A Long Time Coming

It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.

What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.

So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?

When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.

The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…

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The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.

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There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.

The Artist’s House on The Sea

The third stop on our journey was The Artist’s House on The Sea, on Isla Colón. We packed up to head out from Un Puerto Particular via water taxi back to the main island of Colón. We notified Filberto of our arrival and planned to meet him at the dock at 13:00. Filberto said he would be driving a Kia Double Cab and wearing a leather hat. He said we wouldn’t be able to miss him. In Island time he showed, as planned, and he was wearing a top hat made of leather… no doubt he made it. He is an eccentric type of fella. His thick accent was easy to listen to. He carried himself well. On the short ride to our new home he told us a quick synopsis of his life. Recommended eating establishments and told us how to get about.

Upon arriving we entered a small mud path that was lined with garbage. He explained that the neighbor was piling it there to eventually claim the property for himself… some convoluted law about him using the property that eventually he could claim it as his own since the owner didn’t care to take care of it? We were getting used to seeing large garbage piles sitting about… this was not the act of nature but of man.

Shaking off the vision, we entered into Filberto’s domain. There was a small wood planked walkway that lead to a charming three story building. Once inside he showed us his works of art. He told us about building this house and his own house 300 mts off the main house. We have left Kansas Dorothy. The home was basically three large bedrooms with three baths and one stand-up shower on the main level. The bathroom on the second level has a shower that you sit on the toilet to use. The third floor bath is tucked away in a small slanted closet, good for children but an adult might find it difficult to use. The main level has the cooking area. Stove, shower, fridge, table and chairs and a small washing machine. Totally open to the world.

On each level there was an eclectic assortment of art work. Filberto gave us a tour and explained each one, where he found it or where his inspiration came from. His art was expressive and down right strange… but totally reflected his demeanor and personality. The more I watched him, listened to him and grew to respect his choice of lifestyle, I couldn’t shake my grandfathers image from my head.

He left us and departed to his home on the water in a small Zodiac inflatable boat… that no longer was inflated but served his purpose of traveling to his small home on The Sea. His home was now ours…

Day Three: The Absentee GF

What an incredible day! One thing about the jungle in Central America is the sunrise. At the first crack of dawn the jungle comes alive. The crickets and frogs cease and the birds sound the wake up call for the world. Parrots screech as they fly in waves of brilliant green across the sky in daring acrobatics through the trees. The morning doves rise and begin their mournful songs. The cowbirds make their unworldly announcements to get your ass out of bed. It’s natures alarm clock.

If you are so inclined to open your eyes and meet the dawn, the sky reveals intense hews of pinks and crimsons that cut through the inky black night. The trees begin as shadows against the lightening sky and eventually turn lush green and show off brilliant colored flowers. It seems to take an eternity for the night to release itself from the day.

Coffee and breakfast on the deck overlooking the turquoise sea and silhouetted against the sky is the distant mountain ranges of the mainland. This is truly paradise. Wafting on the cool morning breeze is the smell of coffee, bacon and salt air. Time to start the day.

Chris has met a gal here from Canada and the two of them are going to hike to the other side of the island. I will stay put at the lodge and chill since my knee is still not quite healed enough for an uneven Trail. There’s an inviting pool with a volleyball net which will serve as my entertainment for the day.

Bambuda Lodge is an eco lodge on the small island of Isla Sorte. It’s nicely nestled in a jungle setting. Fully supported by the sun and rain water. Fairly rustic with trails leading to the different sleeping areas. They have tent camping, single rooms, private rooms and dorm rooms. Their kitchen turns out delicious food for ever culinary tastes. There’s a pretty fully stocked bar with local beer and wine, cokes and coffee. A resident dog names Sasha who enjoys smiling at everyone and taking hikes with the guests. Best yet… hot showers and a pool to enjoy. It attracts travelers from all over the world with reasonable rates for your stay. http://www.bambuda.net

My day was relaxing. I played volleyball in the pool with the guys for hours. There were Italians, a Norwegian, a couple Germans and a Canadian… a smile and laughter is the same in any language. I chased the shade around the deck to keep from ending up looking like a sunburned tourist for the rest of our stay. After 4 hours I began to worry as I had not seen a water taxi carrying Chris and Joanne from the beach that was their final destination. The day before a young gal was attacked on the same trail so two middle aged women would be a prime target. At 4 1/2 hours they came back, finally, both sweating and exhausted. They had not been able to flag down a water taxi from the dock after a half hour. They had met some German boys that were also lost and they eventually had to climb back up the ladder like steps 200 feet back to the trail and hike back to the lodge.

After a mid day nap at the pool we were ready to continue our relaxing evening with an incredible meal and good company.

Day Two The Arival

It took twenty six hours to arrive in Bocas del Toro. We can’t really complain since it only cost $350 USD to get here flying first class all the way. Airline miles make most of our travels free but sometimes you have to take the available flights for the least amount of miles. Occasionally that means long layovers, getting in in the middle of the night and very little sleep. Another perk I would strongly recommend is a good credit card with perks like airline VIP club entrances. This really makes such long layovers more enjoyable instead of sitting in the terminal listening to the same announcements over and over. They allow you to have a private space, good food, free drinks and good WIFI.

After a total of about 4 11/2 hours of sleep we went to Nature Air for the final leg of our journey. There were 16 of us on a twenty seater prop plane. The wind had picked up and the thunder heads were building. The flight was quite bumpy as we flew our way between the fluffy clouds which gave the effect of flying a toy plane through a cotton candy machine.

We arrived safe and fashionably late… Island time. The immigration and customs was all in the same room and consisted of 2 old computers, a fingerprint machine and a guy who derived a bit of pleasure searching all you luggage, joking about what he found with his partner. When he was satisfied with all your belongings and was sure we weren’t gonna blow up the Island or smuggle in contraband he repackaged our items and sent us out of the room.

We went into the second room of the airport and were immediately inundated with taxi drivers wanting to take us to the town docks, arrange snorkeling and each vying to be our personal tour guides for our time in Bocas. Note: never take the first or second offer, the prices get a bit less by the third or forth guy.

TONY whisked us away in a taxi to a bar and restaurant right on the water arranged us a water taxi and told us he could arrange anything we needed for the rest of our trip. One thing to note about us… we don’t normally dig on “touristy things”, we’d rather experience wherever we are on it’s own terms. Exploring the people and customs. Trying to sniff out expats who live there. We find they generally will steer you to the local haunts and hook you up with a good local who will not take advantage of the gringos.

Welcome to Isla Sorte and Bambuda Lodge.

Panama Here We Come

Day One Panama: Travel Day
Holiday, vacation, time off… depending on where you live… it all amounts to time away from a regular routine. For most Americans though, we must try to cram a “vacation : a finite amount of time allowed to us by an employer to try to enjoy ourselves” into a short trip to ‘try’ to relax and forget about our “normal daily routines”. I find that it usually takes about a day to get where ever we are going including packing, running around dropping of the “kids” human or four legged, getting to the mode of transportation and the travel to the destination. This day is usually, or at least can be, more stressful than the stress of our daily routines.

For me I find the disconnect rather difficult even though I tell myself I am excited… I’m not gonna think about work… I’m not gonna miss my boy… we’re gonna have fun DAMN IT… if it’s the last thing I do! I worry about having forgotten something. Not getting to the airport on time. GERMS! Yes I’m a germifobe when it comes to winter travel during major flu outbreaks. I just can’t seem to ‘chill’. I just want to get there…
This trip is going to be longer than our normal. We are throwing all caution to the wind and taking off for two weeks. Our normal is five days. We are going where there is limited power… internet… and an abundance of natural living! Islands off the coast of Panama, just south of the Costa Rican border. Bocas del Toro. We’ve rented two homes that are run on solar power and the water in the homes is supplied by the rainfall and rain catchment systems… in other words, we are at the hands of the earth, the sky, and Mother Nature.

The Fear Factor

If anyone our age tells you that they are not afraid to do something new, give up everything they have, quit their job, sell their homes, cash out their retirement accounts and leave whatever family and friends they have, I’d say they are not centered in reality.

As human beings we resist change. People cling to religion because it is a constant in their lives. They stay in their homes till they die or they can no longer live alone.

We are at a jumping off point that is like jumping off a 700 foot cliff with a wing suit as safety equipment. Oh… and with no prior training. Do not hesitate. Yes websites, blogs, Facebook and many other publications exist that make this journey a bit more manageable… but the actual “doing” is scary as hell!

Twenty years ago even thinking about doing this would have been a daunting undertaking. Where do you start? Where is it safe to cross a border? Where is it safe to spend the night? What do you need to cross a border? The world was a huge unknown for the most part. The US state department made you so afraid to venture into other countries. As a visual learner, I find the task at hand much easier to comprehend. The how to exists out there. YouTube, Blog sites, Facebook pages for expats, AIRBNB, VRBO, where to go and how to manuals are everywhere.

When we were younger this would’ve been an absolute thrilling notion, like when we hit the road back in 1993/4. Cell phones were new on the market and very expensive (for what they were). IPads were a futuristic concept. Hell a portable laptop computer was even just a glimmer in someone’s imagination. We were kids… we threw caution to the wind and just did it. Ahhhh… for the innocence of youth…

This time we have so many options… some more fraught with danger than others. Could we be happy settling down in some mountain town in Ecuador, Columbia, Peru? Become beach bums in Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, and Thailand? Travel the world from ‘point A to point B’ with no time limits? Will our vagabonding lifestyle be possible as planned? Best made plans are often laid to waist when put into action… still we continue to put one foot in front of the other. I continue to wake with butterflies in my stomach, that’s the “more mature age” jitters… The Fear Factor

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Flower Power… Beauty in the eyes of the beholder

In each intricate petal of a flower there is evidence of something greater than any of us. The simple way each unfolds into a predetermined pattern to form a stunning work of natural art. This album is of some of the beauty I have captured in our travels.