instagram: @johnandmandifacebook: johnandmandiRss FeedContact Us

John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
872 days a wanderin'

Have the Day You Have, Panama

Sep 10, 2017
by John
in: Panama

The differences in countries are sometimes stark, other times subtle. Panama presented somewhat of an anomaly as it appeared to be both. Being animals, we constantly catch ourselves applying the categorical evaluation of experience. Attempting to equate an understanding through a likening or derivation in similarity. Usually that helps us achieve a feel or sense, ultimately resulting in how we will interact. Normally it is malleable based on location or surroundings, essentially what each and every organism does given changes in environment.

Our preconditioned approach has a flaw, as we've never experienced a place such as Panama, so outside of our normal. The landscape is stunning yet the human made environments are conflicting. Vacant run down structures are beside the most opulent. Driveways to the richest accommodations are through the poorest of neighborhoods. Wealth dripped to the edge of destitution. Unlike a nice suburban neighborhood abutting a ghetto, it is completely juxtaposed. A dichotomy we were never prepared to consume. Astonishingly, it all seems to work even though our feeble minds could not equate an understanding. Unable to formulate situational assertions, we relented, letting each day unfold as it would.

What We Did

Sixaola: Costa Rica to Panama Border Crossing

Our last border crossing in Central America was much the same as all of the others. We read the tips on a few blogs and iOverlander then set off to the imaginary line that separates Costa Rica from Panama. To exit Costa Rica we stopped and paid our exit fee ($8 per person) at a pharmacy just before the small yellow bridge. We then crossed it and parked in the small lot just before a larger bridge across from the combined customs and aduana building. We got in line; filled out a couple exit forms; provided our receipts for paying our exit fee; were stamped out; walked the 10 steps to the aduana window; filled out another form; provided our Costa Rican TIP and driver's passport to an aduana official; had the van inspected (VIN, plate, and interior); and finally received the bottom half of the form all officiated and stamped. Out of one, on to the next.

To enter Panama, we drove over the larger bridge trying not to run over any of the endless stream of people walking between the countries, and stopped at the end for a vehicle inspection. Next we drove through the fumigation gate; parked in a lot on the left in front of aduana and insurance trailers; walked back to the edge of the bridge to pay the $3 for fumigation; returned to the parking area to purchase insurance for $25 covering one month (provided a copy of our registration and driver's passport); wandered down the street immediately on the left, down the stairs and followed the alley towards the electronics store to the immigration area on the right; provided our passports; had our photo and fingerprints taken (like Honduras); showed them our vehicle registration for proof of onward travel; and received entry stamps in our passports. We again returned to the parking lot and got in line at the aduana window; provided driver's passport, registration, and insurance with a copy of each; had the van inspected (VIN); and waited in the sun while the aduana official completed the paperwork in the trailer before receiving our driver's passport with vehicle stamp and TIP. Almost done. We then had to walk back across the street and up the stairs to the back side of the building where the municipal tax is collected to pay $4 per person and $10 for the van. This fee could have been paid earlier in the process, which might have saved us from repeatedly being told to go pay it and then from being chased down while driving out of the parking lot to show the receipt. Ironically, we were stopped in the little municipal town and forced to drive around it. Thanks for charging us to not use the really nice road.

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro

We were looking forward to visiting the islands of Bocas del Toro even though we spent so much time lounging beachfront in Punta Uva, Costa Rica, before crossing. At the last minute we decided our first stop should be a hotel, Bocas Ridge Hotel at $65 per night, before making our way to Isla Colon. It was a smart move to get ourselves, and our laundry, all cleaned up and it was one of the cleanest places we have stayed...ever. Our host was extremely friendly, allowing us to store our van on his property for free while we visited the islands. The $8.00 per way cab ride was about the same it would have cost us to store the van in a secure lot in Almirante anyway. We liked the hotel so much we stayed two more nights after our foray to the islands.

In the art of being lazy we picked Surfari B&B, $37.50 per night w/out breakfast, for our 6 night stay on Isla Colon since other travelers had given them great reviews. Having two kitchens and free coffee all day did make it an easy choice. Our time on the island was spent wandering the streets, exploring a couple beaches, hanging with Matty & Ingrid, and lazily reading in the comforts of air conditioning.

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

I feel chillaxed already

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Everything is owned by either Wen or Li

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

When on island time

Our first full day in town the weather was perfect so we visited Starfish Beach with Ingrid via local transport, $2.50 per person per way, Matty had to practice for a gig that night. The transport drops off about 20 minutes from the beach but the stroll along the ocean's edge is very beautiful, local boats are available if one chooses not to walk. Swimming around the rather large starfish was great and soaking in the Caribbean while catching up with Ingrid really made the day extra special.

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Is this the one Gilligan tied himself to?

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Would make one helluva coffee table

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Patrick Star looks a lot different in person

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Whiskey!

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Proper pina colada pose

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

It's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean

Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Stop fingering the crabs

The following day was just as beautiful so we all decided to visit Cayos Zapatillas, $30 per person including park access fee. Matty had another gig that night but he wasn't going to miss out again. Our tour started with a stop in a cove that is frequented by over 70 dolphins so we all watched them surface for at least fifteen minutes before moving through some of the famous mangroves in the archipelago. Soon after, we were jumping off the boat at a protected island to try our hand at snorkeling and to wander its powdery white shores. Another fabulous day with phenomenal friends!

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Safety first, like in Mexico

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bazinga!

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Just get out of the boat already

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Fish, fish, moose

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

The meaning of being schooled

Cayos Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Pair a dice

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui

We spent two sleepless nights next to the highway at La Jungla Experience, $5 per person per night, in Boquete before realizing we weren't getting into the groove and moving to Barrio Gaudalupe on the other side of the mountains. The drive between the two mountain towns was our favorite in Panama and one we didn't record with our GoPro, go figure. Camping in the parking lot at Los Quetzales Eco Lodge, $15 per rig per night, immediately put big smiles on our faces since the town of Barrio Guadalupe is very small and exceptionally friendly. A rushing creek abutted the back of the property making the perfect spot for morning coffee. The rain was incessant so we never were able to hike the Quetzal trail but the 4 nights we spent basking in the cool air was a reprieve we had been needing. On Saturdays and Sundays makeshift food and trinket vendors set up along the road so we wandered the little street gorging on delicious street food, papas rellenos - yum.

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

Less is more, more or less

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

We'll take two of everything!

Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama

Huddle cuddle

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

Makes me want to buy some coveralls

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

Clearly a crick and not a creek

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

So happy to have on pants

Barrio Guadalupe, Chiriqui, Panama

Always driving on the sunny days

Farallon, Cocle

Before reaching Farallon, we spent a night at Playa Las Lajas (Johny Fiestas - $5 per person per night) and Playa Venao (Venao Cove - $7 per rig per night) but they both fell a bit short of what we were looking for, though the facilities at Venao Cove were really nice. Rolling into Pipa's Farallon, after passing through some nice little towns with beautiful street art, shocked us a little. The sight of calm Pacific water perked us up but the number of rigs in the parking lot was a little shocking, 7 vans, 1 car, and a bus with 7 occupants, over 25 people in total. Pipa's allowed free camping but it was obvious that the travelers already there had been living in the lot for quite some time. We were directed to park then we wandered to the restaurant for a great meal, Chicken Bomba ($11 per plate). Later that evening we had a long discussion with an employee about 'their problem' of the people living in the parking lot overburdening the onsite facilities. We suggested they either start charging a camping fee or set a daily minimum purchase at the restaurant instead of just closing it down to overlanders. Shortly after our one night stay, the other travelers decided to party until 2am, Pipa's marked themselves as closed in iOverlander. A real shame as it is a beautiful location.

Santiago, Veraguas, Panama

We don't have any children

Pedasi, Los Santos, Panama

That would make a bitchin' tatoo

Pedasi, Los Santos, Panama

Moo-oove yourself

Pipa's Farallon, Cocle, Panama

Pacified Pacific

Pipa's Farallon, Cocle, Panama

Calm as a kitten during naptime

Pipa's Farallon, Cocle, Panama

Why there is no such thing as a free lunch

El Valle de Anton, Cocle

Wanting to get back into a somewhat cooler environment we decided to check out El Valle de Anton, ultimately spending 4 nights camped at Hotel Valle Verde, $20 per rig per night. Smaller than Boquete yet larger than Barrio Guadalupe, El Valle is a sleepy little mountain town. The rainy season was in full effect so we spent a great deal of time reading and preparing for our upcoming shipping to Colombia huddled in the van waiting for clearer weather. Regardless, El Valle de Anton is a place we thoroughly enjoyed.

Hotel Valle Verde, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Why our reception is so good

Hotel Valle Verde, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Just put the gringos in the garden

When the sun finally broke through we capitalized one morning and visited Butterfly Haven, $5 per person. It is a wonderful place with a really fun tour of the butterfly house. There are over 20 species onsite and we are pretty sure we spotted, well our guide pointed them out, every single one. It was educational and uplifting with a sprinkle of silliness, one of the best tours we have ever taken. We were left to wander around to photograph our winged friends for as long as we liked. In our opinion, Butterfly Haven should not be missed.

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

The guides here work for nectar

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

So what can you morph into?

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Yes, you are a pretty boy

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Tune in Tokyo

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

The secret to the vibrant yellow

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

That's our color scheme

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Makes me feel edgy too

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Just suck on your flower jellybean

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

That combination died with the 80's

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Little Morpho, the butterfly rendition of Finding Nemo

Butterfly Haven, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Poopoflage

Following the fluttery little friends tour, we drove over to Chorro El Macho, $5 per person, to hike to the waterfall. It was actually an easy five minute walk but it was nice to get back into the jungle. The falls are beautiful, we just wish there was more to the hike considering we spent $10 for the two of us. There is an onsite swimming area so it could be turned into an all day affair.

Chorro El Macho, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Most exciting thing we've done in days

Chorro El Macho, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

El Chiflon is much more macho

Chorro El Macho, El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

Been drinking it the entire time

We visited El Valle a second time after exploring the area surrounding Colon and before heading into Panama City, choosing to camp at the Windmill Hostel, $10 per person per night. Again we ended up staying 4 nights but we didn't explore much. Our time was spent getting the van ready to be stuffed into a shipping container. In between bouts of rain we scrubbed the inside, our version of a spring cleaning, fixed a couple outstanding things, and treated the van to a $10 hand wash. The facilities at Windmill Hostel were some of the best of the trip. They have 4, yes 4, onsite kitchens and really hot showers...not that lukewarm crap we had been getting. Somehow we failed to take any pictures of the place and it is a madhouse on the weekends, the reason they have 4 kitchens ; )

El Valle de Anton, Cocle, Panama

That tickles

Yaviza, Darien

Over the past year I have been scheming to drive to the edge of the Darien Gap, or at least to the furthest town you can drive to without being strip searched and catalogued into a refugee database. Mandi has never been enthralled by this endeavor, but being the good sport, let me play out my supposed hardcore adventure. Knowing it could be a really long drive we first checked out Bayano Lake, camping in the parking lot of Shawalas for the night, $5 per rig.

We awoke to a strong storm the following morning and set off on our quest to the Darien Gap. Expecting poor to horrendous road conditions, the first half was pot-holed but not the worst we had driven, we reached the first checkpoint at the edge of the Darien province in under three hours. It would have been sooner but we stopped for breakfast. We asked one of the checkpoint police officers how long the second half of the drive should take, "3-4 hours"...OK, maybe the road is much worse from here. The next 100km was on one of the best roads in all of Panama, except for the last kilometer which was in the process of being prepared to be paved.

Reaching Yaviza we were surrounded by school children dressed in their uniforms hurrying home, our big ass van in the way. We pulled next to the infamous Yaviza sign, which has been moved to the beginning of town to keep us foreigners from jamming up traffic, for our obligatory photo. Soon we were driving back from whence we came, waving at the officer as we passed a little over 3 hours from speaking with him. Rolling back into the parking lot of Shawalas, we paid another $5 to camp for the night. Our epic adventure was really just a drive through beautiful scenery to a normal town that happens to be close to the edge of an infamous place.

Bayano Lake, Panama, Panama

It's a field and it's a dreamy

Bayano Lake, Panama, Panama

iPhone pictures suck

Bayano Lake, Panama, Panama

Oh they dam(n)ed that river

Via Panamericana, Panama, Panama

Where the wild things pull over

Yaviza, Darien, Panama

Don't get comfortable, seat's taken

La Guayra (Paraiso Escondido), Colon

We were wanting a little more Caribbean time so we decided to explore the area outside Colon, the town we would be shipping the van from. We scoped out almost every place listed in iOverlander, becoming a little disheartened, before heading to a little beach near La Guayra, $15 per rig per night. As we were pulling in I instantly fell in love, it is authentically Caribbean. Our hosts were adorable and the tiny beach was more than ample. If it wasn't for the weekend parties we possibly would have stayed longer than 2 nights. We did manage to sufficiently sunburn ourselves in the short time we were there so a longer stay would have been unnecessary and possibly cancerous. We definitely feel it's the type of quaint and lovely place we one day will not be able to recognize once the world catches on.

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

Move along, nothing to see here

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

That's a rainy season roof

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

Come on and get in the boat, fish fish!

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

Cat or monkey, next time on wild Panama

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

Without the adirondack chairs it's nothing

Paraiso Escondido, Colon, Panama

Oh, shut up already

Panama City, Panama

Having already driven through the city twice, we hated both times, we had to head back in to get the necessary DIJ inspection for shipping the van. Being the punk ass bitches we are, we rented a room for 4 nights at the County Inn & Suites, $74.80 per night. Yes, it's next to the free camping but we weren't going to sweaty up our freshly manicured van. It was time to hotel it in air conditioned spaces with free breakfast and all you can drink coffee. Matty & Ingrid were also shipping the same time as we were, our vans are too big to fit together, so we all explored the waterfront and the area outside the Biomuseo the afternoon after our inspection. On our way to Colon, we stopped at the Miraflores Locks, $15 per person, to witness the spectacle of the Panama Canal. We are not 'feat of modern engineering' people so we partially watched a freighter go through the locks and perused the onsite museum before continuing on. A short distance down the road we came upon another set of locks that were visible from the road. It would have been more than sufficient for us and we would be $30 the richer, oh well.

Bridge of the Americas, Panama, Panama

Why can't traffic always be like this

Balboa Yacht Club, Panama, Panama

Lifestyles of the rich and infamous

Panama Korea Friendship Monument, Panama, Panama

What, no sushi cart?

Biomuseo, Panama, Panama

Somebody was a lego maniac

Biomuseo, Panama, Panama

This is close enough

Miraflores Locks, Panama, Panama

Like watching paint dry

Our last nights in Panama were spent in hotels, before and after stuffing the van into a shipping container, and we flew out the day before the freighter left the port. We had reached the inevitable, shipping the gap, the reality of one of the biggest moments of our lives. Soon we would be stepping onto a new continent, our second ever.

Colon, Panama

I guess we aren't as outside the box as people think we are


Say what? (6)
Sep 10, 2017 at 12:59 PM
Loved seeing four of our favorite people out having fun.. and today seeing the pope in Colombia:) Even though we're happy with our current plan... your beach photos are giving me the urge for sand between my toes.. not long until back in Baja fortunately! Amazing butterfly photos!
Sep 10, 2017 at 03:58 PM
Thanks Rhonda! While Matty & Ingrid braved the crowds we hid in our room ; ) Great to hear you guys will be exploring Baja again. Keep on keepin on XOXO
george Penick
Sep 10, 2017 at 01:08 PM
didnt see any pics of the slums beside the nice home..............does seem odd. Great pics!
Sep 10, 2017 at 04:02 PM
Hey George! We didn't take any photos because we feel it is rude and exploits an already exploited population. We just wanted to share how we felt and let others experience it for themselves. Panama is a beautiful country and we prefer to only share photos that reflect it as such.
george Penick
Sep 10, 2017 at 01:11 PM
Are you staying on the west side of S Amer- avoiding Venezuela?
Sep 10, 2017 at 04:04 PM
That's the current plan. We would love to one day visit all of South America.
Leave a comment:










Notify me of follow-up comments and new posts by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.

© 2001 - 2017 johnandmandi.com