Panama!!!! (sung to Van Halen tune)
Trip Start Jan 09, 2007
7Trip End Mar 05, 2007
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After learning to surf in Puerto Viejo, CR, we loaded our backpacks and headed for the islands of Panama for some much-needed R&R.
The bus to the border was as bumpy as the roughest of our bus rides to date and we offloaded in front of a rickety old train bridge over a river - the border! After paying our $5 to "the man", and getting our passports stamped, we were guided towards the bridge by a friendly helper, named Eduardo, who pointed us in the right direction and asked for a tip at the end. The train trestle we had to cross to get to Panama looked like it hasn't seen a train for decades. The metal bits were rusted and the wood was well-used in parts and rotten in others. We stepped gingerly over the dilapidated wooden pilings of the old tracks. At one point Eduardo hustled us over to one of the intermittent rusty old platforms off to the side and a truck, taking up the entire width of the bridge, passed us. (Move over Indiana Jones, here come Bob and Dina!!!)
Having made it safely to the other side Eduardo guided us to a pickup truck to take us to Changuinola. At Changuinola we could hop a water taxi through a jungle-enclosed river and out into open water towards the island of Bocas Del Toro. Our luck was holding. On the boat we sat next to a friendly expat couple, Janis and Danny, who were in the process of making their new home on the islands. Since we had no guidebook for Panama, we give Janis and Danny a quadruple thumbs-up for all their assistance (and the beers at Crazy Charlies after the boat ride!!).
Since we arrived in the build-up to Carnival we were turned away from three full hotels before a tout named Gustavo took over and delivered us at the gates of Hotel Sagitarius, where we ended up with a hot but otherwise perfect third-floor room with a balcony for $20 a night! Gustavo (who was certified by the Tourism Board) also offered us an all-day snorkelling excursion for $15 each, which we accepted. We thought it was too good to be true, but it wasn't.
The next day, on board the Inkola (our boat), we saw dolphins leaping and spent a couple hours snorkelling above live coral reefs. We had lunch at a restaurant on stilts over the water (Cafe Yasmin).
After hours of snorkelling, swimming and bodysurfing we settled into a swinging bar on Bastimentos Island at Red Frog beach. The bar, Flip Flops, was literally a swinging bar and we sat at the bar in swings suspended by hemp rope from the rafters of the thatched roof.
Our remaining three days in Panama were spent exploring the islands by ATV, bus and water taxi. Read "Good Times"!!!
BTW - We reviewed the real estate boards in Bocas and noted a private island was for sale for $65,000 (with a 99-year lease). There were also ocean-front homes (some on stilts in the water) from the $180s. Not ironically, we saw more expats than tourists on these islands, and met several who were in the process of getting stuck.
After several sun-drenched island days, and the acquisition of new snorkelling gear (which we named "Snorkel Alpha" and "Snorkel Bravo"), we returned to HQ at Puerto Viejo. Roberto Lika, the proprietor of our hotel, pumped Bob's hand and smiled broadly in appreciation of our loyalty. Tomorrow we're going to take Snorkel Alpha and Snorkel Bravo up the coast to Cahuita to see more coral and fishies!
Where I stayed