Monday, April 21, 2014

Panama. No not the canal.

I was looking forward to Friday all week. Friday meant my morning Spanish class was finally over, it meant I could soon sleep in and have a little more free time, but most importantly it meant heading off to Panama!

I’ve heard such great things about Panama, it’s beautiful and you can buy things cheaper than in Costa Rica (so I was intending to get a ton of sunblock at reasonable prices, which is exciting if you’re as pasty as me and sunblock is as overpriced as it is in Costa Rica.) Although I didn’t find cheap sunscreen anywhere, I did find a beautiful hammock for less than $20.

The drive was long and I’ll be honest, quite unpleasant. We were told we would have a private bus, that is what everyone in my group paid for. What we got was a van, a van that they tried to pawn off as a small bus, but a van nonetheless. So while I and my fellow students who paid through AIFS, drove away with no legroom and no foreseen comfort of any kind for the next 8 hours, we watched as the people who paid directly to the company who plans all the trips board an actual bus. It would not have left quite as bad taste in my mouth, if not for the fact that we paid $100 more than they did to go to the exact same places… and so it begins.

We finally made it to the boarder where everyone has to get off the bus, go to immigration for Costa Rica, walk across a very old bridge that at some point managed to hold up a train, and then precede to go to two more immigration offices. I was so excited to get more stamps in my passport. Although going from one place to the other in the EU is much less hassle, it also leaves me stamp-less and sad.

Panama here I am! Oh, another bus ride? Okay… This ride was a bit harder for me, although the seats were more comfortable and my knees weren’t jammed against the seat in front of me, the view was hard to swallow. While Panama is beautiful, we saw the shacks that families have to live in. Four walls made of scraps of wood, all different sizes and colors. Most didn’t have windows of any kind, and those that did had holes with plastic covering them. These homes frequently had no door so I could peer in as we drive by and see that there is often no floor, and very few items. The children ran around their homes with no shoes and usually just underwear or a shirt on. I felt like crying because it just made no sense to me.

Nothing makes you feel your privilege more than driving though a town made of shacks with your AC blowing on you, and music in your ears from your iPhone, while you look out your window and see the people who have to live with so little simply because of where they were born. Even now, it weighs heavy on my heart. It did make me decide to look more into going to the Peace Corps and other nonprofits. I was glad that I didn’t only see the tourist filled places but a little disappointed that there was no talk about what was going on in this towns or any chance to stop and really see them.
On a lighter note, we made it to the boat, which drove us to the island in which we were staying on in Panama. That night AIFS took us out to dinner where after an hour and a half wait I finally got my cheese burger, but what’s this? I don’t remember ordering maggots with it? How odd… I did think the meat tasted a little weird but I figured it was just me being picky again. Turns out that probably was not the case. So, after not eating since breakfast that morning and having a feeling of regret for going with AIFS wash over me I decided it was time for bed before I started to get angry.

The next morning we woke up and had even more issues with the planning. The breakfast was at one place and then at another. We have to wait in a huge line to eat, but we need to leave for the day’s activities. We finally get in to eat and there is no food. It was just a huge hassle so at this point I was pissed off at my program for charging me an arm and a leg for this so I left and bought my own breakfast. I  was wishing I went independently to Panama, which is what I would advise for everyone.

The day finally got started, an hour late, but hey at least we’re actually going to do something. We saw dolphins, we were not allowed to swim with them but seeing them from the boat isn’t half bad. We then went to snorkel but I didn’t go in because they had everyone just jump off the boat into the water over the coral reef. Seeing how I know that touching the coral kills it, I did not want to chance it and stayed in the boat until it was time to head off to Starfish Beach.

Now around noon it is finally time for some real fun, and (most of) the anger washes away as I swim in the ocean. I got to hold starfish and have a fish swim all around me eating my dead skin or something. I snorkeled at the beach and saw a flounder, sea cumbers, fish, starfish of course, and other craziness. It was so much fun, and so beautiful there. If I ever went again, I would skip all the fuss and go straight to Starfish Beach.

The next day we went to red frog park, contrary to the name I saw no red frogs. I did see jellyfish in the water though!
The park was beautiful. I was too sunburnt to wear my bathing suit again so I didn’t swim but I ended up soaked anyway. The waves were huge and only one person was brave enough to get in. Walking on the beach and getting my legs wet was perfect though. The sand was so soft; it felt like I was walking on memory foam or something, I loved it.

I know this blog might seem like I didn’t have a good time, but I did. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the world, but it is a huge damper when you feel like your program is ripping you off and not corroborating with you when you express these feelings.

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