Boca Chica/Boca Brava

I had heard of this spot from one of the reception people at the Purple House as a fairly nice area to go.  definitely not the best place to go, but certainly one to check out.  I had also read in the Lonely Planet that it was a nice place to go.  The main boasting point for Boca Chica/Boca Brava is that there is only one hostel there.  And it is on a remote island that is reachable by boat only.  So I thought I would give it a try…

Perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps my mood, but I wasn’t at all impressed by any portion of part of the trip.  It took several hours and different buses to get there, a private taxi and then a water taxi to get to a hostel high on an island cliff.  The weather was dull and overcast, threatening the look of rain but never producing.  Everything felt dank and dull.  The hostel itself was nothing spectacular.  It honestly was mostly a safety hazard as the paths were made of mosaic design of glass pieces which made everything very slippery.  I opted for a hammock as the beds seemed quite dangerous to sleep on (dirty and potentially moldy and were kept on the floor of the room that had no screens on the windows so you literally were one with nature).  The price to stay there was quite expensive for what they offered as was the trip just to get out there!  All in all I probably spent $60 on this dull detour that I could have done without.

Were it not for the hike I took to one of the beaches once the weather finally shone through with some sun, I would have seriously regretted the detour.  But I did enjoy the beach time as there were hundreds of crabs on the shore to chase and watch, and a troop of howler monkeys came by to chill by the waters with me.

I was literally the only guest at this hostel, so again perhaps it was just poor timing all around, but nothing about this area impressed me.  I slept that night in my hammock and rose early the next day to head to Boquete.

David, Panama

Since being on the road I tried to make it a point to NOT be on the road… But in David, it was certainly hard to do!  David is a hustle-bustle city much like ones you would find the in the States.  Traffic, roads filled to the hilt with cars, wilderness stripped away, or in other words a typical settled city.  There isn’t a whole lot to do in David.  It really is just a stop over city to get you to your next destination.

I got off at the main terminal in David and true to my stubborn nature, I figured I could easily walk to my destination for the night:  The Purple House hostel.  I had earlier acquired a map of Panama at the tourist stop at the border and on the back it had a detailed map of David.  No worries!  I could find this place without help!

About a half hour to 40 minutes later, I threw in the towel of submission… I had been wandering around with all my things in tow and apparently was also going in the wrong direction.  The map and the streets (when they had street signs on them) seemed to coincide with the right direction, but then all of a sudden they wouldn’t!  Street signs would appear that weren’t anywhere on the map according to where I was supposed to be, but then a block over the signs would coincide properly so I thought I was going in the right direction!  Well, apparently not at all and as I said earlier I eventually submitted and walked into a used clothing store where a woman and 6 young boys were chattering away.  I plunked the map on the table and asked desperately “Donde estamos??”  (i.e. where are we??).  The boys immediately set to figuring out where we were on the map, turning it sideways, upside down, right side up and down again several times.  There apparent confusion indeed was a little worrisome as they didn’t seem to know where we were either on the map, but then again it made me feel a bit better about not being able to get my way around with it as well!

About 5-10 minutes later the eldest of the boys (probably about 10) declared he knew where we were on the map and asked where I wanted to go.  After giving me directions (I was 12 blocks in the opposite direction from where I was supposed to be!) I thanked them all and headed out again.  About 3 blocks into my walk, two of the boys from the shop, the eldest and a friend of his, came running up behind me and declared that they would take me to the house themselves.  How freaking cute!!

True to their word they walked ahead of me picking their roads carefully and avoiding the traffic where and when possible.  I was definitely thankful for them as guides at this point due to my mind and body getting very tired and neither wanting to think anymore.  We arrived at The Purple House hostel and as a thank you, I gave them both a dollar.  Ironically enough, I came to find out that if I had taken a taxi from the terminal to the house, it would have also cost $2!  This version however definitely got my exercise in for the day:)

The Purple House hostel in David is EXACTLY as it sounds… PURPLE!  The walls are purple, the sheets are purple the cups, plates, mugs, folders, towels, dog, shower curtains, or in other words everything is purple!  Ok, for those who were paying attention, the dog isn’t purple (her name is cute-si) but her collar is;)  The woman who owns the hostel is from NYC and has been living down here since 2004, I believe.  She has also lived in Israel and the Greek Isles prior to here, working as a runner in Israel for the original Purple House hostel there.  (Side note: a runner is a person who goes to the bus stations and waits for backpacker arrivals to take them to a particular hostel or to sell them on their hostel.)  True to the New Yorker way of life, she is a tough cookie!  Very friendly and very accommodating, but no one you would ever want to cross so to speak.

After settling in, I met a few girls from the States and joined them in a walk  to the movie theater to watch a movie at the Multicine National Theater.  A movie theater?!?!?!?!?!  I literally almost died when I heard them suggest to go and see a movie!!  In a theater no less!!  I absolutely adore movies and with the traveling, it’s obviously been hard to watch movies at all or to even see a television, let alone go to a theater!!  I can say for sure that I honestly haven’t missed TV at all, but movies on a big screen I do get nostalgic for.  In any event, we watched “Friends with Benefits” and cabbed it back to the hostel as it was pouring rain when we got out of the theater.

Once we arrived back, ironically once more, I met a couple who had been living in Puerto Jimenez for several months!  She was the schoolmaster and her husband was at that time still looking for work but being the “house-mom” in between.  I just couldn’t believe that we had been in the same place together for at least a week and yet I had never run into them before!  But, I suppose it isn’t that uncommon as there are areas that are more residential than the “tourist” areas that those who live there wouldn’t have any necessity to go in to.  In any event, they were down in David for their 90 day Visa renewal and were planning to stay a few days longer.  I dined with them that night chatting away about Puerto Jimenez experiences.  One of the things I recall the most was their thoughts on the Macaws… They cracked me up as they started in on how wonderful and beautiful and majestic they seemed at first, but how now they couldn’t stand the loud, obnoxious, always dropping almond seeds on our roof at all hours BIRDS!  LOL!!  I guess everything can lose its charm… Though I still maintain that they are wonderful creatures that though they may have their annoyances, we are better off with them than without them!

I stayed only a single night on this trip (ironically again:  I am currently back at the Purple House Hostel while writing this though it’s been 9 months since being here!  I warned you all that this blog wouldn’t always be up to date!!)  and the next day made my way to Boca Chica on the Pacific coast of Panama.

Costa Rica vs. Panama

I thought now a good time to make my initial comparisons between Costa Rica and Panama.  I have split them up into categories with my opinions on each:

Overall Impressions:

To me, Panama has lost its wilderness and has the feeling of being back in the States.  It doesn’t feel like another country, just another State of the US.  Were it not for the indigenous people wandering around with their traditional clothing, I seriously would think I was in the US again.

Now, this is not to say that there aren’t areas of Panama that are wild or untouched and not built up and all, but just the infrastructure in general of Panama is so American that I couldn’t help but feel this way.  Roads are nicely paved, the buses are air-conditioned, their currency the Balboa is the same.  Let me explain:  I have yet to see any Balboa bills.  All the bills are US dollars.  The coins are stamped differently from our coins to say they are Balboa, but they have pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and dollar coins that are the same size, shape, and same characteristics as our US coins.  If once wasn’t looking specifically at what was stamped on each side, they would mistake them completely for US coins.

Panama has stores, grocery stores the size of Wal-Marts back in the States.  Proper grocery stores that I had yet to see in Costa Rica.  The largest grocery store in Costa Rica was the size of a fast food place in the States.  Of course, you can find a Wal-Mart in San Jose (or rather Alajuela) as well as American fast food joints in Costa Rica as well (so sad, I know!) but I was just surprised to find such large stores so easily in Panama.  Perhaps it was just that I had been away from a city in so long that it was partially culture shock to come back to civilization as I’ve known it before, but Panama again just felt like it’s lost its wilderness and individuality as it’s very similar to the States.

Again, all the above is just my opinion.  I have met many a traveler who much prefer Panama to Costa Rica.  I am just not one of them though.

Price of Costa Rica vs. Panama:

Panama also has a reputation for being cheaper than Costa Rica.  Honestly, aside from food prices I have yet to notice this.  Food is definitely cheaper in Panama, but accommodations are priced about the same.  Costa Rica food prices are cheaper on the Pacific (Manuel Antonio and South as I have not been to the Northern Pacific coast as I hear it’s very touristy, so food prices there may also be expensive) than they are on the Caribbean as well.

Drivers and horns:

Both countries have without a doubt some of the craziest drivers!!  I would personally NEVER get behind the wheel of a car in either country, just because I lack the aggression needed to bully your way around the roads as drivers here do.  I will say however that I feel much safer in Costa Rica when walking along roads than I do in Panama.  I have never felt unsafe crossing roads in CR because I had full confidence that the drivers would actually slow down.  In Panama, not so much… Honestly I can’t say exactly why that is, but I just don’t.  I have found myself searching out old people and children in Panama to cross roads with them instead of on my own because I’m convinced they may not slow down for me, but for sure will for the elderly and youth.  People in CR use roads as their personal walkways.  And perhaps this is what makes the difference.  It is quite common for people to literally be walking down the middle of the road as if they own it and people in cars simply weave around them without a fuss.

The use of horns is quite different too.  Costa Ricans have somehow figured out how to rig their car alarms so they can play certain parts of the alarm while driving.  This action has resulted in a car alarm that when started sounds like a wolf whistle… So if they are trying to get the attention of a lady on the street, they simply play their car alarm bits to sound like wolf whistles.  They also use horns to warn other drivers of their approach around blind curves.  In other words, they use horns for specific purposes that are easy to recognize and always about communicating in some way, and that communication is easy to determine what is meant by the horn.  Panama on the other hand… Well, certainly there are horn uses that it’s easy to tell what they are communicating, such as bus drivers saying hi to another bus driver going the opposite direction.  But at least in the case of walking around and being in David, I can’t tell what is being communicated by horns.  They literally are being used every 5 seconds!  The sound of horns and honks is the most prevalent sound!  They seem to use it just for sport, lol!!

Mannerisms of speech:

Costa Ricans say “Buenas” in greeting, Panamanians say “Hola”.  Both countries say “Ciao” when leaving instead of “Adios” as we are taught in Spanish classes.

Speaking of spanish… I feel as if the Spanish I’ve acquired in Costa Rica isn’t the same spanish I should be using in Panama.  Just goes to show you how different even the speech mannerisms and words are from one Spanish-speaking country to the next!

On to David

Back to Panama

Back to Costa Rica