The three lies of Bocas del Toro.
I am not drinking tonight, I am leaving tomorrow, I love you.
1. I am not drinking tonight.
I arrived in Bocas del Toro on the Fourth of July. In the morning, in Puerto Viejo, I watched Joey Chestnut break his hot dog eating record with the help of a vpn, a borrowed cable login, and espn.com, and I found myself missing home. Though, which home that was I’m not sure. And I realized that the two places in the world I wished I could be, no longer ever would be. I wished I was at Coney Island, which will never be the same because in this past year two of my favorite eaters withdrew from Major League Eating. And I wished I was back in Chiang Mai, which will never be the same because it was the people there that really made it for me.
After the contest ended I headed with some new friends to Bocas del Toro, across the border from Costa Rica into Panama, took the boat to the island, and checked into Aqua Lounge (a crazy hostel that featured nightly parties and swings and trampolines into the water), and relinquished to the fact that my Fourth of July this year would be very un-fourth-of-July-y. Within my first two hours of arriving, three locals visiting my hostel had bought me beers. And all of them offered up to be my boyfriend. I enjoyed my complimentary cervezas, but didn’t take any of them up on their proposals.
That night I did manage to see a few fireworks from the dock of my hostel. And I did go out, celebrating a Spanish girls birthday, but a cough I’ve had for a while started getting worse and I kind of felt like shit, so it wasn’t the best of nights for me.
The next day I decided I wasn’t going to drink.
And that, my friends, is always my downfall.
Sitting around the bar, that afternoon, I started talking to an older gentleman who decided to share his two-for-one happy hour beers with me. A few in and a couple of Costa Rican boys decided to share the bottle of rum they’d bought with me.
And thus ended any ideas that I would be not-drinking off my cold.
After however many drinks I somehow ended up playing bongos along with them at the hostel’s open mic night. After however many drinks I somehow ended up going to the dance club. After however many drinks I somehow ended up making out with the Costa Rican boy who said he loved that I was always dancing. I was always dancing.
Though he was cute, and fun, and nice, I knew he was too young, and he felt too young as I kissed him. And I wasn’t really sure how into him I was. And I still had that damned cough. So after we left the club, I broke free and retreated to my bed.
The next night was a Saturday and the night Aqua threw one of the biggest parties on the island. I made no promises as to not drinking and grabbed myself a rum and pineapple juice early on. By the time the free hour of ladies night drinks was over a bit later in the evening I was properly drunk.
I sat most of the night was a group of cute Australian surfers I’d first met in Puerto Viejo. Eight of them traveling together.
Truth be told, the group kind of had a cheerleader effect going on. And, truth be told, teenage Val whose first (OK second) love was Zack Morris is hanging her head in shame at me for saying this but somehow “Australian surfer” is just not my type.
But whatever. I spent most of the time talking with one of them. He was kind of cute and the way I’d seen him smile at me since I got there made me think that maybe he was into me.
At one point in the evening, when he walked away to get another drink, one of his mates said to me “He likes ya, he wants to hook up with ya,” and I decided, I kind of wanted to too.
After not convincing him to dance, he said we could dance in his room. And I followed him there. And thus ended my way-too-long-without-sex-my-blog-was-getting-boring-with-too-much-culture-and-shit spell…
2. I am leaving tomorrow.
The next day was one of those awkward does he want me to leave him alone or does he want to fuck me again days. One where you’re not sure if you should go up and talk to him or hide the hell in your dorm all day. It didn’t help that I totally ran from his bed in the morning because I was coughing like hell and didn’t want to wake his dormmate and I really needed to pee and was kind of on my period and worried that I had bled all over him and his bed.
I was still sick and spent half the day napping. And I didn’t drink that night. Really. But watched him and his friends play beer pong from the other side of the room. Sometimes I just don’t know how to deal with day after shit because I am too worried about reading too into things or seeming to eager and want to play it totally cool. But, I mean, is it too much to ask for a guy you just slept with to come up to you?
On Monday, moving on from any idea that anything would happen again, I watched most of the day as my Costa Rican friends and a couple of Dutch guys partook in “Marathon Monday” — opening their first beer at around 9am when they awoke with the mission to drink until the sun came up again the next day. They were celebrating their last day in Bocas del Toro.
The night was kind of a mess: the boys had been drinking for 12 hours already when we went to a party in town, it became inevitably clear that one of them was going to hook up with our new Brazilian friend, and I ended up leaving the bar kind of early.
When I returned to the hostel I ran into another guy I knew, we ended up talking in the back room, and then we kind of ended up kissing.
I walked away, though, before anything more could happen.
Again I retreated to my room, because I have this way of running away when I don’t want to deal with things. Because my shy and introverted and socially anxious self has trouble making words come out of her mouth to explain herself. I hardly slept that night because my roommates were doing a 24 hour drinking challenge and kept waking me up. And I was still coughing like hell. At 6am I gave in and just got up. At 9am I said goodbye to one of the Costa Rican boys who, surprisingly, managed to leave. His friend, however, did not, and the other boys stayed for another final night, or two, in Bocas del Toro…
3. I love you.
(Though, I’ll rename this one, I give a shit about you.)
I spent the next day on a boat with two Brazilians watching for dolphins, snorkeling, visiting a beach. It was lovely.
Back at the hostel I was joking with the Panamanian (Panamaniac?) bartender because he had asked me to take a photo of him with his surfboard…naked. And at one point we went to go grab his board, because hey, I’m a photographer, it would have been a good photo, but then he walked away and asked me to follow him. And then he grabbed a towel, walked into the shower and said we could take a photo in there…
I stood outside yelling at him over the running water that no, I would not be coming in.
And then, later, he messaged me on Facebook saying that we should take a shower together. And the next day, before leaving for a bit he said he was going home to take a shower, “you coming?”
Truth be told, part of me wanted to. Maybe not shower with the dude, but he was cute and nice and liked to dance. And if there was one thing I’ve started to learn is that I need a boy who likes to dance. But I already was feeling like too much of a hot mess. And I’m always weary of locals, especially locals who work at a hostel. Or bars. Because I can only assume they sleep with everyone.
Not that I’m any different. I suppose.
On my last night, Wednesday night, there was another big party at the hostel. Ladies night started at 9:30, so at 8:30, I went to one of the bartenders and told him that I wanted a run and pineapple juice waiting for me at 9:30. And he did it. And then I proceeded to drink five of them over the next hour. And I was properly fucked.
The night was fun: dancing, friends, boys. But, really, it was kind of sad. And empty. And, at one point, I found myself crying in bed until one of my Dutch boys said to me to not waste my tears. And he was right.
I watched as the Australian made out with some other girl. I woke up the next morning (after going to bed alone) to that other guy with another girl in my dorm room.
But, such is life, I suppose. And you can’t be upset over something you did yourself, really. And it’s not like I saw any future in any of these guys anyways.
After the party I had said goodbye to my Panamanian bartender. He said he was leaving, unless I wanted to take that shower. And I had to say no.
The next morning I left Bocas del Toro. I had been thinking about staying longer, or maybe leaving and coming back, because, truthfully, I really liked it there, despite being an utter mess. But that “last night” kind of cemented that it was time to move on. Everyone else ended up leaving too: the two Dutch guys, the two Brazilians. The Costa Rican boy, who had planned on leaving two nights before though…to get back to work… stayed.
And man, I love him for it.
MeraApril 16, 2014at9:40 pm
Looks like you had a blast! Love your sarcasm and honesty.
Val BromannJune 14, 2014at8:48 am
Thank you!! I did have a blast!
someone who careJuly 11, 2014at9:10 am
those marine stars die if you take them out of the water for a long, i hope u just take them out of the sea to satisfy the necesity of your ego for taking the pic, and then you returned the stars back to the water inmediatly… ¬¬ #insane
PerryAugust 26, 2014at11:46 am
Looks like your trip consisted of consuming endless amounts of alcohol,and having sex with strangers..how enlightening.
GabyJanuary 10, 2015at6:20 pm
I was sitting here laughing out loud during reading this. Bocas del Toro was where I went for my first solo trip. I had never left the states either. What a magical place. Needless to say, I was supposed to go on a 2 week holiday and ended up working at a hostel (Mondo Taitu), falling in love with the owners best friend, and making friends with all the locals. I even saw some of them in your pictures! I had the time of my life. To this day I am still friends with everyone I met there. The second time I went was welcomed back with open arms and offered 3 jobs my first day back. I ended up bar tending at La Iguana. I didn’t stay very long the second time because as you can imagine, island life can get complicated, and sometimes dangerous. It can be a struggle to find a balance, but Bocas definitely has my heart, and I promised that I will buy property in Panama someday. Happy Travels!
Todd @ Visit50July 6, 2015at9:02 pm
Great photos! I referenced your post on mine – link is below.
I love your photo coming off the swing – that was so fun!
Debauchery is funOctober 17, 2015at11:00 am
Don’t listen to that self-righteous prick Perry, up above. Some people just feel the need to dump their moral judgement on everyone else. The sad reality is they do the same damn stuff, they just aren’t honest about it. They assuage the guilt over their own hang-ups by looking down their noses at others. To hell with them, I say! I’ve been all over the world and I’ll take the rogues over the moral crusaders any day. And it’s not a religious thing either, I’ve met just as many people who are completely non-religious and yet still love to let you know how superior of a traveler they are because they are not a “tourist” and they would never visit some place such as xyz..because it is beneath them. Bastards! All of them! I think you can get just as much enlightenment in a seedy bar as you can working on some hippie organic farm, and probably some better stories. I swear, many people travel simply to impose their own idealized vision of what they suppose a native people should be like, instead of treating them as real people. To me, that is condescending as hell. Panamanians love to party just like everyone else. They are not zoo animals or museum pieces to be gawked at by self-righteous and guilt-ridden tourists who have declared themselves arbiters of what is “proper” tourism. You interacted with the Panamanians and others as people, nothing to be ashamed of there. That will always bother some like the poster above, but don’t let them get you down. Sorry for the rant and keep traveling!
Todd at Visit50June 14, 2020at7:23 pm
I meant to include the link for you – here’s my post on Bocas (which references this post).
I love the specific unique angle you took. I went for comprehensive, and linked to your post too.