Day 505 - Volunteer Service - Article 14

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on October 3, 2008.

Guest editorial: Becoming tourists when relatives come to visit

My brother Steven and his girlfriend came to visit. I have been looking forward to this since the tickets were booked months ago. We spent the first five days at our home and hung out with the locals in Panama City. We walked down to the river to collect bananas and upriver to the waterfall. We hiked part of the distance to the source of our aqueduct.

For the second half of their visit, we headed to Santa Catalina. To break up the trip, we stayed one night in Santa Clara. We happened to be traveling on Fathers' Day. It turns out only Carnival has longer lines for buses headed out of Panama City. All the people who live and work in the city return home to visit their fathers in the country.
With some difficultly, we worked our way to Santa Catalina the next day. We arrived late and stayed in the first hotel we could find with space. The next day, we moved to a picturesque cabaƱa right on the beach. We rented a long board and took turns catching waves. I was told by a surfer, "You can catch a ripple in a toilet with a long board." With the combination of a long board and steady waves we can now all say, "I have surfed."
Toward the end of the day, a group of four strangers asked if we wanted to share the cost and go to Isla Coiba the following day. We had been looking for more people for this same reason, so we took advantage of this serendipity. Isla Coiba, the largest island off the cost of Panama, is part of an even larger national park.

This experience was the highlight of our trip. We snorkeled around the smaller island of Granito de Oro inside the park and we all came out of the water grinning and awestruck. It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were sea turtles, sharks, an octopus, a giant ray, eels and uncountable fish of every color.
I doubt we'll ever snorkel in a place that beautiful again.
(Foy: We had a marvelous snorkeling experience swimming with sea turtles. And a more terrifying experience snorkeling with sharks. Granted, they were only 4 feet long and, according to the locals, not dangerous, but still I was just a few feet from real live sharks.)
We have done more interesting things in the last week than we did on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. Speaking Spanish and knowing our way around helps a bit.
We are now back in the Panama City, and it occurs to me that the city is very good for a short list of things: restaurants, shopping, movies, ice cream, hot showers, history and the Canal. We have exhausted all these options save the last two in one and a half days.
Foy and I never have enough time to get work done in the city, but we run out of touristy things to do pretty quickly.

Foy and Jeff 's Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to August 2009.

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