Having a wonderful time in Panama
Thinking back of Cahuita, my last stop in Costa Rica, gives me mixed feelings. It was a beautiful location but those bedbugs has given me sleeping problems due to nightmares. After Cahuita I crossed the boarder to wonderful Panama and took a boat to the Bocas del Toro islands. It was just a short 3 1/2 hour travel day and I was in paradise. The Bocas consists of a group of island whereof the isla Colon is the easiest to get to and the most commercial. First I gave it a thought to continue to a more remote island but decided to spend my four days in Colon because from there it would be easy to discover different beaches everyday. I ended up in hostel Heike, a 10 USD a night hostel with great vibe. I had heard about isla Colon being very commercial, to partyish etc but sometimes you need to make your own opinion. I happened to love everything about Bocas. I had a dormitory room with great people and was even able to go to bed early (and sleep) two nights out of four. The other two I shaked my butt with Myrtha from Switzerland and Frank and Eva from Germany to latin vibes. And believe it or not but I even managed to get three days of sunny weather (before I came and after I left it rained all the time).
One day I did a full day tour which consisted of four parts. The first part I would have been happy to skip. 12 speed boats chasing poor bottled nose dolphins in something called “Dolphin bay”. I get tears in my eyes thinking of those beautiful animals having to put up with that every day, all days long. After this we went snorkeling from the boat. Oh My, I have never seen such colorful reefs in my whole life. It was not as much fish as for example in Egypt but the corals where pastel bright green, yellow, pink, purple and formed in a way which completely enchanted me. Sadly enough we had only 30 minutes for this highlight. I would have liked to stay forever. Off we went for the third part which was lunch, for 20 USD I got a freshly cooked lobster on my plate. Yeah, sometimes you have to splurge even as a backpacker 🙂 After lunch we continued to one of the more remote islands in the Bocas called Zapatilla which was a small bounty island where we could relax for two hours. What a day! The following day I discovered the beach Drago and Estrella, the last one famous for the starfishes visible everywhere in the clear water. Those two beaches are on Colon but a 30 minute busride from the main town. The last day me and my room mates took a boat to the famous Redfrog beach. It is called so because it is possible to find small red frogs in that area although mostly at night. The sad thing is that small boys carry around a couple of them in a leaf the whole day to show tourists (and get money) which means that by the end of the day those frogs are dead. Therefor they are endangered and I refused to look at them. But I had enough to look at, the water was crystal clear and the sand white. The beach reminded me a bit about Tulum and definitely fits in under the category “Paradise beaches”. I left Bocas with great memories and wish I could have stayed longer but time was running out.
Off went the bus through futile mountains and banana plantations towards the town David. From there a chickenbus for around one hour up the mountains and then I finally reach the location where I was going to splurge myself for two nights at the absolutely magnificent place Mananamadera, in Boquete. I found this place on Tripadvisor and it is actually a Coffie Estate with only one guest suit although one more is being built. Randy from Texas came here 6 years ago and started up this little paradise in the mountains. I must admit that after reading all the top reviews on Tripadvisor I did have expectations but in real it was many times better than I could ever imagine. Randy showed himself to be the kindest host I ever met. He provided me with a cellphone and asked me to call every time I wanted to arrange transport (his estate is about a 10 minutes drive from town). He went out his way to make me feel so welcome and not did I only have a whole suit with living room, bedroom and bathroom but also a dog called Chubbs that watched over me all day long. He was very cuddly and very cute. In the morning a smiling Randy served fresh coffee from his estate accompanied by breakfast of my choice. On my only full day he drove me to the beginning of a great hike and even though a bit rainy I enjoyed this day so much. After the hike I was picked up again and could rest out in my wonderful bed, better than Hilton, and enjoy the mountain views from the porch in the garden.
After a great and very relaxing Boquete experience it was time to head towards Panama City. It was a very uncomfortable bus ride of 8 hours. I was in the front and could not stretch my legs, the woman next to me was very big and demanded a bit of my seat too and they showed loud movies which made it impossible to take a nap. I was glad to discover that my hostel in Panama city, Mamallena, was a pretty quiet hostel that invited for a good nights sleep.
Panama City is not a very beautiful city. Still there is something very charming about this place. The people is a mix from every corner of the world. Salsa and Bachata music is heard everywhere you go, any time of the day, and people are greeting each other on the streets. A new beautiful futuristic skyline meets the old town Casco Viejo with neglected colonial building, lots of them now being restored by foreign investors opening up hotels and restaurants in them. There are some places where one should not go but most of the city is pretty safe at day time and taking a taxi from A to B is super cheap. Lots of development is going on in Panama city since 1999 when US handed over the Panama canal to the Panamanian government and cash started to roll in. The planning and building of the Panama canal has a long history but was finished 1914 by the Americans who where the once that finally succeeded to realize the project. I didn’t know much of the canal before coming here but the the tricky part is the huge difference between the sea level of the two oceans and the Lake Gatún where the ships has to pass.
Panama city is also a city with some huge shopping malls where the beautiful Panamanians are hanging out getting the latest trends. Also the city is famous for its nightlife which I tried on Friday evening. Together with a young Englishman that I met in the hostel I went to a really cool salsa place called “Habana Panama” which, according to those who have visited Havana, is like being in Havana. Live band on the stage, huge dance floor in the middle. Just one things was missing, I didn’t get to dance. Seems like people stick to each other the whole evening, going there solo is not a good idea (my company was not a salsa dancer). But it was a delight to just watch as well!
Before I fly back to Sweden the coming Friday I will take a three days tour to the islands of San Blas, also called the Kuna Yala islands since they are run autonomous by the Kuna Indians. San Blas consists of almost 280 small islands in the Caribbean and I am very eager to soak up a bit of sun is this paradise before going back to reality. I will be camping with 10 other people on a deserted island and the last night will be spent with the Kunas on a more developed island. I will report from that once back home. Adios Centro America!