I am home. It was a great adventure. I traveled for 67 days and logged 5740 Kms between Cancun and Panama City. I traveled by plane, boat, ferry, panga, launcha, bus, tourist shuttle, chicken bus (with chickens) colectivo, taxi, pedicab, tuktuk, and flip flop. I stayed in hostels but with a private room and private bath. Average daily cost was $51. I hiked, swam, snorkeled, fished, zip lined, made chocolate, took tours, went to live theater and transited the Panama Canal. I did not get robbed, beaten, raped, mugged, kidnapped or held hostage. I did not have anything stolen. I never got sick, hurt, or lost. All in all the trip was: 1) much easier than I expected 2) I felt much safer than I expected 3) locals were friendly and helpful everywhere 4) Borders (aside from Panama) were easy. 5) I never felt I was scammed or ripped off 6) I was surprised how clean budget accommodations and public washrooms always were 7) Guns everywhere were a bit intimidating 8) Capital cities – aside from Panama, were not worth stopping to see. 9) Tours and activities were reasonably priced. Knowing now what I did not know before I left the only change I would make would be to travel slower. I found I was tired when I got home. I will keep posting things here that I did not have time for when I was traveling, and I am busy making plans for Asia – goal date to leave is Nov. 1.
Sorry for the delay – technical difficulties. I had heard a lot of good things about Boca del Toro. Its a group of Panamanian tropical islands easily reached from the mainland. I went to the main island, and certainly regret not having time to visit others. It was so tropical and Caribbean – great colors, lovely slow pace, clean clear water, and a wonderful relaxed vibe. It was nice finding cafes with great menus, I was sick of rice and beans with every meal. Fresh fish was plentiful and very tasty. I stayed in Boca a few days then a long trip to Panama City for the last stop on my tour. I decided to break the travel into two days, with an overnight in David. My bus arrived in David about 2:30 and I had not eaten, so a cafe was my first priority. As I got off the bus I noticed some cafes across the street, and lots of people eating – always a good sign. I walked over and watched as people just sat down at picnic style tables. I sat down and a gal came to take my order. I simply pointed to the plate someone across from me had. My meal arrived, fried rice, spaghetti, chicken and plantains – large amounts of each. I ate and ate, and could not eat half of it. When I went to pay the cost was $2. This was a nice surprise as Panama is not a budget destination. I arrived in Panama City at a huge bus terminal. Panama City is beautiful. New and ultramodern skyscrapers side by side with wonderful old colonial buildings. Here they rebuild instead of tearing things down. I spent an entire day walking around the old city. It had become a slum but is being restored to its former glory. I also did a transit tour of the canal – you just can not visit Panama without doing that. It was a wonderful last stop on a great adventure trip. I will post a detailed recap this week.
I have now crossed eight borders on this little adventure. I have been pleasantly surprised how easy they have been. Of course I had the usual scam hassle leaving Mexico. I was crossing the border with two young Canadians, and the Immigration officer told us we each had to pay $25. I had read about this one before I left – so I just told him “No, we do not have to pay anything”. He then said if we did not pay, we did not leave. I carry a laminated card that I have made for each country – one side has the currency conversion on it – the other side has the contact information for the Canadian Embassy. For example: My one for Costa Rica shows $1 U.S. = 525 colons $10 = 5,250 CRC 100 colons = $0.18 and on the other side is the address and tel. number of the Embassy in San Jose. I told the Immigration officer I needed his name as I had checked with the Mexican consulate before I left and they said I did not have to pay, so I would just have to call the Canadian Embassy to check on this. Suddenly he remember we likely paid it with out plane ticket. All of the borders were pretty straight forward until I was leaving Costa Rica and entering Panama. I crossed at a little border crossing on the coast that is famous for being difficult. I got off the bus and by the time I was off, some guy had my pack on his back. We had a “discussion” about this – I wanted it back. He said he would carry it and we would discuss the price when we got to the other side. No way. You ALWAYS negotiate the price before, and repeat it a couple of times, so there is no mistake. We finally agreed to a price of $1. It was + 38 degrees and I knew I would have to go up and down several sets of stairs. Off we go. First I go to CR Immigration for my exit stamp – they ask where is my tax receipt – I don’t have one, backtrack, down the stairs, behind the little soda shop I find the place to pay my $2, and get my receipt. Back to Immigration, get stamp, good to go. Cross the bridge. On the way over my “helper” asked for my plane ticket – and I should have just ignored him, but I told him I was going to buy it in Panama City. I get to Immigration and all the guy will say to me is “plane ticket, plane ticket” I shook my head “no” and he threw my passport back at me. My “helper” then said I must go to an internet cafe buy a ticket. Not a problem, I bought a fully refundable one. Back to Immigration. My ticket is to Florida – he wants me to have a ticket to Canada. I dig my heels in and say “No”. Finally he takes my ticket and passport and disappears for 10 minutes – this I do not like. Finally he comes back – but now I have to go and pay some fee. Up the stairs, across the walkway, around a corner, and I pay my $7. The guy working there told me $10, but I knew it was $7 – so that was all I paid. Back to Immigration. Get my passport, and it is stamped. Now I go to get on the bus – where is my sticker in my passport? Back up the stairs, go the other way – little window I pay $2 – have sticker in passport. Two hours – well worth paying a guy $1 to follow me around with my pack. Only border where no one would speak English. I could tell they understood – but would only speak Spanish to me. I am in Panama – and that was the goal!!