Panama Day 4- Panama City to Santa Catalina

We woke up early in the morning to head to Santa Catalina. Since Peter had the same plan, we went along with him.
image

We headed to El Tumbes bus station and got our ticket to Sona. It was $10 and supposedly we had to catch it at 830 in the morning in order to make it to Santa Catalina in one day.

Santa Catalina has no direct bus; you have to either transfer in Santiago and take 2 more busses or transfer in Sona and catch a second bus to Santa Catalina.
image

The bus was completely full. I was lucky to get the wheel well seat directly below the blasting speaker, whereas others were fortunate enough to get the seats with AC leaking on their heads. They managed to rig something with their curtain to diverge the water which was entertaining to watch.
image

I had heard from several people that the busses crank the AC and are freezing; our bus started out comfortable then as the day carried on got uncomfortably hot as the AC began to fall behind the weather.

We stopped for lunch about half way through at some gas station which actually had pretty good food.
image

The ride to Sona was supposed to take 6 hours according to lonely planet but it only took us 3.5 even with the stops so we were confused when we arrived at our destination.

We were told the next bus wouldn’t be there until 130 and we had arrived at 12. Lonely planet said a taxi to Santa Catalina would cost $60 but we found a taxi that offered to bring us for $25 and I talked to another couple that said they paid $40 for a taxi.

This would have made sense seeing that the bus was $5 but everyone wanted to wait for the bus for some reason.
image

The bus finally showed up and they stashed our luggage on the roof.
image

This bus was equally crowded and filled with gringos.
image

The ride lasted about an hour and was equally cramped and uncomfortable. It was good having other travelers with us and it seemed that many of them were in the same situation in that they had no accommodation reservations. When I had checked on hostelworld the night before it appeared there were only 2 hostels and they were full but we figured there must be more.

One of the guys, Christopher, had a phone so called the place he intended to stay and confirmed they had availability. The name was Hibiscus garden and it was inland from Santa Catalina about 10kms. The road to Santa Catalina was very isolated. The hostel was no different.

After being dropped off we had to hike down a road about 15 mins in the sun and heat to the hostel
image

image

The hostel was very beautiful on the beach and super laid back and very quiet.
image

After hanging out in the lounge and having some water, he showed us to our open air loft
image

They also had some closed rooms available but chose to stay here because, I mean, look at it it was awesome.

The surprised the place had hot water, (super shitty) WiFi, and some AC rooms.

We went for a swim at the beach in the bathtub warm water where we were told to watch out for crocodiles.
image

image

Dinner there was excellent, best hostel food I’ve ever had. Apparently there is a well known German chef that chooses to work there for pennies just for an opportunity to live in this paradise. The food was about 3x what we normally pay for food here ($25?) But far less than you would expect to pay for it elsewhere in the world.

We had the woman at the hostel call in and reserve a diving trip to the nearby island of Coiba (world renowned diving location) as well as for a night to camp out on the island.

Panama Day 3- Panama Canal

I got up early again and had pancakes and bananas, again, for breakfast. The plan was to head to the Panama canal this morning since my brother was supposedly arriving in the afternoon and he had already been to the canal.

At breakfast I saw Lucinda who had gathered a group together since it was a popular destination. In total there were 6 of us.

We took 2 separate cabs and the driver agreed to $8 for each to the Miraflores locks.
image

The canal was a 15 minute drive from Casco Viejo. Full entry was $8 which included the viewpoint, a movie, and the museum.
image

There were a few levels for the view point, and it took about 45 minutes for us to watch a ship come through. It was pretty interesting.
image

Basically there are 3 locks on each side, the pacific and Atlantic sides. There is a big lake in the middle which is above sea level which is why they need locks to lift the ships then bring them back to sea level.
image

The canal was celebrating its 100 year anniversary and they were adding a 3rd channel that is bigger and deeper to accommodate larger ships.
image

The ships would queue up in the bay and have to wait 30 hours before they could proceed through the canal. In total it takes 8-10 hours for a vessel to go through and I heard they pay by weight about 20 grand to pass through.
image

The museum was pretty interesting and also took about 45 mins to explore. There were 3 levels that went over the construction and upgrade of the canal.
image

The movie was short and fairly entertaining but could have done without. It played twice per hour, alternating between English and Spanish. I thought the shipping route map was interesting.
image

On the way back the cab wanted $12, since obviously we needed them to get home and they knew that. We jumped in an unmarked taxi which was a little sketchy as the guy didn’t want to get in trouble by the cops for bringing us.

We got out at the fish market down the road and got some serviche, which is basically raw fish mixed with lemon, onions, etc. It was very fresh and very good. Was $7 for that and a soda which seemed very cheap for all that fish, squid, and lobster.
image

image

When we got back to the hostel, my brother was there. I was glad to see he made it.

We hung out for the rest of the afternoon just relaxing. We were trying to decide what to do the next day since we knew we definitely did not want to be in the city anymore.

We planned to head over to Santa Catalina where we could get to do some great diving on Coiba. I was told there are big things to see there like whales and sharks.

Our other option was Portobelo which actually sounded really cool. There were abandoned cannons there sunken underwater with coral and sunken warships you could dive. Ultimately, we decided against this since it was out of the way and we wanted to start covering so!r ground.

Panama Day 2- Isla Taboga

I woke up at 7:30am. I was still super tired/groggy/jetlagged, but I had made tentative plans with John to go to an  island near the city called Isla Taboga. It would be an all day event, and I wasn’t sure what else to do. Rather than sleep all day, I decided to get up to see if John was still around.

Sure enough he was, so we had a hostel provided breakfast of make your own pancakes and bananas. We thought the ferry was leaving at 8:30, but were later told 8am, so we ran out the door. John had also invited one of his roomates, Lucinda who was from Holland. We all ran out the door and caught a $8 cab ride to the ferry to Taboga.
image

There was a big line there, and we asked people in line what the deal was.
image

As it turned out, the ferry did leave at 8:30 and was to return at 4:30. Only one ferry was listed, but apparently there was another ferry that also came an hour later. Tickets were $14 round trip.

We weren’t sure what to expect there, and since we had trouble communicating, we ran out to get some food and water to bring just in case. There was also an ATM and since I had $2 to my name I took out some money and was happy to find that I had no problems using my ATM card.

image

The ferry ride was interesting in that we saw a bunch of tankers docked up waiting to go through the canal.
image

image

Soon the island came into view. The ride was 45 mins.
image

Right when we got off the ferry, a few guards had us all put our bags on one end of the dock while they came by with a dog and had him sniff all our bags. A little odd I thought for a small island.
image

Upon unloading at the beach, we headed to the beach.
image

We were offered to rent umbrellas for $5, but instead opted to sit in the shade by the shore. There was a huge pulley, we assumed abandoned there by a shipping vessel.
image

There was also tons of rusted iron-ore on shore, which was rusted so badly it looked like rock.
image

I don’t know if it was from a ship run ashore or what.

There was a big hill/small mountain at the end of the beach. So we decided to see if we could hike up it. Turned out at the top there was a tombstone.
image

image

The trail was very lightly traveled and there was plenty of bush whacking and giant spider webs/spiders crossing our path. We also saw a bunch of tiny (poisonous?) yellow frogs so stayed away from them and tried to avoid the giant spiders after I walked through one of the webs and had to brush it off.
image

There were also so big rusted out tanks along the hike, not sure what they must have been used for? Fuel for tankers?
image

Once we got back down, we had an hour or two until the ferry so we wandered around the tiny village.
image

image

image

At the end of the day, it started downpouring so we waited on the dock under cover for another hour until we could catch a ferry ride back.
image

We stopped at the bus station on the way back to look into tickets to our next destination, as well as walked around the giant mall that was there. At night, we went out to the hostel bar again for a little while and briefly checked out bars in the area. It was pretty dead and I was still super exausted I passed out

Panama day 1

I am starting my trip this year in panama city. The plan is to try to meet up with my brother who is staying at a beach about an hour west of the city, Playa Corona.

image

I have 32 days this year. After spending a week, or two, or 3 in Panama, my plan is to bus it ten hours north to Costa Rica where I have plans to meet with a couple I traveled with last year, another friend, and my girlfriend.

Outside of this, all options are open.

Taking off just before a blizzard and freezing temperatures, I am looking forward to the 80 degree weather forecasted
image

Of course i have the seat in the back left corner of the plane that doesn’t recline for the 6 hour flight.

Reading through the guide book on the plane, some places have caught my eye.
image

In particular, Santa Catalina (surf destination/beaches) and nearby Island de Coiba (great dive and watersports destination) have caught my eye. I would love to take some more kite surfing lessons if possible and love diving.

Also the Darien Gap sounds intriguing. Sounds dangerous (scorpions, snakes, drug traffickers) and remote, rarely visited by tourists but with deep jungle and animals. I will have to run this by my brother as its also in the opposite direction that we are heading.
image

I am staying at a hostel in Casco Viejo which is 40 mins from the airport. I read taxis are $27 but if I go upstairs at the airport they are cheaper so I thought I would either give that a shot or look into a bus.

I went upstairs looking for a cab. I was told $30 and didn’t see any other cabs so I thought I would check downstairs. Downstairs was too busy again so I went back upstairs. Just as soon as I was thinking I probably was starting to look vulnerable like I didn’t know what was doing I found a cab that told me $20 so I took it.

I started realizing at this point that my spanish was very rusty, and felt frustrated about it so didn’t make much conversation with the driver.

My first impression with Panama was that it seemed much safer than some South American countries. No cabs were trying to “hustle” me into their cabs like a lot of other countries.

image

The hostel I was staying at was called Luna’s Castle.
image

It is a very big hostel- probably 1-200 people here I would guess. I was given a room in a 10 bedroom dorm for $13/night.
image

There is a main lounge area with a balcony with a nice view of the city.
image

Panama city has a ton of high rise buildings. It was extremely hot and humid. There was no AC and the air was heavy and stagnant. I was exausted, and starving.

Before bothering to meet anyone, I headed out to try to find some food which was harder than I thought, and I took some pictures on the way.

There were some shitty areas, where I was offered drugs
image

mixed in with nicer areas
image

I noticed right away that there seemed to be a high cop presence, guarding blockaded roads
image

Later I found out that the president lives in Casco Viejo and thats why such a high police presence. Also, the area we are in was a typical “gringo square” in that it is an artificial safe haven, stocked with police, and a safe zone for tourists. Another words, when you wander outside of this small quadrant, it can be dangerous. One girl I met told me that the cops turned her around when she walked too far and another told her to put her money away.
image

After walking around for about 45 mins all I was finding was high end sit-down restaurants when all I wanted was some quick food. I ended up settling for a street vendor (only one I saw) with some half-cooked burgers with mustard and relish for $3.50. I wolfed it down. I hate mustard and relish.
image

Once returning, I put in some effort and made friends with a guy named Jonathan from Sydney. I went out to the bar at the hostel a little later and met a couple other people. I was so jetlagged after a couple beers I passed out.