FRIENDS! and Best Night Ever

At about the billionth blare of yet another Mitsubishi Lancer, I’d had it.  Often, it was likely a cab driver letting me know he was available, but far too many men had whistled sharply or leered “hola!” out the windows for me to be even remotely comfortable.  I had dark patches of sweat down my t-shirt and my waterproof athletic shorts were baggy and misshapen after the third day in a row.  So I was gross and jumpy, but that weird global siren of “blonde” still held.

I wanted to round up every man in the country and put him on a conveyer belt through an assembly line of angry feminist mama bears.  I got back to my room and vowed I wouldn’t leave it again.

Well, this lasted until hunger hit, so I ventured out to the nearest restaurant- which featured two dollar rum, a friendly waitress, and zero other patrons.  Score.  One of the locals, Rosa, had walked me down the first night and doubled as my first warning.

“You mustn’t be out after nine!” she admonished, and “make sure you bring a friend with you wherever you go.”

“But I don’t have any friends here.”




(Sad face.)

But friends, last night I made friends!  And they dispelled all my previous impressions.

Friday night changed the atmosphere of my restaurant, and when Roger got up with his guitar and started playing Jose Feliciano covers of covers, I was filled with childlike delight.

But then all of a sudden he was tableside as I polished off my yucca.

“Want to get up and sing with me?” he asked, as people started to trickle in.

“My middle name is Oke!” I replied.  “Sure!”

I had had at least six dollars of rum at that point and had to back up and explain that my first name is Carrie and the Oke thing is just a joke I like to tell- I don’t actually sing stuff.  Not outside the shower or the Hyundai.

“No karaoke, even?  Haha, your name!”

I thought fleetingly of my Dr. Dre performance at Silver House and decided to keep it in the vault.

“Not like, anything I could actually hear, or that people felt the need to listen to.”  I was referring here to the wholesome family of six who now occupied the table directly in front of his amp.

Roger laughed with satisfying glee and grabbed his guitar and song list. We practiced quietly in the corner until he found my range (limited) and we decided on our set (the same).  I drank two more dollars for courage.  My belly was ready for this!

We went to the front.  Sat down.  I carefully flattened a wrinkle in my running gear as Roger introduced us:

“SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish CARRIE OKE! SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish.”

People clapped and looked at us expectantly.  The two children, eyes like saucers, crept ever closer.  Cell phones came out and switched to video mode.

I took a big ole breath and sang them where the answer was, my friend!  Followed that by asking what would they do if we sang out of tune?  Would they stand up and walk out on us?  And they didn’t!

The cell phones went away and the applause was more polite than raucous, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more of a rock star then when the 7 year old boy grabbed the mic afterward and shouted “Carrie Oke!” while I beamed.  He even joined me at my table and we happily counted to ten and diez at each other in a nod to my limited linguistics.  Because friends, you know, should always be able to count at each other.

Si, that was your redemption song, Panama, and I thank you.

Adios, gracias, and thank you very much.


I don’t have any pictures of myself singing so here are some friendly neighborhood cows.


The Highway, the Danger Zone, and Beautiful Boquete


It’s just before 6 a.m. and the roosters are cockadoodle doin’ it well, which is how LL Cool J would’ve written it if he’d been raised in the rainforest.  Lizards are a-skitter and there’s a chorus of birds singing lush and falsetto.

Boquete is in the northern part of the country, closer to Costa Rica then Colombia.  I hoped to come here post-urban adventure to finish this vacation with utter relaxation: sipping local “the world’s best” coffee, hiking to waterfalls on the volcano on which my room is perched, and snapping sloths in their natural habitat, while pleased, I think about how gross and cool it is that they’re slow enough to grow an entire ecosystem in their fur.

I am just so gosh darn lucky to have gotten here alive.

Within a moment in the cab, I realized that something was amiss.  We wove down the road like the thread on a seamstress’s deadline, and my driver- Josef- kept groping for something while muttering anxiously en Espanol.  “Up,” he demanded, and I eventually understood to hoist my butt as he groped at the seat underneath me, emerging worryingly with keys and an expression of true satisfaction.

We stopped at a gas station and inexplicably switched from a yellow cab to an unmarked SUV.  Josef grinned at my puzzled face, then rev’d the engine through a blast of rap music that assaulted at full volume.  As my shell-shocked brain retreated, he tossed the beer cans into the back and took off, with me in the front clenching every muscle in my body as I noticed the tv set in the dashboard flashed some skin in a thong and then the accompanying soft core pornography.

“You like?” asked Josef.

I just stuttered.  Grunted.  Remembered all the prayers of my youth.  As it turns out, I was not the quick-thinking survivalist when the internal warning bell screeched in time with the hybrid Spanish gangster beats.

On the road, we blew through alto signs like red meant “go” and octagonal meant “faster” and my puppet self jerked at every makeshift, hairpin turn.  The music became a reasonable volume of rhythmic “f” and “n” words, and as I thought of it as Tupac with Tourette’s, I pondered my options.

Ask him to stop, that I’d reached my destination?  There were no streetlights on this rural road: no.

Bail bravely from the bucket seat with a pavement-softening power roll?  All of AC/DC’s thunder struck and the heavens gushed through their opening.

So much for prayer and plan b.

Sooner than anticipated- Josef lurched maniacally at 125 in opposition to the speed limit’s 80- we arrived at the aptly named Haven.  There, he became gentle and shyly offered me his phone number.

I dully checked in, and on each of my trembling body parts.

And in bed I intend to stay until I recover.


Why You Should Go To a Nude Beach in Classic Five Paragraph Essay Form

Why You Should Go To a Nude Beach in Classic Five Paragraph Essay Form


In that drawling Southern way that renders even the word “penis” into a charming common noun, Ken’s friend from North Carolina explained how she found out what her son calls his junk.

“But what if my nude gets cold?” he asked her- although maybe not because the use of the word “nude” is more clear to my memory than the situation itself.  Also the word “watermelon” for a girl’s bits, which sent me into equally delighted giggles.  Regardless, “nude” is a funny word, especially when you play with pronouncing it in various accents and mutations (nyuuuuuuuuuuude).  “Nude beach”, however, changes the brain.  A nude beach conjures images of sun, sand, and both northern and southern exposures.  Should you do it?  Could you do it?


You should go to a nude beach because it’s the least fatal thing on your bucket list; because preparing for it is stimulating in that shivery “this is a brand new thing” way you don’t get much after, say, college; and because afterward, you will be able to drop lines like “I was naked in public in the land of the blue-footed booby!” into otherwise dreadful conversations, and then proudly but casually walk away.


Bucket lists tend to include things like skydiving, which is flat-out horrifying until you are (worst case) actually flat out.  Legal public nudity, however, is only scary in a mental way, especially considering each of us shares the same parts with approximately 50% of 7 billion people.  This is something you can tell yourself while looking critically in the mirror after buying the ferry ticket to the nude beach island, which is 32 miles off the coast of Panama, which is 4,786.7 miles from your home and everyone you know.  You will not die of body shame in front of isolated island Panamanians and the occasional femur-sized lizard.  Piece of birthday suit cake!


You should also consider the naked sunbathing because it is very, very fun to get ready.  For example during your preparatory shower, you can make up songs like “I Have Confidence In Nude Beaches” to sing in your Maria Von Trapp voice, or “I Can See Clearly Now, My Clothes Are Gone” in your best Johnny Nash.  Your pleased pituitary gland will start churning out oxytocin, while your endorphins will act as bouncers for any stress that wants to come in.  It’s true; science says so!  Or at least the studies referenced in an August 16, 2013, article called “Singing Changes Your Brain” do.  That, and the anecdotal evidence I can provide re: the excitement I felt for doing a new thing- of which there don’t seem to be a ton in the post-college era- should convince you.  I wiggled like a hyperactive earthworm all morning.


Not all agree that nudity is acceptable behavior.  In fact, Dennis Prager defended the opposite view in 2013 in a National Review article entitled “Why Public Nudity is Wrong”:

“When human beings walk around with their genitals uncovered, they are behaving in a manner indistinguishable from that of animals. A major difference between humans and animals is clothing; clothing separates us from — and in the biblical view, elevates us above — the animal kingdom. Seeing any animal’s genitals is normal. Anyone who demanded that animals’ genitals be covered would be regarded as a nut by the most religious Jew or Christian. But one of our human tasks is to elevate ourselves above the animal. And covering our genitals is one important way to do that.”

I would like to contend that the preceding paragraph is, in academic terms, hooey.  I can agree that there are times I would definitely like my clothing to separate myself from animals, but I mean that in the physical sense of preferring that the aforementioned iguana dig its claws into my sweater instead of my epidermis.  Frankly, Dennis Prager seems one of those people who partake in dreadful conversations.  Go ahead and interrupt him with your go-to exit line.

“I got naked with the boobies!” you can say, and then leave.  He doesn’t have to know that boobies are birds.


Nude beaches are perhaps not for everyone, but I do recommend them to those who don’t have a superiority complex over like, every other living creature that exists.  I felt more alive, in fact, in my quest to this Isla Contadora, and I dare even say more connected.  So do it, y’all, show us your nude!

I’m calling it a bare necessity.


I have never worked as hard to get anywhere as I did to get to that stupid beach yesterday.  I loaded my backpack with a map, SPF, and almost three liters of water for my hike off the ferry, and then set out with giddiness and glee; but alas, it was not to be.

Dang island didn’t have any signs, and all the “roads” looked like this:


I tramped three miles in the noonday sun in well over 100 degrees, completely alone but with the forest rustling around me like the monster from LOST was on my path and bonus: it smelled suspiciously like the monster was a bulk marijuana farmer armed with machetes and guns.  The situation was not conducive to peace of mind.  When I finally, drenched in tributaries of sweat, located the beach, it was from up here:


and I couldn’t find any path down!  Walked an hour more approaching from every which way, including an alarming algae rock crawl.

“Forget it,” I thought, and then another “f” word followed by “it”.  “If you can’t find the nude beach, make your own!”

So I peeled off my suit and did just that.


Panama, Police, and Pelicans

Happy Easter, from the police station in Casco Viejo!

My run ins with the cops here- who are heavily accessorized with terrifying but nevertheless non-nuclear armaments- began when my taxi driver from the airport had the unmitigated gall to attempt to drive to my hotel.

Since my Spanish words are limited to “hello, friend”, “bathroom”, and “ham”, I sat in the backseat politely ignoring the authorities and deciding to be the kind of cool tourist who doesn’t overreact to being pulled over an hour after touching down on Panamanian turf.  I thought this calmly as the cabbie popped the trunk, grabbed my luggage, and walked away.

I stared at him wide-eyed and gape-mouthed from the backseat until he turned around, put my suitcase down, and came back to open my door.

“Wake,” he said.  “Walk.”

I joined the literal funeral procession up the hill to my room and went to bed.  “Whew,” I thought.  “It was only somebody dying.”

The next morning, oh glory!  I woke up to this:


which is a lovely way to open your eyes, especially when paired with being not in jail.  What’s up, Panama?

I hopped out and found the promenade nearby, which is this gorgeous 4k stretch of oceanside walking path dotted with colorful play stations, palm trees and greens, and enough camouflaged, gun-wielding keepers of the port’s peace to really make a girl feel uncomfortable.

I ran through them without making eye contact and decided to enjoy the pelicans instead.


Spent the rest my first day here dubbing around the old city and viewing the new one from a rooftop bar.  Made keen observations like, “I can’t believe somebody dug a hole through this entire country” and “wow, look at all the Panama hats.”  Slept the sleep of the pleasantly sunburned, but only on that hard-to-remember décolletage.


And today?  Spent some more quality time with the local cops.  It was only because a pelican pooped on me, though, and the police force had the closest building and some baby wipes.  They were really nice to me, too, so we’re cool.

*But Nicky: that Nal’s sure got some reach, there, eh?