Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Final Adventures: The Long-Awaited Caribbean Extravaganza and Panama

The last weekend in May was what Carli, another IFSA student, and I had affectionately called the “Caribbean Extravaganza.” We—well, it was mostly Carli who—spent a lot of time trying to fit in a weekend as many places along the middle and southern Caribbean coast. In three days we managed to visit four different places: Limón, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzinillo.

Limón is a major hotspot for Costa Rican Caribbean culture. It is the capital of the Limón Province and contains a lot history; for example the more abreast reader will recognize the names of Marcus Garvy and the Black Star Line. Once off the bus from San Jose to Limón we put our bags in lockers there at the bus station and then wandered around the city and down to the waterfront. Carli and I were able to eat the traditional rice and beans dish and patacones (double fried smashed plantains) at the old ticket office of the Black Starline. The downstairs is a restaurant and the second floor serves as a museum of sorts. In all honesty, Carli and I didn’t have a lot of time in Limón, but we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the city.

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After a very short two hours we rushed back to the bus station via taxi to pick up our bags and then went to another station to hop the bus to Cahuita. The bus ride goes right along the coast all the way and we got to enjoy all of the vivid blues and greens of the Caribbean. Cahuita is a very small town about one to two hours south of Limón. While there, we made sure to see the Cahuita National Park and the black sand beach. After our early morning hike the next day (May 28) we stopped by an elegant little pancake house for a late breakfast. After four miles of hiking, both of us were parched and hungry. Let’s just say we ate a lot of really delicious food!

Early that afternoon we caught the bus on its way down to Puerto Viejo, a place housing a very unique blend of peoples, music, and foods. There are the typical Caribbean folk, dreadlocks and all, the groups of European and American tourists wandering through the tents and tiny boutiques along the beach road, and the few Costa Rican families there on vacation. Aside from the beachside shops, one can find several other restaurants, a plaza of various shops, numerous hostels, and of course bars. Carli and I didn’t do a whole bunch in Puerto Viejo; we found a coffee shop complete with bakery and by the end of our five hour stay we were almost surprised that they didn’t charge us rent on the table that we had occupied the entire time. Being the weekend and not too far from finals week, both of us had packed some homework. During that five hours though, we discovered that we are hopelessly distracted study-buddies.

The next morning (May 29), we rented bikes from a shop in Puerto Viejo and then rode down to Manzinillo, which is about 15 kilometers away. It’s a lovely ride through the jungle—a jungle that tends to steal over onto the sun-baked sand almost edging close enough to swallow up the surf. Along the way there are several little turn offs to various beaches. We went down almost all of them, taking our time and enjoying the tropical sun that had just taken flight from the horizon.

We didn’t have a bunch of time in Manzinillo, but we each enjoyed a bowl of ice cream and then took a quick dip in the teal waters, before heading back. Manzinillo is perhaps smaller than Cahuita. There is little to no pavement, lots of little mom-and-pop shops, perhaps only one church and then the scattering of houses that fade back into the brush along skid roads. I personally felt that the real Caribbean Costa Rican was most present in Manzinillo than in any of the other places that we visited. However, perhaps it is best said that each place gave us a facet of what the Caribbean culture is as a whole.

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Typically the trip back to the Central Valley is boring, long, and uninteresting, no matter where from. But this time, we, along with a bunch of other college-age tourists almost got detained because we did not have our original passports with us. Almost all of us had a photocopy of our passport. It is the general consensus amongst college-age study abroad students that it is best to take just a copy of the passport, because it is very possible that one’s purse, duffle, handbag, etcetera, will get stolen. Being in a foreign country without a passport is not a horror story that I would like to deal with. Fortunately due to the large number of us on the bus without our original passports, the officer there let us go with a warning and a glare. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

And now, moving on to the final adventure while I was in Central America: Panama. This trip took place right after Carli and I finished our final exams for the semester (June 17-21). Before I even went to Costa Rica I knew that somehow, someway I was going to go to Panama. My dream was to go to the Panama Canal. I was very sad to discover that this would not be possible. Throughout the second semester I had made some preliminary plans to go to Panama and see the Canal and all of them ended up falling apart for one reason or another. This trip was only five days total and all of them were spent in a tiny town called Boquete, which sits on the edge of the one and only volcano in Panama. Although Costa Rica has what could be estimated to be as many as three volcanoes per province, humorously Panama only has one in the entire country. Two students, Steve and Chisom, both of whom had been in Costa Rica as a part of the IFSA-Butler program in the fall came back to travel through Costa Rica and Panama and naturally Carli and I paired up with them to go to Panama.

On the trip down I was able to fulfill one of my life-long hopes of finding out what it sounds like when a tire pops on a vehicle. The fact that said popped tire was on the bus and that the event took place in a Central American country definitely made the experience more memorable and interesting. The bus had to be limped to a random repair shop, which looked more like a decrepit barn filled with tank sized rusting metal…things. I honestly don’t know what all that stuff was or could even be compared to. The tire was swapped in about an hour and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Boquete is a charming clash of tourist friendly shops and the typical Panamanian culture from the nearby “fincas”—ranches—and coffee farms. It’s dropped in between two ridges of dark green mountainous jungle; it is cooler, but still humid, and a come-and-go rain drizzles down during the day with sunbursts every now and again.

We passed our time in Boquete quietly, often spending time together at the hostel either napping, reading, or chatting, although Carli and I did go out one night. We had hoped to see part of a reggae concert there on the edge of town, but later found out that the concert started at 2 a.m.! Exhausted, we left at about 1 a.m. having enjoyed our time dancing. There was a large open area set in front of the stage and DJ kept a steady stream of songs for those gathered to dance to. They ranged from American rock to hip-hop to bachata to typical Panamanian music to meringue and the list goes on. Aside from dancing and having fun, I enjoyed being able to watch the other people—a broad group, age-wise, and to me they seemed very authentic and unassuming.

We as a four-some went and visited various souvenir shops, a botanical garden, and various sodas and coffee shops in and around the small town. We also went out to two different fincas, once to visit some natural hot springs and another time to hike to a waterfall. At both fincas the families charged a small fee for us to be able to pass onto their property and enjoy what nature had left there. The hot springs were not that far from the small farm structures, but walled up nicely with stones from the river, making a nice cozy little hollow pooled up with hot water. On the other finca there was a fairly well kept path leading back up into the hills to the waterfall.

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Unlike other trips that I have taken there weren’t any grand adventures. I didn’t scale any volcanoes or go zip-lining or anything, but I enjoyed my time all the same. And after all, getting another stamp in my passport is a definite achievement and good way to end my study abroad travel adventures.

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