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Panama 2019: What I Learned

I am an avid traveler who prefers mostly foreign travel. Foreign travel, to me, makes you look at things more closely and with more intent due to things out of the ordinary. In fact, I believe that travel is the BEST teacher and if you can do it, take it – and definitely learn from it. My recent trip to Panama over New Years to ring in 2019, reintroduced me to one, firm lesson, or reminder, that I’ve always carried along when I built and launched The Art of Lax™ business 10 years ago.

“Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” – Mark Twain

From past trips, I can tell you one thing, I’ve never liked fancy resorts, or resorts in general. I been to a few but I’ve always felt that you never see the ‘realness’ and authenticity especially in a foreign place due to playing it ‘safe’ in a resort. Of the two, primary places we stayed in Panama (Bocas del Toro and Loma Partida) the second place we stayed was ONLY accessible by boat.

The owner of the house we rented in Loma Partida was an ex-pat from Canada who lived in Costa Rica for over 20 years before shifting to build his home in Panama. His prior profession was in real-estate but living in the coastal parts of Central America introduced and enabled him to speak Spanish fluently, pilot a boat and start a scuba diving business. He was the one who was boating us from our previous place to our next place, manifestly his home.

“Those who fly solo have the strongest wings.”

The place we went called ‘The Pyramid House’, was located in the jungle. There were no roads, no stores, and the closest neighbor couldn’t be seen. In fact, during our time at the house, aside from my parents, wife, our two kids, and the owners, I never saw another person on site. It was the most remote place I have ever been to in my life. Meals were prepared by his wife with fruits, vegetables and other produce grown on the premise. Activities, or day trips, had to be scheduled with the owner who would, again, boat you to the planned location. One place we decided to go to was an island called Cayo Zapatilla scheduled early on New Year’s Day. The decision for an early departure made us go to bed before 9pm on New Year’s Eve, thus missing a traditional midnight cheer.

In his thick, French-Canadian accent, mixed with his fluency of Spanish, the owner told us that life-jackets will have to be worn because it could, in his words: “possibly be a bumpy ride.” The boat ride had us go about 25-30mins. but with the safety of land and a shoreline always in sight. When the opening of a vast body of water called the ocean became clear, the boat slowed down and turned towards the churning, aggressive, white-capped waves. The call to make sure the life-jackets were on was made and in the very faint distance, separated by the extreme waves were two, blurry islands which was our destination. We were the ONLY boat on the deep, open water. Needless to say, the thought of “what if…” came to mind.

The owner’s boat was a simple lake-boat with a simple canopy to shade the passengers but equipped with a very powerful engine. But one, strong wave could possibly rock it. The boat cut through the waves and bounced up and down on the big ones. The thought that the owner did this trek numerous times with past visitors was the ONLY thing keeping me from losing my mind. I was scared – very scared, trying not to show it. I was seated in the very front of the boat, which gave me the sights of all the upcoming violent waves we had to endure. The “cheers” and “giggles” from my wife and parents were constant during the ride, but I knew they were to mask the feeling of not being safe. A thought of turning around and not proceeding came to mind, but I didn’t want to be that person. While the island was getting clearer and nearer, it wasn’t coming fast enough for me. One last giant wave had the boat possibly jump 10-12 feet in the air, slamming down to add more hurt to our rear-ends on the cumbersome, wooden seats.

As we finally approached the island, the water was less wavy and it became clearer exposing the colorful coral reef. We were safe and a big sense of relief came about. As we turned the corner of the island to anchor the boat, the owner was very surprised to see an empty beach, really an island, with nobody on it. As we disembarked with our items to stay on the beach, the secure feeling of my feet being on firm soil, really sand, was all I needed. Once we were all settled to enjoy the island that I never heard of before, the owner told us that the island being a destination, was where Seasons 7 & 8 of the reality t.v. show ‘Survivor‘ was filmed. It was only fitting that in order to get to Cayo Zapatilla you had to risk safety and survive the waves to really enjoy it. It was worth it and a great way to celebrate the first full day of 2019.

“It is playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” – Dag Hammarskjold

10 years ago, I launched The Art of Lax™ physically to the public at the 2009 U.S. Lacrosse Convention. I remember before the attendees were allowed onto the exhibition hall, I was so nervous that I went into the bathroom and threw up. I knew I had to face the crowd with their unknown reception and feedback, if any, because if this was going to be something serious – a business – I had to endure it and not play it safe. As each year went by doing The Art of Lax™, more important lessons and the best experiences have come from this than any job that I’ve ever had. It’s easy to play anything with a low-risk mindset, because you want to be taken care of knowing that things are covered, promised, certain, guaranteed – SAFE.

And 10 years later, just like that extreme boat ride in Panama, when you are willing to risk something, be uncomfortable and challenged, another thing is taught, introduced, developed or really happens to you. Its called: GROWTH.


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Some other pics from Panama:

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