Thursday, August 30, 2007


Actually, I should refer to this convivial and serene city as München—everyone else in Europe does. And we did do some serious münchin’, and gobbling and gnoshing. We started at the Viktualienmarkt… slamming down some snausages with a healthy dose of sweet mustard… and I don’t even like mustard. And we couldn’t pass up on the pretzels which were so big that we probably could’ve untied them to use as jump ropes. It was serendipitous that we stuffed our faces before we went to purchase suits for the nuptials a few days away. Why? Because I would learn that you don’t stop eating or drinking at German weddings and you got to leave a few inches in the beltline to accommodate.

That night, Michael Brinkmann and his fiancé, Daniela, opened up their apartment to these weary travelers. Even though their wedding was only a few days away, they hosted us for a dinner party, replete with cheese-stuffed vegetables appetizers and a succulent steak dish main course. We wanted to dress to the nines… e.g., Ricardo wore brand new shoes, which took two quarter sized chunks out of his heels, and I wore my best Bavarian tuxedo for the occasion—lederhosen. Prost! Yes, lots and lots of prosts… with decadent red wines and Brinkmann’s (and my new) favorite beer, Schneider Weiss. We laughed late into the wee hours of the morning. [Dear 1 am, although you might happen to be the smallest hour of the 24 hour day, you and I always seem to get along great. We should become better friends. Yours truly, Kevin] Thank you Brinkmanns! This night topped out the “sore belly” scale from all the belly laughter.

The next couple of days, we explored Germany in our souped up rental car. In a stackranking of the top recent technological advances, GPS devices have to rank somewhere in between the Internet and the Nintendo Wii. However, I would caution not to blindly accept the default settings of these devices. Case and point, we programmed in the destination and off we went… we were zooming down the highway when the stern voice of the GPS woman bellowed to make a right turn. Ok, who were we to argue? We went about 300 meters down a rural road before we ended up at a highway—kind of like the one we just exited. We merged back on… until a little while later: MAKE A LEFT IN 300 METERS. Now, we were on another small side road… which turned into a gravel road… then a dirt road… then, it was as if we were driving down someone’s driveway…. which did eventually merge back with the highway. Hmmm.

The problem… the GPS setting was on “shortest” route. oh, and of course we learned during our future adventures that the car always returns to the default settings each time we shut off the engine. The “as the crow flies” setting is for the birds. Now if they would instead offer a “maximize the amount of time on the autobahn” setting… well that would be cool!

Random thought… if I were to ever go into carjacking, I think perhaps the best way would be to hack into a GPS device. Tourists will blindly follow the mechanized directions anywhere. So instead of leading them to the Rose Bowl, for instance, they could be guided into a warehouse in Compton. Let them come to you. (I think it might be time to include a liability waiver on this blog before I start getting nailed for aiding and abetting.)

“You have arrived at your destination” austerely announced the GPS lady. The destination was a sublime castle on the border of the Alps which was commissioned by King Ludwig II back in the 1870’s. Even though the castle was never finished, the king met an untimely demise and the project was immediately halted, Neuschwanstein is still regarded as one of the most charming palaces in the world. Factoid of the day, Neuschwanstein was the inspiration and model for castle in Sleeping Beauty.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


When someone tells you to “Get Lost,” they are actually saying in a brisk way “hey, you should go to Prague. You’re really going to enjoy it!” The city was constructed long before there was a “civil engineering” major as there appears to be no rationale to the random spray of the streets. The cobblestone roads don’t make for the best running trail and the towering walls lining the street limit the view… so you can imagine the surprise by the concierge when I inquired about the best running route.

Undaunted, I went for a run early in the morning before must of the city woke from their slumber. The panorama from the Prague Castle and then from the petrinksa was overwhelming… like seriously overwhelming… just one of those moments in life where all the axons are spontaneously firing. The lack of sleep or any other slight issues that had been dogging me just seemed so trivial up there.

Lots of the cities we’ve visited have amazing rivers coursing right through their heart. Prague also has a river… but it seems more like a stagnant lake under the Charles bridge. We were about to play a game of Pooh Sticks before we realized that we might be stuck there for the entire afternoon to determine a winner. (

I’m finding it quite difficult to find an opportunity to drink water on this leg of the trip. The beers here are half the cost of water (and they don’t serve free tap water) and less expensive than soda. So what did I have for breakfast? An omelet with a half liter of beer. For lunch? Pasta with gnocci and salmon with a couple half liters of beer. Oh, and our patented cheese plate or deep fried camembert or brie. For dinner? Hmmm, I think goulash, along with a couple more handles of beer. Saving money and intoxicated without drinking 40’s! Since we were so thrifty during the day, I figured I could splurge on a nice aperitif, absinthe. They say it is legal and not a hallucinogenic, but I haven’t had dreams this screwed up since watching the movie Kids.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Buda + Pest

Guess what… I’m now a coffee drinker! Quite an accomplishment since I’ve been flouting coffee since my early teenage years. I could never get over that chalky taste… even with a full pack of swissmiss hot chocolate floated on top. I somehow made it through college, professional career, and MBA without drinking a full cup of coffee (instead, relying on mountain dew, sleeping in on Saturdays and red bulls, respectively). But, I’ve finally started to drink the kool-aid (mixed metaphor). Barny, I can’t wait for our next backpacking trip so I can join you for a cup of joe in the morning.

Lia and Mark joined up with us for the next few legs of our trek. Now we got enough to play 4 player games like hearts and round robin backgammon—a great distraction for the long train rides.

Also, the long walking tours and hikes between sites lend themselves to some interesting conversations. We would easily spend upwards of an hour talking through what would take 20 seconds on a Google search. For example, what are the top global brands and how much are they worth? Our guess… Coca Cola es numero uno! Correct! The approximate value is $65b. In running the search just a second ago, I discovered that Microsoft, IBM, and GE are the 3 others above the $50b mark according to interbrand. I guess it might be a good idea to trademark company and product names!

The recommendations for Buda+Pest were right on… the night boat cruise was spectacular with all the principal buildings and statues lit up. The Terror Haza was absolutely chilling. The building was the site for over 20 years of brutal torture and thousands of murders. Also most of the exhibits were in Hungarian, they provided comprehensive English descriptions to guide non-native speakers.

When our legs started screaming, we headed to the main drag and pulled off at one of the many sidewalk cafes for afternoon beers and people watching.

We did stumble into one land mine… the Gellert baths modeled after ottoman baths from over 500 years ago. If you are a germ-o-phobe (like Lia), or if you just prefer more than a couple feet between you and the guy rockin the hiked up European bikini, then you might want to pass on this spot. Too bad we didn’t even get a chance to swim… because we had waaaaay too much energy for the overnight train ride to Praha… and much too little space in the sleeping car. Oh well, sleep isn’t happening with the border police relishing each opportunity to pound the glass of the sleeping car with the butt of their pistol.

Friday, August 24, 2007


We reached Copenhagen, the chin cleft of Scandinavia. Lonely Planet finally took a back seat to a personalized concierge service... Brad (aka Neo or Kevin Richardson) hooked us up with the brothers Kjendlie, 3 transplants from Norway now all making Copenhagen their home. These guys rolled out the red carpet for us… which was a heck of a lot better than our walk through the red light district to our hotel. (note to self: the wider the street on the map, the less sketchy.)

Each night, we dined at some of the hippest, trendiest, swankiest, just downright, bumping spots in town… and since these eateries were all up and coming, the prices were quite reasonable. We even hit up a smørogbrød (smorgasbord) for lunch in the heart of the city… a spot with only 6 tables so not large enough to make it any tour books. It’s a great sign for a hungry traveler when there are no fake flowers eating up valuable table turf. Instead, this spot had one of those metal doohickeys, the ones that they normally have a pizza parlor to lift up the tin on the table. Hello extra surface area!!! Which means more food, and more full!

For the most part, we’ve tried to distance ourselves from the putative loud, obnoxious Americans (temporary moratorium in international waters). All we take are pictures and we leave only footprints. At the same time, I believe there are some time saving techniques that I believe I should share with my fellow citizens of the world. Top of the list: jaywalking. Cosmopolitan professionals living the big city can’t wait for these plodding traffic lights that take longer than baking a chicken pie in the conventional oven. Jaywalking tends to be a bit more dangerous here as the concept of “pedestrian right of way” is clearly not taught in driver’s ed. Oh, and watch out for the bikes too!

This city, and almost all Scandinavian cities, is very bike friendly. They have their own lanes, one lane on each side of the road… and the riders even use the hand signals.

The cheapest spot for a cold beer is the Carlsberg brewery. They have quite a rich history and also the largest beer bottle collection in the world (nope, I didn’t see any He’Brew—The Chosen Beer bottles). The beer is pretty good, or as their curious motto proclaims, “possibly the best beer in the world.” Probably not, but I’m starting to dig these midday buzzes.

On our final night here, we hit up one of those super-exclusive roving warehouse parties with only models and rich bankers/trust fund kids on the guest list. The password “open sesame” might work for Popeye in the cartoons, but not at this spot. Instead, the brothers Kjendlie have the scoop by tossing out the name of a Sony exec listed as a VIP all around town. I’m not quite sure how I slid past the bouncer with my bright yellow flip-flops and Hammer pants. Must be good karma.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Norway + Sweden = Crazy Delicious

I had a slight leg up on my fellow travelers before reaching Norway. You see, back in 7th grade, our Spanish teacher was a lover of all languages; so, if a student visited a foreign country, their assignment would be to return to class and teach us three words. My friend and classmate Jon-Erik, for the uninitiated, he’s half Norwegian and his well-earned middle name is Viking, returned to class and taught us some of the more exotic words. First word was the Norwegian word for “speedbump”: Fartstemper. For the second word, we learned how to say “dirty”: Shit. The next was the phrase for “in fact”: faktisk (pronounced “Fuck dis”). Even if I didn’t know quite enough Norwegian to be conversational, seems like every Scandinavian can speak English better than most Midwesterners.

A couple fun facts… Norwegians are some of the slowest drivers in the world. The max speed in most towns is around 35 km/h, (~20 mph), so there aren’t many fartstempers. There are 5 palm trees in the entire country. They have the longest road tunnel in the world… nope, not just because they are slow drivers and they measure the length of the tunnel by total time spent driving through it. Faktisk, the road tunnel spans over 15 miles and facilitates the drive from Oslo to Bergen, especially during the winter months as the state-of-the-art tunnel won’t let your car get shit.

If you go online, there are roughly 50+ cities that claim to be the “rainiest in the world.” Bergen definitely may lay claim to the title as they suffer from 275 days of rain on average per year. So data & decisions geeks, what’s the probability that it would rain the 3 days and 2 nights that we were there??? 100%. (it’s a heck of a lot easier to figure out probability on historical events.) Oh, and in subsequent conversations, we have heard that Bergen had 68 continuous days of rain during this past winter. But that 69th day must have been unreal.

We did muster the courage to go out each day braving the wet weather. The fish market absolutely rocked… we got the insider deal with Ricardo and Cono spitting out Spanish to the Mexican and Argentinian working the tent. The salmon baguettes were superb… but you’ll have to ask the two others about the whale…. Yeah, some of us honor the global boycott on international whaling—which, for the record, is flouted by Norway and circumvented by Japan… I think they were saying something about, when in Rome.

We also attempted to do a full day hike in the looming mountains lining the city. The tram/train ascent was pretty cool until we got to the drop-off spot and the inclement weather shrouded the soaked city below. Fortunately, there was a park with the strangest troll/elf/predator statue which inveigled us into taking a couple candid shots.

Our favorite spot in this seaside spot was a restaurant called the Penguin. Not sure if the conversations or the beer were more effervescent… the main draw though was the scrumptious food. It is quite easy to make the transition from penny-pinching trekkers to cultured gastronomes. I think we might have made it through dinner without passing gas or even talking about passing gas—quite an accomplishment.

We decided to venture a bit from the beaten track and hit up a miniscule hamlet, Balestrand, located on the edge of one of the Western fjords. This was truly a one horse town: one bar, a couple restaurants, and a supermarket (which happens to be closed from 8pm Saturday until 8am Monday morning). Since our goal was adventure and separation from all the tourists (supposedly 600,000 do a guided tour through some of the proximate cities), we went on a long day hike up the ridge line splitting two fjords. The vertical assault on the mountain was simply awesome. And on the return trek back down the mountain, the sun finally conquered the sky. Oh, how I missed thee.

Cono and I decided to confront the icy water of the fjords while Ricardo played the role of Steve Bloom. yeah, the water was frigid… but so much more refreshing than a Gatorade or a cold shower.

Goteberg is the second largest city in Sweden and probably the coolest. Even on a Monday night, the Avenyn, the main drag, was jampacked with a young, vibrant crowd. True to form, my attire might not have been the best fit for the evening. my flipflops (or “slippers” as the bouncer referred to them) prevented us from entering the bar, although he did say Cono in his tennis shoes and shorts was alright to enter.

Unfortunately, in order to get back on schedule, we only had a handful of daylight hours here… just barely enough time to do a walking tour, grab our bags, and head back to the train station.

So the running count on meals is 4 kebabs (basically, middle eastern spots shaving meat onto a plateful fries with a bit of salad for coloring), 3 McDonald’s and 2 Burger Kings. Embarrassing!! Even more appalling is that the average cost at the fast food spots are around $10 - $12 for a Big Mac meal. Ouch! But I’ve also chowed down on salmon more times in the past 2 weeks that I have in most years.

*** NEWS FLASH ***
Sweden just anointed Stockholm as the Capital of Scandinavia. This decision was received the rest of Scandinavia like the world reacting to the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Bill Murray celebrated by getting hammered then driving around town in a golf cart… which must have been an absolute riot until he got pulled over by the police and nailed for a DUI. Don’t they know that he starred in Caddyshack?
Gunga gunga la gunga… which means of course that when I die, I’ll receive total consciousness on my death bed; so I got that going for me which is nice.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Sorry for the delay in posts… I’d like to hide behind a nonstop travel schedule but the ulterior motive was probably the embarrassment from having to confess to wasting a half day of travel due to a malicious hangover. But it seemed like most of the Swedes were also feeling the effects from the previous night as the city was eerily quiet on what should’ve been a cheery Saturday morning. The Södermalm plaza (aka Söder), normally abuzz with activity, was like a ghost town with just a couple people sweeping up the remnants of the previous night. This would turn into our main haunt for the subsequent evenings as this happens to be one of the hippest spots around Stockholm. It’s kinda funny that we would refuse at all costs to double back on our hikes… gotta make a loop! but, we can hit the same watering hole multiple nights.

Cono arrived on Saturday night… now we’re a troika of trekkers. Gosh, I’ve wanted to use the word “troika” for such a longtime… it’s right up there with “penultimate”—brings back such fond memories of our “Wordly Wise” vocab books from high school.

The nitty-gritty on Stockholm is that it is built on 14 islands where a lake flows out into the Baltic Sea. Supposedly the canal water is super clean and just slightly salty … but we didn’t see a single person swimming and I wasn’t going to be the first. But we did take a high speed boat tour weaving through some of the 28 thousand islands comprising their archipelago. The clusters of islands with speckles of red and yellow houses interspersed within the lush green environs is quite a sight… fortunately, ricky and cono captured these (and almost every other) image! Here’s how most of Stockholm and Scandinavia must have viewed our travels.

One memorable anecdote is that a bit more than 100 years ago, Lars smith, a young entrepreneur, developed an ingenious marketing strategy to pump his product. Stockholm had a permit system for distilled spirits creating a de facto monopoly within the city. Spurning the permits, Lars opted to offer free shuttle boat ride to the islands outside the city limits… and then took advantage of the reciprocity principle as most of the passengers opted to purchase vodka from him on the islands and outside the confines of the Stockholm ordinance. A funny sidebar is that 100 years later when V&S decided to relaunch the distillation technique, they were brainstorming names for the Vodka. Although they ultimately settled for Absolut (great decision), they almost named it “Swedish Blonde Vodka.” Speaking of, like most things today, our consensus is that “Swedish blondes” are overhyped.

On the other hand, the Vasa museum was underhyped and definitely exceeded to moderate billing in our lonely planet guide. The Vasa is an epic ship built back in the early 1600’s… which turned into one of the most colossal engineering blunders in history as the Vasa capsized on its maiden voyage—this phenomenon is now referred to as being “top heavy.” Three hundred and thirty three years later, a dude discovered the ship entombed in the canal waters in Stockholm. The country went to great lengths to retrieve and preserve the ship. (kind of like me trying to preserve my trip by finding an internet connection to write a blog.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Heaven in Helsinki

The Finns love their summers! Even almost two months past the summer solstice, the daylight stretches well past 10pm here as the sun hangs on the horizon. Maximizing our time and the sun and hopefully warding off the impending jetlag, we noshed at an outdoor table bordering the plaza at the central train station. The conversation pauses were long and comfortable as Scandinavia lends itself to people watching. The demographic is quite homogeneous, with brunettes perhaps making up the biggest minority.

Ricardo turned the BIG 3-1 today! So what better way to celebrate than hit up the club that boasts it is the biggest in Scandinavia? The bartenders hooked him up with a faux plastic ice cube which flashes brilliant colors in the mixed drinks. Unfortunately, our batteries went out before the flashing cube and we had to hit the sack at the hostel. Since we were so tired, it almost didn’t matter that the beds fit almost like belt sizes. I think we both ended up with a size 36 waist bed… just enough for one half turn in the night.

With a refilled tank, we hiked around the central city tracking the Lonely Planet recommendations. The main park = lush. The fish market = tourist trap with tasty paella. Kiasma = cool, but overhyped. My favorite, errr, most memorable exhibit was an artist attempting to capture wind. She used time lapse photography coupled with a laser light attached to the end of the branches. She separately attached a pen to a branch and strategically placed a canvas at the tip. Creative? Yeah. But I probably would’ve prefer to seen this “masterpiece” at an middle school back to school night.

So one friendly recommendation before you travel out here: get your pockets sewn up. Nope, not because of pickpockets. It is because you will have lots of change. I had four coins in my pocket and realized that it was roughly $12 in change. If I come back, I’m bringing a metal detector to their parks. Speaking of, we my new Lasik eagle eyes I found a bill worth around $8. Why is found money so exciting??

And, almost as fast as an HBO Entourage episode, our time in Helsinki was up. We had an overnight ferry ride to Stockholm from Finland, which I figured would be fairly demure, even on a Friday night. WRONG! Turns out one way to celebrate a weekend is to do a 24 hour bender by doing a roundtrip on the Silja Line from Finland to Stockholm, then returning. The rallying cry for the night was “International Waters.” For example, when we were deciding to purchase either a flask or a liter bottle of duty-free Vodka… International Waters!!! Full liter. When pouring the first RedBull Vodka (RBV), should we pour a 3:1 RB to V or a 2:1 ratio??? International Waters… 1:1!

I’m not too sure what time I got to bed, but I do know that the cleaning lady woke me up. It was a bit disconcerting that the two other guys in our 4 person shoe box were already gone. But it actually takes quite a bit of time for 2,500 people to stream out of an ocean liner. We made it out and we were now in Sweden … navigating to Stockholm is another story.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

International travel rocks!

I’m kinda new to this international jetsetting thing. The closest I’ve come to these types of trips is playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” computer game. But once you get over the cost of the ticket, the flight can be quite pleasant, almost regal. The meals come with METAL utensils… and you’re treated to unlimited FREE drinks. For me, the highlight was getting a block of Tillamook cheddar cheese… YUM!!!

So what’s the catch… well, I was stuck in the aisle seat, and the two little old ladies next to me decided to indulge in the wine & spirits. Does Miss Manners have a suggested upper limit to number of bathroom trips per 10 hour flight? Oh well, I couldn’t begrudge them because they were also big Stanford boosters and Bill Walsh fans. I just hope they left some energy for their weeklong cruise.

The plan was to rendezvous with Ricardo in the Helsinki airport after my 18 hours of travel and his leapfrogging from Thailand. We were supposed to arrive within a half hour of one another in adjacent terminals; so we couldn’t miss each other, right? No problem! We walk out of our respective terminals and ran into each other mid-stride. What a fantastic harbinger for the rest of the trip!
The preliminary itinerary is to stay in Helsinki for a night, then overnighting to Stockholm for a few nights. We’ll then Eurorail it to Oslo, Norway before embarking on 4 day expedition through the fjords lining the Western seaboard. Our final stop in Scandinavia will be in Denmark after spending a night in Goteberg, Sweden. To save a day of travel, we’re aiming to hop a plane to Budapest and then cut back through Czech to Germany to celebrate Michael Brinkmann’s wedding in Munchen. We have a bit of flexibility on the last few days, and the stretch goal will be to visit Dmitry in Moscow. As the sun sets slowly in the West, I bid you a fine farewell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama

Wow! (ok, no more palindromes… well, one more since “racecar” is my favorite, sorry mom & dad & bob—no offense)…

I thought I would put my MBA to good use by doing some pro bono work for cousin Dave and his ever-expanding hostel empire in Panama. Even the best of plans sometimes go awry! I guess the MBA taught me a lot, but most importantly, “signing bonus” and “equity.” And the environs proved to be much too tempting… as backpackers are always in search of adventure, camaraderie, epiphanies, and booze. Cheesy, yes… but those hackneyed words might also be the prologue to the newest reality tv show: Hostel Takeover.

Hostel Takeover Sizzle Reel

No need to program your tivos yet since the networks still must greenlight and the boys must get comfortable with forever altering the culture of their currently cosmopolitan hostel.

I spent the first few days in Panama City with the Mondo boys. They were immersed in prepping for the launch of their next hostel in the Casco Viejo section of the city. Dave couldn’t even part with his blueprints to pose for this pic.

This historical section houses both the Panamanian President along with the penurious (and to keep the alliteration going, also the Parisians—the French embassy). Unlike most of the bordering districts in the city, Casco Viejo, with its vibrant yellows and blues and rot iron trim, possesses much charm even though entangled with the cantankerous ghetto.

The schizophrenia of Panama City is not just restricted to Casco Viejo. After a couple early nights (yeah, the Mondo boys were taking their work seriously and turning in by midnight), I rallied the energy for a seaside run. The panorama of the Pacific lining the boulevard was absolutely breathtaking… but the raw sewage stench was breath“holding” (lots of waste is deposited directly into the ocean, hence no swimmers). The concept of noise pollution apparently doesn’t exist there either; the bellicose motorists pound their horn like basketball players pumping their Nike Airs in the 90’s. I’ll try to remember this stuff next time I’m cursing a slothful traffic light back in the States.

After a couple days, we took a puddle-jumper to the Isla Colon in Bocas Del Toro. I was treated to the master suite in the sister hostel, Heike. Having the single room in the hostel with AC made me feel like royalty… it’s all about having the right reference points.

So, you ask, what is a day in the life of Bocas…well, one day, Dave and I went for a bike ride and ran into their handyman’s apprentice who was biking one-handed with a domestic beer in the other hand. Dave relayed to him that a shipment of bamboo just arrived via boat to the island which would need to be jerry-rigged up as the new wall to dull the bar noise mollifying their neighbors (at least for the indigenous residents and not for the gringo Dennis who spreads false rumors of the Mondo being a drug den). Dennis is a classic misogynist who would regularly show up unannounced to absolutely ruin moments—like stalking into the bar and turning the music off. At least most backpackers sense his bad karma and stay away.

One of my personal acmes was having the opportunity to play bartender at the Mondo bar, a definite hole in the wall which would probably be one of my favorite drinking troughs in the city. They actually have two full-time professionals, Eduardo and Genesis, but I was intent on rallying the “one for you, one for me” modus operandi. WOOHOOO!!! Well, pretty soon I was throwing fistbumps (aka, “pound dawgs”… which are this generation’s Hi-Five. To the uninitiated, two people facing one another, connect fists, combusting into a shrapnel of fingers exploding from the epicenter.) Since my spanglish isn’t that great, I didn’t know how to say “blow it up” to Eduardo. So, instead I circumlocuted “manos… y… dedos” (“hands” and “fingers” timed to the two phases). Over the next week and a half and hundreds of pound dawgs later, “manos y dedos” evolved into “puños (fists) and dedos.”

If the MonDudes ever find some spare time, they like to hit the water in their motorboat. The boat ride around the bay was an absolute treat as the weather could not have been better. The sea was in full splendor with guppies vaulting and dancing on the surface and the dolphins frolicking. We tried to jump in and swim with the dolphins… strangely they did a deep dive and ditch us. I tried to tell them that I am one of them… a Mighty Meadow Dolphin (community summer swim team) of over 10 years of service. (Or maybe a little Ace Ventura… “To train zee dolphin, you must think like the dolphin.”

The calories were starting to pile up... the food had been scrumptious and the beers were cheap. (Yelp, community reviews, says the functionality for international reviews will be forthcoming. Until then, any reference to an international location through Yelp will be captured in Orinda.)
Surprising for me, especially given the plethora of vacation-type activities, Dave and I developed a wholesome routine of afternoon runs… even in the searing humidity + heat. Not many roads are paved in Bocas; but unlike the States where our airports are protected like they’re Fort Knox, the island tarmac is repurposed in the afternoon as a playground/track. On one memorable run, we were joined by a gaggle of indigenous kids… embarrassingly the ten-year-old was setting the pace, but at least Dave and I were neck and neck.

During one of the runs, I decided to sign up for the Scuba program through a local dive shop. Although the Bocas water might not have as many underwater treasures as some other sites around the world, the certification program was an absolute steal--$175 with the hostel discount including two additional free dives. Although “safety never takes a holiday,” it definitely “slept in” during my training. My first dive was not in a pool… or in confined water… I didn’t even have the mandatory can you float for 10 minutes or swim 200 meter test. Instead, I was treated to an open water deep dive to 18 meters. (I’m a one-man rallying crew for us to switch over to the metric system… we won the language war, can’t we just accept that meters/grams/liters/ heck even Celsius makes more sense? Come on Democrats ’08… get ‘er done!)

The highlight of the trip was an adventure to Zapitillas islands on my penultimate day in Bocas. The trip was almost doomed from the start since the sneezy weather sapped the spirit from most of the hostel-goers. The trip was almost cost prohibitive, $60 in total (I laugh now as I write this considering we just spent $10 on a 3 minute subway ride in Sweden.) Fortunately, my fellow adventurer/backpacker Amandacuda galvanized 3 others to join in on the fun. These islands were a set to one of the original Survivor shows—but now are currently uninhabited, except for one nasty Park Ranger who badgers visitors for a park entrance fee, but right when they’re about to leave. Regardless, nothing could tarnish the luster of this secluded hideaway. The pounding rain, normally the bane of any beach day, was revitalizing. Walking around to the tip of the island felt like we were tiptoeing over the edge of the world.

I spent the last few days back in Panama City, carpe diem, right? And who knows when I might get back. The taxi rides to the Mira Flores locks and then through Casco Viejo and ultimately out to the causeway were wonderful opportunities to dust off the old high school Spanish; Bocas rarely affords opportunities to speak anything but English. I’ve been told though that while my vocab is acceptable, mi aggscento es teareeblay. For proof, I will reference the final night in Panama. We were treating ourselves to a latenight walk back from the bars since the weather is at its best when the sun is down and the humidity is on hold. Almost all is quiet, even on the main drag of Balboa Ave bordering the Pacific Ocean. Given the dearth of cars, the night air is actually almost crisp.

Almost back from our stroll, a police pickup truck rolled up to us. They thought it wasn’t safe for us to be cruising around and recommended that we should take a taxi back. But since there weren’t any taxis around—an extreme anomaly since there are probably more taxis in Panama City than Manhattan—the police officers recommended that we hitch a ride in the back of their truck. A few minutes later, they dropped us off at hotel… except that they thought I said “La Paraiso” not “Marparaiso.” A difference of about 8 blocks and 3 levels on the US gov’t terrorism barometer. We knifed down the center of the street, the most lit area banked by both sides of the road that felt like moats between us and the darkness of the sidewalks. We made it back safely… but you probably guessed that cause how else could you be reading this right now? Chronology never fails to ruin a potential cliffhanger.