The weather decided to cooperate with us; the rain stopped enough for highway crews to clear up most of the mudslide, though the inevitable slow down on the road that it caused made for some interesting driving. When your insane cab driver is staring out the windshield looking aghast and calling the other drivers loco, you know there’s some crazy stuff going on. We got to the house we had been planning on renting, but something about the place made it hard for Hannah to breathe and the mattresses were terrible, so we moved after one night to the town of Cahuita. The family who looks after the house are amazing though, and made us feel immediately welcome; taking us to the store to get groceries and inviting us over for beer. They have two daughters and after being trapped in hotel rooms and cars and such, the kids were wild to have a place to run around and play with other kids in. They have a woman renting a small house on their property from Florida who said she would be leaving for Panama on Monday. So, being me, I asked if we could come too.
Before leaving for Panama I decided to actually do a little bit of the research that I was claiming to be doing, so we went on a tour with a guide from the Bribri tribe of the Talamancas to a house where women make chocolate in the traditional way. A young woman there explained to us how a chocolate drink was prepared with medicinal herbs for women about to give birth. As she explained the whole ritual surrounding birth though, I came to the conclusion that the average traditional Bribri mother would kick some serious tushy on any reality TV show. Survivor, Fear Factor, whatever; she’d have all the big guys in the contest crying like babies while she sailed through. Of course, she also wouldn’t be watching TV, so some of the glamour would be missing. But I digress. After the chocolate house we visited a Bribri medicine man who told me all kinds of fascinating things about plants. I’m going to spend more time with him next week. We will do a “diagnostic session” and a massage (he uses stones and shells and all kinds of crazy stuff) and will make me a specialized medicine. Then we will go through more of the herbs and how they work.
Bocas del Toro, Panama, is beautiful in its way, but also kind of squalid. As soon as you cross the border between the two countries you are instantly aware of the garbage everywhere in Panama. We crossed the border with Tina, but she had lots of paperwork and stuff to go through because of her vehicle and her dog and it was getting late, so we decided to go our separate ways. This is a nice way of saying that we abandoned her at the border in order to take care of our grumpy and dehydrated children. We met a woman traveling with her two sons that we recognized from Cahuita [Caroline, Field (12) and Addy (6)] as we made our way to Bocas Island and since we kept running into each other repeatedly over the course of that day and the next, we decided to be friends and booked a snorkeling tour to do all together.
So, on the 20th (Aidan’s birthday. He’s going bald to celebrate.), we did an amazing boat trip. We started with Dolphin Bay, where we watched the bottlenose dolphins as they played in the wake of the boats. They make you feel very silly as they give you the distinct impression that they are coming to the surface because they enjoy tourist watching. I think they were laughing at us. Then we went to snorkel in a coral reef – more colours and shapes of coral than I ever imagined, it was so beautiful. After that we had lunch in a less-than-stellar seafood restaurant on the water. While the food left something to be desired, it was a cool location as Field found two huge conch shells and we saw a small octopus swimming along and devouring smaller creatures. From there we went to Red Frog beach. I read on the gorgeous sand as the kids played in the water and who should come walking by but…Tina! I love the way things work here. So we arranged to travel back together the next day and both continued on our respective tours. We had a second snorkeling opportunity at a place called Hospital Point (named after a hospital that used to be there and not because a large number of people are injured there – I checked) where the coral was not as stunning, but there were lot of beautiful fish to watch, swim with, chase, or, in the case of the jellyfish, avoid. A new highlight of the trip.
Of course, there was the adventure of coming back over the border, but that wasn’t really funny or epic, just long and arduous (who designs a system that crashes that often and has no back up procedure what-so-ever? Why won’t they fix the bridge or pave the road? How much is too much or too little to pay the kid to watch your car so people don’t steal your stuff?), it’s no fun to write or read about. The interesting thing is that crossing the border made me feel relieved to be home. An interesting sentiment.