So I arrived in Portobelo Monday at middayand wanted to check out my options to get to Colombia. There was the cheaper way, with a boat that takes you right at the border and through the San Blas islands, or there was the sailboat option. The first costs about 279$, but is a shorter trip and afterwards I would have needed two days to travel by land. The second one was 450$ but included 3 days in San Blas and 2 days at sea to arrive in Cartagena. Because of the time of the year, the sailboat I was recommended to go with cancelled its trip because of lack of passengers and the other boat was leaving on September 11th or later. However, benefits of traveling alone, there was one leaving the next morning and I could get on the boat with them. The owners were Turkish and have been bringing backpackers back and forth between both countries for nearly 3 years. So the Swedish couple, the two Americans, the German sisters, the Brit, the Aussie and I all slept on the boat and left early Tuesday morning for the San Blas islands. The chain totals 378 islands, of which 49 are inhabited by the Kuna natives. Their arts and crafts are very colourful and the women dress with various patterns. They also wear beads on their calves and arms and have a gold nose piercing. The men fish and when you arrive by sailboat they pass by in their wooden canoes and sell what they have caught. So the first night we bought 14 lobsters and they were soooooooooo delicious! The second day we went to a bigger island, where there was the main village (the island near where we were docked had maybe 3 huts on it with people living there). Our captain needed more diesel and we went to see this little man who makes amazing bread! The indigenous are starting to get used to tourists, most of them do not really say hi or smile, but you get the occasional laugh or hello. We are told that in 5 years, the islands will have a different vibe, as tourism is increasing significantly with the years. The second night, we had fish and lobster which was delicious and we played drinking games and there was a bonfire with music. It was a lot of fun, we were with other travelers, some coming on other sailboats, others just taking an overnight trip on the island. The next island we visited, called Limon, was my favourite. There was not much there, a few inhabitants but the coral reef was much nicer, so we snorkelled a lot (or schnorkelled ahahaha). The colours were amazing and we saw many fish! That night was a quieter one, as we had two days at sea coming up. Those were a little shakier than the 3 first days. No one got sea sick, which is impressive considering the size of the group, but below deck was enough to make you dizzy. Most of the nights we were able to bring mats out on deck and sleep outside, other nights we alternated because of rain. Below deck, with 11 people sleeping could get a little stuffy and hot. So the captains alternated and it was two days none stop sailing, until yesterday we finally arrived toCartagena.
All in all, anyone that needs to cross fromPanamatoColombia, I do recommend this trip. The flight might be 130$ cheaper, but it would be how much you would pay for a two day trip fromPanama cityanyway. It is worth it, an amazing experience.
The next morning, I left for David to then transfer and take another bus toPanama city. Seven hours later, I met up with Bok, my couchsurfing host. He had to go back to work but later on we went out for some drinks at an open roof bar where his friend was Dj-ing. It started to rain and we went home because we had to get up early on Saturday.
The tour we booked was a jungle type adventure on thePanama canal. The guide and others were all really nice. We took a boat and saw a lot of wildlife: sloths, many monkeys, an ant-eater (which are very rare!!) some crocodiles, butterflies and many birds.Panama, has nearly 1000 different species of birds, which is not many less thanBraziland considering the size of both countries it’s actually pretty impressive.Colombiahas the largest variety in the world with about 1900 different species!
The canal is currently being expanded and should be completed in August 2014, which also happens to be its 100year anniversary. It is the most important income forPanama‘s imports and exports. We had lunch on an island and headed to the museum where we were explained and saw the functioning of the canal.
After our nap, I cooked some Lebanese chicken for Bok because he had never tried Lebanese food and then we went to a party. It was really fun, his friend was Dj-ing that night too. Everyone or almost had a costume, there were blacklights and paintings on the walls and on people. Today, for my last day, Bok, his friends and I headed to a beach approximately a 2h drive away from the city. On the way, we got “chicheme”, a typical drink made of corn and milk: it had a weird texture and was sweet but it was good and quite filling! The beach had some nice waves, very little people and we had a beautiful sunny day. We stopped at a small local restaurant for dinner and had choripan. I could not have asked for a better weekend, and it was mainly thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the people I was with.
So yesterday for my last day in Boquete, I visited the national park, well tried to anyways. Turned out that nearly at the end there was a locked gate and we couldn’t go by. The trail we were on is called Sendero de los Quetzales, and is supposedly the nicest trail of the country and it was really beautiful. Nature, rivers, waterfalls! I was with a women whom I had met on my first day in Boquete on the street, we chatted and decided to go together. She was born in Iran, but lived in America, except for the last 5 years she has been living in China! We had some great talks!
Unfortunately along the way, while we were enjoying the river and the sound of the water, another type of water came down; it started pouring! She had an umbrella and I had my water jacket, but we were lucky to meet Bill and his 56 year old green jeep. We got on for an adventure, it was a bumpy road, at some point we didnt think the jeep would make it up the mountain, but it did and we had a blast! Afterwards we had some lunch and I had a nap and missed yoga class. The night before was let’s try the local rum night with the hostel owner and his friend ahahaha, a nap was needed (even though I very rarely nap).
So today, I got up early and headed to Panama city. I am here now, it seems nice and big compared to where I have been staying, lots of skyscrapers, which I haven’t seen in a while ahahaha. I am currently having a coffee while I wait for Bok, my couchsurfing host. Apparently it is the nicest capital in Central America. Tomorrow we have a jungle adventure thing through the canal should be fun! More pics and stories to come!
I arrived in a little town called Boquete at about8pmin complete darkness. Little did I know, that we were at a 1200m elevation and when sunny, the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Because it is rainy season, the days here are sunny in the morning and then around1pmit gets cloudy and in the afternoon it rains. And so rainy season, means low season. I am staying at a great hostel, the owner is American and has been year for 7 years, he is very nice. So unfortunately, I cannot find anyone to hike upPanama’s only volcano (at 3800m).
However, I was lucky yesterday to get on a coffee tour at an organic coffee farm owned by two American retirees. It is one of the only organic farms in the area, out off about 300 different farms (small, medium and large ones). The only reason why products are used on coffee is because of a fungi that can sometimes occur, but this happens even with pesticides. The yield for an organic coffee farm however, is half. Rich told us everything he knew about coffee, he has not been doing it for very long, and told us he could not put food on the table with what he makes, which is why he now does tours. We were with him for a little more than 3hs and we walked through the coffee, he made us pick some beans and he explained and showed us the whole process. Afterwards, he made us smell 3 different kinds of roasts and then we tasted them. Then, I got to help roast some beans and he packaged bags for me and the two others on the tour with us as a gift. (http://www.boquetecoffeetour.com/?page_id=42)
There are many different types of beans that can be grown and some need certain climates, for example altitude, soil, weather, rain etc. In this sense, coffee is a lot like wine: it not only depends on the climate, but there are different flavours, and each person likes a certain roast or another. We have seen coffee prices going up by a lot. Cultures that previously did not drink coffee namelyChinaandIndiahave had a rising demand.
Today, I took a 4h hike and walked through mountains. On the way there were many beautiful flowers, fruit trees and of course, fields of coffee! The people in this area are so nice: everyone is smiley and says hi to you it’s really nice.
So the day after my last post, I was convinced by my German buddy divers to do my first night dive EVER with them! Usually you do it when you do your advanced course, which I don’t have. But one of them is a dive master and the other is doing his course to become a dive master so I felt comfortable to go with them, especially after doing two day dives in their company….I want to specify that I was still SUPER scared! Just the thought of going diving in the dark was a scary one…but the water is very clear and I was with the right people. We went down, and at about 5m I had some trouble with my right ear, but after a few minutes it was okay. So down we go, into the darkness and all we see is our own and other people’s flash lights. I was just trying not to look anywhere else, just where my light was pointing because then, its just pitch f*ck*ng black.
We saw lots of nice life underwater: many big starfish, sea urchins, lobsters, spiny lobster, shrimp, 3 or 4 trumpet fish, many sleeping fish as well, an octopus (!!!), I think an eel or some sort of slithering black and white spotted thing, and a huuuuge baracuda. It was a long dive, 76 minutes under water and with one tank because it was not very deep. Half way through, the local dive master made us go in a circle on our knees at the bottom and signalled us to shut our lights. I started shaking my head and thinking: ah! ya right no way then we are going to be in pitch black ocean water. But then the other dive master took my hand and we closed all our lights. It was something like I have never seen: it was like there were stars under water. It was fluorescent everywhere coming from corals, fish, starfish powder and plankton. We stayed there just looking around us for a while and continued diving. The experience was amazing and I would definitely do it again! Unfortunately there are no pictures! But here is a trumpet fish I got off the internet so you can see what it looks like!
Arrival inPanama was….quite something actually. The bus and boat rides to cross the border and get to my destination were very nice. I am in the Archipelago de BocasdelToro, which are islands on theCaribbeancoast. There is one main island that is pretty big and more “touristy” you could say: lots of restaurants, people have cars, stores, diving centers etc. I am staying on an island called Bastimentos which is a small village, no bank or atm, no cars and barely any tourists. There are some beautiful beaches here as well and so, upon arrival, I asked for directions to the beach which was supposed to be a 20 minute walk. Buuuuutttt, I got lost in my thoughts and follow a path, which ended with mangroves. Seeing a little bridge (that must lead to somewhere right?) I try to get to it, not knowing that I would sink into mud all the way to my knees. What was worst, was that I was terrified of all the little crabs running around everywhere, or if there was something under there that would bite me. I also lost one of my Birkenstocks, so I tried to dig to get it back but never found it, and ditched the other one L. It was only when I got back to my hostel that I thought: oh crap crocodiles! I didn’t see one, otherwise I would have really panicked ahahaha. So I find this little resort thing and ask them how to get back, and well…options were: go back the way you came from (no fucking way!), wait for a boat to take me across, or swim. There was no boat and all I had was sunscreen and a book in a Ziploc bag. So I put my glasses in there and swam across. It really wasn’t that far so it went really well. I went to the hostel and I was just really angry, I changed and went out to find the freaking beach; which I did. And it was beautiful white sand and turquoise water so at least it was nice. I got back and met this Spanish guy so we chatted and hung out and ended up going to this reggae live show at a bar on the water. At our second beer, we heard screaming and bottles breaking: people were fighting so we got the hell out of there, like everyone else did too, that ended the night! This morning, I was told it was a guy and his ex-wife that were fighting…intense. On the island they speak Spanish but also guri guri (not sure if it is written this way). It is English, cut and stuck together and sounds nothing like English ahahaha. Oh and they have these huge, I mean like 3 inch long grasshoppers here, I got one on my head yesterday while skyping with my brother and then it stayed stuck in my curls. I have never seen a big bug like that! Very welcoming ahahha.
This afternoon I went to the bigger island to the bank and also did two dives which were really fun and met some awesome people too, saw some nice fish, a barracuda, starfish, lobster and lots of nice corals!