Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bienvenidos a Panamá! Border crossing & Bocas Del Toro: Isla Bastimentos

We woke up early, at Rocking J's, and jumped on the shuttle van with all of our stuff.  We arrived at the border town of Sixaola at about 8am, and proceeded to the immigration window for Costa Rica.  There was some kind of argument going on between a border patrol guard and a truck driver coming across from the Panamanian side.  The two guys were yelling at eachother, until a couple cops showed up and calmed them down.  We got our passports stamped out, and we approached the bridge to Panama.  The bridge between these two countries is horrific.  It's an old train bridge made out of wood, that's completely falling apart.  There's huge gaps in the boards that you walk on, and many of them are loose.  The river below is a raging torrent, and is apparently infested with crocodiles.  That morning we weren't feeling so hot, seeing as though we drank a decent amount of Cacique the night before, celebrating our last night in Costa Rica!  During our approximately 10 minute walk across the bridge with all of our stuff, (my heavy-ass backpack, acoustic guitar, and big bag of food), I literally thought I was going to fall through the bridge, and to my demise in the river below...

Well, we made it, to the other side, and then had to wait at least 20 minutes in the inferno of humidity that the Sixaola border crossing was, until our turn to get stamped into Panama.  When we got to the window, the gentleman asked us for our 'proof of exit,' as many speak of...Basically the Panamanian government, like the Tico government, wants to see proof of you leaving their country.  Well, we happened to have an expired Spirit Airlines ticket that we returned at the airport upon our arrival, and quickly handed it over to the guy.  He looked it over a couple times, then stamped our passports and handed them back.  We were accepted!  Now we just needed to pay the next guy $3 each to enter the country.  Of course, neither of us had $3, and I suddenly remembered I had a hundred dollar bill tucked away in my wallet.  Of course, the guy didn't have any change.  It took me about 20 minutes to find change, which was in the form of a German girl traveling on the same route, gave me 6 bucks, and said "don't worry about it..."  Very nice of her, and if I ever see her again, I will repay her!  Anyways, long story short...Bring some small change to this border crossing, it will make your life a whole lot easier!

We arrived in Bocas, and went directly to Isla Bastimentos, expecting to spend a couple days on the island.  Ended up being 10 days, and a great experience.  We recommend staying at Hostal Bastimentos.  This portion of our trip was one of our favorite.  Everyone we've met along the way, we try to convince to go here.  Hostal Bastimentos is awesome.  It was my second time being there, the first was in '09 for about 4 days while I got my diving certification through the then-nearby dive shop, which has since changed hands.  We met Patrick upon arrival to the hostel, and he does a great job running the place, as well as cooking amazing food out back in his "Jungle Garden Cafe."  Enrique, the owner is a really nice guy as well, and all of the other guests/travelers staying there turned out to be super cool.  We spent a good 10 days on the island, and made some great friends staying at the hostel...Lars, the Swiss guy, Hannah, the German girl, Mike, the Texan, Alex, the English guy, and Simon, the quiet German guy.  We would wind up running into several of them, again,  down the road...

Boat ride to Bocas

There's an awesome beach "Wizard's" on the backside of the island, only a half hour's walk, and apart from being a great surf spot, the water is crystal clear.

There's a coffee shop called "Up in the Hill," literally a 10 minute walk out the back door of the hostel, and up the hill, on the way to the beach.  They serve locally grown, organic Panamanian coffee, as well as tons of natural, organic skin care and health care products, like coconut oil.  We stocked up on coconut oil there, and apart from being great for your skin/health, it is the BEST form of mosquito repellent we've found yet.  They have amazing prices on it as well, especially for the quality.  Oh, and they also have organic home-made kombucha!  Be sure to say hello to Brandy if she's working.

Don't let the big name of Bocas Del Toro fool you, Bastimentos is where it's at.  It's fairly cheap on the island.  The little grocery store has everything you need to cook yourself a good meal, and keep your palate wet.


The clear water of Wizard's Beach

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