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.

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!

Blue Sky in Puerto Viejo

We still have the wind here, but this morning we woke to blue sky. Excellent start to the day and a great opportunity for more pictures. At this point though we have already grabbed all the photos we need from this place, so a few more with blue sky might be overkill. We had our breakfast and while checking email i ran across a note suggesting I had some work to do.

A couple hours of document editing in the darkness of our room, with occasional internet connectivity, and we both needed to get out and see some of that blue sky. We still had some details to figure out, like confirming travel to Panama and how to pay for it. Lucky for us, next to the stand that sells bus tickets was one of the many vendors in town selling return tickets to Bocas del Toro via their discounted shuttle service.

This one was a tough call. We could do the bus, border, bus, ferry our way over. The price of handing over the reins to someone else that will ease the process both to and from Bocas del Toro seemed worth it at this point. It has been a whole lot of travel coordination and setting up the two and from reduces the planning exercise to almost zero. We need that now.

We headed to the Megasuper in town and pulled out USD from the Scotiabank machine, then gave the guy cash in exchange for a ticket and couple of neon orange wristbands. When we are on the other end of this route, we can inquire as to what we should do with the wristbands. With that complete, we crossed the street for a couple smoothies and empanadas. Not near as tasty as yesterday, but an inexpensive and greasy lunch that will probably be digesting in our guts for days to come.

More window shopping in the afternoon. A dip in the ocean with me getting into some pretty big waves. Waves frisky enough to nearly strip my shorts off, which Melanie found to be quite amusing. I was 50 feet away and I could see she was nearly doubled over with laughter at seeing my white butt in broad daylight…with another big wave headed towards me.

It did seem like there were more people around than normal. It is only Friday, so maybe a few more bodies are in town for the weekend. Those cars all seem to park in a tiny lot at the tip of town. The occupants of those vehicles spilled out on onto the narrow strip of sheltered sand. One lady was laying in the sandy parking lot trying to get some browning underway. Why were these people not heading down to the black beach just a 5 minute stroll westward? Almost nobody over there, nicer sand…no trees for shelter, but there is a beach. Many things that we will never understand in these parts.

After some intense sun exposure while watching the pelicans dive for fish in the afternoon daylight, we headed back. Fine black sand will likely be travelling home with us now as it seems to be stuck to everything. With the sky almost clear today, it also gave us the opportunity potentially for a sunset. We dried off, changed and headed back out to a windy spot to wait out the end of the daylight…watching the pelicans continue to dive and feed on small fish brave enough to hang around the surface.

Dinner was again at the Bikini Restaurant. The staff now recognizes us and smile when we walk in the door. Another blended mojito and green curry for Melanie. A passion fruit daiquiri and what they considered to be chicken fajitas in some mango cream sauce. Interesting, sweet and tart…very nice with the rice. After that…a walk back through town and some window shopping before calling it a night.

Not much more to report. Should be an early start tomorrow and by noon we will be in hopefully a very new place. A place without a faint hint of sewer in the windy air.