Hello friends! It’s been a minute since I’ve done one of these personal life update posts, but I’m so excited to be back in storytelling mode.
This month, I traveled to Panama, which is the second country I’ve visited in Central America.
I spent the first few days exploring Panama City. The Panama Canal was definitely a highlight and after watching alarmingly large ships pass through a way-too-narrow-looking canal, I ate an equally alarming number of tacos at a trendy rooftop taco bar.
The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to catch a shuttle van to Playa Venao, Panama, a remote stretch of Pacific beach about five hours from the city.
That’s where the adventure really started.
Because I decided, in a fit of budget travel passion, that I would live in a tent on the beach once I got to Playa Venao.
Okay, okay, before I oversell it, I didn’t like pack my own tent and pitch it on a beach and eat just fish I caught with my bare hands or anything like that.
This tent was a very sturdy, “glamping” style tent at the Selina Playa Venao Hostel. It came with a real bed inside, a mosquito net, communal showers and bathrooms, and access to all the Selina hostel amenities (including a coworking space, shared kitchen, pool, and yoga pavilion).
But it was still much closer to nature than I’ve been in my travels in quite a while.
While two weeks without air conditioning and not being able to stand up inside my room eventually compelled me to switch to a dorm, I really enjoyed getting back to my summer camp roots and sleeping close to nature, with the sound of the waves not far in the distance.
Here are a few of my favorite things that happened while I was living in a tent in Playa Venao.
The Sea Turtle
One night, I walked down to the beachfront pool area to refill my water bottle at the water fountain. And I saw something really weird. Sitting all along the pool deck was a row of people, just sitting silently in a straight line.
Very intrigued and only slightly worried I was walking into something culty, I walked over to see why everyone was sitting, seemingly in a trance, looking at the sand.
A giant sea turtle was slowing making her way across the sand just a few meters from the pool deck, looking for a place to lay her eggs. The hostel had turned all the lights off and everyone watched quietly as she dug around, but ultimately decided this spot wasn’t the place for her.
She slowly made her way back down to the ocean to lay her eggs somewhere else, but seeing her so close up was unforgettable.
The Panga Restaurant
One of the staff members at the hostel convinced us we needed to eat at Panga with one simple sentence. “The only reason Panga doesn’t have multiple Michelin stars is that there aren’t any raters down here.”
You know you have something special going on when almost every single staff member at your hotel recommends the same place independently of each other, so one evening we set off with only cell phone flashlights following what we hoped was the road to this infamous Panga.
Playa Venao is remote. This means that there are essentially no street lights. The dark is very, very dark. And while there is a gravel road you can follow, it’s closely lined with lush rainforest and all the rustling sounds a rainforest makes. These sounds are scary after dark.
So I fretted and sweated and ran through preposterous disaster scenarios in a high pitch voice and after twenty minutes of blindly walking through the jungle, we emerged at the Eco Lodge, uneaten by jaguars. Panga is located in the back of the Eco Lodge and when you walk in, you feel like you’re walking into a treehouse.
After eating at Panga, I can verify that people weren’t exaggerating. It really was delicious!
Shopping in Pedasi
One of the only downsides of staying in Playa Venao was the lack of grocery options. There was one mini-mart in town but there wasn’t much selection – but funny enough, there were some interesting niche groceries like “sushi rice,” “stuffed grape leaves,” “vegemite,” and bags of chocolate chips with no other cookie ingredients.
There are many amazing restaurants in Playa Venao, but it’s tricky to eat out for every meal while traveling on a budget. So basically, we were either eating sushi rice with chocolate chips for every meal or we needed to find a big grocery store.
Something had to change, so we took a shuttle to the nearby town of Pedasi. In Pedasi, we found a much larger, fabulously stocked mini-mart, and guys, it was like being turned loose in Costco.
Eyes wide with delight, we had a ball filling the shopping cart with as much pasta, ramen noodles, peanut butter, and snacks as we could find.
Our thought was that we needed foods that would last in our tent, so we didn’t do the logical thing of buying fruits or vegetables. No. But we did buy about 5 bags of pasta, hundreds of packs or ramen, granola bars, and sprinkle cheese, so priorities.
Anyway, we really didn’t think this plan through too well because we didn’t bring any bags to carry our groceries back home in. As our pile of processed foods grew, we looked around sheepishly for a way to carry it all. The woman working saved the day and loaded our loot into two large boxes, which we then proceeded to carry back like proud school kids.
I’m not proud of the following picture, because oh my gosh no one should eat this way, but I’m going to share it anyway. Yes mom and dad, I now have reintroduced fruits and vegetables to my diet, don’t fear.
The Haunted Pirate Fish
So on this trip, I got a bit more independent with my surfing, meaning I could paddle out on my big beginner board and not shriek in terror when the waves came. I could actually get myself out there and enjoy it, even if I didn’t catch many waves.
But one time when I was sitting out on my board, trying my hardest not to cook in the sun and admiring the perfect bay shape beach that is Playa Venao, I saw something I’ll never forget.
Just a few feet away from my board, a large fin stuck up out of the water.
My first instinct, because of the sheer size, was that this was a shark and I was actually in a horror movie. But I blinked once and realized actually no, shark fins don’t look like that at all.
This very large fin was webbed. It almost looked like a skeleton of a shark fin or a spider web. Like a shark fin if it were totally haunted.
It looked like the mast of a ship in Pirates of the Caribbean where they are all haunted zombies. The Very Scary Fish poked its fin way up out of the water and swam straight for a few feet, then dipped below the surface again.
I think I said out loud “nope nope nope nope” and paddled hard in the opposite direction, still wondering what the heck it was I just saw.
I’m calling it haunted Pirate Fish.
If you know what this fish is called for real, please feel free to leave me a comment letting me know! It was weird and gave me the heebie-jeebies for sure.
New on the Blog
Writing about Panama came easily and I can’t wait to share my latest travel posts with you! Check out the resources to plan your Panama trip below!
- 9 Fun Things to do in Panama City, Panama
- Visiting the Panama Canal – What To Know Before You Go
- Playa Venao, Panama Travel Guide
- Selina Playa Venao Panama Review (You can stay in a tent too!)
- Trusted House Sitters Review (Get 15% off your subscription until the end of February!)
On Finding Balance Again
One of the issues I was struggling with before this trip was the whole work-life balance thing. Most people think when they start a blog that they will work less than they did at their traditional job.
I apparently missed out on that part of it.
I’m not always the best with balancing hobbies and travel with work and blog related tasks. I love my blog and I love working on it, but I also know that doing anything for sixteen hours a day typically isn’t the most healthy approach so I’ll just be honest with myself and say I need more balance.
In Playa Venao, I found it. And oddly enough, it had a lot to do with the physical layout of the Selina Hostel where we were staying.
The property itself is long and narrow. It’s not massive, but there is a five-minute walk between the relaxation area on the beach and the quiet coworking area at the back of the property. My tent was located between the two.
So any day, I could walk out of my tent, walk two minutes to the coworking space, write a blog post, then drop my stuff off at the tent, and go read a book on the beach for a while without losing any time in transit.
I could rent a surfboard right there on the property, or get a coffee, or a smoothie, or do arts and crafts, or sit in a hammock, or anything, right there.
And with convenience like that, even the person with the worst work-life balance doesn’t have an excuse. That was nice.
What’s coming next?
Up next we’re heading to the Caribbean Islands of Bocas Del Toro. Getting there involves an overnight shuttle van and two boats, so I’ve downloaded a podcast recapping recent episodes of The Bachelor to get me through the long travel day.
Then the plan is to move up through more of Central America and Mexico. The plans are always very loose, so if you have suggestions for where to go in Central America, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for joining me and I’ll talk to you soon!