rica to catch our fight home to Canada.  There were several over-land legs to the journey back and it was bitter sweet as we knew our big four-month adventure had come to an end.

We landed in Toronto and made our way west to visit our family in the area…Eva and family, Amy and family, Mark and family who threw a very large and fun 35th birthday for moi, with tons of balloons and with a big cake, singing and story-telling.  We laughed and laughed.  At one point I reached into my jeans and pulled out the stretched-out waist band of my once white but now grey, worn out underwear to illustrate the struggle of over-land, back-packer-style travel.  Everyone smiled and nodded.  Now they GOT it!  Some had assumed we were resorting the whole time or something.

From there we went to Scarborough to stay with Paulie for several days.  Leo just LOVED being with his big cousins who indulged him so much.  Paulie and I worked on clearing out unneeded stuff so that she and Seth could sell up and move to London.  The nearby vertical slum was pushing them out and Dean and I wanted to help them get going.

Then it was on to Halifax and the launching of our quest for A Simple East Coast Life.  Read On!

La Cucaracha Report ~ Ometepe & Costa Rica

I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brother….Little River Band

6 Feb 2004

Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway.  The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now...little white pills.  Seasickness be damned.  Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego.  Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office.  With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end.  There are so many ways to live.  We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds.  Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land.  Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy.  He is a commercial painter in California.  He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.

Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup.  As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.

Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods.  It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.  

In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders.  I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera.  It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua.  Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat.  He is giggling with glee.

gullsWhen we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads.  They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust.  The place smells amazingly sweet because of it.  Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing.  We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool.  They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him.  The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture.  We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.

I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise:  a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face.  Holy shit.  Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me.  I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door.  Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.

When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge.  We marveled at the temperature of the sea.  It was TEPID!!!  Who knew the ocean could be tepid??  It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia.  The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe.  Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand.  It was heavenly.

Dad and Leo CR

We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us.  We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.  mom and leo CR

We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer.  He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay.  Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer-boy place.  When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest.  Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door.  You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death.  There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where.  Lovely.

The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma.  We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it.  At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep.  Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile with kind eyes at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo.   We walked around the village and then had lunch.  It was impossible to relax outside.  It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous.  Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.strangler fig

After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence.  So cute.  I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand.  As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel  to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees.  At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it.  My laugh was more of a nervous titter.

Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.

Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence!  He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet.  It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups.  We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.

From my journal, written 13 February 2004

We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel.  It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to.  One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona).  Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap.  She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen, candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’ 

Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny.  Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride.  The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam.  I noticed.  The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus.  Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Next stop…Panama.