Panama: We always knew we would go through most of Central America fairly quickly, but if we have one regret, it’s that we didn’t slow down enough to enjoy more of Panama. From island hopping through the Caribbean town of Bocas del Toro to chasing one more surf session on the Pacific side to overindulgent nights out in Casco Viejo, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the country and wished we had explored more of its nooks and crannies. We want to give a very special shout out to our friends Rich & Lynn because they went more than above and beyond hosting us - who shows up to drinks with fresh salmon nigiri because I casually mentioned the day before how much I missed sushi? They do. They recently retired in Panama (apparently the government is encouraging American retirement in Panama and offers an insane number of perks for those who do it) and put us to shame with how much they do. Can we be them when we grow up? When I first met Lynn in 2011, I was struggling to find my footing in Austin, TX (it was the hottest summer on record and this SoCal girl was melting). They had lived multiple places throughout their life and regardless of whether or not they loved the place their mantra was to “bloom where you are planted”. Her words hit home with me and it was in that moment I decided that I was going to make Austin a great experience, even if it didn’t have an ocean and way too many mosquitos. This time, it was Rich’s words that stuck: “This isn’t a vacation, this is your life”. We’ve said it to each other everyday since.
Panama to Cartagena: See the bad section for a more detailed explanation of getting our car shipped from Panama to Cartagena. However, our shipment was a smashing success. We hopped on a 51ft catamaran, the Santana, and sailed through the San Blas islands to Cartagena. While we didn’t get a chance to get our toes sandy on all 365 islands, the ones we did were idyllic. Perfect sand beaches, zero tourists, $2 cold beers, and some of the best volleyball courts I have ever seen. Nick and I had never played volleyball together before, but my high school setting skills kicked back in and Nick’s vertical jump gave us a serious advantage. Us competitive!? noooooooooo.
Food: Most of Central America has pretty disappointing food, rice and beans start to lose there appeal after a few days. However, Panama and Colombia have been a re-entry back into great food regions. If you are in Panama City, make a reservation at Donde Jose to experience a truly unique tasting menu. Chef Jose isn’t afraid to be bold (hot chocolate with goat cheese croutons for dessert!?) and the flavors really pay off. In Cartagena our favorite restaurants were Le Bistro (local cuisine), La Perla (Peruvian food), and Moshi (Japanese fusion). The real star of the show though was a street food hamburger at the local square. Nick may have had 3 in 2 days. I can’t quite describe this burger because it’s insanity between two buns, so see the video below to fully understand.
New Passions: Since surfing requires swell and we are currently in areas with none, Nick and I are starting to put a lot of energy into our other interests - scuba diving and salsa dancing! Nick got his PADI certification in Bocas and we enjoyed our first dive together exploring a catamaran wreck. Our best dive, and the best I’ve ever done, was on the Pacific coast of Panama in the Coibas islands. I love big fish diving and we got to swim with dozens of white tipped reef sharks! We are now on the hunt for whale shark season, I’ll fly back to Baja if need be :) In Cartagena we took multiple salsa classes at Crazy Salsa! After our 3rd lesson, we decided to test our skills in the wild at Cafe Havana. Alcohol helped :) We still have A LONG way to go, but we know four basic foot steps (the linear, the Cuban, the Colombian, and the march) and Nick is leading himself and me through turns. Like I always say, don’t be afraid to be a beginner. There is so much joy in the journey.
Friendsgiving in Cartagena: Who needs turkey on Thanksgiving!? Our crew of 16 certainly did not. Instead, we taught everyone our octopus recipe (boil for 1 hour and then char) and are hoping that next year everyone sends us a picture of the new octopus tradition they kicked off at their Thanksgiving table. We were incredibly grateful we were surrounded by friends, old and new. Kelly Fuson, Jessica Starr, Zach Polinko, Kelvin Chua, and Jason Lee all traveled by plane from the states. Our road warrior friends KP & Taylor Pawley (@runningfrommonday) and Tim & Liz Hasting (@south_by_synchro) traveled by car on the PanAm highway and our catamaran captain and copilot, Greg & Lisako, and fellow guest Angela arrived in Cartagena by boat. It was a global community potluck and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Surfing: This is a hard one for me to put in the bad, but there is no other way to describe my surfing for this 3 week period - it was just bad. For starters, instead of surfing point breaks we were surfing beach breaks. I have only surfed point breaks up until this point (spoiled, I know) so it required re-learning how to read the waves again and to find joy in the 2 second ride versus the 20 second down the line ride (a hard sell). Second, I am trying to step down from my 7’4 board to a short board. At first I was trying to use Nick’s board, but I quickly learned that your relationship with a board is very important. Me and this board didn’t click and my frustration accelerated. Also, I thought duck diving was going to solve a whole host of problems, but no one ever told me that learning how to duck dive IS REALLY FREAKIN HARD! Everything that looks really easy in surfing is a lie, period. In an attempt to get out my slump, I bought a new board in Costa Rica. She’s a 5’10 beauty and the connection was instant. However, the day after I bought it we went inland and left the waves behind us. While we were in Bocas we saw that swell was hitting the Pacific side of Panama and decided to go chase them. While Nick promised me a left, we arrived to a very choppy beach break. My second day on my new board was going well until I went for a set wave and decided I was in the wrong spot and tried to bail out of it. Instead, I got pulled over the falls with a brutal slam into the water that sent my elbow through the rail of my board. Ouch. The good news: the board and elbow have fully recovered and are excited for waves again in Ecuador to shake off this slump and try again.
Panama to Cartagena: If you would like to spend four days of your life in bureaucratic and paperwork hell, you should ship your car from Panama to Cartagena. Every step of this process was painful and 80% of the time was spent waiting. Waiting for an office to open, waiting while everything closed during their 2 hour lunch break, waiting for someone to arrive to do the required data entry, waiting for the boss to come back, waiting…. I want to give A VERY BIG SHOUT OUT to Nick for being the ultimate copilot throughout this process. He sat through the final 8 hour day alone so I could spend time snorkeling with the friends who had arrived in Colombia. We also want to thank KP & Taylor for going through the process with us. We met them in Panama at the inspection station and two weeks later, they feel like family.
Ants: We were mentally prepared for mosquitos. We stocked our supply closet with all sorts of repellants to thwart this threat, but no one ever warned us about the biting ants. And there is no repellant to make them go away. They look like the innocent black ants we all attempted to set on fire with a magnifying glass as a kid (just me, oh ok), but they are not. Their bite feels like a needle prick and induces a histamine attack that sets off every other bite you are already battling. We spent two weeks haunted by these vicious creatures and had feet and ankles that resembled the chicken pox days of our youth. To fully understand the severity and our fear, I will leave you with this mental image. After we washed off the salt water from our bodies and the sun started to set, it was a muggy 85 degrees. We went into our closets and pulled out jeans, tall socks, and our hiking boots. We cooked dinner with our socks pulled over our pants and our hiking boots on, blocking any access point to our skin, and stomped around trying to kill as many as possible. We were sweating, but we were not itching. A win in our book. Take that ants.
What we are reading:
“The Search for Captain Zero” by Allan Weisbecker
2 chapters left of “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari
Nick: - for a detailed overview, see Nick’s new post here!
“Benjamin Franklin” by Walter Isaacson
“Bolivar” by Marie Arana
What we are listening to:
Hardcore History “The Destroyer of Worlds” by Dan Carlin - a great examination and deep dive into the implications of the nuclear age
“So My Dad Wrote a Porno” - while a very suggestive title, this podcast has come highly recommended by a lot of people because of the laughter it induces. We are excited for something a little lighthearted and fun.