After a few days in the hostel in San Jose, it was time to start making my way towards Panama. There were a couple people also going in that direction, so I had some sustained social interaction from place to place over the next week. The first stop on that trip was Puerto Viejo, which is on the Atlantic coast in Costa Rica.
I stayed in a hostel right on the beach outside of town, which was a bit more expensive but it was really nice (and the town had a party reputation so I figured I’d avoid those hostels). There were parks on both sides of it.
I spent most of my couple days sitting very still on the beach so the sun wouldn’t see me and the crabs would come out.
One of the beaches I stopped at was more popular with locals. Not just the local people, but the local animals as well.
I then jogged to the national park a few kilometers down the road and hiked around there for a bit. I saw a lot of those giant blue morpho butterflies flapping around, but they’re tough to get a picture of.
Anyways, the park (Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo) was cool. Saw a couple monkeys. It was much quieter and had a more remote feel than the other jungles. I saw a lot of salamanders, and my shoes got very muddy.
There was a nice viewpoint where I got to watch the sun setting. Should have turned around then, but I instead decided to walk through the muddy park.
So yeah, Puerto Viejo is a nice little town. It wasn’t far from the border, so we made the trek towards Bocas del Toro.
Bocas is more of a party town, but the WiFi was decent and the beaches and islands outside the town were really nice. Here is a dock and hut on the walk to Starfish Beach.
The actual beach lived up to its name.
My last night, I was sick of slow shared WiFi and got a hotel room down the street, which only cost me $35, and there were only like two other people there so my WiFi was really good. I had to share my room with some of these guys though.
Bocas del Toro is a long ways from Panama City, so I took like an 8-hour bus to get there. Thankfully, after that long trip there was a nice sign.
That sign is along the boardwalk on the coast of the city. It’s 2.5 kilometers from my hostel to the Casco Viejo, the old town area in Panama City, so I ran there and back some mornings before the sun came up.
Here is a picture of a view along that run of the skyline.
And then my friend flew in for a week. I tried to pack the week with a lot of things to do, which I don’t think he really appreciated, but there was plenty of beach-sitting time too. After a night in Panama City, we got up early the next morning for a 3-hour jeep ride and then a body-drenching 30-minute ferry to one of the San Blas islands.
They’re run completely be the indigenous people, which is kind of a community/collective without much concept of tourism, so the service is of course shit. I mean, they don’t even rake the beaches!? Or clean the bathrooms even occasionally? Anyways, I guess that’s part of the charm. These things are pretty desolate.
They served some kind of terrifying looking seafood for each meal, so I pretty much starved for two days, living mainly off rice and granola bars.
There are over 350 islands and they’re all pretty spaced out, but there was one that was close enough for us to swim to. So I swam there each day just for exercise, but I had my goggles with me so I checked out some fish and a shipwreck off that island too. We took tours to a couple other islands, but they look pretty much identical.
And then after those two days we went back to Panama City for the night (same annoying ride back). I decided we hadn’t spent enough time on buses already, so we went to Santa Catalina, and surfing and diving town someone told us about 6 hours away. Why not?
It ended up being much less developed than we had thought. Really slow internet everywhere (which was devastating to us after being proud of lasting 3 days without working and stuff), and not a ton more to do than relax. While he took a day to relax, I decided to do some diving.
Isla de Coiba was quite stunning – it took an hour on a boat to even get there, and the ride was really nice. But I didn’t bring my phone to take pictures so I’ve got nothing here. The dives were nice too, hadn’t done it in a while but overall it went pretty well. We saw a lot of Reef Sharks, but didn’t get attacked. Also saw some big fish, moray eels, a gigantic lobster, and schools of fish and things.
We had lunch on a pretty deserted beach full of hermit crabs. So I had a lovely time just sitting still watching the scuttlers again.
After two nights there, we went back to Panama City. And we decided we couldn’t go to Panama without going to the Canal, so here’s the canal.
We also went to Casco Viejo, which is the old town area with nice architecture and such. Not nice enough for me to take a picture of it though, apparently.
Then my friend left and I had a week in Panama City to catch up on work. It’s one of the few places in Central America with decent Internet, so I wanted to take advantage of it. But on the weekend, I wandered up Ancon Hill for a break.
All in all, Panama is a nice country, but Panama City is kind of a shithole. The money clearly isn’t flowing down to the people. Streets are dirty and polluted even a couple blocks away from the big banks. Half of Casco Viejo is run-down and deserted (strangely scattered among the nice clubs and restaurants).
As much as I’ll be sad to leave a nice WiFi connection, I’m on to bigger and better things.