Panama-a-a-a-a-a, Panama! Rock´n like Van Halen.

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel Lisboa

Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, December 16, 2007

So once we discovered that we could not possibly afford to stay in Costa Rica much longer, we headed south to Panama on a 20 hour bus straight from San Jose, with another 4 hours added on to get to San Jose in the first place.  Luckily, and also surprisingly considering our luck, these buses were comfy and totally functional - not one break down!  So we cruised into the border late afternoon and stood in line behind all the Costa Rican ´s heading south to shop and the lady came by screening everyones passports.  Everyone got a sticker except us...Óh!! You´re from Canada!´to which we proudly responded yes, only to misinterpret her intentions.  She was just saying Óhhhhhhhh!! You´re our next cash cows!´and so we were bounced from window to window to prove we had $500 on us and yes, lots of credit, and yes we have another dollar each for that sticker, ok to the next window, oh you don´t have change? ok , we´ll pay this man a dollar to give us change...and on and on.  Fortunately for them, Panama is *awesome* and well worth any effort and expense we encountered at the border.  They also have a mandatory fumigation at their crossings for any one bringing through their own vehicle, such as a pimpin ´VW van...muhahah

So we arrived into Panama city about 3am and found all hotels to be booked solid!! Everyone is down shopping up a storm.  So we payed too much our first night and found a sweet place called Hotel Lisboa the next day, Lisboa being a *very* popular ladies name down here.  We didn ´t manage too much that day as we waited around a lot until this room (cheapest deal in town!) was free for us.  We did check out the stores down Central Avenue and found some sweet deals as this stuff is direct from China (60 inch TVs for $1999...what!?!?).  Afterwards we went out to the causeway that night for dinner.  A string of three islands linked together by a road and a pathway that you can run on (if one should choose to run...) and lots of restaurants for those who prefer to eat.  Really pretty, nice view of the city, lots of fresh air, very beautiful. 

We went straight away to the famous Panama Canal the next day.  On our way to catch our $0.35 bus, a lady stopped us in the street to tell us that the area we were about to walk into wasn ´t safe so she diverted us a bit, but not before giving us her phone number and making us give her all our info so she can get us in case anything ever happened to us.  Then when we were nearly there to the buses (but still not quite sure where to go), a nice police officer stopped all the traffic so we could cross and then walked us to our bus.  We arrived to the Miraflores Locks just in time to see the last boat of the morning heading out to the Pacific.  These boats are just insanely massive, and yet are still way smaller than many of the boats crossing through Egypt´s canal and others.  It was really cool to see the boats pass through the locks (original locks from around 1914).  It takes a boat on average 8 hours to pass through the whole canal system and 24 hours total including waiting time.  Now that the Canal is owned by the Panamanians, they are planning an expansion to allow wider and longer boats through (55m vs. the current 33m wide) and this should be done by 2014 they say.  It´s a lot of pressure though I think because you can see the large amount of wealth (relatively) that the Panamanian´s live in compared to other countries and it is all basically because of the canal.

We went to check out a really amazing mall the next day, really new and big and also featuring a tourist discount card...ohhhh yah ! So this meant I could replace my hikers that I had melted the soles off of on Pacaya in Guatemala.  Very exciting.  Afterwards we made our way to a restaurant where they featured typical Panamanian dancers - this was soooo amazing to watch.  The ladies had beautiful swirly dresses and the men had their Panama hats and sandals and would stomp and shout and kick their legs super fast.  And then I was invited to dance with them, which actually turned out to be a bit awkward as I had no idea what to do.  When I asked they said, ´Just dance the salsa´ ....soooooooooooo helpful.  Thanks.  Lots of fun though!!

We cruised around the town a bit more and managed to unload 60lbs of stuff from our bags and ship that off to Canada.  We had been toting solid stone statues since Honduras (replicas of the Copan ruins) and finally got a chance to mail them off with a hope of them arriving, and arriving in one piece...!!  Checked out some artisan markets and found some beautiful molas to purchase - made by layering up to 7 layers of different coloured clothes, sewing them together and then forming a design by cutting away parts of each layer.  The results are beautiful! Typically the Kuna woman of the San Blas Archipelago sew these onto the front and back of their blouses then.  Their traditional clothing is so beautiful -  they wear these molas on their blouses, a colourful wrap skirt, red and yellow headscarf, and leg beads from their ankles to knees in beautiful colours and often a gold nose ring too.  Gorgeous. 

We went to Panama Viejo the next day - these are the ruins from when the city was first created and subsequently destroyed by both a bad initial location as well as good ól Captain Morgan from Mother England.   Not too much to see but a nice old church tower with views of the city.  We went next to Casco Antigua which is where the city center was moved too after Captain Morgan burnt Panama Viejo down.  This place is pretty cool - very European with narrow streets between really tall buildings.  They are pretty rundown for the most part which is weird considering the President of Panama lives right in the middle of all it...But it looks like reparations are underway - lots of cool old structures, swanky restaurants and such.  Very cool. 

Having our fill of city life for a bit, we took off on a flight bound for Bocas del Toro , a bunch of Caribbean islands in the North of Panama.  We landed onto the main island which had a lot going on -  cars, streets, more city than island -  so we met a friend Mickey while we were walking around checking out the overpriced accommodations on Isla Colon and he said that if we wanted a really pimped place to stay, come with him.  So we did, right over to Isla Bastimentos , about 10 minutes away by water taxi.  This place is beautiful - very small, no cars, no roads - only a bit of a sidewalk - and beautiful beaches right at your fingertips.  We dropped our stuff at a hostel Mickey helped us find - Mickey is, by the way, a 40 year old black man from theCaribbean and we thought he was about 28.  We are *convinced* it is all the coconut water these people drink!!

Anyways, found our way to gorgeous wizard beach the first day and did nothing but soak in the hot sun and play in the turquoise waves and chiiiiiiilll mon .  Next day Nik went out diving with the self-proclaimed Dutch Pirate of this island and I tagged along to go scuba diving.  Absolutely f-ing amazing here.  I have never seen colours like this, in the coral, in the fish, in everything! The colours are so vibrant - orange, purple, green, blue, red, you name it - and the fish are actually fluorescent and never have I seen so many - unreal!! Nik saw some stingrays in addition to all this, got to hold a starfish and play with some plants that retract when water is pushed at them. 

Wanting more, we organized a big group from our hostel and took off on a snorkeling trip to Coral Caye, a bit away by boat.  On the way, the driver knows a spot that tends to have a bunch of dolphins and we were lucky enough to see 3 playing together and following the wake of the boat and swimming right up to it and jumping out of the water.  I could have watched these beautiful dolphins all day - they were incredible and really seemed to enjoy us being there, very curious and sociable I think!  On our way from there we managed to see 3 more, just amazing.  The snorkeling was top notch again and we ended up finally at Red Frog Beach -  a beautifully kept beach with the same pristine white sand and clear gorgeous water. 

We went out for dinner with a couple of friends from the hostel here after our day snorkeling and this older guy sitting by us hugging his guitar asks us if he´d like us to play a song for him.  Sure we say, so he breaks into this hilarious calypso song about ´if you mother and you wife was drowning, tell me which one would you be se -aving ...´ ridiculous.  So he played for us and made us laugh all night - our new friend Joe - and when we ran into him on the main island the next day, we picked up his CD ´The Bastimentos Beach Boy´.  Awesome. 

The random people that we have met in Panama have been incredible - people in restaurants, on the street, in the stores, everywhere.  Though we haven ´t seen a whole ton of this country, we have loved everything that we have seen.  Definitely one of our favourite places and it will be a bit sad to leave on Friday to make our way to Mal Pais for Christmas!! That being said, we are both eager to leave Central America once we have thoroughly drank ourselves stupid over the holidays and get to see some new sites, new cultures and have some more new experiences. 

Finally, we were really saddened in Panama when we heard of the loss of our friend John.  Nik and I spent a lot of time reminiscing about our friend and how he really went for life in every aspect - he went hard at every ulti game, played hard in the mountains every chance he had, canoed, kayaked, and so so much more.  More than that, he lived everyday with a smile on his face.  So, John´s legacy for us is to live everyday to it´s fullest, don´t hold back on anything and really to go hard after life.  Nik and I would like to live every amazing day on this trip to those ideals and to the memory of our friend John. 

Lots of love from us both, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Niko y Sarita. oxoxo
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