Category Archives: Panama 2017

Down on Carenero

Morning again. The roosters got started very early. No car alarms…so overall a kind of restful sleep. The AC in this place seems to be overly moldy, so our only means of cooling off is with the poor water pressure shower with little to no hot water and an overhead fan.

A mushy serving of oats was in order for the one of us missing a tooth. The other happily joined in with their own joyless bowl of what looked like wallpaper paste. Next time we do real oats. Laundry was collected and handed off to the staff for some destinking and we headed off in search of the dentist. The staff here have been very helpful, pointing out the better dentist to go to in town and even making a couple calls to find out when he would be working.

We headed downtown, found the office and found a lady inside who must have been working alone on a patient. She suggested we come back at 1PM…we were not sure if it was for an appointment or to make an appointment…but we would be back. Now more time to kill while waiting for that afternoon revisit.

Across the street were water taxis to the nearby island of Carenero. I had found a hotel right on the water with nice big rooms which was interesting. We could spend all day just relaxing on the deck watching the boats go by. First, we had to check if the place was anything like the photos, therefore a 30 second boat ride was required. We hopped in the first boat available and were sped across the water to Los Balcones. Not a soul around. We snapped some pictures, then started to walk through the place before someone asked what we were doing. We indicated we were looking for a room and were shown a very large, yet dated room. Workable, but maybe we should have a look around the island first. We exited the back of the place to piles of garbage, muddy paths and rough construction. Melanie shot this plan down.

We wandered over to Stay Bocas. A place that looks pretty good in the pictures, but Melanie was wondering just how big the rooms might be. We walked into the place…which was immediately across the street from the airport…and found a nice common area lounge. Signs indicating beer for a dollar and cocktails for a very minor price were very enticing. Included breakfast that consisted of fresh fruit and granola sounded pretty good too. The rooms, very nice…and yes…very small. We thanked the guy and mentioned we would think about it.

The place we are in is not all that sexy. If we could get a few floors up, maybe open a window and enjoy a bit of a view…then this place could work out better. I inquired and apparently we could get moved up a couple floors without paying anything more. Why was that option not put forth to us before. It sounds like we will stay right here for another few nights and soon have a bit of a view.

We made our way over to the dentist office, still 30 minutes early which was just enough time for a beer at Toro Loco across the street. After that beer, Melanie confirmed that tomorrow is tooth fixing day. Depending on how that goes, we might have to add on a couple teeth cleaning appointments as well since they would only cost us $60 each.

Lunch was back down on the main strip, a dock over the water. A guy seated at table next to us was commenting on how after 38 years of construction in Canada, he was glad to now spend the next 4 months in the humid warmth to ease his arthritis. With all the construction next door, he has been spending his afternoons watching the building come together while relaxing with a beer in hand. We had to ask…where in Canada? Vancouver. He apparently sold his house at 7th and Blanca a year ago and moved to Chilliwack. With the money in the bank, he has invested in a trampoline park near Winnipeg and with the rest he vows to never spend another winter up north. Summers yes, but never more snow. With the construction noise ratcheting up we wrapped up the bill and went for a walk. We will likely see him there again tomorrow.

We headed to the north end of town to the Bookstore Bar. Obviously an expat run operation, this too was a quaint little place next to another dive shop. We had a beverage, enjoyed the water view, then walked the streets again in search of dinner. Another day of wandering and eating. Tonight we found Indian food…or kind of Indian. A bit pricey, some different flavours…a welcome change to the norm. I still want to try the dicey looking Chinese place that only seems open for lunch. Maybe tomorrow.

So now we have a short plan for tomorrow. Maybe we can also get to the beach before the dentist.

Bocas del Toro, the mouth of the bull

Well, those roosters do start early. 3AM, and the only light in the sky is probably from the excessive number of security lights around this place. At 4AM, the roosters were drowned out by a car alarm that would not stop. After 40 minutes, the cops showed up with their horn. A couple blasts of sound and the alarm ceased. I dont know if the owners finally came and dealt with the car, or a tow truck took it away…but the sound was gone. The roosters returned to their morning calls…and the sun was still a couple hours from rising.

We crawled out of bed at 7:30. A new bed, so neither of us slept all that well. Breakfast was instant oatmeal…plain, apparently with flax…no sugar. We are now looking at minimizing our sugar intake because everything seems to be overloaded with the sweet white stuff. Coffee, instant and lightened with a little overpriced milk.

I again had a little homework to do. It was a grey start to the day, so perfect for doing a little necessary editing to a training manual. By 11 we had some blue sky and needed some sun…also some lunch since the gruel we started the day with was quickly consumed.

 

With changing locations, even in the same town, some research is required. We walked back up to the north end of town to do some recon on the neighbourhood and water again. We then headed all the way south to check that neighbourhood. Neither really catching our eye. As we passed from north to south, we inquired about availability and price of those oceanfront rooms in the center of town. Most of the places have less than stellar ratings, and they can get away with a little smaller size rooms…dated furniture and higher prices because of their location. We might need to find a quieter island for that private hammock and patio.

We stopped for lunch at another place with almost nobody in it. A deck all to ourselves to enjoy a meal and couple beverages while watching the boats go by. Peaceful, relaxing…now if we could only wake up to this. After an hour of sitting there, finally we paid the bill and headed back to the room to start more searching for accommodation. This is turning into a full time job, but we do enjoy it.

A nap was in order, partly because we ate too much for lunch and watching the boats go by can make one a little sleepy. After that, we figured that since we were here…we might as well walk up to a few of these on the water hotels and check out their availability and rooms. Pictures tell you one thing, walking into the room tells you if it is a good or bad idea. Although it was now dark, we checked out Bocas Inn. A smaller place just to the north of here. Breakfast included, on a common area deck overlooking the water. We waited for the lady at the front desk to return by hanging out on that deck watching the fish chase each other around in the glow of a security light pointed directly down. A stingray floated by under those fish as well. The lady returned, we had a look at a couple rooms…and quickly departed. An OK looking place from the outside, the rooms seemed like they were from a nursing home more than a sexy island. More to discuss.

We still were not hungry, but headed in search of food. That big lunch seemed to not want to break down. We headed for a busy little art cafe down at the south end of town. A large sushi roll was probably going to be sufficient…and one each more than enough. Maybe it is the heat, maybe just a little tired of eating out all the time. We could buy some groceries and eat in, but our currently place is not exciting enough to warrant eating here as well as sleeping.

The rolls came. It must have taken 45 minutes, but the staff appeased us with beer and a basil daiquiri as well as appetizer composed of a couple shot glasses full of some salty soup. What looked like a small ashtray full of some scrambled egg and veggie concoction also arrived along with root veggie chips to facilitate transfer of the egg from ashtray to mouth. Melanie got 2 pieces in when suddenly she encounter a hard white chunk in one of the pieces. A bone? It kind of looked like a tooth. A human tooth. Thoroughly grossed out, she restrained from eating anything further. One of the serving staff came over and asked if all was OK and she pointed out the hard chunk now placed on the serving plate. He tried to explain it away as garlic, but no, this was hard…duro. He took it and disappeared to the kitchen.

Melanie then asked the question…could it have been one of hers? Sure enough, that crown that was put on about 5 years ago seems to have weakened and biting into the tempura roll was enough to shake it loose. A $5000 tooth now split in two with one half of that now somewhere in the kitchen of this restaurant. Immediately, we were asking for it back. Hopefully not buried in the trash…that would be bad. We are in a country of inexpensive dental, so this might be the place to get that tooth fixed. No pain now, just an inconvenience. Now a new challenge awaits us.

We returned to the room. No dessert for us. Now to find a dentist on this little island. Luckily tomorrow is Monday, so maybe someone will be working that can fix her up, just like new.

Off to Panama

No construction on Saturdays, which did not explain us rising before the alarm clock went off this morning. There were numerous momentary power outages throughout the night, which the microwave would alert us to with beeps to inform us that powers had happily been restored. We were up and eager to see what was in store for the day, even if it was only 6AM.

We consumed the last of our sugary cereal with half the milk necessary. To cut the dryness, bottled water was necessary. A bit of instant coffee and our breakfast of champions was completed with a banana. Ready and packed by 8. When asking our host where to leave the keys, she insisted she would come over for a walk through. Odd, but she must have had trouble with guests in the past and now a walk through is necessary.

Monika, from Poland, popped over and told us that she too hadn’t had a great night. She figures is was was warm bad cheese that did her in with her regurgitating her stomach contents for most of the usual sleeping hours. She is a chatty lady, and what should have been a 30 second process turned into 30 minutes. It seemed we almost had to pry ourselves away to stand on the curb for our shuttle pickup. 8:35 hit and our van arrived. We were off to Bocas.

We were the last pickup for the shuttle. 6 other young Germans in the van, 5 gals and a guy. Of all the travellers we have encountered on this trip, young Germans seem to be the least sociable. Sure there was that one teacher we shared a cab with from Tamarindo to Samara that was chatty, but in general…not a very friendly group. Beautiful scenery outside with miles and miles of banana trees growing alongside the highway and these people just wanted to nap. We rode in silence to the border.

At the border, the van pulled over. The driver got out and we all exchanged some confused looks. What was next? The driver opened the sliding door and started pulling some of the backpacks out. Obviously he wanted us out of the van…so this must be our stop. A guy with short skinny dreadlocks and super positive attitude introduced himself to us all as our guide through the border. This was Julio Cesar, known to his friends as Sugar. He rounded us up and pointed us in the direction of the nearby pharmacy to pay our exit fee. 8 bucks a person for this, or 4950 colones. Some quick math told us that paying in USD was a better deal. It also made me want to ask our guide if he might have got the numbers mixed up during conversion. No matter, we paid our fees and gathered outside for the next stage.

Stamps out of the country were next. At the Sixaola crossing, the same office handles both in and out travellers. Considering we were heading out, all we needed was a stamp and we could quickly pass through. We had to stand in the same line as a minibus sized group in front of us was entering Costa Rica…so 20 minutes of seeking a little shade outside the customs office was necessary. With passports freshly inked, we started across the bridge to Panama. This was a temporary single lane bridge that seems to have become a bit more permanent over the years. The old train and foot bridge that connected the two sides of the river seems to have fallen apart over the years.

Next, some paperwork to fill out on the Panamanian side. An entry form asking for the usual…how did you arrive, are you Panamanian, do you have 10000 in cash on you. Walking across any of these borders and declaring that you have that much cash on you probably is not advisable. I wonder how often they get someone checking off that box. One of the German girls did check the box saying she was Panamanian…by accident. No matter, scribble it out and mark the form again. The papers all went into an office and were handed over. No serious checks. Also no entry sticker that I was expecting to pay $3USD for. So far so good.

Next in our weaving border adventure was immigration. No line. Really just a 2 minute process which included most of that time trying to read fingerprints. The multiple steps that lead us through the border make me glad we did this with a guide. This whole process could be simpler if offices were co located instead of having to cross streets and find little offices tucked away in the back. Of course, just following the crowd and asking questions probably would have worked fine if we didn’t have a guide. We were stamped into Panama and ready for our ride.

We seem to have picked up a few new bodies crossing the border. Now our group of 8 was closer to 15 piled into a van. Julio Cesar sat next to Melanie for a few minutes, then popped out at the duty free store for a couple flats of beer. Maybe the rest of us should have looked at doing the same, but every night is Saturday night to us right now. With our guide and his beer safely in the van we were on the road to Alicante, to meet our boat ride.

We made it to the waters edge, and up the road to our dock. Registering our passport numbers seemed necessary as the guy behind the counter was looking for us to pay again. Everyone wants to be paid again. A point in the direction of Sugar and we were free. A few minutes later another shuttle arrived with many of the stray bodies left at the border and we all piled into the boat.

We were informed it was a 25 minute ride on the water and we should be putting on our life jackets. We all put them on, maybe reluctantly, and enjoyed the start to the boat ride on the calm water leading into these docks. This seemed downright relaxing, a nice afternoon on the water. We rounded the corner and you could see beautiful blue hues and white sand bars deep below us. The captain then opened up the throttle. The bow of the boat rose into the air and we were off! A few little waves chopping at the bottom of the boat made for a noisy, windy and bumpy ride. Then the bigger waves…it might have been about 15 minutes of this hard riding that had us all wishing there was some kind of seat cushion on these benches. We bounced and jostled around like one might in a car with no suspension on a Honduran roadway. Sorry, no pics during this part of the journey as I certainly would have lost my phone in the ocean.

We finally pulled into Bocas Town. Off the boat and on our way to our condo rental. Immediately you could feel that this place was very different from Costa Rica. Less traffic. Sidewalks. Melanie was happy. We just had to find our place now. A few blocks down an unpaved road and we were there. A friendly lady opened the security gate and after a few formalities showed us our room. This place is only $45USD a night…clean…but not fancy. Now that we are approaching the end of our trip, we might need to start looking at something a bit higher in the fancy scale.

We really needed a lunch at this point. We headed into town and stopped at the first cheesy restaurant on the water we could find. El Pirata. Almost nobody in the restaurant, but they had dining tables on their pier. We headed straight out to water for a cozy afternoon meal. Menus arrived, and surprisingly we could get a 5 dollar lunch and beer for 1.50! Melanie wasn’t into the cheap beer, so went for an iced tea. We had some really great hibiscus iced tea in Guatemala and Nicaragua…why not here? The beverage she ordered came out black. A single sip…resulted in some serious mouth pucker. They must have filled the glass half full of Lipton iced tea crystals and the other half with water. We spent the duration of the meal just adding water to dilute the concoction to the point of drinkability. No more sugar for us today!

We headed out for a stroll after that tasty chicken and coconut rice lunch. The sugar might have been responsible for that sudden need to go for a walk. We walked to the south end of town, the north end, and all the way westward to the end of the airstrip. We now have a good idea of what is here, and can plan accordingly as to where our fancier next place might be. The north is nice, but quiet. The west is a bit more shacky, but the people seem really nice. Little kids would wave and say Hola as we walked by. One friendly little guy ran up to Melanie and hugged her leg while a lady in the distance started yelling something probably to keep him from approaching strangers so easily. Now Melanie will have to be careful of who she smiles at. On our walk back, we encountered a barber shop.

I had been wanting a trim for a week now. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck finding any barber shops around and Melanie is a bit reluctant to just shave my entire head down to a No. 1. When asking the guy inside, how much…all he wanted was 4 dollars. Done…Melanie wanted to sit for a bit and the boy in the chair was almost complete. As the finishing touches were put to the boy, the place started to fill up. A big guy with dreads, two older boys. This was not a big, or clean place…but it was busy. With the amount of hair on the floor, this guy must have been working hard all day. You could smell the warm hair grease in the air. 10 minutes in the chair, clippers only and a few different guides were finished off with a dusting of talcum powder. Next stop for us was home as I needed to get the powder and other peoples hair debris off me ASAP…especially before dinner.

We showered. No pool, so the fresh water rinse was necessary. Melanie reminds me that fancier places have pools…yes dear…we can look at options. Dinner was down at the south end of town at a place recommended by a Californian lady that had a little clothing shop under the tasty Azul restaurant. Fixed tasting menu for the whopping price of $20 per person. Four dinner courses and two desserts. Our first fancy meal in a long time…tasty, and probably wont be repeated for a few days. We enjoyed it and have now retreated to our budget abode for the night. Bellies very full and ready for a decent sleep.

There was something in the reviews about this place where people were unhappy with the roosters in the morning. I guess we will see!