Santiago, Boca del Toro, and Boquette, Panama
Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
21Trip End May 05, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I flew back to Panama City on Monday night, March 17. Determined not to pay full fare for the airport taxi, which is the biggest ripoff I have encountered in my travels (being double the rate you would pay to go back to the airport), I jumped into a hotel van and rode with five others to the Veneto for $12. Then I jumped into a cab for a $2 ride to the Jamaican Hotel. As usual I hadnīt reserved a room, but trotting out my best Spanish I was able to find a single for $20. This is extremely cheap for Panama City.
The desk lady at the Jamaican must have been in a bitchy mood that night. I came down 10 minutes later to complain that the air conditioning wasnīt working. They have a switch behind the counter so they can sell the room at a separate price with or without ac, so she switched it on
While I was in Panama I lightened my pack by sending some tourist trinkets and spare clothes home. This turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. I couldnīt send it regular mail, instead it was delivered DHL, and it cost $150 to deliver a box. The US Customs also gave my mother a hard time, asking for three references before they would deliver it. If they are that worried about whatīs in the box they should just open it, the Panamanians looked inside before they would seal the box.
After a few days in Panama City I finally started my journey north through Central America. I rode by bus for 3.5 hours to Santiago where I met some friends. Santiagos only distinguishing feature is a catholic church in the center of town. Santiago serves as a supply point for the surrounding villages, and it is the largest city within 100 miles
Boca del Toro
I left by the night bus and the next morning arrived at the mainland bus station for Boca. After a half hour boat ride that only cost $4 I reached the Caribbean Island of Boca del Toro. This is a laid back community that is full of young Europeans on vacation. Many of the buildings are built on piling over the water, including some major hotels and bars. Pongas zip back and forth between the islands or take groups out on tours. Prices are cheap, a beer is $1.50 and well drinks $2, during happy hour they could be half that price. Food and lodging is cheap also, as long as you donīt stay at a major hotel.
I spent my first day at Boca del Drago, a mile long stretch of beach. I was surprised to find that most of the islands have shorelines that are covered with mangroves, not beaches
The second day I booked a ponga tour to Zapatilla Island. This is an outer island that is surrounded by sand beach, and you can walk around it in a half hour. The sun was out, ideal for getting that deep tan. Whenever I got hot I would take a dip in the ocean which is barely below body temperature. The water here is green, with shades ranging from turquoise to lighter. On the way back to town we stopped at a shallow reef to snorkel over soft coral. I havenīt seen soft coral like this in a long time, they were in shades of red, purple, yellow, green, all gently swaying in the current.
That night it rained hard. The next day I had planned to go diving, and I started with a refresher course. Unfortunately we could only do one dive, as the rain had caused the mangrove trees to release black water into the ocean, limiting visibility near shore. Our visibility was limited to 40 feet during the dive. The good news was that even though I havenīt dove in ten years, I felt very comfortable underwater. In fact I used the least amount of air in the group, I had 1500 psi left when we surfaced. The dive master even found my old training records in the computer, so I think I will renew my PADI card when I get home.
The next morning I flew out to David, then caught a bus to Boquette. This is a town in the mountains that is popular with Americans and Europeans for second homes. The land is beautiful, with a nearby volcano in the north. The property that most people are buying is 10 kilometers toward David, so it isnīt really in town. For $200,000+ you can own a home in a gated country club with swimming pools, bar and restaurants. Some people might say it isnīt the real Panama, but you can always go to town and practice your Spanish. I found the restaurants to be good, and there was a surprising number of them for such a small town (you can walk through it in 10 minutes). There are also a lot of pensions, I only paid $15 for the night and I met others who were paying $8. So maybe a house isnīt necessary.
I would like to show you all the colorful flower gardens I saw there, but my camera batteries were dead. There are some beautiful flowers and houses there. I love the picture of the mountain stream, I want a house right next to it.
I was only able to spend one night there, then I had to go back to David and catch a bus to Costa Rica. I only have a month of time left, so I have to accelerate my travels. I can spend one week in Costa Rica, one in Nicaragua, one in Guatemala, and one in Belize and the Yucatan.