Viannca: In 2010, we traveled to Jamaica to celebrate Hamlet's birthday which is in October. We set ourselves up for what we thought was going to be an amazing week of laying in these beautiful bungalow beach beds all day, soaking up the sun with cool tropical drinks in hand at a fancy all-inclusive resort. We read that the hotel included unlimited kayaking, we thought maybe we will do some of that. We thought we'd spend countless hours playing volleyball, laying out poolside or going a couple of excursions.
Well we thought completely wrong because, as novice travelers, we didn't think to check what season October is in Jamaica. We should have known, Hamlet being from the Dominican Republic and me knowing full well what Puerto Rico is like any time of the year. Not sure where our heads were because we only came to realize that October is rainy season when we arrived on the island and were greeted by a tropical storm, a full seven days of rain.
While at first, we were super down about how little sun we were getting and about how wet everything was, it didn't take long for us to adopt the spirit of 'Jamaica, No Problem.' This mindset that right then, in the moment and place in time we had, there was no problem. There could be no real or big enough problem to come in between a good time and us. And there wasn't.
In episode 3 of our podcast we talk about how we lost our canon camera the first night, with a fully loaded memory card of photos from another trip, we missed a birthday party that was organized for Hamlet by new friends we had made, I fell in front of the entire buffet line, and yet this trip was an amazingly good time. It was filled with camaraderie, friendships, bonding and seeing the beauty in fun without the sun.
Viannca: Getting to the hostel that literally sits on a stream, that is part of a larger river, where the main town of Livingstón is in Guatemala, was an experience. It was pretty fascinating to see the river community living their everyday lives. Everything involves getting in some form of boat, kayak, canoe. We saw people washing their clothes in the river, the front of their homes situated right on the water's edge. We saw children enjoying themselves, casually splashing around. When we weren't looking at houses or hostels on the river's edge, we were looking at green mountains and trees. An incredibly beautiful view.
When we got to this place, we were immediately in awe. A landing dock with a lifeguard ladder chair, no lifeguard though, a rope to throw yourself off the dock into the river with, and visible hammocks everywhere. As we entered we saw the beautiful set up. Wood everything. Small huts sat right on the rivers edge, I was only imagining what it would be like to sit outside of that hut on the hammock overlooking the water at night, in what I imagined would be pitch blackness. I thought to myself, "We definitely have to stay riverside." The common area was just rows of hammocks and swings, a beautiful dining hall to eat in, a pool table. As we continued walking around, the host showed us the options of where we could stay, all these different type of bungalows. A waste of time, I thought, since I had already decided riverside was the experience. Right? Why else would be at a hostel on the river, if not to fully experience the river both during the day and at night?
Wrong. Hamlet was convinced that the experience we had to have was staying as far into the jungla as possible. We were on two totally different pages. He won. We stood, literally as far away from the river as possible. It was in fact quite the experience walking up and down at night in, as I anticipated, pure darkness!
The next day we headed to Cueva del Tigre, our bungalow was so into the wilderness, I felt like getting there was half the hike to the Cueva. We went with Felipe and Nicolas, two guys also staying at the hostel, and a young man from the area who guided the way. We've since forgotten his name. Felipe and Nicolas ended up becoming two people we would travel further with and become friends with.
The point of trekking to Cueva del Tigre is to jump into darkness and into a natural pool waiting for you somewhere at the bottom of that darkness. It was crazy. We talk all about it in our second podcast episode. After we got our feet wet with the jump (literally), we went deeper in the cave to find ourselves in the type of darkness I never imagined possible. Where bats own the space and the water doesn't taste the sun. To realize that there are so many parts of the world like this, so much life happening in places we don't event know exist, was a life changing experience.
I left this cave braver, wiser, and with strangers who had become friends. That experience would lead the way to the rest of the night which was filled with good food, deep talk, games and strong bonds that I cherish.
Hamlet: Este viaje to Guatemala was a lot more to our regular wonderful backpack vacation like we usually take, it was in actually like a retreat for me because Mi Vieja had just passed away a few months previous to the trip and I couldn't find myself after her passing so V and I had the idea that such a trip would help me. This trip 100% helped me out so much that after the trip I found my center. The experience that I had in Guatemala was again life changing, It definitely humbled me and taught me that I AM part of the Universe, that I was wrong when I thought I was in It passing this very unfortunate experience. I learned that in fact I AM a lot more than that and saw that in all the colorful art, in all this wonderful and beautiful Indios that work day in and day out just to bring bread to their table, this really reminded me of how much of a provider Mi Vieja was and that She is still here as Energy every where, here, in Guatemala, PR, DR everywhere that I AM, She IS and always will be. What I had learn in this trip, I cant unlearn it even if I try to.
Viannca: Bocas de Toro, Panama was paradise for us. It was by far one of the most diverse cities I had ever seen, with culture clashing and melding at its highest level. I found myself observing tourists moving quickly through the town's center to make their way to their vacation homes, backpackers searching for or already settled in (some for weeks, others months) in hostels, backpackers turned residents and residents. It was fascinating, at so many points I couldn't tell who was who.
The town had a mellow feel, an island part of an archipelago, situated a stone's throw away from another. So close, in fact, that the thing to do was take a lancha from the main island to the smaller islands at night to party. All night, boats would go back and forth. We were there during the off-season though, so things were a little calmer. I'm glad that was the case. I'm not sure if I would have felt the same encanto had it been packed to the rim with wildness. Although, we did have a crazy fun night at a club that was co-owned by a Dominican. They had amazing music and a little cutout area dock where you could sit with your feet in the beautiful clear ocean water. Our hostel had something like $.50 shots and dollar drinks. You can imagine the buzz before we headed to the club.
In this town, we watched groups of kids come out of school together dancing to reggae as they walked. Some looked Asian, some indigenous, some black and others mestizo. I remember, to be fully transparent with you, the culture shock I experienced when I saw a young Panamanian-Asian boy dancing reggae with swag and skill. Right before I saw him hit his moves, I didn't imagine he could. It's like my head didn't have space for his features to mix with reggae music. I felt like an idiot when the shock hit me. It was a learning moment: awareness of the stereotypes that live in my subconscious and their ineffectiveness.
Our arrival to Bocas, by the way, was the second leg of our trip. We first arrived to the central mountains of Costa Rica, made our way down the country's west coast toward Panama. Once we crossed the border (this whole experience of getting their btw is another post worth reading, so, wait for it) we bussed it to the east. It was crazy to us how much we started to feel at home the closer we got to the east/Caribbean coast. The food was closer to our Puerto Rican/Dominican palettes and the people's vibes were punchier. We'd found ourselves in Central America.
It was interesting to me, the whole area had such a strong influence of Jamaican culture, an island I had visited just about a year before. It's something else that didn't fit in my head. I didn't imagine a Latin American country being influenced by another culture in such a strong way. Other than of course, the cultures that historically influenced and created what we know to be Latino. I learned from the people there that the area had been a major point of interest for neighboring countries, like Jamaica because of their banana plantations. Many people came looking for work to this coast and therefore the influence. I thought I knew Latin American culture. What I knew after this trip, is that I knew little.
One of the most important experiences to me was seeing their Etnia Negra festival. It was the first time I had experienced a Latin American community celebrating their black heritage in a direct way. Maybe I had experienced the celebration of Afro-Latinx heritage at a second degree, in that so much of our African descent created what we know to be Latinx culture, but not under a title like that... Etnia Negra. I felt like my eyes opened that day. A Black Latinx community celebrating their heritage directly, not under the umbrella of Panamanian culture or Latin American culture, but under their own.
This experience would inspire our first podcast episode.
Hamlet: In this trip I had two separate conversations with two local young men; one of them was the lancha driver who was very intrigued of the way we as Latinos live in USA, our way of life and all that, so when I told him how beautiful this island is, he said to me, "I am asking not because I like to go but just to know your point of view of the USA. I would never leave este Paraiso here I have EVERYTHING I want and need." The other convo I had was with one of the workers of the hostal we were staying in, this guy was so notoriously HAPPY that I had to talk to him and long story short, he told me that he was born, raised and he will died in Bocas, that he was indeed very happy and proud to be from Bocas. I really admire their love and pride for their community.
Another experience that I have never forgotten was a writing in one of the bathrooms that said "I came to the jungle to die and realized that I never lived." That quote personally touched me because of the wonderful experiences we were having in this small island in the middle of ocean and not rich at all, well not rich to the typical standard of luxury, but yet very rich in the love of their community and their culture.
This trip is our first backpacking trip and definitely was a mind blowing experience in so many different levels.
Thanks for reading.