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30 Aug

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is possibly the best book I have read since starting my travels.

Every hostel, at least the decent ones, has a book exchange. So I started out with one book, ‘Eat, Love and Pray’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, and when I had finished it I swapped it for ‘The Female Nomad’ by Rita Golden Gelman. Don’t worry, not everything I read had some kind of feminist ‘fulfill yourself’ theme!

My most recent read has been Blink. I found it in the Heike Hostel bookswap and I couldn’t put it down. I went on a snorkelling trip today but every free moment (i.e on the beach) was spent with my head in this book. The cover says it is about ‘the art of thinking without thinking’, which doesn’t really explain anything.

It is centred on the idea of ‘thin-slicing’, which Gladwell explains as peoples ability to gauge what it important by a feeling, rather than by endless research or investigation – too much information can actually overload many decisions. He gives loads of great examples, most of which are listed here. I’m probably way behind as this book was published in 2005, but I’m very glad that I found it.

Tomorrow, onwards to Costa Rica. I’m actually looking forward to getting back to the city.


Finally off the sofa and back to the beach

29 Aug

So, who knows what the mystery illness was. Random epileptic fit? Anaphalactic shock? De-hidration? Whatever happened it was scary.

After a short rest I made my way to Bocas del Toro, which is a group of islands on the caribbean coast of Panama, just by the border with Costa Rica. I still wasn´t feeling that great, but had made plans to meet up with Bronagh, Natalie and Martin (2 Irish girls and an English guy) who I travelled with in Nicaragua. Just seeing a couple of friendly faces made me feel a hundred times better, even though when I arrived at the islands it was tipping down with rain. The girls had found a coffee shop with magazines in English, so we spent the afternoon reading back copies of Vogue… yeh, not really getting into local culture but it was raining…

Yesterday the rain carried on and on and on. Luckily it stopped by 8pm and we made it over to Aqua Bar for the Happy Hour. Happy Hour being free drinks for girls…. Bocas is a favorite destination for the SPRING BREAK (shout this to make it sound right) Americans. And even though it is not that time of year the bar was still full of your typical American jock.

The first to sit down next to us was called Alex, so far so normal. Not for long. Within about 30 seconds he had stripped his shirt off to show us his tattoo. ´Dicker´ written in some fancy script across his shoulders. Hmm… before we could ask why, he explained that this was his surname and he was the last in line in his family (until he has kids that is, but I don´t think he realised that). 

He then went on to tell us that he was a model and had appeared in many commercials, including one for Tim Horton´s. Now I found that pretty entertaining as Tim Horton´s is a Canadian coffee and doughnuts kid of place – very classy. Kind of like me boasting that I was a model for Macdonalds. I wouldn´t take the piss but this guy was being so serious, really trying to impress but failing miserably.

This morning, wow, the sun was out in full force, thank god.We caught a water taxi to Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos, so called due to the tiny red frogs everywhere. Unfortunately I didn´t get any pictures as the little girls carrying the frogs were charging $1 a photo – they were cute, but not that cute. After roasting on the beach for a few hours it was time to say my goodbyes 😦 They were heading to Panama City then flying home, whereas my next stop is San Jose, Costa Rica.

 Its weird how attached you get to people in such a short time when you spend every minute of the day together and share a room. But everyone has to leave sometime. I´m just looking forward to the reunion in Dublin!

The lurgy in David

26 Aug

Slightly hectic past few days, in the travelling sense and in general.

On Tuesday night I set off from Panama City on the midnight express bus to David, which lies in the north of the country.  All was well, and I  reached the bus station. That was when it all went a bit wrong! Something happened,  and I was taken to hospital unconscious.

Obviously I am fine now, but have spent the day doing nothing as prescribed by the doctors!  (Anna if you are reading this, Panamanian hospitals are much cheaper than Mexican ones thankfully.) The whole experience  has made me eternally grateful for the NHS.

So as promised I have achieved a grand total of zilch today. I walked to the supermarket, wlaked back to my hostel, the lovely Purple House,  watched TV and played with Cute-Si the cocker spaniel. Not so bad for convalesence.

Tomorrow I’m off to Bocas del Toro for some sunshine and sand….again? Yep, again.

Crew needed!

24 Aug

Today has been pretty busy. Made a snap decision to travel to a hostel in the cloud forest later on tonight, at midnight actually, so I have been seeing the last bits and pieces of Panama, and updating the blog. I realised that I probably can’t get to the total of 68 posts in 68 days, but never say never!

I really wanted to see the Causeway – a road leading from the city out to various islands. According to the Lonely Planet it is full of walkers, joggers and people cycling, and its a great place to get away from it all. So in the morning I trekked over, only to find it completely devoid of people. According to the bus driver most people were staying in to avoid the rain. It was only spitting!

The one person who had ventured out was a 70 year old Canadian Yaghtsman, who was sat on a bench overlooking his boat.

‘I haven’t got a crew,’ he shouted.

I took that as my cue to stop walking. I mean, I couldn’t leave his question unanswered.

‘Where are you sailing to?’ I asked.

‘Well, from here to New Zealand’ (I was slightly surprised, and asked him how he would go about this)

‘Well, you go from here to the Galapagos, then to X islands (I can’t remember!), then to Tahiti, then to New Zealand.’

We chatted for a while, mostly about his trip, and then his bus arrived. He crossed the road, and shouted an apologetic, ‘Sorry, I wasn’t being cheeky talking to you, was I?’

I said no, of course not. Talking to random strangers, taxi drivers, people on the bus, people in hostels, even old sea dogs sat on benches in the rain is part of what makes travelling fun.

In the afternoon I went to the Panama Canal. It was pretty cool, even if my main reason for going was so that I could say ‘yes’ if anyone asked me if I had been to the canal while I was in Panama.  Definitely worth a visit. Especially for the hilarious English commentary informing the audience of exactly how many metres the water rises between locks. I’m sure Dad would find that level of detail slightly more interesting that me!

My favorite things about Panama City

24 Aug

No. 1: Nobody wears clothes that fit. Or, correction, women cannot leave the house without sqeezing themselves into skintight jeans that are two sizes too small, and lycra tops that hug their muffin tops.

No.2: I am relatively skinny here. Seriously. There is an abundance of KFC and you can tell that everyone loves it.

No.3: They sell ‘Agua de Pipa’ in the street. AKA cononuts with straws. And I don’t even like coconut milk.

No.4: The skyline is beautiful. Seriously. Donald Trump’s new skyscrapers are transforming it into the New York of Central America.

No. 5: They sell pesto in the supermarket. That made my day.

No. 6: ‘Municiones y armas por comida y medicinas’ : you give up your gun and the government will give you food and medecine. Good trade.

No.7: ‘Cuidado’ written on a poster in the main square, with an imagine of a person having their kidney removed. Message being: make sure you avoid people who steal kidneys. Hmmm, I’ll try.

No.8: Random Kuna  (people who live in the Comarca de Kuna Yala, also where the San Blas Islands are located) people walking around in their amazing outfits. Beads from ankle to knee, sarongs, blouses with shoulder pads and headscarves.

No.9: The Panama Canal, Miraflores lock. Thanks to this trip I now have a 4 minute video of a ship passing through the lock (Merry christmas Dad!), and have learnt the word for lock (esclusa). I’m sure that will come in handy at some point.

No. 10: This one is the one thing I HATE about this city. I have not managed to walk down the road once without some obscene comment from someone.Now, one of my good friends swears that she actually misses the catcalls and comments when she is in the UK rather than abroad, but I am so over it.

The best one came today: Yo quiero una gringita como tu solo para mi ( I want a little white girl like you just for me.) Pass me the sick bag. Normally it is just kissing noises, or ‘hey baby’. The worst thing is that it only happens when I am alone. So when I am with other people I relax and forget about it, then I go out on my own again and it starts all over again. If only I had brown hair and brown eyes!

Doctors appointment $5… good health while travelling, priceless

24 Aug

So, not surprising really, I managed to get sick. Not once, not twice, but three times. All at once.

Luckily, in Panama City, you can go to the doctors and pay $5 for an immediate appointment. I love the speedy service, but don’t quite like the hefty prices.

$25 gets you:

– Antibiotics for ear infection

– Eardrops

– Antibiotics for upset stomach

– Cream for weird skin infection (When would this ever happen at home?!)

Here is a list of things that I would rather spend the money on:

– A night in a hostel, with a meal out and some drinks

– Or travel for 8 hours on a bus to a new destination

– Or some nice new clothes from, what I am convinced is, the biggest Zara in the world (Also in Panama City)

The visit to the doctors was pretty entertaining though. When I said I had an upset stomach he asked me if I had been eating at the right times. Initially I thought I had misunderstood:  ‘At the right times?’ I asked.

‘Yes, at the right times. You know, breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 5pm.’

Hmmm… something tells me that you don’t usually get ill from eating at different times of day. When I explained that I had been eating street food the doctor insisted that it was the hours, rather than the food that was to blame. I think I might ignore his advice, as well meaning as it may have been.

The islands, oh the islands (and the supermarket)

23 Aug

It seems like all of the recent posts have been on a similar theme – the beach.  Now I love the beach, which is why I am spending a lot of time on the coast or visiting islands, but it can’t make for interesting reading. So, even though the primary reason for writing this blog is so that I can look back on it in 70 years time and reminisce (if the internet still exists), I also want it to be interesting!

So, just a quick few lines about the San Blas Islands… After a hellish journey to the port, where everyone in the car was sick thanks to the windy roads, I took a little boat to the Robinson Islands. I would love it if they were named after Robinson Crusoe, but no, instead the owner of the islands was called Robinson. I met him on the second day when one of the girls I was with got ill and we had to take her to hospital on one of the bigger islands. Nice man, offered to go and buy water for us so that we didn’t have to pass the imaginary ‘tourist’ line outside of the hospital which would have made us liable for the island tourist tax. Payable in order to roam around and take photos.

There are 365 islands in the archipielago, and the one I was staying on was medium sized with about 20 cabanas (for tourists and for the locals), surrounded by palm trees and a beach *sigh*. It couldn’t have been more relaxing. I spent three days reading, lying in hammocks, sleeping, swimming and snorkelling around a shipwreck.  There were a lot of other backpackers on the island, so the evenings were spent playing shithead and Yannif (card games) and drinking rum from coconuts!

Back in Panama City I was greeted by a tropical storm, and arrived at the hostel drenched, with a rucksack full of washing and the prospect of a completely full hostel. Back to reality with a bump! I made the mistake of going to the main supermarket to buy some lunch. It was so full that it resembled Tescos the day before Christmas. I think I arrived on payday. It was definitely worth it just to stand in the queue for an hour and talk to the Panamanian ladies in front of and behind me. The art of complaining seems to be the same the world over. .

The amount of times that people exclaimed that they had never seen the supermarket so busy…that they should open more checkouts…. that it didn’t used to be like this… (In my day….) After half and hour a full scale fight broke out between a pensioner and one of the supermarket staff. The pensioner was finally escorted out after he had thrown a pint of milk and tried to hit the checkout girl. I wish I could express with words how funny it was! Especially after spending the past 3 days on an island where there were hardly any people, and no stress at all!

I still have so much to write but I’ll save it for later. For now, off to collect my washing. What an exciting life!