After a nice and calm 3 month stay in Costa Rica, it was again time to do some traveling as we had to renew our Costa Rican visas. We opted to go to Panama — I was super excited as it’s a country that I have always dreamed of going to (I’m not exactly sure why, but something about it just sounded so exotic and idyllic). We decided to go to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the Caribbean, a place that allegedly had good waves, snorkeling, swimming, and a variety of other things to do. Gibran’s mom was visiting us so we figured a multi-purpose place would be better than a just-surfing place.
Off On An Adventure
We left for Panama early(ish) on Wednesday, Febuary 22nd (how late am I in writing this post?) and got to the border at a decent time. There awaited our first unpleasant surprise. We checked ourselves out of Costa Rica and then went to check the truck out. The man at the customs desk asked us what our plan was, and we told him that we (and the truck) were going to Panama for 7-10 days, and then we (and the truck) were coming back. He informed us that we couldn’t bring the car back, as once you had a foreign vehicle in the country for 90 days, it had to be out for 90 days before being able to come back in. This was complete news to us; when we did our research last summer before leaving the general web consensus was that the car could be in for 6 months out out of a 12 month period, and that it just had to leave for 72 hours with the driver after the 90-day visa expired. So with this new information, we continued onwards to our destination point (a supposedly quaint B&B in the mountains, halfway to Bocas del Toro), deciding to figure out the car situation during our time in Panama.
The next disappointment was the place we were staying, though it was more of a horrific “how the eff did we get ourselves into this situation and how the eff do we get ourselves out of it” type of scenario than an actual disappointment. We picked the place out of Lonely Planet’s Central America On A Shoestring book, which has, on occasion, lead us astray (something about that shoestring budget, probably). But it described this place, a certain lodge halfway between David and Bocas del Toro in the mountains. I won’t get into the details of the place — of which there are many. Suffice to say it’s a weird ass scene that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, and as soon as we got there and understood the general “vibe” of the place (the “wrong” kind of hippie: drug-f**ked, condescending — kindof “The Beach” movie, actually), we locked ourselves into our room and didn’t come out for the entire 13-hour night. When we finally did come out it was to eat a quick breakfast and flee, so unfortunately we didn’t get to take advantage of the bird watching and hiking in the area; a small loss.
Bocas Del Toro
We made it to Bocas del Toro (pretty much) without incident (not counting the giant pit bull that tried to kamikaze itself and the owner attached to its leash under our fast-moving truck), and I immediately got into the island vibe. We dined at what would end up being our favorite restaurant (we ate there over 5 times) called El Chitre… it served a delicious Panamanian-style buffet and cost about $3.50 per person for a huge plate of food and a bottled fizzy beverage of your choice. The next day we checked into our new home… a dilapidated wooden structure perched precariously over the Caribbean sea, on the north end of Bocas Town. It was literally falling apart and cockroach infested… and yet we felt right at home there.
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird
Over the next week, we had some good times (Gibran surfing epic waves, swimming in the beautiful clear water, galavanting around the 3 islands via water taxi) and we had some bad times (Gibran snapping his board cleanly in half, getting poured on and freezing our buns off during the only tour we participated in). However, we decided that a perfect trip was not one worth taking, as it is the bad, the weird, and the ridiculous that keeps you on your toes and makes for an exciting adventure.
Last Leg Of The Journey
The final chapter of the trip consisted of us making a wild dash up to the Panama-Costa Rica border on the Caribbean side, trying to see if we could fool them into letting us back in with our truck. However, we had no luck there and we had to go back with our tails between our legs. On the last night we stuffed our faces with delicious Chinese-Panamanian fare and bakery treats, and watched some quality cable television in our “high class” room with air conditioning in David. We ended up saying goodbye to our truck, leaving it with a friend’s dad who, conveniently, ended up being the owner of a hotel right at the border. So the sequel trip will take place at the end of May when we have our glorious reunion with trucky. On the whole… Panama trip was a success!