Santa Catalina

It was my last week-end,

We took our tent

and drove to the beach.

There had a beer each,

played with the wave,

and watched a soccer game.

At night walked to center

eat beans from a blender

Rice, salad and fish

It was super delish!

In the morning woke up

and rapidly packed.

Hot Springs were the plan,

so here we come!

The place was unfound

It took us an hour

We finally reached,

bathed till were like a peach.

When I got back,

I had a party on the deck.

It was my last week-end

and Panamanian farewell.

*** Just got to Costa Rica and getting my visa for Colombia.

Mothers – Panama and other countries

There is so much to say about mothers. They are full of strict endless love, passion, understanding, sensibility, and patience. Talking to mom on the phone miraculously makes you feel relieved. So far, in each county I tented to find one of those older women who would make me appreciate more my mom and grandma and make you feel “at home.”

In Cuba, it was Dania, in Costa Rica – Catalina, and in Panama, our cleaning lady Ara.

Ara was one of those women who would take care of you no matter what. During my first day in Panama, after a hard day of work she took me to the city. “Didn’t she have something better to do?” – I thought. Then she took me to a dentist and was a great support when I had to pull teeth and get braces. She would make soups for lunch, blended beans with potatoes when my teeth were hurting, would do my laundry and just was there when I needed to explain how I was feeling in my broken Spanish.

She taught me how share a bowl of soup between five people rather than eat yourself and get satisfied alone. She was patient and always had a solution for any problem.

Today is my last at the hostel and I will definitely miss her more than anything else Panama. Traveling teaches you more about people, being a human, and life rather than about places. I am in for another adventure… what will it be? Nicaragua or Colombia? Maybe both.

Мамочка, я тебя люблю.

Accross Panama in two days – Kuna Yala

After meeting so many people at the hostel, one of the guys who stayed with us asked if I would be interested in going to San Blas for Easter. That was not a tough decision to make. His four-wheel drive truck was perfect for a rocky mountain road to get to Carti from where we took a boat to one of the 365  San Blas islands of Kuna people.

On Thursday night I took a late bus from David to Santiago. (I just learned that there are 5 Santiagos in the world). In the morning we were supposed to pick up another friend from a gas station on the way to Panama City. Somehow, the other friend had a problem with a bus, we had a problem waking up, and since only one person from the group had a phone, we missed each other. That left me with my Indian friend and his huge truck. From here on, let me call my friend Mr. India to avoid any conflict between him and his jealous Chilean wife.

Mr. India and I headed to Panama City. He was driving like a real Delhi taxi driver. 100km/h in a 80km/h zone. The police had to act and we got stopped.

Documentos por favor. You were going too fast. – A middle aged policeman in a dark-green uniform stared at both of.

-Por favor senor. I never come this way. I didn’t realize. Can we arrange it? – Started to beg Mr. India.

– Pasaporte por favor.

Mr. India handed the Passport and exited the car. A few minutes later he got back and asked if I had $5. Then he found $5 in his wallet, put it inside the passport, went outside again, and seconds later got back with a happy face and in an Indian accent said:

-Lets go my friend.

While a police officer was secretly rolling $5 bill as we drove away. It was pouring cats and dogs. “Good thing our friend didn’t make,” I thought. “We are going to be like two frogs in a tent chewing chips and sipping Balboa.”

When we reached Panama City, I was astonished. I heard it was pretty metropolitan but I did not expect to drive through a little Miami. It was impressive! Bridges, skyscrapers, the waterfront, any banks you can think off and any cars you can dream off.

Another 100 km of roller-coaster road led us to a Kuna Yala border where we had to show our passports and pay $17 to enter.

-Does it rain there? – I asked the guy at the border.

– There – he pointed towards the islands – no.

The Kuna Yala is managed by different government and when we got to the port, it seemed like a completely different world. People were walking barefoot, women were wearing colorful skirts and bracelets, men were fishing and driving boats. The whole island was full of tents and cabanas. For $30 per person we got three very delicious fishy meals and a spot for a tent.

When we got settled, a day and a half went by the way it could go by on an island. S-L-O-W-L-Y. We ate, played geography games, took pictures, drunk beer, swam, and played with a little blue fish who was elegantly posing in front of my waterproof camera.

Good thing we brought our alcohol with us. Because of the Saint Week, it was impossible to buy alcohol. But even if it were possible, I can only guess how much it would cost. A tiny bottle of water cost us $2. Panama is an amazing country: a bottle of water is $0.60 and a can of beer is $0.49. No wonder we have been drinking here every day. Before leaving, we even exchanged a 6 pack Guinness for two coco waters. Who is talking about a free trade in Panama? We really had to bargain to get anything. Everything was $1. Be it a picture with a local or a piece of bread.

On the way back to Santiago, I couldn’t resist to stop at the Panama Canal, Miraflores. It was fun, I am glad I did it but I don’t think I am going there again. It was just a check point on something I did.

Since a little town of El Valle Anton was on the way, we stopped there too. It’s famous for its village that is located in a pure crater of an inactive volcano. It was one of those cute little towns in the mountain.

When we finally reached Santiago, the clock showed 10pm. We were very very hungry. Chinese restaurant it was! A huge plate of Chop Suey filled me up and gave me lots of energy for a few hours of reggaeton.

Dancing till 3 am followed by an alarm ringtone at 6am. There we were driving back to David. And that’s how it was done: Almost across Panama in almost 2 days.

Climbing the highest point of Panama – 3,474m of elevation, 25km hike, 11 hours round trip, 7 boys and I

When you ask people if they have ever climbed the Volcan Baru, they say “Yes, I am glad I did it but I am not doing it again.”

Needless to say, it was the hardest hike I have ever done! After drinking a bottle of Balboa and wrapping my feet tightly in a sport bandage, 6 boys and I left a little town of Boquete close to midnight to go to the highest point of Panama, Volcan Baru. It’s more that 11000ft or 3400 meters high. Due to high elevation we chose to hike at night to get there for the sunrise and see the view of the Caribbean and the Pacific before the clouds come out.

The first part of the hike took us about 6 hours of cruel difficult elevation through huge rocks, peach black road, and tarantulas on the pass. Thanks God guys brought headlamps!

After climbing 11km for 6 hours we finally reached the top, the clock showed 5:15am. There were telephone towers and I had a feeling I was walking in an abandoned Chernobal in the middle of the night. Little we knew that we had another kilometer of pure bouldering.

The good thing is that aGetting the feet ready for a big hike swiss guy told me that you have to wrap up your feet before a big hike. That is what they do in Swiss army. ( I thought there was no army in Switzerland).

With no headlamp, only knowing that from both sides there were cliffs, and behind were extremely supportive guys, I reached the final point with shaky hands, extremely cold ears, but excited to be finally done with the longest hike of my life!

When the sun started coming up, other groups of tourists appeared as well as a bottle of champagne, hot tea, and a lot of pictures. We spent about two hours chatting, photographing and drinking.

On the way back the steep rocky road we could finally see the beauty of the hike. 36 hours without sleeping and 11 hours of hard hiking didn’t even make me feel tired, just dizzy. I am just waiting to wake up tomorrow and not be able to walk. Nevertheless, I will do it again if I get a chance.

TIPS: No guide needed. Start from Boquette. Need a car to the National Park ($40 max per car). Entrance to the park -$10.

Volunteering in Bambu Hostel, David, Panama

The day starts about like this:

6am Roosters and dogs start a competition “Who is louder”

6:15am Wake up and get dressed

6:17am Go for a run (if and only if there weren’t too many fun people in the hostel and I didn’t have to run a bar the night before to be able to wake up for an actual athletic run)

7am Come back to the hostel after a neighborhood run and talk to our 37 y.o. cleaning lady Ara.

7:15 am Take a shower, make a big pot of coffee for everyone, a huge pan cake with honey for myself, and check computers for any reservations. Then the morning passes by talking and saying goodbyes to travelers who are taking off either to Bouquete, Bocas del Toro or Panama City; getting their e-mails and facebook info to be friends forever and ever…

12pm Lunch time. There are a bunch of restaurants where a plate of rice and beans with chicken and a small salad cost around $2. I have also been buying food in a supermarket but since it’s such a shared environment here, it has been stolen by a hungry tourist a few times.

The main duties during the day are: answering phones, ordering beer and soda, going to the supermarket, making sure we have the reservations under control, and we have enough drinks to run a bar at night, the area and swimming pool are clean… feed the dog and cat
When in the afternoon people start arriving, there begins my favorite part of the job: “Making best friends.” 

For the past 5 days I met so many people that they start mixing up like peas in a pot. I start seeing the likeliness and can shortly write a PhD paper about “Reasons behind traveling.” When we open the bar, 3-4 hours go by unnoticed talking about other countries, travel stories, left behind routine lives, playing music and sipping brown rum of Panama.

Starting next week I will be promoted to be a manager which means I will get some money to cover my $2 meals J

Crossing the border: From Costa Rica to Panama

I am in Panama!!!!

After a day of getting cleaned, unpacked and re-packed after Cuba I took a bus to David, Panama. It was a 6 hour ride to the border with Costa Rica and 2 hours ride to David.

On the bus I met a very nice Tica who was going back and force between Costa Rica and Panama for medical treatments.

When we got to the border I was shocked. It was the most informal border I have ever seen!!! It looked like a big market place with a lot of fried chicken, fruits and hats.

When we went to get a stamp for Panama they didn’t ask me any questions and just stamped my passport. At the luggage claim, we all got into a big room with our bags, laid them on a big table and waited for a border representative. When he entered, we handed him the registrations. He asked me to open my backpack that was tightly packed with space bags full of clothes. Since it was too much work to take everything out, he touched it all throughout and let me go.

In David, I took a taxi to Bambu  hostel where I was meet by the managers and the owner.

TIPS: **Print out a 24 hour reservation on Copa.com from Panama to any other country. You might be asked for an exit ticket from the country and if you don’t have it, you would need to pay for a return bus ticket that you might never use.

** Taxi from the terminal to Hostal Bambu is about $2 (in 2012)