The journey from Monteverde to Panama City involved a 3 hour taxi ride and a 46 minute flight. All pretty straight forward for this part of the world really! We landed in Panama City just as the sun was setting so the drive from Tocumen airport through the city to our hotel was stunning. Panama City is a great looking capital city, all shiny new skyscrapers set in a pacific bay. The legacy of America is clear though- the currency is the dollar, the taxis are yellow and the buildings would look at home in New York, DC or LA.
The old town - Casco Viejo - is by comparison the exact opposite. It looks more European with its packed together town houses, windy streets and squares. Although going through some serious renovation it's still pretty deralict and in some places rough. A little shanty town like with washing lines high up across the street, people and dogs just sitting in doorways, some had even set up a bar in their front room perhaps trying to entice thirsty tourists in from the 40 degree heat!
I guess thats the best description of Panama City, a city of two halves. The poor rundown city of old and the newer cleaner city being built with foreign money. It's also a city still run by drug money - I guess it's perfect location between north and south America and smack bang in between the two major oceans with a purpose built canal perfect for sending shipments across the world east and west.
The canal itself, whilst a spectacular piece of engineering, is a bit boring to look at. Essentially it's just a few huge sets of locks which work in the same way as any other. The impressive part is just their size. We watched an empty Maersk tanker and a cruise ship go through - they are pulled into place by tiny trains dragging the boats on ropes, then the boats anchor and are lowered about 9 metres as the water drains. The lock gates open and they are pulled by train through the set of gates into the next section where the same happens the get it to sea level.
From Panama City we caught an internal flight over to Bocas del Toro- an archipelago close to the Costa Rican border in the Carribean and where about 15 countries have filmed the TV show Survivor. The flight - although a hour delayed because our pilot was AWOL - was the one I enjoyed the most. Maybe I'm getting used to small planes.
Our hotel was about a 20 minute drive out of Bocas town on the main island Isla Colon. It's the only one with a road on and so most people stay here. About 15 minutes from town the road runs out so the taxi has to drive around on the beach to get to our hotel. Not a sunbathing beach but a rocky beach with angry waves. The hotel is an Eco lodge in the jungle but needs a bit of TLC. We knew we were going to be roughing it a little bit but it's worse than we expected. But a roof is a roof. And the beach it is on is stunning...
Bocas town doesn't really have much going for it, it's literally a little port with taxi boats and hostels. But the bars are all on stilts overlooking the sea so it's got a certain charm. The other side of the island is home to Bocas del Drago (dragons mouth) and Starfish beach. Gorgeous white sand, jungle and dozens of starfish just floating around on the bottom of the shallow surf. Just gorgeous.
We visited two other islands whilst we were there- Isla Bastimentos which is home to red frog beach (lots of red frogs of course) and Cayo Zapatillos which is 2 small uninhabited islands which are pure tropical paradise - white sand, warm calm water and jungle. Bocas is a beautiful place, you just need to ignore the main town.
From Bocas we made our way back into Costa Rica. That involved a taxi boat to the mainland then a shuttle to the border crossing. Here, you queue with a lot of people and your luggage to be seen by a man behind a glass window who barks at you 'where are you going?' in Spanish then stamps your passport with an 'exited panama' stamp. You then follow the crowd into the next door office where you pay $3 for the privilege of leaving the country. After that you are left with your luggage to cross the border which is an old railway bridge over a river - the walkway is a series of wooden boards and only some of them are nailed down. Huge trucks drive over this thing as well! When you get to the other side you pop into the Costa Rican office to get your entry stamp. And then some other driver meets you and takes you on your way.
And that brings us up to date... Sat on the balcony of our little bungalow in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Carribean coast. Final destination. It's almost 6pm, the sun has set...and I've just been bitten by another mossie. I best get to the bar!