Day 33 – Traveling to Bocas del Toro

I woke up early yesterday morning in Costa Rica fue a shuttle ride down to Bocas del Toro, Panama. Typically, I wouldn’t write a whole post about a travel day but things were particularly interesting today. The shuttle emailed me a few days stating it would pick me up between 6:20-6:50 at my hostel. I started getting a little worried but it eventually showed up just in time at 6:48. I was actually quite happy it showed up so late because it gave me more time to finish my coffee and get my things together. The next few hours were miserable. Our driver was completely crazy. Mind you I’ve been traveling for over a month now in Central America. Of all the taxis and busses I’ve taken, this was by far the worst. Terribly nice guy. Horrible driver.

We stopped after about two hours for breakfast. I wasn’t too hungry but the driver coerced me into trying the restaurant’s gallo pinto breakfast. It included fried plain rains, fried cheese, eggs, and chicken in salsa. The whole meal was expensive but worth it. We hooped back on the road after about 20-30 minutes. I think all of us felt a little less nauseas with food in our stomachs. I passed time by subtly analyzing the driver’s patterns to figure out what the h*** was going on. His problem inherently lied in his indecisiveness when passing people. Rather than just going for it, he would speed up rapidly, get really close to the car’s rear bumper ahead of us, slam the brakes, then speed up again to actually pass. Creativity is important on long travel days.

We stopped in a popular Costa Rican surf town called Puerto Viejo for lunch. The resort was called Banana Azúl Hotel. It was right on the water and served pretty hefty portions. The water and waves were absolutely beautiful. The warmth from the surge was more than inviting. I walked the beach for about ten minutes in search of solitude and stomach-settling. In those ten minutes, I saw maybe two other people on the beach. If I had more time, I’d like to extend a stay in Puerto Viejo. It sounds like there are numerous beaches in the city very similar to the one we visited.

I met a really cool pair of newly-weds from New York in the shuttle and ate lunch with them. Our discussion centered around traveling and creating work life balance (which was peculiar since they both work in downtown Manhattan). The guy, Aaron actually took a leave of absence a few years ago from a consulting firm to backpack Southeast Asia for three months. I continue hearing more and more positive experiences from this region, so I’ll have to check it out in the future. He also worked in digital marketing so we had a interesting conversation piece around his field. They ended up paying for my coffee (third of the day) without my knowing. Those you meet while traveling are almost always genuinely kind people.

The drive to the border was only about 20 minutes from Puerto Viejo. The exit immigration office of Costa Rica was just a little side-road store in a line of shops selling heaps of Knick knacks. I’m 99% sure I never would have found the place had I been solo. The office was so small that the worker barely had change for a $20 bill. This first stop was just to pay the exit fee, too. Next, we had to gander up a small hill to get stamped out of Costa Rica. The line was long and the hot air was stagnant. Everyone was dripping in sweat except for one local Panamanian guy. A woman from Spain was inquired by the customs officer, while I was only asked “Espencer, you’re going to Panamá?” To this I responded “Sí” and was stamped out.

Continuing this rogue sequence of events, we actually had to walk across a 100m bridge to get into Panamá. The customs paper was a fast-fill, it there was a couple in front of me who made the mistake of being their bags into the office. The officers went through all of their gear and asked the traveler to explain all their foreign currencies. It made me a little nervous because I’m traveling with Mexican Pesos, Belizean Dollars, Guatemalan Quetzales, Honduran Lempiras, and Costa Rican Cólones. I stayed quiet and left my bags outside, though, so I passed through quickly. The last step of the border crossing was getting stamped into Panamá. This building was across the street, down a hill, and next to a store. Again, had I been solo, not a chance I would’ve found it. I had to show my flight itinerary out of the country to be able to enter. This is where I met three English guys named Jamie, Sam, and Matt.

We were all on the same bus to Bocas and discussed issues like stinky clothes. The driver only strapped our bags down with two bungee cords on top of the shuttle, so my bag took a dive in the middle of the journey. He had to stop and bring into the captains chair. Crisis avoided. Then, only like ten minutes later, the afternoon monsoon started and he had to get out again to place a tarp over everyone’s bags. We arrived to the Bocas ferry point s few minutes later. The first Panamanian I spoke with there confronted me out of nowhere and asked if I wanted to fight. I said “What for?” to which he responded “the rain makes me want to fight.” I didn’t really know what to say because I knew he was joking. I did, however, notice his teeth–or for that matter, what was left of them. The poor guy only had about two left in his whole mouth. I took this as an indication that the guy’s lost a ton of fights. I liked my chances.

The ferry out to Bocas was something else. The little river boat was packed with people. We left the dock in poring rain, luckily guarded by a rain cover overhead. The heat generated from all the riders made the air so moist–yes, moist–that the captain was having to wipe down the windows to see where he was going. All of this in the middle of the afternoon monsoon. What really confused me next is why the whole boat was going airborne despite the realistically calm waters. She was a fast little ship, so that could explain it. We finally arrived to Bocas and I felt like I was in Venice. I’ve never been to Venice, but pictures led me there in my mind.

I didn’t have a hostel booked at this point still, so I tagged along with the Brits. We ended up at this hostel called Mamallena’s. This hostel is fantastic. It has everything–big rooms with private bathrooms, a kitchen, a bar, a dock, and reception that you can book any travels through. It’s a tad bit more pricey for one night ($16.50) than Caye Caulker ($15) and Utila ($7). I told the Brits about the simplicity and deliciousness of gallo pinto, so we picked up a few veggies at the store to make back at the hostel. I whipped together a huge dish in about a half hour and we we all ate together. Cooking in-house saves so much money while traveling. I’ve only used about a half of my bag of rice I purchased in San José. I bought it for s few bucks and have had almost 6 meals from it now. After dinner, we raced to the island center to find this stand selling tickets for this big event called “Filthy Friday” today. Essentially, this company takes you island hopping from 11:30 till 9, drinking the whole time. This isn’t typically my thing but since my trip is almost done, I just decided to go for it. On another note, the currency situation is really unique here. The Panamanian Balboa is tied to the USD 1 for 1, so change here is given as a mixture of the two monies. I’ve been dealt change with US pennies and Panamanian quarters. The Panamanian quarters are attractive too because they have vivid blues and oranges in them. I think this island will be really fun from what I’ve seen so far. I think it’ll be a good transition into the end of my trip. I’m going to try to spend about 2-4 days here. Fingers crossed for a few adventure dives during my stay. Thanks for reading and watching!

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