The day had finally come to leave El Progreso and so we waited at the bus stop for the 4am bus to Rincón and beyond. I had imagined the putative euphoria that would be felt on this journey for some time, and had romanticized about the four of us all bound together in the spirit of adventure, buoyant with feelings of accomplishment and nostalgia. But, the reality was that we were all very worn down, some of us upset about leaving, and some of us unable to really look one another in the eye without wincing. The mood lifted though as we headed into Panamá and enjoyed our first night of freedom in David, and things got even better as we arrived in Bocas del Toro at an awesome hostel called Casa Verde, which we were to call home for the whole Christmas period.
I had come to Bocas with Sarah back in 2009 and, to my surprize, nothing had really changed about the place in those two and a half years. The backpacker strip was just the same and hadn't been expanded at all, and the general ambience was the same, with the same tours being offered and the same trashy clubs kicking out the same meat market anthems for imbeciles to dance to. Ok, now I am being harsh, but I guess by now I have really gotten to know what I like and don't like to do with my time, and I am becoming more reluctant to flirt with the latter anymore. That said, Bocas didn't disappoint; the place was beautiful, we all got along well, did our own things from time to time and saw just enough of each other for it to be fun. We went on a boat tour on Christmas day to watch dolphins, go snorkelling and have a champagne picnic on a beach in a national park, during which I got some perfect photos of dolphins jumping out of the water in the wake of our boat. I still haven't decided how I feel about this practice, but there is no doubt that the dolphins were enjoying showing off.
There was a band in town called Shanti Roots doing the rounds - a group of Chilean backpackers regurgitating reggae tracks with considerable aplomb, and I got up on stage to play the drums with them on a few tracks, which was fun, even if I was a bit rusty having not picked up a pair of drumsticks in some six years. I would love to do (or have done) what they are doing though; a great way to finance travelling and meet a load of people for sure.
Even since before I started the turtle program in 2011 I had promised myself that I would get a tattoo done at the end of it, and in Bocas there just happened to be an artist visiting from the States who was an expert in doing tattoos of marine wildlife. Myself, Caitlin and her friend, and Heather all got tattoos that day one after another. I got a baby Green turtle crawling on my arm, based on a photo of one of Talhula's (the one Green turtle that came to nest in 2011) babies. Heather got a 10-inch long orange and blue octopus sprawling out over her thigh and around her knee; it was epic and took over five hours to finish. I can only imagine the kind of pain she went through during those five hours, but it was worth it in the end - it was the tattoo that everyone in town wanted to get a look at.
After we left Bocas we went our separate ways, as Mateo and Caitlin went to Panamá City and Heather and I headed back into Costa Rica. I spent the next two weeks solid in freezing cold Cartago, where I looked after the apartment of my friend and colleague from the Corcovado Foundation, Mauricio, and his awesome wife Maria. Aside from a night out in San José with Heather and Mario (from El Progreso) to see in the New Year, I saw very few people during this time and devoted all my attention to finishing the final report for the 2011 season of the program. Just like my PhD thesis, it was clear that perhaps only two people were ever going to read this document, but I put everything I had into it and was really pleased with how it turned out; just like my PhD thesis, except that this was something tangible and real; something that I could genuinely be proud of. Once Mauricio and Maria got back from their vacation in Mexico, I packed up my things once again and set off to Guanacaste province, to a beach in the Nicoya Peninsula where I was to volunteer at a turtle project run by PRETOMA. I had no idea that this trip was to open some intriguing new doors and was to change the course of my plans for the next few months.