From the Rio Sereno border crossing we made our way through the mountains over to the picturesque little mountain town of Boquete.
We checked into a nice little hotel owned by a German motorcycle enthusiast named Axle who first showed us his collection of collector motorcycles and then told us about some hot springs twenty kilometres away.
The following day we took the twenty minute ride through the countryside over to the hot springs to take a look.
The hot springs are on a locals farmland and we had to pay $5.00 per person to enter. We walked on down to the springs and found a small but hot pool located along the rivers edge.
We alternated between the hot pool and the cool river to keep our temperatures in check.
Travelling in Central America has certainly made us appreciate Canada more for its free attractions like hot springs and waterfalls. Back home in Canada there’s no way anyone would have paid money to see such a minimal attraction like this but here in Central America it seems any form of attraction is roped off and ticketed to capture as much tourists dollars as possible. We of course contributed to the cause as did three other travellers to sit amongst a pile of rocks down by a river. Overall nothing special but hot springing in Central America crossed off the bucket list.
On a positive note it appears that Panama is going to be a whole lot cheaper then Costa Rica. Beers can be bought for $0.75 and plates of food for $3.00-$6.00. This makes our budget happy again after the shit kicking it took in pricey Costa Rica. The only negative to the cheap livings here is that Panama operates on American dollars and right now the Canadian dollar is at a ten year low trading at $1.30cdn for $1.00usd. It hurts a bit but it’s still cheaper then buying goods back home.
From Boquete we planned a long 380km ride down the Pan-American hwy to El Valle another mountain town tucked high up in the mountains only 100km from Panama city.
Leaving Boquete we soon found ourselves on the Pan-American hwy surrounded by road construction.
For the next 260km yes 260 kilometres Panama is tearing up the Pan-American highway to repave what felt like a never ending stretch. There were sections of stop and go one way traffic and other sections where the road was diverted around the construction for just under three hundred kilometres. I suspect this project will take years to complete and we would soon found out why it was necessary.
When the construction zones finally ended the shittiest potholed and broken concrete riddled highway laid ahead of us. As cars and trucks all but came to a crawl hoping to avoid suspension damage we too did our best to avoid a wheel bending incident.
We tootled along passing through city after city that at times resembled typical cities back in Canada or the U.S.A.
It was clear that we had left the lesser developed Central America behind and were now travelling through a country that had direct contacts via the panama canal to the U.S. and the world. In the cities huge shopping malls lined the highway and fast food chains like McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Dominos pizza and many other familiar faces were everywhere. I couldn’t resist any longer it had to be done and it was the best damn McDonalds burger I’ve ever had!!
We arrived at the turn to El Valle and headed up the twisty fun mountain road climbing higher and higher for thirty kilometres until we reached the touristy mountain town of El Valle
The next day we went off to explore the waterfalls that were advertised in the area. We took the scenic short ride up to the falls entrance and paid our $5.00p/p entry fee. The small attraction had some walking bridges that wound through the forest leading back to a waterfall before spitting us out at a man made swimming pool.
We took advantage of the pools cool waters and cooled off for awhile.
We decided while out and about to continue riding further on up into the mountains to see what we could find. As we rolled along I spotted a furry creature clinging to a chain link fence so we pulled over to take a closer look. That’s when we met this friendly sloth hanging out waiting to have his picture taken with the Canadian kids.
Slothy posed for the camera and even let me give him a tickle or two as he curiously checked us out.
After about ten minutes with our new buddy he decided that picture time was over and buried his furry face into his arms signalling it was time for us to be on our way.
We spent the next hour driving up and down the mountains surrounding El Valle admiring the scenery and beauty of this alpine town that in ways reminded us of back home.
Jenn even spotted a toucan
The following day it was time to head into the big city and only 120km down the road the infamous Panama city awaited.
We made plans to spend three days in the city exploring the panama canal and the downtown core. We approached the city, crossed over bridge of the americas and instantly I was reminded why I dislike large cities.
Highways, overpasses and underpasses shot out everywhere and our GPS couldn’t keep up with all the commotion leaving me to guess at X&Y intersections making split second decisions to head left or right all while trying to avoid being killed by multi-lane traffic. We had predetermined a hotel to stay at on the cities outskirts right by the canal and eventually found our way over to it. After finding out the huge hotel was completely full we went on the hunt for another. In the location we had hoped to stay there was not another hotel to be found and so we headed over to the other side of the city towards the east end of the canal looking for accommodations there. After driving around for over an hour we spotted another hotel and went in to enquire. $130.00usd per night was the cost of the hotel in the middle of basically nowhere and although it was along the canal I still wasn’t gong to part with that kind of cash. We decided to abandon the idea of a canal hotel and headed downtown into the dragons den. I drove the freeways to the chaotic downtown core then around and through the city for another hour until my head couldn’t take it anymore! Before I completely lost my mind and drove the moto into the canal I pulled rank over Jenn and got the f**k out of that nightmare and headed south towards I didn’t know where just far away from there!!
I was a little disappointed that we were not going to see the canal and the big city lights of downtown but for my sanity it had to be done and so we drove on to the small town of Chepo 50km south of Panama city where we will hold up for the next three days until we catch the sailboat Stahlratte to Colombia.
We will be sailing with twenty other passengers some with motorcycles some without for ten days throughout the San Blas islands of the Caribbean sea. The ship stops at indigenous Kuna tribe populated islands where we will get to peek into their cultures. There will be no forms of communications on board the Stahlratte no wifi or telephones just the company of our twenty shipmates and the rocking seas… We can’t wait! Bellow is a stock photo of the Stahlratte and the typical scenery of the beautiful San blas islands. More to come when we drop anchor in Cartagena Colombia August 17th. Signing off and saying adios from Central America…. Next stop, South America!!
J & J
Friday August 7th we loaded up and made our way over to Carti where we met up with the sailing vessel Stahlratte a thirty eight meter long sailboat built in Holland in 1903. Five other motorcyclists were amongst the travellers looking to jump the “gap” from Panama to Colombia consisting of four Italians and one American. We shook hands with our new friends and took our place in line waiting for Blanco to be hoisted up onto the “Ratte”.
There was a few nerve racking moments as we watched our moto dangle over the Caribbean sea but all went well.
Blanco made it safely aboard covered and ready for his voyage.
We made friends with our twenty shipmates consisting of eleven Germans including the captains mother, uncle and two sisters along with four Italians, one American, one Spaniard, us and the infamous captain Ludwig!
Everyone selected bunks while Jenn and I were offered the private “honeymoon” suite at the ships rear directly above the engine. At first we thought we were being punished but soon realized having the room down the ‘hole” was much more private and quiet then being in the general population.
Captain Ludwig quickly collected passports and began processing us all out of Panama before we set sail throughout the picturesque islands of the San Blas.
After four hours of sailing I could feel my stomach rolling back and fourth with the ship and judging by the other travellers faces I wasn’t alone. Thankfully we were soon anchored at isle Coco Bandero and found ourselves searching for words to describe the islands surreal beauty.
Quickly we all jumped into the warm waters of the Caribbean to refresh and cool down after the sweaty hot sail.
First mate Juan loaded the evenings barbeque necessities of meats, vegetables, salads and pirate punch into the dingy and built a fire to prepare a tasty spread of shish kabobs, salad and more which we enjoyed in the company of our new friends.
The following day we spent again at Bandero snorkeling, playing on the rope swing, climbing to the crowsnest, eating and making new friends.
We enjoyed fresh tasty meals daily and had fresh caught fish, lobsters and other local foods delivered to the ship by the local indigenous Kuna peoples.
And on the third day we set sail for isle Cuba a long ten hour ride away. The sights of the San Blas islands were enjoyed by some and for others it was a long voyage.
As the seas rocked back and fourth so did some bellies causing a few travellers to leave their mark overboard if you catch my drift!
Fortunately for me I was feeling right at home on Stahlratte after finding my sea legs. Jennifer however spent the next ten hours focusing on the horizon hoping not to join the “chumming” club that was growing quickly as the hours passed and the rolling seas grew. I had the camera ready hoping to capture some live chum action but Jennifer fought the good fight and nothing more then a few dry heaves and some sour looks prevailed.
We arrived at our next stop and dropped anchor next to the Kuna populated island called Cuba (different Cuba then what your thinking). The Kuna inhabit fifty three islands of the three hundred and seventy islands in their territory. The unpopulated islands are used as coconut farms to grow coconuts.
The harvested coconuts are traded with the passing by cargo ships for other goods they require. Besides this small amount of trade the Kuna are self sufficient. They catch fish to eat and use coconuts to sell and to barter with trade boats for anything else.
We were soon about to meet these warm people as one by one the curious dugout canoes approached our ship and with a smile they began to ask for sodas.
Captain Ludwig started to hand out a few sodas to the kids and with this more boats quickly paddled over to the Ratte.
More sodas were handed out and then more people arrived and more and more and more until the ship was completely overtaken by the “soda pirates”.
It was great seeing just how much joy the Kuna children received from visiting the Stahlratte. It was as if the carnival had arrived to their tiny floating village. The kids downed sodas and explored the ship. I wanted to have some fun with the kids and showed them the way to the ships bow where we had been jumping from the day before. Of course they all wanted to jump and took turns leaping from the beam.
After the soda pirates abandoned their ships in favour of ours I decided that I would commandeer one of their vessels and try my luck at paddling my first ever dugout canoe. I have a little prior experience paddling canoes and kayaks but paddled a dugout tree canoe before I hade not!
At first I did not realize that dugouts were not a “one size fits all” type of deal and quickly abandoned the first boat after my fat ass began to sink in the clearly too small for John boat. The second dugout I chose fit more like Goldilocks bed and off I went very cautiously paddling around while the rest of my shipmates waited and watched patiently for me to tip over. I think somewhere back in my roots I must have Kuna heritage because I somehow managed to keep the very rocky vessel upright to the dissatisfaction of my sailing peers.
After all the sodas were drank the pirates dispersed from the Ratte and it was our turn to overtake their tiny floating village. The Cuba island is home to only five hundred and thirty people and they welcomed us to explore their way of life. We walked around Cuba appreciating another way of life. Cuba island Kuna have it figured out and have no problems finding all they need from the tiny islands amongst the Caribbean sea.
Jennifer and I found it very hard to pull out our camera to photograph these peoples thatched hut homes and ways of life. It feels very rude to me to point my camera in their direction and capture images that to them is just ordinary and mundane. However, the lifestyle and the self sufficient existence of the Kuna on isle. Cuba was at times worthy of national geographic like photos. Unfortunately being camera shy we only captured a few photos of isle Cuba.
I have been carrying around with me three packs of Canada stickers that my mom had given me back in Florida and thought that maybe this would be a good time share some with the local kids… boy was I right! The children of Cuba absolutely loved the stickers and instantly I was the attraction of the island. I began first by sticking the canadian stickers on the boys and girls arms like tattoos and after a few minutes I practically had half if not all of the islands kid population at my feet. We made a game of it and to get a sticker they had to give me their best muscle flex and grrrrrr like Hercules if they wanted more stickers. It was an absolute blast playing with the kids of the island and before we said goodbye I had tagged the entire islands child population with Canadian tattoos… What a great time!!
The following day we pulled up anchor and made sail for Sapzurro which is the first official landing and immigration checkpoint into Colombia and will be our first time on South American soil.
Onwards to Colombia!