Friday, 28 November 2014
While waiting to board the yellow school bus (with ridiculously loud exhaust) in Boquete we met a backpacking couple our age from France and instantly hit it off. Our ride to David allowed for good uninterrupted conversation before we switched to our double decker night bus for our 6 hour journey to Panama City. Our assigned seats were near the back on the upper level which would normally not be a problem, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the drivers down here, no matter the size of the vehicle are fast and rammy. Soon after the trip began, I experienced that terrible, nauseating feeling in my stomach; motion sickness. I quickly downed 2 gravol with ginger and a banana before working hard to keep my rice and chicken supper down. The AC was on full blast just like we had been warned from other travellers, so I covered myself with the little clothing we brought, but still shivered while even Travis admitted that it was cool (which he thoroughly enjoyed). Under our thin jackets we managed to sleep a little when the baby behind us wasn't crying before arriving in the big city at 430 am. Exhausted, we took a taxi to Casco Viejo (the old city) where our hostel was located. When we arrived, we watched the sun come up and glisten pink on the numerous sky scrapers of the downtown core along the ocean. The old, restored buildings from the early 1900's (and earlier) where the Americans lived while they completed the Panama Canal were stunning. The red brick roads, terraces and narrow streets made us feel like we were in Europe. After wandering around Casco Viejo getting partial directions from locals and military, we finally found our hostel, nicely overlooking Plaza Herrera (a nice monument with a great green space). Since our room wouldn't be ready until the afternoon we decided to take a taxi to see the Famous Panama Canal. Feeling cheap and tired we didn't pay the $30 to enter with the crowd of people. Instead we watched the ships rise from outside and snaped a few pictures before being told we weren't allowed to be on the grounds without paying. We kindly agreed and headed for our hostel. We quickly did some research on the San Blas Islands, which was our true destination and realized that if we left the next morning at 530 we could meet up with our new friends from France. After a three hour afternoon nap, we had regained enough energy to walk around the old city for the evening. We watched with amazement as a group of young children took turns climbing onto the top of an SUV and jumping onto the hood of another car in order to set the alarm off. Once this feat had been achieved, the kids would all dance to the noise (music?) with some seriously impressive moves, terrible but funny.
Thursday, 27 November 2014
The first thing we did when we saw our huge private room with a stone walk in shower and private balcony was extend our stay... to a week. Boquete is a small town nestled in the valley of the mountains with 2 gentle rivers flowing through. A picturesque village originally built by the Swiss complete with red slanted roofs. On our first walk through town the smell of blooming flowers was incredible, no wonder the locals call it the town of eternal spring. A couple days later we went white water rafting for my first time ever. I was very excited and nervous about the whole thing. The rapids were not too big, with a 3+ being the largest, but with adrenaline pumping I found them challenging and exilerating. Then while going through our last difficult section our guide, Travis and the two other guys with us were ejected into the current simultaneously, leaving me alone in the raft! I stood up to take control and assess the situation, needless to say a few seconds later found myself also falling into the rushing water. Thankfully our guide was quick and pulled me in, next he threw Travis a rope as he had drifted the farthest. Turning around (on my knees this time) I saw the fear in the two guys faces as the rapids up ahead looked worse. With a sense of urgency I grabbed one and then the other throwing them into the raft. I think they were as impressed as I was with my adrenaline enhanced abilities. The next day I came down with a cold and spent the following few days in bed. It was hard being sick away from home, I missed my mom, but was thankful for our cozy room. Once I was well enough, we rented a scooter and toured the countryside, it was beautiful and a lot of fun. Twice the scooter wasn't powerful enough to get up a hill with both of us on, so I had to jump off, laughing as Travis had to push the scooter to get it up the hill. I enjoyed seeing the local children, they are so adorable and cheerfully waved to us as we slowly scooted by. We then spent a full day planning on next location, left our big packs at our hostel, packed our day packs for a week... off to Panama City!
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
From Bocas Town the road twisted and turned up into the cloud forest. Even though the shuttle van was fairly comfortable I felt carsick. After a couple hours the van pulled over along the side of the hill and dropped us off on the road. It took about 15 minutes to climb up the hill along a cute stone pathway with signs of encouragement and benchs to rest on along the way before we reached the Lost and Found hostel. This hostel is in the middle of nowhere, built on the side of a hill, with no vehicle access. It took a while to adjust to every building being spread out, including the toilets which were about 50 meters up hill from the bedrooms. What we loved the most was the incredible view of the valley as well as Panama's only Volcan, Baru, from the outdoor kitchen area. On our first day we went for a hike, a treasure hunt to be exact, with a couple we met from Switzerland. The dense cloud forest, butterflies, monkeys and river were truly amazing. It felt like we were walking in a fairytale, like Alice in Wonderland in an enchanted forest. The Lost and Found is hard to describe, at first we felt uncomfortable in our rustic surroundings. For example, the terrifying shower experience. After our hike we inhaled our regular chicken and rice supper and then walked up to the open air shower stalls in the dark. With only one light bulb the forest bugs seemed to gather around it in droves. While Travis showered under the trickle of cold water, like that of a garden hose, I stood guard over our clothes, shaking off the beetles and bugs who kept trying to crawl inside. Then it was my turn, it was difficult trying to get clean while staring at the very large spider in the doorway and large beetle on shower floor and swatting the moths away at the same time. I had to talk my way through the process out loud to help keep calm. I must have sounded so funny, "now I'm using the soap", "now I'm rinsing my hair". That was our only shower in 3 days, I chose to smell over risking the bugs again. I also received my first wasp bites on my ankles, the pain was terrible but thankfully only lasted a few hours. On our way out we took a tour to a secret waterfall and enjoyed some natural hot springs, an excellent way to leave our hill top adventure and head into the town of Boquete.
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
On our first night at Bambuda Lodge, on Isle Solarte, we met an investment banker/marathon runner from Denmark named Jochim. after one week of hiking the difficult trail through the island, playing in the water at starfish beach or visiting for hours over morning coffee or evening beers, we stood waving goodbye to our good friend as he left on the water taxi. We realized here that there is something about traveling that allows good friendships to form very quickly, even though your time together is short. There were many other great people we enjoyed spending time with as well, either around the communal supper table or working out on the deck (yes, working out). It rained every day except one but that didn't deter us from enjoying our time in Bocas. Each morning I enjoyed reading and listening to music while soaking in the ocean view while Travis attending Habla Ya Spanish School. I took one short lesson to say I tried, but I am grateful Travis is picking it up so quickly. Sleeping in a 10 person dorm on a bunk bed was a new experience with people coming to bed at all hours and waiting for the bathroom regularly, but the most difficult thing was the invisible, relentless sand flies which tormented our wrists and ankles each evening. Despite the bites, Bambuda Lodge was a lovely place with excellent food and it was nice to have a week off from cooking and cleaning dishes. Not to mention the delicious brownies we enjoyed each night with new friends from around the world. But, like our friends before us, it came our time to leave and head into Panamas Cloud Forest for a new experience and new friends.
Friday, 7 November 2014
With our packs neatly organized, we loaded into our shuttle van which took us and a few others to the Sixaola border crossing to enter Panama. The road gently careened around for 45 minutes until we reached the crossing. Our driver instructed us to get out, introduced us quickly to our next guide, told us where to pay and drove off, leaving us at the hot, dusty crossing. Travis filled out our forms and we followed the next guide up a hill where we individually went to get our passports stamped. Then we followed the path of people walking over an old railroad bridge spanning the waters of the Rio Sixaola. I struggled to keep up, laughing in amazement at the holes I was stepping over and the loose boards below my feet, trying to focus ahead and not on the moving waters below. On the other side, we received another stamp and loaded into the next van who took us to our water taxi. This new driver who dressed like a Caribbean gangster blared his old school rap music for the next 25 minutes, I sat their laughing, hoping the elderly locals didn't understand the English words. The ocean air however was refreshing as we journeyed to Bocas Del Toro. From there we took our final water taxi in the dark to the nearby Isle Solarte where we found Bambuda Lodge, our cozy island home for the next week.
Saturday, 1 November 2014
The 4 hour air conditioned shuttle van ride from San Jose was very comfortable, especially compared to the overwhelming heat when we arrived. It was as though I climbed into a tanning bed with a wool blanket and closed the lid. We walked around town overwhelmed by the smells of food, garbage, sewer as well as the fresh ocean air. I enjoyed watching 2 small boys build a sand castle and sing in Spanish beside the hot Caribbean Sea. The town had a distinct Jamaican flavour and the dreadlocks were impressive, especially on the old shirtless men who leasurely peddled their bikes down the rugged pavement. We rented bikes once and road 9 km to Punta Uva where we played in the most perfect waves, the seats on the bikes were unfortunately very uncomfortable. Our highlight was my husband taking surfing lessons at Cocoles, the most beautiful beach in the area, he did so well! Our hostel was terribly hot at night and the mosquitos were small, silent tormentors causing me to get up in the night to put on more bug spray. Otherthan those two annoyances, we enjoyed our time exploring and meeting nice people from the U.S., South Africa and Sweden as well as utilizing the large kitchen to cook up some new favourites (chalupas and fried cheese). On our seventh day in Peurto Viejo we walked on a black sand beach and then headed for Panama.