I fell from the highest cloud and landed gently in the Panamanian rainforest. Wow. We made it, and it felt great to accomplish our goal of reaching Panama. We made it to the narrow piece of land that connects North America to South America. It would be our turn-around point. Columbia was so close I could touch it. It was a shame we couldn't continue on, but that would be for another time.
A slice of the Panama rainforest below.
The leg to Panama started in northern Nicaragua, where we had been for close to a month. From there we drove south, towards Costa Rica. We passed five police spot checkpoints as we departed Nicaragua. Each time they questioned us and requested our passports and vehicle documents. If they found any violations, they could take our license plates or drivers license. If that happened, we would have to pay a fine the following day to have them returned. Or we could just pay the police "personally". We had no violations. We kept going.
It took about four hours to cross the Nicaragua / Costa Rica border. We entered Costa Rica after dark and drove about an hour in search of a hotel for the night.
When I called the hotel, a man with a New Jersey accent answered the phone. He gave me directions, and said to call him when I got to Liberia. He said he would wait for us under a bridge near the hotel, so he could show us a short cut. By now I was used to the things people do south of our border.
I called him, and five minutes later we saw him flagging us down under the bridge. He said to follow him, and "don't be scared". He jumped in his car. I wasn't sure why he said not to be scared, until he led us down the Panamerican highway, ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, driving on the shoulder. And yes, we followed. We went the equivalent of about two blocks, and then he made a quick left turn into the hotel. He said if wouldn't have taken the short cut we would have had to drive a couple extra miles, God forbid!
The New Jersey guy turned out to be the owner of the hotel. It was a charming little place for $30 per night. He checked us in and ordered us a pizza. It wouldn't be the last time we saw him. We ended up staying there again on our way back through Costa Rica.
We got up early the next morning and drove the entire length of Costa Rica, and then crossed the border into Panama.
We rented a condo in Chiriquí, not too far from the border. Chiriquí is the western most province of Panama. This region is the most varied of Panama's provinces, ranging from beaches to cloud forests. You can visit a banana plantation or coffee farm, swim under waterfalls, raft challenging white water rapids, hike up a volcano, kayak in estuaries or around islands, and so much more.
The condo building was built and owned by an accomplished Canadian man named Jack. It was a beautiful riverfront property, complete with monkeys swinging from the trees. This was the first time we stayed outside of the local community. We also had some treasured amenities like hot water, air conditioning, and a washer and dryer.
I think there were six units, and one casita, all occupied by Canadians. You couldn't see the condos from the street, they were set way back off the road down an grassy path.
In addition to the condos, Jack had a nice shop, with an attached "bar". The bar was a screened-in room that was used by the residents to get together, eat, drink and play pool. The residents had a potluck one night and they invited us to join them. It was interesting to meet everyone, and find out how they came to Panama. Most were retired, and lived there half the year. Jack was fortunate to have such a great group of people living on the property, and they were lucky to have such a hardworking man keeping everything in working order.
Jack had a giant 105 pound dog named Atlas (named after Panama beer company). When we checked in he said that Atlas roams free on the property, and that he was friendly with people, but not dogs. To our surprise, he said Atlas would probably kill PJ. He had killed other dogs. So that element turned out to be a real bummer because before we took PJ out we had to make sure Atlas was closed in somewhere.
Photos of of Jack's condo project.
We got out quite a bit in Chiriquí, and visited Volcan, David, Boca Chica and Boquete. Below are images of our adventures.
Hiking in Boquete.
Jumping and Swimming in the Canyons of Gualaca.
December 8th was Mother's Day in Panama. We celebrated by kayaking in Boca Chica Bay, around a mecca of islands. This place had very strange, circling currents, and a few nice empty beaches. As we loaded up to leave Boca Chica, the town had a horse parade for the mothers.
Hiking at Macho de Monte.
Kayaking in Estero Rico.
After a couple weeks at the condo, we decided to move closer to Panama City. It wasn't working to have PJ so trapped. We found a little house an hour and a half from Panama City, in a place called La Laguna. It was a 20 minute drive up a scenic mountainside road from the beach. The house was a little odd, consisting of just a small kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms, but no living room or dining room. The owner explained that the living and dining room were outside on the back deck, where he had an outdoor couch and chair, along with a plastic folding table and chairs. Ok, that works for me.
It was a cute community with houses spread out along the pretty road. There seemed to be a river flowing at every turn. Within walking distance from the house, at the end of the road, was a dreamy lagoon. Photos of the lagoon below. We spent Christmas there. We made a fire, had a picnic and paddled and swam in the lagoon.
Photos of La Laguna
We took a bus to Panama City. We went to see the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo, its cobblestoned historic center. The hour and a half bus ride was like a scary amusement ride, but without being strapped in. At one point the bus rounded a turn on the highway, and the old lady in the seat next to me ended up in my lap. Not just half way on my lap, but completely on my lap, like a child sitting there. I had to struggle to keep from laughing out loud. She was embarassed, so I kept it inside. The situation got even more awkward when she couldn't get off my lap because with all the movement of the bus.
Shortly after that, the bus exited the freeway to pick up more people. The pavo (the guy on the bus who collected the bus fare and who helped the people on and off) jumped off the bus as the bus driver rolled to a stop. He yelled out for any grandmas who might need help getting on with their bags. A few people got on the bus. The last woman to get on was a plump lady in really tight pants. As she pulled herself up onto the bus, she lost her balance and began to fall backwards. The pavo didn't miss a beat and was right behind her. With both hands on her butt, he pushed her right back up. I am pretty sure that was all part of the job, and he was good at it.
Photos of Casco Viejo
We couldn't go all the way to Panama and not see the Panama Canal, considered on of the seven wonders of the industrial world. The canal serves as a maritime shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This interoceanic waterway uses a system of locks that operate as water elevators to allow the crossing through the Continental Divide. The Panama Canal transformed world trade by reducing time, distance and costs between producers and consumers.
It costs a 40' sailboat about $800 US dollars to go through the locks, and it costs a large container ship about $400,000 US dollars.
Photo taken at the Panama Canal.
Before leaving Panama we did one of my favorite hikes, right above La Laguna - a trail called Cerro Picacho. From the top you could see Anton Valley below.
From Panama, we started our journey home and headed to Costa Rica. Our plan was to meet up with our friends Sonja and Rose. Stay tuned for descriptions of Costa Rica!