Today we got the ball rolling for shipping the car to Colombia. We met Nate and Sarah at the Balboa Yacht Club around 8:00am. We took some time for taking a picture with the Panama canal in the background. Yesterday we crossed the bridge in the background, but we could not see the canal from there. This morning the weather was nicer, although we did have a lot of rain throughout the day.
Today we reached the end of the road in Central America! As you cannot continue to drive from Panana to Colombia, we need to get the car in a container on a boat. The infamous ‘Darien Gap‘ is a large swamp area that you cannot drive through even if you tried. Additionally it is very dangerous there as the FARC rebels tend to hide out there every now and then. The gap in the road is only 160km, but it will take us close to 2 weeks to complete the shipping process.
We woke up this morning on the beach after a broken sleep – apparently the neighbours had planned a late night party still (a sincere thank you from all those who where already sleeping.. not). We left the campsite around 7:00am to complete the drive to Panama City. The road today did not offer a lot of variation – mostly it was a nicely paved highway. We stopped to make some copies of our car documents and e-mailed back and forth with our shipping partners Nate and Sarah, who we look forward to meet tomorrow morning! Prepare yourself for plenty of blog posts about documentations, stamps, delays and frustration over the next days! 🙂
Patrick had been looking forward to seeing the Panama canal for months but unfortunately a few kilometers before we arrived there the rain came pouring down so we didn’t manage to see much (note from the driver: “I did not get to see anything – I only saw the suicide prevention fences across the bridge.”). We’ll go back in a few days to check it out in better weather, once the shipping process has started. The canal is an engineering wonder and has even inspired a beautiful palindrome: “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama!” *We crossed the canal over the ‘Bridge of the Americas‘ which spans 344m across the canal. After the bridge we navigated our way through the flooded streets to our place for the next 5 nights – no more sleeping in the car until the shipping process is over.
Tonight we are staying at the ‘Panama by Luis‘ hostel within Panama City. It took us a while to locate it as the coordinates on booking.com where a little off, but luckily the internet at the local McDonald’s and GoogleMaps helped us find the correct location. Once our room was cleaned (the rain had caused some mess inside), we worked up on our laundry and went to the local supermarket to fill up on some food supplies. Let’s see how the hostel oven can manage our lasagna – we have been looking forward to that as well!
So come out tonight
I’ll take you for a ride
This steamy ol’ Wagon
The radio is getting wild
* I once read that the longer version is “A man, a plan, an American attempt to control shipping routes in the Western Hemisphere, Panama!”, but that’s hardly a palindrome
We had an abundance of pineapples at the breakfast table this morning. Damon also thought he could share his pineapple with us. Looks like we’ll be having pineapple tomorrow as well. Over breakfast we met a very friendly Dutch guy named Alex. He’s travelling the opposite direction by bike (!), so his blog might come in useful for us to check out some local information or interesting campgrounds. After sharing some personal info, stories from the road and Dutch books we packed the car again and drove out of the camping area. Alex, if you read this, we wish you all the best and hope you will make it to Alaska in time!
With the car leaving soon on the boat to Colombia we don’t have many exiting visits planned within the coming days. Priority number one is to get into Panama City by Sunday evening. So today we didn’t do more than drive closer towards the capital. We noticed that the roadside shops have raised their game: they are now selling lobsters instead of iguanas! Around midday we arrived at today’s campground ‘Las Lajas Cabinas’ and parked next to the beach.
Since Marijke didn’t sleep very well last night and we arrived early in the afternoon with a beautiful shining sun, we felt too temped. So we put our blanket on the beach and spent the full afternoon lazying in the sun.
Sharon, if you need to catch up on your shell collection, this is really the place to be! You can literally pick up a fully intact shell every 30 cm.
Tomorrow we will try to leave early in the morning because we still have quite some distance to cover before we reach our destination. Most importantly, we will cross the Panama canal, one of the engineering wonders of the modern world!
How we love to lie around
Girls with tan of golden brown
The girls on the beach
Are all within reach
We woke up this morning on the parking lot of ‘Hotel Sierra‘ where we camped for free last night. We made full use of the facilities and went for a morning swim. We had a watermelon for breakfast – as we have learned in the past that they may be confiscated at the border. We booked our hostels for Panama City and Cartagena and also booked a flight for next week Friday (4 October). That should give us enough time to get the car in a container and on the way to Colombia.
We left the hotel around 10:00am and arrived at the border an hour later. It only took us 15 minutes to check out of Costa Rica – very smooth! We drove down to the Panama immigration and customs with high expectations… and we were seriously disappointed. There was an enormous line-up already to park our car. We parked behind a car with licence plates from California – and we quickly figured out that the owner was trying to do the same as us: get into Panama without too much hassle. We were happy to meet Damon from estoyvagando.com and we had a partner in crime now. We started queueing for immigration in what seemed liked an endless line that was not moving. We got a sticker in our passport from an official and paid 1 USD. We were told to buy vehicle insurance first – so we crossed the street to arrange that. We then went back to the queue but lined up with the truck drivers instead (well, we do drive a truck, don’t we?). When we were first in line, the lady told us we needed to show 500 USD in cash or a bank statement to show that we could afford being in Panama. We discussed a bit back & forth, but in the end we were sent to an internet café where we printed a bank statement. With that in hand we went back to the window and got the stamp. We then went to customs for the import documents for the car. It took a bit of time and some more stamps left and right from some people with clipboards… but we made it in the end. It was one of the most crazy border crossings – and with 3 hours in total also the longest.
Fairly unimpressed we drove into Panama behind Damon. We were held back a bit because our car was searched at a military checkpoint – and we caught up with Damon who was pulled over by the police and issued a speeding ticket. We decided to drive together from there on and after refuelling and a supermarket stop, we arrived in Boquete at ‘Pension Topas‘.
We had dinner and a beer with Damon at the common area. This morning we left in 33°C but tonight temperature had dropped to 20°C!
Got the feeling, power steering
Pistons popping, ain’t no stopping now!
We started off the day with exploring the waterfall ‘La Catarata’, which we were told was easy to get to by car. Unfortunately we hit a dirt road with a lot of muddy tracks, so we parked the car and did the final climb on foot. Another hot day in Costa Rica, so we were covered in sweat by the time we reached the waterfall. It was a very slippery experience. Patrick almost landed on his butt in the waterfall. Marijke mastered her balance much better – the evidence is in the picture below!
After the waterfalls we rejoined Rodrigo, bought some more water and headed towards the south! On the map we could see something marked as ‘stone spheres’ and after asking a local, he offered to lead the way to the place! It’s a good thing he did, because whereas the site itself is full of signs, there is no sign pointing to the archeological site itself! For those in search too and lacking a helpful local, the place to be is Finca 6. We parked outside the gate, walked through the banana plantation and found the mysterious balls!
We had a late lunch at a local ‘soda’ for little money and then continued our drive towards ‘Golfito’, which is a small fisherman town. We found a hotel that let us camp on their parking lot for free. They also have a swimming pool and internet which we volunteered on using – I don’t know what we need more! We were in the hotel restaurant when a tropical thunderstorm passed and we went to sleep in a somewhat cooler tent! Tomorrow we head for the border and the last country in Central America: Panama!
I chew my nails and I twiddle my thumbs
I’m real nervous but it sure is fun
C’mon baby, you’re driving me crazy
Goodness gracious great balls of fire!
Our gamble paid off as we had the whole dorm to ourselves during the night. We woke up this morning ready to take on ‘Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio‘. We loaded up on water for the day and headed into the park. We went into the park around 8:00am (the park opens at 7:00am) and we were visitors number 6 & 7!
Today we were ready for some action! We were told to visit the volcano early in the morning to have a better view so as soon as we were awake, we left our camping spot and headed for the park. When we left the campground (well, restaurant parking), the owner came to wish us a good journey and gave us a flag of Costa Rica! We were absolutely speechless after this nice gesture! We arrived as the third car at the ‘Parque Nacional Volcan Poas’ gates and had to wait for the janitor to arrive with the key. Then we paid our tickets at first booth, paid for parking at the second booth, parked the car and immediately headed to the volcano crater where we got this amazing view…
Right … some amazing view! Pfff :s We waited a little bit but the only improved vision we got was with a little bit more stone and plants. A little bit disappointed we went looking for the lagoon ‘Lake Botos’ which was also located on the same trail. The trail lead us through dark and compact cloud forest (which spooked Marijke a little bit). Luckily there was a well maintained path to follow. But when we got there we had the same results: a big white canvas of fog. And then … the sky cleared up just a little bit and we could see the shores from the other side.
So with new hopes we headed back to the volcano crater and wished for the clouds to go away. It seems our wishes were heard as all of a sudden the sky opened and we could see this 300m below our feet. The crater is 1,3km across in total!
Now, THAT’S the view that we had been expecting to see first time around! And the clouds that you are still spotting there in the middle … those are active volcano fumes!! It was incredibly cool standing there on the border of the crater seeing it being silently alive. Satisfied with our very first volcano crater experience, we headed back down and indulged ourselves with some local fresh strawberries.
Then we drove all the way west towards the Pacific Ocean, destination ‘Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio‘. When we arrived it was clear that this is a very touristic area: English in every corner, helpers to park your car, helpers to find you a hotel (“no thank you very much”) and expensive rates. With not that many options we decided to overnight in the hostel closest to the National Park. Once parked and all checked-in we walked over to the beach in a sweltering 32°! We sacrificed our privacy to save $10 and we are sleeping in a dorm tonight. Maybe we are lucky and the other 12 beds will be empty!
No better way to close off the day then relaxing at the pool in our hostel. The only bad news is that we will have to eat the canned spaghetti that we left in the car yesterday!
Rain jacket in the morning and bikini in the evening… what a difference a day makes!
No matter what we get out of this
I know I know we will never forget
Smoke on the water and fire in the sky
Today we got to pick up Rodrigo from the Toyota dealer! With everything fully repaired and the free courtesy carwash on top, we got in and got back on the road. Destination for today was a campground near the ‘Poas‘ volcano. The maintenance was not as cheap as we hoped (about 3/4 of what we paid in Canada), but we did get a bit of a discount.
The first campground which we were looking for, ‘Alajuela Campground’, no longer existed. The second one ‘Lagunillas Lodge’ was divided from us by a steep dirt road which we didn’t want Rodrigo to get stuck in. The ‘Altura Hotel’ which we came across along the way was closed and didn’t take any campers. With our options strongly decreasing, we requested a nice restaurant ‘La Casona de Dona Julia‘ if we could stay for the night at their parking lot and luckily they said it was okay. So in order to show our gratitude, we skipped the canned spaghetti meal from the cooler and ordered ourselves some late lunch.
Turns out the food here is delicious! It’s the best meal we’ve had in a while. Simply everything on the plate tasted fantastic! If you are every near the Poas volcano, you should stop there for breakfast or lunch!
To burn off the new extra calories – and to compensate for our lazy day yesterday – we went for a little walk. With all the hills here that’s easier said then done. As we were heading on a one-way trail and we were going all the way down, we returned quite quickly. We will save our energy for tomorrow.
We spent the rest of the evening watching the sun go down, reading in our books and talking about the general facts of life.
Who’s that lady walking down the road
Who’s that lady
Who’s that woman walking through my door
What’s the score?
When we woke up this morning the rain was pouring down in San José, so we decided to turn our day into a lazy Sunday (seems like a recurring theme on this trip). We filled most of it with watching new episodes of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ (thank you high speed internet!) and reading the new books which we bought earlier this week (in English, our Spanish is not that great, yet :)).
After watching for 4 hours straight, we were getting a bit hungry and as it had stopped raining we went outside. Patrick had spotted a nice restaurant during our walk across San José the other day and that’s where we were going to go to. Although the scenery of the restaurant was really nice, the food at the place didn’t really overwhelm us. However, it did serve its purpose: stop making us feel hungry.
On the way over we stopped at the local shopping centre in ‘San Pedro’. Costa Rica doesn’t seem to be having a problem at all with selling kids’ toys next to marijuana pipes and adult stores… We also spotted a lot of cell phone stores (about 60% of the shopping centre) as well as beauty salons (about 30%).
Tonight will be our last night in San José. Tomorrow morning we go to pick up the car and we are driving off to more volcanoes and beaches! Don’t be alarmed, dear blog reader, more action-packed adventures coming your way!
Today I don’t feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don’t feel like picking up the phone
So leave a message at the tone
When Cato the Elder said that in his opinion Carthago should be destroyed, we can safely assume he was not talking about Cartago in Costa Rica. Whereas the Romans finally did destroy Carthago and rebuilt it afterwards, the Cartago we visited today has only one enemy: earthquakes.
As the car is still in the workshop, we headed out on public transport. The route between San José and Cartago (about 45 minutes) is operated by several bus companies – and there is no such thing as a national public transport provider. You just go to the bus stop, hope it to be the correct one and wait for a bus to turn up. We hopped on the bus to Cartago and paid €1,50 for both of us (one way).
We arrived in Cartago and went for a walk in the small town. We started off by visiting the ‘Ruinas de la Parroquia de Santiago Apostol‘. Many attempts have been made to build a church here, but frequent earthquakes have finally put an end to these efforts. What is currently standing are not ruins of an old church but the first part of constructing a new church which was stopped in 1910. According to local legends you can see a headless priest wander around on foggy nights.
The ‘Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles‘ is the main attraction in town. In August, it attracts 2,5 million people who come here on a pilgrimage. It was significantly quieter today! At the back of the church there is a small fountain where locals queue up to fill their bottles with water from the rock where a statue of the Virgin Mary mysteriously reappeared (or so they say).
We had lunch in town and enjoyed the sunshine on the main square. We then headed back to a bus stop and returned to San José for an afternoon of reading, relaxing and planning the next days. Unfortunately Costa Rica is quite expensive and we may have to limit our stay here to stay on budget.
Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella