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Minimalist Travel in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Thursday, 01 November 2007 11:43
In my youth, cialis family trips were characterized by large black suitcases which contained, check among other things, a sizeable arsenal of "important" items we'd never actually use. My brother and I would stuff extra suitcases with the kinds of toys, sildenafil food, and electronics that one might otherwise associate with a bomb shelter or Y2K. My father always liked to pack snorkeling equipment and fishing poles, whether or not we were actually going somewhere with an ocean, and my mother liked to bring a collection of shoes fit perhaps for a small African village. Should such an event ever play out, I took pleasure in envisioning the African children scooting around in my mom's high heels and loafers, almost dragging them like snow shoes.

So upon arriving in Panama, the concept of minimal travel seemed quite foreign to me. To me, a trip was not a trip unless it was accompanied by my own personal blender, should the hotel room or beachside cabana happen to have a power outlet. And a vacation was not a vacation without a large library of custom-selected DVDs from which to choose. But what I soon realized was that when traveling alone, unlike perhaps those family vacations, less is most certainly more. 

This is when I came across minimalist travel: a type of journey in which objects and material goods are stripped down, like the paint on a barn door, to their elemental form. One that's performed in a simple and unassuming manner. It was my gut reaction perhaps, to reverse the effects of a quarter century spent accumulating gadgets, clothing, and other stupid things I'd really never need. 

The idea was to understand a new destination without the complacency or luxuries of being at home, an act therein which ironically results in better stories and more profound experiences. It was designed to reduce travel to its most basic principles of seeing new things, meeting new people, and connecting with new cultures. My first stop on the road down through Las Tablas was the fireworks shop where an old woman helped me pick out something called a Box o' Explosion-Z. 

"You hold with hand and put in fire and wow! Bam! Bam! Bam!"

These were certainly better fireworks instructions than I'd ever gotten in Myrtle Beach. And what was funny was that the sign (in English) on the box, recommended setting the fireworks in a sturdy spot in the sand, lighting them, then running as far away as possible. Hmm. 

I think I realized the need for minimalist travel a few years back when a trip to the Azuero Peninsula was plagued by the fact that I accidentally locked all my belongings in my car and lost the key. In not knowing what to do without, say, my full toiletry kit, I was forced to get creative and wander into the unassuming village of Bucaro where I met a man in a grocery store who'd eventually come to by my spiritual advisor. 

OK, he would never actually become my spiritual advisor, but he was very nice and he did show me how to collect fresh leechy nuts from a nearby orchard. 

The point was, not having my stuff inspired great innovation and creativity, and for the following trip, after getting a new key made for the car, I consciously forgot to bring my belongings all together. Since then, minimalist travel has led me on some unbelievable journeys and I try to make an effort to bring only the most bare-essential things with the confidence that trying to find them will arouse new experiences.

When you don't have any friends, there gets to a point you become simply desperate and will strike up a conversation with anyone who will listen. Your new friends will tell you about secret waterfalls or hidden beaches, or invite you back to their farm for the rodeo they're hosting that weekend or a hunting trip with their dad. It's really quite a wonderful phenomenon: the kindness of strangers, and the extent to which Panamanians will go to help out a seemingly-clueless gringo.

Sure beats sitting in the Marriott with my broken blender...
Comments (2)Add Comment
va lejo con poco
written by Budd , November 02, 2007
Well said, Matt. The true traveler knows less is more and moves along in harmony by being part of what is there, not separated from it by his possessions. Both life and travel can be enrichened by simplicity, and one of the lasting benefits of adventure is in knowing how much you can do without.
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good enough to read
written by jimmy , November 02, 2007
Still good enough to spend that short time it takes to read!
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:25