Published: August 11th 2012June 21st 2012
View from our room!
The amazing view from our room at sunset above the water!
Dear Blog Readers,
Welcome to our final installment of this Central America adventure! What an adventure it has been! We crossed our final border crossing from Costa Rica at Sixaola into Panama. If there is one thing we've loathed during this trip it has to be the border crossings full of con artists in unofficial and official uniforms. This one was no different but luckily we had become accostomed to their tricks. For those of you who are doing the border crossing - make sure you have an outbound ticket (real or fake!) and change all of your colones to dollars before you arrive. The border crossing has one bloke doing a criminally expensive exchange rate so don't even think about it!
A group of us all in the same boat managed to haggle down a collectivo taxi from $10 to $3 heading to the port at Almirante where we all boarded an actual, rather than metaphorical, boat to Bocas del Toro. The 30 minute ride was quite bumpy but the weather was beautiful and the little islands looked amazing. Once there, we found a little soda for some lunch and to watch the England match. We were able
Taking the kayak out to sea!
to change our remaining colones to dollars with other tourists going from Bocas into Costa Rica (you can exchange at a much much better rate than the bloke at the border crossing!!).
Bocas is a must-visit for any tourist visiting Panama; however, it has come at a price. Unfortunately the island hasn't been able to cope with the exponential growth of tourism and it suffers from this. The main strip turns into a thriving night scene not to dissimilar to Broad Street in Birmingham on a Saturday night. Not exactly content with the thought of heavily intoxicated tourists with potentially Brummie accents, we decided to take the 10 minute boat ride to Isla Bastimentos.
It may only be 10 minutes but once we got off from the much rougher ride we felt like we were a million miles from Bocas island. Bastimentos is a beautifully idyllic small island with just one main street lining the port. We stopped at a hostel and were welcomed by it's owner, and local school teacher, Senor Jaguar. Possibly the most laidback and coolest bloke on the island. The rooms are built above the water and you can while away time just listening
Backpack Thief Beach
Don't put your backpack here!
to the small waves break below or watch the numerous boat taxi whizzing in and out of the port. We spent the evening chatting to the other guests at the hostel who commented on how quiet it was on the island. We walked to the 'Point' at the peninsula of the island where music was blaring out of the speakers and one woman dancing. We went the other way and a completely stoned old timer asked Laura for some of her ice cream ("Canni geta piece?...Canni getanotha piece?")!
A wonderfully lazy morning (we quickly adjusted to the laidback Caribbean lifestyle!), and we had a walk around the island in the hope to find some Internet so that Laura could Skype her sister on her birthday! We walked to the highest point on the island and on the way back down we even saw some of the famous poison red frogs (don't bother paying to go around to the other side of the island to the Red Frog beach! They're right on your doorstep!). Unfortunately it was impossible to find any internet so she went back to the main island to wish her a happy birthday! As she left, a
Catching some rays!
The El Jaguar Hostel!
torrential downpour came in and lasted into the afternoon. Once it had stopped, we went for a walk to the other side of the island to the mysterious Wizard's Beach. The trip there wasn't exactly easy as we snaked our way through the vegetation on a path that had become a quagmire due to the rain. It took about an hour but the wait was worth it as the beach was deserted and the sun was creeping out behind the clouds. We were soon joined by three wild horses that played on the beach as we played in the water. The currents were really strong and we knew we had to be careful as tourists have been caught, and unfortunately died, in the strong ripcurrents - remember to swim PARALLEL to the beach if you're caught in a rip!!
On the way back, the unnerving feeling of walking on squelching mud and not really knowing what was underneath took it's toll on Laura as she stood on a nail from a piece of wood which left a nasty cut just under her toenail (*shudders*). We got back and got out the disinfectant and went to work on Laura's cut.
Top of the island
The peak of Isla Bastimentos looking towards Isla Colon.
I did the 'Saving Private Ryan' smelling of the foot for signs trenchfoot and it wasn't looking, or smelling, good!
In the morning, we found that we had the hostel to ourselves! We hired some snorkelling gear and a kayak from El Jaguar and kayakked across to an awesome snorkelling place called Hospital Point which was at the tip of another island about a kilometre away. We docked our kayak on the aptly named 'Backpack Thief Beach' and dumped our backpack before heading out to look at the coral reef. The weather was superb and it was without doubt one of the highlights of our trip with the coral and sealife on show being utterly superb. We saw such a wide range of fish both in size and colour - there were a few swordfish swimming around! The coral was equally as breathtaking and there was a huge dropoff about 50m out from the beach which would have been amazing if we could have scuba dived!
We kayaked back slowly but surely and had a good lunch to replace all the expended energy. We planned to kayak around the peninsula to Wizard Beach but we got to the
Laura trying out some longer shutter speed photos! Nice!
Point and the waves were pretty high. We decided to try a new sport - Kayak Surfing!! After a couple of near misses and failed attempts we finally caught a wave and it was amazing!!! However, our enthusiasm was soon extinguished when we capsized taking our sunglasses with it! The sea urchins on the rocks weren't a comfortable place to put our feet down.
Regrettably, it was time to leave Isla Bastimentos and the islands of Bocas del Toro. We got a bumpy boat ride back to the main island and then after a spot of lunch (a roast beef sandwich!), we got a boat back to Almirante. We hopped into a collectivo and dropped off after about 2 hours in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, this was entirely the point as we were trying to find the Lost and Found hostel. We'd heard good things about it when we'd come through Panama over 2 months ago and thought it would be a cool, and unique, thing to find. We were up in the cloud forest and had a tough hike into the mountains up a trail which was infinitely more difficult due to Laura's dodgy looking foot. Once
Hiking through the jungle. Where's some elephant dung to chew on?
we found the hostel, we were welcomed by a plethora of volunteers. The dorm is ridiculously small for the number of beds in it (15!!) but the place was really chilled out with plenty to do and see with hummingbirds and wild animals hanging around in the treetops. The Happy Hour at the bar was well ferquented too!
Not a great nights sleep but the earplugs (BlueTac - trust us, it's superb) worked a treat. I got woken up by a foot kicking me in the head! Laura's foot was recovering so we decided to go around the maze in the grounds and then onwards for a small hike through the forest. We passed loads of people en route who reacted with horror when they saw us going for the hike. It was like something from Apocalypse Now, "Don't go there man...the flies...the flies!!!". After about half an hour, the flies descended on us! We decided to persevere and eventually made it to a beautiful river which was absolutely freezing! The rain came in just as we left which actually helped alleviate the flies! The hike through the jungle was great fun though - I felt like Bear Grylls
On Balboa Avenue with the amazing spiral building in the distance.
without the rotting camel carcass to sleep inside. We had a wonderful meal cooked for us when we got back and showered.
We mustered up the energy in the morning to pack our gear together and hike down to wait for a bus. We waited for ages but just as the rain began to fall, a coach turned up heading straight for Panama City! The 8 hour trip cost $20 and as we were trying to work out the cheapest and quickest way to get to the same hostel that we'd stayed at when we arrived, we were stopped by a women from the Hotel Marpariso who was giving us a low season offer we couldn't refuse. For just a few dollars more than we would have paid for a dorm we managed to get our own room in a hotel with some breakfast!
Our last day of the trip started well in a nice comfy bed and a good breakfast before going for a nice walk along Balboa Avenue. The skyline of Panama City is incredible and the number of Yachting clubs that line the street give an indication of the amount of investment and return that
Phenomenal skyline taken en route to Casco Viejo.
has been made from the infamous Panama Canal that we visited when we first came here. We then walked the opposite way towards Casco Viejo which must mean 'Building Site' in Spanish. Any beauty gained from its colonial buildings and cobbled streets is instantly destroyed by the sound of pneumatic drills and hammering to finish restorations. We finished off our present shopping at a local Artisan Market where I bought a Panama Hat.
We got back to our hotel and did our final pack which was much easier than we'd anticipated! We tried to have an early night as our alarm was set for 3:30am. The main road and parks near our hotel which looked perfectly pleasant during the day turned very sinister at night with the odd person wandering the streets. The air of getting mugged was in the air and as we were carting all of our stuff it would probably be the worst time ever to get mugged after three months of no such event. Thankfully, just as we were getting really worried, a bus turned up which took us to the main bus terminal for $1.25 and then we got a bus from there to
Our epic three month adventure comes to an end!
the airport for little over $2. It certainly beat the $30 taxi ride albeit being slightly unsafer! It was impressive that the transport system was working wonders 24 hours a day at a cheap price! Top marks for Panama City!
So it brings us to the end of another blog and another wonderful adventure! The people that we've met and the places we've visited have all brought together a magical experience that we'll both treasure forever. We're glad you've enjoyed reading the blogs and now that we embark on 'real' jobs and careers, we don't know if or when we'll get chance to go on such an adventure for a long time. So for now,
Tink and Laura
There are more photos below