A Travellerspoint blog

Panama

2017 FEB - PANAMA - MOUNTAINS TO THE BEACH

From the mountain town of Boquete to the Caribbean islands of Boca del Toro.

sunny 30 °C

DAY 17 WEDNESDAY 22ND FEBRUARY

We were up early this morning. Lyn was flipping pancakes onto plates by 7.15am. Today we are on a shuttle van that will take us from Boquete to the islands of Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean Sea. We have again opted for the easy, faster and slightly more expensive shuttle van rather than having to back track to David and get at least 2 buses to get us to our destination. Because we were staying at hostel Mamallena we received a US$5 discount so the transfer was only US$25 each.

Usually there is only one shuttle van per day, but due to high numbers the hostel managed to fill 2 vans. We travelled in the first one, while our luggage was stored on top of the second one. Both arrived at the same time so there was no problems with bag separation.

The journey was only 3.5 hours plus about a 20 minute toilet / snack stop about half way. We departed Boquete on time at 8am and arrived at the ferry terminal in Almirante just before 12 noon. The roads in the north seem to be less cared for than the roads we encountered in the south. Lots of pot holes and broken up tarmac made for a slower trip as our driver attempted to avoid a bumpy ride. I have to say the driving standard of these shuttle van drivers has been first class so far. They seem to stick to the speed limits and actually slow down to navigate around corners and bends in the road. Very impressed.

The road today was again hilly and windy, giving great views out over the very green countryside. Houses here are different to what we saw in the south also, here they are all little wooden boxes on stilts instead of ground level concrete block homes we saw a few days ago. Perhaps the different building material and structure type has something to do with the climate being warmer in the northern part of the country?

The vans drove us right up to the ferry dock in Almirante, where our luggage was loaded into long boats as well as all passengers from both vans. This was a load and a half I can tell you, but the boat did not seem to struggle in the least and as soon as we had cleared the docking area the captain gave it some stick and we were flying across the water towards Isla Colon. The boat trip took about 20 minutes, then we all unloaded, grabbed our respective luggage and went our separate ways. The price of the ferry was included in our shuttle ticket.

Home for the next four nights is pre booked Spanish on the Sea Hostel 4 nights @ US$30 per night in 2 bed dorm - which turned out to be a 4 bed dorm but we were assured no one else would be put in with us. So again we managed to score a bigger room which is nice. However this time shared facilities (shower and toilet) outside the room and shower is cold only. But I'm guessing that will not be a problem here as it is very hot, especially after our couple of days in the 'cooler' temps of the mountains. And we have a fan in our room. We are located a little bit away from the main part of town to be away from the night time party noise.

After settling in we went for a walk up the main drag to check things out. Must say Bocas Town looks a lot less 'developed' than I thought it would be. I had the impression that this was a real party spot, but it seems very sleepy and sedate during the day. It seemed that every 2nd shop in the main street was a supermarket so it looks like we will not have any problems getting any supplies for our self catering at the hostel.

As we had not yet had lunch we bought a snack of empanadas to try.

90_DSCN8911.jpg

An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in Spain and Latin America. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanadas are made by folding dough over a stuffing, which may consist of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, or other ingredients.

We found Mamallena hostel, the sister hostel of the one we just stayed in and it has a fabulous location over the waterfront. We ran into an American guy we've been chatting with the last few days and he was staying there. He actually came to Bocas to go surfing, but just like on the Pacific side the surf was not happening here either. We noted their happy hour was at 4pm and as it was only just 3.30pm we decided to continue on our walk and stop in on the way back for a US$1.50 beer.

Up the road a little further we came to a lovely white sand beach that was practically deserted, only about 6 other people on the beach. We needed to kill time and it was pretty hot so good time to have our first dip in the Caribbean Sea. (Actually, I had swum in the Caribbean more than 20 years ago when I visited Mexico & Jamaica). The water was lovely and warm, unlike the icy river water we sat in a few days ago. But here we had to walk out a good 50 meters before the water was actually deep enough for us to crouch down and get wet. Beautiful, and the water was crystal clear.

large_180_DSCN8912.jpg

After our swim we meandered back to Mamallena and stopped for a happy hour beer while lounging on their deck furniture admiring the view. Hey we didn't have to pay the extra to stay here we can just come and enjoy there happy hour and suck up their view for free. We also found some ladies selling goodies on the side of the road, so we bought a couple more empanadas & cat fish cakes to enjoy with our beers.

90_DSCN8915.jpgDSCN8916.jpg

We continued our walk back down another street checking out the hostels and bars with views and happy hours we may want to attend in the next couple of days. We found another bar offering 2 for US$3 beer so stopped again to wet our whistle. Another nice view of the ferry side of town, lots of ferry boats, taxi boats, kayaks etc criss crossing each other across the water going to the other islands or dropping people off directly at their waterfront accommodation.

We bought some supplies from a supermarket and Lyn cooked spag bol back at the hostel while we each enjoyed a can of cuba libre which we were happy we found in the supermarkets.

Yep reckon the next couple of days we are going to enjoy it here!

DAY 18 THURSDAY 23RD FEBRUARY

We had a bit of a lie in this morning, no great rush to get up early. When we did we had breakfast at the hostel, left overs from last nights dinner on toast. No breakfast included here, and we are both a little over pancakes - although Lyn was becoming expert at making them.

Today we decided to head over to the over side of the island to Drago beach to have a look. I had read online it was supposed to be a nice beach and there was another beach nearby that we could walk to that was called Star Fish Beach, presumably because there were a lot of starfish. I also read online that the starfish had all but disappeared because of the crowds of people and boats upsetting their habitat. We thought we'd go have a look anyway.

Short walk into the main square in town where we were advised we'd be able to get a bus (aka minivan) to the other side of the island for US$2.50 each way. Sure enough there was a van just about to depart, but it looked like it was already full. The guy called us over saying Drago Drago and promptly evited a lady and a couple of kids out of the van to make room for us. Not quite sure what happened as we could not understand what he said to her, but she seemed happy to vacate the seat for us. Odd. Within minutes we were on our way through the interior of the island. The drive to the overside too about 20 minutes.

As soon as we stepped out of the vehicle we could see the crystal clear water and pristine white sandy beach. The beach was only narrow but enough room for us to set up under the shade of a palm tree.

DSCN8942.jpgDSCN8947.jpg

After our swim we walked along the beach / mangrove track that led to Star Fish Beach, this was about a 20 minute walk. Once at the beach we could tell why all the starfish had disappeared, due to the noise and crowding of this beach area. It was awful. Lots of boats had just pulled up onto the beach so surely the noise and movement from this would keep the starfish in deeper water out of sight. There was a row of shack type food places that were serving just about anything you want. Some of these restaurants even had live lobsters in cages sitting in the sea water so you could choose which one you wanted. I guess at least they were fresh. Some the shacks were playing loud annoying music which not only kept the starfish at a distance but worked to drive us away also. We did go in the water quickly and saw a handful of star fish so we were happy with that.

On the way back Drago we decided to walk along the waters edge instead of on the beach track. As we walked along the waters edge the further away we got from the actual starfish beach the more star fish we started to see in the water. See my facebook page for the video I took of the starfish in water.

DSCN8980.jpgDSCN8975.jpgDSCN8971.jpg90_DSCN8968.jpglarge_DSCN8994.jpg

Before heading back in the bus we stopped at one of the beach side restaurants to have a cold beer, and I must say the beer is served cold here in Panama - everywhere we've had it. And drinking a icy coldie beachside is even better.

We had to wait 15 minutes for the next shuttle bus but the view was pleasant so we were happy to wait.

Back at the hostel I cooked an egg sandwich for us to have for lunch. (I think perhaps Lyn is already sick of cooking - not good this early in the trip!).

After 5 we headed out to Mamallenas for our happy hour beer and we wanted to book a boat trip for tomorrow. Again an icy cold beer to enjoy with the sunset. The shuttle transport we used to get from Boquete to Bocas gave us a 10% discount voucher on any trips booked with the same company. We only had enough cash to pay for one person, but after a trip to the ATM we were able to get some more cash. Relieved that the bank transfer I did yesterday had gone through to the right account already.

DSCN9021.jpgDSCN9022.jpg

Walking back down the main street we had decided to have dinner out tonight (Lyn seemed to jump at the chance a little too quickly when I suggested it lol). We stopped at a place where we picked up the empanadas yesterday and I had a huge plate of chow mien and Lyn had chicken, with rice and beans both for under US$8.00. Bellies full, we headed back to the hostel to shower and so another great day ends.

DAY 19 FRIDAY 24TH FEBRUARY

Today we have booked a snorkel tour: Zapatilla Adventure US$45 less 10% discount as it was with the same company we did the shuttle transfer, so ended up US$41.50 each.

Pick up point was just a short distance from the hostel at 9.30am so we had time to have breakfast before meeting the boat. It looked like it was going to be a good day weather wise, but it seemed everyday here looked good.

We were at the office at 9.15 as requested and another couple turned up for the tour also. It was almost 9.45 by the time they loaded us on the boat and we still had to go around to Mamallena Hostel to collect another 4 passengers. This only took about 10 minutes and soon we were on our way to the first stop of the tour.

Sloth island. This looked liked a mangrove island (which apparently sloths love eating) and we were assured there was a 95% chance of a sloth sighting. The tour guide offered a free beer to anyone who spotted one before he did and sure enough the German guy in front of us spotted one high up in a tree. Now I have to say, these animals were a lot smaller than I had imagined. The sloth we saw in the park in Panama City was a 3 toed sloth and it was approximately the size of a cocker spaniel dog. The sloth we was here was a 2 toed sloth and was the size of an average adult cat. The guide claimed this was an adult so the little critter is small to try and find in the tree. I was expecting an animal the size of a chimp, but live and learn. I could not get a very good photo but our guide did and said he was going to post on their facebook page but had not done it as yet.

sloth.jpg

The sloths are apparently flourishing on this tiny island as there are no predators here to get them. Sloths main natural predators are jaguars, boa constrictor snakes and harpy eagles, however the biggest killers of these little fellas are dogs and humans. But, on this island they are safe from all these and apparently sloths are excellent swimmers. Who says we don't learn anything while on holidays?

Next stop was at the restaurant where we are having lunch so we could pre order for when we come back after snorkelling, we ordered a seafood medley and a whole fish, and also a toilet stop. Hello, like who doesn't just pee in the ocean??

Everyone overboard for a snorkelling tour. The water is amazingly clear but to tell the truth there was not much in the way of coral or not a lot of fish to be seen either. There was a huge lobster under a rock where we got off the boat but the tour guide was not up to collecting it for lunch, would have been a beauty. We snorkelled for about 30 - 45 minutes which was hard work considering they did not supply fins. We had our own snorkel and mask thinking we would get fins but no they did not supply so we had to kick like hell to keep up with the guide who by the way did have fins! We saw a few little coloured fish but not like a wow amount, but just before getting back into the boat there was a pretty big grey nurse shark that was hiding under a rock. By pretty big I mean not as big as me, but big enough that if it had moved from under the rock I would have done a Jesus impersonation and walked on water!

lobster.jpg

It was during this little snorkelling jaunt that my underwater camera decided to shit itself and shop working. Unfortunately, I seem to be having a rough time with electronic equipment on this trip. Passion fingers - everything I touch fucks up!

So back in the boat and back to the lunch stop. You would have thought that since we pre-ordered that they would have out meals ready, but we still waited long enough for the fish to be caught and cooked. When the meals finally did come it was way too much, so Lyn & I shared one meal and we ended up taking the whole fish home and eating it for dinner. Sorry, no photos of the great food as camera was dead.

After lunch we boated out to Zapatilla Island - meaning shoe in Spanish due to the shape of the island apparently. The leatherback and the hawksbill turtles come to lay their eggs, in season, on these beaches. It is beautiful! It is also famous for being the location for the filming of one of the Survivor TV Series, which funnily enough our guide said was 50% true and 50% bullshit as there is always enough food as the island is in national park and there are fish and lobsters galore.

Anyway this island looked beautiful, but before we were to grace the snow white sandy beaches, included in the tour was a 15 minute Anfibia Board ride. What is anfibia board you ask?

Anfibia Board is the new way to enjoy and explore the underwater world through a semi-circular hydrodynamic board. It allows you to experience the sensation of flying effortlessly under the sea without the need of knowing how to swim. Bocas del Toro is one of the few places in the world where you can try this brand new aquatic sport.

anfibia_board.jpg

OMG this was the best fun, unfortunately Lyn could not do it due to her bent wing. But I had a go and it was awesome. (Lemons, when you are here you MUST do this activity.) Essentially, you are pulled behind the boat holding a perspex board that allows you to skim across the top of the water or with a downward tilt allows you to duck under the water to view the fishes and coral etc. The rider, wearing a dive mask, controls the board with a tilt up or down - it was awesome and I saw many more colourful fish than when we were snorkelling. Although, 15 minutes was way enough as the muscles in my arms knew I was doing something new.

After everyone had a go at the anfibia, we had a relaxing 2 hours on the beautiful beach on Zapatilla Island. I swam out to a rocky island about 100 meters offshore while Lyn sat on the beach and read a book. At about 5pm they served us tropical fruit: ie pineapple and pawpaw - nice. then it was just a quick 30 minute boat ride back to Bocas Town while the sun was setting. We arrived back just in time for a happy hour US$1 beer at a restaurant nearby the boat stop.

After the boat dropped us we realized we had left our cooked fish on board, so a quick phone call and it was brought back - lucky this was our dinner. While enjoying our happy hour beer we chatted with a Canadian couple from Vancouver (woman originally from Adelaide) who had been travelling on their yacht for the last 4 years. Amazing the people you meet! They said we are going to love the countries we are heading to. Nice to hear.

We returned to the hostel, ate our fish dinner. Another great day in Panama!

DAY 20 SATURDAY 25TH FEBRUARY

WOW, let me start by saying what an awesome last day in Panama!

Since we are travelling tomorrow we treated today as Sunday and had a sleep in. Well I had a sleep in and Lyn had a lay in reading a book.

Poached eggs on toast at the hostel then we headed out to the beach. We had considered hiring a kayak today but with my arms feeling the workout from yesterday decided a trip to the beach would be better. We hopped in a US$1 water taxi to the nearest island to Colon which is Carenero, we almost missed the stop having no idea where we were going.

It was 11.30 by the time we found a shady spot on the little sandy beach. Again the water was crystal clear and we went straight in to cool off after our 5 minute boat ride. The water is a lovely temperature that we like so much, tepid so you can sit in in all day. Which is what we pretty much did. Not long after our arrival lots of locals and familes were taking up position on the beach. We had a nice family next to us Mum, Dad, young Son and younger daughter. Mum and Dad lazed in the shade while the kids played in the water for hours. We noticed Dad had an esky fill of ice with a bottle of rum and a bottle of juice which he mixed drinks from into thermal cups. Happy family.

We spent a lovely last day in Panama lazing on the beach enjoying the sunshine, warm weather, beautiful sea water with some other tourists (who were mostly in the over the water restaurants) while the locals, us and a few choice tourists sat on the beach or in the shallows of the calm water.

We went for a bit of a walk around the island, saw just a few accommodation places ranging from hostel type to flash over the water bungalows. On our return to our little part of the beach, we thought it was time for a beer. to cool our insides. Lucky for us a hostel at the beach was selling Balboa (our pick of Panamanian beer) for just US$1.50. How awesome was this, sitting in the calm waters sipping cold beers, now this is a holiday.

At this price we decided to have a second as we had enjoyed the first so much. Lyn returned with the beers and we sat contemplating our last 3 weeks in Panama and also throwing around ideas for holidays in the future.

By this time Dad (from our family sitting next to us on the beach) was pretty well sauced from his many trips to his rum enclosed esky asked me if I spoke Spanish while Lyn was up getting beers. No, I answered, pequeno? (little) he asked, zero I said. He was happy to smile and said salute (cheers) to our drinks.

A little later Dad come walking up to us while we were still sitting in the water and handed us a couple of cold beers. Wow, how nice is that!

DSCN9073.jpg90_DSCN9068.jpglarge_DSCN9069.jpglarge_DSCN9080.jpg

We chatted with another family who's little girl was trying to talk to me in the water, but of course I told her I only spoke English, she relayed this to her parents to told her to say Welcome to Panama to us. So cute. We chatted a little with the parents and grandparents (who did speak) English and they were so happy to hear that we had enjoyed Panama so much.

Ferry boat back to Bocas Town at about 5pm we returned to the hostel to shower, relax a little then head out for dinner. We returned to the same restaurant that we visited the other night that had cheap local food. We had chicken (cooked in a yummy sauce) with vegetables, potatoes and pumpkin and we shared a soda bread roll to sop up the yummy sauce, US$9 for the both of us.

DSCN9083.jpg

It was a great day today and a great way to end our adventures in Panama on a high.

Tomorrow we take the ferry boat back to the mainland and shuttle van into Costa Rica to start our travels in a new country.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 19:04 Archived in Panama Tagged del bocas toro Comments (4)

2017 FEB - PANAMA: SANTA CATALINA TO THE CENTRE OF PANAMA

We leave the coast for a couple of days in the cooler air of the mountains.

DAY 13 SATURDAY 18TH FEBRUARY

Our shuttle van was not due until 12.30 so we had an easy morning, with Lyn cooking poached eggs and fried bread for breakfast. The power was out again but we had a gas cooker in our room and we needed to use up the rest of our food.

We decided to book a shuttle van to take us to Boquete for US$35 each. In a shuttle the 275km will take 5 hours of travel time. The alternate would be 4 buses and about 10+ hours of travel time if we managed to line them up correctly. Which we had little chance of doing and the cost would be around US$20, so the van sounded like a better, faster and more comfortable option.

Boquete is a small town in Panama. It is located in the western-most Province of Chiriquí, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the border with Costa Rica, and lies on the Caldera River, in Panama's green mountain highlands. Because of its elevation, some 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level, its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it popular with Panamanians and attracts tourists and retirees from all over the world.

The van was late showing up, arriving just before 1pm. But we were happy to see there were only 3 other passengers (Germans) in the vehicle. This made it even more comfortable as we could spread out a little. The air con was pumped up when we took our seats and I was already thankful we had chosen this option to get us to our next location.

Just an hour into our jouney when we had reached Sona we were advised of a 20 minute lunch stop. Guess the driver had already driven down from Boquete this morning so this was the allocated lunch stop. Ok with us as we had not eaten since breakfast and we ended up in a restaurant where the driver ate and had suggested. It was the first real authentic local place we had eaten. And it was not bad either. Managing to read a couple of things on a black board menu we chose the chicken and salad for US$3. Turned out we received chicken and rice with beans but it sure as hell tasted good. And we washed it down with a 50c bottle of coke.

90_DSCN8727.jpg

Stomachs full we were rounded back up into the van and drove off heading north on a minor road, which I must say was in very good condition. We were driving sort of parallel to the coast but did not see it until about another 2 hours into the drive. We had been traveling through hills, up and down and around, did not see any flat ground at all. The jungle like countryside we drove through was sparsely populated with housing very similar to what we have seen in rural Philippines or Cambodia. Besser block square boxes with breeze blocks as windows for light and ventilation. The locals were also not afraid of painting their houses bright colours either. It was not unusual to see a bright orange house then a bright pink or blue or purple. Like all the paint colours that never sell are used as exterior colours here.

Soon we turned inland a little and met up with the InterAmerican Highway which stretches from Panama City all the way to Mexico. This is a wonderful 4 lane highway but for some reason only half the road was being used with traffic in each direction only having one lane each way. We were stopped at only one road block where a nice policeman came to us in the back of the van asking which country we were from and requested our passports. This we (us 5 passengers) all gave in turn and he checked everyone's entry stamp, smiling as he handed passports back.

Another 2 hours later we arrived in Boquete, having driven though light rain the last half hour. Lucky for us the shuttle van stopped directly outside our hostel so we did not have far to drag our luggage off the barely raining street. This accommodation I had pre-booked and is right in the middle of the town. I had booked a double room with shared bathroom for US$33 a night, however they managed to up sell us a bigger room with separate beds and ensuite bathroom for just and extra $5 a night @ US$38. We were happy to do this as room included breakfast and a hot shower.

DSCN8728.jpg DSCN8729.jpg

After dropping off bags into our room, (thankfully the wall colours were a little toned down compared to our last place) we had to venture out in the rain to find an ATM to get more cash. Its possible to pay with credit card here but they charge 7% fee and as it's only costing about 1% to draw cash from ATM we decided that was a better option as we needed more cash anyway. We found a bank and had no worries pulling the cash and went back to pay the receptionist.

The rain was only light so we did a quick lap of the main square of the town, found a supermarket that sold rum and cola cans so we knew instantly we were going to like this place. After our filling lunch we opted for a sausage on a stick @ US$1.50 with tortillas for our dinner.

90_DSCN8731.jpg90_DSCN8732.jpg

Even though sitting in the van most of the day it seemed like we'd had a long day and were very grateful for the hot shower as the temp is a little cooler here than it was down on the coast. It's Saturday night so there is quite a bit of noise around, so different from our last 4 quiet nights in Santa Catalina.

Most of the noise died down by midnight, but I think we were probably already asleep by then.

DAY 14 SUNDAY 19TH FEBRUARY

Included breakfast consisted of cook your own pancakes, which was ok but the fry pan I got was a bit of a shocker so my pancake ended up a bit mangled. Still tasted ok with a generous helping of syrup, Lyn fared a little better as her pan was a little better.

So the morning was spent chatting online with a friend in England and another friend in Spain trying to work out what the hell was the problem with my laptop and why it died. With the help of both Andy and Dean I managed to get it sorted and back online again. Whew, what a relief, was not real happy with having to carry a dead anchor for the rest of the trip. Thanks again guys.

The rest of the day we just spent having a good look around town. it's not too big so did not take very long, but we are in no hurry to do anything much in a hurry. There are a lot of paid activities you can do here in Boquete. For example zip lining for US$65, lots of hiking which start at US$25 or coffee tour US$25. Seems a little odd to me that you have to pay to hike, but apparently you must have a guide for most hikes are they are through the forest, cloud forest or private property.

A cloud forest, also called a fog forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level.

We are going to attempt a small walk tomorrow that needs no guide. We just have to catch a bus or van 10km to the trail head and then find our way back. Sounds easy enough.

This afternoon we stopped at a coffee shop to try the 'best coffee in the world' !? To tell the truth I was not all that impressed. Not that I am a coffee expert, but I've been know to like a coffee or 3 and this was not mind blowing by any means. it was locally grown but I will need to try more from perhaps another café before I will make the decision that its great coffee.

90_DSCN8745.jpg

We bought some supplies from the supermarket and Lyn cooked dinner at the hostel. Smoked pork chops which ended up tasting like ham steaks. Nice.

90_DSCN8759.jpg

large_DSCN8747.jpg

DAY 15 MONDAY 20TH FEBRUARY

During our communal, cook your own pancakes, breakfast I overheard a Swiss girl we had met last night telling someone about going to visit the hot springs. I decided to eardrop and then invited Lyn and I along for the ride. The hostel here does tours to hot springs and a mini canyon for US$25 but we thought that seemed a little steep, much cheaper to find our own way there on public transport.

We were advised which bus stop to go to and just find a collective van that was going to Caldera. As soon as we approached the general area touts approached us saying Caldera, Caldera so it was easy to find the correct transport. The van left at the correct time of 10.45 as advised by the hostel receptionist, perhaps the fact that it was full may have had something to do with it too. We drove for about 45 minutes out of Boquete and the driver stopped at a side road and motioned for us to get out, pointing up the dirt road that we had to walk up. This fare was only US$2 each. Again the hostel receptionist had advised it was a 20 minute 2.5km walk to the hot springs. I'm not sure at what speed he is walking but there is no way we were going to get there in 20 minutes.

The road was dirt and rocky and mostly unshaded and it took us a good 45 minutes to reach the spot where there was a house and a guy with his hand out for the entrance fee to the hot springs. I guess it was on his land and why not charge the gringos to go sit in his free hot water from the ground. It was only US$5 per person which we still thought was better than the $25 tour price, although not sure if this is the same hot springs the tour went to. Didn't matter there were hot pools to sit in (well 2 anyway) and a cool (ok cold) river to dip in so we were happy. It was a beautiful setting surrounded by trees so the pools were shaded and the river although it was shallow it was enough to cool off in. Actually it took me ages to get fully submerged in the water. Even though the day was very hot the water was like very refreshing. Giant boulders were in the river up and down as far as we could see.

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours and I managed to get a bit of colour as taking my time to get in the river water was out in the full sun. Not too badly burnt but my tan is definitely on its way now.

Luckily the American guy that was with us (or actually we were with him, having crashed his outing), anyway he could understand enough Spanish to fathom that the van driver had said that the return transport was at 3pm. Just as well as the hostel receptionist has advised us 4pm and it would be a very expensive taxi back to town had we not had the correct information.

Lyn and I made sure we left in plenty of time to walk back (as there were a few hills along the road to navigate) and envisioned it would take more than the 45 minutes to get there so get back to the bus stop. And it was hot. But we made it back to the road in plenty of time, but better to be early than miss the last bus.

Back in town (cost US$2) we headed straight for a place to eat. We had seen this place on our walks around town and yesterday the locals were lined up out the door, so we knew it must be an ok place to eat and at a good price. And the fact that it was almost 4pm and we had nothing to eat since breakfast pancake just about anything would have appeased our appitite. It was easy to make a selection by just pointing to whatever we wanted in the hot box. Now as a rule we never eat food that is sitting in hot boxes or food warmers, but the fact that we know this place had a high turnover we felt it was safe to eat. I had chicken (coated in something yummy) with coleslaw and a squirt soda, Lyn had chicken (cooking in something yummy), vegetables and rice and a can of coke for the total price of US$8.40 for the both of us. The food was good and the price was good and we were happy.

Stomachs full, we headed back to the hostel via the supermarket to purchase some Radler beers sixpack for US$4.42 and started to feel a little weary. Today had been the most movement we had done for days and we were now starting to feel it. So the rest of the afternoon we had a rest, reading in our room while sipping on the beers.

After such a late lunch dinner was of no concern until I could smell someone cooking toast in the kitchen below our room. Toast sounded like a good thing for dinner so we managed to pull ourselves up and out the door to another supermarket to buy some bread. Just about all of the bread here is sweet but we managed to find one that turned out

No toaster so Lyn toasted the bread in a flat frying pan and we had vegemite and tomato on toast for dinner.

A great day today and I think we are both going to sleep well tonight.

large_DSCN8781.jpglarge_DSCN8778.jpg

DAY 16 TUESDAY 21ST FEBRUARY

After a hostel breakfast of pancakes (gee Lyn is getting good at making these) we had another active day today. I found what was said to be an easy hike in the cloud forest - Pipeline Trail. Yes as the name suggests its a trail alongside a pipeline and all accounts on the internet said it was easy and good for pensioner walkers - this sounded exactly like us to we decided to give it a go.

Back to the same collective van stop, but this time we needed to go in the opposite direction as yesterday so a different van was needed. Hostel receptionist had written on a piece of paper where we wanted to go so we could show the driver where we needed to be dropped off.

There was a short wait while the van filled up with locals and other tourists and then we were on our way. Up, up, up - we were thinking of maybe walking back after our short hike but after seeing the distance and the narrow winding road we would have to walk back on we thought maybe not, or we will see when we are finished.

The Pipeline Trail is only 5km return so we did not feel too intimidated by it. After about 25 minutes in the van the driver pulled to the side of the road and advised this was our stop and sure enough there was a sign for the trail head. This was great, cause it meant we did not have a long walk to the start of the walk.

There was a US$3 entry fee which Lyn paid to a lady in a little shed at the gate. This is private property so the fee is supposed to pay for trail up keep and why not charge gringos to go walking through your land if you can get away with it. Its all above board as we even received a receipt.

The sky had clouded over a bit and it looked like it might rain, of course we did not bring rain gear with us, but remember this walk was in a cloud forest. At least it was cooler to walk through the forest and not in full sun. We got quite a bit of sun yesterday so this was a nice reprieve.

The 2.5km in was all up hill. It was not too steep but we knew we were walking and sometimes climbing. We caught a glimpse of the monkeys up in the trees, but these little fellas move so quick we did not manage to get a good photo. But is it just cool to see at least one animal while we are out in the wilderness. Along the way we saw a monstrous tree which they claim is approximately 1000 years old, but it was not the only giant tree we saw along our walk, there were lots. Maybe the others were not as old but they were so impressive.

At the end was a waterfall, which was a little of an anticlimax as there was only a trickle of water coming over the top. But the walk itself was good enough that we did not need a bonus as the end.

90_DSCN8821.jpg90_DSCN8843.jpg

large_180_DSCN8860.jpg

So the 2.5km on the way back was of course all downhill so it went a little quicker and easier. As we neared the end of the trail it did look like the rain was about to start and we felt a few drops. We were hopeful that it would not be too a long wait for the van to come past again. About 50 meters out from the road a van passed and lucky for us he saw us and beeped. We waved arms to indicate we wanted the ride and soon we were on our way back to town again. Great timing.

Back in town at about 2pm it was time to go have lunch again at the same food place we visited yesterday. The lady serving the food gave us a smile as she remembered us from yesterday. I had chicken & rice with a 'squirt' soda, Lyn had chicken & potato - both costs US$6. Bargain.

After picking up dinner supplies from the supermarket, we returned to the hostel for a bit of a rest, heading out again at about 5.30pm. There is a tourist office at the top of the hill before the road winds its way down into Boquete town. We wanted to go up there to see the view, as we had seen it while driving past and thought it would be a cool view of the town down below. Not wanting to climb up the hill we found a van that was heading in that direction and I had a map showing where we wanted to get out. It was only about a 2 minute drive up the hill, but it would have been a 1 hour walk up there for us I'm sure. The van was just 60c each so well worth it. The view was worth the trip as we could see out over the town with the cloud forest hills in the background.

The tourist office was already closed, but the coffee shop was still open so we decided to give the local brew another go. We had café con leche (coffee with milk) US$2 each and it was ok. Having not been impressed with the local coffee and considering we are in the middle of the coffee growing area of Panama we wanted to stay open minded about it. The coffee is ok, it's just that it's different taste to the coffee we have back in Australia. The taste is just different, not bad just not what we expect.

large_DSCN8888.jpg

After our coffee we headed back down to town via the back roads.

Lyn is cooking dinner now as I write this, we are having another smoked pork chop - yum.

We have had a great time here in Boquete, tomorrow we are travelling to the Caribbean Coast to the island of Bocas del Toro.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 23:40 Archived in Panama Tagged boquete Comments (0)

2017 FEB - PANAMA CITY to THE PACIFIC COAST

We bus to Santa Catalina and lazy away the days.

sunny 30 °C

DAY 9 TUESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY

Needless to say your Valentine flowers and cards did not reach us as we have left town.

The alarm went off at 6am. We got up (it was kinda light outside), had a cup of coffee and tea and were out the door with our luggage by 7am. We had heard Super Mario arrive earlier in his tic tic taxi so we got him to take us to the bus station, as today we are leaving Panama City and heading for a little village on the Pacific Coast. Taxi was just US$4 to get us to the Albrook Mall bus terminal where we purchased the bus tickets last Friday. Traffic was minimal and we arrived at the bus terminal before 7.30am for the 8.20am bus, they requested we be there one hour before departure.

Now we did actually have a slight problem which was one of those times that added to my grey hair collection. When we purchased the tickets last Friday I had inadvertently requested the wrong departure date. Not being able to speak Spanish to the ticket seller I had written our destination on a piece of paper with the date we wanted, but I had written the 11th instead of the 14th. Problem was I did not realize this until late in the night of the 10th so there was no time to do anything about it. I said to Lyn we will just go and show up on the 14th and play stomme!

When we arrived at the terminal a guy yelled out our destination and we were escorted to the correct bus, our luggage loaded down below and we took our seats inside. We were one of the first passengers in the bus as we were early as requested. As time when on the bus started to fill up and my nerves started to relax as I thought we were ok with the ticket that I had doctored from 11th to 14th, very easy to change 11 to 14. So by about 8.10 the bus was full and the ticket collector came around to collect everyone's ticket, taking ours with no problem. Minutes later he returns to the bus yelling out what I presume was a questionable ticket number - our ticket number of course. After no one answered his call of course he goes up to the tourists (us) and wants to see our half of the ticket and of course it matches the one he is questioning. Come with me - he motioned with his hands. I instruct Lyn to stay put and I go off with the guy back to the ticket office. The same crabby guy who sold us the ticket was there again and as soon as he saw me started prattling off in Spanish and I said 'sorry no Spanish'. Next thing he produces the third part of the ticket stub that he had originally written out that of course still has the 11th written on it as there was no way I could have altered this. He was pointing at the date on his portion of the ticket and the date on my portion of the ticket.

Clever me had already thought of a plan and if that did not work we were just going to have to purchase another ticket. Which would not have been the end of the world, just another US$9.70 each. But first I try my plan. I say to the crabby ticket seller, using single words of English instead of sentences and my very best hand gestures - 'Hotel. Telephone. Changed. Date.' hand gestures hotel - head resting on hands in sleeping motion, telephone - little finger to mouth, thumb to ear gesturing telephone, changed - rolling of hands over and over, date - pointing to date on ticket. I thought this guy is going to prattle on again at me in Spanish something about stiff shit, wrong date, buy another ticket. Instead he smiled and said OK. And rattled off to the other guy what I had just explained to him.

So all was good, I returned to the bus just minutes before it pulled out of the terminal on time at 8.20am. Panic over!

The trip from Panama City to Sona was 4 1/2 hours and to tell the truth I did not see much of it as I was watching the Spanish movie on the screen at the front of the bus, being deafened by the volume or dozing. We had a toilet stop at a petrol station at 10.30, where we got out to stretch our legs and at 1pm we arrived in Sona bus station. I was surprised because I had read that this bus trip took 6 hours. Good for us that it was shorter. From Sona we needed to get a smaller mini bus to take us the 1 1/2 hours to Santa Catalina. Thing was everyone in the big bus we just all got out of also wanted to go to Santa Catalina or somewhere enroute, so after everyone's luggage was tied up on the roof and everyone was shoved into this much smaller bus for a very uncomfortable ride. And this much shorter trip cost US$5 which was more than half the cost of the longer journey, But its the old captive audience trick, there is only one way to get there and this is it. We tried hard to see what the locals on the bus paid as there is definitely a local price and a tourist price for most things in this country and that does not depend on whether you speak Spanish or not, its whether your Panamanian or not. But this pricing thing is nothing we can control, it happens in so many different countries its just something we have to live with. Maybe we should introduce this 2 tiered pricing system in Australia and get more money out of our tourists visiting.

Luckily for us the minibus did drop us off directly at our prebooked accommodation, as it is about 1km off the main street and would have been a real bitch having to drag our luggage up the road to a place we weren't sure where it was. So a win, win there, and worth the extra money paid I guess. Young girl at Cabanas Sherlley spoke no English, but did ask 'Cindy?' to confirm it was us, so that was nice. There was no electricity at the accommodation and we later found out none in the main street either, so we sat for a bit then went for a walk to find a cold beer.

There really is not much here in Santa Catalina, a few accommodation and eating options and 2 mini marts with very limited stock. Our accommodation has a mini kitchen so we brought a few supplies with us and are sure we can survive the next few days with what is available here. The minimarts have cold beer for 90cents a can so we are happy with that.

We walked down towards the beach, and well not the best beach in the world. This coast is actually very popular for surfers but the waves seemed almost non existent and the season is December to April, so I guess they are not happy either. The view was nice enough so we stopped to have an sundowner cold beer, which was in fact very cold and only US$2 so with the view of the ocean and a couple of islands you gotta be happy with that.

large_DSCN8653.jpg

Nice stroll back to our cabana, the power was back on and we had a cold shower. Unfortunately, the bathroom (toilet & shower) are a little walk away from our room, so here's hoping we don't need to pee in the middle of the night. Or hoping its not too bright a moon out there for any passersby in the middle of the night otherwise they might be lucky enough to see 2 moons.

Ah yes I did say cold shower, both here and in Panama City have been cold showers, and I can assure you after the first nano second of chill the cold water is very refreshing. Yes, its hot here!

Lyn cooked a pasta meal in our green kitchen, which we ate outside while the air con was cooling down our room. It is very quiet here compared to the noisy street of Casco Viejo, so I am sure we are going to sleep well.

large_DSCN8664.jpg


DAY 10 - 12 WEDNESDAY 15 -FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY

My laptop has died with no explanation. Working perfect one day, dead the next. I am now attempting to do this blog on Lyn's iPad mini, but will not be able to download any photos.

We had a few relaxing, lazy days here in Santa Catalina. Doing nothing but sitting around reading all day then taking an afternoon walk (about 1km) to the beach to have an afternoon beer. We found a nice little place on the beach with $2 beers and then another place a little bit back from the beach, still with a view with beers for $1.

This is supposed to be a surfers paradise, but the waves looked pretty small to me. Apparently the waves here rival Hawaii at the right time, but I still couldn't see it. Unfortunately the beach was not much for swimming either, with sand being churned up making the water look not very inviting. Big parts of the beach were very rocky and resembled a moon scape. This is what the surfers fall onto in the water.

We were happy to stay cool in our air con room and enjoy an afternoon beverage.

Managed to buy some fresh prawns from a local guy which Lyn cooked up in our very green kitchen.

On our last day we decided to go for a swim so we could say we swam on the pacific side of Panama. Must admit the water was lovely and warm but it's a bit unnerving when you cannot see the bottom.

It was very peaceful and quiet here at Cabanas Shelley, but tomorrow is time for us to move on.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 21:02 Archived in Panama Tagged santa catalina Comments (0)

2017 FEB - PANAMA CITY JUNGLE

Jungle in the city and we saw a sloth!

sunny 30 °C

DAY 8 MONDAY 13TH FEBRUARY

Our last day in Panama City, we gave up on the idea of going to the beach as we will be on the coast in a few days anyway . Instead we headed to Metropolitan Natural Park - a mini jungle within the city limits, just 15 minutes taxi from our hostel. Looking at a map it was very close to the Albrook Mall that we visited the other day so I thought a US$4 offer to a taxi should suffice. And sure enough it did, as the first taxi we came across who already had a passenger in the back, nodded his head in agreement with my destination and price written on a piece of paper. The passenger was dropped off around the corner and we were on our way. Driver turned out to be a cool dude who pointed out assorted landmarks and buildings along the way. And also taught us a the Spanish words for some the of the many fruit available in Panama. Also, during the 15 minute ride, we managed to have a conversation about the local beer and which one we all preferred. How we got from fruit to beer I'm not quite sure, but I think it may have been the name of the suburb we were driving through was also the name of a Panama beer: Bilboa.

So we were dropped off at the park entrance where we paid our US$4 entry fee and were given a quick run down of the walking tracks. Within 10 minutes of walking up the first track we had see lizards, turtles and a sloth so we were pretty happy.

large_DSCN8622.jpgDSCN8633.jpgDSCN8630.jpgDSCN8643.jpglarge_DSCN8604.jpg

We walked around on the paths for a couple of hours which was mostly shaded thank goodness as it was again another hot day. Rain had been forecast but it did not look like it was going to happen today. We saw a few other animals but really our day was already made by the sloth sighting.

We had a picnic lunch at the park before managing to flag down a taxi to take us back to Casco Viejo for the same price of US$4.

Just half an hour after returning to the hostel it did actually rain, well about 10 drops fell from the sky so I guess that counts, but that was all. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, had a few drinks with David (an American bloke we met here at the hostel).

As we are departing tomorrow for our next destination it was time to repack our bags. Being in one place for a few days has its disadvantage of us being able to empty our bags completely over the days being here. The hostel did our bag of washing for US$4 (it was 5kg) so that we are starting off again with clean clothes.

We are heading north to our next stop Santa Catalina on the coast. Tomorrow is a full travel day, with the first bus from Panama City to Sona being 6-7 hours and then another bus from Sona to Santa Catalina 1-2 hours - all going well that is.

Not sure if we will have internet for the next 4 days so we may be off the grid and will catch up at our next stop.

A couple of kilometres north of central Panama City, the 2.65-square-kilometre Parque Natural Metropolitano is an unspoilt tract of tropical rainforest that is home to more than two hundred species of birds and mammals, including Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, white-tailed deer, sloths and agoutis. It’s possible to complete the four main trails in just a few hours; the best of these is the combined La Cienaguita and Mono Titi trail (3km), which leads to a mirador with views across the forest to the city.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 19:27 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

2017 FEB - CASCO VIEJO LAZY DAY & WELL LAID PLANS GO TO SHIT

Tour guide a no show, so we had to wing it & locals take all the seats.

sunny 30 °C

DAY 6 SATURDAY 11TH FEBRUARY

Our plan for today was to do a free (tips only) walking tour of the local area of Casco Viejo. The meeting point was only a couple of blocks away and not until 11am so we had a leisurely breakfast and time to kill.

Outside it looked a little cloudy, not overcast, just fluffy white clouds that we had not seen in previous days. Temp still up there.

We were at the meeting place 10 minutes before schedule so grabbed a park bench and people watched as we waited. And waited. And waited. By 11.30am we realized the tour guide was a no show and there did not seem to be anyone else waiting for a tour so that was that. Not having any other plans we just went on a little walk by ourselves, choosing streets we had not yet been along.

There is a lot of renovation going on in this neighbourhood as old run down buildings were being brought back to life and changed mainly into accommodation of some sort. The whole area is UNESCO and World Heritage Listed so I'm sure this is a costly task for the owners. We stumbled across a street that had some very posh looking places already restored to former glory and some in the same street under renovation. We could tell by the make of the cars in the street that this was a well do to part of town. Very nice indeed.

Even since we have been here in Panama City we have seen huge birds circling overhead like vultures. We got to see some up closer today and it turns out they are actually vultures. Not quite sure why they are always circling, and not sure I want to know either.
And there is street art everywhere. Colourful mural art - some of it very beautiful.

DSCN8447.jpgDSCN8489.jpg

We promised ourselves yesterday we were going to treat ourselves to lunch at the fish market today so really we just need to kill time until it was time to eat. Walking around killing time is not always ideal in this heat, but today was not so bad as there was a swift breeze that cooled us a little. We exited the neighbourhood of the old town because being a weekend it was crawling with tourists. Not sure why it was more crowded today as apposed to weekdays as people on holidays have a weekend all week. Nevertheless, it was much more crowded than other days so we went for a short walk outside the Casco Viejo. We walked along the water front of bella vista which gave a nice view of the Panama City skyline.

90_DSCN8498.jpgDSCN8497.jpg

Finally it was time to eat again and we had already chosen the restaurant we were going to patronage. Funny, how one side of the market is like a line of very touristy restaurants with waiter touts hassling everyone as they walked past, and on the road side was obviously where the locals ate. So that is were we chose to go also. We ordered octopus ceviche, fish cocktail, clams with garlic sauce and plantain shells stuffed with seafood. Washed down with a couple of local beers our lunch splurge cost US$30 but it was most enjoyable, and how many times in our life will we eat in the fish market in Panama City?

90_DSCN8505.jpgDSCN8507.jpg90_DSCN8506.jpgDSCN8502.jpg

After the big lunch we staggered home with full bellies, it was about 1.5km including a detour to the supermarket for dinner supplies and a couple more cans of rum.

Back at the hostel we settled in for our, now regular, afternoon nanna nap. This is starting to become a habit, I think we have had an afternoon nap everyday. It's the heat, its so draining lol , and we are doing a bit of walking around the place. Anyway I don't need to justify it, we are on holidays and if a nanna nap is in order then so be it.

We ventured out again at about 5 to have a drink in a square - later finding out drinking in public is illegal. Oops, lucky our cans were disguised underneath coolers.

DSCN8514.jpg

On our return we sat around chatting with fellow hostellers about the days' activities as Lyn waited her turn to use the kitchen, yes Lyn cooked dinner, well done!


DAY 7 SUNDAY 12TH FEBRUARY

Weather is still beautiful so we decided to go to the beach today. Closest beach to Panama City is an island just off the coast, so after breakfast we packed up our beach goodies, packed a picnic lunch and headed out to get a taxi that would take us to the ferry dock. I asked our receptionist what we should pay for a taxi and she said 7 or 8 dollars. WOW, that seemed a little steep to me, must say the staff here are not all that helpful. I know there is a language difference and we don't speak their language, but they are working in a hostel so really I expect them to be a little more helpful with information about places to visit and price to get there.

Anyway we started walking and after rejecting 2 (for no particular reason) we nodded at the 3rd taxi that had honked at us and asked the price to the ferry dock for Taboga Island. He said US$15! I laughed and continued walking. He was keen so actually got out of his car and yelled up the street at me $10 - we kept walking. The same taxi had come around the block we had just walked the other side of and said 'how much you want to pay?' cinco (5) I replied, and he said yes ok. They will try it on, and I'm sure $5 is still too much to pay but without a meter we just have to decide what we are happy to pay and go for that. No taxi driver is never going to loose out to us don't you worry about that.

It was just a short drive via the Cinta Costera which we had not yet driven on so that was a bonus ride. And then a short distance on the Amador Causeway (built with soil removed to dig out the Panama Canal) to the Balboa Yacht Club which is where the ferry leaves from. When enquiring about purchasing a ticket, we were advised that there were no return tickets available. So we could buy a ticket over to Taboga Island, but would not be able to return today. Obviously half of Panama had the same idea as us about escaping to the beach. In a way it was a relief that they did not just sell as many tickets as possible and overload the boats (we have been to countries where they do this) but it was a huge bummer as this spoiled our plan for the day.

The taxi had long gone as his next fare was waving him down as he dropped us off and although it would have been easy for us to find another ride home we decided to walk back instead. Although it was pretty hot already, we really had nothing else to do and were carrying water and a packed lunch so we would be ok. It was only about 2km back to the Cinta Costera and then that is 2.8km which we did at a strolling pace stopping regularly to take photos and water breaks. The tide was right out and we saw lots of herons fishing in the pools of water left behind by the tide and a few locals fishing as well. There was a giant catfish like looking beast stranded in one of the deeper pools, lucky for it away from where the humans were fishing. Further on we saw heaps of stingrays flying under the water in the shallow churning up the mud, looking for food I presume.

DSCN8534.jpgDSCN8530.jpg
RSCN8544.jpg

It was an easy walk, but bloody hot.

The Cinta Costera (meaning Coastal Beltway) is a 26-hectare (64-acre) land reclamation project in Panama City, Panama, completed in 2009 at a cost of $189 million.[1][2] It extends from Paitilla to El Chorrillo. Its most recent expansion was the Cinta Costera III, which opened in 2014, along with the Maracana Stadium.

The Cinta Costera Viaduct is part of Cinta Costera Phase III. Consisting of a roadway bridge and pedestrian bridge, the 2.5-kilometer-long marine viaduct encircles Panama City’s historic and governmental district of the Casco Antiguo. The viaduct surrounds the World Heritage Site-Archaeological Site of Casco Viejo, Panama and Historic District of Panamá, as defined by the United Nations (UNESCO).

DSCN8524.jpgDSCN8526.jpgDSCN8529.jpg

We had our picnic lunch in Bolivar Square, on the way buying a chirzo sausage on a stick being sold on the door step of a local resident. Very enterprising selling cold drinks and sausages on a stick cooked in a sandwich toaster.

90_DSCN8545.jpg90_DSCN8546.jpg

We missed our afternoon nap today, too busy doing nothing. A trip to the supermarket for supplies to take to our next destination and more coldies. Still lots of tourists around Sunday afternoon, when we went out again around sunset for a bit of souvenir shopping. Lyn wanted a Panama hat that was bought in Panama City so we managed to get that.

DSCN8551.jpgDSCN8561.jpg

Back at the hostel Lyn cooked dinner again, gee she's good isn't she, and we sat talking with some younger backpackers, getting tips for our future destinations.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 21:33 Archived in Panama Comments (2)

2017 FEB - FISH MARKET & PANAMA CANAL

When in Panama - visit the canal!

sunny 30 °C

DAY 5 FRIDAY 10TH FEBRUARY

After breakfast at the hostel we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. There was no water in the hostel this morning so luckily we had both showered last night before bed, but it was going to be a bad hair day for me straight up (literally).

We walked the short distance to the fish market and saw all the fresh fish etc on offer. Prices were pretty good and we decided we needed to check out the cooking facilities of the hostel before we buy any of the produce.

Mercado de Mariscos
The Mercado de Mariscos is the city fish market, open for business to local restaurants and the public every day except the 3rd Monday of each month when it is closed completely for thorough cleaning. It's the best place to buy fresh fish in Panama City - everything from tuna to snapper to lobster to octopus - or ceviche to go from one of the many vendors.

DSCN8360.jpgDSCN8365.jpgDSCN8373.jpgDSCN8379.jpg

One of our missions for today was to get to the bus station to purchase our bus ticket for our next destination next week. Not quite sure how to get there, after the fish market we decided to catch a taxi to take us to the Albrook Mall (shopping mall) and bus station. We had spoken to others at the hostel and they had paid just US$3 to get to the main bus station so I was gunna try to get to our destination for the same price. It's so much fun not being able to speak the language of the country you are travelling in. But this little detail has never been a deterrent for us. I had written our intended destination on a piece of paper and wrote $3.00 underneath it. After crossing a 4 lane main road, that had police stopping traffic for pedestrians to cross, we stood by the side of the road and waited for a taxi to approach us. This did not take long as everywhere we (tourists) walk taxis are beeping to see if you want a ride. Ah, by the way, taxi's are not metered here, that is why you need to agree on a price before you get in. Obviously locals know the going rate for everywhere they want to go but we of course had no idea. A taxi stopped, I showed him my piece of paper, pointing at the $3.00 and he smiled and nodded yes. Once in the car I again confirmed by pointing at the $3.00 and he laughed and entered back into the traffic. The taxi ride was about 25 minutes and I started to feel a little guilty that we were only going to pay this driver $3.00. When we pulled up outside one of the biggest shopping malls I have ever seen, I handed the driver $3.00 and he seemed happy with that. Had he asked for more I probably would have given it, but he seemed to be happy with the agreed amount.

Ok now Albrook is a major bus depot and I had investigated (googled) that we could get a public bus from here to the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal. Our hostel offered an return shuttle to the locks for US$9 per person, but what fun was that. Much better to attempt to get there on public transport when you have no idea which bus goes where or no language skills to get directions. Again, with my trusty paper & pen, I wrote down where we wanted to go and with a smile stuck it under the nose of a bus warden. He rattled off in Spanish exactly where we needed to go to catch the correct bus, but of course not understanding a word, reading his hand gestures and hearing the words 'alli arriba' (up there) we got the general gist of where we had to be.

Standing in the general location as advised, we soon realised that we needed to buy a transport card as all buses had a swipe in system, no cash was paid to drivers. This again was a major feat for us with no Spanish, but we had a lovely lady help us who we could not understand one word but managed to point us in a the right direction, coming up again to ensure we were sorted. The kindness of strangers! Through the help of the not so friendly ticket seller we managed to purchase a card for US$2 and work out we can both use the same card. It seems bus fares are one price for every ride so you only need to swipe in, not out, so multiple passengers can use one card. We paid an extra US$2 to put credit on the card and returned to the bus stop. Unfortunately the wait for the bus was almost an hour and judging by the locals waiting in the same line this was not normal as they were all getting pretty frustrated and looking continually at their watches.

Finally the bus did show up and we had a comfortable, air conditioned ride that costs just 25c each and delivered us all the way the to steps of the Miraflores lock entrance. Here we climbed the stairs and paid the US$15 entry fee (only US$ for residents). Our entry fee included a short 20 minute interesting film showing the history and building of the canal and entrance to the museum. Outside there were viewing platforms and we were there to see 4 tourist boats and 1 sail boat sinking as the water in the lock drained out. Perhaps a huge ship would have been more exciting but you get the gist of how it all works. To tell you the truth is was all a little underwhelming. We have seen plenty of locks working in action during one of our previous trips when we cycled along the Canal du Midi in France, and we have seen the very big locks on the dam of the Yangtze River in China. But I suppose who could come to Panama and not see the Panama Canal??

Miraflores Locks
Miraflores is the name of one of the three locks that form part of the Panama Canal, and the name of the small lake that separates these locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks upstream. In the Miraflores locks, vessels are lifted (or lowered) 54 feet (16.5 m) in two stages, allowing them to transit to or from the Pacific Ocean port of Balboa in Panama City. Ships cross below the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America.

180_DSCN8391.jpg

We caught the 25c bus back to Albrook mall and went in search of the ticket booth for our next destination. Of course we picked the wrong one but were kindly instructed to the correct counter and managed to purchase tickets for next Tuesday. Later on when I was rethinking about our ticket purchase I remembered I had investigated (googled) and thought our ticket should cost US$25 each, however we only paid US$9.70 each. Hopefully my googling was miss information or otherwise we are on a real chicken bus that is much cheaper than buses I had googled. Lyn said not to worry, chicken bus is an experience too. So we shall see on Tuesday what kind of transport we end up with.

After our successful ticket purchasing we had a quick lap around inside the giant Albrook Mall. Man that place is big. Fun Fact: When one thinks of Sydney Australia, the first thing that comes to mind is the great House of Opera in the city’s port. Inside Albrook Mall you can build 5 times this wonder of the world.
We had lunch in the shopping centre food hall only cause we were hungry and the mall was air conditioned.

Due to our successful day of navigation on the public transport system, Lyn decided it would be a cinch for us to get a bus back to Casco Veijo instead of a taxi. And sure enough, after a couple of queries to bus wardens and fingers crossed we were standing in the correct bus line, before we knew it we had swiped the 25c fare and pushed our way through the turnstile, yes the buses have turnstiles, and were sitting in a bus on our way home.

A short walk back to our hostel was interrupted by a restaurant tout, from one of the numerous eating places outside the fish market, who coaxed us in with the offer of US$1 beers. How could we resist? Well it was still bloody hot and we need to stay hydrated, and the beer was soo cold. We tried a different one this time Panama Lager - pretty good also. The waiter was a bit peeved we did not stay to eat but we had a late lunch and said all we wanted was a cold drink.

90_DSCN8397.jpg

Walking back past the fish market from this morning, it was now high tide and the boats floated in the still water instead of laying on the mud as we had seen them this morning. A slight detour to the supermarket for supplies ie 6 pack of rum & cola for US$6.50 and some bread for our cuppa soup dinner, found us back at the hostel which still had no water! Arg and a cool shower would have been so refreshing.

DSCN8399.jpg

Instead just as it got dark we headed out for a little walk around the block to discover it was a full moon so we took a few pictures and meandered back to be told the water was back. Well now it had to wait for us as we had a date with the roof top terrace to sink a couple of cold rumbos. After 2 cans each we were happy and it was time for that shower.

90_DSCN8409.jpgDSCN8418.jpg

A very successful and productive day.

Are we enjoying Panama City? Hell yeah!

large_DSCN8400.jpg

Posted by Cindy Bruin 20:57 Archived in Panama Tagged panama canal miraflores locks Comments (3)

2017 FEB - CASCO VIEJO - PANAMA CITY

Settling in, out for a walk.

sunny 30 °C

DAY 4 THURSDAY 9TH FEB

Sleep was good, if there was any noise outside it did not disturb us. I woke at about 7.30 and at 8 I could smell the aroma of the breakfast toast wafting down the hallway. Breakfast is included in our room rate here and although its nothing flash, coffee and toast to be exact, its nice not to have to go out looking for something to eat first up. No tea so lucky Lyn brought her own and we boiled our kettle for hot water for her, cause no one wants to start the day without the usual caffeine intake.

We headed out at after breakfast to explore the local area. It was only about 9am but already the sun was hot and we wandered through the streets of the old town looking for shade. There is a lot of building restoration going on here, and just as many buildings standing derelict and empty. Actually most were just facades, I guess there must be some kind of heritage rule about having to keep the facades original as the whole old town is World Heritage Listed. The buildings that have been brought back to life are absolutely beautiful, from the outside anyway. We are staying in one such, and although its not falling down inside, they have obviously spent more money on the outside that everyone sees rather than beautifying the inside.

We walked around for about an hour and half, not getting lost in the maze of narrow streets. At one stage we started to head up a street and a local told us not to go there as it was dangerous. At first the man looked like a bit of a hobo, but if he was nice enough to advise not to go down that way we decided we should probably take heed and headed back in the direction he advised. We had just walked up a street that had the very delightful smell of strong urine, so it was likely he was right in suggesting we probably don't go there.

On return to our room for another caffeine fix, and to escape the midday heat, I discovered that the photos (all 53) that I had taken during our little morning walk were all erased from my camera SD card. I had put in a new card this morning as the one I had in it did a funny thing last night of erasing a photo also. After further investigation it seems that all 3 of the 32gb cards that I bought along for this trip are no good. Bugger! Looks like we will be going for another little walk later in search of new cards.

We headed out again at about 2, it was still pretty hot. We ended up at the Café Coco Cola for a late lunch of sea bass with salad and chips which was pretty good and only US$6.50 each.

The Coca-Cola cafe is an old-school diner serving up hearty platefuls of rice, beans and the featured meat of the day. It boasts being the oldest cafe in Panama City (Est. 1875) and has fed famous visitors like Che Guevara.

90_DSCN8330.jpgDSCN8328.jpg90_DSCN8329.jpg

After lunch we had a walk down Ave Central the pedestrian shopping street. I managed to get a new camera SD card, so I was happy.

The lively pedestrian street of Avenida Central. Slammed with people, shops, ridiculously cheap goods, and the most authentic Panama vibe you can get. Note: Avenida Central is not for the faint of heart, as it butts up against some very rough areas. Only visit during the daytime and don't wander down the side streets.

While having a look around a huge supermarket Lyn found a hair salon and decided to have a hair cut which was a bargain at US$5.35.

90_DSCN8343.jpgDSCN8344.jpg

We returned back at the hostel at about 5pm and I had a quick nanny nap that startled me when I awoke at 7.15. Guess we are still catching up on lost sleep?

We grabbed a few coldies from the fridge that we had purchased earlier in the day and joined some others on the roof to compare notes for that day. Rum & Cola cans US$1.25.

90_DSCN8359.jpg

After our very late, big lunch and the couple of afternoon cocktails we were happy to have a cuppa soup and bread for dinner before taking cool showers and sleeping some more.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 20:51 Archived in Panama Tagged panama viejo casco Comments (4)

(Entries 1 - 7 of 7) Page [1]