Sunday, 14th September
Today we had to leave our rainforest getaway as we would make our way to Panama City for a flight on the 19th September to Cartagena in Colombia. We have had a great time here and do hope do be be back someday. It seems as though we had a lucky run with the weather for it only really rained the one day we were here and today looks like another of those days. We got up, packed and had our last breakfast and hopefully last eggs for a while, we have got quite bored of eggs for breakfast everyday. We made our way down to the roadside to wait for the collective truck to take us back to Puerto Jimenez. This truck was slightly more comfortable than the last one and the ride was quicker than last time with no unscheduled stops. We got to Puerto Jimenez around 10:30am after leaving our hotel in Carate at 8:30. We then made the ten minute walk to the docks where we could catch the boat across the bay to Golfito. Luckily we were able to catch a boat at 11:30 am so didn’t have too long to wait on the pier. It was a coolish day, all the better for journeying in. The boat ride only took half an hour or so and on the boat we met a helpful Canadian ex-pat who told us how to get across the border into Panama; which buses to take and so on.
We waited around an hour and a half for a bus from Golfito to Paso Canoas, the border town of Costa Rica and Panama. It’s Sunday today and buses aren’t as frequent but we still managed to get to the border at around 3pm though making quite good time. This is the first border we’ve crossed with a cross-border town, and a clearly seedy one. Leaving Costa Rica was easy enough after we figured out we had to pay our exit fee to a man in a van. There was a hand written sign on the windscreen saying as such. It wasn’t even a scam, just the exit fee is new and they haven’t set up an office yet it seems. With that out of the way we could walk the 50 metres to the Panamanian border and get our entry stamp. It was an easy crossing and on the other side we caught a bus to David, where we would spend or first night in Panama. There is a Costa Rican and Panamanian side to this town and it is chaotic to say the least but it was actually one of the easiest crossings we’ve had.
David is the second largest city in Panama but we wouldn’t be seeing too much of it. We got there around 6pm and jumped in a cab from the main bus terminal with a recommendation of a place to stay from the Canadian, the ‘Bambu Hostel’. After successfully getting a room there we went out for a cheap dinner and then did some much much needed laundry after the damp of Carate then hit the hay. It was a day of travel with a truck, boat, bus, bus, taxi to get us to where we wanted to be and we were feeling the worse for it. It really takes it out of you all that travelling around, the more changes the more tired you feel we find.
Monday, 15th September
We didn’t hang around in David today; we had seen some of the city from the bus ride in and thought we would be better off making a beeline straight for Panama City as that was more of what we wanted to see. David appears to be a functional city with not that much to go out and explore. That was the impression we got judging from the board in the hostel of ‘things to do’ as most of them were out of David itself. We managed to get ourselves to the main bus terminal within the hour after waking up, being the great packers and get-readiers that we are now. There was a bus at 9am that we were aiming for but it seems as though there are buses all throughout the day to Panama City so there wasn’t the stress of ‘what if we miss it?’ here like other places where we would have to wait several hours. We bought our bus tickets for around US$15 each and after figuring our which bus to board took our seats.
This bus wins the award for coldest yet. We were downstairs on a double-decker coach and the air-conditioning vent was just behind us. I hadn’t really thought about my clothing situation and had shorts, t-shirt and flip-flips (thongs for those Australians out there) on. Not the best gear for bus travel in Central America. Imagine sitting in a fridge with wheels and you get the idea. We donned our rain-coats that we had with us and draped scarves that we also luckily had in our small packs around us. That was sufficient in stopping the shivers but it was still rather nippy. The bus ride was due to take seven hours but we eventually got into Panama City at 6:30pm having hit rush hour on the way in. The ride to Panama City was pleasant but not as picturesque as the other Central American road jounreys. There were no sweeping views of valleys or volcanos in the distance this time.
As we arrived in Panama City, we got there as the sun had gone down and for the first time arrived after sundown. This didn’t bother us though as Panama City is perhaps the safest city in Central America from what we have heard and we were arriving at a massive national bus terminal. We got a cab to our hotel, the ‘Hostel Entre 2 Aguas’, and paid the traditional over-charged first cab ride for a tourist of US$10 this time. We shall be catching public transport for the rest of our time here. Panama City, or at least the centre, is small and easy to get around with a Metro line and buses linking all the bits you want to go to. The hostel, more of a bed and breakfast is really nice. We have a private room with cable TV and air-conditioning, quite a change from the last place we were in which was equally nice but a totally different style. After dropping our bags we ventured out to a local Panamanian place for dinner, ‘La Trapiche’ and had some Panamanian food which was tasty. The prices here are similar to Costa Rica and dinner cost us around US$30, still not bad but when you are on a budget it can add up. We actually came in under budget for Costa Rica which was a nice surprise and I think we could do the same here. We don’t intend on doing that much here, checking out the canal and the old district the two top things then if we feel like it we might catch the Panama Canal Railway over to Colon on the Atlantic side and there’s a local park teeming with wildlife. We have three complete days here before we leave for Colombia on the fourth day. It’s nice to be in a place with no concerns about getting around and seeing lots of things, we are content to see some things but mainly catch our breath before getting to South America.