Joined January 2020 Message
  • Day39

    Back in Panama City

    February 11 in Panama ⋅ ☀️ 88 °F

    Whew boy. That flight on Air Panama from Bocas was a weird one. It was a half hour late and as we saw an empty plane on the tarmac we wondered why we weren't getting on. Then another plane landed and everyone got off that plane, walked across the tarmac, and got on the other plane. Then we got on the plane that just landed.

    There was a lot of turbulence and I didn't think Deanne was going to make it without using that trustee barf bag in the front. But she persevered and we made it within the hour and didn't have to do that 12-hour grueling bus ride.

    We checked into another nice hotel with a rooftop pool and we've just been hanging out, eating more good food, and waiting until we're going to New Orleans on Wednesday. It's the second to last weekend of Mardi Gras and Deanne will be throwing beads from a krewe de Freret float.

    We're super excited to see Mo and Anita and to finally enjoy Mardi Gras. I've been to New Orleans over 20 times but never during Mardi Gras.
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  • Day32

    Isla Colon

    February 4 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 82 °F

    We're really slowing down now. There's no need to rush and the sound of the waves are so relaxing. The water taxi took only 10 minutes to get back to Bocas town. We had time to kill before our apartment was available. Deanne grabbed a cappuccino while I walked to the airport only 500 meters from town!

    There's a somewhat arduous overnight bus to Panama City that we're trying to avoid. In Latin America if you pay for an air-conditioned bus you're going to get it with a vengeance. We took it 8 years ago from Panama City to Bocas and it wasn't all that bad and was pretty cheap, but still it's a long winding, bumpy road for half of the trip and it's freezing.

    So I talked to the guy at Air Panama at the airport and flights were sold out for several days. I saw this online but it's always good to check the airport sometimes because people cancel and there might be a few seats available. There weren't.

    We booked a nice apartment right on the beach with a kitchen so we stocked up on groceries and then took a taxi to our place, which was 15 minutes north along the beach near Playa Paunch. We're above a restaurant and bar called Paki Point. The great thing about that is they close at 7 and we can get nice
    beach drinks and meals for lunch.

    The owner of our apt. has amazing taste. She must have been to Bali because there's a Buddha statue up front and some Balinese decor inside and some old surfboards decorating the wall. It's a loft design so it's one large room and there's actually three beds in it. For $77 we feel like royalty. It's right across the road from the beach. And by road I mean a sandy area that gets flooded by high tide twice a day.

    We had a superb lunch of fresh tuna at the restaurant below yesterday and last night we went to a neighboring bar restaurant called Skullies. We both had amazing dinners there and we'll probably go there later to swim in their pool. It's an upscale hostel and they also rent ATVs. Those are really common here but they cost $140 a day. That's way out of our price range. Instead we're renting bicycles for the next couple days.

    Feb. 7
    This room was probably our best yet. We spent a lot of time here enjoying the ambiance and cooking facilities and the amazing beach across the road. And we spent a fair amount of time at Skully's, the bar down the road. They have an amazing chef.

    Suffice it to say that we haven't done a whole lot except enjoy the beach and the views. We're approaching 2 weeks in Bocas del Toro and we're not tired of it yet.

    But we did try to buy a flight online for Air Panama to Panama City That was a fiasco. I tried to buy the tickets online and after 48 hours we still were not confirmed. We just cancelled that and called visa to tell them about the pending charge. And we'll have to go to the airport to buy the tickets in person now. The alternative is that overnight bus which were trying to avoid.

    Feb 9
    We bought the flight at the airport, so we're all set to fly to Panama City today. We moved into a nice new hotel in Bocas Town and for the last few days, we've been beach bumming on Isla Caranero, the last of the 4 main islands to explore.

    We walked around most of the small island and set up the hammocks again. There's a huge new bar we walked by called the Lost Boys Blues Bar. It's on stilts over the water and has a big stage and new sound system. But they're only hosting bands about once a month! That's so Bocas.

    Taking the water taxis to the islands is fun. Last night, we went to a floating bar and had one last nice seafood meal back on shore before calling it.

    All photos are here.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/xk2VRW9fqmHpbRgcA
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  • Day29

    Old Bank in Isla Bastimentos

    February 1 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 81 °F

    Well, Tio Tom's hasn't changed a whole lot since we were here last time. It's actually a little worse for the wear. And the same could be said for Old Bank, the town on Isla Bastimentos. Bastimentos is just a 10-minute water taxi away from other islands but it is a totally different world. Here, the residents are black and it's more like being on a Caribbean island like Jamaica than in Panama.

    They speak a patois that's a combination of English, Spanish, and Pirate. It's dirty and grungy and there's garbage everywhere but for some reason we kind of like it. People are nice.Tourism has actually decreased here since before. That's possibly the only place I've ever been in the last 20 years where that's happened. Maybe that's a good thing? One of my favorite beaches in the world, Wizard Beach, is still undeveloped and requires 30 to 45 minutes of hiking through a muddy jungle path. But it's clean.

    Just one bay over from there is Red Frog Beach, where there are lots of condos and expensive resorts, bars and restaurants etc. People usually pay to take a water taxi there. It used to be easier to hike from Wizard Beach to Red Frog but now it's a lot harder because the water level is much higher and there's less beach to walk on.

    Unfortunately our room at Tío Tom's was next to the boat gas station, which is a small shack on stilts. It was loud from the boat traffic and the exhaust was disgusting. But we're travelers and we know that we will be gone in a few days and we make the best of it. There are really nice people here including the young managers of the place and couples from Germany, Holland and elsewhere.

    In the three nights we were here we went to the beach every day and read a lot while in our hammocks. We started second-guessing whether it was worth it to bring our hammocks and straps, and this made it all worthwhile.

    We ate at a couple local places that we ate at last time and the Creole seafood is top notch. We also found a really nice place run by some Americans called Firefly. And we met the local roaming musician, Creole Joe.

    This is the type of place that people usually either really love or really hate. It's charming in a gritty sort of way but I'm not sure I'll need to come back. The place seems dirtier than normal and people just burn their garbage or throw it anywhere. And we see garbage floating around the bay, although Wizard Beach does seem to make it all worthwhile. There hardly any remote beaches in the world that you can walk to and boats can't land and there's no development. The waves are too rough for boats to land. But surfers love that.

    Most people would never walk up and down the muddy jungle path to get there. It's difficult and more than one person turns back before getting to the beach on the other side of the island.

    The garbage seems worse than before including cans and bottles and whatever floating around the water in Old Bank.

    We had a good time but we're ready to go back to Isla Colon and chill out in a better place on the beach where we will have the ocean breeze and waves. Old Bank is on the leeward side of Bastimentosntos and that's why you can build housing on stilts here and the water is very calm like a lake.

    Here's the easy part of the walk to wizard Beach.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/W83UwRP9FHToWZBt7

    All photos are here.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZskZDzaHHYQroBfL6
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  • Day26

    Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte

    January 29 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 81 °F

    Well, we found our slice of heaven. This place is perfect. Cousin Kim didn't steer us wrong.

    This is the type of place where you can just chill out and relax for 3 days and not have a worry in the world. That's pretty much what we did.

    2 Canadian travellers decided to buy this property and fix it up into a hostel a few years back. One of the guys actually wrote a small book to describe the painful process. It's quite a fascinating story. And while there still is a dorm, most of the rooms here are really nice with private baths and great views and balconies.

    There's a nice pool and a variety of people from all over the world that stay here. We've hardly found any Americans on our trip yet though! There's a water slide that goes into the sea, happy hours, fun people, great food, beautiful trees, lots of birds, jungle hikes, snorkeling, kayaks, stand up paddles, and the rare poisonous red frog. I just read there hardly any more of these red frogs on red frog Beach on the next island we're going to, Isla bastimentos.

    We tend to alternate between cheap places and expensive places and while this was on the upper end of our daily budget, it was amazing value. In about an hour we're taking a 10-minute water taxi to Isla bastimentos and we'll stay at Tio Tom's, a place we stayed at 8 years ago. It's a simple place on stilts over the water. We'll see how much things have changed.

    Here's a nice walk-through of the property.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/vK2GyVbk3f9yYDzy6

    And here's the path to our room.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/J8sV3BLjwQ7AfU5J7

    All pics are here.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/YA6uR7Qtt1Qmmd7C6
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  • Day25

    Island Time in Bocas Town

    January 28 in Panama ⋅ ☀️ 82 °F

    We opted for a travel service shuttle from Boquete to Bocas del Toro. It saved us several hours and included the boat ride to the island of Isla Colon, the base of the bocas del Toro archipelago in the Caribbean.

    We were in a nice new van full of foreigners. It's quite the contrast to the local buses which stop often, but we kind of like using them.

    About halfway through the trip we were stopped on the road with a traffic jam. There were lots of rumors flying between the driver and the passengers. it turns out there was a protest from the locals. Apparently they want the government to build a new bridge. They stopped traffic for a couple hours to prove their point. It was all very peaceful. There were three cops joking and talking to the protesters. All of the people in the dozens of cars and trucks that were waiting were pretty patient, as if they had seen this before.

    Someone said the protests would end at 1 so we got out and walked around and had a quick lunch of the pbjs we brought. And at 1:00 we were off again.

    In the port of Almirante we got out of the bus and got to skip in front of everyone waiting for the next boat to Bocas since we were on a shuttle bus with Hello Panama Travel. 45 minutes later our boat arrived in Bocas town.

    We're only staying here one night because we want to hang out on a couple different islands. This is kind of a gritty party town and we wanted a little more nature and chill vibe. My cousin Kim has been to Bambuda's Lodge on Isla Solarte twice and that was good enough for us. We have three nights booked there.
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  • Day21

    Boquete, Panamá

    January 24 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    We just arrived in Boquete last night from Santa Catalina. This is a town at about a thousand meters or 3400 feet, so it's hot during the day but nice and cool at night with a little more precipitation. A lot of gringos have settled here in the past 20 years or so. it had been voted the best place to retire in some large magazine and retirees have been flocking here since.

    it rained almost all afternoon and night and so we were wondering if we made a mistake by booking five nights here. I screwed up on my Airbnb reservation and we arrived a day early so we kind of slummed it and stayed at a hostel near the apartment. It was a tiny room but there was a open kitchen and we met some nice American guys who are also looking for places to possibly retire. The owner was really sweet at Crea Dora.

    There's lots of outdoor activities here including hiking, white water rafting nearby, mountain biking, zipline, etc. It's also coffee plantation country and a cocoa growing region. So there are ton of touristy things to do.

    On our first day and a half here we've just walked around finding out what things cost, going to coffee shops, and enjoying the local food. We're staying a little bit away from the action and it cost $0.60 per person to get downtown on a colectivo. It's a strange system. If you hail a cab when you're at a bus stop they'll only charge $0.60. And on the way back if you're not exactly at the Central Park they'll charge you the taxi rate which is about $3. It's always good to ask several people what the situation is. We've been finding people are very consistent and very honest here. This is probably the only Latin American country where nobody has overcharged me yet!

    That's one of our first impressions here is that Panamanians in general are very friendly and seemed to be fun-loving and honest. Granted this is a broad stereotype but I have been around the block in this part of the world before and it makes things so much easier and more fun. The only downside we've seen is that they don't really do sidewalks in Panama. They'lll make a feeble attempt but there's hardly ever a two block stretch of even sidewalk without holes.

    I may have picked up an ear infection while snorkeling so we stopped in a pharmacy to buy some antibiotic ear drops. I had a few drops left over from an infection 2 years ago and I just walked into the pharmacy and asked if they had the replacement. In the states it would have taken a doctor's visit and a prescription and the base price of this medicine would be $330. We looked it up. Here I just told the pharmacist what I needed and she sold it to me for $15! This is one of the many reasons expats are moving here.

    Our horse riding guide in Santa Fe told us a Canadian girl fell off her horse and broke her wrist. They rushed her to Santiago to a hospital in an ambulance (1 1/2 hours away), gave her an x-ray, a cast, and meds and she paid $46.

    We just moved into an Airbnb apartment a few blocks away from the hostel. This place is so much nicer for double the cost. An American couple that moved from Colorado 8 years ago owns it. It's huge and has a balcony for hammocks and it has a well-equipped kitchen. We plan on buying a ton of groceries and just cooking for the next few days. It's funny how little things like this excite us when you're on a long journey. Eating out can get old pretty quickly.

    Jan 26
    We took a colectivo up to the pipeline trail about 10 miles outside of town. See
    https://traverous.com/travelogues/Ywgv3G0zdy?utm_source=web&utm_medium=Ywgv3G0zdy

    This is an easy hike for birders. The elusive resplendent quetzal is supposed to be seen here fairly often. We're horrible at spotting wildlife and usually just look for people who have their cameras pointed in a certain direction. We never did see a quetzal but we did hear them.

    Jan 27
    it's our last full day here and we were all set to rent some mountain e-bikes for a four-hour ride. A guy from Boston just opened a business renting them out for tours or independently. We didn't think to reserve ahead and they had rented all the bikes when we got there.

    So we decided to do another hike. This one is called the Sendero Pianista. See https://traverous.com/travelogues/QpEvaLOncG?utm_source=web&utm_medium=QpEvaLOncG

    We paid $3 for both of us to take a colectivo up to the start of the trail. We actually like this trail better than the pipeline trail. We didn't have to stop and look for birds all the time!

    We followed a river but along the way we went past horse pastures and cow pastures and we even found a dead cow in the trail. Deanne asked if it was sleeping and I'm like nope, not in that position. I'm thinking it broke through a fence and fell last night after breaking a bone.

    I was a tad worried when I turned around and saw for guys with machetes and ropes. But Boquete is a pretty peaceful town and these were the ranchers coming up to take care of the cow. Within 2 hours, they had moved it by hand and buried it.

    We climbed up into the clouds. It's such a great feeling. And we heard more quetzals but we sure couldn't see them. After a couple hours we turned around and made it back to town right when it started pouring down rain.

    The first night we were here it rained all day and night and we're wondering if we book too many nights here. But after five days and nights we really like Boquete. One of the main reasons is that we booked a really great apartment with nice landlords and we have laundry and a huge kitchen where we cooked many of our meals.

    Tomorrow, we take a shuttle back to Bocas del Toro, one of our favorite spots from our last visit here 8 years ago.

    All photos are here
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/xwx925x7EJ7j1dYNA
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  • Day17

    Isla Coiba kayaking, snorkeling, camping

    January 20 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    We booked a 3-day 2-night kayak snorkeling and camping trip with fluid adventures.

    A lot of people do day snorkeling trips to some of the islands in rhis Maritime Park. But we wanted a little more time out there. And now the only way to spend the night on the island is through this trip or one other outfitter.

    This used to be a penal colony until about 25 years ago and now it's a protected world heritage site like the Galapagos.

    After an hour and a half boat ride, we set up camp and picked up our kayaks. We swam out from our site to a great snorkelling site right away. Over the three days, we saw lots of large sea turtles, sharks (white tip reef), eels, manta rays, and dozens of schools of colorful fish.

    Of course we had rain but that's part of the adventure. We had good company with two couples from Canada and our guide was from Canada too.

    Check out this short film from a new app I'm trying out. It's from Traverous. They take geotags and time stamps from photos and videos and make this presentation.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/BHvRySYkopcyd9rf6

    The whole photo album is here.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/rszX6iwyac15dMjr9
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  • Day15

    Santa Catalina, Panama

    January 18 in Panama ⋅ ☀️ 90 °F

    We have plenty of time, so we used public transportation to get from Santa Fe down to the Pacific coast Beach town of Santa Catalina. It took three buses and about six hours of travel and for two people that only cost about $20.

    We toyed with the idea of renting a car for this part of the trip but after looking at the logistics, it's so much easier and cheaper just to use the public transportation. Buses run between every 20 minutes or couple hours, depending on where you're at. and we wouldn't want to leave a car alone for several days/ a week while we're on an island

    This is a small fishing village that evolved into a surfer hotspot. And now it's getting more tourists like us who just want to chill at the beach or visit Isla Coiba.

    We rented a room on air b&b at a place called coiba house. The owner is a Canadian expat who moved here 16 years ago. in Toronto he bought a sailboat and a book on how to sail and learned on his way all the way down to the canal!

    We have the best view of the beach from up on the hill as you can see from the photos. This morning we're going to Isla coiba with fluid adventures. We're kayaking and snorkeling for three days and two nights.

    Isla Coiba is a formal penal colony that is teeming with life. It's like a mini Galapagos. We'll take a one and a half hour motor boat ride out there and get in the kayaks from there. Most people go for the day to dive or snorkel in the coral reefs but we get to spend three days and two nights and camp on the beach.

    More photos and vids are here.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/tdioYqnq4cR6LtPc9
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  • Day13

    Santa Fe

    January 16 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 79 °F

    Located at about 1400 feet in central Panama, Santa Fe also has a perfect climate. There's no need for aircon or heat. I read about a restaurant in the lonely planet guide book that is owned by a Khmer woman. She has a small hotel with the restaurant attached and that's all I needed to know.

    There's an amazing garden on a hill overlooking the best view in the valley. She grows herbs and spices and peppers for her restaurant and there's a lot of flowers and trees with a path you can walk through.

    It'ss misty in the morning and evenings and hot and sunny during the day and again it's cool at night with a beautiful breeze coming in from the Caribbean. Every day there's a rainbow at some point. We were pretty much in heaven because of this and the fact that we could walk 10 ft to an amazing Cambodian dinner each night.

    The roads and paths are pretty steep here and we did a lot of hiking up and around the neighboring villages. We tried to climb to the top of a nearby mountain but the path was so muddy we couldn't. You need to buy those knee-high rubber boots all the farmers wear. Apparently they're more for snakes than the mud. So we found a neighboring trail through the cloud forest instead. It was lush and green and again, no bugs!

    But the highlight was probably the horseback ride. We used Jungle Cat adventures for a three-hour horse ride and crossed three rivers and went even farther up into neighboring villages. It's a company owned by Lizzie, who's originally from Botswana but she's lived in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand before settling in Panama.

    And we met lots of nice people from different countries at our place. This town probably looks like what Boquete looked like 30 years ago. That's a tourism and retirement town we're going to soon. But right now Santa Fe is still a cowboy town with rural campesinos and a few foreign visitors. And that makes it pretty special.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/nwiVopLDFKTZVRks9
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  • Day8

    El Valle, Panamá

    January 11 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 79 °F

    El Valle is in the central Highlands of Panama. We had a lot of good hikes and ate plenty of good food. We stayed in a wonderful place called La casa de Pietra, a slightly upscale stone house in a shady garden. Our Costa Rican/ Italian host Alfredo was amazing. We did several long hikes up to small mountains and the views were picture perfect.

    We sweated our asses off during the day and then at about 5, cool winds would blow in and it made the most comfortable night's sleep you can imagine. The rustling of the leaves were like a natural white noise. And the best part of all is that there were no bugs! We left our patio door and windows open all day and night. For me this is the most perfect climate ever. Several times I told Deanne there's no bugs!

    Oddly, there were over 8 Italian restaurants in this small town. It's a weekend getaway for those in Panama City. We ate at one Italian place and then tried some local restaurants and a Spanish restaurant run by a sweet older couple from Spain.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/yH9e4nCetffEjFy67
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