Hola Amigos - from Panama.
We are on the road again. After much research we have decided to return to Panama before the wet season starts. We are cutting it fine, but when the wet arrives it lasts for 9 months. So rather than leave GR2 sitting outside in an open yard, we have decided to push north to Mexico. We have a brief 7 weeks to get there!
So with everything planned & sorted, we fly out. 12 long hrs to LA, then 5 hrs kicking our heels at the airport before another 6.5 hrs to Panama. We arrive at 8pm, so stay in a hotel near the airport. We plan to pick up GR2 tomorrow.
We wake in bright daylight. It is 2pm! Oh no!!! My first thought is “We missed breakfast”, Johns first thought is “Oh no, they said NOT to collect GR2 on a Friday afternoon”, & it is already Friday afternoon. After the fastest shower ever, John checks out, while I grab a taxi with an English speaking driver -Invaluable in the chaos to follow. Aduana/Customs takes forever. Finally with paperwork in hand we head to Panama Central (where GR2 is stored). It is well after 4pm, so we have our fingers crossed. On arrival we are told “Go away too late”. So after grabbing a few clothes, our very helpful taxi driver takes us to a hotel in the city. Not a bad spot for the weekend, but we do hate having to kick our heels. At least we have a swimming pool to cool off in as the days are a hot & sultry 38 degrees.
We spend the weekend exploring Panama City. First the old town with its very shabby houses, and then Miraflores Locks. We catch a “Diablos Rojo/Red Devil” bus. It is decorated like a bordello with a huge red feather boa around the window, shiny red quilted ceiling, heaps of gaudy picture & loud salsa music. It rattles & shakes along – all for the mere sum of 25c each. The locks are packed with tourists. We watch a ship passing (remember we have already visited the less touristy Gatun Locks on our last visit) & explore the excellent museum. My highlight was the simulator ride on a container ship through the locks.
Finally it is Monday morning. We head off to collect GR2 with no problems. Bonus in fact – they only charge us $200, instead of the over $600 I had calculated. We fill up with food & fuel, and before you know it we are on the road again. Straight out of the city into the brown, dry countryside. We explore a few grey sand beaches with scattered highrise, before heading inland. We spend a lovely cool night at El Valle – a pretty village set in a volcanic crater.
The next morning, despite the rain, we walk to a waterfall, look at the local church & markets and then head back down the mountain & onto the highway. We then turn off to explore the Peninsula de Azuero. It is a pretty drive on mostly good roads passing lots of very tidy (yes there isn’t heaps of rubbish anywhere!), farms & beaches. We stop to visit a mask maker, gawk at some gorgeous cathedrals & look at many beaches. Some covered in new subdivisions. After a night on the beach we return through the hills to the highway & on south, stopping again overnight at a lovely beach at Las Lajas. This one is a camping area $5 – it is great to have a grassy spot right on the beach. We are the only visitors here.
From here we head up & over the mountains to the hot & humid Caribbean. It is a glorious drive through some lovely cloud forest, up to a huge lake & dam, and on to the Continental Divide. We wind down past thatched villages, with ladies wearing colourful moomoos. One size fits all – even expectant Mums.
We then follow the coastline to the port town of Almirante. We are hoping to get a ferry to Bocas del Toro. We arrive at 6pm and there is a ferry tomorrow at 8am. As trucks start to queue we decide to move from our spot by the water & camp overnight in the queue. There is only 1 ferry per day.
What an amazing way to see the islands. We can drive all over this very laid back place & are free to camp wherever we can find a spot. We book a yacht tour for the next day & head off to explore. We find a gorgeous spot to camp at Playa Bocas del Drago. Our very own palm fringed beach, with gorgeous water to swim & snorkel, even our own stringray. We don’t move all day.
The next day brings rain, but we still head out on our trip. The rain continues, but we get a good sail. As it eases off we see dolphins frolicking, and then we snorkel beside the mangroves. Wow it is magical. The coral is so colourful (sadly we left Johns underwater camera at home). The next snorkel spot has huge brain coral & 100’s of brightly coloured fish. A magic day.
Again we overnight beside a beach – this one with surf. Then we explore the rest of the beaches as far as the track with allow us. Eventually we head back to town to queue up for the ferry. The ferry gets back at 6pm, but we don’t want to camp on the wharf, so head back along the coast to a spot in a huge riverbed – we saw it on our way through.
Our next destination is the mountain town of Boquete. It is very popular with American & Canadian people – they love to retire here. The climate is perfect & living expenses low. Everyone we bumped into spoke English. We camped overnight up in Volcan Baru National Park – driving as far as we could. We don’t attempt the 6hr hike to the summit. After exploring town & visiting the local markets (an expat get together) we head back down the hills.
We have one final destination before we cross the border. Our friends had visited Mono Feliz – meaning Happy Monkey, & I wanted to see the monkeys. I have found a short cut on the map – it ends up a very long cut, getting tangled in a maze of banana & palm plantations. But we do stop at a banana packing plant & stop to watch for a while. We eventually find the bridge over the river, only to find that we are a few inches too tall! We have to retrace our steps. So much for my shortcut.
Anyway the monkeys were gorgeous, but I’m not sure the drive there was worth it. It was very bumpy, but even worse were the overhanging trees. We don’t even notice losing one of John’s souvenir number plates, but fortunately it is found & returned to us by one of the staff at Mono Feliz.
It is time to cross the chaotic border at Paso Canoas. Despite the craziness we are through in 2 hours, after the most thorough inspection we have ever had leaving a country. (Except the narcotics inspection at the port in Cartagena) They even climbed onto the roof to look in the suitcase.
Hola Costa Rica.