It’s been a while since our last post, and for those starting to worry that we may be lost somewhere in the rainforest, have no fear… we’re alive! So much has happened in the last 2 months, but we’re still traveling and have found ourselves a new little casita in Boquete, Panama.
We left Costa Rica near the end of June for a little vacation back in the States. We got to spend quality time with our family and of course our little Frenchie, Archie. I’m happy to report that he’s adjusted nicely in CT. My family spoils him, he gets free range of the house and he loves learning how to swim in the nearby river (or learning quickly that he can’t swim no matter how hard he paddles those stubby little legs).
We also visited friends and celebrated Jo & Matt’s wedding. It was a quick trip but it felt so nice to catch up with everyone and relax at home for a bit…and not to mention filling up on some of our favorites like NYC pizza, sushi, bagels and DnD.
Returning to Central America, we decided to check out Panama. We flew into Panama City and were amazed at the modern city we were entering, lined with miles of skyscraper. Even though we didn’t get into Panama City until late at night, we found that the party was just getting started…not that we participated in the festivities. We are finding that our eating and sleeping habits are equivalent to an 80-year-old Panamanian. The best is when we go out to dinner and are constantly given the lunch menu; apparently we eat dinner too early. Too bad they don’t have any early bird specials.
Downtown Panama City is very lively and has a lot of luxury accommodations and apartment rentals, but it comes with a hefty price tag. We looked for apartments, but rent was on par with Cali so we decided just to be tourists in Panama City and head to other parts of the country to look for something more affordable.
Before leaving, we spent a few days checking out Casco Viejo and of course the Panama Canal, which we both loved. In Casco Viejo you feel like you are in a whole different world compared to the modern skyscrapers of the downtown area. What was once the wealthiest city in Panama is now urban decay. However, since being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gentrification is now in full swing with beautifully restored colonial buildings on the same street as building in shambles. The visual contrast is so extreme and capturing it makes for a fun photography day.
After a few days in Panama City we decided to check out El Valle, where the wealthy Panamanians have their second home up in the mountains to escape the heat and congestion of the city. El Valle was nice, but the best part was getting there. In Costa Rica, I managed to avoid taking the public buses even without having a car. Nothing against Costa Rican buses, I wouldn’t ride the public bus even in the U.S. However, I must have been feeling extra adventurous when I let Doug convince me that taking the public bus to El Valle would be fun and worth the cost savings. He also promised me it would be one of those big tourist coach buses with bathrooms and TVs on board, and a direct shot to El Valle in an hour and half. I agreed, but to play it safe, I skipped the 2nd cup of coffee that morning…which proved to be a smart move.
We arrived at the Albrook bus terminal with two backpacks and two 50lb suitcases. We easily navigated our way through the bus terminal in search for the platform number where our bus would be waiting. As we got closer to our platform number, I saw those comfy coach buses and had a sense of relief, but soon realized that on the other side of that bus was what looked like a mini-van with our assigned platform number above it. This must be a mistake…I poked my head into the “bus”, it was completely packed and there was no place to put our luggage. There were no more open seats left anyway so I got off the bus, but the bus attendants already had our luggage strapped to the roof. This didn’t seem like the best option…the sky looked gray and after all, we’re in the middle of rainy season. I told them in my broken Spanish that there were no seats left. The attendant went back in the bus and pointed at the front seat to where a woman was already sitting. I didn’t understand and just stared back in confusion. He just kept pointing and I shook my head “no”. Then the women in the seat stood up. I felt bad and didn’t want to take her seat, but everyone kept urging me to sit there. So I sat in the seat feeling bad, but to my surprise she started to sit back down and I thought she was going to sit on my lap. I quickly shifted over and pressed myself against the passenger window. It turns out that I was not actually taking her seat…we were sharing a seat. I was officially locked into this bus trip now that I had a “seat”, but then it occurred to me, where is Doug going to sit?
They could squeeze me into a seat with another lady, but there is no way they are going to find a spot big enough to squeeze Doug into. I looked back from the front seat at Doug who had the same confused look trying to figure out where they wanted him to sit. Surprisingly, those crafty Panamanians managed to squeeze Doug’s 6ft broad frame into a seat with two other people.
We were finally on or way and at least feeling confident that this would be a direct trip to El Valle, seeing as they couldn’t possibly fit in any more people into this mini-bus. Again, I was wrong. The 1.5hr trip turned into 2.5hrs of being squished up against the passenger window as they stopped every few miles to pick up more passengers that they managed to squeeze in.
Then as luck would have it, it started to rain. The bus driver was nice enough to stop the bus to take our luggage off the roof and into the mini-van to keep it dry, and then drove with it pretty much on his lap the whole trip….We were officially a clown car.
We did make it to El Valle safely, though the extent of my bladder was being severely tested, and we were pretty proud of ourselves for saving $190 in travel costs too. We’ve even taken a few more bus trips since then and even took a 9-hour bus trip to Boquete. We’ve learned that there is no such thing as 1 per seat here in Panama, it’s more like 2 or even 3 per seat….that math just seems wrong, but that’s life in Panama.