My first morning on Isla Palenque, she seemed shy (or that could have been me). I set out on a day of solo exploration – just me and the island – with a beach walk to a jungle bluff at the East end of Playa Palenque. Normally, the beach wouldn’t be my starting point… I’ve never considered myself a “beach person.” And by that I mean that I don’t fly across the world to lie in a lounge chair with my eyes closed.
Playa Palenque changed my perception of the “beach vacation.” Perhaps it’s because there’s not another person in sight, or because it backs up to a fascinating mirage of green jungle, or because it’s flanked by towering volcanic bluffs – but Playa Palenque has me rapidly shedding my preconceived notions of beaches, as well as my shyness: this is a beach worthy of exploration. My feet find their way to stretches of sand as fine as if it came from an hourglass, and accordingly the common meaning of time spills out onto the beach to be shaped by the tides and colored by the sunsets.
My journeys around the world have taught me that travel is not a spectator sport, and I’ve learned to choose destinations where I am not held back by a piece of yellow tape or corralled into a tourist queue. This island is perfect; there are no sidelines, and when I hit the bluff at the end of the beach, I start climbing without a moment’s hesitation.
Atop the bluff, I stand among the roots of a tree that must be over a hundred years old: an ecosystem in and of itself, covered in flowering plants and vines, its branches home to frogs, birds, and butterflies. Up here I feel a sensation I haven’t felt since my childhood’s summer days spent marching through the woods, feeling reality melt fluidly into the fantastical lands found in bedtime storybooks.
As children, we’re allowed the luxury of experiencing the world raw and unedited, with all 5 senses. I think this is to help us understand important things about our world very quickly, relying on the tactile to teach us what it would take much longer to explain in words.
Some people drift away from their curiosity as they age. It happens to the best of us: the pressures of adult life sometimes crowd out the wonder we knew as children. But through travel to extraordinary destinations that invite us to explore by touching, listening, tasting, absorbing as much as we can, in as many different ways as we can – we are reawakened to the vibrancy and texture of our world, and emerge from the experience with as many novel insights as an inquisitive child at the end of an adventure-filled day. Fortunately, undiscovered places still exist where the natural landscape rewards curiosity and engages your inner child. I find myself in one of these places right now, on Isla Palenque.
I can’t wait for tomorrow, to see what this alluring island has in store. From Playa Palenque’s exhilarating welcome, it’s going to be an incredible month.