Panama

A retrospective post about Panama, as things have been such a whirlwind that I’ve blasted through to Colombia and been too excited about this amazing country that I just want to write about here. But Panama was really gorgeous. The landscape up north was similar to Costa Rica, lush rainforest and perfect beaches. It was so gorgeous in fact that I ended up staying a lot longer than I’d expected. We started in Bocas Del Toro, and my last Panama post ended with my crappy time in Bocas Town. We promptly moved islands to Bastimentos, a wild, jungle interior surrounded by surf beaches.

But before I get into the gorgeous this and the stunning that I should probably mention my stalker, Rae. We met her when we went out for dinner in Bocas Town (the food was so good, seared tuna followed by Snickers pie). Anyway, Rae, an American woman of about 55, invited herself along, and in the spirit of all being in the same boat we said yes. So we get chatting and she seemed weird but I figured she was just uncomfortable surrounded by us hot young chicas, naturally. Then she eats, says goodbye and walks out of the restaurant. Without paying. A girl at the hostel paid for her, then suddenly she was nowhere to be seen. I should mention that at this point I’d already moved out of that hostel (Heike) and to the nicer one down the beach – and that I made the crucial mistake of telling her this.

So while the girls are all stewing over this weird woman walking out, I get in a cab back to my lovely hostel (for which I paid for a dorm but got a private room cos the kid running the place was so nice). So I settle in, write the blog and go to bed. Wake up the next morning and wander around checking out the hostel. No one else is staying here. Then who should pop her head around the corner? Weird Rae. I do the usual being nice but not overly friendly thing and wander off for a swim. “I’m going to come for a swim with you!” Realise last night’s mistake number two – telling her my plans for the day. She runs off to change and trots along after me. We paddle for a bit making chit-chat then I tell her I have to go cos I need to pack and check out. The look of horror on this woman’s face. She didn’t even try to hide it. “What do you mean check out?” I explain that I’m moving on and she remembers another fact that I stupidly told her – that we were heading for Bastimentos. “Oh yeah, that island you all talked about sounds so nice, I think I’ll come with you.” Ok so at this point I still figure she’s ok, just a bit lonely maybe, so I go with her. So we set off for the town to catch a boat, but not before I shoot Emma a quick warning email that I have company…

When we get to the hostel Emma booked me a bed in, Rae of course immediately starts going on about how I keep bringing her to all these wonderful places and starts to make noises about coming her to stay. Not a problem, she just likes the place. So we go to the beach, scare Emma and Purusha (an awesome Aussie we met in Bocas Town and who I think also hated it there) with Rae’s presence and go get lunch. Rae dejectedly tells us it’s time for her to leave as she has to get the boat back and finally we can talk about her. The fact that she didn’t pay for the meal and owed Kate (another Aussie we met in Bocas Town and who I coincidentally bumped into in Cartagena at breakfast) money really annoyed us, and she kept saying how she ‘must find Kate’. Anyway, we got on with our lives and the next morning we’re told that someone tried to book the bed right next to ours (I have the bunk above Emma, Purusha next to us with an empty top bunk we reserved for Steve). She had seen which beds we had (in a mostly empty 10-bed dorm) and specifically requested the one in our section (reserved for Steve). We were buddies with the guy working there, Eric, which is how we came upon this info and told him to designate another bed. By the way there were maybe 20 dorm rooms, mostly empty. So she turns up, and we only know this because when Steve gets there that night and goes to put his bag in the locker by his bed (each locker has only one key) there is a bag in there, and it has Rae’s passport on top… Just as we go rifling through it, she comes in. “Oh, I couldn’t get my locker to work so I put it in there.” ?!?.

Anyway, the next chapter in the Rae saga is that it transpires she gets very cold during the night. There are six of us in the room (Me, Emma, Purusha, Steve, Casey and Tom – two American guys who were really great fun), plus Rae. The thing is, if we have the air con on at anything warmer than 24C the room stinks. It’s the boys, you see. So one morning she wakes up with what turned out to be her usual “Mm, ah, eeh, mm” noises just so we know she’s awake, turns to Casey who is in the opposite bunk, waits for him to open his eyes and says “We need to talk about air.” We had to stop pretending to be asleep just to laugh at Casey’s reaction of complete disinterest and confusion. She left the room and we all had a giggle at her expense, then she came back in and said the magic words: “ I may need to move rooms if this one is going to stay so cold.” So we cranked it down to 18C. Then laughed with Eric about it.

All six of us in the Thai restaurant...

Anyway, the Rae story doesn’t end there. That day (it could have been the day before to be honest, they’re blurring together) we all decided to go to the Thai restaurant in town. Town is an expensive boat ride away due to dense jungle being in the way. Then Rae pipes up with “I can’t find my money! I had it in my passport, but I can’t find my passport either, can someone lend me money to go to the Thai restaurant?” Well, Rae, given that you weren’t invited and we booked a table for just five in an extremely popular restaurant, hint hint, maybe you should spend your afternoon looking for your passport instead? But she wasn’t the least bit bothered about losing it. I also pointed out that when I was rifling I saw her passport right on top of her bag, so I know it’s there. I’m on to you, Rae. She walks most of the way down to the pier with us still asking for money, and somehow Emma manages to shake her and we head off for some delicious Pad Thai. I should note now that the Thai restaurant is a boat ride and then a very long, hot walk up a muddy hilly trail in the middle of nowhere. So just as we’re getting our Pad Thais, guess who shows her face? She found her passport! The manager somehow senses her weirdness and tells her that she can’t have food because we booked for five people (it‘s a pretty popular place…), but she insists on getting a drink and sitting with us awkwardly. We then head off to the chocolate farm (yeah, really) and she decides she’s hungry and will we wait while she has dinner at some restaurant in town? It gets dark in an hour and the boats don’t use lights but we’re nice people so we tell her we’ll wait. So we wait. It starts raining and gets dark, we go looking for her with no luck. Then she strolls in and gives us a guilt trip about how she didn’t finish her food cos we were waiting. We pointed our angry faces at each other and got on a boat with no lights in the dark for the second time that week.

Writing this, I kind of feel a bit mean but I know the others will stick up for me – I think they liked her even less. Maybe I was just flattered at having such a determined stalker. Anyway, Rae eventually left to the sound of us going “Aw, do you have to leave?” (Ok we’re not such good people) and we got on with our lives at Bocas Bound. We had such a great time there even though we pretty much did nothing. We went to the beach, had an almost failed campfire, saw glowing roots, failed at snorkelling, trekked to a ‘deserted beach’ (says Lonely Planet) to find it was the most busy on the island, went kayaking (ended up rowing up shit creek, literally – there was a human poo floating in the water), and when it rained we played pool, banana scrabble, apples to apples (my new favourite game), twister, danced a little bit (well, Janina did, a Canadian chica we met) and had some horrific but at the same time good concoctions from Eric (Vodka and Tabasco with lime…?) and basically spent time doing not a lot and loving it. It was me, Emma, Steve, Purusha, Janina, Casey, Tom, the guys from the bar and a Swedish couple.

Lost & Found, Cloudforest, Panama

Lost and Found

Then came the time for everyone to move on – Me, Janina and Steve to Lost and Found, a hostel with the address ‘Cloudforest, Panama’, Emma to Cartagena, the Swedes to Boquete and the guys stayed there.

The directions for finding Lost and Found were just the beginning of the fun for this place – when the bus passes the lake, look out for three yellow rocks. Get off there and follow the signs. So we did! There were two signs – easy trail and reeeaaally hard trail. We went easy and it was long and hot and up. Little signs placed along the route made us smile, giving encouragement, and when we got to the top we were greeted by a bunch of volunteers who look after the place. It was some time in the afternoon so Janina and I went on a little recce of the forest as you do and hiked up to a viewpoint, which was magnificent. We were told you can see the sea from there on a good day – and it was a good day – but in our excitement not to be walking up a a vertical slope any more we forgot to look for the sea and only remembered when the guys excitedly asked us, “Did you see the sea?!” Oops.

The hostel had a great community atmosphere and everyone had dinner and breakfast together with a view over the cloud forest, where clouds sailed by below us, little animals (can’t remember the name but they were kind of like big squirrels I guess) came up to sneak nuts and ran away again and hummingbirds zipped around. After dinner we went to visit Rocky, their pet kinkajou who lives in a cage and who loves to sit on your head (and poop on mine…) He also loves to nibble your nose and ears, and he was so cute, although it did seem a bit cruel keeping a wild animal locked up. They tried to set him free once but he was too domesticated and got his nose ripped off, which they got reattached, and now he breathes really loudly so can never go back, which is a shame.

Anyway that night I had a cup of tea and cookies and watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall and some terrible film the boys chose called Animal Factory. The next day Janina, Steve and I did the lodge’s treasure hunt, which takes you around the best spots in the jungle finding clues and winning a bottle of wine. The walk was amazing, and we jumped in the river at every given opportunity. It took us five or six hours and we almost got overtaken by a group who left four hours after us, cos we kept stopping to muck about. It was great fun. That night we completed the hunt by using a UV light in the bar to decipher codes on the wall and create a story, which won us our bottle of red, which we enjoyed at the canyon the next day.

Annoyingly – since we were in the heart of trekking country, that afternoon I managed to fall off a bunk bed ladder and twist my ankle, so we had to plan a tamer activity for the next day. So the next morning we headed off for a canyon where you can jump and swim in the very deep water. It turned out to be a local swimming hole, which was fantastic, as we had a chat with some funny ladies there (they told me I had a body like a black woman – everything in the right place!) and the local kids showed off their high-diving skills all afternoon. We sank the wine and headed home for another movie night of course. That morning I had bagged a lower bunk from someone who was leaving, so had put all my stuff on the bed to claim it. When we got back from canyon day someone had taken it, and thrown all my stuff across the floor. This is when I realised the downside of disguising your laptop as a hardback book…

Off to Boquete
The next morning we went on a coffee tour with a local farmer, which turned out to be a complete waste of time and a total con. We found out afterwards that Lost and Found was threatened to be closed down cos it’s in the middle of a cloud forest, but they bribed the locals by bringing paying tourists for a tour of the ‘coffee farm’. So, utterly peed off, the three of us headed off to Boquete, a coffee-growing town a couple of hours away. We stayed just two nights but squeezed in a bike ride, a trip to the hot springs, a Mexican dinner and a cup of the world’s most expensive coffee.

Panama City

Panama City peninsula

Janina wanted to stay a couple more nights but we were eager to move on, so Steve and I set off for Panama City. We were under the impression it was Carnival, plus we thought we ought to check out some canal people keep going on about. Eight hours on a bus later and we were in the big city. It was dirty, busy and stank of wee. But we stayed two nights and checked out the Old Town, the peninsula and the canal, which was cool to see, then discovered that Carnival was the next week… So Steve headed back up north as he wanted to go surfing in Costa Rica and I was on my way to Cartagena, Colombia!