Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Thursday, December 8, 2011

Here is a video from Alex:

Text below courtesy of Anna

Before returning stateside for Christmas, we flew from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Panama City, Panama. After a 6 hour flight, we touched down in Bogota for a layover, returning to the city that we started our travels in and covering the same miles that we took the better part of 4 months journeying through. It made me realise how much of the world is missed from a plane window. On that flight I was reminded of the fellow travellers we loved and the ones we couldn't stand, the people we stayed with, the amazing and terrible food we consumed, and realised that without those months on the ground, I would have only met the flight attendant and eaten the shrink wrapped packaged food designed to not offend anyones taste buds. I'll take the long way anytime.

Panama has always been a destination we've wondered about. It borders a controversial part of Colombia, boasts the most impressive man made waterway on this earth, has coasts on the worlds two largest oceans, and raves about it's friendliness and caribbean vibe.  All of this in a country you can practically run from coast to coast.
We touched down in Panama City and were promptly greeted by our hostel's owner holding a sign for us (first time I've had that experience - always been jealous of those people) as well as heat and humidity that almost knocked us over. We had been traveling through winter/spring time in the southern hemisphere as well as at high altitudes, so this tropical surge was a lot to adjust to - not that we were complaining!

After settling into our hostel, we both felt the pull of the canal and were itching to see this marvel of engineering and ingenuity. We went at our first opportunity and weren't disappointed. We were able to watch 2 large container ships make the passage through the Miraflores locks. This feat was nothing less than mind-blowing. The size of these ships is phenomenal and they are staffed by a skeleton crew, yet manoeuvred through these locks with less than inches on either side. The museum and movie at the visitor centre left a lot to be desired, but the main attraction of the boats and lock system showed us more than we were expecting.

After a few days in the city, our true destination awaited us on the island of Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean Sea. We traveled by bus through scenery unlike anything we had seen south of the ecuator.  The vegetation and lushness of this area is breathtaking.  We stopped overnight in David before continuing on to the coastal town of Almirante from where we took a water taxi to the island.

Panamanians tell you that Bocas is the most beautiful place on earth, but we had heard this from people in every country we've been to as a way to describe their own personal slice of paradise. This is the first time that future places we visit will have something to live up to in terms of natural beauty. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, Bocas is home to some of the most dynamic and varied beaches we've ever seen. On one side, you have sandy beaches that are literally washed away every few months only to be redeposited when the surf changes because of the strength of the rip tides. On the other side that is sheltered from the surf, you have placid, warm, sheltered with palm tree beaches that are home to the largest number of red starfish in any one place (although we only saw one of them - maybe they were traveling that day).

Although the "town" of Bocas leaves a lot to be desired for our type of traveling, we found an incredible lodge about 5 miles outside of the main thoroughfare. New experiences abounded at Tesoro Escondido ranging from fighting to keep food cool in an ice box with a block of ice as refrigeration, to running the roads to nowhere with the 6 dogs belonging to the owner of the lodge, to swimming in surf that you aren't ever confident you will make it out of (including jellyfish stings), to walking the jungle with local guides only to be stung by jungle plants...Anna is still recovering from this one and a 24hours of vomiting...

As we prepare to return to the cold of Boston, we are already planning what we are going to do next.  Connecting the hemispheres has brought us a lot of understanding but has raised so many more questions. While we think about how to get from Boston to London without crossing the Atlantic (taking the long way around seems to be how we work best), it looks like we will get a chance to see some of Asia as possible for the first bit of 2012...
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