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Panama For a Quick Look-See

Because my tourist visa expired

sunny 90 °F
View ESL Trip Costa Rica on dfilipia's travel map.

The trip to Bocas del Toro started out with everyone in San Jose trying to rip me off before I could get out of town. Oh, crap ... he’s leaving and he’s trying to take his money with him .. Get him! I had arranged for the taxi driver that dropped me off at Tranquilo Backpacker to pick me up and take me to the airport the next morning. Well he didn’t show up so I grabbed a different taxi. I should have known I was in trouble when the driver started giving me this song and dance about how traffic was bad because someone was protesting I.C.E, the Costa Rican national telecom company. We get to the airport and he pulls a towel off of the meter and tells me I owe him the equivalent of around $40. I didn’t want to get in a big argument so I just replied, “Bullshit.” He kept pointing at the meter and I kept saying, “Bullshit”. I pulled out my wallet and showed him that I only had the equivalent of around $15 (still too much by a couple of bucks). He grumbled and took the money. I rolled my eyes and got my stuff out of the taxi. Good travel tip here ... put the money you’re willing to spend in one place and hide the rest somewhere else. Bargaining ends real quick if the guy on the other end sees you’ve only got so much.

Next I argued with the agent for Nature Air about the weight of my luggage. I’m over the 30lb weight limit by around 20lbs. I thought I had a good shot of winning this one because I had flown Nature Air twice before without having to pay the extra weight fee. Not only that, there were only five passengers for a plane that seats twenty ... come to think of it ... maybe that’s why I lost the argument ... they needed to make up for all of the empty seats. Anyhoo it cost me an extra $25 to bring my luggage with me. Of course there was also the $26 fee for leaving the country. Not sure why I have to pay this. Shouldn’t they give me $26 to leave the country ... a parting gift?
Hostel Heike on the main drag

Hostel Heike on the main drag


The flight was fun. I like riding in those little planes. We cut straight over to the coast (as far as I could tell) and then flew down the coastline to Bocas Del Toro. According to my fancy watch that I barely know how to use we were flying at around 6000 feet. We were low enough that I could make out houses and crocodiles below. Some of the crocodiles were bigger than the houses (and looked a bit like downed trees). We skimmed the water and landed on the little airstrip in Bocas. Customs and Immigration was silly. One guy lazily looked through my bags while another guy lazily rubber stamped my passport, this process being interrupted several times because a part for some guys boat had come in on our plane and he needed it right friggin’ now. Some kid asked me if I needed a taxi (here we go again). I said, “Yes, how much?”. He said, “One dollar.” Currency in Panama is U.S. Dollars. Huh? One dollar. Cool. Forty-five seconds and three hundred yards later I was at Hostel Heike on the main drag.
A bunk at Hostel Heike

A bunk at Hostel Heike


Hostel Heike is a good hostel. It is the sister hostel to Mondu Taitu, the party hostel. I got a bunk in the air conditioned dorm room for twelve bucks a night. One of my fellow TEFL graduates (Sally the Australian ... “Cheers big ears. Same goes big nose”) had been staying at Mondu Taitu for the last month and set me up with the recommendation for Hostel Heike. Nice work Sally. I didn’t even have to buy Lonely Planet Panama. That night Sally took me over to Rip Tide, an old shrimp boat turned into a bar/restaurant, for $3.50 pitchers. Another travel tip: Send someone ahead to do recon and then just show up and demand to be entertained.
Rip Tide for cheap pitchers

Rip Tide for cheap pitchers


I slept in late the next morning in my dark air conditioned bunk. I walked around town looking for food, taking a few crappy pictures and generally checking out the town. I got wind of $1.50 taco night over at a place called Aqua Lounge and decided to go there for some cheap eats. I wound up having to take a short water taxi to Aqua Lounge (One dollar). Aqua Lounge is a great little hostel on the water. There is a hole cut in the deck for swimming and a diving board. Apparently the place gets crazy on Wednesday nights ... the designated party night at Aqua Lounge. I was there on a Tuesday and just wanted to hang out and eat some tacos. I never got any tacos ... they ran out of meat. I got some sympathy nachos for two bucks. I wound up talking to the lady who owned the book store in town and she set me up with good book called “Don’t stop the Carnival”. It’s about a New Yorker who tries to make a go of running a hotel on a tropical island ... relevant to a lot of the expats down in Bocas Del Toro.

Friday morning downtown Bocas Del Toro was fumigated. A couple of guys laid down a dense fog of I don’t know what through the park and all of the surrounding buildings, including Hostel Heike. We all shuffled around trying to stay out of the fog for an hour or so. I haven’t noticed any extra toes growing so far so I think I’m OK.
Bluff beach with Survivor set

Bluff beach with Survivor set


One day Sally and I took some beach cruiser bikes out to Bluff Beach. One gear with coaster breaks. They’ve got the gears set up just right on those bikes. You have to work a little bit to keep moving but you can move pretty fast and you can get up and down all the hills if you get a running start at them. I wonder how long it took them to get the gears just right like that. There must have been some kind of committee or research project to figure it all out. We rode through town and then along the coast line for half an hour or so. Bluff beach was beautiful. It was deserted except for a bunch of workers building the set for the next Survivor series. I’m told by the locals here that most of the Survivors are filmed in Bocas Del Toro. Figures. We swam a bit, got sunburned, and checked out the Survivor set. We found a bunch of pipas (coconuts), cracked them open, drank the juice and ate the meat. We were like savages ... sunburned, tourist savages hanging out by the next Survivor set.

Saturday I tried to skip town and head for Costa Rica so that on Monday I could get back to the business of setting up my interview. I missed the 8:00 shuttle to Puerto Viejo and they didn’t run the 1:00 shuttle (because I was the only one going again) so I reserved one for Saturday morning at 8:00. That evening I wound up at Toro Loco playing darts with the owner, the health minister of Bocas Del Toro and a couple of local crazies. We took a break from darts to watch an interview with the health minister on TV. He obviously hadn’t bothered to shave before the interview. Pretty laid back town I’d say.

It was hard to appreciate Panama in the short time that I was there. My head was in Heredia and on a potential job opportunity. I started to wonder about the traveling I had been doing lately. Of course, I had to go to Panama so I could get a new ninety day tourist visa (I can’t type visa without capitalizing it the first time) but I didn’t have to go to Montezuma or Samara. I don’t know. I’m driving myself nuts. This travel and job search combination is not working out very well. Each thing screws up the other. I’m going to have to either plant my ass somewhere and look for jobs or abandon the job search altogether and just travel. Just traveling was not the goal though. I guess I’ll have to plant my ass somewhere and look for a job ... somewhere nice. Thinking out loud there ... sorry.

Note: I encourage you all to add your comments, content, related experiences and different points of view to this blog. Your additions can only make the blog better. I should have made this clear earlier on. I’m sure the TEFL crowd would have had a few things to say ... maybe they still do.

Posted by dfilipia 14:18 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking

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