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Stineology: Unexpected Gifts from Panama

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

“As I walked through the port on the way to San Blas, I noticed, many of the locals had no shoes, they lived in mud huts, the shoreline was filled with garbage, and they were the happiest people I had ever seen in my life”

When I went to Panama, City Panama I didn’t know what to expect, especially as a solo traveler. Yes, I went alone. I arrived and checked into my suite at the Hard Rock Hotel and Resort. I was blown away by how big this place was. It included several restaurants, a nightclub, a rooftop with amazing views of the water and the city, and an infinity pool. You’ll learn through subsequent blogs that infinity pools are an obsession of mine. Anyway, I got to my room and for a second felt sad that I was a solo traveler with so much space. There was a spacious kitchen, living room, huge separate bedroom, and modern bath. My favorite feature of the 60th floor room, was the crystal-clear glass balcony overlooking part of the city and the Panama Bay. I almost didn’t want to leave my room, but I hadn’t come that far just to Netflix and Chill.

After exploring the entire resort and attached shopping mall, I headed over to book my Panama Canal Tour and would highly recommend to other travelers. On the tour, we visited both the modern and the colonial sides of Panama. We then went to the canal where we were able to witness the magic of the canal locks as a ship passed through from Japan. One of the joys of solo travel is in meeting other solo travelers. During the tour, I noticed three other individuals. We were each alone, noticed we were each alone, and all clicked immediately. For the next day, we became inseparable. We ended up meeting again for dinner where we shared stories, laughs, and even tears. We bonded as though we’d known each other for years, just a few old souls reconnecting.

The next day, we left the main city in pursuit of San Blas, a group of more than 200 islands with white sandy beaches and water so clear, I felt like I was staring into an ocean of drinking water. The port to the island is about 2 hours away from the city and luckily, we were able to recruit the nicest Uber driver to take us there. Aside from Ireland, this was the most scenic ride I’d ever been on. It was a natural rollercoaster of winding and undulating paths overlooking hundreds of miles of rainforest. I also saw spiders the size of my head and learned very quickly never to roll down the window. We finally arrived at the port where we were met by many locals, of a tribe called Kunas.

As I walked through the port area, I noticed that many of the locals had no shoes, they lived in mud huts, the shoreline was filled with garbage, and yet they were the happiest people I had ever seen in my life. My mind was blown. My newly acquainted travel companion said, “I wish we could give them shoes and more stuff.” I begged to differ. With my nice shoes and clothes, penthouse, and daily luxuries, they were still happier than I can ever recall being. There was something more to their happiness than material things, and I wouldn’t dare want to disrupt that. It was such a humbling and joyful sight to see.

We set sail to island hop throughout San Blas, and the Kunas people were simply amazing. They took us from island to island, offered us drinks, and fed us fresh food. We even stumbled across a famous Latin American dance duo that was also vacationing San Blas. After going to several islands, we stopped at a natural swimming pool (literally a patch of shallow water way out in the middle of the ocean). We snorkeled and frolicked with a few Patrick Stars before heading back for the port where our Uber driver patiently waited for our return. We fought sleep as we rode back to the Hard Rock after an amazing day of random exploration. The last day was spent lounging around the rooftop hot tub and amazing infinity pool overlooking the city. Finally, on the 4th day, I packed my bags and said goodbye to my newfound friends.

Even today, we still keep in touch. Though we came from opposite ends of the country (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto) we bonded in a way that I will never forget. Panama was an amazing experience. For anyone afraid to take the leap into a solo international trip, fear not. While I always encourage that everyone be cautious and safe, some of my greatest travel experiences have been just getting up and going: No friends, no plans, and no regrets.

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