Our last border crossing with the bikes. We left Puerto Viejo fairly early and rode the 40km to cross Sixaloa into Panama. Years earlier Rick had done the same crossing and found himself walking across a dilapidated railroad bridge with not much else. Six years later they have built a road and clearly tourism dollars have done enough to ensure at least the Costa Rican side was quick and easy to deal with. Once we rode across to Panama the paperwork ordeal was pretty easy, just incredibly lengthy. Really it boiled down to the fact that everyone moved at their own speed, which is slow. Finally we got all the stamps and were on our way.
The ride into Panama was pretty scenic right from the start. We didn’t have more than 60km to reach Almirante, which is the small town you get a water taxi to reach Bocas del Toro. We zig zagged through some hilly terrain, but mostly it was chill. Once we reached Almirante it didn’t take long for us to be noticed and for a nice gentleman to wave us over. He introduced us to the nicest woman who runs secure parking in town and showed us to the water taxi. We paid our $6 and then crammed onto to the boat with everyone else.
It takes 30min to reach Bocas Town and the place we were staying had instructed us to a local hostel where we would catch another boat. Amazingly we were right on time and zoomed off for another 15min ride to Isla Bastimentos. I had booked us 3 nights at the Palamar Tent Lodge.
On our ride out we happened to share the boat with the original owners. A couple who hails from California, moved to Bocas right after college to start their retreat. Three years later they professed that it was time to try something new, so we stayed there during the transition into new ownership. Overall we thought the setting was beautiful and the canvas tents we stayed in were pretty sweet. The property has a restaurant/bar along with a wooden structure for doing yoga. Our tent was nestled into the jungle, but still close enough to the beach to hear the waves.
Palamar is 95% gringo from the people who work there, to the other guests. Not exactly a true sense of what Panama is about, but if you are seeking a hideaway to relax, meet travellers, drink beer and beach out, this is the place. They also run it using volunteers, which is just a way for people who are traveling to work for room and board. In theory a nice idea, but even if you are given a free roof over you head in exchange for some work, it didn’t seem to us that it was enough incentive for the place to be well cared for. From our observations things didn’t get cleaned nearly enough, the kinds of details that make a place special had fallen through the cracks and they made super shitty cocktails and charged $6 for them. If you stack that up against what was rad about the place, it’s in danger of tipping the scales. We hope the new owner gets his shit together.
Over the three days we did some walks along the beach, but mostly we just read books and were lazy. It was wonderful. I managed to burn the tops of my legs (for the first time in my life!!) and had to stay in the shade most of the time afterwards. We quickly made friends with a group of Aussie guys from Melbourne traveling together and met a sweet couple from Argentina as well as LA. So easy to sit and chat for hours about where people are from, where they’re going and to share stories about being on the road. (Hi Billy, Myles, Jeremy, Miguel and Belinda!)
After a few days of total relaxation we have both started to get the itch to be back on the bikes. Today we were meant to ride half way to Panama City, but Ricks stomach had other ideas. So we caught the water taxi back to Almirante and are staying the night in the towns only hotel. We ate Chinese food (yes, we know strange), I have been catching up on email while El Jefe sleeps off his funny tummy with a bottle of Pepto.
Tomorrow we’re leaving before dawn to do a longer day to Panama City. I’m really looking forward to the contrast in energy and getting a chance to feel the buzz of city life. I’ve also booked us a special treat!
Sarah & Rick