Panama to Costa Rica

The way from Panama City to San Jose takes us a full night and passing the boarder with the Expresso bus is no joy. It takes long, nearly 3h, until we have done everything. I observe the locals, they get out of the bus at the border and make it on their feet. As I realize later, it’s way faster. I decide to stay in San Jose at night and continue to Monteverde the next day… A good decision since catching a bus would have been difficult, the border took us too long.

Stefan joins me to Costa Rica, we want to go to Monteverde – we get a cab and go to the bus station of Panama City (ciudád de Panama). There is a huge shopping mall and we stroll around. The ticket is 40$ for the over night bus to San José from there we have to catch the bus to Monteverde, but the time is very limited to actually do that – we better get over the border in short time.

Panama City and the Casco Viejo, view into the favelas.
The main terminal of Panama City, Alemendro. You find a huge shopping mall there as well.

We attend the fish market a last time for a last Ceviche (for me, Stefan will be back) and another great plate with fish, patatas frijas (a special kind of fried banana) and great salad, spiced with estragon and salsa picante.

Camarones con patanos frijas , yummy!
Ceviche con camarones

Panama really has it all. We continue to the Panama channel but the museum is already closed that sucks so we find another cab driver who brings us to one of the watergates.

Back to the hostel I start boozing and we meet yet another German, Basti from Munich – I start to wonder wether there are just Bavarians? We find out that there will be no chance to catch the connecting bus to Monteverde anymore… Stefan seems a little pissed about that, but agrees that it is a good oportunity to wash cloth and relax for one day. Around 10 pm we are back at the bus terminal. We meet 2 girls from San Blas who go to San José as well. The ride seems to take forever and it’s freezing cold. I barely can sleep, at least there are not too many people so you can stretch out a little bit. In the morning we have to wait 3 hours at the border. We meet Dani, a cute latina from Costa Rica, who we met initially on our first day on San Blas. This time the friend of her is not with her, she tells Stefan, that he is Costa Rican as well but works in Panama City. She goes to San José as we do, that’s where she lives. I am happy to see her, and she gives me her number and I have to promise that I contact her. She is very cute… It’s hard to do conversation, she doesn’t speak any English, I don’t speak any Spanish, but somehow we understand each other, say goodbye and promise to stay in touch via WhatsApp.

Costa Rica from the bus Windows looks less polluted than Panama. And there seems to be much more forest. I think of those last days in paradise, of my salsa night in Santa Catalina, of the cloud rainforest which is up to come, of the underwater world, and I finally fall asleep. After another stop I talk to a nice girl, Kelly, from Florida. She lives here since eight month, mainly in Panama but visits some friends in Costa Rica. She recommends me to stay at Jáco at the beach and continue to Monteverde the next day. Later I decide to go to San José for one night with Stefan and Dennis, to get the cloth washed and relax one night. We met Dennis on the bus and he is from Munich… – hmmm. He invites us to come with him to his hostel, the Love Hostel 2, which is a bit outside in San Antonio of San José, in a safe area. So we follow him there and it’s a really nice hostel, hidden quite well and the owner is a hobby DJ with talent, as we find out during the evening.

The atmosphere there is great and I chill with some other guys from Germany since one of them has his birthday. It’s time to say good bye to Stefan, was fun traveling with you lad! Totally destroyed I fall into bed and hope that my laundry will be done the next day and that I make it to the bus to Monteverde on time. Still wasted I get up, 5:30h – wahhh – like all the last days. We just start at 5:48h by car to the station… I’m a bit in worry I won’t catch my bus which leaves at 6 am. Manuel speeds through the city with probably 80 kph and at 5:59h we are there and the bus is already going to leave but for my luck a cab blocks the way and I catch it last second. It makes its way into the highlands of Costa Rica, it’s beautiful!

Around lunchtime I’m there, get a comfortable room in the hostel El Tucan and book the Canopy Extreme Tour for the afternoon. I meet two Canadians, Kylie and Simon who travel together. There are two German guys as well who look really tired and obviously suffer from their jetlag. Sven and Jochen, and they join for the ziplining tour in the afternoon.

Chillout in San Blas

If you forget about time and date, like we did, you know you are in paradise. We are there and enjoy, it’s one of the most unique experiences I have made so far…

I get up very early the next morning, around 5:30 am. The last day in San Blas has already come and I am at the reef before 7:30 am.

I remember the days of Egypt in the red sea. When I went early I could see all kinds of animals and there it is, my first tortuga verde (green seaturtle) of this trip! I can’t follow up but it’s pretty and majestic how it swims away into the blue water… I discover a langustino and later I regret I didn’t catch it. And for lunch a collected conch as fresh conch ceviche, freshly prepared by our island chef, awesome! Later I watch him cleaning barracuda for our dinner. He throws all the fish Parts into the water and a shark stops by and gets its portion. It’s a brown shark most likely a nursing shark. Really cool! I have lost the feeling for time, just hang out in the mid of the day, wash my cloth, take photos, and go snorkeling again. What could be better?

Inga gives me some more advice for Nicaragua which is very welcome. She recommends to use the Queztaltrekkers for the vulcano boarding tour, instead of the Bigfoot Hostel due to less crowded groups ( haven’t tried it in the end…). The evening is there in a snap and we used the whole day just to hang out in paradise…

We have another nice and entertaining evening and try to go to bed but it’s so humid that night that I can’t sleep at all. I go out and am not the only one with that idea. So we all stay at the beach till late night and observe plankton which glimmers everytime a wave hits shore. This night is the hottest I have experienced in my whole life so far, humid, tropical – and several thunderstorms go by.

The next morning a golden shine of the rising Sun lies over San Blas. Thunder roars from the distance. The light is very intense and everything seems to shimmer golden red. As if San Blas would send a good bye.

After a horrible breakfast and a final photo with our Kuna family who hosted us, we climb into the small boat. And right how we came here, el Capitano speeds over the waves which are massiv this morning. We pass the settlement of the Kuna Yala and it’s interesting to see how they live in their more populated islands without the beach.

We have to wait over an hour before our shuttle dude decides to bring us back to Panama City. I have the luck to sit on the front seat this time, salsa and raggaton are with us and the djungle goes by like you would ride the metro through a green tunnel. I decide to continue to Costa Rica the same night since I don’t want to stay another night in Luna’s Castle.

Paradise is here: San Blas

Finally we capture a spot on the transport to San Blas. I know dirtroads very well since I traveled them in the Bahamas (they have been wicked) and Maine of the USA, namely the Golden Road. The way to San Blas is luxurious compared to both so all the wait was probably for nothing. On the other hand it’s great to sleep. And what awaits us after the fun ride by boat is nothing more than paradise…

It’s short past 5 am and we are getting more and more people, finally San Blas is our destination. I need to repack my backpack and find out again that I took too much stuff with me, like always. The vehicle, a Toyota 4×4 Jeep, is stuffed with 7 passengers and the driver. It’s tight and you can’t really move. We are brought to a supermarket and Stefan and me buy a lot, 9 liters of water, many cookies, bread, some veggies, rum, cola and binned fish. We were told by Anika that sometimes the Kuna Yala – an indian tribe populating those islands kind under autonomy from Panama – don’t catch fish and then there is no dinner. It’s tough to fit all of that  stuff into the car but our driver manages it somehow. The ride must be hell… When we are there and I’m finally awake again the people are talking about it. I slept great tho… 🙂

Our loot for 3 days in paradise… Lots of water, lots of rum, binned fish and some bread.

We wait another 45 min and are instructed not to take photos of the Kuna Yala without asking their permission. The ride to our Island, Naidub or in Spanish Diablo, is the coolest transfer of all times!

We go 40 min over the choppy sea with a 7 m boat and that quite fast. The boat jumps out of the water and crashes back on the surface to break the waves. So much fun! Our Captain, a Kuna called Alex is enjoying it obviously the most. Everytime we are out of the water he pushes the boat back down with his legs. I try to catch this moment for you in the video, but as you can see I had no opportunity to hold the camera still. It’s Stefan, me, Dani – who I meet later on this trip again – and a friend of hers, an obviously rich and gay guy and another couple on the boat.

As soon as we are there, we are absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of the island and the surrounding islands, the turquoise sea, the reef in front of the blue water and the hot temperatures. Time to claim our tent and bring all the stuff on the island, have our first Coco Loco, a cracked coconut filled with rum and some of the coconut meat.

We enjoy a boatstour and Alex is our guide this day. He tells us lots of things about the reef, the sharks, the islands. I don’t understand much and go snorkeling. A big shadow passes by under us probably an eagle ray or a manta. We don’t get into the water quick enough but there are still two big sting rays lying at the ground.

Later on that tour we hit a small island where they sell merchandise. The Kuna there are not very polite. They ask for 2$ for a single picture which we don’t take. Life is very smooth and the heat doesn’t allow you to be very active. The darkness comes quickly over the island and it’s time for dinner. We get either fish or fruits of the sea for every lunch or dinner. The best you can enjoy as a side is coconut with rum and a pineapple or watermelon. This is Paradise! 

 The next day is equally relaxed. I go snorkeling for about 3 hours and make three islands on my way. Again I have the feeling, I really lack a GoPro, just imagine those most beautiful pictures from the underwater world… I see lots of splendid reef and thousands of different kinds of fish in all colors. The reef is much better when you are not directly at the island where all the tourists snorkel. The coolest things I see this day are emperor fish, a barracuda, some batfish and herds of Doctor fish. I try to catch an octopus but it gets away. Lucky!

In the afternoon we do the boat tour again and go to the big reef this time far out at the border to the deep blue water. Lots of big fish is around there and it seems like they enjoy to play in the currents. For them it must be like a roller coaster ride. There is a nice dinner again and I get used to the ‘bathroom’ consisting of a toilet connected to the ocean and a big vessel of rainwater which you use to rinse away what you have left…

A Czech family, Jirkan, his sons Adam and David and his wife Diana teach me how to open coconuts. They live in Oregon and are on travels for a whole month. Jirkan explains that it is much more important for the kids to learn this proximity to nature than attending school. I just agree and they are lovely and so cool as a unit!

Jirkan, me, David and Adam. The guys teach me how to collect and open coconuts, essential for survival in tropical regions… 😉

In the meanwhile Stefan and me made some contact with two girls from Germany, Inga and Kira, who are on the island with us and we play a drinking game at night with all the rest of inhabitants of the island. It’s fun and two Dutch girls, hola Judith, and a Spanish Italian couple join us. We talk about our travels, destinations to see and future. Raul and his girlfriend want to start a hostel somewhere and have no intention to return to Europe. After the last days I start to recognize why, life over here is somehow just easy going and you can lay back and chill. It truly is Paradise! The night sets and rum enlights us… 🙂

Panama Viejo, El Valle and our way to Santa Catalina

Our first day together brings us to Panama Viejo, the former old city which was destroyed by the English. It offers great views on the new city. The trip continues to El Valle, in the highlands of Panama and at night we arrive our destination Santa Catalina, which I chose to surf, by recommendation of friends from Innsbruck, who have been there…

It’s still early in the morning and we start into the city to claim our rental. At the breakfast we meet two more ladies who join and we start our day in Panama Viejo, the original part of the city which was destroyed by the British. There are just ruins left and it’s up to your imagination how this first settlement must have looked. The overview from the tower is great and you have a great view on Panama City from yet another angle. We still decide not to stay too long since we have other plans for the day.

Panama Viejo the first settlement of Panama City, was destroyed by the British.
The skyline of the new part of Panama City, very modern and impressive!

The two ladies, leave us and Anne, Stefan and me go to the fish market first for a great Ceviche. This is a South American cold salad with fish or other fruits of the sea which are cooked in lime juice. It’s really great and after this memorable meal we continue our trip to El Valle. It’s a village in the Highlands of Panama and normally really green. We visit a waterfall and have a swim in a natural pond, beside us is a Panamian family who owns a baby parrot which is very cute and in general the mood is very relaxed. The natural pond is filled from a fountain which is source of the waterfall. We chill out and continue in the late afternoon.

The way to El Valle leads through a dry but beautiful highland.
A bus station in Panama, highland of El Valle
The jungle of El Valle, beautiful, hot and humid.
Stefan and Anne, my traveler buddies from Germany. It was Anne’s idea to visit El Valle, a good one!
Guys, you really look like a couple :-p … Just kidding! Was nice travelling with you!

Stefan takes over the car from me and two minutes later we are stopped by the police and Stefan doesn’t even has his license with him so I hand him mine and he has to follow the cop who just stopped us. Stefan tells us after this incident, which cost us 40$, that the guy asked for 150$ in the first place since we were going 104 kph instead of the allowed 80. Stefan told him we are just students so he asked for 80$ and when Stefan was reacting like this is still lots of money, the cop asked him, as a man, what he would be willing to pay. Stefan gave him 40$ then, the cop mentioning his family the whole time. We are lucky after all, since it is my license not depicting Stefan, but the cop is not interested at all in this “little detail”.

We continue our trip after this crazy experience through the wild to Santa Catalina. Our gas is running very low and we pray to hit a gas station before it runs out. Since we passed Santiago, where we replenish our groceries, we made already 57 km towards Santa Catalina without hitting another gas station. Finally there is a gas station in Soná, our relief, otherwise we would have been supposed to turn and get the tank filled in Santiago, and this is an one hour ride away already…

The rest of the trip is tough again. It’s totally dark outside and driving like that is exhausting. There are cops along the street several times, so we can not go faster than allowed. A wonderful smell of rich earth and tropical rainforest fills the air. It’s an awesome feeling although we don’t know yet if there will be a place to sleep. Around 10:30 pm we’re finally there. It was a long day full of impressions and we immediately find a good place to sleep. Check in is done and it’s time to hit the beach. The night is absolutely dark and a huge amount of stars can be seen – it is really moving, the whole sky glimmers from the stars and some fireflies levitate around us…

There is a big party tonight and Anne and me attend. She is chased by a British guy the whole evening and I dance some decent Salsa until 4:30 am the next day – the best way after a long travel to totally lay back…

Adventure here I come… Latin America – Panama City!

Read about my last official day in Florida and the travel to Panamá with my first experience in this never sleeping city. Panamá City is truly a place of contrast. You have the “favelas” right in between the big towers of the new city and an old city which reminds of a time long passed which is in direct neighborhood to the area where the poor live. Most diverse, most beautiful!

It is my last day in Florida and lots of my friends over here are hit our place. We enjoy a great BBQ and I have a decent amount of drinks. During this evening I land in the pool for two times. It’s time for a last visit to the Atlantic, for a last round of Gainesville party. I say goodbye to this city and vanish around 1 am since my plan is to leave here at 5 am in the morning, to catch my flight into Panama from Tampa.

Celebrating Gainesville Farewell with my friends, BBQ time. Goodbye Florida Gators!

It’s tough to get up and I’m late… 🙂 still tipsy and very tired I make my way through the darkness but there is no need to be stressed out, the time I calculated was plenty. Totally destroyed and tired I board the flight to Miami where I have to wait 2:30 hours until I can continue into Panama City. I sleep most of the time and some Americans who sit beside me show off how great their vacation will be, diving, playing golf and residing in good hotels. That’s not what I’m looking for. I look for an adventure for a bargain, since my money comes to an end and I want to feel the countries I am going to visit. I get out of the airport short past 3 pm and take an overpriced private shuttle to my hostel Luna’s Castle in Casco Viejo, an old part of Panama City in the beautiful style of the time of colonization.

The view out of my Hostel Luna’s Castle into Casco Viejo of Panama City.

I get into my room and there is a German girl. Her name is Anne and we get along well from the start. She invites me to stroll around Casco Viejo with her and I agree and follow her and another couple from Germany. It’s impressive how some of the buildings are in shape and others are nothing more than are ruins and when you have a look over to the city you see the modern time.

Plenty of churches can be found all over Casco Viejo…
The ruins of Casco Viejo

I decide to depart from the group and walk along the bridge out of Casco Viejo to get an overview over this most beautiful skyline and the harbor. And I have my first Ceviche, which is way overpriced compared to the ones sold at the fish market – which I find out the next day.

Casco Viejo seen from the bridge

Back to the hostel I meet Anne on the room again. We talk a bit and suddenly a guy enters the room. His name is Stefan, he is from Germany which is obvious from his accent. I enjoy 2 minutes where I talk English to him and he doesn’t recognize I am German. It’s funny but then I reveal myself. So Anne and Stefan what are your plans?

San Blas is booked out, damn. There is no single seat left to get there. It’s the weekend of Easter and word of mouth is lots of locations are booked out for the next days. I wanted to go there first, before I continue westwards, towards the border of Costa Rica. This is not an option anymore so I decide spontaneous to get a rental – saving time in 18 days of Latin America is important – and go to Santa Catalina first. Anne is in, after I promise her to stop a day in El Valle. Stefan has not eaten yet so we go out again to grab something. I like this guy, he is funny. So I ask him to join us as well and he replies to think about it. Later the night he is in as well…