We finally left Costa Rica on January 2nd (I know, I know, we’re behind) and travelled south to Panama. We spent about a month in Panama so we’ll break it down into a few posts. I’ll cover our weekend getaways and then Chris will fill you in on city life and our stay in Contadora. This leg of our trip was spent with my wonderful friend Suzy and we’re extremely grateful for her hospitality.
Bocas Del Toro
Despite numerous horror stories, the border crossing into Panama was relatively painless. There was a long bus ride, an hour wait in line to get through customs, a walk across a narrow broken bridge (if you can call it that), another short bus ride, a cab to a dock, and a boat ride into Bocas. Piece of cake. During the crossing, we made friends with a Bocas local, Coco, who helped us find a hostel and got us acquainted with the city.
Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and muggy when we arrived. However, the sun did make a few short appearances, giving us the chance to adventure a bit. We walked about 7 or 8 km to Playa Tortuga where we watched surfers practicing for a competition. On our way back, we saw a few pick up baseball games along the beach which looked like fun. The next day, we decided to get some more exercise and rented bikes to go to Bluff Beach. After a 45 minute ride, we parked our bikes and watched some of the biggest waves of our trip kick intoxicated body surfers out of the water one after another.
When we returned to our bikes, I noticed that my front tire was flat making it impossible to ride (I tried). Since we don’t have cell phones here, we decided it would make the most sense for Suzy to ride back, to let the company know what had happened, while Chris and I took the long hike back with my useless bike. About an hour in, a motorcycle pulled up to us. With caution, we stopped and said hello. He smiled and pulled out a brand new tube to fix my tire! Suzy had told the company that we were walking and they sent their handy man to help. Contrary to what Suzy had told us about Panamanian customer service, this incident gave me hope (unfortunately, only temporarily). Later experiences in Bocas taught us that if you’re looking for friendly service, don’t go to Panama. In fact, give yourself at least 30 minutes until someone notices you at a restaurant if you’re planning to eat out in this country. If you look really American, maybe add another 10 minutes.
The hot sauce in Bocas is definitely worth mentioning. We’ve been trying hot sauces in each new place we go. Sadly, we’ve been disappointed on a number of occasions. Bocas knows what they’re doing though. Some sauces were mustard based, some the typical vinegar style and then there’s Lili’s Cafe. Our friend Scott had brought Chris their “You’re Killin’ Me Man” hot sauce last year after he visited Panama and it instantly became a favorite. Chris was a little boy in a candy store there. We bought two bottles and keep them in our backpacks to spruce up meals during our travels.
David, Boquete and Las Lajas
We stayed only one night in David, a nice suburban Panamanian town where we ate a very delicious dinner of fish and plantains. That night, Suzy’s friend Mike met up with us and the next day we drove to Boquete. Boquete is known for their beautiful mountains, coffee and strawberries so there was no shortage of interesting things to do. It also just so happened that the annual coffee and flower festival was going on while we were there. We stayed at Jungla de Panama which I’m convinced is the coolest place to stay in Boquete (maybe even in Panama). It’s about 10 minutes outside of town but well worth the drive. It’s a hostel and an animal rescue and rehab center. Handicapped kids come to Jungla for rehab and tourists get to hang out with monkeys during their stay. When we arrived, the friendly owner welcomed us with a free upgrade to our own suite instead of the dorm we booked. That was a bonus. Then, she asked us to close the door so the monkeys wouldn’t get in and then let them roam free around the property. I couldn’t believe how interesting they found us. I was a big fan, as you can probably tell.
They also had a few snakes, a dog, a big stubborn coati, and birds. It was hard to leave the hostel, but eventually we made our way into town to explore and try the famous strawberries and cream.
The next day we went to a beautiful waterhole where we could swim. We were quite the attraction to the locals there because we were the only gringos in sight. The river had cut into the rocks forming a deep canyon leaving rocky ledges perfect for jumping into the water. The locals sat and watched while I worked up the courage to make the jump. On our way back from the waterhole, we saw the most beautiful rainbow I’d ever seen (see above). We also couldn’t leave without taking a stroll through the fair and enjoying a drink from a pineapple.
On our drive back to Panama City, we stopped at Las Lajas beach on the Pacific coast. We body surfed a few waves and enjoyed the sunset. It was a great end to the weekend.
Suzy’s good friend from college, Rolo, was nice enough to invite us to his family’s home in El Valle. Their home is stunning. Generations ago, his family designed and built it and now his grandparents live there. The rest of the family escapes to entertain their friends there on the weekends, away from the bustle of the city.
Rolo cooked up his family’s famous paella which was probably the best meal we had during our stay in Panama.
We went to another water hole and spent a relaxing afternoon there. This place was so relaxing in fact, that we extended our stay to 2 nights instead of 1 like we initially planned. We watched the 49ers win the NFC that night, which is huge considering they cancelled the Super Bowl this year (weird).
Each weekend gave us something a little different. The towns, people and vibes all varied so much that it was sometimes hard to believe we were in the same country. Each new place though, made us like the country more and more as a whole.
Bocas del Toro