In this post I will not go into great details about everything I’ve done since last time I posted as this is a blog and not a novel. I will stick to the cliff notes and the photographs worth mentioning.
Picking up from were I left off; El Valle de Antón.
We only spent a single full day in El Valle. We used most of the day to hike to El Chorro Macho, apparently the largest waterfall in the area. On the way there we deviated from the original trail in search of a less travelled and more beautiful way to the waterfall. It turned out that the path actually took us to the top of the mountain and suddenly ended. Although it took us a couple of kilometers of course, the view from above made it well worth it.
After taking in the view and hydrating, we started descending to get back on track and reach El Chorro Macho.
At first the waterfall was quite disappointing; small and not flowing strong since it hadn’t rained for a while, but we quickly decided that the rules about swimming were to strict and not to be followed. Swimming and climbing the waterfall definitely made it worth the hike.
The rest of the day was spent in the hot springs and back at the cabin.
The next day we decided to leave El Valle and seek greener pastures in Santa Catalina.
We left around 10 am and expected to arrive at our destination after 4-5 hours.It turned out that Panamanian perception of time are quite different from the European norms and in the end the trip took us nearly 10 hours.
As Santa Catalina is a small surfing town 3 hours from civilization, we experienced that we were pretty much secluded from the rest of the world.
The town itself had plenty of restaurants and hostels, but no ATM and only a limited supply of food and groceries; making it the far most expensive place so far ( since you had to eat every meal at restaurants.)
We spent the beginning of our first day switching hostel from Santa Catalina Surfpoint to Surfside Inn, a much cleaner and more backpacker friendly hostel (with kitchen).
The rest of the day passed with surfing, chilling and walking to town to shop the few groceries they had.
We decided that something had to happen, and we booked a snorkelling trip for the following day.
The snorkelling trip took us to Coiba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to which I had great expectations. According to Tripadvisor, many people had spottet stingrays, dolphins and even whale sharks. Unfortunately the snorkelling trip proved to be a bit of a disappointment; with only 3 meters of visibility and very poor tour guides we only saw fish of different kinds and no live coral. We did see dolphins and sea turtles from the boat but nothing at the snorkelling sites.
Besides the fish, the girls were close to becoming the lunch of Coiba’s mascot, a big salt water crocodile. Apparently they missed the warning signs by the beach and were resting in the water when suddenly a local starts yelling at them and they see the big creature approaching only few meters away. It turned out to be a peaceful one, as it was fed daily by the park rangers. (Although it probably wouldn’t have refrained it from a taste of gringo).
One thing I enjoyed and hadn’t expected didn’t happen in the water, but on the beach. When you walked, the whole beach became alive and moved. It turned out that the beach was littered with Paguridae, small seashells inhabited by hermit crabs.
After the trip it turned out that the tour agency didn’t have a working credit card terminal as they had claimed they would, which left us in a situation were we were unable to pay for the trip due to lack of cash. Fortunately the owner of the shop was going to Panama City via Santiago; so we seized the opportunity, packed our backs and got a lift to Santiago were we could find an ATM and stay the night. The trip by car took under 2 hours, whereas it would have taken us over 4 by bus.
In some ways I was happy to have experienced Santa Catalina, but I was still quite relieved to get back to civilization and people; I think we simply arrived at a bad time with not many backpackers around to make it a better experience. It really made me realize that it is the people and not the place that creates the experience.
The next day we said goodbye to Nicole who had to catch a flight home from Panama City. Astrid and I decided to try our luck in Bocas del Torro, an archipelago on the Caribbean cost. The bus trip was quite a pain since I suffered from food poisoning and felt like I would throw up every second. The first bus I was wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip flops and the air condition soon turned the bus into a motorized freezer. Before the second bus I therefore switched to jeans, jacket and closed shoes, only to find that the bus didn’t really use the air condition. Awesome.
We arrived in Almirante just in time to catch the last boat to Isla Colón and checked in at Hostel Heike around 7 pm.
After dinner we met a group of American girls and two Italian guys and went with them to a bar close by. Most of the bars are located on the water and have holes in the terrace, creating natural pools ideal for swimming and making the nightlife a lot more fun.
I have been in on Isla Colón since friday and mainly spent the days chilling, reading books, watching movies, going to the beach and having fun at night.
The hostel is great; as always there are always people around for a good talk, someone who wants to go out for a beer, or a group to join in a trip to the beach.
One event that really stood out was the Earth Day at Aqua Lounge. I went there with two Swedish girls to help collect trash at the beach in return for drinks and food.
As we walked the beach, local kids from ages 4-10 came asking for gloves and wanted to help. Later they joined us at the bar and played in the pools the most of the afternoon. Later at night I teamed up with one of the Swedes for a beer pong tournament, and the rest of the day and night we just swam and chilled in different bars.
So far my trip has been nothing but pure bliss; fun, swimming, great people and new culture. I will leave Bocas tomorrow and to to Lost and Found, a cloud retreat in the rainforest. I have a feeling that the internet haven’t found it’s way to the Panamanian rainforest yet, and I don’t expect to post anything before I return to civilization; only god knows when?
So, for the past week I have been volunteering at a beautiful villa in Colón. I have been doing fun and strenuous work, met many new people and have had a great time. But after a week I figured that it was time to move on and seek greener pastures. As I have planed nothing for the rest of the trip I decided to go to Panama City and see what happened. The Austrian couple; Thomas and Susi had told me of Santa Catalina, a laid back surfing village by the Pacific. Besides that, I had also been reading all sorts of great things about El Valle de Antón; a small city located in a lush environment in the crater of a giant extinct volcano.
I left the house early and arrived at Luna’s Castle in Panama City at around 3 pm. After checking in I went to my dorm and met my bunk bed partner Matt, a twenty something year old guy from the east coast of Canada. Shortly after two girls entered the dorm and said their hello’s. They were going out for lunch and Matt and I joined them; hostels are simply the best place to meet new people.
On the way to lunch I stumbled into Nisim – he hadn’t been able to go to Columbia yet, but stayed at hostel waiting for an open spot on a boat to Cartagena.
During lunch I learned that the girls were Astrid and Nicole; of Swiss origin but living and working respectively in Canada and London. They had both taken two weeks off work to travel around Panama. We spent most of the afternoon walking Ave Centrale, eating ice cream and people watching in a nice small plaza.
On the way back to the hostel we went past a kid with an Iguana on his head. I just took it for a toy and took no further notice until Astrid suddenly said “Wow, that’s a real Iguana”. I ran back, had to take that photograph.
The police in Panama City are more like a small army.Later we decided that rum would make the night a whole lot better. We got Flor de Caña and Coke at a small street shop, put it in the freezer and went to eat at the Coca Cola Café. After transforming the hostels table tennis into a beer pong arena and substituting beer with rum, the rest of the night was kind of a blur.
View from the hostel balcony at night.
The day before I had convinced the girls that they should go to Santa Catalina instead of Bocas del Toro. So at the moment I am lying in a hammock in El Valle de Antón, listening to music with the girls and drinking red wine. The valley is nothing short of spectacular and the cabin we have checked into is luxury compared to the hostel. We live at a family owned property; they have a monkey, a tucano and a talking parrot – heaven! Tomorrow we are going hiking to explore the area, bathe in the waterfalls, soak in the hot springs and visit the orchid garden, maybe roast some marshmallows at night. After that Santa Catalina and surfing awaits!
We met José at a restaurant in El Valle, a really happy 4-year old who played at the restaurant while his mother worked.
All the best