So I am writing from a private little piece of paradise from the Boca Brava Hotel near Boca Chica, Panama. JP came to meet me a couple of days ago. We are sipping beers and batidos (basically a fruit shake) in a quaint bar. Until moments ago, we were the only clients. The hotel is currently under quiet renovation. The hotel exceeded our expectation based on the Lonely Planet description. It turns out that the the business was purchased by an American couple who have been putting lots of effort in to spruce it up. You can get a hammock in an open air hammock dorm for $7 or something more private in the $10/pp up to $45 for the aqua caliente and AC room. We opted from something in between.
The food is very good and fairly priced. Apparently we are in a lull period and the place can be quite booming at times. Its nice that it is quiet. The morning was spent in a rain forest beach listening to howler monkeys and snappin some photos of them on the walk in. I would not say that this is a Club Med sort of paradise but a lush, real rain forest paradise. The beaches are dark sand when you actually go in the water and the shoreline is comprised of small stones. There would be no point in trying to snorkel here as the water is green with wash-off from the shore but warm and definitely wonderful to swim in. Deposits on the shore indicate the presence of oysters but none are to be seen yet.
There was a strange sign nearby. At first I thought it was a warning sign and glancing quickly I some that the words indicated that it was an ad for the restaurant/hotel. Looking at it again, I realized the background was that of a snake, perhaps the deadly Fer de Lance which should be present in the general region. Strange. I have pretty much overcome (I think) my fear of poison snakes in the sense of if I go traipsing through the rain forest in flip flops I will probably not be happy to run into a poisonous snake, but walking along a path noting where I am walking — well, I am not too worried and think that I would actually like the photo op.
The food here is great. Mostly local seafood with delicious sauces and sides like potatoes or yucca fries, plantain or delicious vegetable rice. Its a good thing as it is the only game “in town” unless we take the $2/pp water taxi back.
Sleep was a little disjointed. There were more bugs than we liked and the bug net came out. This wasn’t so much from fears of being actually bit by a poisonous spider but just the idea of having things crawl on us during sleep. Termites are definitely a feature here and they are inside but probably don’t pose much of an issue. There has been lots of rain — which is, in a way, a good thing — as it keeps the temperature down and we would probably be on the bike otherwise. Speaking of the bike. It was left at the house of the “boat captain” who operates the water taxi. We are told that the area is quite safe but it was a leap of faith to leave it with a stranger. That said, he is sort of a “notary” in the area having operating a small business so it is probably safer hidden in his maze-like garden abode, than down at the docks which was a pretty stern “no no” for me.
The roads getting in have been improved since the LP review and certainly passable by a non-4×4 vehicle now. That said, I am happy that JP brought me a new rear brake rotor from A Vicious Cycle in Ontario — the previous one was start to get sketch and certainly shredding my brake pads. These were replaced at our last day at the Purple House Hostel in David, Panama. I had to borrow and 24mm socket and breaker bar as the guy who put my new rear tire on the the BMW dealership in Guatemala City put the axle nut on *way* too tight in my opinion.
I’m going to jump back a few days now to forward chronology from Costa Rica.
Have left the Hostel Bruja in northern Costa Rica, I was undecided on my route through Costa Rica. My friend Tyson had taken a route through Peninsula de Nicoya and following the coast dodging San Jose. Having found myself passing the necessary turn off, I attempted to back track and found myself traversing very slow moving twisties up and down mountains through semi-urban areas. The fog grew heavy. I began to question the idea of sort of back tracking and whether I was actually adding a half day to my trip to follow a route that wasn’t particularly notable (to my knowledge). I ended up turning around and heading through the general metropolitan area of San Jose. I’m sure that I missed a turn off and my GPS guided me through some very slow in-town areas in an effort to recover. For several hours I traversed this urban region in the rain. I was informed that the mountain to follow were cooler than the gas station in which I presently stood. I wasn’t really aware that I was to pass a mountain rainge.
Essentially I made the dumb-dumb decision to continue on when there was a perfectly good town to find a hotel on the “near side” of the mountain range. I figured I had at least an hour or hour and half to find a place. Heading up the mountain, travel was slowed by trucks, rain and thick fog. I had to stop twice. Once was to put on the rain liner of my riding gear. The second was to put on my electrically heated thermal vest. I was starting to feel a sort of nerve jolt in my arms. I have felt this before in very cold water while scuba diving in the cold freshwaters of Tobermory, Ontario, Canada. Unfortunately, I must have blown the fuse for the vest’s hookup to the bike when it got lopped off by the chain several weeks back. I “repaired” the connector but never tested it. Duh!
Watching the kilometers expire was like watching paint dry. I eventually realized that I was going down hill and that the temperature was increasing by a few degrees. I became less concerned about the prospects of finding a small, isolated hotel in the mountains, and figured that I would eventually run into a larger town. And that I did. LP listed a few hotels but the ones I saw were a bit sketch. I found one place that looked quite nice but it was at full occupancy. I was informed that the owner had another one, which I passed on my way in called Dos Pinos. The owner escorted me there in the rain with his Mercedes Benz, “imported” some cervezas from his other hotel, and saw to it that a pizza was order for me and delivered by way of motorcycle. This service, of course, wasn’t free but I was badly in need of a warm shower and some hot food at it was worth it. And then…
And then I realized that I couldn’t find my main wallet. I am carry multiple wallets. One for my license, registration and back up credit card; one with my main credit card and bank card and other cards, and a “dummy one” with an expired credit cards, expired drivers license and various useless cards like a hospital cards. My day to day cash is kept here. In the event that I am robbed, hopefully I can hand over this wallet with less than $100 and thief will feel like he has hit the jackpot with all of the useless cards. Sooo…I avoided panicking and decided to sleep on the issue and give my gear a thorough once over in the morning. That said, I did and still couldn’t find the wallet. I figured that I must have left a zipper open in the mountains and dropped the wallet. I did the appropriate call arounds and a replacement Visa card is being sent to David, Panama. There was nothing I could to about the bank card as I “should have carried a spare”. In loading the bike and prepping to leave, I found the wallet in the back pocket of my riding pants. Doh! Double Doh!!! I rarely used those pockets and don’t rememeber putting the wallet there when I checked in to the hotel — but I *was* cold and wet.
The ride to the border was uneventful and pleasantly scenic although I knew I was low on cash (Yes — I do have secret emergency supplies but don’t like to tap into them). I attempted getting money from an ATM at a small town near the border but found that all of the machines were on the “Plus” network, and none of the working ones on the Cirrus network. I do have another debit card which should be operable on the Plus network, but I haven’t bother transferring funds to it. That I pretty much planned for. What I hadn’t planned for is that both my Visa cards are the old Canadian style that aren’t set up with a PIN so I am not sure how easy it would be to get a cash advance if required.
Suddenly I realized that I was at the border and that the border town was the border. I attempted a quick U-Turn but the apparently I was already passed “the point of no return” and would have to go digging for my CR documentation to go back and trying to explain it to the border guy was not working out. I dunno. Surely he and his friend should have noticed fully kitted motorcycle ride passed them and circle back within 20 meters but…alas, I have high expectations.
So my transmitador found me reasonable quickly. Hamilton (yes, he reference Hamilton Ontario) spoke English fairly well. I noted to him that I did not know what my exit point in Panama would be (and still don’t). Reportedly, Panamanian border officials like to know your exit point so much that you may be required to purchase a return bus ticket back to CR even if you have not intention to use it. In my case, my transmitador insisted that a little gift would sort the problem of “indecision” out. And at little more $$ would turn tearing apart the gear on my bike into a non-issue. In the end, I yet again paid some $$, found myself being dragged around to non-descript offices which would have been hard to find — especially the vehicle insurance office — and the process was only about an hour. I even paid the $1 for “fumigation” which wasn’t performed.
The Panamanian highways proved well maintained and I found myself at the pre-booked Purple House Hostel within the hour. My GPS guided me there without issue. At first it through me a little as it really was in a residential area of David. Very non-descript and definitely a converted house. It is run by Andrea who arrived in Panama some 11 years ago after work with the Peace Corps. David is not a particularly beautiful city and the Purple House does not have the same charm of some of the converted homesteads I nighted at in other regions. That said, it is more than adequate and very close to amenities such as 24/7 food stores, the regional airport and so forth. It is a good hub for the region and Andrea has a lot of regional travel knowledge to offer (just make sure you do your dishes in a timely fashion).
I stayed the first night solo and the next day took care of replacing my flip flops, picking up some groceries and flowers and getting my first commercial hair cut in many years. I had been on the hunt for a barber for a while and it was as if he was outside waiting. I pulled over and introduced myself. Within minutes I was in the chair and listening to reggae music. What I was looking for was a basic clipping — nothing more. I have been to at least one, what I would call, Afro-centric barber before, and the experience is interesting. Fair less time is spent with the main clipping than I spend at home with my own clippers — single pass instead of three — then they do a lot of find detailing with clippers around the ears and forehead. These hairs are so find and blond on me that it is really not required. He did what seems to be a good job at my side burns but missed some patches on the back with clippers. What can I say…straight hair requires different treatment.
So I got my hair cut, dropped some stuff off at the Purple House and headed off to the airport. JP, having been SMSing me throughout the day about various delays, had managed to get on her third aircraft of the day. Her plane arrived pretty much on time and we reconnected after a fairly brief encounter with Panamanian customs. I was wearing fully vented and fully wet riding gear. JP kept the waterproof liners in hers. We both were rather wet arriving at the Purple House some 20 minutes later. Rain gear or not — when it is hot, humid and rainy — you are just going to get wet by some means.
I tried my best to prepare a fairly nice dinner of pasta, pesto and shrimp in the hostel kitchen. JP got a giggle out of this since this is something we eat frequently enough at home and probably not her first expected meal. The supermarkets in David have quite good selection albeit lacking in the fresh vegetables department. Notable it is strangle to see all of this local stuff and then stuff like Old El Paso Tex-Mex stuff.
The first full day we went to a nearby volcanically fed hot springs and then for a dip in a river. It was pretty rough going getting up to the area. I had JP walk up some hills as I was afraid of dropping the bike with her on it. I eventually did drop it, but I was kind of being “lazy” — not paying too much attention. No biggy. But you certainly are not getting a non 4×4 car in there, or anything less than a big suspension dual sport (or the four legged type).
Following this we took a tour up to the fairly touristy town of Boquete for a Mexican lunch and an add hoc tour of some coffee plantations. This was a very beautiful region with twisty mountainous (well that mountain is really a volcano) roads. We picked a few coffee berries which was really quite cool. I tend to drink my share of coffee — especially the fair trade and organic sourced stuff — and have a keen interest in it from plant to cup. We cracked open the berries later that evening to find white-green “beans” which had very little coffee taste. I am aware of “green bean” coffee and the roasting process but I hadn’t expected that roasting brings out soooo much of the flavour. Very interesting.
We toured around quite a bit and saw all sort sorts of beautiful scenary like waterfalls, rivers and plans, and indigenous dwellings. On the way out we stopped at a local plantation cafe. While they served espresso based drinks, I opted for one of the drips. I took the cheap one (tipoco) with was $5 instead of $9. The pot is enough for two small cups. It was very smooth coffee and while JP doesn’t really drink coffee she agreed that these coffees have much more to them than your Tim Hortons, or even Starbucks and can be sipped like wine.
Dinner was a nice macaroni and cheese from scratch and bed time shortly after.
The following day we headed to the “downtown” of David for a bit and then out to Playa Barqueta. The Lonely Planet indicated that the beach would be quiet if we hit it on a weekday. Having a little trouble finding it and not looking forward to the extent of sand track that we would have to travel if it were where we originally thought it was. It, or at least a section of it, was right in front of our noses at a small publicly accessible resto-bar nestle between the skeleton of an old bar and a new hotel complex. We parked the KLR and in minutes went from looking like, at least to the locals, Martians to beach dwellers and logged the gear up to the bike. The dark sand beach was one of the beautful beaches I have ever been to and nearly deserted. It was clean and people kept to themselves. And beer and soda could be had at the local resto-bar — we abstained from food, however, as it was gray area for us in terms of cleanliness for the traveler’s belly. We spent some time in the water playing in the waves but we could sense, and were eventually told, the we should be watchful for rip currents.
The next morning we prepared our gear, me leaving half of mine in storage with the Purple House and headed out to Boca Chica. We will stay a total of two nights here and probably head towards Panama City shortly. I am interesting in seeing the canal and old architecture. The Purple House has been booked as JP’s last night’s destination but other than that the itinerary is completely open.