Subject:The place with the door to the left of the Om cafe
Going back in to Costa Rica is easy, however, they have a real well run scam to get you to give them $5. In an effort to stop the hoards of people obviously trying to defect to Costa Rica, as you enter, you need to prove that you do in fact plan to leave the country at some later time. If you have your plane ticket home, thats fine. I do not have one of these. I dont plan to stay, but technically, I have no way to prove that. So, in order to enter the country, you have to go to the pharmacy, where a lady will sell you a bus ticket back to Panama for $5, then stamp it cancelled. She doesnt work with or represent the bus company, and if you wanted a real bus ticket anywhere, she couldnt help you. However, shes happy to sell you bus ticket from Limon to Almirante. And shes in Sixola. Basically a big scam. I tried to kick up a fuss, but its really no use. However, if I do head back to Costa Rica, I will print out some fake flight info, which I feel should be just as valid as a fake bus ticket. To top it all off, every local is allowed to pass freely across the border without so much as showing ID. Odd.
"Tomorrow, we'll show you our ditch". That has to be hands down the most unfemine thing any female has ever said to me. However, after arriving back at the Finca Lomas where my friends work, that was the most recent accomplishment by this group of girls. Oh, and heres a tip for any 18-22 year old guys who might be subscribed to this list looking for something adventurous to do. Go to Central America and volunteer. I met so many volunteers going through my travels, and guess what, they're all female. No one can figure out exactly why. Take the number of volunteers at any given place, subtract 1, and put that number : 1, and that will give you the ratio. Finca Lomas was no exception. 7 girls, one guy.
Finca Lomas is a real neat place. 20 minute trek in to the jungle, its a complete working organic farm that has no supervisor. The volunteers run the place totally, with someone coming to check that the place hasnt burned down about once a month. Rainwater is collected for drinking and bathing, candles are used at night for light, and volunteers spend their days planting trees, collecting seeds, growing vegitables, feeding chickens, baking bread, and yes, digging ditches around the garden. Awesome little place.
Back to Panama yet again, and my passport now has more pages of Costa Rica and Panama stamps than the rest of the countries combined.
I headed back to the hotel in Bocas I stayed at last time, mostly to pick up my surfboard. The place is really the pits. I intended to stay there only for a couple nights while looking for somewhere better. Its like someone built a dock, then decided to throw up some walls, and heck, put a couple of hinges and padlocks in there to make doors, throw some tin on top for a roof and viola! You've got a hotel. Yeah, thats about it. My room has a bed, a fan, and a bare lightbulb on the end of a cord. This hotel even lacks a name. Its simply "the place with the door to the left of the Om cafe". I hated it, and swore I would move when I found something better.
One of the residents, Helmut, from Germany, has some fascinating stories. He'll tell them all to you as he plows through his packs of Marlboro Reds. This sort of behaivor might be unhealthy, but for a man who has eacaped death as many times as he has, I don't think he really minds. He has lived all over the world, including the Phillipines for 18 years where he designed and built boats, including his own style of custom catamaran whose hulls were divided, esentially making 4 hulls. He made 26 of them before he was captured by muslim extremists and held hostage for 13 months, then the government came in with 4000 troops to exterminate the group, blew the place to bits and rescued him in the process.
Later that afternoon, I was sitting on the dock of "the place with the door to the left of the Om cafe", reading my book, talking with the fishermen. I have to say, this was a bit of a turning point in my spanish. Until then, all of my conversations had been for survival purposes. This was my first unnecessary conversational attemt. I sat there with my dictionary, and looked up the word for annoying so that I could remark at how annoying it was the place next door had been playing the same song for the past 3 hours straight. They looked back, rolled their eyes and said "todo dia, todo los dias". All day, every day. And they were right. Ever since then, if you hear music while sitting on the back deck, its that song. I have no idea what song it is, but its in english and has a UB40 sound to it. To the credit of the people playing it, it is kinda catchy. I dont even mind hearing it repeatedly, but I think if I were given the remote I would turn off the "Repeat 1" feature and see whats on the rest of the disc.
My fishermen were slow to realize that I was in fact studying spanish. They'd talk to me fast, despite the fact I'd ask them to slow down. I'd waive the dictionary at them and tell them that I am still learning. They're catching on, and when I ask them about words, they'll even go so far as to tell me synonyms that are mroe commonly used. Sometimes they ask what the word is in english, but more just for curiousity. I've offered to teach them english, and they just chuckle. Or did I offer to feed them english. I hope I got that right. :)
Later that night, one of the girls staying in the hotel came back, and the fisherman proudly showed her a bowl containing the largest catch of the night. This fish was a good 10 inches long. You can easily find much larger ones in your average supermarket, I know, but this happened to be about 4 inches longer than anything else I had seen them catch. You could tell he expected to get a reaction of someone who was truly impressed. Unfortunately, most people dont react that way when shown what is essentially a bowl containing a dead fish. "Eew", was more the reaction he got. I was impressed, but you could tell he wanted to impress her more than me.
We chatted for a bit, and made arrangements to meet the day after the next, as I had met a local guy taking me out to look at properties the next day.
This local guy is a guy who has been working in real estate for about 5 years now. He's a guy that you really need to have to find something around here. Let me see if I can explain why.
The local Panamanians here have been living here for centuries. They have been farming and fishing these lands for as long as they have been here. Most of them just set up house on one of the large islands and picked an area and started farming it. Well, 20 years ago, when tourism started to take off, someone got the idea of selling the beachfront area of their property. See, the farmers dont really need the waterfront area. They want the fertile land behind it, and have since legally laid claim to their farm, including the waterfront. They are now authorized to sell as much as they like, and the tourists are happy to buy up the waterfront areas. Trick is to find who owns what, who wants to sell, who doesnt, and what is worth building on, what is easy to navigate a boat to (some coral reefs make getting places impossible at low tide), for all this and more, you need a local guy who knows the lay of the land.
I have spent the last 3 days out looking, and every single thing I have seen is beautiful. Each has its own considerations (proximity to town, resale potential, building techniques needed). Sadly, very few are actually islands. The islands are actually the cheapest, but pose the most considerations.
I looked at about 15 properties, but liked these two the best:
1 acre island, near Isla San Cristobal. Great Location, 10 minutes from Bocas, no coral through route. Island overlooks bay where dolphins can be seen playing every morning. Drawbacks, surrounded by mangroves, which while pretty, can attract bugs. Also, property could be succeptable to squatters.
Another couple of interesting things about Bocas. It has a fun but relaxed nightlife. Small crowds are spread out over several bars each night. At 9pm, a siren sounds over the town. After this time, it is against the law to be out without ID. This was in response to petty crimes. They'd catch suspects with no ID, and couldnt take them in, but just got a name, usually fake. Now, if they find someone, they can get a valid name, or take them in to jail until they can be questioned or positively ID'd.
However, I dont know why the siren is needed. We get about 15 minutes of rain each night sometime between 8:45 and 9:15. You could almost set your watch to it.
Ok, I had planned to spend tomorrow surfing, but hear the report is that the surf is almost non-existent. So, I'll ask at the surfshop tomorrow and we'll see.
Perhaps just another day sitting around at "the place with the door to the left of the Om cafe".
Exploring in your own backyard is fun. I was emailing with a freind in Australia the other day on that very topic. All the time I lived in DC, I usually tried to find or do something different as often as I could, which was much like the thrill of travelling. Which is probably why after spending over a week here, it still feels like exploring somewhere new each day. In fact, there are things that you seem to miss passing through a place for a day or two. Things that you might have even been looking right at but you just really didnt take notice of it unless you see them a few times.
And then theres things like the celebration in the park going on when I left the internet cafe after my last update. The whole town had turned out for a big celebration in central park. I headed back to the hotel to see if I could find someone else who would want to go.
As best as we could gather, this was a celebration of the 100 years of independence for Panama, although Independence Day is on November 3rd. Guess they're starting early. They had a good jazz band playing and lots of free food, although it aparently wasnt for eating. It was all covered when we got there at 8pm, these booths and booths of food. I dont know the word for "uncover" so I would be able to ask when this particular action will happen to this food, so I bumbled my way through various verbs to get an answer close to "not yet". By 9pm, they finally uncovered the food and crowds moved in. But no one touched. To know my eating habits, is to know that this is like dangling candy in front of a baby with fangs. You dont do this. I wondered if everyone just was too shy to be the first to take some. So I asked if I could try a bite. The answer was no. When? Not yet. Right. The Canadians and I headed somewhere we could eat the food we could see, despite the fact we would have to pay for it. The night ended with some pretty impressive fireworks, and a swim off the back deck of our hotel.
There were several students from the US currently studying in Costa Rica who had come down for their vacation to Panama and were staying at the hotel. They told me they were interested in doing "the tour" and asked if I wanted to join. The tour is a circuit of 1) going to see the dolphins in Dolphin Bay when they come out about 9am, then 2) going snorkeling at Crawl Key, then 3) going to a beach on Bastimentos Island. About 10 companies offer the same tour, and no one really does anything different. Same 3 places, same order. I had spent 4 straight days looking at properties, and analyzing, learning, discussing. I just wanted to relax and get to know the area. The trip was fun, and the snorkeling was amazing. Beautiful waters, and beautiful areas.
Later that night, the students and I headed out to Bastimentos Island for the weekly Saturday night reggae party, not to be confused with the weekly Monday night reggae party. The Saturday one seems to be more for the locals, whereas the non-locals are more welcome to "Blue Monday". In other words, the reggae is a bit harder on Saturday, and being caucasion, you'll stick out a bit more. But the vibe is incredible and the people very friendly, and the beers $.50.
You need to take a boat to get there, and the place the party is held at is basically a large pavillion, with a small enclosed area to sell drinks from, and a massive sound system inside. 3 sides are closed with tarps, which stop the wind from going through. To escape the heat created by the dance floor, people go outside to the basketball court next to the pavillion. I have to say, if I was a basketball player, this would be my dream court. It is 15 feet from the beach at the nearest corner, and surrounded by palm trees all around. As its located on a point, you can see about 180 degrees of water, beach, and surrounding tropical islands.
As we were outside cooling off, a group of rasta guys near us darted around on the court taking shots with an imaginary ball. I looked over and said "You should bring a ball and shoot, theres a full moon...". And there was. It just seemed like it would be cool. Basketball at night, reggae blaring in the background, waves crashing. But instead of agreement, I got more of a "who asked you, honkey?" kind of look. Just then, one of the guys ran up and attempted to grab the hoop, and missed by an inch, thus illiciting massive whoops and hollers of ribbing from the others. Anyone who has ever played any sport with me knows I lack any sort of co-ordination. Thats why I started running. Any sport that ends in "-ball", I cant begin to play. But for some reason, when the skills of catching, throwing, hitting or kicking (which I don't possess) wern't looking, the skill of jumping found its way in to my system. Don't ask me how. But I calmly put down my beer, took a run and jumped for the hoop. If a hoop is regulation 10ft, I can touch it. This one was slightly bent, making it about 9'8". Not only did I touch it, but grabbed on and pulled my knees up like a true NBAer, hung for a second or two, turned about 90 degrees and dropped. Its amazing what a little thing like that can do. It can bring you instant respect from rastas on a basketball court. I was instantly being high-fived and asked what my name was, and given complicated handshakes I'd never be able to duplicate on my own or even describe. I stayed and talked with them for a while longer, all the while praying in my head, "please dont go get a ball, please dont go get a ball, please dont go get a ball...."
So now I have a small bunch of local friends for no other reason that I grabbed a rim. :) But its cool, and nice to walk through town and have people call your name.
Another neat thing is that the tourist-grabbers stop going after you after about a week. Anybody who has travelled to lower income areas is probably familiar with this drill. Being any traveler of European decent, getting out of a cab, train, boat, border, or airplane, you are instantly accosted by throngs of people vying for your business of some offering or another. The very first time it happens, its extremely overwhelming. I liken it to a cross between being a teen idol and stepping out of a limo and having 10,000 fans rush you for an autograph, and being a piece of meat at the zoo and being thrown to the loins. Somewhere between the two, is the feeling. You step out of an airport, and there are 50 people who want your business for a cab, another 25 offering tours and another 50 who want to lead you to a great hotel, all of them shouting, grabbing, showing, or taking your bags for you despite the fact you dont want them to. You have money to spend and they want you to spend it on them, or somewhere they get a commission bringing you to. Its something you get used to, and begin to know the routine - look for an honest face, pick a cab, hold your bag tight and get out. In Bocas, there are people offering tours and bike rentals and hotels and they'll ask you if you need any of these services as you walk down the street. Bocas is actually nicer, as they ask you, then let you walk on, and they dont seem to have the numbers that other places have. But after a week, they recognize you, and they just say hi.
The majority of the rest of my week has been filled with swimming, surfing, running, relaxing, and just hanging out, all inbetween looking at properties. I made an offer on something, but have re-considered as I have found out some regulations that would make it impossible to build what I would want to do, if I do ever decide to build on it. The surf has been quite bad the past few days, but is supposed to pick up soon.
I was also able to meet up with Rene, who I traveled through Guatemala with. It was great to catch up and see a friendly face again.
Also, I met 4 guys in their mid-20's from Norway at the hotel the other day. Together they bought a 28-foot sailboat, and although only 2 of them had minimal sailing experience and the other 2 had no sailing expereince, they set out to sail to Central America. It was the first time any of them did any long sailing, and they managed to cross the Atlantic. Their journey has taken them 20 months, through Europe, Africa, South America and now Central America. They just sold the boat and are headed home in 3 days. Their website is at www.cassiopea.no It is in Norweigan, but if you click on the British flag on the homepage, there is a breif description of the trip in English.
All for now,
Sand Flys. No-see-ums. Minges. What ever you want to call them I call them one of the worst things to ever happen to people with sweet blood, such as yours truly. These little things have turned my body in to a virtual land mine feild of bug bites. Well, actually, they dont bite, they spit poison at you and it just looks like a bug bite. Regardless, someone at the hotel looked at my legs the other day and their comment was, (allow me to quote) "Eew, that's gross". If I had seen it on someone elses legs, I might say the same thing.
Anyway, the place with the door to the left of the Om cafe, suddenly became the "cool spot" to hang out. It might have had something to do with Semana Santa, the Central American easter holiday, which is celebrated hugely. The whole of Central America has off work Wednesday to sometime around the following Monday. Everything shuts down, and people head to the beach. With the fact that all the hotels were sold out, our hotel suddenly became full, and with mostly travelers. Fun travelers at that.
Later that night, the big Semana Santa parade was going through town. About 300 people walk through the streets of Bocas, the person in the front carrying a large wooden cross, and the people next to him with a microphone hooked to a large speaker. The group would stop periodically, and a child would step forward from the crowd and read a scripture passage in to the mic, and then they would move on. They seemed to stop at all the houses who had placed crosses and candles out front, which seemed to be about 20 or 30 houses. We walked along with the crowd for a bit.
The bar we ended up at was Barco Hundido, also known as "The Wreck Deck". The owner of this piece of property had bought this piece of waterfront cheap as it had a large sunken boat in front of it, making it seemingly unusable. Unless of course you build a bar over it, by creating a labrynth of pagodas and walkways over the wreck, and lighting up the reef and fish below. Amazing idea.
For easter, Michael and I headed over to the house of friends he had met while he was here, Keith and Cher. Keith and Cher are part of a new wave of people migrating to this area. This wave of people all seem to be from Florida, and all seem to be divorced. The men will tell you some story of how the wife got it all, so they took what little was left and came down here to start again and to get as far from her as possible. All the time explaining this, they're waiving their hands wildly to emphasize the enormity of the situation, and causing the gold chains to whap both sides of the unbuttoned hawaiian shirt. I think this scared me out of wanting to buy something down here, although Keith and Cher I did like a lot. I am not from Florida, and I am not divorced, and I am not running away from anyone. I really didnt mesh with these people, and they make the majority of the full time residents who have migrated here. The people I really vibe with are the travelers just here for a week or two.
So I spent the next few days teetering on if I wanted to buy property here. Investment factors, people factors, growth factors, travel factors, do-I-want-to-come-back-here-factors, and the what-if-I-meet-someone-and-shes-not-a-divorced-Floridian-and-she-has-no-desire-to-come-to-Panama factors. All these things going through my head.
In the end, I decided last night to pass on the purchase and keep going. I can tell you why, but it would double the size of this already long email. If anyone wants information on investing in Bocas, I'm happy to share what I have found in my 3 weeks here. I think this place is fantastic to invest in, just not for someone intent on traveling for the next year and a half.
Disaster struck the other day, in that my laptop has seemed to stop working. The photos I had planned to post today are in there, and I cant get it to turn on. Furthermore, I cant get any new photos off my camera until I get it fixed. I think the only place that I might find someone capable of fixing it is Panama City. Which means I need to head there and have to pass on Keith and Chers offer of sailing their boat to Columbia or Equador with them next week. I don't know if that would have been feasable or not, but with no other place I can think to get the laptop fixed, I think I have to go to Panama City.
Still no idea where I will head after that. Panama seems to be that point. There are 5 people at my hotel in the same situation. "I've reached Panama, now where?" I have toyed with going to Europe for the weather, to South America for the fact its close, and to skip the whole lot and go to Australia and travel there with a freind who has the time now but might not later. I still havent decided, but its nice to know that there are others with my same decision. :)
I'll decide in Panama city. :)
All for now,