Panama

This last month has been exhausting. There’s been a lot of traveling, a lot of stress, and a lot of heartbreak. There’s also been a lot of joy and hope, so let’s start with the first story and make our way through the rest later.

The weekend after our Bach party (as in 3 days later) we flew to Panama for a friend’s wedding in a remote location off the coast called Bocas del Toro. My father’s side of the family all still lives in Panama City, so imagine my surprise when I ended up being the first in my entire family to visit Bocas. I’m such a world traveler.

On the flight from Atlanta to Panama, we got upgraded to First Class and holy shit I don’t think I can ever go back to being a regular citizen. That was legit. AAAAAANND I totally forgot that my friends’ gelato company, Honeysuckle, is now served on first class flights on Delta, so that was definitely fun and filled me with pride at how cool my friends are.

We sat next to two gentlemen that were THE definition of the odd couple, talking extremely loudly, making each other laugh, and just genuinely becoming friends. It was a much older white man who was super overserved with wine (as we all were) and a SUPER tall black man who, as we learned later on the flight, used to play for the Atlanta Braves in the 70s and was roommates with Dale Murphy. How cool is that??

My cousin picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel around 9:30p, which gave us just enough time to shower and fall asleep only to get up at 5 am to make our flight to Bocas. We got into the cab, told the driver Albrook Airport, and took off.

About 30 minutes later, I had the feeling that something wasn’t right. I had purposefully picked our hotel because it was only 15 minutes from the Albrook airport, so I signaled to Timmy to tell our driver, and lo and behold, we were one exit away from the WRONG AIRPORT. So we turned around and proceeded to take one of the most dangerous drives back in order to hopefully make our flight.

I had neglected to tell Timmy about driving in Central and Latin America. It’s really fun when you think about it: lane markers are really just suggestions, traffic lights are there for funsies, pedestrians get dropped off on the side of the highway, including school children, and the emergency lane is really for when you want to go faster. Timmy, bless his heart, almost had a heart attack.

And I just laughed quietly to myself.

We ended up making our flight by about 20 minutes. Thank god it was a small airport and not the international one, because we would’ve been screwed. And I had amped myself up to have a good ole, knock down drag out fight about payment since the driver was the one who messed up, but he charged us fairly and all was good.

We landed in Bocas after about a 45 minute flight and wow. What a cool freaking town. It’s laid back (think: not rich and glamorous resort living), friendly, and cheap. We stay on Isla Colon, the main island, which was about a 15 minute water taxi ride away from Bastimentos, where Jasmin and Todd were getting married. Our hotel was ADORABLE and definitely worth it.

We immediately found OUR spot, a teeny little bar restaurant with a surf/dive shop in the back. This town is clearly a surfer’s town, as everyone was unkempt, sun bleached, and suuuuuuuper laid back (read: high). This place served the BEST FISH TACOS EVER. No, I’m not kidding. They were amazing, and we went back again before we left for a repeat meal.

hell yes

The day of the wedding, we decided to take a day trip to Starfish Beach. We took a $35 cab about 30 minutes through the jungle to the other side of Colon. This was not a fun ride. The streets are “paved” and very very very hilly. It’s a miracle I didn’t get sick.

From our drop off spot, we took a water taxi about 5 minutes to the beach and OMG. This place. Unbelievable. It’s called Starfish Beach because there are starfish EVERYWHERE. You’re not allowed to pick them up but you can touch them underwater. It was just so cool.

We were pretty hungry when we got there but knew that the wedding was a few hours away, so we decided to split a meal at one of the little restaurant/shacks on the beach. There were only about 100 people on this remote beach, with a few spots to get food and drinks. We had brought the beer (which was like 85 cents for pretty delicious beer) and ordered a lobster with creole sauce from a dude who spoke perfect English. Then the coolness started.

We were told to go pick our lobster. Here we are thinking, “Oh from a tank. Cool.” Nope. FROM THE WATER.

Then we’re told to take a seat. Here we are thinking, “Ok, one of these tables.” Nope. THE TABLE IN THE WATER.

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Then he brings out the food. Here we are thinking, “This will probably be pretty good.” Nope. THE BEST LOBSTER I’VE EVER HAD.

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We clearly highly recommend checking this place out.

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The only time we were taken advantage for being tourists was on the water taxi over to Bastimentos to the Red Frog Beach Resort for the wedding. We didn’t get an itinerary in our gift bag, so I was going by the wedding website which said the wedding started at 4:30p. Knowing how long it takes Timmy to get ready (AGES), I said 4, so he’d be ready on time. We boarded the water taxi, paid the driver, and headed out.

First, he lied and said English was his first language even though it clearly wasn’t. Then, we stopped for gas (without telling us first) and asked for more money (which we didn’t give him). Then he dropped us off at the wrong dock at the island even though there were only 2 and I clearly didn’t know which one we were supposed to go to (side note: the resort is the only thing on that island. He clearly should’ve known). Thankfully, he was still close enough to come back and pick us up because at this point, Timmy and I didn’t have any more cash for a new water taxi. Silently and clearly disgruntled, he drove us to the other marina and HAD THE NERVE to tell me it was because my Spanish was so bad that he didn’t know where he was going.

F*%k You, sir. Clearly, you’re an idiot.

Finally we end up getting to the resort, which then entailed a golf cart ride to the actual wedding location, and by the time we arrived, it was 4:17. On time, right? Wrong! Apparently the wedding had been moved up to 4p, so we were late. AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING LATE.

The Bride and her bridesmaids were already at the top of the stairs and I can’t even explain how bad that feels. We did it once before for a wedding in Beaufort, SC where the church was surrounded by 25 other churches and we got super confused as to which one we were supposed to go to. We ended up running into the church right before the bride, and I do mean, RIGHT before the bride and I’ve never felt so bad in my life.

Cue a second time doing this in Panama. We apologized profusely and explain what our taxi driver did (which apparently happened to a few people at the wedding too), and ran down the stairs only to be seated about 4 minutes before the wedding started.

Whew.

After the ceremony, they served fresh coconuts and I drank that sucker down in record time. We made our way over to the cocktail hour which was in a really cute hut overlooking a spectacular view.

And it was also in direct sunlight with no fans. I’m not going to lie, I don’t think I saw anyone use napkins for anything other than wiping off the profuse amount of sweat torentially downpouring from every inch of skin. Welcome to life on the equator. Thank god we were all wearing white.

The party moved back to the ceremony site where we ate, danced, and caught up with old friends. I heard someone say that I was Todd’s oldest friend present at the wedding, which just made my heart warm. I’ve known that dude since 1st grade, and he’s been solid ever since.

We were able to get back to our hotel much later that night so Timmy could shower. And then in the morning he showered again. And then he showered after breakfast. He took 5 showers in 18 hours. I’ve never laughed so hard at someone being unable to control their bodily perspiration. Did you realize that knees and ankles can sweat?

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We made it back to Panama City where my cousin took us on a whirlwind driving tour of Panama. I hadn’t been back to Panama in over a decade, since my Abuelita’s funeral, and holy shit, this city is insane. It looks like Dubai. The entire downtown looked NOTHING like that the few times I came to visit when I was younger. It’s really incredible.

We got dropped off at our amazingly beautiful Marriott for a quick snooze and another shower for Timmy, and then we were ready to meet the family for dinner. We went to a restaurant in Casco Viejo, which is the oldest part of Panama that they’ve beautifully restored. It looks a lot like Viejo San Juan, with its cobbled streets, white walls, and beautiful architecture and plazas. This was Timmy’s opportunity to meet nearly all of my dad’s side of the family, and I was so happy we were able to fit in a quick visit. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them, and it was so so so fun. And Timmy was a HUGE hit (when isn’t he, really). All in all, it was a fantastic but too quick 4 days.

Thanks and congratulations again to Jasmin and Todd! You gave us a reason to come to Panama to celebrate your love. We both couldn’t believe how gorgeous Jasmin looked (not that it was surprising since she’s already beautiful), I mean really stunning, and Todd couldn’t have been more happy to have all his friends and family in one place. We love you guys! Panama, we’ll be back, don’t you worry.

♥, VB

 

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Setting of the Sun

Last weekend, I was driving back to St. Pete from Orlando after spending a lovely time with Timmy. Our situation is still working quite nicely, and after a break from living together (which was SUPER needed), we are now missing each other enough to want to live together again. Which is such a great feeling. Absence and heart and fondness…that saying is so true.

As I was making the almost two-hour trek home, I realized that I had enough time to make it to the Gulf Coast to see the sun set. I don’t always get that chance since the beach is about 20-30 minutes away, which is of course totally doable normally. But I’m usually too tired to get out of the house again once I’m through that front door. And with work being as completely crazy as it has been right before school starts, I haven’t the energy to think about plans beyond my normal work hours.

As I sat on Indian Rocks beach, I fell a little bit more in love with this town I’m calling home. This place seriously rocks my socks off.

Warning: super overload of sunset pictures to commence, thanks to Timmy’s amazing gift that keep on giving–my super duper camera.

i was able to catch a little playing of strangers in the water

i was able to catch a little playing of strangers in the water

an accidental shot which I love

an accidental shot which I love

♥, VB

3.5 Weeks, So Many Stories

So yes, that was a long blogging break. Although, I can’t say that it was a break from anything because since summer kicked into swing here at school, life has progressively gotten busier and crazier. And these are the months that are supposed to be slow, so that’s not saying good things for fall semester.

Life has been pretty freaking fantastic though, so don’t take me staying busy as a complaint. It’s been wonderful. I think of all those years I spent languishing at the CDC, sitting in front of a computer, hour after hour, with little face time with people I liked, and how every second I spent there, I wished for the life I have now. I appreciate everything I have here because I worked hard for it: my job, my friends, my relationships, and my partner. It has been 100% worth it to be able to say my life is busy all the time and I’m hardly ever bored anymore.

That last paragraph felt like the biggest victory ever.

I didn’t quite mean to stop blogging the last few weeks because things have been happening (I say that in the 70s, groovy, kind of way) but honestly, I just put this on the backburner to share. But now I’m back and I’ll fill you in on my life lately, because damn, it’s been good.

I’ve now had my new Mini for over 1 month and I’m totally in love. It’s fantastically fun to drive (like my last one) and I didn’t know this at the time, but it’s the perfect beach vehicle. We have packing for the beach down to an art. And since we know I love beautifully organized things, staring at my trunk filled with beach goodies is just such a joy. (I’m a dork.)

I’ve met a new friend, Jackie, and we’ve hung out a few times here and there, so that’s been refreshing. It’s so hard to meet new people, but if you don’t work with them, how on earth do you ever establish a relationship? She’s a super cool, chill woman, and her boyfriend and Timmy get along super well (like it’s hard to get along with Timmy), so hopefully we’ll be doing more things together this summer. Memorial Day weekend, we hit the Movies in the Park to see “The Jerk”, we took a dolphin sail tour and had a drinking day at the beach, and just in general had a great time! Yay to new friends!

Timmy and I finished the weekend in St. Pete with a fun date night and a stop at The Canopy, a beautiful downtown rooftop bar with amazing views of the waterfront. Since it was a holiday weekend, it was pretty empty, so we ordered some amazing drinks (my new favorite: Winter Sunset with a splash of agave), and loved on each other some more.

The following weekend, my favorite NYU ladies came down to visit. This is the first time they’ve all been down to visit me since I moved away after college, and we could not have had a better weekend if we tried. The weather was amazing, we laughed, shelled, relaxed, and I made them all jealous of the beautiful town I live in.

Saturday, I took them stand up paddleboarding with a few friends from work, and we accidentally on purpose ended up paddling for two hours. If any of us had known ahead of time how long we’d be out there, I don’t think they would’ve signed up. But before we knew it, we were too far out to go back and too nice to complain, so ahead we forged. It ended up being one of my favorite days in St. Pete yet. 🙂

I also took them to the Canopy, and promptly forgot that the weekend before had been a holiday weekend, so therefore not representative of the normal crowd that goes there on Saturday nights. It was kind of gross. Like the tunnel crowd in Manhattan. It was very club-ratty, and my precious Winter Sunset didn’t have any agave at all. Whatever, we still had a blast because what else can you do?

The next weekend (June has been and will continue to be PACKED on the weekends) we traveled over to Palm Coast to visit with Jake’s parents and his son. We previously had planned on the entire weekend, but due to a mistake in the planning, we only got one night with them. We wanted more, but hey, at least we got to visit at all! It was totally worth it too.

Jake’s son Aiden has such an immense love for his uncle Timmy, and I’m sad that I couldn’t get the one picture I wanted from that weekend. Those two together are like little devils, so I had to act fast to get candid shots like the one I wanted but ultimately got a blurred version. At dinner that night, Timmy was telling stories, and Aiden was staring at him with such a look of admiration, I got a little choked up watching it. It’s such an honor to be a part of that little guy’s life, and we definitely shared some age-appropriate stories about his father with him as promised.

Of course it was so difficult to leave them the next day as they packed up to head back to Atlanta. Cheryl cried, and it took everything I had in me to be strong and smile and wave. Love that family so much.

The rest of the weekend we spent napping and loving on Floyd. Because he’s a rescue, we only know the history that was told to the organization that rescued him, and who knows if that was the truth. We don’t have an actual birth date for him and I so desperately wanted to celebrate one, so we made it up! We’re assuming he’s around 5 years old, so that’s what we celebrated on June 8.

As you can tell from the photos, Floyd has some warming up to do with his birthday hat, and Timmy thought I was a complete moron, but you know what. I. don’t. care. That little dog has lit up our lives, and he deserves to know that we love every year he’s with us!

The past weekend, my entire family came down to visit and oh what fun we had. My sister, Jared, and Charlotte came last year to stay with us in Lakeland while they visited Disneyworld, but this is the first time all the adults have been down, sans children. I didn’t particularly sell Lakeland well, so once I moved to St. Pete, I sold the hell out of it. I secretly wanted to talk my parents into buying a condo downtown near the waterfront and I could potentially move into a bedroom, pay part of the mortgage and serve as property manager at the same time, and hey, everyone wins! I may have gotten closer to that goal, I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Friday night, we had dinner at 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, right next to the historic Vinoy Hotel where they stayed. Holy cow, that’s beautiful place. I absolutely recommend it. As for food, I have now been to 400 Beach three times and I highly recommend it. The oysters are to die for, and the food is generally delicious and well priced. You can’t lose.

I then took them back to the Canopy and we had the greatest time. A few of us were a little happy, happy, but who cares when all you have to do is walk one block back to the hotel!? Also, after we returned to the hotel, we made a bathroom trip before driving back to my apartment, and when I exited the restroom, there’s Timmy, playing the name game with four people at the hotel for a wedding (we seriously can’t get away from them), one of whom was originally from McDonough, GA. Shocked I tell you. I was shocked.

Their last night, I made us a reservation at the Maritana Grille in the historic Loews Don Cesar Hotel on St. Pete Beach, mainly because I’ve been wanting to check out the hotel every time I drive past it to get to the beach. It’s GORGEOUS. And the restaurant knocked it out of the park. I didn’t have one thing I didn’t like, and my family for the most part agreed. All of the fish was cooked perfectly and the desserts, holy crap. We also celebrated Father’s Day, and because my dad is a dork, his favorite gift was the book of Godfather quotes my sister and I got him because he desperately needs a new line other than, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

That’s it for now. I think I’ve caught you all up. Do you feel caught up? Please tell me you do. I don’t have time to take that nap that I desperately want after writing this post.

♥, VB

Life Lately, According to my iPhone

Life has been pretty great lately. After all the traveling, things slowed down a bit, and I’m able to think clearly again. It’s so very nice.

We had a wedding last weekend in Atlanta which was a blast, and we have another wedding this weekend, which should be so so so fun. I have come down with a cold (thanks to the lady who was coughing up her lungs without covering her mouth on the plane last weekend…you suck), but I don’t care, I’m having fun this weekend no matter what.

Last weekend, we got a chance to visit with Matt after his first week of chemo, and I was so glad to be able to see him. After hearing about his stage 1 diagnosis, my mind was telling me “Yay! That’s good news as far as cancer is concerned.” But my heart was broken. Hearing this news so soon after Jake’s passing, I just don’t know how to describe the sadness I feel. And knowing about his chemo treatments, 5 days a week, 6 hours each day, one week on, two weeks off, 4 rounds…god, that’s going to be so rough on him and his family. I’ve been thinking about them nonstop, crying most mornings and fighting complete mental breakdown some days.

We also got to visit with Jake’s parents last weekend, and man, that was fun. Timmy had them dying laughing at some amazing Barbara stories. If only for 30 minutes, I’m glad we got them to laugh.

A few weekends ago, Timmy planned the best weekend in Lake Mary. We drove super fast cars at the Orlando Grand Prix where I was the only chick on the course and everyone was driving poorly (as in running into me and others. It’s not bumper cars…no wonder, since they were all dudes). We went to the Central Florida Zoo and were surprised at how sad zoos are once you’re an adult. The animals trapped in cages, unable to move very far…you don’t see that at all when you’re a child. And the weekend before that, we enjoyed a lovely day at Pass-A-Grille beach in St. Pete. God I love living here.

Here’s what life has been like the last month or so. Enjoy.

♥, VB

Traveling and Flying and Walking, oh my!

So this last week and half has been absolutely crazy. I’ve been flying so much, stuffing my brain full of information, and traveling, I don’t know what to do with myself. We’ve also been super busy preparing for our 30th birthday party/fundraiser in September (the page is up if you want information about it, but it does require a password). And this weekend we’re traveling again to the Charleston area. Holy cow. We are ridic.

Why was I traveling so much? Short version: weddings, beach, and conference. Long version: Our friends Britney and Fitz got married in Italy at the beginning of May. We couldn’t go (although that would’ve been amazeballs for my 30th), but they had a States-side reception the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. So we took off to Atlanta Thursday-Saturday, and generally had a freaking blast. Lots of drinks were had, especially at the Optimist beforehand. We had this drink called “Out of the Blue” punch…omg, that drink could get me in serious trouble. And it was pretty funny to hear the waiter come over and say, “Out of the Blue Punch” and we all freaked out, “YOU’RE OUT OF THE BLUE PUNCH?!?! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” and then him reminding us that it was the name of the punch. Idiots we can be. But do go to that restaurant if you’re in Atlanta, Yuuuuuuuuuuuummm.

Reception done. We flew from Atlanta back to Tampa, picked up our son from boarding in Lakeland and headed off right away. To the beach! Palm Coast, FL to be exact. Our friends, the incredible Lyons, have a place there which they so generously allowed us to use for the weekend. I got über tan, Timmy scratched the eff out of his foot on rocks, and Floyd was beyond overstimulated in the sand and met a horse for the first time. Poor little guy, he might have developed an arrhythmia because of us.

Beach done and we came back on Monday. The next day, I flew out of Tampa to Baltimore, Baltimore to Boston for the American College Health Association National Conference. That conference was cuh-razy but so needed. I spent the entire week in Boston, getting totally recharged and even more convinced that I’m in the right place at the right time in my life. I’m more confident in my skills as a public health practitioner than I ever have been before. Thank you to ACHA for that. But also, my brain was stuffed and re-stuffed with more information than I could possibly divulge, so I’ll just leave it at that. I got to sightsee one afternoon, had an amazing dinner at Stephanie’s with my good friend Brenda and we had a three hour dinner that felt like a date. Girl, you’re awesome and kinda cute, let’s date again!

Conference over. Flew from Boston to Detroit, Detroit to Tampa. Back at work now, and feeling better than ever. I’m telling you, each day that goes by after 30 is just rocking my face off. Love my 30s!! You can see that I’ve also updated the blog a bit with instagram, twitter, and my sexual health education blog information. Feel free to follow or don’t, either way, click through the pretty pictures below.

♥, VB