Panama Weeks 31-33

We had the usual one and a half hours wait for the bus but the journey itself was pretty seamless . Crossing the border to Panama was quite entertaining , first pay exit tax , get passport stamped , walk across the border to Panama , the usual rigmarole with photo, finger prints, then form fill for customs, bag inspection and back on the bus . we changed to bus at Boquete and arrived in the evening. The first of a number of signs that it is different to Costa Rica, cooler, different vegetation, less jungle and there are a lot of Indian looking people. . Two kind elderly Americans took us in their car to the estate where they live in  an upmarket gated  estate with a golf course ,restaurant and library , all surrounded by nature. We went to the local Farmers Market , it was more like a retired Americans meeting place.

We went on a guided walk to a waterfall through a delightful forest with good bird sightings including the beautiful Quetzal.. We watched howler monkeys making a huge noise and swinging acrobatically through the trees. The forest here is steep and high , a wonderful kaleidoscope of greens, ivy, creepers ,ferns , orchids; an abundance of living.

A lot of Americans move here because of the lower cost of living and maybe the better climate.. But they have the look of expatriates everywhere, not quite fitting in .

The world as I know it is fast disappearing . Since 1950 , just after I was born, the world’s population has tripled and continues to grow … We are faced with the extinction of species at an alarming rate, not just rhinos but the smaller less famous ones. I didn’t realise it at the time but the scarlet macaws I saw in Jiminez form part of only a thousand birds left in Costa Rica. Tons of plastic pollutes the oceans. Coral reefs are destroyed by global warming together with the melting of the polar ice caps ..Our ruination of the planet bodes ill for the future.

The bus journey to Panama City went well, firstly the local bus to Boquete to David and then a fast change to the big well appointed bus to Panama which took 6 hours. The bus station there was the biggest I’ve ever seen .

Panama City is a modern bustling city with lots of traffic problems. We went to the ship canal and viewed the locks and ships going through and the fascinating museum..

We spent time walking through the old town , quiet pedestrian streets with well renovated houses and buildings. Havana should look like this. .I met Sarah from Nice France who had travelled alone for three months and was very proud of herself.

I travelled by bus overnight to Boca Island. Firstly they didn’t want to let me on the bus because my name didn’t tally with the driver’s sheet and the lady insisted I buy a travel card even though I had a ticket. I waited until the bus was about to pull out and then jumped on board and insisted they find me a seat, which they duly did with much eyeball rolling. Sometimes you’ve got to pull weight.. It was a lousy journey , freezing cold, cramped, uncomfortable. We arrived at the ferry at 3.30 am after a 9hour journey and had to wait until 6.30 am for the first ferry to arrive.

The island is a delight, very laid back, wooden clapboard houses, some very dilapidated and many built on stilts over the water. It has a very Caribbean atmosphere , English with the regional patios, West Indian looking people with that lazy slow way of talking and attitude to go with it.

The casa I stayed at was one of the best , owned and run by Felicitas who is highly organised. I spent my time reading , writing and cycling around the island to a number of stunning beaches, white sand, calm turquoise waters., tracks alongside the sea through coconut plantations. I had some of the most memorable bicycle rides of my life and always there was a café at the water’s edge for breakfast.

I went on an all day boat ride to Zapatilla Island which had a dilapidated wooden walkway through a swamp which at times was positively dangerous. Did some rather mediocre snorkelling and then went full pelt across the ocean in an ever increasing rain storm and arrived totally soaked and shivering at the jetty.

I was told that the major families in Panama cream off much of the Panama riches. On the island there were many instances of poverty.  Many of the poor don’t want to work . There, s a big hash culture , I was offered Ganja a couple of times and many of the visitors looked like regular imbibers.. There’s an ex pat community here too but its not for me. Too hot and sultry and quite frankly boring unless you are strongly into water sports , fishing or running a tourist business.

This time I took the plane back to Panama City. The airport was a 10 minute walk from the casa , the Air Panama plane was like the Coconut airways song except I sang, ” Hey I,m going to Panama City, across the Caribbean Sea . ”

The 1 hour flight was a pleasure after the bus ride.

In Panama City I met a grizzled 83 year old Jamaican/ American who told me I looked like a Gringo. He then told me that a Gringo is a fucking American.


Costa Rica Weeks 28-30

Patrick and Carol took a bus ride down to San Jose airport to collect Carol’s lost bag whilst I took a minibus taxi down the steep hairpin road to Quepos where the other two joined me. The following day we had a walk around the pleasant town which has a modern marina with some expensive private yachts and a swim in the apartment’s pool and watched the sun go down over the ocean. The house has big iguanas , spider monkeys , toucans and really nice birds. Its much hotter on the Pacific coast and we were grateful for the pool. We took the bus to Manual Antonio Reserve , the reserve itself was a disappointment with large crowds but the white, sandy beaches with warm blue water were magnificent.
We took a short bus hop down the coast to Uvita and stayed in a friendly lodge a little way up the hill from the town and beach. There are some permanent residents here , Mark a builder, Geoff a coach , proving that you can make your way in life as a digital nomad or set yourself up in business. But it’s not for me. Costa Rica has grown on me after a bad start, I can understand it being one of the highest rated countries for people to retire to.
We took a taxi to Uvita beach , a long stretch fringed by coconut palms disappearing into the distance and walked the whale’s tail, a natural rocky outcrop shaped in that form. Walking back was a hot sweaty slog. This casa has a nice vibe , run by a friendly young couple David and Colleen with a good convivial atmosphere .
At this stage we split up, Patrick and Carol to do a Spanish course and myself to travel to Jiminez by bus.
Google maps tells me that it’s 2hours and 19 minutes from Uvita to Jiminez ; it took me 9 hours much of which was spent under a tree waiting for the connection at which was 1 hour 45 minutes late on top of the scheduled 3 hour wait.
Jiminez is a one horse dusty town but the casa I stayed in was set in a small nature reserve and I woke up to scarlet macaws shrieking and plenty of garden birds calling. I took an excursion to Corcavados National Park with a guide , we walked along the beach and jungle for 18 kms there and back and saw whales , sting rays jumping out of the water, a tapir, anteaters, a sloth, three types of monkey and lots of small things.
After a couple of days I moved to a beach lodge , so now I woke to the sound of the lapping sea , the lodge was right on the beach. I took a ride in the owner’s concrete boat built in UK in 1937 , we had dolphins swimming at the prow, went snorkelling on a reef and ate tuna dip and chips.
My return bus trip was again eventful , I caught the 7.30 am to Palma and after 30 minutes the driver told me this was Palma. Trouble was it was the wrong Palma , a small village in the middle of the road. I was stranded. Eventually a taxi drive gave me a lift to Palma Norte where I had another wait for my connection . But this trip was 1 hour shorter than the last one.

I spent more time at Uvita , chilling out, and then moved to Dominical , a dusty one street town next to the ocean with good surf. So lots of dreadlocks, tattoos and surfer dudes, mainly American. Lots of sunsets over the ocean and found Tortilla Flats, a good eating spot with a nice vibe.

So after spending one night in Uvita I met up with Carol and Patrick and we took the bus over the border to Panama. It was sad leaving Nativas , a nice place , good young hosts and a friendly atmosphere.