Hi family and friends. We are still alive! I am sure all of you have been wondering where we have been and what activities are keeping us from writing a new blog. We are learning that the internet is still a rare commodity in some areas and cheaper hotels. We have been doing quite a bit of traveling since we last posted a blog. Bocas del Toro ended up being a good time. It led us to traveling through the northern part of Panama and back into Costa Rica.
The remainder of our Bocas del Toro stay:
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sky and warm weather. Our plan was to meet up with our new friends from Canada, Jenny and Kelcy, and catch a boat ride out a beautiful beach called Playa Zapatilla. Playa Zapatilla is located on a deserted island SW of Bocas town and takes about 30min via boat to get out to. We were told it was the farthest beach to get to but by far the most beautiful of all the local beaches. We paid $25 per person, round trip. The boat ride also included a stop at Dolphine Bay to see dolphins, and snorkeling at Cayo Coral. Playa Zapatilla was absolutely beautiful. It was the brightest blue water we had swam in yet, and the closest we’ve come to paradise on our trip so far. We spent the whole day swimming in warm, turquoise water and laying on a beautiful white sandy beach. We shared a boat with a very nice, young couple from Argentina and two young guys from New York.
We both agree that Bocas is definitely a party town. We went out with our new friends almost every night we stayed there. It was a lot of fun but got expensive after a few drinks. Bocas had good happy hours but is still as expensive as Costa Rica in some aspects. We were able to find really cheap food, but it was not that great.
To save a little money the next day, we took a dollar shuttle to a beach on the northern part of Isla Colon(where bocas town is located) called Playas de Boca del Drago or starfish beach. The beach was beautiful, with crystal clear blue water in the shallow parts and palm trees lining the shore of the beach. The only complaint we had was that the sand had these microscopic, clear spines that got stuck in our feet. They felt like a bad splinter and hurt your feet when you walked. We learned that a little investment makes going to Playa Zapitilla worth your money. After a good talk with our new Canadian friends, we decided we would leave the next day and all travel together to a little town in the Panama mountains called Boquete, located on the western side of Northern Panama.
Panama doesn’t quite have the tourist infrastructure like Costa Rica has, so we couldn’t get a small shuttle to Boquete. Instead we had to do what the locals do, and ride the public buses. We quickly found out that this mode of transportation was very mellow. On the way to David(the town we catch the Boquete bus in) Justin and I met a very friendly family of indigenous natives. The woman still wears traditional tribe clothing. She had a baby girl with her and a young boy. The young boy took interest in Justin’s iPhone video games and the baby made a nice pillow out of my leg. It was a beautiful ride through the Talamanca Mountain range (the continental divide).
When we arrived into Boquete, the climate was much cooler, as most mountain towns are in Central America. It was absolutely beautiful too. We were surrounded by lush green mountains and huge coffee farms. The surrounding scenery was just as spectacular as the beach. We stayed at a hostel with private rooms called Boquete Mountain Inn. Other than a crowing rooster every morning from 2 to 6am, the hostel was great.
The first full day in Boquete was spent hanging out at the Caldera natural hot springs. They are about 30 min outside of Boquete. The taxi or bus drops you off at the beginning of a long dirt road that you have to travel down to get to the hot springs. If you have a rented vehicle, you could drive about 80% of the walk. We hitched a ride in the back of a construction vehicle. It made the walk much easier. The hot springs are owned by a local family. The piece of property they own has a tepid stream running through it. We have never felt a warm river before, very cool. Once we paid a $2 entrance fee, we got to sit in 3 different natural hot springs. They were very relaxing. Just below the hot springs is a big cold river, which is where we spent the majority of our day.
The next day we decided to go a local animal rescue shelter called Paradise Gardens. Paradise Gardens is located just outside of Boquete and is a short cab ride from the town. The entrance to the shelter (it is more of an estate, than a shelter) was $5 each, which is more than reasonable for what you are getting.
As soon as we walked in we were greeted by a pair of monkeys and a couple of very talkative parrots. We were then shown a 3 month old baby anteater and given the opportunity to play with a pair of baby sloths. The park had dozens of species of tropical birds: toucans, macaws, cockatoos and several other species of parrot. We also got the chance to view a lynx-looking cat and a young Jaguarundi (both cats are in the puma family). The refuge owner let us play with the baby Jaguarundi in its cage. We then met the pick-pocketing monkey named Monty, who kept trying to steal our keys out of Justin’s pockets. Monty just loved performing for a crowd. He and his playmate put on an acrobatics display for about 20 mins.
Once the park neared closing, we made our way back to the main house where the owner was feeding the baby sloths dinner. She invited us to help, and we got to feed baby sloths fruits and veggies for about 30 minutes. It was quite an experience and was one of the highlights of our trip so far. We highly recommend Paradise Gardens to anyone who would enjoy interacting with jungle animals.
The next day our Canadian friends informed us that they had heard of a Carnival festival taking place just 30 minutes away in the small town of Dolega. We jumped on a bus and headed down…we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We got off the bus in the center of town and made our way towards the loud thumping music in the distance. When we arrived at the Carnival gates we paid our $2 admission and the party was on! $.50 beers, $.60 rum and cokes, $1 burgers…we were finally in our budget.
Carnival means festival of the flesh. It is the 4 days where religious believers are allowed to sin before lent(40 days of fasting and cleansing) begins, and the people of Panama do not mess around. The main dance floor was about half the size of a football field, had a huge stage for the DJ, and the entire dance floor was outlined by massive water tank trucks that were equipped with fire houses that were used to soak the dancing crowd. It was like nothing that we had ever seen. Away from the dance floor, little kids patrolled the perimeter with water guns attacking anyone who appeared to be dry…seeing how we were the only gringos in sight, we were very easy targets. We were all soaked within 20 minutes.
We partied the afternoon away, and the festival came to a close at 5 pm. It was over 90 degrees at the festival and in the high 60’s when we got back into Boquete. We were soaked to the bone; a hot shower never felt so good. That night at dinner we decided to stay an additional night, and go to Carnival the next day prepared.
Carnival take 2: No cameras, no backpacks, no shoes…this time we were ready. The size of the crowd had easily doubled from the first day, so much that two more water tankers we called in for the day. We spent the entire afternoon dancing, meeting new people, and picking up a few new dance moves. We only did two days of Carnival, and there is no way that we could’ve done more, what a party! But it was a fun affair, no beads, public indecency, or fights; the local Panamanians keep it pretty classy and family-friendly. We know that if this party were held in the states it would be a drunken mess…we now know why New Orleans only celebrates fat Tuesday, Americans just seem to get a little out of hand. Needless to say our first Carnival experience was a good one, a good stepping stone for a potential future visit to Brazil.
We crashed early that night because we had to catch a 6 am bus to get back into Costa Rica. Panama was an incredible experience, the local people are genuinely friendly and always have a smile on their face. The American dollar also goes a long way down here, a lot farther than in Costa Rica, we would highly recommend panama to anyone.
We definitely knew we were back in Costa Rica when we were paying $2.00 for a coke and $14.00 for a medium tube of sunscreen. It was a long day of traveling but our arrival to Dominical was met with a sigh of relief. We finally found a Costa Rican community/town that we immediately bonded with and loved. It is a total surfer town with minimal development and cool vibes. The beach is beautiful, with palm trees lining the shores and gorgeous lush mountains meeting the ocean. The town is about 3 miles in diameter and has no paved roads, only hard dirt with submerged rocks; however the road to Dominical from San Isidro is paved. The town still vibes rustic Costa Rica and the people are very friendly. Surprisingly though, most of the people we’ve seen walking around the town are gringos. Not your average touristy gringos, more integrated surfers and hippies that are searching for a laidback lifestyle. The beach is fairly empty throughout the day but everyone comes out onto the beach to catch the evening’s sunset.
We are renting a fairly cheap house with our Canadian friends for the week. It isn’t glamorous but it certainly does the job. We love it though. It’s been the most relaxing stay we’ve had so far. The surf is perfect for all of us here. About two hours a day the surf breaks just right for Rachelle and the Canadians (the other two beginner surfers) to have some fun with a surfboard. Once the swell picks up a bit, Justin gets his surf in. We are having a blast just lounging and waiting for the surf to get good. Not much else to report on. Talk to you all soon!