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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Paradise in Panama

Despite the beautiful surroundings, amazing people, and fun times we had in Bocas, we felt like there was something missing. Since we left Saramandaia, we had little purpose in our trip other than floating and having fun. And even though it sounds crazy to say so, that gets tiresome. We needed to do something, and settle in one place long enough to do it. We found a promising workaway opportunity on the Pacific side of Panama and agreed to five weeks of work-stay there at Punta Duarte Gardens Inn.

The jungle, the beach, the Pacific as seen from the house
The view from one of the balcony of one of the rooms in the B&B
Located near Torio, Panama - a place that even our Panamanian friends thought was made up because they had never heard of it - Punta Duarte is about as remote an area as you could find. Transportation there wasn’t easy. We took a bus from Panama City to Santiago with no information on how to get to our final destination, other than we had to catch an onward bus from there. After a brief call from a pay phone to our host, and some garbled conversation with the locals at the bus stop, we found the bus to Torio. It was more van than bus in reality, and wooden stools were pulled from under the seats for passengers who boarded after the seats were full. After two hours down roads that had 30 meter strips of missing pavement every kilometre or so, we arrived in Torio. Our host, Gaby, picked us up from the bakery there - the only establishment in the whole town - and immediately apologised, saying that her home was so remote. It was another 30 minutes drive from the middle-of-nowhere, Panama before we reached the inn. I can’t deny that more than a few flashes of dread went through my mind. If the accommodations and work were as unsuitable as at The Monkey Farm, we were in trouble. There would be no hotels in town to escape to, nor friends coming to visit.

But any worries we had were immediately squashed as the property came into site that first evening. Located at the point of a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific, the massive inn was a beautiful, modern mansion-turned-B&B. We were welcomed in the living room, whose floor was tiled in stone. The ceilings raised 30ft above us with an upper balcony hosting the library, and was decorated with South East Asian art. Next we were shown the kitchen, which would become my playground for the next 5 weeks. A six-burner, stainless-steel gas range was flanked by huge black granite countertops, and the whole kitchen was stocked with top-of-the-line equipment. We were immediately put to work making salads for the guests’ dinner, but somehow chopping vegetables and putting together gourmet salads in a class kitchen like this didn't seem like work.

Looking down into the living room
The library upstairs
The kitchen, my playground
An example of some of the art that decorated the living room, and the cats
The first night I decided to sleep in a hammock outside on the terrace. I woke to an alarm clock of tropical bird song. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes I found what the darkness from the night before had been hiding: a stone-tile terrace which swept the length of the house adorned with two heavy wooden tables long enough to seat ten people each, white hammocks the size of twin beds swung between the columns supporting the upper floor, and stairs from the terrace led down to a 25 meter lap pool. Beyond the pool the Pacific Ocean expanded forever into the horizon, the view unimpeded for 180 degrees.

As the sun began to poke above the palm fronds, it dawned on me that I was going to live in a mansion in a tropical beach paradise. For five weeks. For free. This notion was a recurring one throughout our stay at Punta Duarte, as I was constantly reminded that I had found a slice of paradise.

The stretch of terrace along the front of the house
My bed the first evening, and the view out the front door
Yeah, this just about sums it all up right here

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