Portobello, Panama

It was here that I would find passage to Colombia via a sailboat.  You see, though Colombia and Panama are connected by land, the land is impassable.  There are no roads that connect the two and I’ve heard story upon story of people either legally or illegally traveling from one country to another on foot through the dense jungle and while they lived to tell the tale so to speak, it didn’t sound like anything I’d ever want to try.  So instead I opted to go to Portobello to seek alternate passage.  Again, I could have flown to some part of Colombia, but then I would have missed the beautiful and exotic San Blas Islands!!  More on that later…

Portobello, named by an Italian when he landed on the land and exclaimed “Beautiful port!” in Italian of course, and well as you see by the name Porto (port) bello (beautiful) got it’s name quite literally…  It too is a sleepy little town.  It was once a defense port for Panama and it does still retain parts of forts and walls to protect the area, but of course it’s been damaged considerably.  Not a whole lot goes on per se in Portobello now except one of the largest businesses there is the transport of tourists via sailboat to and from Colombia/Panama.  To be even more specific, if you plan to do that type of travel, the only way to do so is to go to Captain Jacks hostel and wait for information on boats traveling through…

Captain Jacks, man what a fun place!  And if I recall, the ONLY place for tourists to sleep!  Not kidding either!  I seriously don’t think there was any other hostel or hotel in the entire place!!  Captain Jack’s is run by, well, Captain Jack!  A retired sailor, Captain Jack moved to Portobello and opened his restaurant/hostel and really the main traffic to and from his place is from tourists again simply seeking passage to Colombia.  Of course he did have some regulars (i.e. sailboat captains and staff would frequent the bar in search of finding perspective tourists to take to Colombia).

I found out quickly that just about every person who entered Captain Jacks was after the same thing… Or they had already booked their passage (smart people!) and simply needed either a place for the night or to get in touch with their boat.  So it wasn’t very soon after arriving and settling that I started meeting people with like needs.  I met a woman from Germany, a man from Britain and 4 Aussies who all ended up being on the same boat as I picked out.  Truth be told, the woman and I, since we both were travelling alone chose to pick the same boat so that we at least had a “safe” companion to travel with:)  Not that the trip was unsafe in any way, but we were the only females on our boat, and we were the only solo females traveling at that point, so it was nice to have some company in that way.

Anyway, picking the boat and captain/crew was also an interesting time… We did have some reservations about the captain at first of our chosen boat because he showed up at Captain Jacks drunk and only proceeded to get even drunker as we attempted to get our various questions answered… But Captain Jack seemed to vouch for them and after we took a tour of the 38′ sailboat, we thought “safe enough!”.  Plus, boats were not coming and going all the time, so if a decision wasn’t made fast then we could have been stuck in Portobello for quite a while more!  I believe in total I was already there for about a week just waiting for boats to arrive and then getting info on them and when to leave, yada, yada…

The trip was not cheap, but once again an experience of a lifetime in more than one way!!  All food was provided for us and cooked as well so all we had to provide (aside from payment to board) was booze for the trip if we wanted any.  I didn’t end up buying any booze, and well as you can see from the picture below, you will see why… The four Aussies opted to buy several cases of beer each, plus several gallons of rum and other assorted liquors for the 5 day trip… It was by far enough for a whole Army of people!!

With bags packed, booze packed and passages paid, we were ready for the San Blas Islands!

On to Islas San Blas

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Panama City

I made my way from Puerto Viejo back to David where I once again stayed at La Casa Marada (the purple house) and after turning down a temporary job there as the hostel receptionist, I made the long bus ride to Panama City, Panama.  I didn’t stay there long and honestly don’t have a ton to say about it… Like every other large City, it was hustling and bustling with activity and modern buildings, sky scrappers, and lots of business.  This sort of scene doesn’t really interest me quite frankly, especially after having lived in the serene and quirky small town of Puerto Viejo for so long.  I’d easily grown accustomed to the laid back beach life and wasn’t terribly impressed to be back in such civilization.  To each their own!  In any event, I did spend one night there before booking it back to the small town of Portobello, Panama.

 

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Border Crossing……………….

Ah…  One of the banes of (well probably only bane) living in Costa Rica is the inevitable border crossing…

Now…. According to Costa Rica law, tourists are only granted a visa for 90 days to stay in the country.  And when you enter the country you must have proof of leaving the country within that 90 day period whether by boat, train or plane…. If you plan on staying longer as I ended up doing, you must hop the border to a neighboring country every 3 months and stay out of the country for one day for each 30 day period you want your passport to be renewed for.  For example, if I wanted a 90 day stamp again, I would have to stay out of the country for 72 hours, or 3 days…

Oh and by the way the 90 day stamp literally means 90 days, NOT 3 months… depending on the agent and how close you are to the end of the 90 days, they may bust out a calendar and count the days and if you are over 90, you could be looking at a hefty bribe, um, eh, I mean fine…

Yes… As you may have guessed by all the “……” in this particular post… lets just say things were not always done completely by the letter of the law… Every 90 days or so I would hop the border, but only for about a night and in one case only for a couple of hours….. I still managed to get 90 day stamps but again I wouldn’t say this will be the case for everyone… One of my friends in fact almost got deported because, even though he left Costa Rica and stayed out appropriately, he didn’t get his stamp back in and almost got the boot for it!

I never bribed anyone either… ok well there was the 3 coca-colas and bag of chips I bought for the Panama immigration in exchange for them stamping me back out of Panama after only a couple hours… But really, does that count?  Funny thing about that is I was upfront with them from the start, said, look I only need a stamp in and out and I can be on my way.  They said ok.  I asked if they wanted anything to which they replied coca-colas.  So off I trotted to do a little shopping and stopped in the grocery store and when they saw me come back, they invited me into the air conditioned office (it was sweltering hot outside with a huge line of tourists piling up to get in and out).  We had our sodas and chips, I showed off my shopping and about 20 minutes later they stamped my passport, we said goodbye and on my way I went!

Another quick border crossing story… the crossing itself…!!  There exists a bridge between Sixaola, Costa Rica and Guabito, Panama  since a river divides the border of Costa Rica and Panama…. This bridge is about the oldest, most rusted out, shady, wood planks falling out beneath you kinda bridge you’ve ever seen!  Walking across it was about the most nerve wracking experience ever and seeing the water rushing below as you made your way across the death trap was enough to almost topple me over!!  Oh yes…. and my favorite part was as dozens of tourists crossed the bridge praying not to fall through the planks, huge semi-trucks would pass you by…. joy of all joys!!  Enjoy the picts…  There are only a couple as it was all I could stomach to do… LOL

 

On to Time to Leave

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Time to Leave

Though I had an absolute fantastic time in Puerto Viejo and met a bunch of people whom I consider life-long friends, after about 10 months of living there, it was time to pack up and see more of the world once again.  I still to this day miss a lot of Puerto Viejo and Costa Rica in general, namely the wildlife and captivating nature that surrounds you daily there…. But, if I had stayed there I wouldn’t have had the chance to continue traveling and exploring as I originally planned to do.

Truth be told as well, just as in many places you first go to then get to know better, the rose colored glasses came off.  While there was and is a lot of beauty and great things about Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo, there are also a lot of drugs there.  They are after all in the direct line of drug trafficking, so it’s really no big surprise, but still there gets a point where enough is enough.  Looking around knowing that the majority of people were on one drug or another, just started to wear on me.  And looking at people who had lived there forever and seeing how squirrely they had turned out, just made you wonder if that was the only future to look forward to.  So for that reason and wanting to explore and travel more in general, I packed it up and headed out.

Since I’d already done Bocas del Toro, I decided to simply head back to David, then on to Panama City, then head to Portobello on the Caribbean coast of Panama to catch a sailboat through the San Blas Islands into Colombia…

So the travels continue…

On to Panama City, Panama

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