Vacation, Part Three: Feeling Like We Moved to the Tropics

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of our departure from Morocco.  That event started our two-week pandemic purgatory in a hotel room outside Dulles Airport in northern Virginia while waiting for all the stars to align for us to complete our journey to Panama at the end of July 2020.  The Pandemic gave us a very different – and much more limited – first year in Panama than what we had expected, but we nonetheless have loved being here as much as we were sad to leave our friends and family in Morocco after four wonderful years in Casablanca.  In our tropical Year Two, we look forward to exploring so much more that Panama has to offer, and feel like our second year here will be more like the first year we expected.

Our one big exploration came during Semana Santa (Holy Week) nearly four months ago when we escaped to the black sand beaches of Cambutal at Sansara Surf & Yoga Resort.  We have let a few months creep by before closing out our vacation trilogy of posts, but we enjoyed our week of R&R in Cambutal too much to let it go without comment.

Arriving at Sansara after our vacation planning (https://expatexpedition.com/2021/04/12/vacation-part-one-risk-reward-when-every-daily-action-becomes-a-calculation-of-risk-tolerance/) and after our first foray driving into The Interior (https://expatexpedition.com/2021/05/24/vacation-part-two-there-are-many-waze-to-the-airport-or-to-the-reclusive-beach/), we found it a relaxed and healthy place without having an overly “crunchy” atmosphere.  Sansara has a small, intimate setting, that we found even more so by there being only a few guests staying at the same time as our visit.  A good place to stay at any time, we found it an ideal escape location for us during our cloistered pandemic lives.

After spending a sedentary pandemic year perfecting our unhealthy habits, Sansara was exactly what we needed to begin our quest back toward mind-body-soul healthiness with not lots to do except relax and do healthy things.  In the mornings we did “old people yoga” – aka restorative yoga – for just the two of us in the open-air yoga theater that (like pretty much everything at Sansara) looks out to the Pacific.  In the afternoons we played cribbage in our Casa OM (yes, as in, “Ooooooohhhhmmmmm”) abode while watching the waves roll in and out.  Apropos of its name, Casa OM struck us instantly as the perfect place to just chill.  Spacious, an attractive use of wood and natural elements, a huge bathroom, sitting spaces inside (to maximize use of a/c) and outside (to maximize enjoying with the ocean sounds), huge windows looking out toward the water meters away, and a small infinity pool as a great place to relax together, we think what we liked best of all was lying in the big bed while listening to the tide come in and watching the waves crash up the beach.  At night the patio outside Casa OM would welcome crustacean visitors as small crabs paraded around on their evening constitutionals.  We found much – and much-needed – peace there.  We wore comfortable clothes every day.  We got two-hour long massages in the massage hut (that, you guessed correctly, opens out to waves making their way up the black sand beach).  One morning Brian tried SUPping…and eventually was able to get up and paddle a bit.  But to achieve that minor success he had to offer as a sacrifice to Neptune his internationally well-traveled leather hat bought more than a decade ago in the Cascade Mountains town of Leavenworth, Washington.  It having logged many miles of hikes and trips on four continents with him, he hoped someone would find it someday so it could continue its grand adventure without him.

And then there was the food:  amazing, beautiful, healthy, and tasty at every meal.  Brian enjoyed many things, but his favorite meal was chicken tacos with sweet slaw, which he devoured for more than one day’s lunch.  Audrey had a harder time choosing a favorite.  “Everything they served fed your eyes before it fed your mouth.  When they served it, you just wanted to go right in and get it, but first you had to take it in for all its beauty.”  The restaurant (which, of course, is open-air and looks out onto the Pacific) also had a nightly Happy Hour specialty drink that we found quite yummy while watching the sun set over the Pacific.  Brian took lots of photos, especially of the food, which he shared with the owners who quickly added a few of them to the Sansara website.

The one venture we had off the grounds of Sansara came on our second full day of escape when we drove an hour and a half along the coast around the southeast corner of the Azuero Peninsula to the small town of Pedasi.  Finding Pedasi’s Playa el Arenal (literally, The Sandy Beach), we met up with Capitán Irving and his family to take us in open fishing boats to Isla Iguana for the afternoon.  Capitán Irving’s daughter served as translator for the trip, traveling in our fishing boat with us, Irving, and another tourist couple.  Capitán Irving’s sons and nephews captained other vessels to round out four boats taking a total of a dozen tourists to the island for the day.  First, though, we had to check in at the national police station set up across from the beach, showing our IDs and signing the log that monitors who goes out to the protected island preserve inhabited only by birds, crabs, iguanas, and other fauna.  Audrey had found the tour online and made all arrangements without being able to speak Spanish, with details on the other end presumably arranged by Capitán Irving’s daughter.  After registering, we watched the men roll the boats from the sand into the surf, then we waded out and climbed aboard Capitán Irving’s boat, the “Silvia Rosa.”  Once we got seated and were pushed out a little further into the waves, Capitán Irving fired up the outboard motor and steered us for 90 minutes to Isla Iguana.  Throughout the journey, the boats crashed through big and choppy waves, but upon reaching the reef just offshore at the island, the waters calmed and we found our afternoon slice of heaven.  One could not name the island more appropriately, because its population consists entirely of critters like large sea birds, gazillions of painted ghost crabs and hermit crabs, and (of course) a plethora of iguanas (no, not of piñatas).  We snorkeled over the coral reef off the beach; sat in the shade of trees along the beach and read while listening to the tide coming in; and communed with the hermit crabs and iguanas.  (The scores of Brown Pelicans and many hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds all over and above the island in search of food had more interest in communing with potential nesting mates than with us.)  After several hours of tropical island paradise, we collected our things and waded out to the boats again for a quicker and much less choppy zip back to the mainland, followed by a late-afternoon, tour-provided lunch at a local restaurant.  With bellies and souls well-sated, we took the 95 minute drive back to Cambutal.  We recommend that anyone coming to visit us in Panama make plans for an outing to Isla Iguana.

Our week in Cambutal proved a very relaxing time to enjoy just being together and to recharge for the first time since the pandemic began.  Usually when we travel it is either to see family or to go someplace with an unending list of cultural and historical things to see and do.  We enjoy both those types of vacations, but often we come home as poster children for the “I need a vacation after my vacation” syndrome.  This was the first time in a very long time that we took a vacation to do nothing except enjoy each other, and we did it well.  What a wonderful way to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary several months early.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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