I am on the bus from Barranquilla to Palomino, down the Carribean coast of Columbia. Colombia? Yes, Colombia. 🙂
The last weeks in Panamá went by so fast that I just find the time to resume the most important things that happened in the last three weeks.
On the way to Santa Catalina, we had our first little adventure right after a city called Sonar. A lot of rain and high tide had the river rise above the street, thus making it impossible for us to pass.
While big pick-ups were able to cross, we connected with locals with small cars to see what was up. Apparently, we would have to wait at least 3 hours for the tide to go back. So, we took the only right Panamanian decision in that kind of moment and went to the bar to drink beer and watch soccer 😉 two and a half hours later we came back to the street and even with some water left we were able to pass. One hour and about 10.000 potholes later we arrived in Santa Catalina, a small town with big waves.
We stayed at a hostel called Villa Vento Surf, that offered breakfast, friendly staff and a relaxing vibe. When entering, I immediately encountered Daniel, a cool guy who stayed at my volunteership hostel before. Him, my two travelbuddys (Bene & Lukas), and another cool dude, Mo, would be our surfcrew for the next few days. Our days looked like the following: get up between 5:30 and 9 a.m. and pancake breakfast (depending on tides, as the famous “la punta” wave only works at high tides), first surf session until miday, lunch, durak card game, second surf session until around 6 p.m. followed by a nice dinner with other travellers or in the local restaurants and afterwards beers in the hostel.
This is the crew plus Maxim, the long-haired dutchman, and Laura from GB in the back, preparing a German “Linseneintopf”.
The time in Santa Catalina was quite eye-opening in various aspects.
First, I realized that traveling without volunteering is quite costly, especially if you are on a budget while traveling with others who aren’t. And if you happen to drink beer more often than in Germany 😉
Secondly, I realized that you get comfortable at one place quite fast and if you planned to stay for 2 days originally it might be 6 in the end. But I also realized that this is what makes backpacking fun – few plans, many opportunities.
Thirdly, I had a frightening experience in the water, where my board leash opened and I lost my board in 2,5-3 meter waves. The way to the point break is a 20 minute paddle with the board, so it would have been quite a challenge to get back without. However, I got lucky and was able to get my board back before the next big wave rolled in, leaving me with just a shock. The board had worse luck as it hit a rock and got a huge ding. So, even though I feel safer in big waves than before, 2,5- 3 m are still a little bit to high.
Lastly, I figured out how easy it is to find new travel buddies: The tuesday night we sat on the table in the hostel and a Swiss guy called Yves joined. He told us about his plans to go to Boquete and as I felt like I wanted to move, I sat with him on the bus the next morning.
For Boquete we reserved this beauty of a hostel that was literally a castle with an astonishing view (for 10€ a night):
On the way to Boquete, Yves told me about his 7 month journey prior to when we met. He told me that he quit his job, sold his car, cancelled his apartment and bought a one-way flight to Buenos Aires. Crazy right? However, he also told me that he has never been happier…
Arriving in Boquete we wanted to do the night- hike up to the vulcan “Baru” with its 3400 something meters. After a challenging hike to the top, so we were told, we would have an amazing view of the sunrise and the Atlantic and Pacific ocean. However, the track was closed. Officially, because it was too wet due to the rain the past days. Inofficially, we heard a story about an American family with 3 kids that went missing. Sound scary, right? But last year there actually died two dutch girls on the track.
Talking about dutch, look whom I met un the castle – my dutch friend Maxim. As the vulcan track was closed, we decided to do a smaller hike to some waterfalls with a few people from the hostel.
That night we were still not able to do the hike up the vulcano, so we decided to buy some rum and have a party in the hostel’s jacuzzi – which turned out to be a great idea 😉
The next morning we left early to Bocas del Toro. With Yves (in the back), Maxim and a german girl whose name I don’t remember.
Bocas is a real experience. Located in the north-east of Panama in the Carribean, the area offers many islands that you (obviously) can only reach by boat and where can stay and explore the nature around the torquiose water.
Also, Bocas offers a lot of party. And we arrived on a friday, so what we did was to get to Selinas hostal, have a drink and chill at and in the water:
Later, we took the watertaxi to the opposite island where the so-called “flithy friday” party was supposed to happen. And it happened. The location was amazing. You could jump from a tower into the water between drinks, play beerpong, do slacklining above the water and of course dance and get to know people from all over the world. The afterparty was at our hostel bar and at some point I fell to bed.
The next day we explored the main island. By the way, there are no hangovers in Latin America while traveling 😉
Just to give you a little impression that caught my attention: this is the soccerfield right at the end of the airport and its landingstrip. No security, nothing. Everyone could just run on the strip.. I wonder how that works out…
In general, from the experiences that I had so far, my impression is that people here have a complete different sense of building something than in Germany or Europe. While in Germany everything has to be perfect and look good and in line, especially in cities, here in Panama the functionality counts more than the looks.
In the end of the little City tour I went to a local barbershop to trim my beard, that I was actually planning to grow my whole trip but it got really annoying. So now I guess I will focus my growing effort on my hair 🙂
Sitting at the water in our hostel later that day, I get to know Jaschi and Arielle, a local rasta, both super friendly people. I end up spending the day with them and we go to a restaurant with live music and later form a huge crew with some Australians to get to the “dschungle rave”. A 20 min boat ride to the island Basimentos, endless laughs and some drinks later, we arrive. For the first time in month I get to hear good electronic music and I end up dancing almost all night on the dancefloor with our partycrew. An amazing night for sure, just made perfect by the boatride back to the hostel at sunrise.
After two days party we decided in the morning to switch islands and stay a couple of days on Basimentos in a place called Bubba’s House to relax. And that’s what happened:
Apart from relaxing and jumping into cristal clear water, we were able to see a magnificent sunset:
Then there is one experience that I made, which I would like to point out:
Basimento’s fresh-water resources are too small for its population, thus, they often experience water supply problem even if they use only little amounts. That means that if you were lucky you would have a shower with running water either in the morning or at night. If not, you would have to fill plastic bottles with filtered rainwater and shower with them. So, basically I learned how to have a proper shower with 3 liters of water – challenging but doable. But also for other water-using activities we became creative: Just did number two in the toilet? Get a bucket with salt water! Have to wash your dishes? Go for a swim and do it in the sea!
The only issue was drinking water. But more to that later.
One night in the hostel I met Digo, a super nice American Digital Native, that was on travels in Bocas to celebrate his birthday. While we were lying in the hangmat, listening to a guy playing live reagge music, we got the idea of doing a trip the next day. Luckily, there was a guy that has a boat and within about 15 min, we were 6 people and had the trip planned: Dolphins watching, snorkling on a reef, visiting a remote island called zapatilla, passing by sloth island to see sloths and ending the day in the blue coconut bar, which was located on the water. All for 20$ per person 🙂
So thats what we did the next day and here are some impressions:
Quick beerstop after the reef snorkling (which was impressive) and a jump into the cristal clear water:
Then El zapatilla and the way there:
Afterwards we went to see sloths, but I didn’t manage to take a picture… Sorry 😊
And then we ended the day at the Blue Coconut bar with the whole crew and a nice sunset:
So, back to the water issue: we came home to the hostel to realize that there was no drinking water, because it hadn’t rained for some time and as I told, water supplies were low. So imagine after a whole day of sun and beers, there was simply no water to drink. The friendly guys from the hostel offered me a free beer but I thankfully declined. In the end I had a sip from a friend and went to bed quite thirsty. It was the only time that I remember being so thirsty with no water in sight for the next hours… It really was an eye-opening experience when you think about how many people in the world have to live like this everyday. At around 2 am I woke up to pouring rain and as you might imagine, I was never so happy in my life to hear the sound of raindrops. I immediately got up, went down to fill up my bottle and chugged a whole liter. The best feeling in the world in that moment.
The next day after enjoying the beach for one more time I took a nightbus to Panamá City. And of course I cought a cold, as the people here are crazy for air conditioning and the room temperatur in the bus was 16°C. Back in the city I spend two nights at Digo’s awesome place and he showed me a few more places in his area. Then I spend a night at a friend’s place outside the city, where she and her friends showed me a different and more “local” side of the city.
The last night I met with Jorge, my first couchsurfer when I arrived in Panama, and we had a few drinks in the hostel bar. There I also met Albert, a crazy Philipinian dude, and we have been seeing us on the journey since then. It was the moment where I realized how thankful I am for the new, interesting and open-minded people and their viewpoints I get to meet and know on this trip. And, I am looking forward to it being many more while heading south.
The next person I meet is Tim, who I encounter in the line for the flight check-in. We figure out that we saw each other in the waves in Santa Catalina before and we get on very well as we happen to have a similar sarcastic humor. So, we end up traveling the Carribean coast together. But more on that in the next post 🙂 Peace, Jonas