At 6am the bus left the Caribbean terminal in San Jose. I may of physically been on board but emotionally I was fast asleep on my bed back in the hotel. Not even a belly full of coffee could change that. By the time the bus had cleared the mountains I was more awake than asleep, looking out of the window as the rain soaked landscape passed me by.
By midday I had reached the town of Sixaola and the border. Leaving Costa Rica was easy, just another exit stamp in my passport followed by a 200m walk across a wooden plank lined box girder bridge that spanned the river that separated the two countries of Costa Rica and panama.
To enter Panama you need a return or onward ticket and I had neither. However for $12 you can buy a bus ticket to San Jose (personally I'm not sure the bus company even has a bus). After that you get a stamp, pay $3 for a little sticker in the room next door and “hello, you are in Panama”.
I was heading to the town of Bocas del Toro on the island of Colon. Unsurprisingly there was a tourist minibus nearby and for $10 it would take you to the town of Almirante and the water taxi. The water taxi was a typical “lancha”, small, overcrowded and fitted with an outboard engine that was clearly the wrong size (usually it's always to big but the boat belongs to a man so it's understandable)
It was an enjoyable 30 minute ride across blue waters under white fluffy clouds with the wind blowing away the heat of the afternoon.
Arriving in Bocas I got a room with A/C and it only cost $20 a night. That was a bargain when you consider the hostels were charging $12 for a bed in a dorm!
The main reason for coming here was to go diving and that's what I did the following day.
The dive company I used (there are several on the island) was fine. The dive sites they took me to on the other hand were anything but! The 1st dive site of the day was at the “airport site” and as with most dive sites around here it was shallow.
The 1st thing I noticed was the health of the coral, it wasn't good. Half of it was dead or dying and most of it was covered in a thin film of algae, feeding off the nutrients washed of banana plantations from the mainland. The 2nd thing I noticed was the fish...where were they??? It seems that every fish big enough to be served up on a plate had been and there wasn't many small fish to take their place! The second dive was at the “hospital site” and it wasn't much better.
The next morning it started to rain....
Q) So, what is there to do on a small island when it's raining?
A) Go to the Bocas book bar! The happy hour lasted all day and at $1 a beer good times were had. The bloke who runs the place is top banana (and he's called Dave) and as for some of the gringo regulars...well come here and find out.
After a week it was time to leave. I spent a few days looking through the guide book seeing what other destinations in Panama caught my eye. The fact of the matter is there wasn't any! So I decided to go straight to Panama city.
It's a 12 hour bus ride to Panama city and as the 40 seater turbo prop plane powered down the runway and approached take off speed I was glad I was flying there instead. That thought stayed with me for the 1st 55 minutes of the planned 60 minute flight. Five minutes away from landing the plane started its final approach. Seconds later it entered a thunderstorm. The planed pitched and rolled dropping several feet at a time whilst the pilot flew in zero visibility. Looking out of the window I saw several bolts of lightening flash close by. At what seemed like the last moment the engines hit maximum thrust and the plane climbed and banked sharply heading out over the pacific ocean. After a long and lazy 180 degree turn the pilot tried again.
The weather conditions hadn't improved and the ride was worst than before. After a few minutes we changed direction and landed at the international airport 20kms away. It was nice to be on the ground and after a wait of an hour the conditions had improved. Then we took off and were treated to a low level two minute flight parallel to the city.
I used to be a relaxed passenger!
The main reason for coming to Panama city was to get my camera fixed. The next morning I went to the lumix service centre. It would take them 4 days just to “look at it” and then if it needed new parts (which it would) then it would be another 7-14 days to fix it...bollocks!!!
Why the “B” word? I had already booked my onward flight!
The next bit makes sense if you're a woman and your favourite shoe shop was having a 50% off sale.
So, to get my camera fixed would cost me $350 for a new plane ticket, plus accommodation, plus the actual cost of repair. That's easily comes to more than $500! Therefore I am the now the owner of a Canon G12 which only cost me $450....it's a bargain when you think about it!
To “celebrate this I went down to the Londoner pub on Calle Uruguay .In case you hadn't guessed its an “English pub” with Strongbow and Newcastle in stock and sausages on the menu.
On Monday the 16th I flew to Cartagena in Colombia. Lots of travellers go by sailboat (for about the same amount of cash) but I have an irrational fear of capsizing (but only on sailboats). Besides it takes 3-5 days to sail there on a small boat with people that say O.M.G, like and awesome in the same sentence.....it would end badly!
PS: I also went to the panama canal...its a canal!