It’s morning on the island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama. The air is heavy with the remnants of last night’s rain, but the breeze coming in from the sea offers a cool reprieve from what threatened to be a hot and muggy day. The honey-colored island dog called Miela (or Cholita, by some) seems to have adopted us, and lazes around the spacious deck of our treehouse, always at the ready to snag a dropped morsel of whatever we’re eating. She’s become a protective watchdog, barking and howling at the few who wander by or come in from our dock. Without notice, the rainforest erupts with the frantic squawking of a thousand birds, followed closely by the beating of two thousand wings against the thick leaves of the mangroves. Just as suddenly it’s calm, the only noise the mild waves, crunching and sloshing along the seawall that provides a barrier to the ocean’s endless assault. I boil water for the French press coffee and slap together some passable food for one of our two daily meals. It may be eggs and potatoes but it’s usually a PB&J or last night’s leftovers. The humidity and our general laziness don’t lend themselves to a hearty appetite for either of us, and I’d rather focus on making dinner than brunch. A rattling engine lets us know Luc, the surfer who lives in the hill behind us, is on his way in from shredding his daily gnar. Miela scampers down to meet him with a wagging tail.
It’s afternoon on the island, and we head over to the neighboring boutique hotel to see if their kayaks are free. Even though they’re intended for guests, we’ve charmed our way into free usage when hotel guests are busy with tours of the islands, snorkeling excursions, and other vacation-y things. Paddling away from the docks, we head toward a floating green bottle tethered in the water—literally one man’s trash marking another’s treasure. As we round one of the many reefs in the area, being careful not to scrape the kayak across anything while still trying to get a look at the underwater world, we glimpse thousands of fish milling about the coral, and orange and red starfish scattered along the sandy bottom. We begin to round the southwest bend of the island, but decide otherwise as we spot large waves cresting out of our comfort zone. Instead we stick to the bay, paddling between the sailboats anchored in safety for hurricane season, dodging the occasional water taxi, and scanning the horizon for the dolphins rumored to come in when its calm. The sun is out in full now, and the cool splashes from our paddles are welcomed. Sunburn begins to prick at our shoulders, and we head back to the treehouse.
It’s evening on the island; we’ve showered and hung out our swimsuits to “dry”, knowing nothing ever really gets dry here. Sean flops onto the hammock and I onto the reclined deck chair, both of us wielding our digital reading devices. The rainforest comes alive with the sound of crickets and chirping frogs, and we know mosquitoes are soon to follow. Sean lights a coil of repellant to ward them off, and I put on long sleeves anyway, since I’m apparently prime eating for the bugs. Our deck faces west, and we watch the orange ball of sun dip behind the neighboring island, lighting the sky from fiery orange to pale yellow, and finally an uninspired gray dusk. The whomping bass of Latin music starts up from across the bay, and we grimace in sync. There’s no telling if it will play for an hour, or until the wee hours. A brownout once shut down the whole town, and I hope for a recurrence, since we run on solar. I head to the kitchen to prepare dinner as Sean grabs the broom for a daily sweeping of the deck. It’s become clear that cleanliness is our only defense against the critters (from cockroach to scorpion to mouse) of the forest. We eat a simple dinner over a game of Scrabble with admittedly lax rules, and fall into easy conversation about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. We speculate on the future, conjure up ideas for stories and books, and ruminate on the subject of family.
It’s nighttime on the island. We climb into the “safety net”—our barely full sized bed, draped by a mosquito net—and turn on the tiny electric fan aimed at our heads. We read by the light of headlamps until our eyelids droop, and are lulled to sleep by the sounds of the waves and the rain falling gently in the jungle around us. This is La Pura Vida.