What do you say when you have reached the end of a 500 day journey around the world? And what do you say when you are finally sitting down to write about it a year later, in the middle of a global pandemic, after the longest stretch of time at home we’ve ever had? I’m not sure. But here we are and this moment needs to be commemorated with something… so let me tell you about our time in Panama, the last country of our extended honeymoon before returning home.
Ah Panama, it feels good to type your name. Honestly, it feels good to just type “pan…” and have it not be followed by “-demic” at the moment.
- Days 1-5 – Sailing the San Blas Islands
- Days 6-7 – Panama City
- Day 8 – Flying home!
Dates: May 22-29, 2019
We traded in Cartagena’s stifling air for an ocean breeze en route to Panama, spending 5 nights aboard a catamaran with 12 other people and a Portuguese water dog named Astor.
The first day and a half were in open water, as we left Colombia, passed the Darian Gap, and entered Panama territory.
This was the last hurrah of our ~500 day international travels. Being without cell reception or connectivity for nearly a week as we bounced between islands was a fitting way to close out this whirlwind of a honeymoon. I had space and time to relax my body and my mind, preparing for the realities of coming home (which in hindsight I don’t think there’s any way I could have really prepared for what it would feel like… But more on that another day).
I think the San Blas Islands might be the Caribbean’s best kept secret. I always hear about people taking tropical vacations to the Dominican Republic, or the Virgin Islands, or the Bahamas. These are all beautiful places, and great options if you’re looking for a place to sit at a resort and have someone bring you pina coladas and nachos (you know, the kind with the crappy but delicious yellow cheese) all day.
But, if you want somewhere with hardly any other people and a true deserted island feel, the San Blas is where it’s at! You won’t find any all-inclusive resorts or fancy facilities, making it the perfect Caribbean getaway for adventure seekers who like getting off the beaten path.
The days of island hopping all kind of blur together, especially now as I write this all over a year later. But when I look back on the experience, I see a lot of blue and green. I see palm trees, I see sunshine and breezes. I see myself speaking Spanish to a bartender on a tiny island – a literal sand bar – ordering mas cerveza. I remember feeling both present in the moment, and a little detached from reality. I knew we were coming home soon, but out in the San Blas, with no connection to the outside world, it didn’t quite feel like it.
Eventually we arrived on the mainland of Panama and ventured inland to Panama City. Our stay there felt more like a long layover than an actual destination in and of itself, but we still explored the city.
We started with a visit to the Panama Canal. The famous canal cuts through Panama, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s a REALLY BIG DEAL for world trade. We arrived at noon and it was the perfect time to see two ships pass through the Miraflores locks.
Commercial ships will pay upwards of $150,000 to pass through the canal. And this is still cheaper than sailing around the tip of South America, which is mind blowing.
We also did a self-guided walking tour through the historic area of Panama City. It was lovely, but we felt indifferent to it at the time. I think part of it was that our minds were already transitioning into our return home, even though our bodies were still in Panama.
And just like that, the sunset on our 500 day honeymoon around the world. Looking at life a little over a year ago to now and the contrast couldn’t be more stark. We’ve gone from nonstop travel, to non-travel. We’ve been in quarantine/self-isolation for over 100 days now (121 to be exact), and it is a little nauseating to think that is already nearly a fourth of the duration of our tip.
In our first 121 days of travel, we had already been to Malaysia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Fiji, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. There’s a lot of travel you can do in 121 days. But instead, we are home, wearing masks, trying our past to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus. We feel anxious about the future, both ours, and our country’s. Sometimes it feels like we live in a twilight zone, or maybe in the Handmaid’s Tale.
Now, more than ever, I am grateful for the precious memories and experiences Tim and I have had. Travel won’t look the same for a long time, and if this is the end of our international travel for the next few years, well, we had a good run while we were still young. I’m so glad we didn’t wait. I’m so glad we pursued our dreams, and not just pursued, but prioritize. We identified a single goal – to build a travel lifestyle – and Tim and I each made every decision for years with that goal in mind.
One day I will have more to say about these strange times. For now, though, to simply be here is enough.
Until next time.