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Las Fucking Lajas

I left early that morning. The rain had already come and Bocas Del toro was quiet and damp. I got on the boat which led me to a collectivo which led me to a bus. A bus to David. In Panama , all buses end up in David. Another bus from David straight to Las Lajas. I was recalling my conversation with Sol and the pictures she showed me. Two pictures of the beach with a nice sunset . Other than that I had no idea what was there. The bus pulls into town and the driver tells me I need a taxi to take me the rest of the way. That’s strange I guess but in Panama questioning things doesn’t really get you far. I was going with the flow. I pull up to the hostel I had booked which was named Johnny Fiestas . From the pictures looked like just a bar on the beach so I didn’t have too many expectations but after extending my stay three times I came to find this was my favorite place in all of Panama.

I step out of the cab, my bag still heavy from all the stuff I haven’t lost yet. The heat instantly slaps me and the 10 steps from the cab to the bar I am already sweating. A beautiful blonde girl greets me in Spanish and gives me a tour of the property. The dorm is small and hot but the bathroom is nice. There’s fans above your bed to keep you cool and hopefully blow the mosquitos away at night. After I get settled I get introduced to everyone. Everyone that I thought were guests were actually volunteers. There was Priska the blonde girl, T, Leo and Matt. They introduced him as another person who worked at the hostel but was actually the owner of Johnny fiestas. He was a young guy from the U.S who from his stories seemed to be a pretty good gambler. He wanted to do something different so he decided to take the first offer from workaway and he would run with it. It was down to either Portugal or Panama and Panama messaged him first. Now I’m not sure about the rest maybe because this happened back in March or maybe because we all drank ridiculous amounts of ron every night. But he decided to open a hostel in Las Lajas. Rum in Spanish is ron, not sure why and just about the cheapest ron you could find was Abuelo. So we’d joke we were hanging out with Abuelo Ron for the night . Well, in Las Lajas it was every night.

But first it wasn’t like that. The girls were friendly but only really talked to each other and Matt. There were some other guests but they only talked to each other as well. I didn’t mind because I was in paradise. I went swimming in the morning and watched the surfers and hung out in my hammock in the afternoons. The beach was huge and the shells remained perfectly in tact on the beach. They were smooth and came in white,purple, pink,red and sometimes blue. The water was shallow and the waves didn’t break right on the beach which made it perfect to learn how to surf. I had bought some groceries beforehand so was able to use the kitchen to make personal feasts and the bar offered 1$ beers to wash them down. You ever try to remember with a friend exactly how you got so close but you can’t? You can only remember being friends ? Well that’s the Lajas effect. I don’t remember how and neither do the others but once that awkward phase wore off we surfed together, ate together, and partied together every night. When new people came we adopted them in the Lajas Crew and it was good.

That’s where I learned how to surf. I decided to give it a try one afternoon . I watched the others and got the basics quickly. I wasn’t perfect but I stood up 2 or 3 times on my first day. I was thrilled. I never pictured myself surfing, especially because I’m not super big on water. I’m more of a mountains and forest kind of guy. The second day when I had gotten closer to the others they agreed to let me join. They were these two big German guys Felix and Gabriel. Felix was on vacation after his U.N club competition got over with and Gabriel was traveling on and off with his friend Salome. I they had surfed before so this wasn’t their first rodeo. I was struggling just to make it past the break. Finally after I did, the riding began. After two or three hours it started to come and I was catching every fourth wave. Sometimes all the way to the beach. We would finish off with beers and siestas and then we would go grocery shopping together and have huge feasts. Vegetarian because the meat in Panama was very sketchy looking. Drinking games turned into just drinking and sometimes I was so drunk I didn’t realize the whole hostel spoke German. When they ran out of room I would sleep outside on the hammocks and let the sounds of the waves and dog fights lull me to sleep.

I loved Las Lajas, I wish I stayed there longer or maybe volunteered there. It is such a gem untouched by tourism I’m afraid to go again as to taint the memories I have of it. I also made some lifelong friends. Priska from Switzerland I would continue to run into on my travels and Gabriel who I have been traveling with for months now and will probably continue to do so until my trip ends. When people ask what I recommend to do in Panama I can’t help but to scream “Lajas baby!”. There’s so much more I could write about this place like when I puked for chugging 8 beers in a row, when Gabriel taught us how to make arepas, or even when we held a séance with Alberto’s passed out body and shirtless guy from Spain. Just go, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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