I’ve definitely kept busy here. Probably a bit too busy, but more on that later.
After a nice day exploring Panama City with Couchsurfers, I took a trip out to the Miraflores Locks to see the Panama Canal. The plan was to meet the Couchsurfer at the bus terminal and go there together. A taxi would cost $30 round trip, or I could take a bus for $0.50 each way.
Without a cell phone, we set a time and a place to meet, at the Subway in the mall across from the bus station at 11:15am. I got there at 11:05am and sat down at a table in the food court to wait. After an hour, I started to wonder if she was on her way. After an hour and a half, I had given up and went for the bus. As I was in line for the bus, she came up behind me and told me that there were 3 subways in the mall and she had been searching for me as well. Coincidentally, we both went for the bus without the other at the same time. So on our way we went.
I was told my several others that the canal isn’t that great to see but worth doing to say you did it. With low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a huge tourist attraction, so it was setup with a lookout over the canal along with a museum and an option for a 3D movie about the canal.
The Panama Canal was created in the early 1900s and is a big reason why Panama’s economy is better than many other Central American countries. It’s one of the great marvels of the engineering world. Prices range by ship, but I heard that the average price per ship is $30,000 just to use the canal. The locks, of course, allow the water level to be controlled just like the Mississippi River. To save the time and money to go south of Argentina or north of Canada, ships are willing to be good money to use the canal. We were able to see 3 or 4 ships go through the locks, some very large and some smaller. Interesting to see as it’s made such a large impact on the distribution world.
Afterwards, we took the bus back and walked along the waterfront, admiring the buildings and watching all the people roller blading, walking, biking, etc. It seems to be a pretty active city, especially on these paths. At 9:30pm, we took a night bus up to Bocas Del Toro. Since it’s so humid here, I figured the bus ride would be miserable from the heat. I couldn’t be more wrong, as it was exactly the opposite. The air conditioner was turned on full blast almost the entire trip, and I was freezing. I imagine it was probably around 55 degrees F (11 degrees C). I honestly had trouble sleeping much of the time because it was so extremely cold. At one point, I opened my window to let some hot air in, but the person in front of me shut it within a few minutes. I imagine the locals enjoy the cold air since air conditioning is somewhat rare here.
From Almirante (a town on the coast), I took a boat to Bocas Del Toro town on Isla Colon. And finally, from Isla Colon to Isla Bastimentos where I am currently located. The island has a small town on the coast with a lot of jungle in the center and nice, Caribbean beaches on the coastline.
When I arrived, I met a guy named Tim from Belgium who was about to take a 2-person kayak out around Isla Solarte, so I joined him. It took us 4 hours of paddling, but it led us all the way around the island to where we hardly saw any boats. The water was very clear and calm in many places. Being out in the Caribbean in a kayak with nothing else around was a beautiful sight. We saw many types of birds (including pelicans) and some jumping fish. Before the final stretch back to the hostel, we stopped at a small bay on the island to snorkel. The water was choppy which made the visibility lower, but we were still able to see many types of fish around a small reef.
My hostel is called Tio Tom, and is more of a shack located on a dock. The owners are very friendly Germans, and I’m paying just $7 a night for a shared room. In talking to the owner, I found that 95% of the town now works in tourism, whereas 15 years ago it was for Chiquita banana. Chiquita Banana started using machines to load up the bananas, and many jobs were lost. Luckily, tourism started picking up at that time to provide jobs and money into the local economy.
The island community itself is very interesting. I had never experienced a true Caribbean culture, but this is it. People migrated here many years ago from islands such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. People love to be outside and are always listening to Latin music. Around 6pm, you can hear loud music coming from 5 different places around town.
The official language on the island is not Spanish but is Gali-Gali, a Creolle language mixing English Spanish, and Ngöbe-Buglé. I did not realize this until I sat in the small plaza and listened to the people around me. I could understand some things they were saying and swore it was English. I understand just bits and pieces. It’s funny to be able to understand even a small amount.
On my second day on the island, I hiked to Wizard Beach, a rough beach with big waves and rip tides on the north side of the island. The beach is beautiful in itself, only surrounded by jungle and palm trees. Unfortunately, it is dangerous to swim so one should just stick to waist high water. The entire 4 hours on the beach, I saw just 6 people. We are in low season, but I was definitely expecting to see more people there. It was nice to have such a nice place to be free of so many people!