Author Archives: cstoner

Day #61 Headed Home SJO to SFW to YVR

3:57AM and we were both awake. 3 minutes later and the alarms started going off. Maybe we might be rested enough to make this a less torturous day than originally anticipated. Our flight was to depart in less than 3 hours, so best to get our things together and out the door ASAP. By 4:50 we were out the door and an Uber had us on the way to the airport before 5.

5AM traffic was not so bad. 10 minutes to the airport where we stepped out and into the airport with ease. Not much excitement through this leg of the journey as everything was going according to plan. We found the counter, had an agent give us real boarding passes in exchange for our hotel printed versions, then made our way through security to find some breakfast. American has been known to not offer any meals on their flights to Latin American countries, unless they are directly competing with a Latin American airline. Instead of relying on cookies for breakfast, we splurged and spent the rest of our Costa Rican cash on two breakfast sandwiches, a fruit bowl and bottle of water…$30CAD. They wanted $4USD for a bottle of water! Atrocious pricing at this airport and probably a long time before we are back.

We boarded and the flight actually departed a little early. Surprising how sometimes enough people can get their acts together quick enough to warrant an early plan departure, especially in a country where time seems to have a little less respect than elsewhere in the world. A full flight, the captain came on the intercom and indicated we had to change runways because our overall load was a bit more than expected. We departed, we cleared the mountains and had smooth skies all the way to Dallas.

On landing, we were 20 minutes early as well. We got off the plane and had 5 hours to kill, so we figured we would check out Terminal D for a little while. Open air, maybe some arty sculptures we could browse and a different selection of restaurants than what we saw in Terminal A on our way down. We had a look at a few places to eat, then settled on a spot with a burrito on the menu. As we sit down, Candice’s brother comes over to say hi. Here is a guy that lives in Bermuda full time. He too just happened to be having lunch in the same place and was 10 minutes away from having to run to his flight. Amazing how these little coincidences happen. We caught up as much as we could over the course of 10 minutes…then let him run off to his flight.

We hung out at that corner table. Melanie with some blue coconut margarita thing and me with a beer. We got chatting with the waitress, a soccer mom by the sounds of it, who just enjoys serving. We appreciated the service with a smile and enthusiasm because a couple months without seemed to be a bit much. We really will appreciated well priced food and the excellent table service Vancouver offers.

A couple hours spent sitting and sipping drinks worked well to eat up that layover, but we still had a few hours to burn up. A train ride to our terminal and some wandering amongst the shops helped. We found our way to the correct terminal, then to our gate and did some people watching. Airports are good to see who also might be flying. The remaining 90 minutes passed and we boarded the plane.

A gentlemen sat down next to us, David. Apparently he was flying back from a 5 day fishing trip down to Jaco. He spent much of the flight pouring over land lease documents and on asking what he was into…mineral exploration was the response. Apparently he is in the process of assessing and developing a couple properties to then sell off to a larger operation. He successfully sold off his stake in an operation a couple decades ago…spent the money…now figures he can do it again but this time respecting the money a little more. He figures 8-9 million in the bank should be sufficient because 1-2 just gets spent too quickly. To each his own.

We arrived back at YVR unscathed. A soft landing and alert from the pilot that we were entering 10 degrees, dark and cold. The airport, beautiful…but empty. Being not even 8PM, it seems there should be more people and flights departing from this lovely airport. Not tonight. We made our way through customs and home in a taxi.

So, it seems there should have been a bit of excitement that could have created something more interesting to write about, but when travel plans go all according to plan…there really isnt much to add. Excitement comes from the random, the unexpected events that arise. Now that we are home in the familiarity of our own little place there will be much less to write about for the next few months.

Unless anyone needs some more bad advice…anyone??

A One Night Stay in San Jose

Last night was a whole lot quieter than our place on Bocas del Toro. 3:30AM one of the neighbors decided to put on some slow romantic music at a level just loud enough to likely cover up any noises of intimacy. After that wake up, I was only able to get a few more winks in before the happy little dogs next door got going. Maybe tonight I will sleep a bit better, but here in San Jose we can still make out the rumbling of the Pan American highway all of a 5 minute walk away.

We got up at 6:30. That happens when you try going to bed at 9. Overcast again with that heavy humidity that makes you think it is going to rain. By 8, we needed some food and headed down to Bread and Chocolate. There was a breakfast bagel we saw a couple weeks ago that looked pretty tasty. We sat down and ordered one each since the bus ride would straddle our typical lunchtime. Add to that a pineapple smoothie and coffee, then we were set. We made our way back to the room to gather our things…then the rain started.

We had an hour before our bus departed, so maybe this too would pass. A little rain turned to a lot, then a little…and a whole lot more. By 10:30 we had to take our chances with a slight lightening of the downpour and make our way down. Umbrellas in hand, we slogged our way through the 7 minutes of waterlogged streets to the bus stand. Our heads were dry, but luggage very wet. Next time we either do covers for the suitcases or go hard case. Since we had a few minutes to kill, and no idea of our lunch plans, we grabbed a super greasy chicken empanada for the road. By super greasy, I refer to the one Melanie had yesterday where a couple tablespoons of oil seeped out the bottom end of her lunch onto the plate…and kind of looked like honey. A bit gross. Lunch in hand, we just needed a bus. The 11 o’clock bus arrived at 11:10, and we departed at 11:15.

Our big white bus had some very cushy seats. We were damp and so was all of our stuff, so some drying AC should help out. The bus stopped in Cahuita for a few people, then an hour later in Limon for a lunch break. This isn’t the fastest route. We stretched our legs and Melanie requested something healthy like a fruit cup to snack on. 5 minutes later I returned with a dulce de leche pastry that we both heartily enjoyed… its our last day after all.

The bus arrived in San Jose just after 4PM. A 5 hour ride filled with construction, traffic, waterfalls along the highway, scenic drops down the mountainside…and AC. As the bus made its way into the mountains, the temperature outside was dropping low enough to start fogging all the windows in the bus. As a safety measure, the driver was quick to ramp that coldness up to counteract the effects our dampness was having and we all started to chill off maybe a little too much. Sure San Jose was expected to be only around 21 degrees C when we arrived, this cold bus ride would certainly acclimatize us to that. Upon exiting the bus…yep, just a little warmer. The luggage hold opened under the bus and passengers just started grabbing their bags. Ours were buried in the back, so I climbed in and started tossing bags out to people. This seems like a job for the bus staff, but no one stepped up. I go to out bags, passed them to Melanie, then cleared the remaining pieces. Maybe I could look at doing some luggage handling in the near future.

We wandered over to the corner to gather ourselves and hail an Uber. Apparently there is some unwritten rule where Uber drivers are not allowed within 100 meters of a bus station. A guy at the station mentioned something about broken lights or glass…no matter, we will move along to the next corner for pickup. We found an open spot on the sidewalk and waited. A couple guys sitting there started asking if we needed any weed or coke. No, we were good. Did we have any money…nope. We patiently waited for the driver who was 2 minutes away, then 9 minutes away… this could get interesting real quick. We still had an hour of daylight, so lots of time to get another ride if need be. A lady walked by us and said “this neighbourhood is not good. Watch your stuff!” Well if that wasn’t a good enough warning…we just needed our driver to arrive. He showed.

We tossed our bags in the back and were off. Michael was his name and he too spoke no english. Friendly guy, keen on getting us where we needed to go as quickly as possible. This Wednesday afternoon though traffic was backed up everywhere. He was able to weave through residential and back streets for 10 minutes and avoid the snarled traffic on the main roads. A great ride.

We checked into our fancy place, all of 10 minutes from SJO, and found our room for the night was situated out at the back corner of the property…in behind the pool. It is almost like a guest house, or where you would put the guests you didnt want anyone to see. We enter and we have two queen size beds…one more than we need. A very clean place, and we will see how quiet over the next few hours. With the sun setting quickly, we rifled through our bags for shoes and pants, also some long sleeved shirts, just to warm up. Plus shorts and sandals might be a dead giveaway we just came in from the beach.

We headed off in the direction of the mall. This is our first big city exposure in 8 weeks. A mall might be a treat…or so we thought…until walking in the door and getting blasted with Christmas carols. A bearded Santa was waving at kids to try and entice them to sit on his lap for an expensive picture or two. We have avoided all this Christmas commercialization so far, and really liked it. Now we have to ease our way back into the holiday season too. We were not about to eat in a food court on our last night, so we backtracked to a place called the Beer Store nearby. The other option was a Hard Rock Cafe…and that was not in our interest either.

We downed a tasty and pricey meal consisting of a couple burgers, cocktail and single beer for about 50 bucks. Full to bursting, we returned to the room for our final packing and readying ourselves for that early morning Uber to the airport. 4AM will come quick.

Back to Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo

Must have been an early start for the neighbors in Bocas del Toro today since the music seemed to stop sometime past midnight. Somehow Melanie and I drifted off before then and I only noticed the music was off during a nighttime pee. We slept up until 5:58AM…and two minutes later our wake up alarm went off.

Finishing off the last of our cinnamon loaded oats, we added some black tea to that and packed up the last of our items. By 7:20 we were ready, dropped off the keycard with our landlord Frida, and were off to the Coconut Hostel. The guy at the desk was saying we had to be there for 7:30, but when buying the return tickets…it was written on there as 8:00. Better early than late, so we headed out into another overcast morning…heavy with dew in the air which felt almost like rain. Dry enough for us.

We made it to the hostel and there were those kids from Melbourne again. I kind of expected them to be on this shuttle, only because they mentioned they were returning to Puerto Viejo the same day we were. We chatted a bit more than our day together on the tour to Zapatilla and were able to piece together a bit more of their story. All three of them spent the last couple years in Fernie, and now are headed home to move back in with the parents. Money is exhausted, so resuming normal Australian life is their plan. It doesn’t sound like a super plan…but after a couple years away returning to some familiarity can be nice. With now all the bodies rounded up, we departed for the water taxi.

A boat loaded to the maximum. We thought we might have wised up to the best spot in the boat to minimize the bumps and spray, but with a boat loaded up thus much we were one row too far back. As soon as the throttle was opened and that first wave hit, we got a nice splash in the face. An early salty start to the morning. 25 minutes later we arrived in Almirante to some eager kids looking to help with our bags in exchange for change. Aggressive kids too, muscling their way in to grab your bags and help you from the dock to the road all of 20 feet away. Highly unnecessary, but everyone is looking for ways to eek out a buck or portion of one. We stood waiting at the roadside for another 20 minutes before our shuttle arrived. 5 minutes of loading bags to the roof and we were off to the border. 12 passengers packed into this little van and the engine struggled to get us up some of those hills. Melanie and I were stuck in a couple of little fold down seats with no cushion, back support or legroom. Over the course of an hour and a bit, we bounced around in the hot little van just waiting for it all to be over.

We arrived at the border. So far the day has gone as scheduled…just a lot of waiting up to this point. Waiting at the hostel, waiting for the boat, waiting for the shuttle at Almirante. At the immigration office for Panama, again no line so no waiting for us. We walked right up to the window, offered up our passports and got our stamps. Perfect. Just a quick walk across that Sixaola bridge and come Costa Rican entrance stamps will speed this right along…or so we thought. As we got off the bridge you could see the line was a bit longer than the first time we encountered this crossing. No matter, we just line up and wait a little more.

Well, we waited. The line would inch forward a little every 5 minutes. The overcast sky cleared and sun started beating down on us. The line grew longer and longer with very little movement. I commented on our way down on how this was a very inefficient crossing with only a couple of officers dealing with both entry and exit stamps. Those inefficiencies were magnified today with their computer system going down and now everyone having to fill out paper forms in addition to the rigorous interviewing of foreigners. After an hour and 45 minutes…the line started to move quickly…and we made it in the office. The computer system came back online and they didn’t even bother asking for outgoing itineraries. Everyone got 90 day visas just to move people through. All told a 2 hour wait for this border process and we were off.

We hopped in our shuttle with the Aussies and departed for Puerto Viejo. 45 minutes later we were dropped at the door of Hotel Pura Vida and ready for checkin. By this point we needed lunch, a pee, and really big bottle of water. We dropped our bags and headed into town to visit some of our haunts from a week and a half ago. Tuesday, and of course many of the places we would have gone to choose today as their day of the week to be closed. We did grab a couple greasy empanadas from that beach spot though. No smoothies though as for some reason there was no power along the beach.

That no power situation also messed with the guy selling bus tickets. No electricity stopped him from selling and printing out any tickets, so we would have to swing back a little later. Back to the room for us. An early start to the day and terrible sleeps meant a nap was a great option…we also shifted back a time zone if we needed an excuse to justify a nap.

On waking, we headed down to the water for a few minutes of splashing around in the Caribbean. It will likely be quite a while before we make our way back to these waters, so a swim was in order. Suits on, we wandered back through this stinky town to the ocean and Playa Negra. There is a certain beauty about the fine black sand on this beach. Everyone seems to be in search of white sand beaches and yes, we will agree that the white sand is pretty and makes it really easy to see the clarity of this Caribbean water…but white sand gets littered with dead leaves, logs, all kinds of dark debris that makes that pristine white sand look dirty. A black sand beach kind of hides all that debris. I also like the clean blackboard look of that freshly deposited sand with each wave. This is a pretty spot with some gentle waves.

We spent a couple hours out there on the beach. Watching the waves. Striking up a conversation with an old Air Force pilot from the Gulf War…something about B52 bombers is what he did. When we saw there was no chance of a sunset due to the clouds rolling in, we headed out for dinner. Bikini Restaurant again, after a 10 night hiatus, and Melanie ordered another green curry. I added a chicken dish and we dined before the tour groups arrived.

Now that we are in for the night, I can outline a little about our accommodations here at Hotel Pura Vida. This seems to be a bit of a compound on the back streets of town. Certainly much less traffic noice than our last place here in Puerto Viejo. We have a freshly oiled wood floor, wood paneling on the walls, no windows…only screened openings to the outdoors, and private open air bathroom. We had to pay a little extra for the private bath…we had no idea that it was a stand there and shower while looking out that the world kind of bathroom though. A neat place and it looks like tonight we will be sleeping under a mosquito net while listening to the geckos yell at each other and large critters scamper on the roof. Jungle music.

Tomorrow, we have tickets for an 11AM bus to San Jose. A single bus ride which should be a whole lot simpler and faster than our ordeal today. Let’s hope so anyways.

Last Day in Bocas del Toro

This is Day #58, and officially our 10th day in Panama and Bocas del Toro. We made it through the night with that thumping music ending sometime around 1AM. It took until 7PM tonight for them to get that boom box fired up again…meaning now we again are bombarded with now a Latin flavoured rap pop mix. Loud enough that we can’t overpower it with tunes in our unit. Welcome to Panama.

Despite the late music, we somehow fell asleep and sleeping in only lasted until 8AM. We have a few early travel days coming up so getting an earlier start probably isn’t a bad idea. Breakfast again was simple and filling. Our goal was to be out the door by 10ish in time to catch a bus to Playa Bluff…whenever that arrived and departed. Bluff is our favourite beach and relatively easy to get to. Since the sky was overcast and again rain expected at some point, heading out to a spot where we could potentially take shelter and watch the waves for a few hours sounded like a good plan. Big crashing waves are great to watch even if it isn’t sunny.

We headed out the door and to the park to find our ride. We arrive and a guy was quick to greet us and ask where we were headed. He assured us the Bluff bus on its way and would be there shortly. We could have a seat and wait. We took the guy’s advice and hung out for 10 minutes waiting for the van to arrive, then another 20 before deciding to depart. It may sound a little painful, but the park is a perfect place to just hang out and people watch. Native Panamanians hailing taxis to haul a load of plantains. Little kids running about parentless. Tourists riding rented bikes down the middle of the low traffic road. We could spend all day there if there was only a cushion for these cement benches.

We departed for Bluff. Just Melanie and I for fares on this ride, not so profitable for the driver. We wound our way through town, out of town, and up the east side of Isla Colon to Bluff. Our bus was really just a worn down minivan in desperate need of suspension replacement. The potholes and sand driving is really hard on this vehicle, which is probably why all the taxis in town are 4×4’s. As long as it got us there and back, we would be happy.

We got dropped off at the Island Plantation and made our way to the water. The last time we were out this way, we got dropped at the south end of the beach and made our way the 2km north to this spot. Rather than repeat, we could just start here and venture further north, which is what we did. The cloud cover was dense today, with a few spots of blue sky. We needed the coverage as Melanie was still a bit pink from a couple days ago. Can’t have her get too brown now otherwise no one will recognize her when we get home. We continued up the beach for a half hour, then turned around when it appeared it might take another hour to make it to the north end and back. All told, this beach must be 4km long…and lovely. It was time for lunch anyways.

We found a small table beachside and ordered a couple drinks, split an overpriced shrimp wrap and then settled into some beach chairs to enjoy the afternoon relaxing in the shade of palms and some very broad green leaves. I went for a dip in the crashing waves. Warnings are posted everywhere saying no lifeguard is around, so swim at your own risk. A few days ago there was no problem, but I waited for a few others to float their way out there to ensure no riptides were sucking people out to oblivion. Easy enough to dive into the first wave and come up in water just deep enough to float through the next few waves, however I was quickly swept down the beach to a point a little rougher. The next wave in crested a bit soon and I was tossed around like a rag doll…sand in my shorts and hair. That might take a while to rinse out. I tried a couple more waves…got bounced around then exited for a drink of water. One more try a few minutes later. In I went at an easy point, rode a couple waves but yes…swept down the beach and tossed around in the crashing waves. Alright…not so much of a swimming day. The sky was clearing though, so maybe best to just sit back, dry off and enjoy the rest of that warm beer.

We enjoyed one more beverage while watching the sun tanners slowly turn pink themselves, then caught our beat up van back to town. 25 minutes later we were back at our room rinsing off and ready to seek out a little water and dinner before nightfall. The water was easy, since all I needed was a jug and a quarter. Dinner was at La Bugita and was a nice little wrap up to our stay here. A dessert of what they consider to be artisan coconut ice cream with some chocolate syrup, then we were headed home for the night.

Now we just have the music from next door to subside and we can get a few solid hours of sleep before heading back to the border. Hopefully all is still running smooth on the Panamanian side, because I just realized it is their Independence Day tomorrow. I guess we will see.

Shady Sunday in Bocastown

Saturday night might be a party night for the tourists that come into town looking for some drunken tomfoolery, but it isn’t just the young hostel goers that get into it. The house next to us seems to celebrate the entire weekend with music thumping all day and all night. First it was dogs barking and roosters crowing at all hours. Last night was the thumping bass stretching well into the wee hours of the morning.

We were still up at 8AM. Sleeping in wasn’t really an option. We could have laid there for a while, staring at the ceiling fan and its incessant clicking with each revolution…or we could get up and seek out something different for the day. Breakfast wasn’t all that much different as we have grown accustomed to the cinnamon spiced oatmeal paste that makes up our morning meal. The instant coffee I combined with a pack of finely ground coffee last night in poor lighting. This morning when adding some boiling water to the cup…the grittiness was a bit too much and we switched over to black tea. We can save the coffee for when we make it home.

Another overcast day today, with rain expected between noon and 2pm. That kind of put a damper on any kind of beach day plans…so we came up with an easy alternative. Drop by the Coconut Hostel again to arrange return travel to Puerto Viejo, then lunch over at the well reviewed Cosmic Crab. Not really adventurous plans for the day, but the pinkness of Melanie’s skin required a shadier day.

The return travel booking took all of 3 minutes. It was now 10:30…well before lunch and we had no need to cross over to Carenero any earlier than necessary. We stopped at a place called Be Nice for a morning beer, smoothie and fruit bowl. They had a nice little patio spot over the water with only a few people in there seeking breakfast. We parked ourselves for an hour, enjoyed our beverages and the view of birds diving for fish and scraps, then headed back to our room for a moment. No need to do lunch just yet.

When the peak of the rain was expected to hit, we ventured out. Not a sign of rain around, so maybe just enough time to catch a boat and park ourselves at the Cosmic Crab for a bite. We found a boat, enjoyed the 2 minute ride across the clear water and ended up on a dock in front of 4 little cabins. We walked up to the restaurant deck and grabbed a corner table in the empty restaurant, expecting big things. A super strong passion fruit margarita and beer started us off along with ceviche. We held off on ordering more food just to slow down the service… after all, this was the entire plan for the day. The wind would gust and nearly blow our drinks over. Menus would flip off the table and nearly into the ocean. The ceviche came, and it was average. We have had bigger and better…just on the other side of this island. On that note we wrapped up the bill, at which point the owner of the place mentioned they still had a Black Friday 25% off at their gift shop. We followed her to check it out.

There was no one around. I wondered how many guests she might have at any given time…and even now…but wasn’t going to pry. The gift shop is something Melanie and I are great at browsing, terrible at buying. We have seen a lot of crap offered for sale in many of these stores…and we aren’t about to burden friends and family with more unnecessary items. This lady didn’t know our views on gifts though, which is why she was eager to show us around. She stopped by the bar to grab a Miller Lite, then unlocked the door to a musty smelling room full of display cases full of handmade jewelry. Painted wood pieces, woven baskets, gemstones typically found at a mineral show, and stacks of watercolour prints. This might have been the most familiar looking gift shop we have seen in a while, and here she had it tucked away from the crowds…an island away from where her real customers might be. We hung out for a bit and chatted about the lack of local artisans, no encouragement of artistic talents among locals, and a general lack of motivation from those that live in the area. Originally from Florida, 12 years down here in Bocas del Toro may have made her a bit pessimistic.

We parted ways, grabbed a boat back to Bocastown and added a taco salad to our partially digested underwhelming ceviche. A good opportunity to reflect on what the Cosmic Crab lady had to say. On top of the corruption, systems that don’t appear to work and lack of local creativity it seems that spending significant amounts of time here could be frustrating. Again, reinforcing our thoughts that relocating somewhere that is regularly nice and warm probably is not in our near future. We departed and made our way back to the room through some back streets.

We passed by a three storey commercial market that we hadn’t seen before. Considering we had some time on our hands, we popped in to see what this store might offer. Here we found a smattering of everything from toilet paper to fan belts. An automotive section, a stroller and luggage area…as close as one might get to a department store, without any signage or escalators. This was a curious collection of items. Many of the small markets around town we have been to and found they sold a bunch of cheap Made in China bags, shirts and suitcases. This larger store carried all the same items, just now at a slightly higher price. We did also find some basic furniture at the back of the top level. A nice looking wood dresser and bed set for a decent price…but it was the only option. Not much for variety, displays, or customer service in this part of the world.

We headed back to the room for a pee break, then off to Casbah for dinner. The Swedish guy and Italian lady we met a few days ago recommended it, and after seeing them randomly yesterday out in Cayo Coral on a boat…we could do for a change in dining establishments. We made our way up the road to the north end of town only to find out it was closed. Doh! Sounds like we are headed back to one of our usual haunts for a bite to eat.

We selected La Bugita again, maybe for a tasty pair of fish tacos. As we walk in to find a table, there was that Swedish Italian couple and their boy. They had just sat down themselves and were only a sip into their first beer…so they invited us to join them. Why not? Another beverage and meal split between us over more conversation about the joys of living in Barcelona and Italy…then the little guy had to go. Parents know when that meltdown time is about to arrive, and with a quick exchange of facebook details…Jimmy and Martina departed. We too wrapped up our bill and headed back. This is Sunday night after all.

We are now back, enjoying the thumping bass from the place next door. It is a relief the dogs have stopped barking, but when the music stops they will likely be back into yipping and yapping throughout the night. Let’s try some earplugs.

Tour to Zapatillas

The alarm woke us at 7:30. Opening the curtains showed us that to the west was nothing but rain on the horizon. Probably a good thing we have this upper level “water view” unit to watch for weather on the horizon…now which way is that rain moving? We ate our breakfast and readied ourselves in case the precipitation was headed away from us. In addition, we checked satellite maps and hour by hour forecasts…maybe we would be OK. 8:55AM we departed for the Coconut Hostel.

We arrived to pails full of empty beer cans. Saturday morning at a popular hostel is not a pretty sight. Plenty of zoned out bodies laying around, likely nursing hangovers…waiting for some very rough breakfast to be prepared. The guy normally seated at the desk all hours of the day was making toast over some hot coals. He acknowledged our arrival, stopped his toast making and moved back to his usual desk spot. “How can i help you?” We outlined that we were ready to depart on the trip today…the one that leaves in 20 minutes. Ah…yes…he then asks for $20 each and we wait. Rather than wait in the dingy inside with pallets for sofas, we waited on the street. Brighter, more lively…and we didnt mind standing for a bit.

Another gentleman showed up. Not a guy that looked like he was going on the tour, but a handler of sorts. Upon his arrival, our money taking guy realized he was supposed to ask for $25 each. We were standing next to the sign that said $25…so paying $20 a person seemed like we might be getting the Saturday morning hangover deal. We paid the balance and were whisked off by this new gentleman to the docks typically reserved for water taxis. Melanie climbed into a boat and suddenly we were on our way. A private tour?

That was wishful thinking. The gentleman that brought us to the water taxi dock was to be our captain for the day. We steered the boat to a nearby hotel and loaded another couple women on board…then we headed around the north end of town to a dock next to the Bookstore Bar…but no one to pick up. Maybe just the 4 of us then. Nope, back to town and that same water taxi dock where another 4 bodies climbed in…and a return to that dock on the north side to pick up 3 more that hadn’t gotten out of bed early enough. 11 of us in total…now ready to go? Nope, another return to the water taxi dock but now for ice and some hydraulic steering fluid. 5 minutes of idling…then we were off.

All instructions were given in Spanish, then an abbreviated version in English. We headed to Dolphin Bay, and there we found a dozen boats all circling around a few lonely dolphins just going about their day. 5 minutes later we passed through Coral Cay, which was a bit light on coral and a very short pass through. Crystal clear water, and I should have got some underwater shots that that point…but we were out and at full speed again before I thought of doing just that. Next was a place called Hollywood. Not sure why, but that is what was on the chalkboard outlining the tour stops. Here we could stop for a pee, a beer, and order our lunch…which would then eat when we returned. A quick pee break and we were on to los Zapatillas.

We arrived to dark clouds to the north and a wee bit of sun to the south. We might have to be a bit creative with the photos here to make it look as amazing as they did on Survivor. A few pictures and we found a nice little spot to hang our bags in a tree, sheltered from the light rain passing overhead. A hour and a bit for a swim in the overcast sky was pretty much all our skin could handle as we were still a bit burnt from a few days ago. We made our way back to the boat to find some lunch.

We arrive back at Hollywood, and were asked…snorkel or no snorkel? Well half of us were a yes to snorkelling and the other half indifferent. It was now almost 2PM and we really needed lunch. Peanuts were only taking us so far. Apparently we snorkelled now and postponed lunch, or we skip the snorkel and eat now. Lunch had to wait. We ventured a few minutes out into the water and a few of us jumped over the side to see what was undersea. Some small yellow and black striped fish, blue transparent fish, maybe parrot fish? I was never good at fish identification. I will leave that to my sister or nieces. The coral was small as well, colourful but not as intense as a reef might be. 20 minutes of floating around trying to get phone footage in a hopefully waterproof pouch and we headed back for lunch.

Lunch was late, and consisted of shrimp and rice for the whopping price tag of $15USD. It was alright for being prepared in a shack in the middle of the ocean. We headed directly from there to Sloth Island were we spotted a 3 foot sloth lazing the a tree 200 feet away. Not exactly photo worthy, especially with the sun directly behind the creature. We saw one sloth, which is better than most days they do tours along here. With that one slow hairy creature, we headed back to Bocastown. Tour complete.

After a rinse off of the salt, we headed out for an earlier than usual dinner of fish tacos and tuna burger…then headed back to our room. A few essentials grabbed from one of the Chinese grocers and in for the night. Not an exciting Saturday night for us, but it has been a long day.

We are sleeping in tomorrow…unless the weather is nice.

Rainy and Fumigated

7AM and I was up. Melanie slept until the alarm at 7:30 and at the time i opened the curtains to see what the day had in store for us. Today…a whole lot of grey. Warm, but ominous clouds and barely a hint of sunshine. A tour was not looking like the best of ideas, which is probably also good we didn’t schedule in advance. We checked the weather, hourly forecast. Yesterday the prediction was for sun and scattered cloud all morning and afternoon…today, only clouds and lots of them. Rain in the afternoon.

We called off the day trip. Maybe something a little closer to town when the clouds broke. We waited out the morning after breakfast and completed our accommodation research. The clouds were hanging tough, and now that noon had rolled in with a sprinkling of rain…with much more on the horizon…we set off towards town.

We had noticed a strange haze in the room. More so in the bathroom and bedroom. It was kind of concerning, like the smoke that shows after an electrical fire. We all know the smell of burning wires or tires…and this was neither. The maid was next door, so i had to see the unit and ask if it was just us. All i really got from her was, OK, fumigacion. So no electrical fire, but some sort of fumigation that we shouldn’t be concerned about…even though it was making it hard to see and breathe in our unit? A couple minutes later, Jamie came by to inform us we needed to depart for 1 hour. The fumigation guys needed to spray our unit. Well, it looks like being prepared to depart for the day was a good idea after all. We departed, passing two very large men…one in a tyvek suit with a canister slung over his shoulder, the tip of it smouldering just like I seem to remember from cartoons. I did see a small shelled insect running for cover in the bathroom this morning…maybe he knew what was coming. I squished him to spare him from being gassed.

The sprinkling from the grey clouds overhead continued and we headed to La Pirata for the inexpensive executive lunch for $5. It was tasty a few days ago, the waters edge seating was perfect…service might suck, but that is more of a general statement for most places we have eaten at. We sat down and the rain came. The water was clear and still, other than for the occasional water taxi stirring up a wake to rock the boats tied up nearby. We now had no plans other than to wait out the rain over a few beer. Maybe watch the birds scoop their dinner from the surface of the sea and discuss all the things we have learned from a trip like this. We still have a few days to go, but we only have one night at the San Jose airport that will be new to us.

When the rain slowed, we departed. Back to the room. Hopefully clear of any toxic fumes and habitable. On returning…nope, gassy. For security reasons, the windows in this place all have 1×2 boards screwed down inside the windows as security bars. The only opening to the outside world is the door. We had that wide open and the bathroom fan running full tilt. This is also the first time we have encountered a bathroom fan maybe the entire trip. We figure the typical clientele in this place must be particularly stinky, or the developer thought ventilation might be essential to selling the condos. He hasn’t sold all of them yet…if anyone is interested.

We sat outside and waited out the dissipation of fumes. I guess this means our suitcases are also fumigated…which might be a good thing. No sense bringing home any critters. When finally clear, we headed back into town for some dinner. Again, Indian… or some form of southeast Asian.

Not a lot of report today. The rain quells a lot of adventure, unless we were diving…which we weren’t. Tomorrow should be good…so we will just start again the same way and see where the day takes us.

Venturing to Carenero

Melanie swears the dogs were howling at the moon last night. The dirty fluffball of a dog next door seems to never stop yapping. Howling…I wouldn’t be surprised. I seemed to sleep through that portion of the evening.

We arose at 8AM. Breakfast and getting ready was a little slower since we had only to give our exposed skin a break from the sun today. Lucky for us, high cloud was above occasionally blocking out those rays and rain could be seen in the distance from our new top floor apartment. The water view is not much, but compared to the dark room we have been in for the last few days…this is a treat.

We did have a few tasks to accomplish. Money needed to be taken out as our cash was dwindling fast. Drinking water was needed. Our accommodation needed to be confirmed for a few more nights. Trading emails with the owners is easy enough, but the broken english seems to cause more confusion than clarity. We have been paying $45 a night now for the last 5 days and they are more than happy to continue that discounted rate for us until the 28th of November. Now just a matter of confirming…and paying cash if we had to.

We departed the room with an empty 5 litre bottle with us. My mission was to try and find one of the rare refill stations in town. Jamie, the lady here coordinating check ins and cleaning, said we had to buy water from the store. That today was the fall back plan, because with a little careful recollection I might find that refill station we saw 4 days ago down some desolate road. We headed up the road, pulled money from the bank with a hefty 5.25USD surcharge, and found that most northerly avenue in town. Half a block down from the Sweet Love Tea shop there was a refill station stating any size refill for 25 cents. Even if I lost a quarter in this old machine, it was worth a try to see if we could get a much cheaper water source than the Chinese grocer on the corner. Bottle went in. A quarter slipped nicely into the coin slot. I pressed the button and like magic…water slowly filled the bottle. Then stopped about 1.5 litres in. I didnt notice a size of bottle setting, so another quarter and we extracted 3 nearly free litres for our use. If I had more quarters, we could have topped it up, but today…this was already a minor win.

We marched our money and mostly full water jug back to the room to drop off our winnings. As we went by the bank, an alarm of some sort was going off with gringos all lingering around outside.. Never did figure out what was going on, but we weren’t going to stick around either to find out. We dropped our goods, sent another Paypal payment to the landlords here for another 3 nights, then it was time for lunch.

Now instead of wandering the streets to all the same restaurants we have been eating at for the last few days, today I thought we could try something different. Why not hop on a boat and ride around to a spot on Carenero Island for both lunch and a short beach day. Carenero is the dirty little island we visited a few days ago in search of accommodation. Melanie swore she never needed to go back there, but with others recommending the little beach on the island…maybe she would check it out. We found a water taxi, paid the $2 per person for a guy to run us around to the east side of the island and drop us off at Bibi’s for lunch. We arrived, saw a tiny beach and strode over it to the restaurant at the end. We were not excited about the beach, so cocktails and lunch on the covered patio was a great alternative to fighting for space on the scrap of sand.

After an order of grilled chicken, nice big pile of ceviche, a couple beers and a passion fruit margarita the German couple that we shared the shuttle with yesterday showed up. We traded hellos and continued to enjoy the view from the over water deck. They were friendly, but today they had their own German friends to hang with so we weren’t going to budge in on that dynamic. We asked for the bill and started to head out. While at the bar running the card, the German guy came over to get a beer from the bartender. We told him we were about to go for a quick dip in this little beach stretch, at which point he says NO. 5 minutes more that way is the beach!

Well that was a relief. Maybe there was more to this little island. We thanked him and headed north, through front yards, past doorsteps and along the rough and sandy path. We rounded a corner and there was a nice long dock and small stretch of sandy white beach. Not the nicest beach we have seen, but this would do for today. It was now late enough that the palm trees aided the clouds in shielding us from the sun…so time for a swim.

We bobbed around in the waist deep water for an hour. The water was warmer than the air…definitely not the best spot for cooling off, but still very welcome. We got chatting with a Swedish fellow, there with his Italian wife and son. Apparently they picked up and moved to Panama as part of a lifelong goal to try living in Latin America. They now live in Panama City and have for just over a year. They aren’t super happy with their choice of places in the world to move to, but after a year of settling in they wanted to give it a fair shake. Panama may be slightly Americanized, but it is still Central America…corruption, poverty, poor infrastructure…all still very present. Before long they plan to move back to Torino, Italy for another new start. With the bugs starting to bite his Italian wife…it was time for them to move on. We followed suit shortly after them.

We walked our way around the island to the Aqua Lounge hostel for a water taxi back to Bocastown. The sandy path led past houses elevated on stilts with no windows and debris littering the ground. Clotheslines were strung up, and loaded down with many, many pairs of jeans. Little kids would come running up asking for money. We weaved our way through the houses and businesses to our pickup point and jumped in a boat. Carenero can be considered done, however we never got to the Cosmic Crab…so maybe not quite done.

Upon returning, we changed and headed into town for dinner. The Swedish guy suggested a restaurant they were going to tonight, but we wanted something simpler and quieter. Their offspring, Sebastiano, seemed to have a bit more of the energetic Italian in him than the passive Swede…so a peaceful meal was likely not in their future. We wanted one. We stopped at Buena Vista and enjoyed a chicken enchilada and brownie parfait amongst the 2 other tables in the restaurant. A nice wind up to the day.

The plan is for a tour in the morning. Hopefully the weather holds up, and the pinkness of our skin subsides enough to handle more sun. If not…then there is always the day after.

Playa Estrella and the Starfish

I don’t know what the story is with these early rising roosters, but they did get going around 9:30PM last night. Regardless, the sound of our room fan kind of drowned out the voices of our noisy poultry neighbors and we slept soundly until 8AM.

During our breakfast of some fancier oats, these ones with cinnamon, I was checking out some excursions for the day. After our excellent beach day yesterday, we figured we should spend a bit more time checking out some of the more well travelled tourist spots around Bocas del Toro. Colectivos departed from the park between 10 and 11AM…so if we wanted to try and make one of those, it would be best if we speedily got our crap together.

We made it out the door just before 10 to a grey and overcast sky. Maybe not the best day to make our way out to Playa Estrella, so we kept our options open. Playa Carenero was just a 2 dollar water taxi ride away…so maybe we opt for that. We headed over to the park anyways and sat for a moment to get a feel for when these minibuses rolled by. With no traffic, we instead headed to the Coconut Hostel to ask them instead…as well about a full day tour. Suddenly a minibus showed up and instead of just asking the price and walking away…we hopped in. Apparently, regardless of the weather, we were headed to Playa Estrella.

The bus loaded fast and we were off. 15km is what the signs told us for this ride and i read somewhere about 30 minutes. Yep, 30 minutes of being tossed and turned in the back of the van with the loud talking of eager Germans throughout and AC overscented with some likely toxic Febreeze knockoff keeping us cool for the ride. The road was full of potholes and broken pavement, and the driver careful to navigate each hole with plenty of braking and swerving. We arrived in Boca del Drago in about 25 minutes with queasy stomachs and smelling dryer fresh.

Drago is not all that exciting. A tiny town of just a few structures and a spot to dump tourists looking to make their way to Estrella. The beach is narrow, the water crystal clear and the people friendly. We started the trek through what looked like a couple backyards and followed the waters edge past a dock to some jungley looking trail. Sandy, palm fronds littering the ground drying in the sun. We followed the well marked path all the way along to Playa Estrella. I hadn’t done any research on the place, so all I knew is there were starfish there. As we approached the start of the beach…you could see about 3 of the orangey yellow creatures in the shallow water. Starfish are here.

We ventured down the very narrow strip of sand, ducking in and out of little restaurant stands all stacked up side by side. Beach chairs were parked in their traditional spots, however this beach was so narrow that half of the chair was positioned in the water. Sure there was still a good 10 inches of clearance between the top of the chair and water surface, but anything that resembled a wave coming in would likely soak everyone. This side only had waves from the police boat patrolling the area and water taxis lucky enough to extract a few more dollars from the tourists not interested in doing the walk.

We made our way down to the end of the beach, without actually finding beach. Playa Bluff had some beach…really nice beach. Maybe the water was a bit rough, but that was a fantastic beach. I was expecting the same today with maybe a few more restaurants and shops. Nope…not here. We found a spot at one of the restaurants and plunked our stuff down. We both needed to get in the water to cool down.

After getting in the water, swimming a little with the starfish littering the sandy bottom around our feet helped ease our way into Playa Estrella. Our ride wasn’t returning for another 5 hours, so we might as well relax and enjoy. Melanie made some friends with the fishes. As she stood posing for pictures between a couple of starfish in the water below, the fishes started nipping at her feet. No fear with these guys. They decided to nip and taste my feet as well. We don’t know if these were the skin eating fish that seem to be popular in spa treatments, but the friendly little guys definitely clarified our discomfort of having anything nibble at our toes.

We lunched at the place, had a few beer and a Malibu with fresh squeezed orange juice. The clouds dissipated and sky turned blue. The time slipped by and after a few very long swims it was time to head back to our pickup point. We made our way back along the trail, stopping for a few more pics of the rain in the mountains on the mainland…and to our spot in front of a blue house.

4:30 pickup. We were all there, which was surprising because it seemed a little disorganized and maybe confusing when we departed the van. The Germans were very punctual though, even a few minutes early. We could get used to a German lifestyle methinks. A shuttle showed up and those of our group smart enough to only do a one way trip hopped in that bus for $2.50 each. Four of us waited for our ride. A larger colectivo came by, filled up, and departed. 5:00, still no ride. The cabbie we had yesterday that took us to Bluff was parked nearby, so that could always be a backup plan…assuming no one scoops the ride before us. 5:10 and our guy shows up, apologizing profusely. Mechanical issues is what he claimed, which is understandable considering the road conditions.

We piled in and made our way back to town. Our driver was kind enough to not turn the potpourri scented AC on for our ride back, which had us arrive with a little less quease and more appetite. The chicken rice lunch we split was long burned off with the hours of swimming and we needed some dinner. The driver was kind enough to drop us at our place to freshen up a little before heading out for dinner.

Quite a lot of sun for us. We changed out of our suits and headed into town for something hearty. Tonight, I was craving a burger…something that would fill my gut with familiarity. We went to Munchies, found out they had beer for a dollar each as part of their happy hour and $4.50 for a passion fruit margarita…so drinks were instantly a win. A chicken burger for the lady and bacon cheeseburger with yucca fries for me. The drinks were tasty…burgers, meh. Yucca fries…more like yuck than yucca. We were full enough with the OK food, and headed for home.

This must have been just enough time for our skin to register pinkness. Maybe it is the compact fluorescents that really make those red hues stand out, but both of us are a fair shade pinker than this morning. A cold shower did not seem to rinse off the redness and now as I write this…there might be a little discomfort settling in.

Tomorrow is a new day, probably with less beach time and much more sunscreen.

Playa Bluff to start the day

Bright and early the roosters had me up and ready for the day. I let Melanie sleep another hour as she probably needed it in anticipation of her big day at the dentist. A few emails responded to and a few news articles kept me occupied until she stirred.

Breakfast was the last of the mushy oatmeal. It is a quick and hearty breakfast, just not memorable in the way peeled grapes might be fed to you while seated on a throne in front of an adoring public. Memorable in the way that you know it is good for you, but almost anything else might be a tastier option. We washed the thickening paste down with some coffee and headed out the door. We couldn’t wait all day for the dentist appointment.

We made our way up the street in search of a colectivo headed for Playa Bluff. Recommended by the retired Vancouver construction guy, we decided to check it out. The couple in the info booth in town were suggesting we go to better beaches than Bluff…why would we go there. We found out that buses go each hour and we just had to flag the minibus down. Instead of heading for the park, we headed north to intercept one of those buses, or maybe a taxi if the price was right.

When at the road, taxi trucks started swarming. They could see that we were heading somewhere…so a fare might be had. The first guy suggested $15. Nope, i walked away and we parked ourselves on the side of the road for the bus to come by. We had no idea when or if a minibus would actually show up…but we might as well play out this charade a little. The cabbie drove over alongside us and suggested $12. I suggested $10. He was quick to reach for a rate sheet and show us that the standard is $12.10 to Playa Bluff. I backed up to the sidewalk to wait for the bus. It took 10 seconds and the driver agreed to the $10 fare for the ride. We hopped in.

Now this was only a 7km drive, and the roads look pretty good…so this should still be a profitable ride for the driver. It wasn’t long before paved road turned to rocky crush, then beach sand and some fording of large puddles. We now understood the reason for taxi trucks in this part. 20 minutes later the driver dropped us as the south end of Playa Bluff, took our $10 and departed. He did leave us with his number for when we were ready to return…but we weren’t in any rush.

We were on the beach. It had been a few days since our toes were in the wet sand, so definitely a welcome change to the pavement in town. Signs at the start of the beach indicated that killer riptides were present and swimming was not recommended. We made our way to the waters edge and on this south end the beach was pretty damn nice. Water not so violent. Perfect for a few pictures, which is exactly what we were there for.

We made our way to the halfway point of the beach, a good 1 or 2km northward. Pictures, sunshine, crystal clear water…perfect. We found a little tiki bar to stop for a couple beverages and some lunch. Apparently all businesses need to be on the jungle side of the road in this part of the island, but this little tiki bar operates a little under the radar…or so we were told by the guy from Vancouver. We finished up our lunch pizza then moved to a couple lounge chairs on the beach.

Our waiter / bartender figured the next minibus was either 1:30 or 2…so it was time for me to go for a swim. Yes there were signs outlining the riptide, but the section of beach we were in didn’t look too rough. Watching a few people wade in and float around without getting sucked out into the sea also offered a little more support for safe swimming. Trunks were off and I was in bobbing amongst the waves. Bigger waves would likely be a problem. Swimming out deeper might also be a problem, but a few feet off shore was just fine.

I dried out a little after the swim and shortly after that the minibus honked its horn to warn any dining day trippers to wrap up their bills if they were looking for a cheap ride back. We gathered our goods and hopped on the vehicle…drove 30 feet, then the driver and his copilot got out for a break. Apparently the ride was not schedule to leave for another 15 minutes. We sat in the van alone, staring out at the sea with AC chilling our bones. Now that I write about it, why did we wait so patiently in the van when we could have been enjoying more of the sea air and beach?

20 minutes passed and the driver returned with his assistant. We departed late and made our way down the rough roads, sand and big puddles. A person would jump in here and there. We came upon a gal in a bikini pushing a bike interested in flagging the bus down. Was she just tired and not interested in riding back? The driver and assistant hopped out and tossed her bike on top while she climbed inside. A Mexican gal down here for a few months doing day trip tours. A couple she was out with had a flat. She offered up her bike and started pushing the one with the flat back towards town. For the last 20 minutes, Melanie and her got chatting and we recommended she make her way up to Vancouver. We do have a pretty little corner of the world, we might as well offer our own bit of touristic promotion.

We made it back to town and headed back to the room for a pit stop. Melanie had a little freshening up to do before her appointment and I had a couple calls to return. Just as we arrive, an older gentlemen came around the corner to our doorway to say hello. This was James. The builder and developer of this 19 unit complex. He wanted to introduce himself over the last couple days, but was out of town on a trip to David then a day down working on a cabin he has. We got to chatting about many things. There is a big sign out in front of this place saying that 10 condos are for sale, buy 9 and get one free. He tells me that he would now take 600k for the 9 units just to free himself of the building. At 78, he hopes he has another ten good years in him and he could use the money to complete a new project of cabins in a new up and coming port town. I got the feeling he was a bit of a salesman and wanted to take the opportunity to try and sell a unit or 9 to guests if he could. An interesting old guy and we probably could have chatted for hours, but it was time for Melanie’s appointment.

Off to the dentist. Tooth in hand, we walked in the door and sat down. 3:20 was the scheduled time…but it took half an episode of NCIS LA, all overdubbed in Spanish, before they were ready for her. No reception desk, just a waiting area, a TV, and a couple rooms hidden behind closed doors. There wasn’t any visible signs of credit cards being accepted at this location so after Melanie was invited into one of the rooms, I headed back to the room for a bit more cash…actually all of our cash…just in case. After returning, it only took another half hour of watching Hoarders, also overdubbed, before she emerged. Smile on her face, asking me to pay the man. Dirty cash was exchanged and we were out. Time to celebrate!

We headed down the road to La Buga for some nachos, a tuna burger and a couple happy hour drinks. A pricier day when you include the ride to and from the beach as well as the beach meal…and tooth…but we did alright. Sounds like another run to the bank might be required tomorrow.

On return to our room we came across one of the ladies that works here, Jamie, seated out front connected to wifi from outside the gate. Apparently it was her day off, but she didn’t have much to do this evening…so hanging in the street with her tablet was tonight’s entertainment. We chatted for a bit about work, treating employees fairly, and expensive dental work in Canada. I had to run over to the grocery store for some water. Melanie went inside and Jamie and I wandered over to the Chinese run grocery for a nice big jug of water. She picked out some cookies as a treat and I picked up the tab. A small gesture, but she was very appreciative. We will see her in the morning.

So now, in for the night. It is still early, but with the pile of activity today I am thinking we will be shutting things down a little earlier tonight.