by Niall Doherty


I’m trying to work on my Spanish a bit on the boat, chatting with the Venezuelans. At breakfast this morning they were telling me about black magic back home. From what I could gather, it’s increasingly popular. You wear white for a year and hope for a spirit to choose you. Later we talked about Sinead O’Connor and navigation of the celestial variety.


The San Blas Islands are straight out of a postcard, the type of scene most people would describe as paradise. We drop anchor off a patch of sand and palms no bigger than a football field and snorkel the afternoon away. Come nightfall we feast on soup and lobster under a star-filled sky, catching glimpses of strange sea creatures by flashlight.


More of the same today, but it doesn’t get old. This morning I floated in a trance as a tiger ray circled, like I was hypnotized by a gigantic underwater butterfly. Later we moved to another island and I snorkeled for a good two hours more, can’t get enough of that alien world beneath the waves, full of life my eyes had never seen before.


I saw a shipwreck this afternoon, couldn’t quite reach it on a dive. Thinking about that now in the dark. We’re on the last stretch to Portobelo, couldn’t sleep with the rough seas so here I am up on deck. Nobody speaks. We just sit, feeling the wind, watching the stars, occasional shadows towards the shore.


Stuck at Jack’s in Portobelo. The captain himself is an interesting cat. Open heart surgery twelve years ago shook him out of a VP position and onto a sailboat, four years solo “until I crossed my wake. It doesn’t count unless you cross your wake.” On an old American school bus some hours later, headed south to the big city, I’ll wish I’d asked him how it felt at the end.

San Blas Islands, Panama

San Blas Islands, Panama


Here it is again. New town, starting from scratch. Where do I stay? Where has good wifi? Where’s the laundrette? Where’s a good place to eat? How do I get to the bus station? I stayed in a shithole last night and have been battling slow wifi all day. It’s exhausting. And I’m tired already. That deep, can’t-keep-doing-this kinda tired.


Suffering now from all that snorkeling, sunburn has me scratching. Every time I say to myself, “I wont be out in it for long, no need for sunscreen”, I’m proved a fool. It’s getting ridiculous here in this hotel room, skin aflame. So I make myself lie motionless for ten minutes, arms to my side, breathing through the fire on my back.


A metro, two buses, a taxi and a boat to get from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. The second bus is tiny, but they pack about forty of us in the thing, old ladies standing up cramped in the middle. We spend a little more than four hours on there, through winding country roads, the engine groaning when we crawl up anything resembling a hill.


All night work session. The Internet is much better here when it’s dark, so I drag myself out of bed at 2am and put a solid five hours in. Gotta do what you gotta do. Later I grab a quick nap and tell people about the ginger scouser. “He won the island in a contest. Oh, and he’s the only person ever to visit every country in the world without flying.”


Power and Internet in short supply on Jinja Island, but we have a fine Christmas nonetheless, sitting around most of the day, feasting and chatting. I’m glad I’m here, with friends. This is my fourth consecutive away from home. Budapest, Chiang Mai, Qingdao, now Bocas. Next year: Slieverue, County Kilkenny.

Christmas on Jinja Island. More about Graham here.

Christmas on Jinja Island. More about Graham here.


Sometimes a memory hits you and your behavior suddenly makes sense. I’ve long noticed that I have an aversion to letting attractive women know I’m attracted to them. More like a fear actually. I have to make a conscious push to overcome it. Why is that there? Flashback to age seventeen: red face when my buddy announces to the group that I fancy one of the girls.


I wonder if we go through phases of introversion and extroversion. Lately I’ve been feeling more of the former, craving my quiet time, happy to pass up opportunities to be social. (I say lately, but it’s been most of this year.) And routine, I’ve been craving that, too. Interesting how these were the very things I was eager to move away from four years ago.


It’s almost 5am in Bocas, trying to figure out my next move. The Internet has been shit all night, barely got any work done, and this room is costing me $75 a pop (peak season). I’d like to make a break for Costa Rica at sun up, but it’s too late to book the shuttle. Might just turn up there at 8am and see what happens.


Sitting chatting with a 72-year old Colombian dude at the hostel in San Jose. He plays guitar, likes to dance, and thanks God for everything. My Spanish really should be better by now. I’ve been slacking on the practice, unable to drum up the mental energy to get out and speak regularly. That’s the only way to take the next step with this.


“…the issue I’ve been dealing with lately is that I’m succeeding at a lifestyle I no longer enjoy very much (i.e. the digital nomad lifestyle). Pretty much what I went through five years ago when I found myself succeeding at the 9-to-5, basketball superfan lifestyle (my teenage dream) but not really enjoying that anymore either.”


On tonight of all nights, San Jose is like a ghost town, as if they don’t celebrate the new year. I sit and chat at a bar with a young German lady, resisting the temptation to tell her what to think when she confides in me her doubts about religion. I’m back to the hostel and happily asleep before midnight, the first time I can remember missing the changeover.

Crossing into Costa Rica from Panama entails traversing this rickety old railway bridge.

Crossing into Costa Rica from Panama entails traversing this rickety old railway bridge.

In the comments below, let me know which of the above Momentos is your favorite. Which can you relate to?

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