Thurs, beach day with Milwaukee/Chicago folks, Heidi is super sick. I have joined an elusive sport called Synchronized Wave Jumping. I am now a part of a team of four. I learned the first couple of moves quickly, in fact I was a natural. The glory fist pump/jump makes me feel alive. We practice in the water for a very long time, perfecting our moves. We are going to nationals.
Fri, Alex, the hostel guy, knows a private beach and has offered to take some of us there for the day. My gang stays behind so I join the team and some others and jump in the van. It’s a steep walk down a sketchy meadow path and then through a wooded region but it is well worth the hike. This place is beautiful and serene. The team, minus Ems, gets some practice in and I delve deeper into my Peace Is Every Step book which is changing my life. That night is a calm movie night as everyone is preparing for Fish’s big birthday bash tomorrow.
Day 74- Sun, last day of Casey and Zeke.. goodbye. We realize we aren’t going to make the bus to Dominical. Complete debauchery.
Day 75, Mon- welcome to Dominical. We travel, standing room only for the first part of our journey. Domincal is pretty, still touristy but not as bad at Manuel Antonio. We are all sad to leave our friends behind. Now it is Elena, Heidi, Lee and myself. We get a beachside room, fifteen bucks per person cada noche. I love sleeping to the sounds of the waves. Elena gives me an amazing foot rub.
Day 16 traveling… day 76, Tues- We get up with hopes of beach fun and sun all day long. I am determined to get this tan in gear and because Heidi and I are leaving for the middle of Panama tomorrow I need to take full advantage of this final beach day. We walk over to Tortilla flats to take use of the free wifi to call Lost and Found and reserve our room and also to figure out how the heck we are going to get there. This process ends up taking forever and we cannot figure out how to get ahold of Panaline (the bus line we need to book tickets with to get down there). I receive an awful e-mail from my mom informing me that she is sick and needs surgery and hopefully it isn’t cancerous. I skype her and talk to her for a while. I can fly back home to take care of her. She insists that she will be fine and that I shouldn’t come home. I try not to cry and instead assure my mother that I will continue “having fun” and not worry if this is her desire. Awful feelings, being so far away. I miss my mom. After skyping Panaline’s incorrect number on their website over and over I start to crash and insist we all go get beers. It’s one in the afternoon and my sun and funness is not happening and I am depressed. We finally figure out a few details and I’ve delegated my return flight home booking to my bff in Hermosa (thanks!!!). We go to a board store and rent a surf board and boogie board. Finally! We get to the beach and our Elena’s friend Justin teaches me to surf (not the best waves to learn on, WOW, but I try my best for a good thirty minutes, unsuccessfully). I decide that I really like it and am going to give it a serious try back in Cali. The boogie board is by far my favorite! I love playing in the ocean and I forget everything bad from that morning. J and D’s friends like to jam so after dinner we go back to their front hotel porch and hang out in hammocks and listen to the mandolin, guitar and bongo drums. I am such a baby and I cry for a good twenty seconds because I know moments like these cannot ever be re-created and I am just so happy.
Day 17- Wed, goodbye Dominical, to San Jose to go to Panama. But shit, we get to the bus station and they don’t have tickets for the midnight bus to Panama. We are in a scary neighborhood and I’m afraid to go to the cash machine because of course they do not accept cards here. The guys behind the counter offer to watch our bags (well technically Heidi asks them to and they agree) we scurry to the atm and then discuss what the hell we are going to do because we are obviously stuck in this trashy prostitute haven city where fear of rape and pillage is a norm. As we are leaving the terminal an older local man stares into our eyes and booms, “cuidado” (careful in spanish). The neighborhood is definitely undesirable and barbed wire decorates the outside of the buildings and homes. When we return we discover that the bus stop has a hotel connected to it and we book a room, although expensive, it appeared the safest option. Our room is the nicest place we’ve both stayed in over the last 3 months. Two full sized beds with clean white linens, a little tv with a remote and tons of channels! We are starving and have been on buses all day long. The guy behind the hotel counter is eating McDonalds and I want a big Mac like now. We ask him where to go to find food and we brave the dark streets in hopes of nourishment. As we walk outside, the old local man from before looks extremely disturbed and says, “Mucho Cuidado, mucho!” (Very Careful, very), now we are officially frightened. We decide we want pizza but after walking for about ten minutes we settle on a Taco Bell. I get the Big Bell Box and Heidi gets herself a number 5. We stop at a little tienda and grab some Imperials. Dinner on our beds in front of the tv was amazing. We watched Jersey Shore and House Hunters International. I know that I smell and that I still have sand and ocean all over my body from Dominical but I’m too lazy to shower. Tomorrow morning I will soap myself up and put on something comfortable for my 16 hour bus ride to a new country. Lost and Found here we come!
Day 18 on the road, Day 78 in Costa Rica- We wake up early and I am surprised to find myself in a nice hotel bed. The shower is hot. We need to find internet before our bus departs for Panama. We are instructed to take a left 25 meters for an internet café. We go about 300 meters and find one on the right. The internet connection there is incredibly slow, so slow that I am only able to compose three e-mails and access the log in page of my bank account. Frustrated but in a hurry we leave the café and make our way back to the bus terminal. We have a slight breakdown after realizing that in order to get back to San Jose for our early flights Wednesday we are going to have to forgo the trip to Bocas Del Toro and will only be able to spend 3 days at Lost and Found, or is it 2? We stand awkwardly trying to decide if buying our return tickets (about $35 each) and going down to Panama is really the best idea possible, considering we are both poor at this point. Heidi sighs and then says, “We don’t even have a guidebook!” Which I think is funny… will the book tell us what to do? As she says this a guy sitting down offers up his tattered book and asks us what the problem is (in a stunning accent). We go over our predicament and he advises us to head to Nicaragua, a)because the ride is much shorter and b) it is extremely cheap there. We mull over this idea but decide that changing our tickets last minute will infuriate the counter man (who hates his life and everyone else, especially us) and also we really want to go to Lost and Found. We buy our return tickets for Monday at 3am (no other option). We get on the bus. Nice, clean, a little luxurious. Heidi asks the man next to her if he will switch seats so we can sit together, success. Let the movies begin! There are several small tv’s around the bus and the first movie is…. Drum roll… Jingle All the Way. Um yeah, it’s April and we are in the middle of Costa Rica watching a bad Christmas movie dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. The next movie… Little Man. We stop somewhere for twenty minutes. We are angry. New Zealand Guidebook Steve comes over and we have a little bit of a chat and Heidi and I are both relieved that we didn’t completely scare him away earlier with our extreme incompetence. A cow grazes on a mountain side hill and the fumes from the neighboring gas station fill our lungs. I sit down and touch up my toes with the same red/corral polish I’ve been carrying around for the last 3 months. We get back on the bus and the next movie is… George of the Jungle 2, not 1, but 2. Who knew they even made a second movie, especially when the first movie was so incredibly horrible. We are dumbfounded at the ridiculousness of our lives. We stop at the border where we get out of the bus and wait in line to receive an exit stamp from Costa Rica border control. We are then asked to walk 100 meters forward to the Panama border control. As we are walking a man is sprinting past us and he drops his sleeping bag in a big puddle. We shout for him to stop, he runs back to grab his bag and then stops in front of us and straight faced says, “Where are you guys from?” Umm, we answer and I remind him that he is in a hurry. “Oh yeah, huh.” “Where are you going in such a rush?” “That way” and he points to the right. Heidi looks at me and Steve and we all share the same ‘this guy is bizarre’ face and we shrug and keep walking. There we get a stamp and are asked to provide a return ticket, good thing we bought one of those at the terminal in San Jose! Poor Guidebook Steve doesn’t have a return ticket so I give him mine and tell him to get in the other line to give it a go. It works and we are shuffled over to the examination area. I opened my duffle-backpack and he gives an approving nod. We get back on the bus and an hour later we are dropped in David, Panama. WHOA David! I feel like we are in a different world… there in front of us is a T.G.I.F. Fridays Restaurant. Um What!? Where are we? And we are in a central commercial area with no cute little hostels around. It’s too late to get a bus to where we need to go. An older man who got off the bus also seems to be very concerned with our well being and tells us that he is meeting his Dutch friend and they are staying at some hotel that sounds nice, too nice for our budgeting. Confidently we assure the older man that we will be just fine and so we get in a taxi and ask the thin driver to take us to a cheap hotel nearby. He drops us at a 24 hour motel and the lady behind the counter tells us it’s only 15 dollars for the both of us with a double bed. That sounds reasonable, so I follow her into the neon lit lobby and through a dark hall. She opens the door and I get goose bumps. The room looks like a whore murder scene. The bed is stained and lumpy and the only other thing in the room is a rusty fan that she switches on as she flashes me a smile. Oh dear GOD, we cannot stay here. I calmly walk out and whisper to Heidi that she needs to come take a look at the room. She says, “is it bad?” I say, “just look.” She gasps upon entry and we both rush back to the woman and explain that we are sorry but we cannot stay here. A bouncerish looking man looks at her and nods and then hands back our money. We jump back into the taxi and I say, “let’s just go to Friday’s, get a drink, make friends with a worker there who knows where we can stay and then get a taxi afterwards.” Agreed. We arrive and who is sitting up at the bar but the older man from before and his Dutch friend. Lovely. We snag a couple of seats next to them and are quickly informed that drinks cannot be served because of their religious Semana Santa rules. WHAT? This is nonsense. It was one thing for the supermarkets not to sell alcohol for Semana Santa but the restaurants and bars don’t serve it either! What kind of country shuts down the sale of, well let’s face it the most important thing to buy on a weekend. Thursday through Saturday, no sell. Okay, two waters then. The older man is from Santa Monica and he tells me that he lives in Costa Rica, now, retired, and that every time he goes back to LA it is worse and worse and that he can’t imagine going back there to live now. Gee, thanks. Heidi and I split a sandwich. The bill comes and the two guys pay for us, which is very nice. We all share a taxi to their hotel and they also pay for the taxi, wowzers a couple of princesas now. I’m waiting for the catch expecting him to get creepy and try to invite us up to their room. He’s not creepy and says safe journey. We say goodbye to them and check in at the front counter. We stay in another surreal hotel with cable and AC. Are we still in Central America? This is not good for the bank account.
Day 79- We get up and take full advantage of the wireless internet. It feels good to get in touch with family and friends. We grab a taxi to the bus terminal from our hotel. The ride was an interesting experience. We are passing locals and dirty scenery while Swan Lake is pouring out of the taxi speakers. Classical music and poverty ridden views, how lovely. We get dropped off and I am surprised at how indigenous the Panama people are compared to the Ticos. We are definitely the only white/tall people around the terminal which is actually very nice for a change (the beach cities were very touristy). We get in the bus and ride through beautiful Panama country with Mexican sounding music happily making me dance a little in my seat. After an hour of beautiful green hills we begin to enter Mountain areas and we are dropped off on the side of the road next to a yellow sign that says “Lost & Found” with an arrow. We knew that we had a 15 minute hike with our bags ahead of us but we had no idea that this hike would be completely uphill, steep winding uphill. We made it up about two minutes of the way when two men shouted down for us to leave the bags for them. We climb up to them, breathless and they ask us if we have backpacks or luggage. I laugh and say “luggage.” Their reply (in accents) “Oh you American girls!” They are picking oranges from a nearby tree and offer us each an orange. We watch them struggle and carry our bags as we eat our delicious snack. They groan but I am incredibly impressed as they steadily make it up with our heavy shit on their shoulders. I already like this place! One of them keeps yelling that we owe them beer later. Deal! Lost & Found is literally in the middle of the Panama Cloud Forrest up in Mountains. It is stunning. Nature everywhere! It reminds me of Chilamate but with Mountains. We meet some of the volunteers there and a few of the backpackers staying. We are shown the grounds and our dorm room. Our dorm room has 12 beds and three storied bunk beds! It is intimidating but awesome! Heidi and I claim beds 5 and 6 on the middle levels. We then decide to go for an afternoon hike and they give us a map of the various trails in the area. We begin our hike and immediately we decide we are completely out of shape, but we continue on (with frequent stops). We get to a marking called “El Mirador” and we follow that up (steep and precarious). We make it up top and it is amazing!! We can see all of the surrounding mountains and valleys and the wind is strong and the trees are swaying. It is magical and I stand in the wind with my arms outstretched, breathing deeply. This place is incredible and I am SO happy that Heidi and I came here before flying home. I try not to feel sad, knowing my time here is down to 4 days. But it’s times like this when I know I will be back, maybe not in this exact spot or hostel, but back on an adventure. What is life without adventure?
Arrgghhh a treasure hunt! Lost n Found has an awesome game for anyone who wants to play… It’s a treasure hunt out in the reserve greenery. It takes you all over with riddles that lead you to the next spot. We are told it is a tad rigorous and that we will need plenty of agua and at least four hours, probably more. We are so excited and I load my hikers fanny pack with water, my swim suit, granola bars and my camera. The first part of the hunt sends us to the Labrynth (a little garden with shrubbery) . “I’m Marco and you’re Polo!” I yell to Heidi. “I’m Christopher and you’re Columbus… I’m Lewis and you’re Clarke!” She looks back at me and says, “I’m Magellen.” I wait patiently for who I am but nothing comes. “You obviously do not understand this activity Gramlich!” She laughs, agrees and then we realize that we suck at the labrynth and have been walking around in circles for the past ten minutes. We split up and finally find the damn clue. A couple from Switzerland are behind us and also participating in the hunt. Heidi and I find the next clue very quickly and decide we need to beat the Swiss, it is our only mission in life now. We race forward to the actual hiking trails and keep up a decent pace for almost fifteen minutes before we are doubled over and out of breath. We hear the Swiss rapidly approaching and I grab my camera out and whisper hoarsely, “have some pride, pretend we’re stopping to take photos.” It works, they pass us up and we, defeated, continue on (more slowly). After an hour of hiking we make it to the next clue which is hidden in a black tube inside a giant tree, named Treebeard. Let me tell you how exciting it is to open a black tube clue… REALLY EFFING EXCITING! The riddle basically says we need to go to the river (swim time!). We find a small steep path down to the river and all of a suddent the Swiss arrive (where the hell have they been? Maybe they got lost?). Heidi and I change into our swim suits, the Swiss do not, we all spread out as a search party to try and locate the next black tube full of riddles. The water is freezing but feels pretty good after such a grueling little trek. The swiss are jumping from rock to rock avoiding the water. We find a black tube but it’s a false alarm and it basically tells us we got the riddle wrong and therefore need to go somewhere else. Crap. Heidi and I put our heads together and try at the riddle one more time (I won’t give it away in case any of you ever go and do it) and we suddenly get it! The answer is way up at the beginning of the river. Hahahaha stupid Swiss, hurry Heidi let’s go! This part of the hunt is a little scary because it is so steep and dangerous (well for me anyways). We get to the place and cross the river and find the last cave spot and congratulate ourselves on being the smartest and fittest treasure hunters ever! We start heading back across the river and the Swiss arrive. We now know that these people are genetically engineered fitness freaks. How the hell did they get here so fast? “Heidi, we have to win, we have to go so fast, we have a good hour’s hike ahead of us but we can do it!” She nods vigorously. We start the way back, which ironically is uphill almost all of the way, what the hell?! We stop talking to conserve energy and only occasionally do we stop to listen for the Swiss. We get to the end of the hiking trail and we begin to run to the hostel. “The Swiss are coming, they’re right behind us!!!” We get back and we cannot find the last thing for the life of us until I get not one hint but two (oops). It’s only later that we find out that we suck at treasure hunting and missed 2 of the clues, although I would argue that the treasure at the end is the most important part and not how you get there. The Swiss laugh at us when we tell them we won. “Oh it vas a compiteetion? Ohh hoh hoh ho. Ve stopped to haf a picnic on the vay back” Wow, Heidi and I are officially crappy riddler solving out-of-shape treasure hunters.
Day 21- 81
I love Australians!! The one who carried our luggage is funny and charming and I decide that Australians can basically say whatever and it’s cute, in fact I do believe he says several insulting things to me at random points in time and I simply smile and laugh with a stupid American girl grin on my face. It’s Easter Sunday and Heidi and I are supposed to leave to catch our 3am bus in David at some point, but we are soon persuaded to stay the extra day and catch a different one in the morning. We need to go into town and get money to pay the hostel so we decide this is a perfect time of day to do so. WELCOME TO GUALACA – Heidi is in such a bad mood and tries not to puke on the bus there. We walk the barren streets of Gualaca and find an atm. She needs to pee, but where? Everything is pretty much closed, but wait there’s some rodeo looking building that appears to have a bar in it and I spy a handful of Panamanian men with bottles in front of them. Lovely!! Heidi pees and I take this opportunity to order us to Balboas. The men all seem very interested in my story and I take out my MN driver’s license to ooh and ahh them about where I’m from. We are all laughing and I get comfortable on my stool. Heidi comes back with a disgusted look on her face. “Damnit Leah, I knew you’d be drinking when I came back out!” I point out that I ordered one for her and she immediately smiles, throws her backpack on the floor, grabs a stool and says, “Why the eff not. Happy Easter.” The nice guy to my right, Omar, buys us another round. It is during this second beer that Heidi points out the urine scent that wafts throughout the bar and the ceiling that is caving in above our heads. Precious. Omar’s dad shows up and we decide that I am his daughter also. “Papa un otro cerveza!??” Siiiii. Crap suddenly we are on beer number four and it’s Easter Sunday at 1:30 in the afternoon and we still have to go to the store and get a taxi back to the hostel. Omar buys a redbull and keeps trying to pour it into my beer. Finally I let him and take a swig. Hhmm not super terrible, not super good either. Heidi allows him to pour some into her beer but she hates it. After the third swig of this little concoction I am siding with Heidi. Beer number five arrives, much more refreshing without the energy drink. Omar is passed out, head (face down) on bar. Impressive! The first time I’ve seen someone pound a redbull and pass out. Enough is enough and Heidi and I yell at the others to not buy us any more beer! We leave. Our taxi ride is a yellow truck. I sit in the front. Heidi sits in the back in the middle between a woman and an old cowboy. People get in the bed of the truck. Heidi feeds everyone cookies. I am so happy, eating my cookies, watching the scenery and listening to the Panama music. “Leah, look at me!” I turn around and Heidi is wearing the old man’s cowboy hat. Wow. The woman asks what we are doing in Panama. I jokingly reply, “buscando para mi principe azul” She immediately takes out a photo of her brother and tells me that she can hook us up and that he works at the border. Well isn’t that sweet? Panamanians are so generous! We get back to the hostel and later we eat the most amazing dinner. Turkey and everything delicious in this world. Thank you! J and K make the bonfire and Easter is complete.
Day 22- 82 Goodbye Lost n Found, I don’t want to go. I desperately want to stay and I actually sit and weigh it out but in the end know that I have to use my ticket home cuz I’m broke. This time we dare to bring our stuff down the long steep way by ourselves and without the help of two men. We are doing pretty well for the first five minutes but Heidi is having a pretty hard time with her giant suitcase. I’m okay cuz I have mine strapped to my back, but it is steep and I’m in flip flops (like an idiot) and I am afraid of falling onto my face in any give moment. I suggest that Heidi just push her suitcase and let it roll a little bit down the path. She pushes it and it starts to roll, really fast, I cannot believe the speed the big blue bull is packing! Ummm Heidi… and that’s when the boulder bag goes flying off the edge of the hill, with so much air (I have never seen a suitcase fly before) we hear it thud for some time but cannot see where it went. I die laughing and fall over onto my back. Heidi is laughing hysterically also. Where the hell did that thing end up? We make our way down and finally we spot it in some grassy patch way the hell down there. But it’s still intact and near the bottom of the hill so mission accomplished. We catch a bus. Goodbye Panama! We get to the border and we get swindled by some guy who tells us the last bus just left but if we take his friends’ taxi to some town inside costa rica we will be able to catch the 2pm bus. We are stupid and believe him and end up paying a ridiculous amount of money for the cab. And then we find out that there is no such thing as a 2pm bus at this little town terminal and that we will have to wait until 5. Crap. We go to the Pali and get some snacks and eat our tritz on the curb of the parking lot. Heidi is upset that I chose to sit at a spot where a dirty mop head is under our feet. I don’t care, I’m tired, hot and I don’t want to go back to the states. We find a little soda across the way and we have a lovely afternoon of cards, casados and cool water until the bus comes. The bus ride back to San Jose is long and our tickets aren’t for seats near eachother so we steal two seats and when people come by we pretend we are sleeping in hopes they will just leave us alone. It works. The window provides a fresh breeze during the steamy evening… until it becomes freezing cold night time and I realize the window is broken and doesn’t close all the way. And so I sit in a fetal position with my one man sweater (thanks Austin) over my bare legs and a shirt wrapped around my head to try and keep warm. We arrive around 1 am. We are rejected from our hostel because it’s closed. We find another hotel. This bed sucks.
I hate Goodbyes…Last day in Costa Rica… I awake with a bruised ribcage from the springs in the bed stabbing me all night. I’m sad to leave, however, it makes it easier that we are in the ugly slut town of San Jose. We get up and are thrilled to see a continental breakfast set out. We leave our hotel and wander the streets for a bit before returning and packing up to make the move to our luxurious hotel Heidi’s mom has so graciously purchased for us on our last night. The taxi driver tries to drop us off at the Holiday Inn and we explain, for the fifth time, that we are going to Adventure Inn. He grunts and says it will be more money, “Whoaaa, No es nuestra culpa que usted no conoce el lugar mae!” And I’m happy that I stood up for us with a taxi driver at least once on this trip. Adventure Inn is like a surreal palace compared to the places we’ve been staying. Heidi and I are in awe. They even have an ice machine! We go out and about and find a duck pond where we eat our last tristz. We laugh and talk for hours at this little park and I soon realize that I am going to miss Heidi more than I can imagine. We get back and shower and go down for some dinner. We split a nachos and our last casado. A grizzly looking man at the table next to us starts up a conversation. I like his accent. “Where are you from?” He grins and proudly retorts, “Australia.” I already like him. And so we talk for a while and I soon come to find out that he has been in Central America seeing his once Colombian girlfriend but they broke it off during his visit. He then continues on to tell me that he doesn’t think his wife is going to be very happy with him. Wow, we’ve got a case of the overshares. I nod and agree that typically wives do not enjoy being cheated on and it is then that I secretly hope his lovely Aussie wife has some hot Kiwi she’s fooling around with because now I dislike grizzly Australian man. We leave. We laugh and go to bed early cuz we have to be at the airport at 5am.
Mexico City layover=Forever