Central America’s lightning season is finally over and I’m excited to get moving again. We’re both thirsty for nature, more self-awareness, and a better understanding of what life is about. She has just been through a difficult relationship, and on the tail of my traumatic decision and ear problem, we’re both healing.
We slowly hop our way down the coast and through the undeveloped islands off Panama, reading spiritual and self-help blogs voraciously along the way. “Why don’t they teach us this stuff in school?” I ponder aloud while reading the illuminating ancient Toltec wisdom in The Four Agreements.
“I know, and how to breathe, calm our minds, and meditate!” Heather adds, breaking for a moment from the blog of yogic philosophy she’s studying to become a yoga instructor.
As we go ashore one morning, a local man fishing from a small pier greets us. “Hola. /Buena manifestacion! Me llamo Gerardo” (Hello. Good manifestations! My name is Gerardo.)
Upon returning from our walk, Gerardo invites us for a meal. We both get a good feeling, so we follow him to his simple tin-roofed shack in a rugged corner of jungle and mangrove. Compared to how we’ve both grown up, he has very few material things, but his calm demeanor and overwhelming generosity show another sort of richness. He feeds us fresh fish and coconut water, pointing to his toucan and monkey amigos in the nearby trees while light rain falls majestically. Although he speaks little, his peaceful presence and simple living move us to question our modern “needs” and lifestyles.
Central America Map Photo Gallery
“Muchas gracias!” we call out as we head home. “Ybuena manifestacion!”
We discuss our blogs and insights while preparing meals, wandering beaches, watching sunsets, and making passages between the endless coves and islets. The fresh air and wilderness feel cleansing and curative. Panama’s ten- to fifteen-foot tidal fluctuations are a new challenge, but Heather never makes me feel rushed. We remind each other to see the beauty in the present to avoid dwelling emotionally in the past and look for the upside in mistakes or perceived failures. We wonder about meaningful coincidences, the unlimited possibilities of “manifestation,” and how to flow with, rather than force, what life presents. I’m not wired to flow; I often develop stiff ideas about how I want things to go, and then have a tantrum if they don’t pan out. This first year at sea has shown me that if I insist on having everything my way, I’ll spend most of my time miserable. Equipment failures drive me insane since things break almost as steadily as I repair them. Forcing passages nearly always gets me into trouble with bad weather. And I often waste energy throwing my arms up in frustration about illogical bureaucratic rules or “unfair” circumstances. I know I must work on being more positive more flexible when the wind shifts and willing to see water in the carburetor as a chance to learn. I won’t last long out here if I don’t. So far, the ocean has been a gentle teacher, and I’ve only had some minor slaps, but I know I need to stop making the same mistakes.
I launch a conscious effort to go with the flow. Soon we’re awed at a long, open-faced wave we find while exploring by dinghy. I push Heather, a beginner surfer, into a perfect head-high set on the longboard, and she rides it for a hundred yards while I cheer all the way. One evening ashore, we’re attacked by sand flies while Heather leads a yoga session. After collapsing with laughter, we decide to go fishing instead and end up catching dinner. When the wind wakes us up in the night, and forces us to leave our anchorage, I bite my tongue not to complain, and the next morning we find ourselves in a gorgeous empty bay where we dive with rich sea life and cartwheel along wild beaches.
As we begin to feel part of the wildness around us, we climb trees, bathe in the swirling fluorescent sunset sea, pee off the stern under the moonlight, and sleep outside under a sky of winking stars. Nature restores, soothes, and heals. While attempting to harvest coconuts, catch fish, forage high-tide lines, and make mud baths, we talk through our recent adversities and begin to feel new strength and clarity.
When the full moon rises over a jungle island backdrop one evening, I call out “/Buena manifestacion!” then howl at the gorgeous golden orb.
“Buena manifestacion!” Heather exclaims, howling too. “It’s perfect! Gerardo’s phrase sums up everything we’ve been talking about! Positive thoughts create positive experiences!”
I wake up the next morning feeling the need to make peace with people I’ve wronged and spend a day writing apology letters to friends, ex-boyfriends, and family. Heather studies her yoga blogs in the cockpit while I type madly. All our recent discussions are helping me see my own faults, and I feel I need to clear out the negativity in my past so I can start again with a fresh slate, living from a better set of principles.
We continue south, and one morning in a deep sheltered bay about halfway down the coast, a local man paddles out to Swell in his dugout canoe. While we exchange batteries and DVDs for fruit, the wind switches and swings Swell over a shallow sandbar. Soon there is a second canoe. An adorable young family needs first aid supplies for their toddler. While searching around Swell for their requests, I don’t notice the tide is dropping out fast. Our visitors head for shore just as Swell’s keel hits the sand. It’s too late; I’m panicked and stressed and pissed off while the hull begins to lean over as the water drops out from under us.
After a foul half hour, the lightbulb goes on: this is a perfect opportunity to try to change my perspective. I take a deep breath, remembering how Barry described his numerous boating follies as “learning experiences.” It’s only sand below us; the tide will rise again. Heather keeps her cool, and I can’t help but smile as she attempts to make breakfast on a 65-degree angle. She climbs up the tilted cabin from the fridge to the sink, and we crack up as the water flows sideways out of the faucet, spilling down onto her legs.
I decide to make use of the next few hours to clean the port side of the hull. “At least I don’t have to hold my breath!” I call up to Heather while the stereo blasts Bob Marley’s voice, reminding me to keep a good vibe.
As January slips into February, we continue to play like kids in the wondrous island landscapes, embracing simplicity and cherishing the natural world around us.
After dropping anchor at a small island one afternoon, we tandem-paddle the longboard to what appears to be a deserted beach. We haul the board up above the high-tide line and skip off down the shoreline to stretch our legs after a long day of moving Swell south. We don’t get very far before a short, balding gringo in a dress shirt appears from the trees in a fluster.
“This is a private beach. You are not welcome to walk here,” he growls at us.
I try to reason with him, but he shakes his head and scrunches his face. I feel my blood beginning to boil.
“How’s it going to hurt anyone if we just walk near the water’s edge?” I sharply question.
Heather softly steps in. “It’s okay, sir, we didn’t mean to bother you,” she says. “Lizzy, let’s go for a swim instead.”
Heather is clearly way ahead of me in this game. I back off, and we turn away. We’ve only made a few steps when he calls out, “Well okay, you can go for a walk, as long as you stay near the water.”
He stomps back into the trees. We recommence our walk and I contemplate my hot temper and how quickly the man had changed his tune when Heather had simply complied. All the new concepts we’re learning are simple, but breaking my ingrained patterns isn’t.