Por Fa-f&@king-vor

Panama Travel Blog

 › entry 10 of 10 › view all entries
mike and me
I travelled through Panama and down to Columbia with Mike, a guy from work i had been seeing for a little while before I left Australia. He has come to visit for a month!!! yay! Really nice to have him here and explore with.

Panama is a pretty modern city full of skyscrapers and good shopping (unfortunately i am a recovering shopaholic as i have absolutely no room in my pack). It has some great nightlife, which i was dying for. Before leaving Panama Mike and I hooked up with Jesse who i knew from Roatan and went to Hooters (embarrassing) then to a club to dance til dawn.

First stop, of course, is the canal. No trip to panama is complete without this marvel. It was impressive (tho did seem a little 'big boys toys' to me) especially watching the locks work as the tanker came through.
panama canal
The boats need to pass through locks to raise or lower them to the next water lavel as the canal is not flat between the oceans. So the tanker would be sealed in a section of the lock while the next sealed section would be released to allow the water level to rise and equalise betweent he 2 areas, lifting the tanker to go through to the next lock. This happens about 3 times. Meanwhile the workers of the tankers and lounging on deck and waving to the crowd (we do applaud).

The most beautiful area in Panama City is away from the sky scrapers, and the shops and banks and down near the waterfront in Casco Viajo the old section of town. We wander and get lost in these little cobblestone streets, meandering through colonial architecture, past statues and plazas, old churches, and expensive restaurants.
casco viajo
They are decorating for christmas and the place is coming alive with angels everywhere.

Then to Boccas del Torro which is an archipelago of islands with white sand beaches, wood buildings built right over the water, and the taxies are boats. It is a beautiful area but it does rain way too much to be a paradise. We stay in a hostel where we can see the aqua water between the floorboards, laze in hammocks, and wander the beaches and island. We take a trip where about 10 boats on other tours circle one poor dolphin, then we go diving. The 2 dives are disappointing with bad viz and not much to see, coral or fishy-wise. And then to Redfrog beach where little kds run around excitably showing the frogs they have caught in their leaves. The water is the perfect caribbean blue and the sand is white.
red frog beach


In Boccas we also stay on Basimientos where we hike through the muddy jungle to a beautiful beach on the other side. This sounds fine, until we got lost from the very first turn, then were in denial about being lost and pressed on, past the biting ants, the snake, the massive spiders and through the deep mud. Then i refused to turn back after i crossed a little stream, stepping onto seemingly solid ground on the other side to fall thigh deep into mud - mike leaps in to save me, and in the end i manage to pull myself out and need to pull out mike who is now stuck thigh deep in mud. In the end, after a couple of hours in the jungle and covered in mud, we admit defeat, and find another path back all the way to town where we try again and get to the beach within 30 minutes.
boccas del torro. one of the islands


After our island adventures we head inland to Boquete which is in the mountains and, as it turns out, is a place for americans to retire. It was weird walking from the quiet panamanian town down a valley and suddenly being in the middle of expensive homes within a landscaped valley and golfcourse, complete with theatre, a golfcart per home and expensive restaurants. Suddenly did not feel like central america. But we wandered and pretended like we belonged (being white helped) and sang our hearts out in the empty theatre and hitched a ride in a golfcart. Boquete is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which seem to have their own clouds and fogs, and lovely rivers running through.
white water rafting the Chiriqui River
The first night we have italian and meet a gangster (never met a gangster before so pretty exciting). Just think in stereotypes, but now 70years old and retired - from the bronx, owned a pizza place where dodgy deals were done in the back room, the accent, the short italian.... We were told stories of him leaving people with the 'Ricco Shuffle' as he shot many a person in the leg - for breathing in his face or leaving a lookout post during a robbery.

We went white water rafting from here near the Costa Rican border on the Chiriqui river which was awesome. It was grade 3 - 4 1/2 and we were on the water for about 5 hours, with one rapid after the next to tackle.  Lots of fun and adrenalin. it would have been the best river i have run so far, but expensive (western prices).
our catamaran


And we hiked from Cerro Punta to Boquete passed Volcan Barru on another day. The one thing i love about the forests and jungles in Central America are the orchids that cover every limb and drip from the trees in pinks, yellows, whites and purples. It is so beautiful and green here and so much water running down mountainsides (obviously and aussie appreciation there). It was a nice walk, but took most of the day with travel included and we were stumbling into Boquete as it got dark.

It took a while to organise a sailing trip this close to chrissie but we finally found a boat to take us from Panama to Columbia - Mystic Wind. Our sailing trip through the gulf sea, from palm tree white sand island to palm tree white sand island sounds romantic, perfect and ideal, and at times it was.
Captain Bintang - passed out with the sailing for dummies book
.. it was just the smelly cabins that you could not be in for more than 2 minutes, the food (or lack thereof), running out of ice for the beer, the overcrowding as they tried to make more money, getting dumped at the Panama/Columbia border 20 hours travel from where promised, and the drunk captain. We dubbed him Captain Bintang or Captain Balboa for all the beers and vodka he drank, for breakfast, through to when he passed out at night. His favourite words were 'Por Fa-f&@king-vor' (por favor = please). We were off to a great start when we met the captain and he smashed a six pack within the first 10 minutes then we left a day late as he was too drunk to pull out that night. We arrive at the San Blas at 930pm at night and sail back and forth with all hands on deck, i was watching the depth, mike was steering, others we watching the reef and for other sailboats, and we went back and forth 'turn, turn turn!!!' trying to get into the islands.
the Kunas`sailing boats in San Blas
But we finally arrived, set anchor and then somehow manage to beach the catamaran 2 minutes later!

We woke up in the San Blas islands and it was picture perfect. Tiny islands of palm trees surrounded by white sand. Natives in traditional dress canoeing over to sell us fish, lobsters or handicrafts.  Hot sun and perfectly clear water. We explored the islands and past the wood and thatch home of the locals, and watched them canoe and sail their canoes with an ingenious and simple long stick and sail offcut.  We snorkelled and saw a white-spotted eagle ray. Perfect. We relaxed on deck and lept from the top into the water.

The following day we sailed to another island which is only about 150m long and 50m wide and only 1m above sea level. So not much different to the other islands except that t also serves as the immigration post into Panama and an airport.
paradise. the poor starfish!
Mike and I went with a local on their canoe and wandered through their village. A little island covered with wooden and thatch huts. San Blas is really an amazing place. It is a matriarchial society with the women owning the land. This may be why there are quite a few 'lady boys' on these islands! The women all still wear traditional dress consisting of beads all up their legs, skirt and a 'molar' as part of their top. The molars are layers of material (up to 8 which cost $100 and take about 8 weeks to make) that are cut in patterns to reveal the colour below, requiring a lot of attentions to detail and forethought. They are autonomous and the most traditional indiginous group in Central America. They live just trading coconuts, fish and now their unique handicrafts too. Beautiful place to visit.
our little island
And I went sailing in their little canoe out into the ocean, so fast for something so small and simple.

We already had 10 people on the catamaran (including the captains Dominican Republican girlfriend) and here we pick up another 7 which overcrowds the boat, especially if it rains and we are all forced into the smelly damp cabins. It is a good group of people. It is just that we were all promised 5 days on the catamaran for the same amount of money and we have already been there 4 days and desperately just want to get to Columbia in time for christmas, and dont think we can have any more tinned tuna and pasta.

We stop at a couple more islands, one with just 4 palm trees and a couple of coconuts (just like a postcard). And sail towards Columbia. Twice through out the sailing trip we had pods of dolphins play infront of the catamaran for hours, which was a delight.
the crew
After 8 days we arrive at the border, having found out along the way that the captain never intended on taking us to Cartagena as advertised and promised. Then travel 20 hours to get there ready for christmas celebrations.




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mike and me
mike and me
panama canal
panama canal
casco viajo
casco viajo
red frog beach
red frog beach
boccas del torro. one of the islan…
boccas del torro. one of the isla…
white water rafting the Chiriqui R…
white water rafting the Chiriqui …
our catamaran
our catamaran
Captain Bintang - passed out with …
Captain Bintang - passed out with…
the Kunas`sailing boats in San Blas
the Kunas`sailing boats in San Blas
paradise. the poor starfish!
paradise. the poor starfish!
our little island
our little island
the crew
the crew