Slept well in a very comfy double-decker coach. Got to David spot on for the sunrise. Fixed the tyre and after coffee and cake, left for the border. It took me just over 2 hours to travel the 55km. The border crossing was total madness. I met a couple of Germans from Stuttgart and had a bit of an experience exchange. The male was an ex Mercedes steering column engineer. Had to wait 1.20 min to get stamped out of Panama and an additional 20 minutes for the Costa Rican visa. Funny thing was that nobody was actually checking whether you had the visas or not. I could have just walked straight in! On the way to Golfito, I passed Nelly Ciudad (a bit of a dive) and ended up clocking 129km in the day (my record to date). I found a cheap hotel and after a relaxing strole along the sea fronted boulevard I fell asleep in my basic room in a nice wooden hotel.
At 4 o`clock in the morning I woke up in the biggest bus station I have ever seen. Took a shower at the bus driver’s depot (very nice and clean). And left for the city. 2 km down the road a taxi driver started shouting at me. Finally, I realised that I had left my money belt and passport in the shower room. Luckily nothing missing, I left the attendant a thank you tip and started the day again (there are good people out there!!!).
Panama city was very pleasant with a wide green avenue at the sea front. Running and cycling tracks with the accompaniment of, seemingly, hundreds of sky scrapers. It has a very distinctive old town, somewhat similar to old havana on a very small scale. What a sunrise! Mr Balboa wasn’t wrong calling the sea The Pacific (from peace). It really is deadly calm, hardly any waves. You could almost say boring…
Cycled past a humongous fish market – it was nice to see people using the local resources.
Had breakfast on the French square (remaining from the time of their attempt to built the canal). Cycled out town to have a glimpse of the human masterpiece but in comparison with the extent of the European canal network, it is nowhere near as advanced. It is definitely big though and does take massive ships. The expensive viewing platform is too far away to see the details and there are a lot of police checking that you aren’t a terrorist. The canal is a mega money making exercise, and it has just got the green light to become even bigger. Thanks to the canal Panamanians are getting lots of support from the US Government. Decided to get back to town and check the museum of the Canal…. Unfortunately it was mainly in Spanish…. Met a German man there (first generation American). After leaving, got a puncture, and then another two (had not seen a piece of glass stuck in the tyre).
Cycled out to the peninsula “causeway” of Amador. Very upmarket, hosting yachts from all over the globe. Stopped in the local café for an internet session and a chat with a yacht owner but he was partially deaf so no luck with communication here. On the way back I was stopped by the Police in the “Chorillo” area of town and have been taxi`d out. Apparently it is a no go zone for tourists and I have been very lucky! With three handcuffed young gents sitting with me in the back of the police truck we made it to the old town and off I went in search of next transport back to David. I am very glad that I managed to visit Panama city. It’s a rich and vibrant town with lots of potential left in it.
Another puncture on the way to the bus station!?. Had to walk (too dark to change the inner tube). 10 mins later I had joined the queue. Got the bus leaving at midnight.
Full American-Panamian breakfast followed with bucket of sweat heading up in to the range of mountains crossing towards the Pacific side and the city of “David”. Saw a real snake crossing the road (small and pretty but no idea of its type). Half way up the climb at 650 meters high I had to capitulate and took the bus just to avoid the pouring rain and tiredness (possibly body needs a bit more gentle riding after my illness). I was dropped about 10 km before David city so cycled in and discovered nothing special. David is a connecting hub for local cities and sites. A busy town with very little to offer except shops bursting with goods from the US and cold beer. I chose the latter then decided to go on overnight trip to Panama City by bus. I just could not miss the opportunity of seeing the Canal, being so close.
I tried to find a place to take a shower before jump on the coach but no joy. Baby wipes have to do the trick until the morning …
Packed at 8 am, breakfast and ready to dive at 9. Last pleasure dive (free in the package). New location “coral garden” , went down to 18 meters , max for an open water diving allowance. Beautiful, lost for words… A bit sad but got some organic chocolate (trying to sweeten up the moment) and jumped on the boat to the main land . Cycled in terrible heat and killing humidity until arrival in Miramar. Got a ginger cake and a Palmier (no beer in town) and took some pics. Quick wander and just as I wanted to cycle off some American guy asked me what I was doing there.
Half an hour later I was invited to his house to stay over-night and we discussed the problems of this planet. I was introduced to random locals popping in to charge their mobile phones (not everyone in the village has got electricity) . Richard, that’s his name, is some kind of us government worker (close to retirement age) investing in local land. He told me that you can buy land on an idyllic island for as little as 5000 US per hectare, NOT BAD EH?
I was introduced to a 1970 religious film (Ten Commandments?) , wile people where turning up and leaving getting fed and given some coca cola from generous Richy. He was highly educated individual with three degrees who had previously worked for Nato in the old days. His house was right on the beach but no luxuries.
Passed the PADI exam and ready for the final dives. That meant that I would be able to restart my cycling soon. Or should I spend another day in paradise? Well that’s the beauty of not having strict plans or schedules. “mañana” is becoming my motto. Completed another two dives! I saw a snake (marine eel) with yellow with black spots. Did not think I would see under water snakes before I had seen land based ones. Lion fish (a predator in this area) , apparently kills almost everything and produced swelling in humans if touched. Lots of colourful under water species. I could write about them all day. I had a bit of an accidental celebration later due to meeting some friends and it was Australia Day. Any excuse is good in Bocas. One guy mentioned that every day is either somebody’s birthday or somebody is leaving, so it’s a never ending party . Duth-English Heinrich (a plasterer from Lake Constance, Germany), US Teresa, Cockney Tony (what a sarcastic person) and Australians Matt and “Casanova”. Not forgetting Rob from the diving school, a Canadian cool dude from a yacht with a diving future in front of him (he told me that diving oxygene is good for hangovers – hmmmmmmmmmmmm). Innocent evening in the bar of a boat called “Rip Tide” turned in messy stagger and a dive into bed.
Two times cheese sandwich and muesli for breakfast and ready to dive for nine a.m. After a bit of juggling around, the dive school sent me and Teresa (not my Teresa, but a lady who works for Microsoft from Seattle in America) Our, almost private, tutor was Jan. Scottish Jan was an amazing teacher and explained excellently everything that we needed to know. Then uut for the dives! The first diving spot was a area close to an old hospital and island where all the malaria infected people from banana plantations were sent (mostly to die, I believe. What a location to die though!) Under water was even better; all shapes and colours of fish. Just like watching a diving film on the tv but for real. You can touch some things, and they react in funky ways. We found the biggest crabs and lobsters that I had ever seen under rocks. The second dive was in between two islands. Popped off the boat backwards. It wasn’t easy the first time, but the second was cool. Fish in blue, black and white stripes or just very big heads. A maaaaassive flat fish colony: they are also individually huge! There were so many types of coral: red, green, white, blue; some with half a meter of raised up fingers. UNBIELIEVEBLE!!!!!!!! I never, ever thought that diving could be that interesting. It has to be on the list of 1000 things to do before you die. The world has just got bigger for me.
Anyway off for a cold shower (you could not have a hot one here trust me!) and some scoff , followed by couple of beers . (I’m not allowed to abuse alcohol before diving – so two is the maximum). Need to reduce my residual hydrogen in my vanes, before tomorrow’s session.
Back in to the classroom for the final stage where I would need to be able to calculate how long and how often I could go under water in one day: (not easy, a bit like mathematics) After lunch I was dismissed and called back for the following morning…..
Went to a secluded beach (to the other end of the island on the bicycle of course), a gentle swim, relaxation lasted 40 minutes before I was on the move to the grotto. I went 20 meters into the cave and found some spider like creatures, so decided not to proceed. Met a local picking some leaves who told me that they were good for back pains and memory (I did not ask the name, so have no idea what it was). Back to a restaurant that was full of locals and ordered the fish soup…. WOW very impressed , what a selection of seafood in it and a perfect taste. I have ordered seconds!
Oh crap, sorry 19.10 I have to rush to the bar as happy hour is on !!!
Still not great but feeling better every day. For breakfast, a massive pot of strawberry yoghurt and musli, followed with coffee and internet. Hot and sticky. Humidity 83%!!!! Ufffff. Another cofee and off for another look at the island I have seen too many times now. I re-scheduled the Padi diving course for tomorrow. I met some of my colleagues from the course that I had started that had now ended. They all passed the exam and some had booked for more dives. That’s what I like to hear!
Cycled to the next beach for dinner and a beer.
Back in the hostel, the Aussis were gone and and I had an American and a Kiwi in the room for company. Its nice to have a rotation of nationalities to see their different habits, etc.
Only one thing is sure - everyone in the hostel is a piss-head! No dividing barriers on culture here or the language. Surprised too see a lot of Argentineans on the move but this must be the thing to do after Che Guevara!?
I am sitting on the balcony overlooking the street and its colourful houses and people passing. The bar downstairs is blowing quality vibes (even for my old age) . I can see why the expat community is growing so quickly. You can fall in love with Panama if you are not a very needy person (gadgets etc) or on the other hand your are ecologically orientated. The only question is “Can this government sustain the right balance between ecology and growing mass tourism and the developer’s destruction?” Panama’s definitely worth a visit ! And pretty PRONTO!!
I was beginning to feel like a prisoner on Boca del Tores. I would have liked to start moving again to see new things, cover some more kilometres. At the moment I am on covering distance up and down the stairs to the loo!
Started feeling a bit better around midday. No hesitation: I was straight on the bicycle for a trip to the butterfly farm. Tourist information, even though it’s in a beautiful building, does not serve its purpose. Asked around and someone sent me to a hotel and I did manage to get a leaflet. The farm looked like it was about 500m away on the same island so I have tried to ask everyone I met for directions – resulting in lots of confusing dead ends. I finally gave in and took a boat taxi! With only a 1min ride and 2 dollars later, I arrived in a posher part of the island where yachts moored up. Lots of wa-wa’s talking about shares and boat parts. I walked through a bit of swamp to find the butterfly farm. A nice local gentleman showed me the different stages of the butterfly’s life, from egg laying and caterpillars to their predators. We then proceeded to the “mesh” tent: The size of the circus tent where I have found butterfly overload. Great colours, different sizes. I even learned that they eat fermenting fruit (in this case bananas).
I asked and finally found the way back to main part of the island: obviously it was possible via an air strip!!! (see photo) The butterfly man said just be careful and smiled.
Evening meal was a local soup (everything in, with bones etc.), rice with beans and a salad in the busiest (with locals) restaurant. It seemed to help a bit. After getting back, I realised I had lost the memory card for the camera. Luckily I had 90% of my pictures already saved.
A couple from Australia tried to drag me out for a few beers, but I was nowhere near ready for a session (not like me – must really be ill).
A strange thing in Boca del Tores is that you can’t find bananas to buy – in a region of the country where plantations abundant. Apparently most of the production is for export!!!
Had to stop my Padi course for a couple of days and decided to go to the doctor.
The hospital was packed with people but foreigners get special treatment via emergency (no queue, and no payment). Was diagnosed with a parasite from the local water (I had not been drinking it but had had brushed my teeth with it) Apparently is totally unsafe do drink it here on the island. The rest of the Panama has safe water (typical). Got my medicine. Was told to start a liquid diet… kind of impossible, but decided that I needed to do my best to eat sensibly. The rest of the day night and following morning was a mixture of: sweating in bed, headache, visiting the loo, medicine, fever (not the Saturday night variety), visiting the loo again and again….. a NIGHTMARE!!!
At some stage a Japanese girl bunked down in the room for the night – I don’t think it was a feverish hallucination.
8 am start and by 8.30 I was covered in waterfalls of my own sweat. I was dripping over the bike. Very humid and hot with hardly any wind. I was begging for a bit of head on wind (not something any cyclist would want). After few nasty hills and gallons of sweat I reached the port town of Almirante. Nice port with old wooden houses on sticks scattered around the bay. Popped in to town and got “attacked” by some moron trying to cause trouble and probably wanting to sell me some bullshit. Got to the boat ticket window and the price quoted was 6 US Dollars for a 20 min boat crossing to Bocas del Toro. Gave the person $20, got $4 change. The clerk told me that I’d given him ten. Well after a few seconds of painful dialog , I took my bike for a spin to the police station to tell them the story. Even though I am known to be super stingy, it was not the money, but the principle . I think I have probably become a bit too English and hence complained. The police officers where probably on drugs going by their speed of reaction and lack of concern (and work). Not too worry, the ride was worth the higher price!
The island is pretty, relaxed with lots of tourists. Very nice feeling. I tucked in to the last coconut that I had bought in Costa Rica and watched the locals. It was like what I imagine arriving in 18th century American town would have been like; looking for a better future in the prosperous little place by a ship.
Offered some accommodation, rejected. Cycled around and decided to head around the island (still no map). Passed a couple of famous surfing beaches. Saw lots of tourists on bikes. After doing about 12 km on the Bokas I slotted back in town in to a beach bar with cold water and beer. Checked the Lonely Planet guide for accommodation and set off in search. Mondo Taitu, a cool hostel for surfing dudes. I think I am one of the older people staying here (hmmmmmmmmm) Getting old? Free wi-fi, along with the paid bar and bunk bed. Not great storage for bikes but there is a security guard all night. Off to see if I can find a map in a tourist resort…?
Coconut on the beach for breakfast; a quick internet session and couple of attemprs to get find the guy from the bicycle shop, but no joy. After an hour cycling, I have arrived in Porto Vieho de Talamanca. Very vibrant full of expats (old hippies), with a distinctive smell of ganga in the air. Found a bike repair shop that managed to sort out my loose spoke - plus ckecked all the others. All in all – it was done in 15 minutes for two dollars (I think the guy really liked the idea of touring hence the price). Had a bit of a look around and have to say it was a better spot than Cahuita. Anyway didn’t hang around and went straight to a botanical garden run by family of ex-Americans with a laid back altitude. Really nice spot with an interesting program of local and imported plants. Red frogs and other species. The really nice touch was being able to sample locally produced fruit (totally unique) home made chocolate beans (beautiful taste). There was also a presentation of spices (cardamom, pepper and cinnamon) and rare palm trees rubber trees etc. Strongly recommended; especially in September (driest month of the year in this region).
Hopped back on the bike and headed for Sixaola (the border town with Panama). Arrived there at about 4 so did not hesitate in heading for the border crossing as the frontier town didn’t have anything to offer. The Panama side was even worse: a typical town frontier in an undeveloped country. Begging kids and crooked officials where trying to send me on a pointless taxi ride selling me a rubbish story about the bridge crossing not being possible. Well got to the next town and found a grotty hotel for 18 dollars (not impressed).
The people were very friendly and not much different to most of Costa Rica (as yet).
It was also impossible to buy a map - tried everywhere. Contacted Teresa and asked her to download me the Lonely Planet guide so that I had some information on the country.
Teresa and Tadek
Inexperienced cycle tourists of Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Thailand, Laos & Cambodia