A Fresh Perspective

Today’s been a long day of travel from capital to capital- San José, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua.  But we have an exciting reason for not being in bed yet!  Zach’s old friend Steve is on a plane as we speak, flying in to join us for 10 days in Nicaragua!  Steve has never traveled outside the US or Canada, but he’s always up for adventures so we know it’s going to be a good time.  We’re excited to “show him the ropes” per se, and to have someone else to hang out with!  Mostly, I think it’s going to be really cool to have a friend with us as we near the end of our trip.  I’m hoping that we can show Steve a really amazing time and that traveling with a “newbie” will help us see things through fresh eyes again.  But enough from me, I’ll let Steve introduce himself:

“I’m Steve and I’m and joining Zach and Carrie on part of their journey through Central America. I’m very excited to experience someplace very different from what I’m used too. I’m looking forward to a good culture shock in Nicaragua with new language and lifestyle. My Spanish isn’t the best but I love a challenge and learning/experiencing new things. In all I’m just very excited about the experience I’ll have there, and everything I’ll be able to learn from being in a vastly different culture. Of course, when I tell people about traveling to Nicaragua they all have their comments (good and bad), questions, and concerns. My main concern for the journey is the SUN! So hopefully I don’t get too sunburned, otherwise I know this trip is going to be remarkable journey!”

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Life in the banana-lands

Awesome tractor-bus outside Las Tablas

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.

Miles of banana trees. The sign says "Don't enter or you might get crop-dusted."

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!

Kids in Doug's host family

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.

Doug and some of his students

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!

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