Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

From Sea to Shining Sea – Sort Of

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Pedasi and Portobelo, Panama – From Boquete we started our long journey to the Pacific Coast town of Pedasi. We had gotten directions on how to get there from a few people, all different, but they basically consisted of taking a lot of buses. We started early since we knew it would be a long day. The hotel’s owner dropped us off in town at the bus stop and got us on the bus to David. We then caught the bus to Santiago. From there we went to Chitré, Tables, and then finally Pedasi. One car ride and five bus rides later we were in Pedasi and our bus driver was kind enough to drop us off right in front of our hotel.

When we woke up the next morning we saw something that we hadn’t seen in a long time: sun! Woo hoo! The hotel’s owner told us there was some flower art thing going on downtown so we went to check it out, but they were just starting their designs, and it was hot, so we decided to grab some snacks from the grocery store and take a taxi to the beach. Pedasi is very much a beach town, but the beaches are a ways from town, but thankfully, the taxi fare is cheap.

Artwork on the street using various plants and rice.

Artwork on the street using various plants and rice.

We hadn’t been to the Pacific since Mexico and it was a nice change from the Caribbean. We had a really nice day at the beach. Stuart built us some shade using my sarong and some sticks and we lounged and swam for several hours. I played with a little girl for a while who I think was perplexed as to why I couldn’t really talk to her. She started acting stuff out once she realized I couldn’t understand Spanish. She was pretty funny. I thought we were having a good time until she decided to walk away without so much as a “adios”.

I had arranged with our taxi driver to pick us up at four to take us back to town. We wandered back up to the road just before four and his taxi was there, I had memorized the number, but the driver was nowhere to be found. Some locals even tried to call him to see if they could locate him, but he didn’t answer his phone. After about half an hour we started to walk and were eventually picked up by an American couple who gave us a ride back into town. They used to live in Costa Rica and decided to move to Panama. They ended up telling us that they didn’t want to live in The States anymore “because of all that’s happening there now” (i.e. Obama) and are building a house in Panama. There seem to be a lot of people who moved to Central America because they thought Obama was going to take away their guns or make everyone live on welfare or something,

The next morning we wanted to go out to the nearby Isla Iguana, but we had heard the boat ride could cost up to $70 to get out there – which is outrageously expensive. We took a taxi out to the beach where the boats launch, hoping to maybe hook up with a group and share the cost. We were happy when we arrived and saw a group of people talking to the boat driver and Stuart went over to ask if we could share a boat.

Artwork on the street using various plants and rice.

Artwork on the street using various plants and rice.

At first they said no, which we thought was weird. But one of the guys came over a few minutes a later, and told us he just didn’t want to anger the other boat drivers. He said their diver would take us for $30 – which was way cheaper than we had anticipated, so we agreed. The guy apologized for the earlier awkwardness and they actually turned out to be pretty cool. He was from Panama City and one of the girls in the group was actually visiting from the Bay Area.

Isla Iguana is a preserve so we had to pay $10 each once we were on the island. We’ll worth it. The island is quiet and, following a tip from some other people who had previously visited the island, we took a short path to the other side of the island to a beach we had mostly to ourselves. The snorkeling was great and the beach was beautiful.

Unfortunately, while we were snorkeling, the money that Stuart had stuck in a waterproof bag and tucked into the pocket of his swim shorts came out and floated away. There was about $75 in there but we hadn’t paid the $30 to our boat driver yet. We spent the next several hours snorkeling around trying to find it, but it was no use. There was a current and we had no idea where the money fell out. It was gone. Hopefully, we’ll make some fisherman a happy man some day.

The festival had taken over "downtown" Pedasi.

The festival had taken over “downtown” Pedasi.

We tried to enjoy the rest of the day and we did, but we worried about the awkward position we were now in. We didn’t have any money to pay the boat driver or for a taxi back in town. We were hoping that the driver would be sympathetic and wait for us while Stuart took a taxi into town and back to get money so he could pay the driver. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go through all that trouble. Once we explained what happened to our new friends they offered to pay the boat driver for us and drive us back to our hotel so that we could pay them back. We were so grateful!

*     *     *

After a couple days in Pedasi we headed to another highland town called El Valle. Again we had to take several buses, although this time it was just three; from Pedasi to Tables, Tables to Las Uvas, and then Las Uvas to El Valle. El Valle is much less touristy than Boquete and much smaller. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, but we found it to be interesting enough to spend a couple days there.

We invented a new thing in El Valle called “Friends breakfast.” Basically we’d eat breakfast in our room (to save money anyway) and watch Friends, which is on every morning from 8am to 9am. It was a tradition that we’d continue for the rest of our trip whenever we had a TV in our room.

The weather wasn't too bad during our hike.

The weather wasn’t too bad during our hike.

On our first morning, after our “Friends breakfast,” we decided to hike up to La India Dormida, a hill that overlooked the town. We got a map and advice from the guide in the tourist information kiosk and headed through town to the trail. It was a pretty nice hike at first – though we had to shake off a local who was offering to be our “guide”. After a couple of polite “no’s” didn’t do the trick we finally just stayed put and pretended to look at a a waterfall until he got bored and walked away.

The hike took us up to the top of a hill where we got some pretty nice views of the town. But, we weren’t up there long before it started to rain and then it started to pour. Our only way down was along a ridge trail, so we got wet. No, we got soaked. Water was everywhere – pouring down the trails. At first it was fun, but then the trail got muddy and we kept slipping and it started to get tedious. After about an hour and a half we made it to the street and the rain let up. We were able to dry off a little before we sat down to eat lunch at a local comadore that had the yummy meatballs I liked in Bocas.

We took it easy the next day and in the afternoon we walked out to the local hot springs. They were more like luke warm mineral pools, but it was still fun. The guy working there showed us that we could first put mud all over our faces, and wash it off and then get in the pools. Kinda weird, but fun.

Until this happened!

Until this happened!

After we were there about an hour a girl came over and asked us if we spoke Spanish. She and her boyfriend were having a problem with the guy who worked there. She told us that he wouldn’t let her boyfriend in the pool because he wasn’t wearing proper swim attire (which he wasn’t – he had zip off shorts on). They wanted a refund since he couldn’t get in the water, but he refused saying that they had already looked around and he was threatening to call the cops. We tried to help but our Spanish was not good enough. Eventually, the boyfriend just sat at the edge of the pool while his girlfriend got in, which seemed to be a good compromise for everyone.

For dinner that night we ate at a Canadian themed dinner. Kinda odd for a small place like El Valle, but from what we could tell on our walks around town there were a fair amount of ex-pats there and from the looks of some of the houses a fair amount of rich people, too.

*     *     *

From El Valle we headed back to the sea, this time to the Caribbean to Portobelo. To get there we took a bus to Panama City (catching our first glimpse of the Panama Canal from the bus) and from there we caught a bus towards Colon. We got off at a grocery store called El Rey and from there caught a super crowded bus to Portobelo. Stuart had to get on the back of the bus and stand with our bags while I got on in front and eventually snagged a seat.

Overlooking one of the forts along the harbor of Portobelo.

Overlooking one of the forts along the harbor of Portobelo.

Portobell was not what we expected – it was pretty dumpy and there were very few places to stay in town. We took the only hotel room we could find. There was a hostel somewhere else further outside the center of town, but it only had dorm rooms. The room we got had a kitchen in it, so at least we could save money cooking our meals – not that there were very many places to eat in Portobelo.

While shopping for food a guy came in the grocery store and asked me if I spoke English. He had an American accent and looked like an American tourist. He said he was looking for a place to stay and was having trouble finding a hotel in town. I wanted to be helpful, but something about him set off warning signals in my head – maybe it was the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. I was purposely vague with the information I gave him, being careful not to give away where I was staying – pretending that I couldn’t remember the name or exact location.  I don’t know, I just didn’t want to take any chances. I’m not sure if he was legit or not. We never saw him again.

Portobleo proper.

Portobleo proper.

Portobello sounded pretty neat when we read about it. Right on the Caribbean with forts and SCUBA diving and beautiful beaches just a short boat ride away. But, meh – we didn’t think much of it when we arrived, but we still thought we’d give it a go. We visited the forts – which were cool, though we had to use our imaginations a lot since they were pretty run down. We took a couple nice walks up to some viewpoints.

The SCUBA shop wasn’t close to town and they were really expensive so we had to scrap those plans. We had a lot of rain too, which just added to our sense of doom about the place. It was okay, but we didn’t think we’d recommended it to other travelers. Our hotel did have some hammocks and a nice view of the water, so we made the most of it when the sun was out.

It's hard to be a saint in Portobelo.

It’s hard to be a saint in Portobelo.

On our second full day we had and expensive but good lunch at the hostel up the hill from town where most of the other tourists that come to town stay. We actually ended up running into the German couple that we’d met at our hotel in Bocas. They were headed out to Isla Grande – we had actually though about going there too but decided it was too expensive. We would later learn that we had made a good choice when we ran into the couple again a few weeks later and they told us they had paid a lot of money to get there and had a terrible time.

The owner of the hostel helped us figure out how to get to a nearby beach on a hired boat so we set off for the closest/cheapest one that afternoon. The beach wasn’t that great, but we spotted a few toucans and howler monkeys and we had a good time, but again we wouldn’t really recommended it.

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