Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Carnevales!!!....Part II

THE STORY CONTINUES: The GOOD news was that after scurrying off into the darkness, my new friend was never to return. The bad news is that I’ll never know what he or she actually was. My money is on “enormous cockroach”.
Anyway, after getting oriented in Pedasi, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and experiencing my first brush with the weekend’s festivities, I decided to call it a night. After all, it was 2AM and it had been a really long day of travel. Unfortunately, I was seemingly the ONLY person in the entire town with that particular goal in mind (good think I packed those earplugs).
By the next morning, the rest of the gang had shown up from Panama City, and as I mentioned before, we were about 15 strong. Since most of them had been out until around 5AM, it was certainly a slow morning around the ol’ homestead. By early afternoon though, a plan came together to check out a nearby island called Isla Iguana…..or Iguana Island. After a five minute drive to the nearest beach and a successful attempt at locating a guy with a small boat, we were braving the high seas on our way to visit the famous reptiles.

THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIEND: Now when I say “high seas”, I’m not exactly exaggerating. I mean I’m certainly not one who is even remotely experienced in ANYTHING nautical. But this was a pretty small boat (maybe 12 feet in length), and it was a REALLY windy day! I just kept asking the other folks in the boat……”so is there any expression in Spanish that says THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIEND?”… I tried desperately to stay IN the boat (oh, and did anyone else besides me NOT know that the bow of the boat was the roughest place ON the boat?) But alas, after about 30 minutes of fighting our way through the “mala mar”, we found ourselves upon a truly spectacular landscape. The island was relatively small, with a BEAUTIFUL stretch of beach. The sand was white.....the water crystal blue……the bay protected……and people, well, absent…….REALLY amazing! We spent the day swimming, lying in the sun (or shall I say “shade” for SOME of us pigmentally challenged individuals), snorkeling, and exploring the rest of the island. Other than a small structure that housed a couple of park rangers, the island was uninhabited. Uninhabited, that is, by species of the human variety. On the beach, there were crabs……LOTS of them….like the sand was TEEMING with them! In the air, we found FLOCKS of shore birds (not sure what kind…..large black birds with enormous red “inflatable sacs” on their necks). In the trees? Yep, you guessed it. Iguanas. In addition to the main beach where we arrived, there was a small trail through the bamboo that lead to the OTHER beach on the OTHER side of the island (5 minute walk). It was certainly smaller and unprotected, but equally beautiful nonetheless. Finally, located on the high point of the island, there was climbable tower that supported a “lighthouse” of sorts (i.e. large flashing light….no house). Because the rungs of the exterior iron ladder were almost completely rusted out, it became quite the adventure to climb this thing (whatever you do….don’t put any weight on the middle…..and don’t look down!!!!) Fortunately, everyone survived the climb, and we were rewarded with a perfect panoramic view of the island.
All in all, it was a pretty terrific day…….beautiful…..peaceful…..relaxing. And as the sun was setting on our small slice of paradise, the boat “captain” even showed up for our return trip. “AAAHHHHHH…….maybe this Carnevales thing is going to be OK after all”.

THEN AGAIN…..MAYBE NOT: The next few days? Hmmmmmm……what to say about the next few days? Well, I’ll sum it up with a few descriptive words. Crowded……loud……sleepless……bad food….intense heat……the usual run of the mill shenanigans and debauchery. By the time Monday rolled around, I was feeling….well……how about a few more descriptive words…….READY TO GO HOME!!! I mean a night or two of this was one thing. Four days straight was a whole different ballgame. Again, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with any of these folks. They’re great people. It just wasn’t my scene. It’s not how I roll. As they say here in this part of the world, I’m “TRANQUILO”.

PARADISE LOST: Unfortunately, we still had another day before heading back to the mountains surrounding Boquete. I say “unfortunately” because our rental agreement for the house had run out and we still had one day remaining. What to do? “Hey, I’ve got an idea”, someone said, “let’s go back and spend the night on Isla Iguana!” Now judging from my previous description of this little piece of paradise, that actually sounded like a pretty great idea. I mean I LOVE to camp, I can get away from the loud music and fireworks, and perhaps I can even get a good night’s rest. I mean who WOULDN’T want another taste of such beauty and tranquility? Who WOULDN’T want another taste of the Blue Lagoon? Well, here’s how things turned out:
The first challenge to overcome was that of food and water. As I mentioned before, the island was uninhabited. That meant that outside of the occasional coconut or slow iguana, there was no food OR fresh water to be found. To get around this, we made a quick trip to the local supermarket to pick up a few necessities. Problem solved. The next challenge involved the details of sleeping arrangements. In other words, did we plan to just sleep in the sand……on a rock…..maybe make a bamboo raft on which to float around the lagoon? Well, although this “problem” was really never addressed, I had fortunately brought along a “sleeping pad” that I had rented in Boquete. “I don’t know what those guys are going to do, but I think I’m good”, I thought. And with that……we were off.
The first sign of a potential “change in the air” came upon our initial arrival to the parking area (i.e. first beach). When he had arrived to this same lot a few days earlier, there was ONE other vehicle in sight. Upon our return trip, there were what seemed like HUNDREDS! Uh oh. Also, when we headed down the beach to hitch a ride to the island, in addition to locating the same boat captain that we used before, we incidentally located about 50 of his friends with THEIR perspective boats. Hmmmm…….how could ONE beach with ONE island support so many boat taxis? ”Yes, something could certainly be amiss”. And when we finally arrived at the perfectly secluded, tranquil, peaceful, uninhabited beach we had experienced before, we were met with…..well, a different scene. You see, since we had left the island a few days earlier, I’m pretty sure that everyone in all of Panama had suddenly been struck with the idea of visiting this nice little “isla”. AND, to top things off, there was even a cruise ship docked a ways offshore. Of course, I didn’t mind the cruise ship so much as the endless line of motorized rubber boats leading FROM the ship! HAY CARUMBA!!!! It was like Venice Beach on the 4th of July!!!!!
Fortunately for us, in addition to the departure of the cruise ship, most of the crowd had left by the time the sun was setting. Number of overnight guests? Probably only 20-30. Again, compared with the scene we had just faced, this didn’t seem so bad. I watched the sun set over the mainland of Panama, we had a nice campfire, and eventually we decided to find a place in the sand to call a bed for the night. The GOOD news was that the inflatable mattress I had rented was going to REALLY come in handy! Bad news? I KNEW I should have tested that thing before leaving! Oh well, the sand was relatively soft. NO problem. But as I tried to settle in for the night, I discovered that there WAS one small problem……OK several. First off, I realized that the comfortable offshore breeze I had found so enjoyable just a few hours earlier had suddenly turned into a Category 4 hurricane! Again, this wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that I was sleeping out under the stars. So every five minutes of so, I was feeling like the LOST CITY OF PETRA (i.e. BURIED in the sand…….literally!) AND, as hard as I tried to provide “refuge for my face” (and 7 open orifices in my head) behind this seemingly microscopic palm tree, I was also EATING a large percentage of the beach! “Oh man….this really isn’t feeling like a tropical paradise”.
Good news! The wind finally died down sometime after midnight, and I was finally able to remove the towel from around my head. AAAHHHHHH…….finally a bit of serenity. But just as I was beginning to dream of the tropical beauties arriving to visit my sweet island paradise, I was struck with yet another stark realization. Remember my earlier description of the island’s select fauna? Remember the sandy landscape teeming with the billions of crabs? Well, I realized that I was suddenly PART of the landscape! Not only that, but remember the iguanas perched so comfortably in the trees? UH, apparently they enjoy a little tour of the island after the sun sets. WHWHOOOOAAAAAA…….get off me man!!!!! I’m NOT A ROCK!!!! AAAHHHHH…….. CAN YOU AT LEAST AVOID PERCHING UPON ANYTHING ABOVE THE NECK?!!!!!! DUDE!!!! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD……DON’T YOU GUYS EVER SLEEP?!!!!! It was as if I had suddenly become the local jungle-gym for the native population!
And with that, my imaginary bubble had officially burst. I was no longer in the “Blue Lagoon”. I was in “Dante’s Inferno”.

CALLING IT A DAY: After this final sleepless night, this time compliments of the elements, I was officially ready to throw in the preverbial towel (yes, yes..the same one I was once again unwrapping from around my head). So after catching a 1PM boat taxi back to the mainland and a quick shower at a hostel in Pedasi, the moment had finally arrived. We said our goodbye’s to the rest of the crew, found another one of those “pack approximately 30 people into a space designed for 10” taxi-buses, and began the reverse trip BACK to Boquete. The only real difference was that this time, those with whom we were sharing these infinitely tight spaces looked a bit worse for wear……and smelled about the same way.
Around 11PM that same evening, after the buses, vans, taxis, etc. etc. etc., we were greeted by the cool mountain air of Boquete. Later that night I became reacquainted with my old friend, the river. At last........serenity.

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