Two days of transit and we’ve arrived on Panama’s Caribbean coast. It’s been a trying couple of days, the kind that leave you (okay, me) smacking your forehead (okay, mine) and wondering why you though THIS route was a good idea at THIS time.
New Year’s Eve in Panama City was a pretty spectacular event. The fireworks, and I mean the big fireworks, started going about 11:15, and continued nonstop until almost 12:30. We had the best of all views from the top of the Hostel Panamericana. The roof ended up being just short of dangerously close to the fireworks. When midnight hit, the celebratory salute was right over our heads, and so close to the edge of exciting it was almost frightening.
Corrinne was still battling her illness, and so we went to bed almost immediately after the big countdown, which was fine. Despite all the noise in the city, we were both out within ten minutes, sleeping like the dead through the rest of the nightlong party. When we got up to have breakfast, some revelers were still out. Salsa music blaring into the morning light, dazed people on the corners with beers in their hands and party horns in their mouths.
Corrinne’s illness was gone, with only some weakness left behind, so we headed for the Panama City central bus terminal, which was packed to overflowing. Evidently, we weren’t the only ones who decided to leave as soon as the party ended. Standing in line to get tickets took an hour and a half, and then a mad scramble to get on the bus. You have to go through a turnstile to get from the terminal to the bus, and it costs ten cents per person. However, you can’t use coins. You have to buy a card. So we had to double back and find a card terminal, but they needed to see our passports. So we dug out our passports and bought the card and went through the turnstile and got on the bus for a seven hour ride to David, which took ten hours.
Chiriqui police checkpoint.
About halfway, the bus stopped for lunch. The place served a cafeteria style dinner with several kinds of food under glass. Apparently, this is a big spot for the busses to stop, because by the time I reached the glass, only one kind of food was left. This turned out to be some kind of meat product that was mostly fatty tissue and which still had hair on the outside. Might have been pigs feet, but I couldn’t tell. I was just eating the rice.
We hopped back on the bus and finally arrived in David around 9:00. Both of us were exhausted from the terminal and motion sick from the ride, so what a relief it was to find the Hostel Bambu. It advertises itself as “a traveler’s oasis,” and is it ever. Coming off a thirteen hour journey and wandering into this serene place with its swimming pool, its mosquito net covered beds, its stilt-raised outdoor house, and its few other guests congregated quietly around the outdoor bar was as perfect a welcome as we could have received. It was the best night’s sleep we’ve had so far on our trip.
Even when the roosters started up.
WAKE UP, SUCKA!!!
Ah yes, something I thought I left behind when I left New Orleans—being awakened at dawn by roosters. Nope. They followed me to Panama, and when the light began to tickle the trees they hit the ground shouting. One of them was in the next yard, and after he cock-a-doodle-doo’ed, another one a couple blocks down responded. Then another, a little further away. Then the one next door. It was like a game of rooster telephone, and I assume it kept up all morning, because when I went woke up again three hours later (I was very tired) they were still at it.
Yesterday’s travels were a complete flip from our trip the day before. Getting to Bocas del Toro could not have been easier. It was like Panama decided to give us a break after the long haul the day before. A cab to a bus, a bus to a cab, a cab to a boat, and barely a pause in between. Like they were all waiting for us to arrive.
The bus from David to Almirante (where you catch the water taxi to Bocas) is more like an extended camper van than a full-on bus.
This is what most of the busses out of David look like. You look for the bus that has the name of the town you want to go to, walk up to the door and pass any bags you have up to the two guys on the roof who tie them down and run a tarp over them. Once the bus is packed full and the bags secure, you’re off. Our cab driver dropped us right at the door of the Changuinola bus, which stops in Almirante. We handed up our bags, took our seats, started down the road, passing a number of waterfalls, a massive hydro-electric dam, and two cowboys riding mules down the middle of the road.
These mini-busses are surprisingly comfortable, and the system for getting on and off is as easy as any you will find in the world. If you wan to catch the bus, you simply stand on the side of the road and flag it down with your hand. When they stop, you get on and, if there aren’t any seats, you stand up. I ended up on my feet for the final hour of the ride. It’s an unusual way to travel.
We pulled into Almirante a little before three, where a cab hauled us down to the boat docks for a dollar each. We then took the express water taxi (twenty minutes of high-speed roller coaster bumps) to Bocas Town on the Isla of Colon, the most populated area of Bocas del Toro.
That’s where we are now. Our friend Halley is working in the islands for the winter and we all went out for dinner after finding a place. The rest of the night has been quiet. It’s been two days of big transit, and now we’re going to sit still for a minute. We start Surf School tomorrow, and I’ll have a little more of a chance to explore the island and report on how it looks. Bocas Town, from what I’ve seen, is very much a party spot. I think I would have found it ideal when I was nineteen. The town is absolutely packed with New Year’s revelers who haven’t gone home yet. For now, my only concerns are surfing, sitting still for a few days, and finding consistent places to stay.
We’ll see how it goes.