The Trip to Panama

“The Trip to Panama” (in German: “Oh how beautiful Panama is”)

Who knows how many travel blogs have used the title of this popular children’s book by Janosch, but, before we get to Panama, here are some photos of our last few days in Costa Rica. We stayed at a beautiful, white sandy beach with an abundant supply of coconuts hanging in the palm trees and a coral reef off the coast. We felt like almost like Robinson Crusoe as we drank almost exclusively water from coconuts we had harvested and had only an occasional visit from a few beach tourists during the day. In between, we enjoyed the peacefulness and seclusion of this beautiful place (private photos are here). However, we were bound to a certain time plan, so we set off again and drove past countless banana plantations towards Panama.

Crossing the border required hours, as usual, and, thanks to the tourism official’s lethargy, we even had to turn around after the first 5 miles to pay the tourist tax for the vehicle. But we are used to things like this by now, so we took it in our stride.

A big German travel guide publisher specializing in individual travelers writes that traveling in Panama with children is not easy and advises against it. Wasn’t the title of that children’s book something about Panama? Yes indeed, and the children’s book is right – it is beautiful, and children get something out of it, too. But first things first. We had hardly arrived in Panama when we saw lots of rainforest in the province of Bocas del Toro. It looked just the way I had imagined Costa Rica to be – thick, damp rainforest right up to the street, with small villages and adventure-packed rainforest tracks in between. It was, however, much poorer than places we had seen so far. The people in this area live in simple wooden huts surrounded by somewhat cultivated land, as much as is possible in this hilly region. Hardly anyone here owns a car, so we had to be especially careful of people and farm animals in addition to the many curves. The asphalt street is, of course, the easiest way for everyone to get someplace. Since we had already enjoyed our share of beaches, we did without the detour to the Bocas del Toro atoll and drove across the continental watershed into a dry region which has been intensely characterized by people. No more rainforest, hardly any trees, instead: vast, bare steppes, just what remains after centuries of “cultivating” the land. A big reservoir and a new, quite large hydroelectric power station are located near the watershed. Unfortunately, visiting it wasn’t possible due to auditing, and all our efforts at persuasion were to no avail – the guard apparently had orders not to let anyone in. In Gualaca, we discovered the alternative program of swimming and jumping into a terrific river, and then the hot springs of Caldera between there and Boquete, directly next to a cool river, were worth a detour. Highly praised Boquete didn’t quite succeed in winning us over. It was damp and rainy, and the village itself seems pretty unstructured and chaotic. Its small, nondescript village core is surrounded by the dwellings of North Americans ex-pats which extend along the slopes close by. We tried to see the beautiful sacred quetzal birds again here and drove deep into the cloud forest, but it was so damp that we could hardly look up into the trees, so we gave up this venture pretty quickly. In any case, our Bremach and I were able to drive along the Panamanian off-road tracks again and attune ourselves to what was to come.

Our next goal was the beach near Las Lajas, a good place for taking a break and another endless sandy beach. The great thing here is that the water is unbelievably flat, so children can really let off steam and play to their hearts’ content here. For miles, the beach is lined with palm trees, of course, with shade-giving palapas all over – exactly the totally typical Central American beach. Most of the tourists driving along the Panamerican Highway pass through this country relatively quickly, but we wanted to see some of the more unspoiled part and took a side trip to the peninsula of Azuero. This is a very dry region similar to a very hilly savanna. We had been given the tip to drive to the Playita resort on the tip of the peninsula, but this turned out not to be such a great idea since the unfriendly owner wanted to have $34 for just the camping there – record price since leaving California. We declined his offer with thanks, of course, and turned around. We hadn’t gone very far at all when the neighbors, Geoff and Caroline from Australia, intercepted us on the street and asked if we would like to park in their yard – with our own bathroom, great terrace, and access to the beach. We stayed there quite a while and enjoyed the peace and quiet, as well as the beach, where I was able to inaugurate our new fishing pole with success. From there, we headed relatively quickly towards the capital. Another side trip to El Copé Park took us back into the cloud forest again, and our Bremach had the pleasure of scaling the mountains along steep tracks once again. Our goal was to have a view of both of the oceans, but the mist in the cloud forest thwarted our plans, and we ended up seeing only the Pacific. Knowing that the two largest oceans on earth could be seen from there was a very special feeling anyway. We hiked through the lovely forest a little and then drove back to the highway along the tiny streets.

Our next goal, El Valle, wasn’t far away. Our map showed a shortcut, which we took, of course. We asked a local anyway if we were on the right route, and he answered “correct, just keep going straight”. The track soon became narrower, rougher, and steeper up and down hill. We felt as if we were back in Baja – deep ditches, steep slopes, coarse stones on the track, low gears, and 4-wheel drive. But we actually did arrive in El Valle and had saved ourselves some miles. It certainly wasn’t any faster, but was a great adventure with very lovely scenery. In El Valle, we visited the nice zoo with lots of animals from the surrounding area. Our search for a place to spend the night took us back and forth through the village several times, and then an ex-pat, this time an American, who was kind enough to offer us his yard as a place to park and stay.

On the way to Panama City, we got stuck in a traffic jam for the first time in a long while. It was Sunday afternoon, and a lot of weekend excursionists were apparently on their way back to the city. At some point, we arrived at the yacht club where you can camp on the street, and we were able to prepare things for shipping the Bremach.
Our days in Panama City were focused on the Bremach – police inspection, new tires, completion of the paperwork, and so on. We took advantage of the opportunity to spend time at the super mall looking for clothes which had to be replaced and were completely overwhelmed by the massive consumer world. We spend one day along the canal looking at the Miraflores lock and the museum there. We saw some big ships going through the locks and were so impressed at being able to watch the huge freight ships in the narrow locks at such close proximity. You can hardly imagine how many containers alone are transported on one of these ships and how many goods are shipped across the seas day for day. We spent our last night in the Bremach in Central America on a big pier which separates the Panama Canal from the Caribbean and, from our window, had an priceless view of the freighters, tankers, and cruise ships sailing in and out. Then we drove to the port in Colon, where we parted from our home for a few days – a completely new experience after eight months to have to hand over our keys and watch the Bremach disappear into the port area. Now we are enjoying the last few hours in Panama before taking the plane to Cartagena and the next continent!

Here are our private pictures from our time in Panama.

One Thought on “The Trip to Panama

  1. Andreas PEISSER on Sunday February 23rd, 2014 at 11:24 AM said:

    Alles gute auf dem neuen kontinent!
    Centro america adios
    Pura vida

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