24th August - 3rd September
24.08.2008 - 03.09.2008 34 °C
We got an overnight bus from San José in Costa Rica to Panama City. This left at 11pm one day and arrived at 3pm on the next so was a long journey. We stayed in Panama City for 3 days. Much of this time was spent unsuccessfully trying to track down a boat to take us to Colombia. Quite a lot had left the previous week, the ones that were leaving at the time we wanted were full and the ones with spaces were too far in the future. Bad timing!
We did also manage to fit in a bit of sight seeing; we looked around the old town and went to the largest shopping centre in Central America. We had previously been to a shopping centre in San Salvador that also claimed to be the biggest but the Albrook Mall in Panama City really is huge!
On another day we went to see the Miraflores Locks which is part of the Panama Canal. They have a museum that provides information on the history and workings of the canal. We also saw a large cargo ship pass through the lock which was quite interesting to see but there is no hiding the fact that it is a long, drawn out process!
After spending 3 days in the city we decided to go to Isla Taboga which is a small island about an hour from Panama City on the Pacific side. We didn't want to go too far from the city in case we got good news about a boat via email. We didn't!
Isla Taboga actually turned out to be quite a strange place. Despite being close to the city it is really remote and seems cut off from the outside world. The only hostel on the island closed down making reasonably priced accommodation hard to come by. We ended up having to settle for rooms in people's houses that they rent out. It was a similar situation with restaurants - some had closed down and others hardly opened meaning that we ended up eating in the same place every night, always at the same table!
However, it was a nice place to spend a few days and save a bit of money. There was a sand bar sticking out of one side of the island that connects to a smaller island, which, during low tide provided a nice place to relax.
When we left Taboga and returned to Panama City the best date we had found for a boat to Colombia was 3rd September (5 days away at that point). We decided that this was too long to wait so booked flights to Colombia and booked transport to the San Blas Islands (the best part of the boat to trip to Colombia) for the following day.
The San Blas Islands are a group of around 400 islands populated exclusively by indigenous people known as Kunas. 40 of the islands are inhabited, with the smallest ones home to single families living on narrow sandbanks. Some of the islands would just have 1 or 2 coconut trees, a bit of sand, and nothing else.
We were picked up at 5am in Panama City and taken by jeep to the Caribbean coast where we got a small boat to one of the islands. This was home to approximately 400 Kunas and the group we were with were given a circle of huts in one corner of the village. It was 2 to 3 in a hut and each would have a couple of hammocks and possibly a bed.
We left our stuff there and then set off to an island further out where we spent the afternoon chilling on the white sand beach. There was a shipwreck close to the island that we could snorkel around.
Back in the village we were staying on that evening we were given a feast of lobster and king crab for dinner. Some of the local children then put on a show of some of the traditional Kuna dances.
The next day we went to another smaller island that was far from the main one. We spent the day relaxing on the beach and playing games of poker and drinking beer with Greg, Liz and CC from New Zealand. That evening the 5 of us had decided to stay on a deserted island for the night in hammocks. Our plan of setting off back to the village early to pick up our stuff so we could set up camp before dark didn't go smoothly as the boat ran out of petrol! It was a long, hard row back using the wooden seats from the boat as oars!
It was just getting dark when we eventually made it to our desert island. We quickly ate our dinner that was brought on the boat, set up the hammocks and made a camp fire. We had a lot of wine, rum and beers between us so was quite a drunken night! We were told we would be picked up the next morning at 7:30am, but this turned out to be 12:30pm (with breakfast delivered at 10am) which was a lot better as this meant we could spend the morning sleeping in the hammocks.
That afternoon we were taken to the same island as the day before, and then back to the village in the evening. We had a really good 3 days on the islands but had to leave the next morning to get back to Panamá City as we had our flight to Colombia the following day.