Alex and Olivia in Casco Viejo

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I fell in love with travel when I started exploring alone. It forced me to face myself: my harshest critic. I discovered aspects of my soul and personality I never knew existed, because I was too busy searching for flaws. 

I learned to trust myself, stay true to myself, and maybe even slightly appreciate myself. I guess that’s not unheard of: finding your strength when you are alone.

Traveling just to see friends and family is new for me, believe it or not. I've gotten really good at traveling alone and sometimes forget what it feels like to have large company.  But that was the primary focus for the next portion of our adventure. Alex’s cousin Veronica and her husband Ben were in Casco Viejo (Casco Antiguo) for the month of April and our 15-hour trek across the border from Costa Rica was perfectly scheduled just to see them.

I’ve only met Ben and Veronica once before, in New Orleans on Alex’s birthday. They picked us up from the airport and we spent one or two vibrant New Orleans nights hanging out. I wasn’t with them long enough to call them friends, yet my connection with them was just as electric as the day I met Alex. We clearly shared the same values, weren’t afraid to speak our minds, and most of all – loved the power of love and human connection. Fast forward six months and there we were, anxious with glee at the prospect of a whole week with them!

Our own apartment

I always look forward to the day when Alex and I can have a place to call our own. But at this point, it’s unrealistic. I’d rather be homeless and travel. Nevertheless, booking a temporary apartment while exploring seemed to be a sweet compromise.

When Alex and I arrived at our Airbnb apartment at 4:30 am, we paid for our $5 taxi and contemplated what to do for the next two hours. We were early, and had nowhere to go. The sun had yet to rise and the streets were empty.

I reached for my phone to take a photo of the night-lit street lined with Spanish and French architecture and realized it was no longer in my purse. I glanced at Alex worriedly and told him I thought I dropped it in the taxi. Alex threw on his cape and like a superhero quickly sped away, yelling “I’ll catch up with the taxi”. I warned him the car would be long gone, but he was sure he could chase it down. 

Alex’s running footsteps pounding against the bricked pavement had already reduced to a whisper when I embarrassingly realized my phone was in another bag. I ran to the dimly lit road where I last saw his shadow and yelled his name.

No response.

On my second call I saw a man’s silhouette, slouched, walking awkwardly, and intently heading towards me. Any apprehension was quickly eased when the outline of a disheveled ponytail revealed my boyfriend’s identity. Belabored breaths, a sweat-stained shirt and an overheated, red face made me laugh hysterically and remind him that we should’ve used the last month of our gym membership if we were going to  run after cars. Moments like this remind me how amazing Alex is. Without hesitation, ready to chase down a taxi for a phone I’d already backed up.

Family Time

It's hard to say whether we would've loved Casco Viejo as much if it had not been for Ben and Veronica being there. But I guess I'll never know. 

After finally getting into our new apartment and taking a refreshing nap, we skipped (like children lured by the sound of an ice cream truck) over to their Airbnb apartment just a couple of blocks away. 

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And just like that it was as if I'd known them my whole life. We sat on the balcony catching up and somehow, like the four opinionated feminists we are, started talking about menstrual cycles and society's unfair taboo image of it. I yelled, "well I'm sorry that you're offended by my vaginal functions, since it only gave birth to the entire HUMAN RACE!" (Note: it took four tries to convince my autocorrect that I was indeed trying to type "vaginal". THAT's that mainstream taboo I'm talking about. Ugh.)

Anyway, after listening to feminist spoken word, discussing the annoyance of calling natural and curly hair "crazy", and Veronica sharing her recent experience in the workforce after buzzing her own hair, all while day drinking, I'd say we were off to a good start. 

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Enjoy our photos from a week of deep talks, exploration, more drinking, and overall amazing family time. Can I say family? Is that weird? You get the idea. 

Breakfast is our religion and a stop at Unido's became a frequent occurence.  

Breakfast is our religion and a stop at Unido's became a frequent occurence.  

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We took an evening family hike to get a high view of Panamá. 

We took an evening family hike to get a high view of Panamá. 

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Casco Viejo is a UNESCO world heritage site with Spanish and French colonial architecture. 

Casco Viejo is a UNESCO world heritage site with Spanish and French colonial architecture. 

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Ben, Veronica and Coco tried to make Piña Coladas with real coconut. That resulted in Ben continuously throwing the coconut off the second floor balcony until it cracked. Attempts with a hammer were initially unsuccessful. 

Ben, Veronica and Coco tried to make Piña Coladas with real coconut. That resulted in Ben continuously throwing the coconut off the second floor balcony until it cracked. Attempts with a hammer were initially unsuccessful. 

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Coco, Ben and Veronica's sweet Australian roommate, whipped up some amazing drinks.  

Coco, Ben and Veronica's sweet Australian roommate, whipped up some amazing drinks.  

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Alex and I explored the sea wall (originally to protect against pirates) and continued along la cinta costera enjoying the cleanliness, greenery, and street vendor sweets.

Alex and I explored the sea wall (originally to protect against pirates) and continued along la cinta costera enjoying the cleanliness, greenery, and street vendor sweets.

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Even the trash cans are cute.  

Even the trash cans are cute.  

We met up with everyone at the Finca del Mar swing bar.  

We met up with everyone at the Finca del Mar swing bar.  

But Alex needed to be carried home.  

But Alex needed to be carried home.  

We also had taco night.  

We also had taco night.  

Credit: @ergomara

Credit: @ergomara

And spent time on our airbnb apartment balcony. 

And spent time on our airbnb apartment balcony. 

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Our airbnb also had a pool table so Alex and Ben had some guy time.  

Our airbnb also had a pool table so Alex and Ben had some guy time.  

We made sure to have a couple of nights out. But I found it more fun watch Veronica haggle with taxi drivers. 

We made sure to have a couple of nights out. But I found it more fun watch Veronica haggle with taxi drivers. 

Also- much love to Alex's college friend, Spiro, for treating us to a great time. Hospitality on fleek? Haha

Also- much love to Alex's college friend, Spiro, for treating us to a great time. Hospitality on fleek? Haha

Leaving was bittersweet. We were on to another adventure in Ecuador but the fun was just getting started. It kind of made me feel happy I'm not traveling alone this time.