No other place

“I Alice were a fish, then Alice was Fish to me”

Chapter 9: Bocas del Toro Islands, Panamá, February 2014

A door opened. Lost and standing in the middle of a quiet street of pastel wooden houses on stilts and shabby hostels, I waved frantically to a cyclist who seemed to be in a rush to be somewhere. She screeched her bicycle to a halt and dismounted. She was caramel-skinned with a neat weave, dressed in a white shirt printed with little black rabbits, even her bike seat was embroidered with playing cards. “Your hostel’s that way,” she said flashing a big white smile, and sped away before I could ask another question.

Days passed quickly; nights were long. In exchange for a bed and food in my hostel, I wanted to paint a mural of Alice searching for a doorway out but instead, the pact was for a Devil´s head. 

Masked devils menacingly danced in the street, wielding their whips and chasing kids down the streets. Hissing, I spinned in circles frantically in the clubs, squeezed into tops too small and skirts too big that hung lazily and loosely around my hips, teasing others with the expectation that they would slide off me completely. Dark circles appeared under my eyes as I struggled to sleep to the sounds of techno blasting from the bar. 

During the day I languorously swigged beer and watched the hostel guests come and go, whiling away the days painting the mural of a devil with snake tongues and hibiscus flowers on the bar stools. I would massage weary travellers´ feet for donations, and take them around the islands´ beaches and through boggy paths, in search of tiny red and yellow frogs. 

I was slowly being devoured by the islands, deep into the bull´s mouth until I was nudged by The Fish.

The Fish was a swimming instructor who had been travelling for as long as I. We were instant travel companions and spent our last days in the hostel together. If Alice were a fish, then Fish was Alice to me: adventurous, funny, inquisitive, and daring. I told her about my experience with Alice and she didn’t think I was mad at all. We laughed and were amazed at the coincidence of finding Alice only moments later, painted on a toilet door in a bar that overlooked the bay. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone or mad. While hanging out at the bar we caught the eye of a Captain. His eyes were youthful and twinkled with adventurous promise. He invited us to sail with him to the San Blas Islands, and beyond to Guatemala, although The Fish could not stay for the whole voyage, only as far as Panama city, as she was going in an entirely different direction to us.

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