Bocas del Toro –
First, we have a quick breakfast, then I’m going to pick up our laundry while Verena packs her rucksacks – I already had stuffed all my things in the backpacks yesterday. Once at the Lavanderia, I stand in front of a locked door. Unfortunately no opening times sign to be seen. Hmm, our flight goes in 3h… What now? Fortunately, such situations are common here, as I want to ask for information in the next door copy shop, one of the copy shop employees tells me that they also have the key to the laundry here. Nice! After digging through all the plastic bags, I finally find the one with my name on it. I won’t have to keep on wearing the last remaining (already dirty) T-shirts for the next few days .
We share the clean laundry evenly and stuff everything into our backpacks. As I pack my daypack, I realize that I’m short one SD card. To be precise: The one that is stuffed with all the pictures. I could swear I had put it on the kitchen table … I unpack everything again… look under the furniture. Shit dammit. The photos seem gone . Did i lose it yesterday at Zapatilla or Bibi’s? And I also forgot to leave contact information on the card. At least I still have some non-RAW-format photos copied on the phone, which I had imported to send to my parents via Whatsapp. You cannot post-edit these low-quality images that good though. We say goodbye to Frieda and Jim, and he writes down again my address, if by any chance the SD Card gets found somewhere in the apartment. Well, we still got our memories of the trip .
The airport is actually nearby, but after all the stress, unpacking and repacking, the motivation to walk there is quite lacking – especially at 38°C+ midday heat. We hail the next pickup taxi, throw the backpacks on the loading bed and get in. Fare is under 3 PAB (3.00 USD) – so why not. Arriving at the airport, we get our daypacks, I help Ena put on her backpack and… watch the taxi driver drive off with my backpack. WITH MY BACKPACK! My transformation from a sloth-like creature to a 100m dasher happens in seconds (well, two digits): Running, waving, yelling – fortunately, he sees me in the rear mirror and stops. Alright, that’s enough sports for this day .
The Panamanian flight controls appear to be very lax here. Rather than running the luggage through an X-ray device, a guard just haves a short look into it. Even the transition through the metal detector and the X-ray of the hand luggage happens rather quickly. Usually, most of my cargo pants make the metal detectors go off thanks to a lot of metal rivets – this time they should for sure , since i forgot to take out some change in my pockets… “Are those things switched on at all?”. Actually, the detectors never went off at all, at none of the passing passengers. Well, who wants to hijack some tiny propeller plane?
Some say that Bocas is just for the party.
I say that Bocas is whatever you want it to be.
You can sleep in a hostel and party until dawn
or snooze on the beach with no one else around.
You can dine on sushi, Indian, fru fru steak,
organic veggie salads, tacos, local plates.
You can surf world-class waves
kayak or dive in coral caves.
Honeymooners relax on deserted bays,
surfers chase the epic waves
sailors seek a moment of rest
restauranteurs and hoteliers make their nest,
backpackers find their sleazy fun
illegal expats make their visa run.
In Bocas you can really have it all
so why not choose something that nurtures your soul?
Why not let it be more than a vacationer’s vice?
Why not let it be true paradise?
-by Camille Willemain
Panama City –
Having a window seat when flying from Bocas to Panama City is highly recommened. You get to see Isla Colon & Carenero from above and the complete uninhabited north coast. However, most passengers are quite tense during our flight – small plane = many turbulences. But the view on the jungle to the east and the Panama Canal while approaching the landing strip makes up for the bumpy flight. The capitain makes a turn and we get to see a whole sea of shipping containers. Visit the Panama Canal? Check. (Okay, we haven’t intended to to visit it explicitly on this trip, so this was a nice bonus ). Albrook is only few kilometers away and we are ready for landing. The turbulences get worse, and you can notice the rising tension of all the passengers. The guy in the seat behind me now holds up a selfie stick with a GoPro to film the landing. Just as the aircraft touched the ground, the GoPro slips out of his hand and flies through the corridor. Then, a cellphone follows the trajectory of the GoPro. The tension is gone, people laugh. “The GoPro has won the race”, as it landed further away. Arriving at the Gate, a drug/explosive sniffing dog gets to check our luggage before we are allowed to take it. I don’t really think anyone here reckons that someone will hijack a plane. Smuggling is another story though…
We take a taxi to the hostel “Mamallena”. After arriving, we inform ourseves about the transfer to San Blas, throw our stuff into onto the bed, have a shower and – as you should just take the most important things along to San Blas – put our backpacks in the storage room and our valuables in a locker.
We use the rest of the day and go visit the old town (Casco Viejo). As we walk past the President Palace in the direction of the Basilica we see a whole bunch of tourists approaching in single file. This is actually the first time Panama feels “touristy” to me (Well, apart from Bocas – where apparently all hell is breaking loose during the Argentine Spring Break). Although we had heard that despite the area being indeed quite picturesque, it should be also very run down and not the safest during night. I cannot quite confirm that – although sometimes some buildings got a deceiving beautiful exterior facade, you can tell by having a look through their entrances that they are extremely dilapidated. Yet, a lot of restoration is in progress here – particularly with regard to the Basilica “Santa Maria la Antigua”. The buildings are comparable to the colonial buildings in Havana…in a little better condition however, and usually only having two stories. After having a walk on the “Paseo de Las Bóvedas” from which one can have a nice view on the skyline of Panama City, we take a break at “Forever Yoghurt”. Froyo & sweets galore! I exaggerate it … “a little” (When i say “Dia” you say “-betes”! Dia-betes! Dia-betes!). But … it’s worth it (Besides, the cups say there’s lots of vitamins, calcium and more inside .) .
Walking along the Avenida Central we arrive in the pedestrian area with dozens of shops. Comparing this to the typical European pedestrian areas isn’t really possible. You can basically get everything here: The street covered with stalls making the pedestrian area look like an elongated market – and although it is quite crowded here, it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. The suroundings change when arriving on the “Plaza 5 de Mayo”: An avalanche of metal rolls both ways here. Meanwhile it is getting dark and the Chicken Buses begin to turn on their “Christmas decoration lights”. As we are slowly getting hunrgy for some warm meal, but also have to be in bed early, we take a taxi to Mamallena. We buy some food and snacks for a San Blas at one of the close-by supermarkets (Bringing some bottles of water along to San Blas is really encouraged, as any beverages are excusively sold in cans there (for each 1 PAB (1.00 USD))).
We also buy a bottle of wine and get some cheese-gratinated Pataconesburger (Gluten Free) with pulled pork (from the looks of it this must probably be a whole ton of meat) and some salad at the nearby snack bar. After stuffing our stomaches at the Mamallena terrace, we roll into bed.