At the bus terminal in Puerto Viejo De Talamanca we met an Irish couple who became our good friends and Panama companions. The border crossing was a bit of a nightmare. Firstly some dude tried to charge Dom and the Irish couple money just to cross a bridge. I had gone ahead and wasn’t challenged. The scam artist finally let Dom come to see me as I was carrying the money. He accompanied her and shouted stuff at us in Spanish. We ignored him and ended up not paying the $8 dollars or so our new mates had to fork out for nothing.
We had booked a flight to Colombia as you need to have proof of onward travel before you can enter Panama. You were supposed to for Costa Rica too but thankfully, we were not asked for any. Ciara and Mikey, our new friends, didn’t have proof of onward travel and they were refused entry. Luckily for them, a kind stranger offered them his phone and they booked a boat to Colombia. Problem solved. Time was against us now though. We only had a few hours to get to the docks to catch the last boat to Bocas del Toro, and the docks were a few hours away. With this in mind, we got a shuttle bus rather than the cheaper chicken bus.Bocas del Toro
We made it in time for the last boat and on arriving on the island, we went for a much needed drink. Whilst sipping our beer we used the wifi to search for accommodation. As there was now four of us, we may be able to haggle for a better deal. We needn’t have bothered. The first place we tried offered us a fairly good price. The girls went in to the neighbouring hostel to check that out whilst me and Mikey watched the UFC on an outside TV. Whilst the girls were doing their thing, the hostel owner asked if we had decided. We said that the ladies were just looking at the other hostel and we’d know in a minute. She then said we could have the room for $40, $5 cheaper than the girls had planned on coming out and asking for. By accidentally playing it cool, we had secured the hostel at an excellent rate. More drinks and some food were in order as a way of celebration.
Our choice of diner was a BBQ on the side of the road. It was a good spot. Right next to a supermarket which we bought our beers from, and really close to a shitty casino which we used for toilet breaks. Perfecto.
Whilst eating and drinking we took in the sights and sounds of our new temporary home. It seemed like never never land, where people don’t grow up. An adult towed a huge model aeroplane around in circles, whilst a crazy pedal taxi dude, cycled around in his pirate hat.
The night flew by and somehow it was soon 3:00 am and so we all retired for the night.
Our second day on the island consisted of walking around in the scorching heat, and making and drinking Pina Coladas. Day three would entail a boat trip to see dolphins, some snorkelling and a trip to see some sloths. We didn’t see any dolphins, my mask kept leaking when we snorkelled, and we only saw a sloth because our guide threw stones at it to show us where it was.Following our day on the boat we had a quick snack of our new favourite food, paterconies, and set off to catch an overnight bus to Panama City.
The overnight bus was quicker than expected so we didn’t get enough sleep and we were also in Panama City way too early. Dom found some wifi at the bus terminal and found a hostel with a 24/7 reception. They kindly not only let us drop our bags off but also (foolishly) told us we could also use the beds free of charge, effectively giving us almost a free nights stay. They did try and make us pay for this the following night but it was their mistake and they agreed to not charge us.
Panama City, in parts, is very much like Miami. It is certainly not like many places in Central America and was quite refreshing in that respect. We started the day with a walk around the old town, a street food lunch and then walked across to the skyscrapers in the distance. Our plan was to get a rooftop bar and admire the view with a cocktail. It took us ages to get to the land of the giant buildings and when we got there, we were unsure where to go. Mikey suggested going to the shopping centre and using the McDonalds wifi. Mikey was McDonalds mad. He could spot them a mile off and used them for reference points. We never did dine in them though. That would be like so gross.The wifi didn’t work and so we went to a Hard Rock cafe to use their wifi. Theirs worked but we didn’t really need it as one of the waitresses informed us that the best place to go was the Hard Rock hotel, which was conveniently located in the same shopping centre. Off we marched, stopping en route at a cigar shop so I could poison my lungs with a panama cigar. On arriving at the hotel, we found the lifts, jumped in and pressed the button for the top floor. During our ascent, a member of staff got in, informed us the bar was closed and did something to the lift which made it return to the ground floor and stopped it being able to go up again. Foiled by a jobs-worth, we trekked back to old town. Once back at the old town, we went to the fish market for dinner. During eating we were treated to some entertainment in the form of a male dance troop. Simon Cowell would have ripped them to pieces but it took my mind off the smell of the drains at least.
Determined to grab a drink on top of a roof we left the fish market and headed to a hotel bar further up the road. It was pretty cool sipping on a rum, puffing on my cigar, and looking out over the bay towards the bright lights of the skyscraper world. Sadly we had somehow lost our money and so we could only afford the one drink.
The Panama Canal
Our last day in Panama City was supposed to be a mix of hiking in a park and checking out the Panama Canal. As we were now a foursome, getting ready in the morning took way longer than anticipated. This meant we left the hostel later than originally planned. We also didn’t have a map, didn’t want to spend money on taxis and had no idea where the park was and how to actually get there. This didn’t stop us attempting to find it. After the obligatory McDonalds wifi disappointment, Dom asked a policeman directions. After a while of confusion, he flagged a taxi down and told the driver he had to take us to the park for $4. Fair play to the driver, he took it well.
On arriving at the park we realised we would not have enough time to walk the trail and get back across town to get a bus to the canal. Me and Dom decided to give the park a miss and head to the canal. We’ve done loads of walks so far but the canal was a must see. We bid farewell to our buddies and walked back towards town.
Unbeknown to us, you need a travel card to get on the buses in Panama City. We didn’t have one and so were denied entry through the barriers. After pleading for a little bit, the kind lady behind the desk took our money, topped up a fellow passengers card and got them to let us through the barrier. Sweet dude. Even though we had officially paid for our bus journey, the driver still charged us when we got to our destination. Bogus dude.
The canal is crazy. The boats look gigantic as they pass through. I wish we had got there earlier as we bought a two-for-one, all you can eat buffet ticket, but were told we only had ten minutes left when we were halfway through the second course. To be honest I was stuffed at the end of it and couldn’t force anymore food down, but it would’ve been an ace way to spend a day. It would have been brilliant to sit watching the boats go through the canal as you slowly eat your bodyweight in a huge variety of dishes.
Feeling fuller than we have for a long time, we dragged ourselves off to the cinema bit to watch the story of the history of the canal. I don’t really remember the film. I just remember wanting to sleep.
Whilst waiting for a bus home, a taxi driver informed us it was rush hour and the bus would be ages. He kindly offered us a good fee for the journey and so we accepted and off we went. The driver was right. The traffic was horrendous. So bad that occasionally he would drive almost in the hedge to overtake people. His knowledge of the area was worse than the traffic though. He drove around cursing as he couldn’t find the street we wanted. Obviously we didn’t know where it was either and so we were just going around in circles. Funnily enough, we drove passed a girl we had known in Belize and I shouted out the window to her. Maybe she would know where our hostel was. The driver stopped and we got out. Our friend got her Google maps on the go and sure enough, we were heading in the wrong direction. We weren’t a million miles away though so after a brief catch up, we walked back to our hostel.
As it was our last night, we spent the time packing, drinking wine with our new buddies and unsuccessfully trying to download our boarding passes. Central America was soon to be a thing of the past. We were flying South. Next stop Colombia. We will take with us some amazing memories, some bad memories, and plenty of unsuitable clothes. We have made some great friends along the way and hope to make loads more. Adios Central America.