Thursday, January 31, 2013


Every great adventure has highs and lows.

We woke early in the Kuna Yala.  We took a boat to a jeep.  The jeep took hairy, switch-back turns through jungly mountains before arriving in Panama City five hours later.  We headed to the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City to grab lunch.  From there we headed to the bus depot to hitch a ride for David, 8 hours west.  We sat next to a cute young boy who happily chatted most of the ride.  We arrived in David around 8 or 9 pm with another hour to travel before reaching Boquete.  Somehow, we navigated the crowded bus station to find our own Diablo Rojo, or converted school bus, to travel up the mountain to Boquete.  It was a Friday night & the bus was packed with young couples.  We felt conspicuous and cumbersome, loaded down with luggage.  Tropical breezes floated through open windows, bachata played loudly, & I saw Phillies paraphernalia on the driver's dash-- we were in Chooch's territory.

We made it to a desolate town square late at night.  We tried to make sense of our map to find the hostal we had reserved.  Eventually locating it, the gate was locked.  A night watchman was asleep on the couch.  Finally, we roused him (& several neighbors) & were shown our room.  I was so exhausted.

In the morning I woke up to find this:
Boquete is a charming mountain town.  I highly reccomend finding time to visit!  Though perhaps not arriving the same day you depart from the San Blas...

Kevin & I were immediately enchanted.  There are several coffee fincas in the surrounding mountains.  You can find these coffee plantations around the world.  Thus far, my favorite is a worker-run & environmentally-sustainable coffee collective in Nicaragua, though it's become my favorite via a friend's story.  I've only visited Cafe Sitton in Boquete.  Not a cooperative, but an intriguing story of my favorite beverage.

So much verdant coffee!
Coffee drying in the sun.  From there we headed to the warehouse.
Play time!  Fear not-- we were assured the roasting process would remove gringo foot.
One more for the road.  We also made time to head to the local hot springs.  The coolest part of heading down to these naturally occurring springs was passing the sweetest farm en route!

Cold refreshing river & hot springs.  The best!

Kevin went ziplining.

I wanted to hike Sendero de los Quetzales.  This trail is epic.  From Boquete we took a Diablo Rojo down into David & then back up the other side of the mountains to Cerro Ancon.
Trail conditions are notoriously variable so we hired a guide.  
The trail was super scary at moments.
& then magic.
Those moments felt other-worldly.  

Then you go into the super-market & play with machetes.
& get treats on your way out of town


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Golfo de Chiriqui

In 2010 Kevin & I had planned to round out our Panamanian adventure in the celebrated Bocas del Toro.  While there's much to be said for Bocas, it wasn't quite our speed.  Plus, it was rainy.  We boarded a collectivo & headed back to David.  We picked the brains of some fellow travelers, talked to locals, & consulted Lonely Planet.  We decided to head to the less-visited Golfo de Chiriqui, an hour south of David.

It's not the easiest place to reach.

From David, we convinced a taxi to drive us to the gulf.  I had called a hotel owner from Bocas, so they met us at the port.  Otherwise we would have been fairly stranded pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully that didn't happen.  (I believe in logistical organization.)

We stayed at a small hotel.  It was super cheap.  The food was great.  People were awesome.  Animal life everywhere.  That said, it was an uncomfortable mattress on a tile floor.  The only other options in this area were two resorts catering to sport fishing.  If you're so inclined you can find lots of sport fishers, world sailers, & retirees in Panama.

Depending on their plan, some sailers will fuel up in this area before making the big Pacific trek to Fiji or New Zealand.  We met several world boaters & visited a few vessels.  It's a surprisingly accessible adventure if you're strategic.

I spent my mornings like this:
Then walked to the swimming cove, saying hi to these guys:
It was a great walk.
Then hours swimming laps & reading under a tree:
At night we played cards with staff & guests.  That's it.  If it sounds boring to you, you probably shouldn't go.  Personally, I believe in boredom.  Going somewhere with less stimulus is immensely healing.  No TVs, radios, telephones.  Just incredible, natural beauty.  Great company.  The time to listen to my own internal rhythms.  That's my travel philosophy-- always end somewhere peaceful.  Come home refreshed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bocas del Toro

Mouths of the Bull.  This region is aptly named-- it's wild.  This archipelago stretches through the northwest corner of Panama to the border of Costa Rica.  It's on Panama's northern, Atlantic coast.  This region is generally a rain forest.  That makes it lush & green but also, often, rainy.

Like the San Blas, it's easiest to fly to Bocas.  There are plenty of flights from Panama City.  We were coming from Boquete, which is relatively near Bocas, but actually quite a journey overland given infrastructure & mountains.  From Boquete we took a bus down the mountain to David.  In David we found another bus... well, more of a collectivo, or van, that took us five mountainous hours to Almirante.  I can generally find something of merit in each new destination.  Almirante is a port town.  Seedy.  A little shady.  I'm sure there is much of merit.  It's in a beautiful region.  However, port towns & far flung communities are often denied the resources they need to safely care for their citizenry.  This may well be the case.  I wouldn't advise away from traveling overland to Almirante, but I would say be aware.

From Almirante we took a water taxi to Bocas town on Isla Colon.  If we flew, we would have landed on Isla Colon & bypassed Almirante.  Bocas town is pretty wild.  If you love nightlife, you've got it here.  Plenty of bars, restaurants, & clubs.  There is a huge variety in how to enjoy the beaches & surrounding islands.  Some of the adventures are low-impact & wonderful.  However, there were some tourist offerings that are downright immoral.  There are tours to dolphin breeding grounds, which is incredibly invasive & dangerous to dolphins.  Don't support these practices nor the tour operators.  We steered clear of the wildness & opted for bikes to take us to some beautiful beaches, like Boca del Drago
Generally, the roads in Panama are pretty good.  However, I've never found uniform consistency in Central American roads.  This photo makes the bike ride seem pretty straight-forward.  Don't believe the hype.  There were pot-holes deeper than I am tall.  Here the road was asphalt, at many moments it was not.
Boca Drago was absolutely lovely.  There's a small inn at this beach.  It's a good distance from town, which I consider an asset.  The only reason why we didn't move to this end of the island is due to food isolation-- there are many more places to eat in Bocas Town.
Like Om Cafe!

Bocas is culturally distinct from many other regions in Panama.  There are beautiful cemeteries that reminded me of New Orleans.  There's a larger Afro-Panamanian population with unique music, dance, & culinary traditions.  & your experience can vary greatly depending where you land.

We took a water taxi to Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastamentos.
I preferred Isla Bastamentos to Isla Colon, where Bocas Town is located.  Isla Bastamentos is more remote, more wild.  Red Frog beach is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

There are a few eco-lodges in the area.  I was most interested in one on Bastamentos with solar-powered showers & an organic cacao farm!

Ultimately, we wanted sun.  We left Bocas earlier than we'd planned to head back to the Pacific side & consistently sunny skies.  There's a lot in Bocas & I would reccomend it to other travelers.  It's also nice to be sufficiently flexible to move when the spirit calls!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Trolley Reflection

A friend asked two questions, "Do you write fiction?" & "What are you scared to publish/make public?"

Yes.  Not as much as I would like.

Most everything.  Especially what's personal.  I think about what to share... I have shared some personal information on my blog.  I try to weigh my own need for privacy.  I try to find the line between exhibitionism versus exploring universal experience.

I used to write a LOT of poetry.  I was the "Poet Laureate" of my graduating high school class.  I was published in some journals and performed frequently.  When I got to college, I was consumed with academic & personal, emotional work.  That path lead me quickly to an absolute commitment to social justice work.  My poetry had been a way to shed light on issues that felt unaddressed.  My activist community didn't know the meaning of the word repression.  All issues were illuminated, discussed, debated.  My creative work became coalition building and organizing with teams towards specific goals and projects.  My personal writing felt less pertinent.

I'm now trying to bridge that gap.  I still love poetry.  I love poets who are also political activists.  My favorite poets are Suheir Hammad, Nazim Hikmet, Pablo Neruda, Marilyn Buck, among others.  Hikmet and Buck were political prisoners.  All are or were involved in social justice work.

I've been cleaning out the house-- "shedding weight" as Kevin says.  I found poems I wrote while living in West Philadelphia.  I printed them on the back of wine menus from the restaurant where I was waiting tables.  I'm scared to share this, but I would like to write more.  I would like to honor the space between collaborative art, free flowing information and support, requisite privacy, and boundaries.  I'm scared, but I'm sharing.

Trolley Reflection

Seat's not wet so I sit next
to a man writing in a notebook.  I think
I read, "Reflections of a life..." in
sloppy script and then I quickly
avert my glance.  Those are not my words
to read.  I enjoy sitting by this man
writing, as his arm gently shakes against mine to
the beat of his cramped pen.  The trolley emerges into
open air at 40th Street and I am
struck by the deep, opaque, electric
blue of the sky.  The sight warrants more
description: it seems damp against inky
stains of black tree limbs.  My glance
falls to lime-yellow-green leaves on
the trees below the unnatural light of
street lamps.  I feel that image and
color stick to my memory as viscerally
as sweaty thighs or dried lips.  I see the stop
light change colors through the kaleidoscope and
smears of raindrops on the windshield.  The humidity calls
out fingerprints lodged on the panes-- dragged out
hands sliding easily across the glass only
recalled now in the reaction between cool air and
hot human breath.  The man beside me pauses, checks
a preceding page, and resumes his verse.  Mine is
mental now, thoughts beating, rattling his mind and mine in
time to that arm painting with a pen.  A tired young
girl stretches out her skinny leg, resting her
pretty eyes on her lap.  I silently pray that her
legs have only been touched by bath bubbles, swimming
pool splashes, and sunshine.  I press my lids
together and hope that the men in her life use
a pen to deal with beauty and pain, and not
her young body.  As my eyes release
I see my street through the sliding windshield wipers.  Descending
into dark night rain, stopping at the red light, then
home.  Footsteps over the same cracked walk, mind over
the same torn memories.  The sky drips rain into lamplight.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kuna Yala

Kuna Yala, or the San Blas, is paradise.  No equivocation.  This archipelago is sun-splashed, largely sheltered from wild currents, & pristine.  The Kuna Yala is also sovereign territory within Panama, governed by the Kuna people.  Traveling here supports the economy of this self-sufficient Indigenous territory.
As with most places worth getting to, the travel isn't easy.  You can fly from Panama City, but it can get a little costly.  In 2010, a hostal in Panama City, Luna's Castle, offered jeep rides through the mountain jungles.  It took about five hours door to door & was harrowing at moments.  Of course, this was several years ago. This is one of those mythical roads that is under perpetual construction always promising big things.  I am skeptical, but the road could have improved.
However, difficult roads yield magical moments.  You do get these type of views:
Once in Carti you either meet a representative from your hotel or go to an island where you can camp or find a hammock.  We had made reservations at Kuanidup & were met with a ride.  First you travel by boat up river.
Emerging to the ocean, & sights like this:
Taking a jeep ride to the Kuna Yala is not terribly expensive.  If you camp or stay in a hostel on one of the more accessible islands the whole experience can cost next to nothing.  Alternately, you can fly & stay at a high end resort.  Some of the resorts are ecologically sustainable & good ventures to support.  We chose middle ground-- Kuanidup.  Kuanidup is owned by Kuna people, low-impact, but more affordable.
We kept pinching ourselves.  This place is gorgeous.  Here's the trade-off with traveling to remote, pristine locales: you might sleep in a thatch hut on sand floors.  There might be little agriculture on the islands (more on the mainland interior, towards the Darien, a subject for another post), which means that meals are largely caught-- lobster, crab, fish-- & paired with coconut rice, eggs, & any available fruit.  There's absolutely nothing to do.  Nothing.  Bring books.  Maybe play hours of horse.

Kevin & I are great with all of the above.  Kevin lives for crab so he was absolutely thrilled with the diet.  I was pretty tired of coconut rice, eggs, & pineapple, but it does get the job done.  I could deal with perpetually sandy feet & the related sandy bed.  Cold showers from rain water were fine as well-- it is hot out!

Once we surrender to the sweet peace we read.  Read, eat, sleep with the darkness, rise with the light.  Run around.  Hug each other gleefully.  Read.

I've sent honeymooners on sailboats throughout the islands.  If you stay on Kuanidup or another hotel you generally make your own fun.  In the afternoons we often had the option to boat to another island.  Sometimes we nixed the plan for more swimming, reading, & being happy.

At night our hosts made bonfires.  We pretty much went to bed.  Listened to the waves splashing feet away from our bed.

The only hard part was leaving.

I love supporting the Kuna community & sending people here.  If you want help managing the logistics email  Hot dreams for cold days...