We have up-loaded a new photo album “To Bocas and back” with 60 odd pictures of our time in Bocas del Toro. Go to the Gallery or Flickr to view them.
Category Archives: Panama
Happy birthday wee man
Well the bus journey was pretty uneventful after the toilet stop. We arrived in Panama City at 6am as scheduled. It can be said the overnight bus is less painful than a day bus, but if you want to take in the scenery you’ll go in daylight.
At the bus station we went on a mission to find a brekkie place open and where we could while away a few hours unnoticed. We managed this in Niko’s cafe. It was ok nice if strong coffee, and ham and egg sarnies. Lovely. Though we both struggled having eat so much chicken last night!!!
We left there to go and make camp somewhere sensible for Bernice to get dome more local bus pictures. Huw stayed put while Bernice wandered off only to be told (thankfully after she’d took a few pic’s) she needed permission to take pictures of the buses. Oops!
A cash machine visit and an Internet cafe stop (wifi around but all passworded boo hoo) meant we got the blog finally up to date, well apart from photo’s which we hope to do at the airport. How exciting. Probably the 1st time on the trip, maybe….,
After that we wandered around the shops, best shopping centre in Panama. Twice we’ve visited, but both times (like today) we’ve been so early nothings been open. This time we’ve waited. Partly cause Huw wants to buy lenses and partly cause we now have time to kill – 14 hours from getting off the buss to getting on the plane to Argentina to be exact – so why not. It means chances each in the shop and watching the bags – the left luggage was expensive so we ruled against it.
Apart from the lenses and lunch we didn’t buy anything else though 🙁 We took a local bus to the airport arriving around 3pm. A quick sort of our gear and check in, then disappointingly we’re told it’s not possible to claim back tax from goods we’ve bought. Specifically we were thinking of the netbook. Never mind. Now 5 hours to kill. Time is money or at least it is when you’re working. When you’re not it’s the opposite. The more dead time you can put up with it seems the less you spend!!!
This is no Heathrow that’s for sure.
Oh did we mention we are coming forward in time again. When we get to Argentina we’ll only be 3 hours behind the UK.
Bye bye Bocas
We get up pretty early – around 8ish – lots to do. Sort out tickets for the overnight bus to Panama, laundry, check out and hire bicycles to then head over to Nate and Donna’s hotel to spend the day with them, before leaving the island.
As luck would have it the direct overnight bus is full. We put the laundry in and they said 1.5 hours, just as well ´cause we’ll now need to invoke plan B (which didn’t exist till just now) that’ll be to head back the way we came. Get the water taxi back to Almirante and pick up the little minibus back to David …. and hopefully pick up an overnight from there to Panama.
This means full steam ahead. No bicycle hiring, no visiting the other guys. Just get packed and get a water taxi by midday. We call Donna and Nate’s hotel and say goodbye 🙁 really sorry not to do proper goodbyes as they have been lots of fun. Never mind we agree to make a plan to get up to Vancouver 😉
The water taxi is busy as usual. It seats about 20 people and it’s basically a jet boat (like we went on in New Zealand Emma) the journey is about 45 mins and probably the length of the Solent!!! Great value for money – only $4 each.
The taxi from the other side up to the bus on the other hand is a pain. Lots of lads touting at you to come with them, trying to carry your bag, get you in their favoured taxi and hope you’ll give them a tip as well as paying a buck for a 1/2 mile journey!!! A necessary evil, keep your wits about you and an eye on your bags.
Lady luck had returned though ´cause a bus was loading as we arrived and we even managed to get seats together. This was a flasher bus, slightly bigger and with tinted windows to keep us all cool. Not that that’s an issue going over the mountains, it rained last time and will most likely rain this time looking at the cloud cover.
This part of the journey is approx 4 hours and seems much longer this time. Being a bigger mini bus means there’s head room for standing passengers and as such we are continuously stopping to pick up and drop off. Yawn! Oh and there’s a gringo baby bawling half the time too. Nice!
Arriving in David around 6pm we debate kicking our heals and waiting for the midnight express – getting us into Panama at 6am – or staying another night at The Purple House and getting the 6am bus. The 1st option saves us on accommodation costs so we opt for that. Hoping to find wifi so we can finish updating the blog.
We orientate ourselves with our map from in inward journey and head off in search of a food venue with wifi obviously. After a false start we find a really nice roast chicken place. Great food, a bit like Nando’s but without the heat options or the beer. But with wifi so we’re happyish. Not sure we can tough it out for 4 hours here mind!!! 🙂 Not bad, not bad. We leave the chicken shop at 2230 having arrived about 1930. It had good Internet whereas we hadn’t found any earlier at the bus station. Talking of which we can’t believe how busy the waiting room is. The 2245 buses are loading, all the seats in the waiting room are just about taken and there’s a massive queue at the ticket office. Bizarre. We find a seat and sit it out till our bus arrives around 2330. We hope we can sleep on the bus…
Not just one but three or four buses turn up, which is just as well considering the amount of people hanging around. Problem is there’s nothing obvious on our tickets indicating which one is ours or indeed which one is which. We eventually figure out that there’s a number 11 on both tickets…. Ah, so we want bus 11, but which one is this?! People seem to be just randomly queuing up at whichever one they prefer. They are all going to Panama, which at least is something!
Third time lucky, well by pestering all the drivers we do eventually find it. Hurrah! And yes when we get going we do manage a good sleep. Until that is we stop. All three buses in convoy. Yes, ladies you can imagine what queue that sparks up at the toilets. Oh well needs must. Got to be easier than negotiating the stairs, while the bus is moving, to go onboard.
Toucan plan ahead
A lie in. Wah how exciting! Except for the ruddy cockerels which put a stop to that idea!
Bernice wakes up thinking maybe we should actually look at moving on and not stay another week after all. We’re moving hostels today, but we’re not sure it’s worth paying nearly double for, and if it is, if we should really be doing more Spanish here. Oh well we have it for one night anyway as we gave them as deposit on our reservation.
As it’s early (0730) we decide to get up and go downstairs to do some Internet research to help solve the dilemma – do we stay or do we go. We need to check out of SBTS by 11am, so we de-camped to our new hostel (which is better than either of us remember) check in and sit with coffee/milkshake in the bar area and continue our search….
Huw finds cheap flights to Buenos Aires. It’s summer down in Patagonia now and if we head straight there and work our way back up, assuming we def want to go that far south, we’ll get the better weather. It’s rainy in the middle (of the continent!) at present and April, May would be better there. Patagonia will be cold and wet if we wait till after then. So it all makes sense to go down to Argentina now. A final check on flight options to down under for the 2nd half of the year confirms our best bet there is from LA. So starting at the bottom and finishing back up at the top is as good a plan as we’ve got.
Flights get booked!!! Not without trauma, American Express don’t want our business. Even though we’ve already had the chat – we’re travelling, it’s not fraud, approve our purchase – they still manage to bounce our payment!!! Good job we have alternative cards!
Now we just need to tell Ina we’re not continuing with Spanish…. We go down to SBTS for 5ish to settle our bill and catch Ina before it gets busy. There are new arrivals she needs to sort out, give tests to etc. She takes it pretty well. As usual the whole operation is in a state of chaos so us adding to it is hardly noticeable.
Relieved we leave and go back to our hotel. We continue with planning and a marathon blog sorting out session, then have a lovely in-house Indonesian dinner. We recommend this place: Hotel Casa Max. There’s even a toucan here.
Bed for around 10ish from what we can remember. No cockerels tonight just party animals in the hostel opposite till way after 4!!
Bright eyed and bushy tailed. Well mostly, Bernice’s ears are still a bit blocked. Its our final day of diving today. We still haven’t done our swim tests yet, fundamental really – if you can’t swim you can’t get certified. We get these cracked off first while we’re waiting on others to arrive. We are still in a group of just us two and Jenny but we’re sharing the boat out to the dive site with other “fun divers”. Today´s mission is to complete the final two Open Water Dives and get through the last of the exercises:
• Vertical CESA to surface
• Swap regulator for snorkel at surface and purge water from snorkel
• Compass navigation – straight line and square
• Remove and refit weighs belt under water
• Different ways of entering and exiting water – big step into water, rolling backwards off boat, throwing gear into water inflated and putting it on in the water
The first site is the wreck we went to yesterday but today we go much deeper, then we return to base for fresh tanks for the second dive (didn’t need to do this yesterday as it was just us three on the boat and we took enough for both dives and spare)
The second dive is at “Hospital Point”. It’s pretty amazing and we see a half dozen or more largish Eagle Rays, a lobster, a drummer fish, trumpet fish …. The list goes on. Jenny was ecstatic, best vis she’s seen on this site and most sea life too. When we surface Bernice has a wee bit of a bloody nose but she’s fine.
Back at base once we’ve cleaned and stowed away our kit we have a celebratory drink with Jenny and Marion. We have to have our photo’s taken for the PADI cert and it’s an opener to get a photo of the girls too. Oh and Rumba – did we mention her, the puppy. Yes a photo of us all.
Then when the paperworks done we head off to check this other hostel out. On the way we bump into Nathan and Donna. Explain where we’re going and arrange to meet up in about an hour. At the hostel the woman we spoke to yesterday isn’t there so we agree to wait. While we do we wander to the ocean deck down the corridor to check out the view. On the way we spot some open doors – peaking in we both agree it’s too run down for us and walk away. Talking to Marion, we’d got a couple of other leads just for this very occasion so wandered across the road to check one out. It’s miles better but nearly double what we’re paying currently ($35 the room per night) We decide to go for it and agree to pay a requested deposit of $20
Planning on a shower before meeting Nathan and Donna we head back to SBTS but get side tracked and run out of time. They’ve been pressie shopping so aren’t planning a big night out like we thought and that we figured we owed ourselves to celebrate. So when they head off we go back to base, have a power nap, shower and go out for food to a nearby hostel “Casa Verde”, planning on just a drink but stay for dinner too. Great location and nice vibe. Shame they didn’t have vacancies!!!
Open water virgins
Exciting day ahead – our first Open Water Dives Bernice has even relaxed into it now!!
We meet Jenny this morning who’s taking us for our open water dives. She’s from Edinburgh, been here since August and spent loads of time diving in Thailand before coming here.
She’s pretty sound and we have a fun time. We do two dives. The first of which is called “The Airport” cause you guessed it, it’s at the end of the runway. Here we started in a shallow spot and completed some more skills
before going deeper to check out the sea life:
• Horizontal CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent)
• Swimming underwater without mask
• Compass navigation – straight line
• Swimming with buddy´s alternate air supply
• Remove and refit weighs belt under water
• SORTED – sequence before dive commences. S = signal intention to dive. O = orientation, check above and below surface. R = regulator, replace snorkel with air supply. T = time. E = equalise. D = descend
• STARS – sequence before returning to the surface. S = signal intention. T = time. A = air, assume position for ascent with BCD raised to empty as needed and other hand for protection. R = rotate, check surroundings are clear for ascent
Bernice has some issues equalising and a bit of mask squeeze, going deeper but she gets there in the end.
The 2nd dive is at “Barka” a sunken ferry wreck to look at. Here we see a huge fat barracuda as well as some really pretty coloured fish. We thinks we ought to gen up a bit on fish types if we are to take this diving serious/further!!
Pretty tired by the end but chuffed too, we head back and after cleaning and stowing our gear head off to Spanish class.
Kayla Is back and on form. Revved up for tonights BBQ. A Friday regular and her turn to organise and cook. We promise to come along but not for a big session as we still have our last dives to do.
After class we head out to look for alternate accommodation. If we’re staying another week it’d be nice to have our own bathroom and not have to contend with all the wee beasties in the kitchen!!! Especially as currently there is no water! It stopped working around 6pm last night. There’s a guy in now looking at it, the pump is knackered, and it’s supposed to be up and running again by 6pm tonight.
So to our mission….. and short of door knocking and asking there’s no other way to find something else. We are just about to give up – on price – when we find one with rooms available Sunday, we can’t see it till tomorrow as they’re full just now, but we arrange to come back after diving tomorrow and go back for the BBQ relatively relaxed.
Back at base we realise the plan seems to be to sign up for bringing something to add to the group. We sign up for chorizo and ketchup! Bernice’s ears are pretty sore. We put ear drops in them, hoping to sort them out, and she takes a Piriton.
The evening is quite fun. There’s a big Panama v Costa Rica championship match on tv too which we watch half of. But good little baby divers that we are we have 2 beers and call it a night at a little after 10pm. You can’t drink and dive!!
An unexpected afternoon off
A better nights sleep had by all – we must be getting used to it?!!! Huw is also feeling better, hurrah!
Egg banjos and oj for brekkie and a chat with Ina on reception about possibilities of staying another week – yep there’s space and she suggests we also join a bigger group (been just us two in lessons till now, same with the diving. Luxury really. We also paid another instalment of money – they’ll only take cash and we can only take out so much from the ATM a day. Just as we’re leaving to go to the dive shop Kayla turns up with a very swollen face – an allergic reaction by the looks not quite as bad as Will Smith in “Hitch” but not far off – so we reckon we won’t be having lessons this afternoon.
At the dive school it is a morning of videos, tests and learning how to use the dive planner – how long you can stay at what depth and how long you should leave between dives etc. We let Marion know there is a chance we can get back this afternoon to finish off final test if our Spanish doesn’t happen.
As suspected, Kayla toughed it out teaching in the morning but is off home to sleep – so no Spanish for us today. Funny she’s a local girl and chatting to her the other day about malaria tablets etc she informs us she’s had an injection. Cost $2 and now she’s covered, no need for tablets. It is a wonder about these places that are so called “malaria hotspots” what the indigenous population do. They can’t a) afford the tablets in most cases and b) who’d want to be continuously taking them? It’s not recommended for sure. So if there is an immunisation injection out there how come we’re not told about it and can’t find any info on the web about it for that matter???!!
After lunch we take full advantage of the time off by having a power nap. Then we head down and finish off our tests at dive school – we pass hooray!! We then learn that we have 4 open water dives to do not 2 as we thought, which means no Friday night out for us as we will be diving Saturday morning 🙁 but more diving 🙂
Back at the SBTS we start to make vocabulary cards to help get more words into our brains.
Pizza for dinner – we order too much though. It seems like out appetites have disappeared. Not sure if it is due to the heat, the anti malarials or the water. ….Top of the agenda for discussion at is what to do next. We are still not happy that staying another week in SBTS and/or in Bocas is the right answer…!?
Another early night as we have our first open water dives in the morning!
We both had a better nights sleep in that the mossie net we rigged up over the bed worked a treat, that combined with the fan Ina gave us and there were no mossie’s or chitres thankfully. All we had to contend with once all that was sorted was the blasted cockerels again. In the neighbouring garden and extremely loud from about 0230 for a quick warm up then in ernest from around 0500 till 0700 when we need to get up!!!!
We both also took a Piriton to stop the bites from the previous night itching unbearably so that helped us ignore them.
New people obviously arrived in hostel late yesterday evening and when we went to get washed one of them was doing his laundry in sink. So we can’t get ready very easy and it turns into a stressy morning. Bernice is pretty wound up by time get to the dive shop.
We watch another video. Bernice is having lots of second thoughts about continuing, partly the events of the morning and partly nerves, while Huw is pretty excited….. Stick in there girl!
As it turns out the morning goes really well. Skills we did today in our 2nd confined water dive are:
• Removing mask completely and then re-fitting it and clearing it (Bernice again)
• Remove gear and then refit under water
• Assisting tired diver – 3 ways of helping them to safety on surface
• Fin pivot and hovering under water to practice finding neutral buoyancy
• Cramp removal
• Exchange own regulator for buddies alternate regulator (spare)
Huw is quite shivery and sicky afterwards, we’re both still very tired too. As a result Spanish lesson drags in today for both of us.
We finally catch up with Nate and Donna at Mexican for some dinner and Huw gets his phone back, but it really is an early night for us again – bed by 10pm. Rock and roll!!!
Huw still out of sorts, hopefully he’ll feel better in the morning 🙂
After such a crap night’s sleep neither of us are looking forward to a full on day today 🙁 It’s amazing what you don´t notice till it affects you. What were we thinking, no windows, no insect screens. In fact the bathroom is also the same – across the corridor is the sink, out in plain view, then there´s two rooms, one a toilet and the other a cold water shower. Both with lovely carved fret work above the doors producing huge big gaps open to the elements. Hhmm…
We have a chat with the girl (Ina) on the desk, she´s German, to see if they can block up the holes/gaps. “Not possible! Maybe a fan, but maybe we should move somewhere else that’s got aircon!!” is her reply. It´s pretty cheap right enough $10 each a night, and we´re in a new room, part of their expansion, so we´re really wanting a solution that allows us to stay put….
Maybe we´ll just dwell on it for today, see if she comes up with a fan, that´ll at least help with the heat.
No time to lose, brekkie and off for our 2nd dive day. Today we´re doing some dive skills in the water off the dockside by the dive school, our 1st confined water dive. Bernice is pretty nervous, we did a try-dive in Croatia once so she knows she can do it, but she is still worried about the breathing underwater, and terrified at the thought of removing her regulator/mask under the water as part of the training today. We have the following skills to do today:
• Put kit together and checks necessary whilst doing so.
• BWRAF – buddy kit check before entering water. B = BCD the inflator control for your jacket. W = weights, check they´re on and on correctly. R = releases, check all quick releases on buddy including their tank are secure but free. A = air, check your buddies air supply and air sources. F = final ok
• How to equalise (clearing your ears like you would on a plane to stop pressure build up) as you descend
• Staying calm and breathing normally threw regulator
• Removing your regulator/air source to learn how to find and regain it again
• Fill mask with water and then purge it by blowing out of your nose to clear it again
• Removing mask completely and then re-fitting it and clearing it
• Hand signals for communication while under water
All went well. We didn´t drown although Bernice took a while to get the hang blowing out of her nose to clear the mask … but big credits to her for sticking with it until she got the hang of things 🙂
Back at SBTS we have a lunch of left overs then its straight into our second Spanish lesson. This time it is upstairs out back by our room which should mean peace and quiet and no interruptions … except that the guy in the plot next door is hammering and banging away putting a new wriggly tin roof on his house!!
At the end of the lesson, Ina comes up trumps with a massive industrial sized fan – we are a bit worried as to whether the electrics are up to it as they have been a bit flakey!! We also spend some time rigging our individual mossie nets into a single double one over the bed to keep the monsters at bay.
Happy that we are set up for a better nights sleep we Skype with Huw´s Mum & Dad as we´d missed them the previous evening. We´d had an email through from Nate and Donna saying they would be over this evening and suggesting we go to a Mexican restaurant “Gringo´s” for dinner. Trouble is they do not have a mobile and so when they don´t show we are at a loss what to do. After an hour of hanging about looking for them, including a trip to the restaurant to make sure they are not there, we get a message saying they got held up in Bastimentos and so won´t be over – we delay Mexican until tomorrow.
So we downgrade our dinner plans and make a tinned tuna and veg pasta dish after a trip to the local supermarket. Two skirmishes are required before we can eat: the first is to get the electrics/gas working so that we can use to stove and then there is the constant battle with all the fruit flies that seem to live in the kitchen (which is also open plan i.e. no walls). The wee monsters mean that we are not keen on spending much time cooking! Over dinner we have a chat with some new arrivals Liz from Chile but living in Rio) and Rafael (and another dude whose name we miss!!) from Rio Brazil. They are good fun and tell us we have to go to Brazil … so we add it to the wish list 😉 Also, we have a chat with Ida the Aussie who is working out of China getting clothes made wholesale in Chinese factories for the family business.
After what feels like another long day we are too tired for blogging etc and go off to bed.
Dan and Jenny did manage to get away this morning and hopefully caught their flight. We left about an hour after them, having to be at the SBTS by 8am. Huw had a hangover from hell as you can imagine.
Thankfully we knew today was all classroom based. We find out we have diving every morning and 4 hours Spanish every afternoon!!
When we arrive at the school, it’s in complete chaos, so we leave our bags amongst it and head across the road to the dive school.
Our morning consists of watching videos: Dive 1 and 2, our instructor for confined water is Marion, shes german and lovely, her dog is called Rumba a 3 month old puppy, a kinda English bull terrier – dalmation cross if that’s possible!
Its information overload, which is always good on a hangover. There’s a quick turn around as we leave there with less than an hour to spare to find lunch before Spanish class at 1pm.
We find a deli just between the two and are able yo get sandwiches made yo order, result. It’s during lunch break that we realise Huw left phone in our room in Oops! A quick call on the local sim phone and we arrange for Nathan and Donna to pick it up for us. We’re likely to see them in next day or so.
Spanish – our teacher is Kayla, she’s local in as much as she comes from the mountains we travelled through and her boyfriend is an Aussie, also a diver. Our lesson goes remarkably quickly as we go through the basics quickly in 4 hours.
We’re pretty done in by the end of it all. Dragging our bags up to our room at the end of the day takes quite some effort!! Then there’s dinner to think of. We have access to the communal school kitchen so go off and get supplies for a chorizo spaghetti. It’s pretty good and well earned. While making/eating it we get chatting with some fellow students: Ida, Jenny & Chris. Ida and Jenny are Aussies and Chris is from California. Chris works as a raft guide in Costa Rica, just visiting Panama for a week to renew his 90 day visitors visa so he can stay a further 90 days there.
We try to do some blog work watch a bit of footie on the communal TV. While doing so we talk to Jock, a teacher and a local and no connection at all with Jockland, we mean Scotland.
By 930pm we’re really tired and head for bed only to realise there’s no upper windows or netting in our room. We try keep light off, so we don’t attract mosi’s or any other flying thing but fail miserably. We get bitten, Bernice mostly, by mosi and chitres (the local midges) who come in room. Crappy nights sleep had by all!!!