Other long-term travelers out there might be familiar with the feeling of “the travel grind.” To me, it’s how you feel when traveling becomes too routine and nothing feels fresh anymore. We were kind of suffering from it in Panamá as we were mostly sticking to big touristy sites due to lack of time. Nothing was feeling authentic or real. Everyone spoke English and everything was too easy. We were feeling too much like tourists instead of travelers.
Then, we found the perfect remedy! Thanks to Couchsurfing, we hooked up with a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in the rural mainland of Bocas province. We stayed with Doug in Las Tablas for two nights, getting a taste of life in “el campo” and meeting some real off-the-beaten-track Panamánians.
Las Tablas is in the heart of the banana-growing lands, where it’s very hot and rainy. Chiquita Banana is headquartered nearby and thus almost everyone in this area is employed growing bananas which are shipped to the US and Canada.
Since I did a stint in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, it was really fun for me to reminisce and to compare Doug’s situation with how my life was. Panamá is a lot further along development-wise than Tanzania, but big parts of the Peace Corps life are the same everywhere. Doug was definitely a local celebrity known by everyone in town. Kids would yell, “Hello, teacher!” as he walked by, and he always had to stop to talk to all his fans. Add Zach and me to the mix and we created quite a spectacle. Three gringos in town, oh my!
Hanging out in Las Tablas helped us feel more connected to Panamánian culture. It was refreshing to be in a place were there are never any tourists and the pace of life is slower. The best part of our stay was just walking around the village, greeting kids and practicing our Spanish with all of Doug’s friends. Las Tablas welcomed us with open arms and we couldn’t stop smiling while we were there. The Peace Corps life is truly a challenge, but the rewards of being so totally accepted by a completely different culture seem abundant.
We realized that we need to do more of this stuff! The problem is that there’s just so much we feel like we HAVE to see and we have so little time left! We’re definitely going to try to hook up with at least one other Peace Corps Volunteer though!