From Baja to the Land of Fire #9: Panama City, Panama (part II)

8: Panama City, Panama

Tegucigalpa – Leon – Granada – Los Chilles – San Jose – Nicoya – Samara – San Jose – Puerto Viejo – Bocas del Toro – Panama City

And again I found myself in a typical Caribbean village, with all the atmosphere you can imagine. The extra twist being that there were also many surfers here, you know, the guys and gals with the blond hair and heavily tanned bodies and very relaxed attitudes. Unfortunately, the “real” Caribbean atmosphere also includes heavy rainfall every now and then, and sometimes in between as well.

Anyway, I relaxed here and read another one of my books. Slowly it is becoming worth it that I have been carrying all these books with me. And early one rainy morning I took the 6:15 a.m. bus to the Panamanian border at Sixaola.

This was an interesting border crossing, which, by the way, was also the fastest to cross with hardly any paperwork nor extra “fees”. Between the two immigration offices there was the Rio Sixaola, which we crossed on foot using the train bridge used for the transport of bananas. We are talking an old bridge, creaking and you have to watch every step and not slip because of the wet surface caused by the rainfall. Of course I enjoyed this very much.

The first and practically only difference versus Costa Rica I noticed when arriving in Panama, was that there were no money changers calling their attention as usual. And I discovered quickly why, because the Panamanian currency, the Balboa, is actually the same as the US dollar. Very practical, by the way.

The huge banana plantations (called fincas here) continued in Panama. I was traveling through the main production center of the Chiquita banana company. You know, as in Banana Republic!

After arriving in Almirante I took the 40-minute lancha to Bocas del Toro, the main village of the Bocas del Toro archipel. Here also I found the typical and “real” Caribbean atmosphere, although without the typical surfing community here.

Somewhere in the past weeks I have come to a point where I have seen enough of Central America, and I am anxious to start on the second part of my trip in South America. And Maybe it was also the rain, but after two days I left for Panama City, taking the long 10-hour bus ride through the beautiful Cordilla Central Mountains. Well, I couldn’t really see if it was beautiful, since I was feeling sick, again, and even throwing up in the bus. I think it was something I ate. Luckily, after a couple hours, we were past the mountains and on the plains.

Panama City, especially the business/banking district, was the most modern place I had seen so far in Central America; it reminded me a little of Singapore. In the morning I walked through a big part of the city, especially the old colonial part where there were many five- and six-story buildings, many of them in bad shape.

I had seen enough though, and in the afternoon I booked a flight for the next day to Cartagena, Colombia. That left just a few hours to see the main attraction, the Panama Canal. So I took a taxi to the Miraflores locks, where you see the big ships passing the last (or first, depending on the direction) locks.

I was actually a little disappointed. I think I read too much about these things and am too sensitive to words like “the biggest” and “greatest” and “world wonder”. They always fire my imagination. Maybe if you actually took a trip through the canal, it would be more impressive.

Well, this is the end of the Central America trip, and after three months I think I have a good impression of this part of the world, which before was a complete blank for me.

The highlights for me would be:

  • Mountain biking in the Copper Mountains, Mexico, together with Helge and Stephan
  • Visiting Palenque, my first Maya ruins and meeting Kirsten here
  • Snorkeling trip at Caye Caulker, Belize, with Guy and sharks and rays
  • Visiting Tikal, what more to say?
  • Staying on the banks of Lago Atitlan at the Iguana Perdido and meeting Mieke and Floor
  • Visiting my first “real” market at Solola
  • Learning Spanish in Quetzaltenango (Xela) with Gustavo at Celas Maya and staying at Martha’s
  • Climbing the volcano Tajumulco with Ilya and Thymen and the others
  • The whole trip to and staying in Laquin
  • Christmas in Omoa with Stu and the others
  • Getting my advanced diving certificate on Roatan
  • Meeting and traveling with Arlen

The two low points must have been:

  • Almost drowning in the Rio Cangrecal
  • Being sick in Granada

I expect South America to be different enough that I will not get bored. I have received enough messages from other travelers which have given me a good idea.

After three months I feel like an experienced traveler and am comfortable being on the road. I can barely conceive that I have another life waiting for me when I return. Oh well, I don’t have to think about that. I am not even halfway done yet.

And now it’s off to Cartagena.