I had to wake up at 5am to be at the bus at 5:30am. We drove about half an hour to get to the airport, then found out our flight was delayed. I tried to shop in the airport to find more souvenirs but there wasn't really anything "Panamanian." I was randomly checked in Atlanta and had to wait about 45 minutes before they even checked my bags. I had a long layover in Atlanta but luckily a friend from South Africa now works in Atlanta so she came to pick me up. We caught up while eating lunch then did some shopping. My second flight to NC was also delayed so I got in around 10:45pm. By the time I got my luggage and drove an hour home, it was 12:30am. I'm tired, but had a great time!

I am very grateful to everyone that donated for this trip! It was a great time!
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These are the local buses in Panama City called "Diablos Rojos."

We arrived at our hotel around 5:30 am. Luckily they let us check in early so we could take a nap before going to see the Panama Canal at 8:30am. We got to see a huge ship go through the lock system of the canal.They have to make the water levels equal on each side of the barrier, then open the barrier doors and pull the ship through. It was pretty interesting. We went to see dinner and a show. There were homemade dresses that were really intricate and some scary masks.
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Today we went out on a catamaran with a European captain. We sailed to Starfish Beach and snorkeled. There were tons of starfish there! I was afraid I might step on one. We had sandwiches on the boat, then sailed to another spot to snorkel again. There were coral reefs and some fish. I saw a black stingray with white spots swim right under me. It was really cool. Unfortunately being on the water all day made us all get sunburnt, even though we were putting on sunscreen. We had to rush back to shower and load up all our luggage onto a water taxi. After the water taxi we took regular taxis to the bus station. We all made it to the public bus going to Panama City. The buses are actually pretty nice since so many people rely on public transportation in Panama. I tried to sleep on the bus but it was hard since my back was sunburnt!
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Strawberry Dartfrog

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The schoolhouse on Isla Solarte

Today we took a boat taxi to Isla Solarte. It was surrounded by mangroves on the side we came in on. We got a tour through the rainforest and saw poisonous strawberry dartfrogs and a sloth. Then we we told the history of the island, people haven't been living on it for too long, since the 1960's. The schoolhouse has about 60 students and 2 classrooms that have no glass windows, just openings in the walls. When we got to the school, many kids had left. I guess they went to change clothes since they wear a uniform. When the kids came back we played soccer, and just talked to them. We brought soccer nets so we worked together to hang those up on some wood poles. We walked to the other side of the island where we snorkeled on a reef,  and saw some cool fish.
 
 
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Taxi that we loaded up with wood

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Pile of wood we moved

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The pathway was built reusing nails that were in the wood

It was sunny all day and we were out from 11-5. I put sunscreen on but got burnt anyway. We were walking to a village and saw all this wood on the side of the road. So we got a taxi and packed in a bunch of the wood.  Only a few people fit in the taxi so the rest of us met up with them. We had to carry it across an airport runway and then in the mud. It was going to be used to build a pathway for the village. We dropped the wood off then got lunch and went to the beach for a little. We went back to the village and the whole pathway was built with the wood we bought. Adults and kids were using the wood to build a pathway while we were at lunch. It was crazy to see. Then we talked with the schoolkids in English. One boy used my camera and took a bunch of pictures. Then i was talking to a girl who kept asking for more questions in English for her to write down and answer. It was a cool day. Then we jumped in the water at our hostel to cool off. We went out to a pretty nice restaurant for dinner and there was an actual menu (kind of unusual here)!
 
 
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Our hotel called Casa Verde (Green house)

Sunday, March 7
We made it to our hostel after 24 hours of travel! The flights were easy, then we all cramped into a small bus for 10 hours, not 7 like we were expecting. They blast the air conditioning so it was freezing!  Then we took a water taxi to our hostel that is built right on the water like everything else here. The hostel is a converted house with about 8 rooms and 2 bathrooms and a dock. We ate breakfast at "The Pirate" and they made fresh squeezed juice. I had pineapple juice which was amazing! We went on a catamaran that gives free rides on Sundays.  We all passed out since we didn't sleep too much on the bus.

Monday, March 8
We did a beach sweep to clean up a beach, "la playa sucia" (literally dirty beach). Some of the local kids came out to help us then we played them in a soccer game. We won 6 to 5! It was fun. Then we went to a restaurant built on a dock. They catch their own fish and cook it. We had smoked white fish. The ice cream here is really good and pretty cheap $1.65 for 2 scoops.

Tuesday, March 9
We are going to a local school today to help build a road and maybe teach some English. It is very safe here with quite a few tourists. I will have to upload pictures after I get back to the US.
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La Playa Sucia (Before)

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La Playa Sucia (After)

 
 
I'm packed and ready to go! I was able to fit everything into 2 carry-ons: my backpack and a duffel bag. Deb was kind enough to agree to bring me to the airport this morning. I have decided last minute not to bring my laptop. The hotel we're staying at says there is computer access so hopefully I can use that to update you on the trip. I'm surprised I was able to sleep last night, I'm very excited! And now starts the 24 hour travel journey!
 
 
 
The plans have changed a bit, we are no longer going to Boquete in the mountains. We will be going straight to the island Bocas del Toro. We will still be taking the 7 hour bus ride after flying all day to get there, though. Our hotel will be right on the water! We will be doing different volunteer projects each day: working with children, recreational activities (soccer!!) with the locals, and conservation projects (possible beach clean-up). On Friday we will head back to Panama City to tour the Panama Canal. Now I just have to pack...
 
 
Thank you to everyone that has donated!! With your help I exceeded my goal and raised $695!

The plane tickets have been bought! I will leave from Jacksonville, NC on Saturday March 6 arriving into Panama City around 9:30pm. Our group will then take a 7 hour bus ride overnight to Boquete. After putting our things down in the hostel we will start volunteering on Sunday March 7!

I will be returning late Saturday night on March 13!