Sunday was one of those perfect Panama day trips that will stick with me for a long time. Living in Casco Viejo (Panama City) it’s important to get out on the weekends as often as we can. Geographically, the world is our oyster. We can be swimming in the Caribbean or the Pacific, we can be hiking in volcanic craters or exploring the Darien or coasting down the Chagres in a dug out canoe, all within two hours. We can spend a full, adventurous day in all types of settings and come home muddy or salty, or both, before dinner.
Seeing as it was Father’s Day, Juan had full say in what it was that we would do and somehow that always leads to something memorable, even though he plans everything last minute. He’s lucky like that. He organized with a group of friends & fathers – Panamanians, Chileans, Argentines, Cubans, Americans – that we would head up to the Caribbean side for the day, as long as it wasn’t raining. Sure enough, we awoke to pure azure skies and fate beckoned. The morning sun was sizzling, the breeze was light, and although we were going off of only five hours of sleep because of a rooftop party Saturday night, we were quick to get up and out the door. We didn’t even bother to dress Joaquin who was in his usual house attire (barefoot in a diaper) because we had a hot drive ahead. He was content in his car seat, with the music playing, when we picked up a friend and left Casco Viejo, our car packed full of gear and beers and food.
We drove to Portobelo, a sleepy old port city full of crumbling Spanish colonial fortifications. Portobelo sits on a gorgeous, lush harbor and it’s bay is dotted with sailboats and catamarans taking lazy naps from the Caribbean waves. Our meeting spot was a rickety dock, and soon, all 20 of us had loaded up the boat of a local guy we hired to take us out to a small island called Puerto Francés. We sped off, with our kids ranging from 6 months to 18 years old. The heat was present but invigorating and the salty breeze kept it manageable. Within 15 minutes of passing through the bay and to the far side of the island, we were cutting through the shimmering emerald waters and jumping into the waves lapping onto shore of Puerto Francés. Bags and towels and hammocks and blankets and tents and flip flops were thrown and scattered and the beach was ours and ours alone. All day we were the only ones on this wild beach which might as well be the set for some Hollywood blockbuster. The water and sand are met by a thick, green jungle all of which is completely untouched. The only thing that even reveals anyone has been there before is an incredibly beautiful, heavy, turquoise porch swing which hangs from tough, rusted, old chains. Colorful, wind-torn ribbons are wrapped and intertwined through the chain and look as if they could tell their own stories of Caribbean celebrations and island visitors.
Coolers were unpacked, beers were cracked, and all the men began to unleash their tools. The Argentines were off like warriors with hand axes as they ceremoniously surveyed the land for the perfect spot for their parilla. La Parilla for an Argentine is serious, serious business. The salt they used was from Argentina, the herbs of their homemade chimichurri were from Argentina, the chorizo was spicy, and the fire was molded and stoked like a prize possession until just right. The parilla that was quickly underway would be the host of the incredible food we’d enjoy throughout the afternoon. Meanwhile, Juan strapped on his spearfishing gear and was off snorkeling his way towards breaking waves before I knew it, hunting for additions to the grill. Joaquin ran naked collecting stones and rocks and shells and hermit crabs as if it was his official job for the day. Naps were taken, books were read, friends caught up, and all the while I inhaled the mood and the setting, feeling really lucky for such a perfect moment in time.
It really should be Father’s Day more often.