November 29, 2012

Things I Learned From Perpetual Rain

So, we spent our Thanksgiving weekend in Panama in a place called Bocas del Toro. And yes, in case you know a little Spanish and were wondering, it does translate to “Mouth of the Bull”. The place is pretty much as awesome as the name sounds. Bocas del Toro is a series of tropical islands situated off the coast of northeastern Panama – a magical place where taxi boats take you from island to island and the water is clear enough to see straight to the bottom and the marine life looks a bit like a scene from Finding Nemo.

The water in Bocas del Toro, Panama, framed by flowers and plants


Now before you start feeling little flutters of jealousy as visions of lazy days on the beach drinking Pina Coladas out of fresh pineapples dance in your heads, here’s what sometimes happens when you travel to beautiful places that belong in calendars and Travelocity © brochures. Sometimes, it rains. Sometimes it rains the entire time you are there.

a hummingbird in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Our little hummingbird buddy joined us for Thanksgiving dinner!

One thing that you should know before I proceed – this weekend was fantastic. I’m not trying to vent or complain about the unfortunate weather. I had a thoroughly enjoyable Thanksgiving evening, followed by three great days spent with some incredibly awesome friends, making the most of the weather and squeezing as much fun as we possibly could out of every damp moment. Plus, my friend Anjali and I went scuba diving for the first time. Yep. But that is a different story. This story is about how I learned things! So, here is a conveniently numbered list:

#1 – Always, always, ALWAYS bring a towel.

Any Douglas Adams fans out there? He once stressed the importance of always, at all times, having a towel when traveling. He was right, but he was especially right when you’re traveling in a place where water is under you, around you, inside of you, and regularly falling on top of you. I discovered so many uses for towels this weekend – as a blanket to attempt to keep warm, as a fake umbrella that sort of maybe kept some rain off of me, as a shield in front of my face when our motorboat went at such high speeds that rounded raindrops suddenly acquired sharp, stabbing properties, as something to sit on when there were no dry seats to be seen, and of course, I sometimes used my towel to dry off. I just want to emphasize how painfully frustrating it is to find yourself without a towel and with a head full of reasons why a towel would have been insanely useful at that moment. It boggles my mind how much comfort a rectangular piece of fabric can offer.

Students on a boat in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Soaking wet? Check. Still smiling? Check check.

#2 – Whaddya know, it IS the little things that count.

There are moments when I realize that all I want in the entire universe are some warm socks. Or my own umbrella. Or some shoes, any shoes, that have not acquired a strange, mildewy smell. Or even just a scalding hot cup of tea.

Those are the kinds of moments that remind me that under all of the education and ambition and high hopes that I cherish of traveling and learning and writing and teaching and becoming, dare I say it, just a little bit wise, I am also still a silly little human that really really enjoys being warm and dry and full of good food. I am insanely grateful that, 90% of the time, I am all three of those things.

#3 – When in doubt, be goofy.

Ever been rather miserable because you are cold and wet and in a boat in the ocean on a “Dolphin Tour” that is actually just a tour of the sheer volume of raindrops that the Caribbean has to offer during certain months of the year? Ever burst out laughing because, out of nowhere, the girl next to you does the most authentic dolphin impression you’ve ever heard? Here’s a nice thing about life – laughing warms you up. Between throwing soggy goldfish crackers into each other’s mouths, making faces that even Oscar the Grouch couldn’t not laugh at, and, of course, my new friend’s dolphin and rooster impressions, we all managed to warm ourselves up just a bit on that boat.

#4 – If you’re already soaked, might as well get stoked!

A coral reef in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Here is a Coral Reef!

On our tour on Sunday, they took us to a little island with a restaurant and a couple of houses on stilts and told us it was lunchtime. They also told us that, if we wanted, there were coral reefs next to the docks that were good for snorkeling. I initially scoffed at that – You really think I’m going to take off my soaking wet clothes, jump in the water, and get even more cold and wet and shivery? Then I laughed at myself because, at that point, it was physically impossible for me to get even more wet than I already was. So I grabbed my snorkel mask and tagged along behind a couple of my friends that had decided to go for it. And, for the first time in my study abroad adventure, I remembered that owning a waterproof camera means that you CAN actually take it underwater! So we spent a very enjoyable hour splashing around in the water, seeing corals and fish and anemones and sea cucumbers and other super neat things. I have included some pictures here. Hour well spent.

A fish seen while snorkling in Bocas del Toro, Panama

And here is a fish.

#5 – Life is just funny that way.

On Monday morning, we woke up early, packed our bags, checked out of our room, and started the journey back to San Jose, Costa Rica. And as we boarded the boat to leave the islands of Bocas del Toro, the sun came out. As our motorboat drove off towards the mainland, we all looked back at our weekend home, seeing it shimmering in the warm sunlight for the first time, and laughed at the silliness of it all.

A mangrove in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Mangroves are very creepy and awesome.



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