Our First Day in San Cristobal

Our First Day in San Cristobal

Author


Jimmy Allen

03rd of March, 2020

Travel Journal


Since we woke up to one of Luis’s amazing breakfasts at the Caribbean View, we have been going non-stop for the entire today, and it was all amazing. After breakfast, we sat down for an educational presentation on the importance of coral and how Bocas Del Toro is one of the Coral Reef Restoration non-profit group’s “Hope Spots” to restart coral growth around the world. The group is growing coral trees and placing them back in the ocean on concrete forms, and they have already seen a rapid increase in fish traffic in the area.
Before lunch, we took a local route to a coffee shop most tourists would not even know existed. It was delicious. I got my dad some coffee and my mom a bracelet; if you are reading this, you’re welcome. They also make delicious chocolate products with the cocoa fruits that hang from trees all over the island.
When we finished eating lunch, we split into two groups. One would go to San Cristobal, another island, to work in their community center. This group consisted of the most able Spanish speakers in the group, because San Cristobal doesn’t see as much tourism, thus making the people not English speakers. The rest of the group stayed with the children of Bastimentos, the island which we are staying on. I was in the San Cristobal group.
The first benefit of being in the group going to San Cristobal was that we were able to enjoy a solid boat ride to the island. This is not something everybody gets to experience, so it is very exciting. It also provides for an opportunity to clear our heads before immersing into another island’s culture and speaking Spanish. One of my greatest fears when approaching the island was that the children would not understand us, think we were stupid gringos, and not want to hang out with us. Upon arriving in San Cristobal, I realized that I was a stupid gringo, for thinking that this was even a possibility.
When we walked from the dock, through the town, and into the community center, people were coming out of the houses to look at us. We told them where we were going, and some followed. The community center was already full of children drawing when we arrived, and we joined them right away. The children took to us quickly, and vice versa. Even our Spanish was semi-understandable for them.
After drawing for about a half hour, the group moved outside to play soccer and frisbee. Everyone was smiling and laughing. Despite the overwhelming heat and glaring sun, there was still an absurd amount of mud. One time, the ball rolled behind the goal, and I ran to go grab it. Oh how I regret this. My shoe was suctioned off after my foot sank shin deep below the ground. I had to ask Ande to go recover it for me. It was hardly recognizable after the incident. Despite this mud, the game continued, and we all became sweatier than we can remember being in recent memory. About an hour passed before we could play no more, so we adjourned to the community center as it was time to go into the forest. Then, with Juan on my back, we began our journey into the forest.
The forest turned out to be very nice. The kids were much better at navigating it than we could imagine, running through the mud and splintery wood without even wearing shoes. After walking a short way, the children showed us how to eat cocoa seeds. All you have to do is take the fruit, smash it, take a seed out, and put it in your mouth. Don’t eat the seed though. The good part is the white syrup coating the seeds. Once you have sucked off all of the syrup, spit out the seed. Taylor told us the process used to turn these seeds into real chocolate. It was fascinating because the syrup actually tasted nothing like chocolate. It was very fruity and sweet!
With the energy of the cocoa syrup, we continued our forest adventure. After climbing farther up into the island, we found ourselves in a field. Taylor told us to look for cows, and we saw some far in the distance. After talking to the kids about cows, we looked up at the tree next to us and saw that some of the kids were all the way at the top throwing fruits down at us. I was in awe that these 7 year olds were so fearless and did not hesitate to climb up a 20 foot tree. I was quickly distracted, however, when I noticed the fruits were being opened, and eaten. This was one of the best fruits I have ever had. I loved it. I don’t think there is a word for it in English, but in Spanish, a Tamatama. And suddenly, the cows were now right next to us.
We were all exhausted when we returned from our hike, and needed a refresher. Luckily, the kids did too, and knew just the thing. They climbed up another tree, and began chopping down every coconut they could see. The other kids would take the fallen coconuts, smash them on the sidewalk, and drink them. Following their lead, I drank one. Sometimes, you don’t need to speak Spanish to communicate what you want to say. Yummy is universal!
A couple hours after arriving, it was time to say goodbye to the children. In our American accents, we said, “¡Hasta mañana!” and returned to our boat. Some kids followed us to the boat and waved goodbye. The boat ride was great to reflect on our experiences, and take away some lessons from our first day in San Cristobal.

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