Panama - more than just a city

Published: March 9th 2017
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I'm currently sat at the airport waiting to say goodbye to Panama, so this is perfect time to catch up with my blog.
Before coming on this trip all I knew of Panama was Panama City and the canal. In my mind it was a bit like Singapore - a big city, the impenetrable Durian gap and nothing much more. I was not expecting the beautiful islands, the dense rainforest and the abundance of animals on offer.
First up was the border crossing - I don't know why but the Central American borders all seem to be stuck out in stupidly hot places, and usually involve a bit of a walk with all your stuff. This one was no different!
After almost a month in Costa Rica where they have no army, I knew we'd got to Panama by the numerous armed personnel everywhere. Once we'd sweated out the border crossing we were finally free to go to Bocas del Toro, our first Panamanian destination. This is a group of beautiful islands on the Caribbean just across the border.
Our first full day in Bocas we went out on a boat trip. This included dolphin spotting, snorkelling, time on a pristine island, before sloth and starfish spotting on the way back. We managed to see a couple of dolphins although unfortunately there was no swimming with them. As we were coming close to the aptly named 'sloth island' an American woman on the boat started talking about seeing 'lazy monkeys'. At first most people were confused, until I mentioned that I was promised sloths not monkeys - 'aah' she says 'are they called sloths?' She then proceeded to tell everyone all about sloths, having not known what they were a minute earlier! It was a great day, however I would have liked the chance to snorkel with all the starfish as there were hundreds of them, all in very clear water.
The next day I couldn't resist the chance to go diving. Unfortunately I was paired up with a biologist, who kept swimming off and going very slowly, and insisted on picking things up! A massive no no when diving. Luckily on the surface interval I said I didn't want to dive with him again, so got to go with the instructor whilst our divemaster tried to stay at the back with him! It was an interesting dive though as I got to see things I've not seen before like new fish and flatworms.
The second dive we did was extremely beautiful, and I could have happily spent hours on this site! Annoyingly I still had half a tank of air when we came up, so probably could have been down there at least another 30mins if I wasn't part of a group. I did manage to spot a lot of creatures though, and even watched a tiny black and white shrimp cleaning a fish hidden away in the coral. This alone more than compensated for the silly French biologist. I'm definitely getting more confident with my diving and better at spotting things underwater - which I'll need when I train as a divemaster.
I finished the afternoon off by relaxing on the beach with Jess and Andy.
Unfortunately we coincided our stay in Bocas with the 'carnival' - the stage was right outside our hostel and went on until 2-3am daily. This would have been bearable had there been things to see at the carnival, or even people there - but it seemed to consist of a queen and a couple of dance troops.
After a couple of nights here we decided to go to another island, Bastimentos, to see some variety and get some sleep! Bastimentos is a much smaller, much more local island. It definitely has a Caribbean feel to it, and apart from a few hotels and restaurants is not very touristy. Unfortunately as it's a tiny island, and hasn't been raining lately, we were limited to 2hrs a day of water! But apart from trying to wash dishes and flush the toilet this was no problem. We did get a discount on our room for the inconvenience.
Our next stop was Boquete - a little town inland in Panama. As soon as we got off the bus I knew I'd like it here - the air is mountain fresh and it's a fairly small place. The main thing to do here is go on walks, so the next day we headed out of town, along with a new friend Silvan from our hostel, on a minibus to the start of the hidden waterfalls walk. This walk involved a lot of steep patches and a fairly rugged path, but it was a beautiful walk through the jungle, and all 3 waterfalls were impressive. During the walk I saw numerous hummingbirds, a centipede, and a variety of other local birds. We weren't tempted to swim in the waterfalls as it's fairly cold up in the highlands - especially on a cloudy day. This did however make walking much more pleasant.
After returning to town and cooking some lunch we headed out to the botanical gardens in town, which are pleasant to walk around, and showcase a good variety of plants.
Next stop - a hostel named lost and found, out in the jungle.
Lost and found is a very remote hostel, only accessible by hiking 20mins uphill with your backpack on - not quite my idea of fun so I was glad to finally get there! The views over the valley are very worth the hike - it is beautiful here. That night we went out on a night hike through the nearby jungle, and saw a good variety of creatures. (I wasn't too hopeful after the last hike!) We managed to see a tiny snake, a frog, some moths, a caterpillar and a few spiders. Our guide also gave us many tips about how to survive if we find ourselves lost in the jungle! Our night hike also started with a visit to the pet Kinkajou here who was rescued after his mother was killed by hunters, and as the hunters castrated him he cannot go back in to the wild. He is very cute, friendly and playful.
The next day was divided between a walk through the jungle and socialising with people in the hostel. I then decided instead of wasting the next day on a bus to Panama City that I'd get the overnight bus that night instead! I also managed to recruit 5 people to come with me.

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