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.

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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