From Resorts to Hostels

Trip Start May 19, 2010
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Trip End Dec 31, 2015


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Where I stayed
Hostel Heike

Flag of Panama  , Bocas del Toro,
Thursday, October 14, 2010

We flew into Panama City´s international airport and had about 4 hours to make our way to the domestic airport across town.  In between, we took the opportunity to visit the Panama Canal´s locks at Miraflores.  Visiting the locks was surpisingly cool -- we saw some absolutely enormous ships and some pretty interesting machinery used to operate the locks.  The large ships are dragged along by locomotives -- the small ones are dragged along by people with ropes.  I didn´t realize that most of the canal was so high above sea level -- something like 75 feet.  We were also suprised by the "melting pot" diversity of people living in Panama, as a result of the various labor forces imported to work on the canal.

After spending a couple hours in Panama City, we took a short flight to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the Panama´s Caribbean coast near Costa Rica.  Daniel, my (Nate) old neighbor who grew up across the street, opened up a youth hostel there after college, and it was great to have a chance to check it out.  The place is called Hostel Heike.  It´s got a ton of character, and it was deservedly filled with interesting people while all the other hostels in town were empty for the low season.  Staying in a hostel was a welcome shock after a week of doing the resort thing in the Dominican.  We took part in a delicious communal meal cooked mostly by Daniel, met a ton of cool people from various countries, and generally enjoyed playing backpacker for a few days (since we´re travelling more on airplanes than buses, and taking more showers in private than communal bathrooms, I´d hesitate to call us backpackers.  We´re pretty good at faking it, though).

People travel to Bocas for its beautiful, pristine beaches.  Our first full day, we took a short water taxi with a few new friends (Ryan, Emily, and Leah from Australia) to an island called Bastimentos, hiked about 20 minutes through the jungle, and emerged on a gorgeous beach called Wizard Beach.  We stayed there most of the day, swimming in the warm, clear water and making fun of Ryan´s ridiculous towel.  We shared the beach with maybe 3 other people and about 6 stingrays that were doing laps back and forth across the bay.  The day ended somewhat less successfully, with our half-succeeding to walk to another beach called Red Frog, getting eaten alive by sand flies, and then being stood up by the taxi driver who was supposed to pick us up.  But in all, it was a highly relaxing day on a very beautiful beach.  Our second day was filled with scuba diving (Maya, a girl from the hostel, was completely embarrassed that we mentioned her name and earned her a commission!) and recharging in the hostel´s welcoming common areas.

Another welcome change from our Dominican resort was the abundant night life.  We tagged along with our Australian friends and a pair of Brits for some drinking games and bar-hopping both nights.  The second night, we ended up at a bar called Aqualounge, which had some exciting and dangerous wooden swings set up over the water.  We heard some great stories about people drunkenly injuring themselves on those swings.  Fortunately, none of those stories involved either of us.  Sometimes I think half the fun of going to developing countries is that places can let you do dangerous things without being afraid lawsuits.  I ended up being a little too generous at the bar and blew all of my money on drinks for the group, leaving us with no way to get back across the water to our hostel.  But we somehow made it back, ending our last fun-filled night in Bocas around 3:30.  We then somehow dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 for the flight back to Panama City, across town to the international airport, and on to Ecuador.

- Nate
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