So this is where I land. Feet kicked back in my Kammok hammock, with the sounds of waves washing up onto the shore, children playing in the background, and fellow beach goers obstructing my view as they mosey by with freshly cut coconuts in hand. This is my home for one month, 33 days to be exact. All of the planning, saving, dreaming of being a traveling yoga teacher has all landed me right here.
Regrettably I am writing this post 27 days in, due to the untrustworthy internet connection this rural island provides. Also because of the lack of planning I’ve set my attention towards, something my type A personality has learned to let go of during my time here. Island time will do that to you.
I’ll share some highlight moments of my journey thus far, beginning with…
Day 1: Embarking to the Unknown
On high alert the entire day, the bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to Bocos Del Toro, Panama didn’t even seem like 10 hours. In less than 24 hours I went by airplane, bus and speed boat to arrive on Bastimentos Island. Crossing the Costa Rica-Panama border proved to be the highlight of the day. In 90% humidity the bus of 8 travelers walked all of our luggage across a bridge to the other side of the border, where we wait in line for the official to check our passport, return flight, and stamp us into the country. Totally disorienteted as I exit my last mode of transportation, take a 10 minute hike from the dock to the property, and pure exhaustion set in as I threw my 44 pound backpack down in my new home away from home at Palmar Tent Lodge.
The first 3 days was nothing but rain. I preoccupied myself with my reason for coming here– teaching yoga. Palmar’s yoga shala is tucked away in the jungle with a view of the ocean amongst the trees. A big reason I came here was to develop new habits of meditating and journaling, and immersing myself in the yogic lifestyle. Although I was bummed with all the rain, I made the most of it and created a solid foundation of my new habits. I brought 3 yoga books and immediately delved deeply into the practice. I spent hours on my mat in the shala, reading about yoga and then practicing some new moves on my mat, with the sound of rain colliding with the rooftop above me.
By this day I really experienced cabin fever, and making some acquaintances with the visiting guests, I decided to join them on a tour. By speed boat, the most common mode of transportation around the islands, we went to Dolphin Bay to witness dolphins feeding in the wild. The were quite shy, not like the dophins you see at Sea World. But it was even more beautiful seeing them live and play in their natural habitat. During our trek by boat to our next destination, it down poured rain on us leaving the group completely soaked. My Eddie Bauer rain jacket didn’t even live up to its name at this point. I wasn’t going to let the rain defeat me even though it felt like a slap in the face. I knew I was here during the rainy month so I eventually learned to embrace it. By the time we reached our next stop, Zapatilla Islands, meaning shoe because I guess the islands look like a pair of shoes, the rain cleared and it was overcast. The islands are uninhibited by dwellers, only a popular destination for travelers. The main island is so small you can walk its perimeter in about 30 minutes. Lush rainforest in the center, and breathtaking ocean fronts all around. In the distance you can see the inland mountains framed with hazy clouds the storm left behind.
As we got back on the boat for our next destination to go snorkeling, I learned a great lesson in non attachment. Before we departed the boat to go on the island, I left my shirt to dry, like many other people did. I underestimated the power of the ocean, and the rocking of the boat allowed the shirt to be set free. This was not just any shirt, but my favorite shirt, a embroidered crop top I got 5 years ago from Forever 21. It wasn’t expensive or anything, it was just the perfect shirt, especially in this environment. I asked anyone on the boat if they saw it, and amongst the solemn shaking heads of my fellow tour companions, our guide, Alejandro, immediately grabbed a snorkel mask and dove into the ocean. He didn’t see it or anything, in fact he swam around the boat for over 15 minutes. During this time of waiting hopelessly, I had a conversation with myself on not attaching myself with material items. After all, it was just a shirt, I have other shirts that I am thankful for. Everything has a time for you in your life, but things are constantly changing and nothing is for certain. It was a great practice for me to decipher this concept in my head, and I was really able to let go of this shirt. The moment I decided it was ok and let go of having the shirt in my life, Alejandro dove deeper than he had ever before, and popped back up with my favorite shirt! The whole group cheered as he arrived back on the boat and handed me the catch of the day. Right when I decided to let go of attaching myself to this shirt, the universe gave it right back. Needless to say, Alejandro was the best tour guide.
The days prior to this day, I spent the majority of my time nurturing my craft of yoga, teaching class everyday at 5pm, bonding with fellow volunteers via board games (some intense games of Settlers of Catan, to be exact) or day hikes in the jungle, and really beginning to orient myself with the area. I went grocery shopping in Bocas Town, the main town in the islands, to stock up for the month, and really began to settle in. I met a guest named Erin, a medical student from New Orleans, who also practiced yoga and was solo traveling. She asked if I wanted to go kayaking with her to a spot for snorkeling she heard about called Hospital Point. We looked at the map and decided it was doable. Palmar had a double person kayak we could borrow for free, but the catch was we had to carry it to the dock 10 minutes away. Couple of fit girls who do yoga, sure, no problem. But that thing weighed an astronomical amount it seemed. We could not even lift the bulky piece of plastic over our heads, much less carry it more than 10 feet without stopping to catch our breaths. Finally a worker carrying supplies back and forth on the trail all day, stopped and helped us. He alone lifted the kayak over his head, and we excitedly followed behind attempting to give a helping hand. Covered in sand from the unused kayak and dripping with sweat from the work we just endured, we by some miracle made it to the dock. We took our seats in the sandy, old kayak and we overcome with joy that we made it. But the venture had only begun.
We paddled and paddled along the route the speed boats took to get to town, assuring that we were going the correct direction. Maybe 30 minutes in, we realized this was more ambitious than we originally perceived. Of course there was no turning back at this point, and the cloud coverage kept us cool so we kept paddling along.
One hour later, no landmarks to go off of other than knowing it was at the top point of the island across from Bastimentos, we parked our kayak on the beach of what appeared to be a good place to explore. We walked a few feet around the island, but got a little psyched out with ‘no trespassing’ signs all around. We were uncertain if we should stay, even though it was a scenic and secluded cove with waves crashing on the sides of cliffs, beautiful palm trees, and a calm shore, perfect for wading in the water. Right when we were uncertain, and weren’t even sure if this was our proper destination, a boat dropped off a group of travelers from Canada. They told us this was Hospital Point, we did make it! Relieved by our sheer good luck of landing upon this place, we grabbed our snorkel gear and started swimming around the cove, having faith that our good luck will prevail in finding the snorkel spot, since apparently nothing was marked. After only a few minutes, we located the gorgeous coral reefs and schools of fish hiding from the aliens above. Erin even spotted a manta ray going down into the drop off alongside the coral reef, into the vast unknown world of the ocean. At one point I lifted my head out of the water, and realized the sun was shining! This was the first day of bright sun I had experienced since arriving to the islands, and the entire place lit up like a tropical oasis you see on travel websites. We snorkeled, floated like dead leaves atop the water, and took in the breathtaking scenery the sun decided to share with us. It was a magical day of trusting the universe, taking a risk and embracing the unknown.
We spent close to 3 hours in our new found paradise, until we realized how famished we were. We could have easily spent all day there, but with the 1 1/2 hour paddle back to Palmar, we had no choice but to leave right away. The kayaking back was much more brutal, with the sun out and using up a lot of our energy swimming, we took plenty of breaks and eventually made it back just in time to inhale a fish taco and teach my yoga class at 5.
Day 11: Up in the Hill
Chocolate tour? I’m in. A group of us, guests and volunteers, made our way to a permaculture farm called Up in the Hill for an afternoon of learning how cacao beans are produced. After a 15 minute hike from the town of Old Bank on Bastimentos Island, we reached the top of the hill. The cutest family, a husband, wife and three young boys, greeted us to their farm. The husband bought this land from absolutely nothing and he now grows a multitude of not only cacao beans, but tropical fruits and herbs. He guided us around his property, letting us taste the cacao right from the tree. I had no idea, but it’s actually a white sugary substance from the tree, and after days of fermenting in banana leaves, it becomes the cacao we all know and love. He also showed us his other plants: cinnamon, lemongrass, turmeric, pineapples, jack fruit, peba fruit, and so many others. He harvested some plants right in front of us so we could try. After 2 hours of exploring the abundant property, we feasted. We sat at a long table and were served plates of exotic fruits. My mind was blown by how much food they gave us, and I was stuffed by the end! My favorite part was, of course, all of the ways they use cacao. We had hot chocolate made with coconut milk and freshly ground cacao, and the BEST brownies I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. Every ingredient was natural, coming straight from the farm we were visiting.