I received my first friend visit! Maren Gersich, Brent Schavitz, Kevin Sproule, Cris Kodiak, Matt (Pug) Palmieri, Trey and Kate Robinson. It was a week to remember, a week for the history books.
We started out our adventure in the city. The crew whisked me away to the Marriott (the land of hot showers and Pug’s platinum membership lounge of non-stop American goodies). First day, we toured the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo (old town). Next day, we took a day trip off the coast to Isla Taboga, and spent the evening after at the causeway for dinner and drinks. We spent a few nights out tearing it up on Calle Uruguay, wrapped up in our own private dance party and playing at the casinos til dawn. After our city tour, we had a frustrating run-in with the Decameron resort in Cocle (where poor Schavitz realized he had booked us for El Salvador!) But we made the best of it, and spent the afternoon at the beach in Santa Clara and found a hole-in-the-wall, authentic Mexican restaurant with quite possibly the best jumbo margaritas and chips and salsa. Regardless of the situation or problem at hand, I don’t think I’ve ever traveled quite so smoothly with a group. I feel so fortunate to have a group of friends so laid back, up for anything and so in-sync with one another.
Our next stop: CARNIVAL. We rented a car and booked it down to the Azuero, to Las Tablas, for Panama’s most famous carnival celebration. My friend Patrick, from UW, hooked us up with his cousins and extended family who live there. They are an incredible family, the absolute epitomy of Panamanian hospitality and they went out of their way for us (Grandma even rubbed our back and fed us sancocho when we had had too much to drink). Carnival itself was unreal, a binge of drinking, dancing and complete pandemonium. We spent two days soaking wet in the calles and discotecas, wandering in the dichotomy of drag queens and Panamanian polleras. We took off for Boacs del Toro the morning after the craziness, tired and hungover, but we knew we had truly experienced Carnival in its entirety.
Our stay in Bocas del Toro was amazing. The main island, Isla Colon, feels like an overgrown fishing village, touristy but still charming and with a laid back, bohemian vibe. We stayed at a quaint little hotel in the bay of Isla Colon. The highlight of the trip was renting a boat and touring around the different islands, dolphin watching, snorkeling and surfing.
Al final, we made it up the Chagres and to Embera Drua on the last leg of our adventures. Sharing my little village with this crew was truly amazing. We ALL fit in my little hut, believe it or not! Maren, Kevin and I took over my double bed, and Trey, Kodiak, Brent and Pug somehow fit in my big room in a careful intertwining of thermarests and mosquito nets. During the day we did the tourist spiel, learning about Embera culture and watching the dances. In the afternoon the boys played soccer with the kids, everyone got painted up in jagua and even practiced their limited Spanish trying to get to know my community members (so cute!). Ending up at my village was the perfect end to a perfect week. It meant so much to me that this group took the time off their lives in Chicago, organized themselves and made it all the way out to my little haven here in the jungle of Panama. I am truly blessed to have such great people in my life.