I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Panama for my “Semana Santa” or spring break. It was about a sixteen hour bus ride , this including a two hour hold up at the Panamanian border. While I was not looking forward to the ride, in all honesty it wasn’t that bad. They showed the worst movies on the bus though, and word to the wise make sure u bring warm clothes for long bus rides, even if it is 98 degrees outside the bus’s a.c. will be on full blast and during the last four hours of the ride you don’t want to be slipping in and out of a torrid rest will acquiring hyperthermia and listening to a woman car sick behind you. Hah. We arrived in Panama City around 4 a.m. and took a taxi to our hostel in the historic part of the city. The hostel we stayed at was ‘Luna’s Hostel’ and it was awesome, we got in and were able to crash on a comfortable spread of couches set up in their common room and every morning they have pancakes and bananas set up for the taking, two words one meal: Banana Pancakes ;-) After getting set up in our room, we took a taxi to the Panama Canal, thinking “hey, we are here why not check it out.” Little did we know that the canal would blow our minds! There are only about 2 times a day you can catch a ship going through the locks and we were there early enough to see one, it was such a feat of engineering, simply remarkable. There are a series of three locks that draw water from nearby lakes in order to process the ships through. The building set for viewing is on the “Mira flores lock” and it is impressive very clean and modern with a theater for viewing a (slightly biased) history of the construction of the canal, along with a museum and restraunt. After seeing the Canal we went shopping (but of course i was with 3 girls!) it was strange because panama is cheap, at least cheaper than Costa Rica, but the mall we went to had higher end name brand places that were not cheap, but it also had a bunch of department store like places all selling cheap mass produced textiles. My advice to you would be to wait and don’t shop at the mall , but hit up the old china town part of the city and you will find similar stores and products for cheaper. We went out that night, because Panama City is notorious for its rowdy nightlife so we thought okay , again, lets check it out. I must say maybe its the place we went but by the time we got to the downtown part of Panama City all the clubs charged high entrance fees and it was the same top 20’s pop krap that I am not into, but I still had fun, the women dress to the nines , they are all decked out and it would be borderline scandalous but they swing it with some class so it works in their favor. Later when we returned to the hostel around 4 a.m. we decided we needed some fried chicken, luckily there is just such a place its like the fried chicken fast food chain of Panama; called, drum roll please : Pio Pio’s. It was great in a horrible fried way, it was interesting because its not the safest to be walking around at night , so we were being cautious and we had 2 male companions just in case. The next day we did some more sightseeing in Panama and hung out, one of my favorite parts of Panama was the cheap food there are all these buffet like restruants where u can get a huge plate with about 4 different dishes for $2.00. The next morning we were scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. headed north to the coast and then out to the San Blas Islas in the Carribean. This hands down was the highlight of my trip, and one of the coolest experiences I’ve had thus far. We took a hour jeep ride to the coast , from where we loaded into a speed/river boat that took us to our island: “Sanidub.” There are a group of over 350 islands in the Carribean a part of Panama but out of direct jurisdiction from the governement, similar to how reservations are regulated in the states. Here the Kuhna, an indigenous people run and maintain their lives, incorporating a business of tourism. Excluding the cost of getting out there, I paid about $60 for two nights on this island, that included 3 meals a day and a trip snorkeling by a shipwreck. These islands were picturesque, unreal in beauty and very isolated. The island we stayed on took probably about 5 min. to walk around and this one in particular was very active with about 30 other people also staying on it. Take into consideration it was not over crowded or bustling, I only make the active statement, in comparison to people who are able to literally get their own private islands. You spend your days bathing in the sun, swimming in crystal clear water, or snorkeling by the reef. Later at night our host would bring out wine and bottles of Panamanian rum and we would mingle with other travels , then walk the serene quiet beach and swim in the warm waters of the Carribean under a full moon. It was a soul releasing moment in my life and beauty and love were in no short supply, I hope to bring someone I love back to this place and share it with them someday. We returned to Panama city in the same fashon we arrived, by boat with us getting stuck in the shallow waters before entering the river stream. We then hopped on a bus headed for the Pacific surfer town of Santa Catalina, but not before grabbing a $2 one pound box of food at the bus station and taking a look at our cooked skin for the first time in the bathroom mirror. Santa Catalina was the perfect end to our 9 day expedition, it was a sleepy town of about 300 so people and we watched surfers and layed on the beach. One day a helicopter landed on the beach, but of course who doesn’t go to the beach in a helicopter? After Santa Catalina we took a serious of back road van/buses to the town of David where you are convienently close to the Costa Rican border. It was an adventure getting back considering we didn’t have tickets and it was the end of Semana Santa so everyone was headed home, but in the end we just managed to cross the border then get the last tickets (2 of them being ‘de pie’ meaning standing room only) but it was okay cuz of the 4 of us we just rotated having the seats and all was good we were just happy to make it back to san jose. The trip all in all rejuvinated my spanish speaking confidence and gave me the feel and vantage to see the global community of individuals that share my passion for travel and are acting on it!