If someone told me 10 years ago that I’d be celebrating my 30th birthday soaring through jungle canopies on a zip line on the remote Isla Bastimentos, smile wide as the Grand Canyon, I’d say sign me up! But would’ve hardly believed it a viable reality. Turning 30 is a huge deal, and I wanted to do something big, but wasn’t sure what.
In my family, it’s tradition to throw a big bash for birthdays that land on a decade. Yet this year as my 30th birthday began to drop faster than Beyonce’s Lemonade, I couldn’t escape the feeling of wanting to… well, escape. It wasn’t generated from fear of some sort of day of reckoning, I just didn’t want to do what had been done before. I wanted an adventure! And boy, did I get one. Here’s my little tale of why I wanted to take a 30th birthday trip.
When the opportunity arose for me to attend a Spanish Immersion school in Panama, I jumped on it. I wasn’t about to laxidasically shuffle across the figurative threshold between youth and womanhood. If I was leaving my 20s behind to enter this new era of wisdom and growth, I was going to do it in style! But if I’m being honest, my 20s were no walk in the park. Without getting all Maury Povich on everyone, I’ll just coyly summarize my 20s by saying that all of those successes and failures that most people wrap up by their 40s I had completed by 23. Get married, buy a house, get divorced, lose the house… you know, that classic American dream turned nightmare. But, that’s a bed time story for another night.
Maybe that’s why I was so driven to kick off my 30s with a bang. I entered my 20s as a bride, and I wanted to enter my 30s as a total badass. Our 20s are filled with insecurity, despair, longing, uncertainty, disillusions about the world filled with opportunistic ideals which hardly materialize, and don’t forget the tail chasing task of “finding yourself.” Well, it’s safe to say a few of those things are still lingering comfortably within me and may never leave. But entering my 30s conjured up a distinctive feeling that I anticipated would arrive on my doorstep with the utter reliability of a 1950’s milk man: EMPOWERMENT.
Empowerment!? That’s right, I said it. Call me cliche, call me basic. That’s the brilliant thing about turning 30. I just don’t care anymore! What a wonderful gift I’ve been given! Up until this point I’d heard whispers among villagers (ok, peers, compadres, you get it) about how women enter their prime in their 30s. Poppycock! What could suddenly happen within someone that just seemingly changes overnight? Well, I’m by no means a psychologist, though let’s face it neither is Maury Povich and he’s doing a pretty good job at it so here goes.
As women, we are doused in pressure from the moment we enter this bright-shiny-soul-crushing-universe. Pressures to be pretty, smart, funny, thin, active, motherly, compassionate, sexy… the list goes on. I truly believe that while we’re in our 20s, we think we can achieve all of those things and more! So we spend every waking moment obsessed with the ideology of perfection. Meanwhile, we’re so filled with insecurity and desperate longing for attention that we can’t see the writing on the wall. Fact and fiction get married into this typical sea-saw of inexhaustible self-obsession and self-shame. Was that just me? No? Thank God, keep reading. It’s a paradox I liken to sugar-free chocolate cake. Like, if you’re going to get down on a half sheet of chocolate cake, just eat the damn sugar, the idea of it being sugar-free is not going to miraculously eliminate the 7,000 calories it has. We’re all going to die someday so just enjoy your damn chocolate cake!
Anyway, I’m getting seriously side-tracked (thanks, right-brain). What is my point of all of this? Why am I stirring up the utter misery of being a female in her 20s? Because it all bottles up within and leads to this climactic release of concern that graciously enters our lives at some point. For me it happened when I turned 30. That said, it didn’t float down on my porch from a stork’s bill the way that babies magically enter existence, that’s how babies are made right? I actively participated in the tangibility of my new empowerment.
My point is that if by 30 you still have that stirring discontent and inability to feel fully satisfied with what you’re putting out in the world, maybe it’s time to take a leap? Not from a building, but perhaps on a plane to a tropical island! Here’s my recipe for how to feel empowered on your 30th birthday trip in paradise!
Get your digs down. Bocas del Toro has many hostels and apartments for rent. Up until the day before my birthday I’d been staying in a homestay and budget hostels, so for a few days it made sense to splurge a tad on an ocean front house with a private beach. We found Bocas Beach House on AirBnB and were in luck that the other rooms weren’t booked. Gotta love traveling during off season!
We snorkeled off the private dock, drank rum & cokes on the patio and swayed in the hammock as water taxis splashed by carting tourists to and fro. Island time took over and I strode into my 30th birthday in full zen mode.
A dose of adrenalin is always a surefire way to feel empowered and alive. There’s something about your heart beating out of your chest and screaming at the top of your lungs that enlivens your inner child. Just a 10 minute water taxi from Bocas Town is Isla Bastimentos, a pristine tropical island with a lush jungle that’s home to sloths, monkeys and the infamous creature the island’s beach is named after, the red frog.
The Bastimentos Skyline Adventure Tour includes 7 ziplines, a vertical rappel, and an adventure bridge. Because we went during off season we were the only ones on the tour, which we flew through in 45 minutes as opposed to the typical 2 hours. It costs $55 and if you book in advance and tell them it’s your birthday, you supposedly get a discount. However, nowhere did it say we had to notify in advance so we did not receive a birthday discount. In any event, it was still a thrilling adventure worth splurging on!
After you get your rush flying through the jungle and getting face whipped by branches, head to Red Frog Beach to chow on tacos at Nachyo Momma’s Taco Bar. The food and drinks are pricey, but the laid-back Caribbean vibe where you can eat tacos and the best patacones ever in your swim suit right on the beach makes it a worthy choice.
Red Frog Beach is a picturesque stretch of white sands and aqua Caribbean waters. Unlike most of the beaches in Bocas del Toro, Red Frog Beach has little baby waves. This was one of my favorite beaches in Bocas del Toro and makes for a beautiful beach walk beneath swaying palms. Keep your eyes peeled for the evasive Red Frog, which the taxi drivers have a keen eye for spotting.
The walk to Red Frog Beach is about 15 minutes from the marina of Isla Bastimentos. If you have a water taxi drop you off at Red Frog Beach, you have to pay an entry fee to the beach. But if you have the taxi take you to the marina, you can walk 15 minutes to the beach and won’t have to pay the entry fee. If you book your water taxi round trip and decide on a pickup time, it should only cost you $10 round trip. If you go one way it’ll be $7 each way.
Being away from home on a 30th birthday was a little hard because I’m accustomed to celebrating my birthdays with my family. Fortunately, Steve met me in Bocas del Toro for my birthday and brought a slice of home with him! Plus, when you’re traveling you’re never truly alone. I made friends at my school and reunited with my Australian friend, Emma, who I met while traveling through Cuba in April whose world trip landed her in Bocas for my birthday!
One of the most beautiful things about traveling is the unique people you meet from all over the world. You start as complete strangers, and if you hit it off become attached at the hip, share life stories and cultural customs. You can at times feel closer to people in a few short days than you do with others in a lifetime. Then, you say goodbye and hope to see them again, knowing that you often won’t, which represents the most difficult thing about traveling for me. Even still, I’d rather make those unique connections than not, because sometimes it works out and you get to reunite for a cozy Indian dinner on a tropical island!
We nestled into our little corner at Om Cafe and Bar and dined family style on curries and masalas. Om had the perfect intimate ambiance for a memorable 30th birthday. We laughed, over ate and concluded with chocolate cake, extra sugary. 😉
I honestly can’t wait to embark on this new decade. I feel more comfortable with myself than I have ever felt before and am going to utilize this new empowerment and confidence to push forward on my path, one step at a time.
Age is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be a burden. Embrace it like the chocolate cake. You know you have to take it in stride, there will be consequences if you go too fast, but it’s a hell of a sweet ride! Do what makes your soul shine. Carry the fire. Ignite your passions and stop letting yourself or anybody else get in the way of your true calling. You’re 30 now, and this is YOUR time!
So, are you empowered? Have you celebrated your 30th birthday yet? If so, tell me about it in the comments below!
If you’re somehow still not empowered, I’ll just leave this right here for you… 😉