Sunday, November 4, 2012

october adventures

in an effort to make up for my recent lack of blogging, i offer you a novel-length post. :)

i have had one heck of a fall so far. october has been busy, busy, busy, in the best way possible. i've been traveling like a madman and it's been wonderful. from cabining in the smokies, to the texas state fair, to rainy costa rica, to the beautiful beaches of's been a weird mix of places but that just makes it even better. i was going to give each adventure their own post, but since i haven't had much time so sit down and write a bunch of separate posts, i just decided to cram them all into one. 

so, let's talk about cabining.
there's this family who my family has known and been good friends with since i was in the womb (literally). they have 10 kids and two of them happen to be my best friends! our families have a lot in common. one of them is our love for the mountain/ hiking/backpacking, so about 5 years ago we decided we should start a yearly father/daughter backpacking trip together, and it's still going strong. we haven't missed a year (knock on wood)! this year, as we started to prepare for our trek into the depth of the smokies, some nasty weather blew in making for what would have been a miserable trip. if you've ever woken up in a tent submerged in two inches of water you will agree that we made a wise decision in booking a cabin for the weekend instead of backpacking. it was sad because we love it so, but the cabin turned out to be lots of fun.

here are a few pics from that trip.

my lovely best friends

the little sisters

the view from the porch

dutch blitz addicts

obviously on a trip with our dads...steak and potatoes. 

breakfast of champions!

mountain porch, rocking chairs, pretty view, hot coffee, my best friends: one of the best mornings ever. 

bad picture of me with my dad and little sis 

i've always had a thing for this time period. loved this old homestead. 

we always tease that my dad should have lived during the 19th century. this is why, haha.

fly fisher.

i love these girls!

ok, on to my next adventure: texas.
second to south carolina, it's my favorite state. there's something about texas that has a feel of endless possibility. it makes me think of the pioneers who took off in search of a new life and better opportunities, and has an electric feel that makes you think you could do anything and succeed. the people are nice, it's laid back but still full of life, and it's beautiful! my mom and i flew out to dallas to meet some friends and ended up at the texas state fair. it was quite an experience. we rode on the ferris wheel and i almost had a panic attack, but i survived. that thing was huuuuge. there was also every type of fried food you could imagine. fried coke, even. not sure how you even do that, but it was there.

(p.s. i'm moving to dallas in january and am pretty excited!)

last but not least, costa rica and PANAMA!
my cool little brother is working on the coffee farm of some missionaries in costa rica right now. the costa rican government requires non-costa ricans with visas to leave every 90 days. it's surely more complicated than that but i don't know the terms. anyway, all i know is sam decided to take the opportunity to go to the caribbean and soak up some rays, so our cousin, joey, and i decided to join him. we landed in san jose and stayed the night there, then took a 5.5 hr. bus ride to panamaaaaa. 

i'm sad that i only saw the ugly parts of costa rica. san jose is gross... it's extremely dirty, the people weren't very nice, and everything was run-down. i know it's beautiful out where sam works and i'm sad i didn't get to see that side because now i have a slightly bad opinion of costa rica. i guess i'll have to go back. ;) i will say that, during the bus ride, i got to see some cool banana plantations and pretty mountains, so i'll give it some credit. 

anyway, let me tell you about the day of the 5.5 hr. bus ride. it was probably the most memorable travel-related experience of my life. 
the bus ride itself wasn't very eventful. until...SCOTT. so, after about 4 hours on the bus it stops at a place called porto viejo, which is a little beach town in costa rica. EVERYONE gets off and i was a little sketched out to be the last people on the bus. everyone, that is, except SCOTT. scott, scott, scott... the bus leaves porto viejo and we hear a deep voice in the back of the bus say "so, you're going to bocas?" AHHHHH! who is that? we turned and saw a very, very tanned and slightly over-weight creature sitting in the very last row. we converse with SCOTT and find out he's a hawaiian living in bocas who used to live in atlanta. he was friendly. he tells us that he'll wait for us after we cross the bridge at the boarder and go through customs so that we can get a taxi together at a lower fare. nice guy. maybe too nice.
the bus finally reaches the boarder, we get out, get our passports stamped, and approach a bridge stretching about 2 football field lengths in front of us. but not just any old bridge. the scariest, oldest, longest, ricketiest, crappiest bridge you ever saw. the "floor" of the bridge was made of slats of wood spaced about 2 inches apart so you could see the murky water swirling under your feet, and the slats were't nailed down. they were just lying there so when you walked they moved up and down and side to side. amazingly, there were locals walking across with bags of rice slung over their shoulders like it was nothing. it ended up being a really cool experience. i mean, how often do you get to be crossing some horrifying bridge surrounded by panamanian indians carrying huge bags of rice? it was really cool. we stopped in the middle of the bridge to look around and the view was beautiful. the water was a little dirty but beyond that there were mountains in shrouds of mist and big tropical plants along the river. the air was heavy and humid and there was a slight breeze carrying with it latin music that was playing in the distance. 
with a sigh of relief, we make it to the end of the bridge and step onto panamanian soil. and there he is. SCOTT. 
he marches up to us looking slightly sweaty in his big orange polo and informs us that the computers are down so we'll have to wait for a while. there's already a line of other travelers in front of us waiting to get their passports stamped so we hop in and wait. and wait. and wait. all the while SCOTT's talking and making jokes and coming closer and closer to me until i want to say "SCOTT, BACK IT UP." i'm not comfortable with your big, tan, sweaty self this close to my face, and you aren't funny so stop trying to make me laugh. and then whenever i say something to my brother and cousin he acts like i'm talking to him too and joins in the laughter. at this point, SCOTT, you are getting on my nerves. 
sam and i then think of something... we turn and whisper to one another "are you thinking what i'm thinking?" "that SCOTT's probably a serial killer and the picture of the american lady taped to the window of the customs building who disappeared in bocas and has been missing for a year is in SCOTT's basement?" "yeah." "RUN." (we were kidding and were laughing as we spoke, but at the same time we were feeling a little...wary)
well, sam and i are too polite to just ditch someone anyway...and it's kind of hard to ditch someone when you are standing next to him in a line that you are required to be in in order to go anywhere else except back from whence you came. so here we are. waiting. sweating. it's hot. 
SCOTT asks us to watch his stuff while he goes and talks to a taxi driver. amazingly, he gets him down to $5 a person (they use regular american dollars in panama, btw!) and proudly informs us. we're pretty impressed and decide that he's ok but then decide that this is surely a set-up. SCOTT knows the "taxi driver" (who is really his accomplice) and is luring us into his white van with his temptingly low fare. my palms start to sweat and my mind is racing a mile a minute. i have an extremely out of control imagination and you better believe it was doing somersaults by this time. sam and i pretend that we're kidding but both of us were, in the back of our minds, asking "but what if....?" 
well finally after about an hour and a half the computers are running again and the line starts moving. it's my turn to go up to the window and hand them my passport. the guy asks me for my return ticket too. return ticket? SCOTT then lovingly informs us that the panamanian government requires evidence, such as a plane of bus ticket, that you are going to leave the country at some point in the near future unless you have a work visa. he then points to a sketchy looking white ticket booth down some stairs and behind some buses. let me also say that the customs building is closing in 10 minutes. sam, joey, and i grab all out stuff, run down the stairs, dodge some feral cats, and go up to the ticket booth where a lady sits. only you can only see her hands and hear her demanding stuff in really fast spanish. "she wants your passport and $15!" says sam. i scramble around in my backpack and NO PASSPORT TO BE FOUND! i am literally about to cry. i rip open all the zippers of my backpack and shove my hand around praying that i'll find it. i don't and yell, in a sacrificial way, "get ahead of me! just go ahead and get yours!" as sam and joey finish getting theirs, i finally remember that i shoved my passport in the waistband of my shorts like an idiot. i get my ticket and we take off back across and up the stairs. the customs people, the taxi driver, and SCOTT are all yelling at us to hurry. it's my turn again to get my pp stamped so i go up to the window and when they guy hands it to me he says with a wink "adios abigail" ;))) and a man standing next to me says "abigail?!?!?" and then points to himself and says it again. "your name's abigail? what?" "si, si, si!" ok no it's not...that's a girl name. but anyways i laugh and smile, all the while everyone else is standing next to the taxi yelling at me to hurry. i begin to run back down the steps but then i hear the guys in the customs building yelling at me. i turn back because obviously i forgot to do something and the taxi guy starts yelling at me. here i am in between all these panamanian men yelling at me in a language i don't understand. "just come on!" yells the taxi driver. i start towards the taxi, ignoring the customs men, but then they persist. i run back. remember i am running up and down steps here. and there are locals as well as the men sharing our taxi, SCOTT, and sam and joey staring at me. 
sam had told me earlier that his friend told him the customs people will ask for a $3 entrance fee into the country but that it's not required that you pay it, it's just something they tell people to make a few extra $$$. i remember this and then run up to the customs people and tell them i'm not going to pay it. like an idiot. "i don't have time, i gotta go!" i yell, and start for the steps again. they don't let me go. they keep yelling. at this point sam runs back up the steps to help me. "just pay, abby." ok, whatever. i only have a $5. "you give me $2 back!" i say to the man. he doesn't understand. i hold up my fingers in his face and say "dos, dos!!!" he is very flustered and is spouting spanish at me. sam later told me that he was saying, "i know, i know!" hahahahahahahaha. 
ok, i pay. done. we run down the steps and get into the big white van. there are 4 other burly men in there. sam and i now know that we were right. SCOTT lured us into this van and is taking us to his basement where we will be held hostage and tortured. these men are his accomplices. 
oh well, we're already here so we might as well roll with it. we settle down into our seats and enjoy the ride. we were stopped by multiple police officers who demanded our passports once again. it was dark outside by this time and i felt like i was in an episode of cops. i ended up talking to the man next to me after i offered him a piece of gum. he was a french canadian named pascal. he told me he owned a cacao farm and we spoke in french for a little bit... i finally dismissed the idea of a set-up and relaxed. the ride was really surreal and became even more surreal when, after about an hour, we pulled up to some dumpy port, if you can even call it that, that was filled with trash and completely deserted except for about 5 men standing next to a boat that looked like it was made in the 16th century. we get out and these men swarm us. they told SCOTTTTTTT that since the ferry was closed, they'd take us across for a higher price. the ferry would have been $3 each and they charged us $10 each. we begrudgingly dish out money and then clamber into this little dingy. i now have a huge grin on my face because i thrive off of weird, slightly surreal situations like this. here i am in this dark, unlit, trashy port hopping into a boat that looks like it may sink with my brother, cousin, and 5 strangers. YES! 
(i forgot to mention that you have to take a 45 min boat ride out to the islands, btw)
anyway, we take off and after 10 minutes we start pulling up to a boat gas station. no big deal....UNTIL....another boat is coming straight towards us and looks like it has no intention of turning.  SCOTT and pascal, who are sitting in the front with me, stand up and start screaming "HEYYY! HEY! WATCH OUT!!!!!" our boat driver is amazingly oblivious and apparently so is the boat driver of the other boat. we are headed straight for one another, nose to nose, dingy to dingy... we are going to crash. my life flashes before my eyes. in a moment of panic i claw at SCOTT's arm. my eyes are the size of saucers. i can't scream because i'm in shock. i'm about to die. here. in this dirty water with these dirty strangers and a sweaty hawaiian in a sweaty orange polo. 
but the VERY last minute, we're talking with 2 seconds to spare, our boat driver swerves us to the right. we literally missed dying by 2 seconds. we all sit there wide-eyed and ask each other "did that just happen?" at this point scott is my hero. he's no longer SCOTT, he's just scott...the man who saved my life. 
we pull up to the gas station and i reaaaaally have to use the restroom. scott asks the gas station guy where it is and he leads me to this locked gate in the back of the building. he unlocks it and i wade through some trash to a bathroom. it's disgusting, but i expected that. there's no toilet paper but fortunately i have some feminine products in my backpack that i line the seat with. anyway, the rest is history. i get back to the boat and we take off. 
the next 45 minutes were bliss. the air is the perfect temperature, the sky is clear and full of stars, i'm in the carribean for the first time. i kept closing my eyes, letting the wind seep through me, and thinking "how lucky am i???" it was like a dream. a very, very good one. and let me say this: scott stood up in the front of the boat with his arm raised holding a flashlight for 45 minutes so we wouldn't have another collision. i repented of my unfair thoughts toward him and was thankful for this nice hawaiian who helped us through an insane afternoon/evening and didn't ask for anything in return.
we pulled into the dock where we were immediately greeted by a drunk hobo dressed as a pirate haha. welcome to bocas.
scott helped us find a really nice inn where we plopped our belongings then headed out for some dinner. before he left he gave us his number and told us he'd take us on a boat ride if we gave him gas money and bought his beer. we never ended up calling him because we just didn't have time, but i wish him the best. old scotty scott. anyway, we went to this cool place that we ended up going back to several times. they played really good reggae and the tables were under bamboo huts with white cloths draped over them and twinkly lights everywhere. there we ran into pascal. he waved us over to his table where we ate and talked. at first we thought he was cool but then he started talking about how much he loves weed and informed us that he was 38. we could have looked past the weed part but we had sincerely thought he was about 24. that kind of creeped us out and we didn't complain when we didn't run into him again.
the rest of the night was uneventful. we looked around bocas town a little and then headed to bed.
i won't go into the following 4 days, but they were incredible. the islands of bocas del toro are beautiful, laid back, cheap, and relaxing. it's filled with european backpackers, hippies, local indians, and young people like us. we spent the days cracking open coconuts on the beach, exploring the islands, and meeting lots of nice people, and spent the evenings hopping from one cool bar to the next. don't worry, the bars aren't your typical bars. they're just cool places on the water that play really good reggae and have some dancing and drinks. we frequented a hostel/bar called mondo taitu where we met lots of people our age from all over the world. i highly recommend a trip to bocas if you're young, have a budget, and want to experience island life. i hope with all my heart to go back someday!

here are some pictures from bocas...
(i sadly didn't manage to get one of...SCOTT!;)

all the bars had pool-sized holes in the deck so you could swim!

the little inn we stayed, casa amarilla 

bocas town

ready to hit the beach!

beautiful clear water! 

cracking open coconuts

we had to...

me and my lil bro

i hope everyone's having a fantastic fall!

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