Concentrated Culture

Learning how to drum on a djembe.

Learning how to drum on a djembe.

In our limited experience, restaurants that promise an authentic cultural experience tend to be tourist traps.

That’s not necessarily a complaint. They reel you in with the promise of an authentic experience and then bombard you with local traditional dance and music performances. The food can be sub-par compared to smaller local eateries and the performances might be somewhat amateurish – but despite all of that, it’s possible to have a good time.

That’s what we found years ago when we were in Cambodia. The cultural evening we spent in Siem Reap was too pricey for the quality of the evening, but it was still worth taking in.

Still, that one experience has had an impact on our travels. We have tended to avoid this kind of restaurant simply because we’d prefer to spend our money on better food and better performances at separate times, rather than rely on one-stop shopping.

But because we had planned such a short stay in Victoria Falls, we were limited in what we could achieve. So when the hotel recommended BOMA: Place of Eating as place to take in food, drumming and dancing all at once, we decided to take their advice.

We weren’t disappointed.

The food was quite good – especially for a buffet – and the entertainment was top notch. Here’s a short video:

It was also immersive!

We each received our own djembe drum and the EmCee led the entire restaurant in a round of drumming, after a quick and fun tutorial. But the audience participation portion of the night didn’t end there!

After the drumming, they pulled up a bunch of volunteers onto the dance floor. We didn’t know what to expect, but we definitely wanted to take part – even if we were likely to be made to look the fool.

Jenn and I jumped up when they called for volunteers. Junkii stayed back with the camera. Little did we know it would be a dance circle and each volunteer would be made to strut their stuff in the centre of the circle.

Jenn nailed her solo, as you can see in the short video below. Her rodeo moves stole the show. I looked somewhat less comfortable, and somewhat goofier – But I held my own against the other men at least.

Wish I had had a little more experience with BodyJam before this happened. I could have knocked it out of the park.

I still think the third video from the evening is best. And it speaks for itself, so I’ll just let you watch it on your own.

I’ll just conclude by saying that, while the restaurant might have been a tourist trap, this evening opened up a whole batch of new experiences for each of us. And that is absolutely what travel is all about! Now here’s the video, followed by a few last photos from our evening of Zimbabwean food and music.

So Happy with my drum!

So Happy with my drum!

A full bowl of Mopani worms for the taking.

A full bowl of Mopani worms for the taking.

Close-up of the mpani worms.

Close-up of the mpani worms.

Some of the other more delicious dishes.

Some of the other more delicious dishes.

They like peanut butter

They like peanut butter

Victoria Falls

Kudu is like an antelope.

Kudu is like an antelope.

More happy drummers.

More happy drummers.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Boma

Boma

Pest-Traumatic Stress Disorder

As much as I hate winter (despite the fact that it can be pretty), it can be very useful to have a reliably prolonged period cold weather from time to time.

As much as I hate winter (despite the fact that it can be pretty), it can be very useful to have a reliably prolonged period cold weather from time to time.

About 3/4 of the way through our Panama adventure, Junkii started to notice itchy red bumps on parts of his skin. It was hard to tell whether it was a rash or bug bites, but of course, with travel, the immediate fear is bed bugs.

We’re generally pretty consistent about checking for bedbugs everywhere we go; but partway through our Panama adventure, there were a couple of nights when we neglected to do so.

I guess we just got lazy…or forgetful.

So, did Junkii’s skin condition mean we were infected? We weren’t taking any chances. We unpacked everything and rummaged through all our clothes, checking the seams of our luggage and our toiletries kits. We looked everywhere, but nary a bug was found.

It didn’t matter. The damage had been done.

We could have had a panel of doctors explain that it was just an allergy, but neither that nor the hours spent scouring would ever have been enough to ease the feeling that there were bedbugs SOMEWHERE in our backpacks. Junkii felt as though he had been violated…as though bugs were STILL crawling all over him.

We managed to minimize the trauma with a thorough inspection of our belongings, and thankfully the itchiness only lasted a day or two before the spots started to fade. So we were able to put the incident behind us enough to enjoy the rest of the trip – but part of what helped set our minds at ease was the knowledge that we had a secret weapon waiting for us on our return to Canada: winter.

The benefit of winter travel is that the February deep-freeze is waiting for you at home to take care of any unwanted hitchhikers. We would be able to throw our luggage outside for a week and let nature do the work that an exterminator would charge us a fortune for.

As soon as we made it home from the airport and inside the door, we stripped off, packed everything that could stay outside into our hiking bags, tossed them in a garbage bag, and threw them out on the deck.

It’s unlikely we even brought back any bed bugs, but if we did, the little bastards wouldn’t know what hit’em!

Never did find any dead bugs when we brought the stuff back inside, but Junkii is still convinced it was bed bugs.

Surf Tacos

The unique, painted skulls on each table were a nice touch.

The unique, painted skulls on each table were a nice touch.

Choosing restaurants while travelling can often be hit and miss. I’m not sure how we found out about Taco Surf Bocas – I don’t think it was a tripadvisor recommendation or even a listing in the Lonely Planet bible. I think we just happened to be walking by one day and decided it looked like a good spot.

That’s putting it mildly. The food here is top notch.

We chatted a bit with the owner and found out he was from Baja, California originally and just picked up stakes one day to move to Panama to open a restaurant/surf shop. I’m sure there’s more to the story than that, but come on! It’s been almost two years since I was there. I think I’m doing well to remember that much. ☺

The point is, the food was fantastic! The atmosphere was relaxed and the staff were friendly. In fact, the food was SO good that Junkii and I squeezed in a second visit at lunchtime the next day, just before our flight back to Panama City. We almost NEVER go back to a restaurant while traveling. That says something.

Deliciousness!!

Deliciousness!!

A little sillines - each table also had an assortment of props to encourage selfes. Smart way to get people to share the restaurant on social media!

A little sillines – each table also had an assortment of props to encourage selfes. Smart way to get people to share the restaurant on social media!

My own silly selfie (okay, technically not a selfie).

My own silly selfie (okay, technically not a selfie).

Cold treat on a hot day

Given that today is the first day of fall, with the heat of summer fading into distant memory, I feel like being reminded of one of the joys of the patio season: cold beer.

And I don’t just mean regular fridge cold. Nope, I mean so cold that ice crystals form. I mean SLUSHY cold.

Oh my gosh…on a sweltering day, beer that’s THAT cold is just one of the best things the universe has to offer.

On our last day in Bocas – the day we spent at Red Frog Beach – we were greeted with just such an icy beverage!

We ducked into the little restaurant at the end of the beach for a quick bite to eat and we each ordered a can of Panama Lager to go with our snack – not expecting much. As we cracked the tops open to pour the beer into the icy mugs provided, it was clear that this was going to take a while. The can was half filled with slush!

Mmmmm…so cold.

Admittedly, it would have been better if we could have cut the top off the cans. Furiously shaking them to try to extract the nectar within was somewhat frustrating; it would have been more satisfying to plop it all in a glass and let it melt.

But you take what you can get – and when what you can get is ice-cold lager and fresh ceviche, who’s to complain?!!!

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach

Found ‘Round Quebec City

I totally got distracted. I usually like to do a little wrap-up post about any places I visit just so I can share the few photos that I took that don’t slot nicely into the other blog posts.

I took a few photos around Quebec City that fit this category, and thought I’d share as a nice way to wrap up this little mini-series on my summer holiday with Stephen.

Some fun with camera angles.

Some fun with camera angles.

I just like the colour of this brick house.

I just like the colour of this brick house.

Angling for more fun.

Angling for more fun.

As my friend David pointed out, I went to Quebec and drank BC beer. Such a travesty. At least Stephen had Belgian brew.

As my friend David pointed out, I went to Quebec and drank BC beer. Such a travesty. At least Stephen had Belgian brew.

Breakfast at a wonderful little café - Chez Temporel

Breakfast at a wonderful little café – Chez Temporel

...to accompany breakfast (which, for me, was a bison tourtière!)

…to accompany breakfast (which, for me, was a bison tourtière!)

Provincial Parliament

The frontal tower.

The frontal tower.

Stephen is one of the smartest people I know. I enjoy traveling with him because I learn a lot about the place I’m in. He does his research before hand and he just knows a lot about a great many things.

But he’s particularly interested in Canadian history and politics. So when we decided to take a tour of the Provincial Parliament and the surrounding buildings, it was like having my own personal tour guide. My knowledge of 20th Century Quebec politicians is much richer since this trip.

Frankly I would never have opted to visit the Assemblée Nationale if I had gone to Quebec City on my own. But I’m very glad I did. It was a really interesting tour. The halls of the building are lined in history – and when the official tour guide failed to come up with an answer, I could always rely on Stephen to clear things up.

Also, it was another nice place to grab some great photos.

Maurice Duplessis - AKA La Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness). Dick.

Maurice Duplessis – AKA La Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness). Dick.

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I feel sorry for René Lévesque - forever doomed to stand poised above a plaque printed in Comic Sans font. Quel Dommage!

I feel sorry for René Lévesque – forever doomed to stand poised above a plaque printed in Comic Sans font. Quel Dommage!

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Let's move inside the building now...with a closeup of the floor?! What...It's nice!

Let’s move inside the building now…with a closeup of the floor?! What…It’s nice!

Okay, is painted glass more your thing?

Okay, is painted glass more your thing?

Then painted glass you shall have.

Then painted glass you shall have.

Now into the main chamber. It was dark. Forgive my photo corrections.

Now into the main chamber. It was dark. Forgive my photo corrections.

I didn't have a tripod.

I didn’t have a tripod.

One of the large canvases.

One of the large canvases.

I love this photo. Found this phone just outside the main chamber, behind a door. Had to act quick to keep up with the tour guide.

I love this photo. Found this phone just outside the main chamber, behind a door. Had to act quick to keep up with the tour guide.

The red chamber - formerly the senate, but now, after the abolition of the provincial senate, it's mainly used for committee meetings.

The red chamber – formerly the senate, but now, after the abolition of the provincial senate, it’s mainly used for committee meetings.

Saturation, anyone?

Saturation, anyone?

Portrait of Louise Harel, one of the many paintings of past Presidents of the National Assembly that hang along the halls of the building's interior.

Portrait of Louise Harel, one of the many paintings of past Presidents of the National Assembly that hang along the halls of the building’s interior.

Citadelle

A sentinel, to "greet" us on our way into the Citadelle.

A sentinel, to “greet” us on our way into the Citadelle.

Maybe I’m mis-remembering, but I seem to recall that there was a class to trip to Quebec City when I was in grade school. I don’t remember if it was in Junior High or High School, but I feel like a bunch of my classmates went.

I’m positive there was a skiing trip that I didn’t want to go to because the thought of hurtling down a mountain at high speeds frightens the bejeezus out of me. But I don’t know why I didn’t go to Quebec City. Maybe it was all one big trip. I’ll have to ask my mother…she’ll remember.

Anyway, I didn’t go, whatever the situation.

Still, in advance of the trip, I seem to recall us all learning about the CItadelle: the military fort attached to old city. The specifics of that lesson didn’t stick with me, but since that time, the Citadelle and Quebec City have been indelibly tied together in my brain.

And for that reason, the Citadelle was one of the key sites I wanted to visit on my weekend getaway to Quebec City.

We managed to squeeze in a guided tour on our second day. Again, great place to get some nice photos.

Found on our way from the Plains of Abraham Museum en route to the Citadelle.

Found on our way from the Plains of Abraham Museum en route to the Citadelle.

Technically not the Citadelle. This is the roof of the nearby Armoury. At least that's what Stephen told me. :)

Technically not the Citadelle. This is the roof of the nearby Armoury. At least that’s what Stephen told me.🙂

The guards are big fans of Abbey Road. :P

The guards are big fans of Abbey Road.😛

The rest of the shots are pretty much just buildings and cannons inside the walls of the fortress. Pretty self explanatory, for the most part.

The rest of the shots are pretty much just buildings and cannons inside the walls of the fortress. Pretty self explanatory, for the most part.

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Aparently this used to be some sort of time piece - although it no longer works. The ball would drop to mark the time). I was only half listening, so don't quote me.

Aparently this used to be some sort of time piece – although it no longer works. The ball would drop to mark the time). I was only half listening, so don’t quote me.

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Vieux Quebec

One of my faves of all the photos I took. I just really like the crook in the street.

One of my faves of all the photos I took. I just really like the crook in the street.

For many years, I had been hesitant to visit Quebec City – always worried that my French wasn’t good enough to get by comfortably on my own. So when my friend Stephen (a translator by trade) suggested a weekend trip to QC together, I jumped at the chance.

Turns out I needn’t have worried about my language skills – at least not in Old Quebec. Old Quebec is incredibly touristy, and most everyone speaks English reasonably well.

Even so, I found my French skills were better than expected – and better still, they only improved over the course of the weekend, the longer I was immersed.

It’s too bad I let it go so long without visiting. Old Quebec is absolutely charming.

Not that I should have been surprised. Other friends have told me on numerous occasions about the city’s old-world charm; that feeling like you’re in the middle of Paris.

I’ve never been to Paris, but Stephen has and he tells me the same thing, so I have no reason to doubt it.

Whether it’s Paris-like or not, it’s lovely.

The one thing I wasn’t expecting was how hilly it was. There’s even a funicular for heaven’s sake! Maybe friends had mentioned that fact to me, but clearly my brain didn’t remember it.

Not that the vertical nature of the city was a problem. I really enjoyed the hilly, narrow, winding streets. They made for some great photos! We did a walk around Vieux Québec on our first day in town, and every corner we turned offered a new treasure for my photographer’s-brain. I’m so happy I brought my camera.

I was able to snap a bunch of great photos in between our visits to inviting patios for glasses of vin rouge, pints of bière, cups of café and plates of fromages (yes, we ate a drank a lot). I’ll caption the photos below, which are all from the old quarter.

A pop of colour along the roof edge.

A pop of colour along the roof’s edge.

Just a sculpture hung over a door, but I find it hard to resist taking photos of statues face on.

Just a sculpture hung over a door, but I find it hard to resist taking photos of statues face-on.

Steve the Translator. Thanks for a wonderful weekend!

Steve the Translator. Thanks for a wonderful weekend!

I also find repeated patterns hard to pass up.

I also find repeated patterns hard to pass up.

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Close-up of a painted wall mural.

Close-up of a painted wall mural.

Another favourite - doors or windows isolated on a nice monochromatic wall.

Another favourite – doors or windows isolated on a nice monochromatic wall.

Stephen the sailor.

Stephen the sailor.

Thanks to a filter in the snapseed app, a boring photo is saved!

Thanks to a filter in the snapseed app, a boring photo is saved!

You know darn well that many people have taken this shot in the past.

You know darn well that many people have taken this shot in the past.

Cool artwork hung overhead in amongst the old stone buildings.

Cool artwork hung overhead in among the old stone buildings.

Same artwork - opposite angle...and B&W. Gosh, I'm so creative. :P

Same artwork – opposite angle…and B&W. Gosh, I’m so creative.😛

More b&W for the Gothic church. I dunno... is it actually Gothic? I'm not a student of architecture.

More B&W for the Gothic church. I dunno… is it actually Gothic? I’m not a student of architecture.

A funicular - sadly, we didn't ride it.

A funicular – sadly, we didn’t ride it.

Stephen, that just looks gross. I know it's maple ice cream, but still. Guh-ross.

Stephen, that just looks gross. I know it’s maple ice cream, but still. Guh-ross.

That looks slightly better.

That looks slightly better.

Getting creative with the lens flares. Call me J.J. Abrams.

Getting creative with the lens flares. Call me J.J. Abrams.

Colourful balls?! Well, that's just gonna make ANY shot pop!

Colourful balls?! Well, that’s just gonna make ANY shot pop!

Rowr. Face-on shot of a stuffed bear.

Rowr! Face-on shot of a stuffed bear.

Time for wine! Need some energy before I continue walking around.

Time for wine! Need some energy before I continue walking around.

The restaurant wher we grabbed the wine. Apparently it's quite new. Well, their location couldn't be better.

The restaurant where we grabbed the wine. Apparently it’s quite new. Well, their location couldn’t be better.

Busy street! Good thing I like to shoot details rather than wide angles - otherwise, all my shots would have had dozens of people in them.

Busy street! Good thing I mostly like to shoot details rather than wide angles – otherwise, all my shots would have had dozens of people in them.

Harpist-busker. Never seen that before, and we actually saw TWO in Quebec. Go figure.

Harpist-busker. Never seen that before, and we actually saw TWO in Quebec. Go figure.

Lots more door-in-wall photos to come, I'm afraid.

Lots more door-in-wall photos to come, I’m afraid.

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Time for a beer top-up. Only a few more photos to go.

Time for a beer top-up. Only a few more photos to go.

A place to tie your horse.

A place to tie your horse.

Technically taken from the Citadelle, but still a nice shot of an old street.

Technically taken from the Citadelle, but still a nice shot of an old street.

Okay, that's enough for now. Let's celebrate with another pint. You made it all the way through my post!

Okay, that’s enough for now. Let’s celebrate with another pint. You made it all the way through my post!

Second Beach

Reading or napping? Turtle Beach was great for Either.

Reading or napping? Turtle Beach was great for Either.

If relying on a taxi to pick us up from a beach located on the same island as our hotel was cause for stress, imagine how much anxiety I had when relying on a water taxi to do the same thing the next day!

At least on the first day I could conceivably WALK back to the hotel. With a beach located on a completely different island, that option was completely out of the question!

I’m just kidding – it wasn’t really a stress to rely on the boat to get to and from Red Frog Beach, where we went on our second beach day. Things seemed really well organized on that front, and the timing of our water taxi was much more conducive to a FULL day at the beach.

It turned out that Red Frog Beach – our planned destination that second day – was MUCH more peaceful in general that Playa Estrella. Yes, it had plenty of tourists but with fewer locals and no shop fronts blaring loud party music, the beach had a much more laid back air.

Still, Red Frog Beach was busy enough that we decided to explore the area to try to find something even more remote. As luck would have it, just a few minutes walk further along we stumbled on Turtle Beach.

Turtle Beach was largely reserved for use by members of a private resort, so it was VERY quiet. But thankfully, we found a strip of land right by Turtle Beach that was open to the public and that no one had claimed.

We spread our towels, plopped down and sprawled there for the afternoon. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing.

The photos from that day include shots of both beaches as well as a few images taken on the water taxi and on the walk from the marina to the beach and back. I’ll caption them as best I can.

From the water taxi.

From the water taxi.

That's where we alighted from the water taxi. It was about a 10 minute walk across the island from here to Red Frog Beach.

The Marina, where we alighted from the water taxi. It was about a 10 minute walk across the island from here to Red Frog Beach.

The surf at Red Frog Beach was nice and thee were surfers in the water.

The surf at Red Frog Beach was nice – not too strong, not too gentle – and there were indeed surfers in the water.

Red Frog Beach

A look back at Red Frog from the easternmost end of the beach.

A look back at Red Frog from the easternmost end of the beach.

Strange flora on the walk between Red Frog Beach and Turtle Beach.

Strange flora on the walk between Red Frog Beach and Turtle Beach.

The view of a quiet Turtle Beach.

The view of a quiet Turtle Beach.

Our cozy spot on Turtle Beach.

Our cozy spot on Turtle Beach.

View FROM our cozy spot - where we had some nice shade under a tree.

View FROM our cozy spot – where we had some nice shade under a tree.

Yup. The towel says Panama - and that's where we were.

Yup. The towel says Panama – and that’s where we were.

Junkii learning BodyStep choreography.

Junkii learning BodyStep choreography on the beach.

A few pics of a kid - photographed on the way back to the water taxi at the end of the day.

A few pics of a kid – photographed on the way back to the water taxi at the end of the day.

Getting the juice out of a coconut.

Getting the juice out of a coconut.

The kid's portrait.

The kid’s portrait.

Another shot of the Marina.

Another shot of the Marina at day’s end.

First Beach

Look, obviously it wasn't ALL bad. What's a little party atmosphere among fellow lushes?

Look, obviously it wasn’t ALL bad…I mean, what’s a little party atmosphere among fellow lushes, right?

We hit up two beaches during our stay in Bocas Del Toro: One that we could drive to and one that we had to take a boat to.

The first one was called Playa Estrella (Starfish Beach), and Lonely Planet told us it was about the only nice beach on Bocas del Toro Province. We hailed a cab in town at the south end of the province and negotiated a price to deliver us along a pothole-laden road to the far north shore.

It took us the better part of an hour, as I recall, which gave the driver plenty of time to ask how we intended to get home. Evidently taxis FROM the beach back to Bocas are pretty hard to come by. Thankfully, he would be coming back to the north shore later that day, and so we arranged a pick up time towards the end of the day.

The upside of this situation is that we knew we would have a ride back. The downside is that I was never really truly able to relax. With a set end-time for your day, my mind was constantly preoccupied with the time – and I would regularly check my phone to make sure I wasn’t running late for the appointed taxi trip.

That’s not conducive to relaxing beach time.

You know what else isn’t conducive to relaxing beach time? Loud party music!

From the spot where the taxi dropped us off, we hired a water taxi to take us on a quick jaunt around a bend of the island and directly onto Starfish beach.

On dropping us off, it was clear that this spot was popular with the locals and the blaring music from each of the food stands that lined the beach made it obvious that each business was trying to outdo the one next to it.

The result was a cacophony of Latin rhythms.

We grabbed a couple of chaise lounges and tried our best to relax. A couple of beers each, and a short swim soon helped us get into the mood, but a quiet beach would have been much more enjoyable.

We headed back to our hotel around dinnertime, and were greeted by a beautiful sunset on the secluded waterfront dock just inside our hotel’s gate! What a great way to relax after a non-relaxing (but still fun) day at the beach.

The post-beach view from our hotel.

The post-beach view from our hotel.

our plan for the next day held hope that we would see a more secluded, less tumultuous beach. More on that later.

For now, here are a few of the photos from Playa Estrella.

The cabbie dropped us off at Bocas del Drago - which is a 2-minute water taxi ride or a 10-15 minute walk to Playa Estrella. We went by boat and returned on foot - just to see both options.

The cabbie dropped us off at Boca del Drago – which is a 2-minute water taxi ride or a 10-15 minute walk to Playa Estrella. We went by boat and returned on foot – just to see both options.This shot was taken at end of day, when the cloud was rolling in.

The beach at Bocas del Drago, where we caught the water taxi. Maybe we should have stayed there!

The beach at Boca del Drago earlier in the day, where we caught the water taxi. Sunny and fairly quiet…maybe we should have stayed there!

Hand-painted sign warning not to touch the stardish. There aren't a lot of starfish left around the beach, but we did spot one (and didn't touch it!)

Hand-painted sign warning not to touch the starfish. There aren’t a lot of starfish left around the beach, but we did spot one (and didn’t touch it!)

Boca del Drago

Two chaises lounges, just waiting for us as we arrived on the beach. We didn't even pay for them (although I suspect we were meant to)

Two chaises lounges, just waiting for us as we arrived on the beach. We didn’t even pay for them (although I suspect we were meant to)

A bit of the bustle happening along the beach. Worse were the noisy tourists.

A bit of the bustle happening along the beach. Worse were the noisy tourists.

Definitely would have had to pay for hammock-use.

Definitely would have had to pay for hammock-use.

Still managed to get a few shots without the throngs of people in the way.

Still managed to get a few shots without throngs of people in the way.

Heading back towards Bocas del Drago along the footpath.

Heading back towards Boca del Drago, along the footpath.

Pee break!

Pee break! The beer gets to you after a while.

Windswept look.

Windswept look.

Ready to cross a flooded area.

Ready to cross a flooded area.

Two cyclists decided to forge ahead through the flooded zone, not bothering with the makeshift bridge (or about water-borne parasites either, apparently!)

Two cyclists decided to forge ahead through the flooded zone, not bothering with the makeshift bridge (or bothered by potential water-borne parasites either, apparently!)

A couple more scenes from the trek back to Bocas del Drago.

A couple more random scenes from the trek back to Boca del Drago.

Boca del Drago