Well, we had done no research on Panama previously, thinking we would fly on through to Panama City in order to get things organized and fixed on the car before we shipped it over to Columbia. However, now we have about a week extra to spend exploring the country and making our itinerary up on the fly.
Don’t drink local water or eat questionable looking fish……
Unfortunately, though it got off to a rough start. Rougher for Taylor actually. The weather on the Carribean coast was not ideal, lots of rain and rough waters so we opted not to go to the beautiful island of Boca del Toro. This turned out to be a great decision as the next morning, after camping on a grass piece of land beside the bay, we had to make a speedy getaway to find a bathroom. And that is how Taylor would spend the next 3 days, laying dead on any sort of chair she could find, occasionally getting up and running somewhere in a hurry, finally having an excuse to make Frederik do everything….muhahah.
For this reason, we were hostel bound for a couple of days but it turned out great. We met two very nice travels from Switzerland and Spain who joined us, laying in the back of our car, to the mountain town of Boquete. We stayed in a little hostel called La Jungla Experience and would recommend it to everyone! We originally came here to hike the local volcano, the highest one in Panama. In which Frederik and our two friends did but Taylor stayed behind, finally getting a hold of parasite pills in town to start taking them.
* Just an FYI. We were recommended by other travellers back in Mexico to buy parasite pills, whether you are sick or not, because the word on the street is that if you are on the road for a long time you’ll get it somehow. The locals take it twice as year. Also, you might as well just buy them here and not at home because supposedly the pills are stronger and work more efficiently for anything coming at you in central/south America. Just a heads up for you future travelers. However please don’t let this discourage you! I sware it’s still been worth it 😉 (coming from someone who is currently writting this and running to and from the bathroom).
Frederiks Tales of Hiking Baru Volcano
Here’s the story of a hike where Frederik taught himself a couple of valuable lessons. All of them are caused by one mistake he made which will be revealed at the end of this chapter.
So Taylor got a little ill, and I eyed an opportunity of getting some alone time. Just kidding (…or am I?). We had read about a hike unto the highest point of Panama which is a volcano from where you can see the Caribbean and the Pacific at the same time. When we hear about stuff like that, our thoughts tend to collide with the sound of: “why are we not already there?!”
The hike itself starts at the foot of volcano Baru. It starts at an elevation of 1700 meters, and over a distance of 14 km, it climbs to 3470 above sea level. The preparations for the hike was not much different from what they normally are. Except Taylor wasn’t joining this time, so I had to look into a couple of things that Taylor normally does, I had to carry everything and take a couple of special precautions because I was doing the hike alone.
Here’s my packing list summed up (see if you can spot the couple of things I forgot):
- Rain jacket
- Warm hat
- Extra socks and boxers
- Sleeping bag
- 5 litres of water
- Spot messenger (satellite emergency beacon)
Knowing the facts about the hike, I estimated that it was doable in approximately five hours. And I did not want to sit around on the top of the volcano for an eternity of time. So I started at 1100, and knew that I’d have a chance of arriving at the top around approximately 1600. I arrived at the campsite 15 minutes before the top a little before 1600 (self-five for that). It was a tough uphill hike, and I was pretty soaked in sweat when I arrived. Combined with it being cold at the top, I had to get some of my wet clothes off and get some dry clothes on. That’s when I realized that I had not brought extra pants or shorts.
I had however brought extra boxers (red ones), so I took them on along with my Icelandic sweater and enjoyed being around the top of the volcano looking real fly.
Not caring about what entered peoples minds when walking/driving by, I sat down with my jetboil and fired up under some water so I could enjoy my nice ramen meal. Water’s boiling, I put in the ramen and the spices. I’m warming my hands on the jetboil cup and it’s time to start eating. I take off the lid, smell the satisfying mix of spices, sodium and an endless line of E-numbers. I reach into my bag to take out my spork. I reach into my bag to find the spork… Where’s the spork?
Well, actually a spork is not that necessary if you enjoy taking your time to consume your meal. This took quite a while though. Don’t even get me started on how it was eating oatmeal.
I whine a little more over my forgotten spork. But when I start eating nothing really matters (Right, James Hetfield?). I clean my jetboil, pack it down, and it’s time to get a tent going before it gets dark. I pitch Taylor’s tent. I take out the sleeping bag. I find the sleeping mattress… Where’s the sleeping mattress?
F*#@, F*#@, F*#@….
A common mistake is that a lot of people think a sleeping mattress is necessary because of the comfort of sleeping on something soft. Nope. Being in direct contact with the ground beneath you makes it really easy for the cold to travel from the ground beneath you and directly under your skin. This is when you get cold in case you’re wondering. So I was very happy to see the little wooden shed at the campground, which enabled me to get off the ground. It wasn’t quite enough though for me to stay warm, so this is when my 100L backpack came in handy. I spread it out as well as possible and slept directly on top of it. I tried at least.
Having just spent a weeks time in Costa Rica, I knew that the sun rose at 0530. So I got up at 0500 and started packing down. Packed down, stretched my body – ready to go for the top! I knew that I would stay at the top for a while to enjoy the landscape, so I walked really slow in order to not break a sweat! I was at the top before 0530, and the sun was not up yet. Did the sun sleep in or what the he… (this is when I realize the one hour time difference between Costa Rica and Panama).
When hiking in Central America, we’ve been told by locals to NOT leave our gear behind because of thievery. So I carried all my stuff from the campsite to the top, which luckily included coffee. So I got out my sleeping bag, took on some warm clothes, crawled in there (on the very top of the volcano), and just sat there waiting for my old friend, the sun, to wake up. This wasn’t the worst moment ever.
After an hour of waiting, the sun slowly started to set the skies on fire and rise in the horizon. I had a perfect view of the skies below me, covering the jungle with their thick bodies as heavy blankets. The sun rose all the way and I realized how many people actually were at the top just like me. They had started the night before at 2300 and taken their time to reach the top. Others had paid up a lot of money and was driven to the top in a Jeep.
So to end this section off with my one lesson learned, I cannot stress enough how important preparations are. If I had taken just five more minutes to pack my bag, I would have caught all these small things in the early phase of the hike.
Preparations, preparations, preparations…
Panama, and I do mean the city
We headed from Boquete to Panama City in order to fix up some things on the car. On our way, we spent one night alongside a Swiss-owned restaurant where we celebrated 3 months on the road with a good steak dinner and the other night beside the canals watching the ships go by.
The ghost town of Gamboa, however, gave us a strange feeling. It was clearly a port town but appeared to have been forgotten about from the age of when the Americans ruled over the canal. The houses looked like replicas of estates you might see out of cotton fields, it truly looked like a jump back in time, minus the aspect of preservation.
Pro cars Panama was our main hangout spot for the following 3 days. While they checked out our transmission, along with a few others things, they kindly let us sleep in there garage at night, where we proceeded to finish our star wars marathon prepping for the new release.The 13th was Frederik’s 28th birthday, and with the car finally finished we headed for old town where the restaurant owner presented him with a free breakfast burger for his birthday along with the burger we ordered ourselves. The guy kept saying all the food in his restaurant was “off the chains ” and damn he was not wrong. Those were the best damn burgers we both have ever had!!! For the remainder of Frederikos birthday, we toured the canal museum, checked into our hostel, had pizza with Bordeaux wine and closed the night passing out beside the pool with a cigar we carried all the way from Nicaragua and 15-year-old glass of Glenfiddich. Success.
Today is the day. The release of…..Star wars! We had VIP tickets for 6pm so we went for a run along the boardwalk in the morning, cooled off with a dip in the pool, then headed to the mall. We both have never been to a VIP theatre so we were low key freaking out with the waiter service and recliner seats. No spoilers alerts but the movie was great in our opinion and you should totally go see it.
Well now Taylor is off to meet her family for a week in the Dominican Republic and Frederik is being the man and doing all the tough stuff for us with getting our car inspected and prepping it for shipping this week. We will meet back up in Cartagena, Columbia on the 23rd and celebrate Christmas there together. That’s all, for now, happy holidays everyone!