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…
Perhaps one of my favorite moments of living in P.V. actually happened when I arrived. I took a “tour” from Bocas del Toro, Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica for about $25, which covered all costs of transportation to get there except the $1 needed at the Panama border for the exit visa stamp. Again, I was asked by the driver on the Costa Rica side “where in P.V. do you want to be dropped off?” and my reply again was “I don’t know, somewhere in town will do! So he dropped me off near the soccer field in town, just a block or two inland from the main road that runs through P.V.
Now, I mentioned earlier that I happened to arrive on a Holiday weekend… What this meant was that all the locals from inland of Costa Rica had an extended weekend and were on the coast themselves… which meant that all the accommodations had been taken! yes…
In any event, I was making my way along the soccer field when suddenly an old rasta man came riding up on his bike behind me. And what follows was our conversation:
Rasta man: Hey Baby, how you doing today?
Me: Great, how are you?
Rasta man: Good baby, good! You just arrive baby?
Me: Yup. Every place seems to be full. Do you know anywhere that may have a place to stay for the night?
Rasta man: Yea baby, there’s that Rockin’ J’s baby.
Me: Oh ok, where do I go for that place?
Rasta man: Just down that street baby, like 10 minutes baby
Me: Great, thanks for the info!
Rasta man: No problem baby, can I get you anything? Meth, smoke, coke, weed…
(and the list literally continued for several seconds with him naming every known drug on the planet in both formal and street name version…)
Me with a slightly shocked face: No… Nope, thanks I’m good!
Rasta man: Ok baby, you have a great day now!
And away he rode… Definitely made me chuckle!! Now I should also mention that I had heard of Rocking J’s from a fellow traveler in Bocas del Toro, so when the Rasta man mentioned it, I knew he wasn’t giving me misinformation. So I wandered down the road until I came across Rocking J’s and rented THE LAST HAMMOCK for the night… Joy! Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, however Rocking J’s sports over 350 hammocks!!!! As well as dorms with beds and even private rooms with private beds! Yes, the place is enormous and right on the water. Rocking J himself is quite the character! He’s working on building an arc and selling spaces on it for himself and whoever else wants for the coming storm…
Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is also well known as “A sunny town for shady people”… Perhaps that’s really the best introduction to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. I arrived there on a holiday weekend (unknown to me at the time) and though Puerto Viejo lived up to its motto, it also ended up becoming my home for the next 10 months. So for this section of my travels through Costa Rica, namely since I can’t and wont be able to recall every event that occurred while I lived there, this section will simply serve as a compilation of my time there.
Before beginning again, I must admit… It’s been quite a while since my last post. It’s crazy how life can just sweep you up and time flies so fast you forget to keep up with some things… In any event, I am currently getting ready to travel again but must first finish the tales of the last adventure…
After leaving the quaint little town of Boquete, Panama I made my way to Bocas del Toro. It was quite obvious that the closer we got to Bocas, the more prepared the locals were for lots of travel from tourists back and forth in that area. Taxis were lined up around the bus terminal waiting and ready to sweep tourists off the bus, into the taxi and whisk them away to the boat terminal. Honestly I don’t even recall saying much to the locals as the swaps occurred, only “Bocas?” followed by a head shake indicating “yes” and away we were.
It took about 40 minutes by boat to arrive on the island of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Again, once off the boat and on solid ground I was immediately greeted by a local named Carlos. He was most eager to shuffle me around and help find me accommodations for the night. Of course he would be getting a commission for getting me to the “right” place but I first wanted to check out a few places that I had heard about from others on the road. Carlos was quite determined to get his commission however and literally refused to leave my side as I walked from place to place inquiring about prices of the places that were recommended to me. They were quite out of my price range however, and Carlos’s efforts to not give up on me were soon rewarded as I finally gave up and told him to take me to the place he recommended.
The place he took me to was right on the main road just across the street from the community park and also right across the street from THE BEST sandwich shop anywhere!!! The name of the place was called… And this is why I should keep up with my posts more frequently… Los Zapatos… I believe… Anyway, the place wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. I felt comfortable enough to stay there for the night. The place next door honestly enough looked much more inviting, but they were booked. So for one night I opted to stay at Los Zapatos and paid for a private room. The one definitely nice thing about the place was it had several floors with a balcony on each floor overlooking the town, so it was great to just sit and watch the traffic and people watch. Carlos, after collecting his commission from my sale said bye and trotted off back to the boat dock to greet the next arriving boat. Honestly I recall the lady looking quite bothered by his presence and the fact that he brought me in. I think mainly because she just didn’t want to pay the commission, but such is how life there works I guess!
In any event, perhaps now is a good time to actually describe Bocas del Toro. Prior to my arrival I had imagined and envisioned (all due to the descriptions provided to me by other travelers) that Bocas was an island in the Caribbean surrounded by beautiful beaches. Quite to my disappointment, the reality was absolutely nothing as what I had conjured in my mind! The water as we came toward the island became increasingly gross. It was quite apparent that at least the water path we took to get to the island was becoming increasingly polluted from all the boat traffic. As for beaches, there is no waterfront anywhere on the main portion of town on the island of Bocas. The waterfront is completely built up with resteraunts, hostels, hotels, docks for boats, bars, etc, etc. The only beaches on Bocas are at least a 40 minute bus ride to the other side of the island. Apparently there was one beach 20 minutes by bus, but it was recommended not to go there as the currents for that beach, depending on how they were flowing, tended to wash up all the seaweed or trash from the ocean, etc on to the land making it not quite a nice beach to be on. The beach 40 minutes away however was the world famous starfish beach. The sands are literally littered with hundreds of starfish! Or rather, that is what I’ve been told since I sadly never kicked myself hard enough in the rear to go there!
Honestly, I think just I was just disheartened when I arrived on Bocas that I kind of lost energy or enthusiasm to do anything. I was hoping to arrive on a beautiful island with beaches nearby to walk to. Instead I arrived on basically a party island built up to the hilt with beaches only accessible by yet another bus ride or a boat ride to another island nearby! So, needless to say, I was just bummed! I didn’t really like the energy of Bocas. In any event, I was determined to make the best of it so I once again did what I did best and simply wandered the streets getting to know my new surroundings.
As I wandered I found the Spanish school where I once again contemplated taking some courses, but then couldn’t imagine spending weeks on an island with no easily accessible beaches! I found the local internet shop where I stopped in to check emails. Then I found a boat tour group called JAMPAN tours (honestly you couldn’t miss them as their front door was the most colorful anywhere on the island!) that offered services to the nearby island of Bastimentos, home of the world famous Red Frog Beach! On this National Park island there was also a hostel called Bocas Bound which I had seen many advertisements about. So, since I wasn’t 100% enamored with the island of Bocas, I decided to jump over to Bastimentos and stay in the hostel there for a few nights. I booked my departing trip with JAMPAN tours for the next day as well as my return to Bocas several days later then continued my wanders. I was informed by the tour group however that there were no grocery stores on Bastimentos, but that there were community refrigerators at the Bocas Bound hostel, so unless I wanted to eat out the entire time there, I should go to the grocery store and stock up on food for the several days to just bring with me.
The rest of the day went by without any major occurrences. I ate in the bakery across from my hostel (seriously the biggest and best sandwiches of all kinds and for only $4!!!!!!!) and otherwise sat on the balcony of the hostel people watching and chatting with a guy from Germany about politics and such. Ok, massive correction here… I wasn’t speaking about politics but rather listened to HIM talk about politics in the US. And as I listened to him talk it occurred to me how amazing it was that someone who lived in Germany, yet worked in Panama City, Panama knew so much about US politics whereas those FROM the States (sadly including myself) know so little about it… Hmmm…. In any event, I eventually turned in and for the night, got up bright and early the next day, did some grocery shopping for food for the next several days on Bastimentos and headed over to JAMPAN to hitch my ride over to the Red Frog Beach!
After a boat ride, taxi and two separate buses I arrived in the cool (literally) little town of Boquete. Nestled between mountain ranges, this adorable town was quite a sight to behold! I can still recall sitting on the bus, completely surrounded by nothing but the view of mountain sides, when all of a sudden the view opened up and ahead was Boquete. It literally reminded me of some little obscure mountain town in Europe, quietly slumbering, hiding its secrets in the valley.
I stepped off the bus at the main square and started my hunt for a place to stay. There were several hostels along the main “highway” that looked quite nice, but a little out of my preferred price range. I had immediately decided to stay in Boquete for 5 days to a week so I wanted to find somewhere that I could get comfortable in for a bit. Off the main road I came across a house that had a little sign hanging on the front. The building to the right looked like a personal home, while the building to the left had 2 doors with numbers on them. I wish I had taken note as to the name of the place so I could share it with future travelers to this area, but sadly I did not.
After speaking with the family living in the main house about accommodations in one of their 4 apartments, I paid for 5 nights at $8.00 a night. That $8 a night bought me my own private room with queen size bed, little kitchen, private bath and even a little TV. Sadly the television only got a few channels and of course all were in Spanish, but at least it made for some entertaining distraction when I needed some.
Not a whole lot of excitement occurred in Boquete for me really. I used my time there to unwind a bit and get some essential things done before traveling on. For example laundry and a very much-needed pedicure! Hey, a girl still has to keep herself up regardless of where she goes:). I spent my days walking around the town and exploring new areas of the town each day, which also served as a good way to get exercise. Every day, and on some days all day, we had thunderstorms, the kind that rattle the very core of you shaking you from the inside out! Now I absolutely adore thunderstorms and was quite happy to be somewhere with consistent ones for a bit. During my lunch and dinner I would turn on the television and watch Spanish Soap Operas, which let me tell you are quite dramatic and funny in how dramatic they are. The days basically passed like this with a walk everyday for at least a couple of hours, otherwise killing my time with books or thoughts of where to go next.
What was interesting about Boquete was the great extreme of people present. It is obvious that Boquete has turned into the American Retiree place to go. For one, it’s cheap and in Panama in general it is quite easy to become a resident. All that is required is proof of steady income, which if you have your social security check, you get in immediately. What was funny to me though was the great divide in the town. You had your Panamanians, your Panamanian Tribe people who were easily spotted due to their traditional clothing that they wore daily, and then you had the Gringos (i.e. the expats living off their Social Security checks out of the Country where the cost of living is lower). It was humorous to watch as the Gringo gang walked around the town. Their dogs were all on leashes (every other dog was street smart and ran around free), they all walked in packs (the people, not the dogs) and English was the only language spoken or attempted (at least in all those who I noticed). I did find it quite sad that these people didn’t seem to make an attempt to learn the language. For if I were to permanently move to another Country, at least I could try to show respect to them by learning their language. Especially since I was in effect there taking advantage of their cheap standards of living…. But I digress.
Along this point I did myself look into a Spanish school in Boquete. As I probably mentioned before, I only spoke conversational Italian prior to coming to Latin America and while it was slowly changing over from Italian to Spanish, I thought some school would probably be a good idea to help facilitate and speed the process of speaking Spanish better. Boquete though was not somewhere I wanted to be for a long period of time though. It served its purpose well as a relaxing and quiet retreat, but knowing myself I knew there just wasn’t enough of a life there to keep myself busy for an extended period of time. Plus it was chilly there at night and sometimes during the day when the sun failed to make it through the cloud cover and I’m really a warm-weather kind of person so staying in cold climates can only be tolerated for so long! Interestingly enough, the school in Bocas (Habla Ya!) had a sister school in Bocas del Toro, Panama on the Caribbean coast. I had heard a lot about Bocas so thought perhaps I would check out the school there and if I liked the town would stay there for the classes. So after my 5 nights in relaxing Boquete, I moved on to Bocas del Toro.