After spending 10 days in England for the holidays, it was time to repack the backpack and move on for the final leg of the adventure. The plan – to spend the next 7 weeks heading north from Panama to Guatemala. I was a little lost and disorientated upon arrival into Panama City. Having been pampered by friends and family and surrounded by home comforts, it was now back to hostel life and fending for myself. The adjustment period didn’t last too long though, and as I watched the boats pass through the Panama Canal, ate Ceviche at the fish market, ambled around Casco Viejo and strolled down the Causeway I felt quite comfortable being back on the road.From Panama City I took an impromptu 3 day trip to the San Blas Islands, and it was absolutely beautiful. Aroma Island was home and from there I hopped around 8 of the 49 inhabited islands in the archipelago. I lucked out and was assigned an ocean front cabin. The way my bed was positioned meant that if I kept the door open I could wake up to the sight of the waves lapping the shores. Even with a sunken mattress and lumpy pillow it was the best sleep! Snorkeling, lounging and drinking Coco Loco (rum out of coconuts) was pretty much how the days were spent. A visit to the village gave insight into the Guna culture. The islands are stunning, there’s no question about it, but as you jet around on the local boats the plastic problem is evident. It certainly opened my eyes up to being more sustainable. Back on mainland, roof top drinks overlooking both the old Casco Viejo and modern central district (think Miami) closed out the trip.If there’s any hope of me covering the ground I’d like to in the time I have then I need to keep heading north. Nestled in the hills with fincas, waterfalls and hiking, Boquete provided a lovely contrast to the beach time earlier that week. Having spent the best part of the day on the bus getting to Boquete, I was looking forward to resting up that night. Oh how plans change! Due to poor weather, it was the first time that Volcan Baru had been open in days. So instead of an early night, I put on my hiking boots and set off on a grueling 10hour 25km, overnight hike up the volcano. Despite vomiting multiple times on the ascent I made it to the top in time for sunrise and was rewarded with spectacular views over both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Panamas’s highest point conquered but I was broken! Feeling the strain in my knees and unable to walk properly for the subsequent day I cut short my time in Boquete and headed to the Lost and Found hostel to lie in a hammock and soak up the views over the cloud forest.
At least hammock time was the plan, but when you’re surrounded by such beautiful surroundings it’s hard to stay still and I found myself off on a 5 hour hike on the trails following the ‘Indiana Jones’ treasure hunt that had been mapped out. Needless to say, I was hopeless at the treasure hunt but enjoyed the riverside scramble immensely. The Lost and Found hostel is on the backpacker trail and it’s easy to see why. Double bunk beds, delicious ‘family dinners’, amazing coffee and an evening spent playing Jenga!
A couple of hours on the bus the following morning and it was back to the Caribbean Coast. This time Bocas Del Toro was the stop for 3 nights. Isla Colon, the main island, bustles with cafes, bars and restaurants and is a good launch pad to take water taxis to some of the remote beaches and explore. ‘Filthy Friday’ an Island hopping bar crawl also runs weekly. Slightly put off by the name, but not enough so to refrain, I popped along. And I’m quite glad I did. Paddling in the crystal clear calm ocean, cold beer in hand, and surrounded by isolated islands was amazing and unlike any other bar crawl I’ve come across. The following morning I moved myself and my belongings to Isla Bastimentos for less bustle. I actually had no clue where I was going and got off the boat on the wrong side of what turns out to be quite a large island! Fortunately, I asked the right person for directions. With his own boat and golf buggy he got me where I needed to be. It was baking out and I thought I was lost with 15kg of stuff on my back…I may have called him my hero. Out loud.
Panama has been quite the surprise. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here and will definitely be making a trip back to explore more of the Pacific side. This afternoon I cross the border into Costa Rica. A country that’s been on my list for years but has never quite happened. I can’t wait to see what it has to offer!