Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The San Blas islands are some of Central America's most beautiful, but they are hard and expensive to get to. I decided to do it the last minute ghetto way, by taking a 4X4 (instead of flying) from a hostel in Panama City. The San Blas are completely run by Kuna indians, it's called the comarca kuna yala. They all live in villages of thatch huts with dirt floors and sleep in hammocks. A group of us were picked up at 5AM, then drove down three hours of bumpy, washed out roads. My knees were pretty much in my chest, we were squished in the truck. After a ride down a river in a canoe, then a half hour ride out in the ocean, we arrived at the most rustic place I'd ever seen. A cluster of junky bamboo huts - very much like the hilltribe villages in Thailand only much more crowded. There was a super ghetto hostel in the village of Carti, where we stayed upstairs in a dirty, hot bamboo house. The company was fun - three guys from Brooklyn, a girl from Canada, two finnish people and an irish couple. The package included a visit to the islands - we took another hour boat ride out into the ocean to the most picturesque island I've ever seen (pictured above) - isla pellican. And true to it's name, there were pellicans dive-bombing into the water for fish.
Monday, December 01, 2008
I think I've been a pretty good sport about all of this rain. I learned that this is the worst rain period Panama has had in over 30 years. Raining ALL over the country. I really was starting to like Boquete, but I was getting tired of being the gringa wandering around town in the orange plastic emergency poncho. After 2 amazing nights at the panamonte hotel (the place that cut me the great deal), I moved to a normal hostel on the river so that I could see some friendly non retiree faces and save some money. In the lobby, I looked a little glum and desperate so one of the owners (A nice guy from Gary, Indiana..the accent reminded me of home!) told me of a place that would cheer me up, an animal rescue center run by some British retirees on the outskirts of town. I hiked up a hill and out into the misty woods, and 30 minutes later found Paradise Gardens, where they rehabilitate neglected exotic animals in a beautiful setting. You can pet some of the animals, and learn their stories. Like the two scarlet maccaws that were confiscated from some drug dealers. And the two toucans, Bonnie and Clyde, who were found injured at the side of the road. And a wierd cat-otter mix that Ive never seen before. They even had a baby sloth, wrapped up in a blanket, that they would take out for you to pet. Im not the biggest animal lover you've ever met, but even I was amazed by this place and it completely cheered me up. Bonnie and Clyde, the toucans, were amazing. I asked if they ate fruit loops.. haha. Paradise Gardens gave the animals such nice areas to roam around in, way better than the spooky zoo in El Valle!
Today I flew to Panama City (it was cheap and I was lazy) to arrange a trip to the san blas. I'm going tomorrow at 5am, Im super excited!! look it up on the internet. I'm going to stay in a rustic cabin. rock on! I won't be able to blog for a few days because I'll be kickin it with the Kuna indians!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The restaurants in this town are either uber-panamanian cafeteria type places, or tourist places with english menus. There are a few nice places, but I still miss the Libertad restaurant in El Valle. A place with a menu in spanish, but with ambiance. The town itself is cute, though. I´m not complaining. I arranged for a full day whitewater rafting trip for today, then had dinner at a bistro place, then an atlas at a jazz place.
The guide, Tini, picked me up bright and early. ¨Tini¨is supposed to be like the nickname ¨Tiny¨. But unlike an ironic mobster name, he actually was sort of tiny. Also in my boat was a Californian family: Herb, Wanda and their son Sam. They were great, very adventurous and well travelled family. We were joined by a kayaker (who picks up paddles and helps with rescues in case something happened to Tiny) and we drove about an hour and a half up to the Costa Rican border to the Chiriqui river. This is the same river that flooded last week, so the water was VERY high. While we were unloading into the river, we saw toucans (my first) and some monkeys. I was really excited about the Toucans. Growing up in Battle Creek, I always pictured Toucans with big smiles like a bowl of Fruit loops. Ive been rafting a good 7 times before (class 5 in West Virginia and a very cold class 2-3 with my dad in Colorado), and never once fallen out of the boat, so rafting does not really scare me, although my chiropractor 5 years ago made me promise that I´d never do it again.. oh well. a good minute after put in, we already had a class 4 rapid. I know what a class 4 rapid feels like, that was a class 5 rapid. We had class 5 rapids for the first hour of the trip, one after another. I sat in front and was actually scared, which was fun (hey, I´m getting my money´s worth!). When you sit in front, you drop into rapids and just see a wall of water coming at you. Everyone was soaked the whole time. I was screaming, but it was really fun. Each rapid is named for something, usually for who falls in it or who´s boat tips in. For example, we approached one and Tiny said ¨Thees rapeed es called Mexian family!¨ meaning that a mexican family fell in not long ago.
About 45 minutes into the trip, when we were going over a class 3 rapid (which is actually class 4), I was tossed out of the boat. I don´t actually remember falling out, I just remember all of the sudden being UNDER the raft, looking up through the muddy water and seeing yellow, and thinking, holy crap, I actually fell out of the boat and Oh, I hope there are no rocks! When that happens, you are supposed to claw your way over to the side of the boat, and have someone pull you up. Which I did. We were moving so fast, it was actually pretty terrifying. Herb pulled me up, and we were still going over some rapids. I was all disoriented for a minute, I couldn´t tell which end of the boat was in the front.. then after a few minutes I stopped shaking and was all fine. SO much fun! Tiny said now we can call that one ¨Chicago rapid¨. haha. It was truly the most exciting and rough rafting trip I´d ever taken, which to me is a good thing. And the hot shower and hot coffee I had after getting back to my hotel was life-changing!
Arriving back in Boquete, it started raining again and I had to go to the Lavanderia to wash my clothes. It was a busy laundry day and the lavanderia wouldn´t take me, and the women were really bossy and kinda mean, so I had to find the OTHER lavandaria, on the edge of town. I kept asking people where it was and not understanding the answers. I almost gave up and took my laundry back to my hotel, which I know would have been expensive. One guy took me to the river and pointed at it, and said that I could wash my clothes there. A half hour of walking in the rain later, I found the other lavanderia that was run by the world´s nicest woman. I talked to her for awhile, then another guy who was washing his clothes. Finding the second lavanderia just made my day. That´s what´s fun to me about travel. Sometimes you try so hard to do the simplest thing like find a laundromat. Then, when you do, it´s just so satisfying. You feel like such a winner.
During the clothes-washing I stopped at a cute mexican reastaurant for a taco and a beer. On the window near me I was horrified to see the biggest wasp I´d ever seen. I backed away from the table and got the waitress and asked if the insecta was a vespa. They killed it for me. I tried to tell them that it was the largest wasp I´d ever seen in my life, then I realized later that I kept telling them that there was a ¨wasp in my life¨, haha. Which sounds kind of metaphoric, doesn´t it?
Tomorrow I think I´m going to go to David in hopes of catching a bus or plane back to Panama City. The weather forecast for the whole country is BAD. I seriously might fly to Costa Rica and just go to my old town of Montezuma for the beach, where the weather forecast is good. I don´t know. I might not be too tan when I get home but I´m definitely having lots of fun adventures here in Panama.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I left El Valle on a rainy morning, and took the bus with some uniformed schoolkids through the woods to the Panamerican Highway, where I caught a bus to what I thought was David, but actually went 2 hours in the other direction to Panama City. I was tipped off by the huge skyline... When I said "necissito voy a David" the person told me that there was no direct bus there, but I had missed that little detail. I got on a giant megabus to David with two stories, and had a great seat in front in the top row. 3 peacefull, blissful hours went by until we stopped at a truck stop for a meal (I had some sketchy pasta), and to pick up more passengers at the halfway point.
I could hear them before I saw them, two older, overeager americans in their 60s. The woman plopped down next to me and her husband sat across the aisle. I smelled something foul and rotten, and thought maybe it was the bus, but it was them. The smell of stale cigarette smoke, smoke that was coming out of their pores after a good 45 year smoking habit. When the woman asked if she could sit there, her teeth were brown and grey. Everything about them was grey. They were nice enough, and you can't exactly tell someone to move because they smell so bad, so I tried to stare out the window and angle the fan at them, to blow away the smell. Every time they chuckled at the stupid movie, I had to breathe through my mouth. I tried to chew some really strong gum and thought about offering them some. I was angry. Why was I the one chewing gum? Why are some people so naieve - clueless that they STINK??!!!
heh.. hegh hegh.. achachack ack. hech hech.. that's the sound of the smokers cough I heard all the way to David.
When we disembarked, I was happy to be rid of them, and laughed that they had both lit up a cigarette before we could even get our bags out of the lower compartment. When one of them dies, is the other one going to stop smoking, I wondered? I took a taxi to a hostel I read about, and had booked a private room. When I arrived, who pulls up at the same time. Mr and Mrs Smoky!
I just resigned myself to the fact that I would have to see them again and again... and went to buy some groceries for dinner. David is a pretty crappy city so there was really no place to hang out at night besides the hostel. So I grabbed an atlas and sat out on the porch with the Smokeskis, the funny hostel owner Greg, his cute Lenny Kravitz lookalike employee Benny, and a random French Canadian. Greg and Benny took turns playing the guitar, The smokeskis smoked, and we all talked about travelling. Greg used to live in chinatown, NYC and we talked about my favorite dumpling shop. I learned one of life's great mysteries - how they make soup dumplings! (they freeze the soup first, then put in the dumplings and steam). The smokeskis were on a long, extended trip through central america, which I thought was cool for people their age. I asked them if they met over a love of cigarettes, and they looked at me funny and said they met because the Mrs was Mr's dispatcher at an old job. We discussed smoking laws, their love of smoking and how they differ in Central America vs North America (CA is cracking down, which is nice!) The Smokeskis even buy special cigarettes by the carton from the Native Americans back home, because they are cheap. I even suspect they moved from Oregon to Nevada for the more liberal smoking laws. Greg and Benny took me across the street to the uber authentic ceviche restaurant, which served three dishes: ceviche, fried fish and some other kind of fish. I had some ceviche and Greg and Benny laughed with the regulars (all older men) and told dirty jokes. It was the type of place that I would have been really intimidated to go on my own, but in their company it was OK. I went back to the hostel, bid the Smokeskis goodnight, and went to sleep to dogs barking.
The next morning (my designated "banking" day) I went into David to try every cash machine in town (still did not work!) and try to cash my traveller's checks (no bank in town took them). This is the first country I've ever been to where neither worked - sometimes my ATM gives me trouble but I can always get cash from my Am Ex checks. This is just one of those things you have to deal with when travelling - every country has a quirk, but it was still frustrating, and I was beginning to feel like Panama did not want me to take out any money! I called Am Ex in a panic, and they agreed to western union me the money. Whew! The only western Union place in David was offline (of course) so I just went to the lost and found hostel way out in the jungle as planned.
Andrew, the owner, picked me up and brought me wayyy out into the jungle, where we had to hike up a steep muddy hill. A huge "backpackers resort" was up there, with a huge uptdoor sitting area, a kitchen (you have to make your own dinner), some cabins and a dorm. I had the dorm with Steve the kiwi and Andrew the Aussie. Really, really nice guys. It rained the entire time, but I was happy for the peace, the hammock, the sounds of the tropical birds, the kinkajous that came to eat bananas (they are so cute, look them up!), the hummingbirds, the sound of rain falling on the roof at night. I made some spaghetti with red peppers and chicken. Three dutch people were also at the lodge - three flight attendants, two guys and a girl. They were really funny, kind of demanding and a little flamboyant. I was amazed, though, when they whipped up an impressive dinner of fondue in about 15 minutes flat. They brought in their own cheese and bread. It was amazing! They didn't share (boo!) but I took a photo. I didn't get to do the night hike due to the rain, but I went to bed early and slept better than I have the whole trip.
More coming tomorrow, and I'm sorry but the internet cafe doesn't read my camera memory card.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I woke up in Santa Clara and had breakfast with the crazy family, then hopped on a few salsa busses to El Valle. El Valle is a volcano crater, a small, sleepy little misty town up in the mountains. Supposedly it´s what Boquete was like 10, 20 years ago. The bus stopped to drop me off, and I said oh, I need to go to the CENTER of town, thinking we were on the edge. They said, this is the center of town.. haha. It´s small. It´s absolutely beautiful and I just walked around town, had lunch at a place that had a bowl of Halls cough drops instead of candy, saw the hot springs, went to a bizarre little zoo and laid in a hammock on the roof. There are only faint sounds of roosters, faded salsa music, and a few cars. That´s it.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Friday, September 05, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Oh, and check out the Casa Iguana's website! This was on Little Corn island, Nicaragua. What a great place this was. So hard to get to, so worth it:
Here's a couple of youtube videos I never got around to putting on here.
taxi ride in San Pedro (the driver was an 11 year old boy)
and a view from the main square in Antigua, where all the locals hang out.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
I don´t know what´s wrong with me. I was all set to go see a band at cafe no se (cafe "I don´t know", don´t you love the name?) last night, and at a time I´m too embarrased to say, I laid down and got too comfortable. It´s easy to do, with my new room. It has, what, 15, 20 ft ceilings? It used to be a 15th century convent and a monastary and has high wood beam ceilings and tile floors. It´s right on the big famous yellow arch that I love so much. I stayed in a room with a straw floor a few weeks ago, so I notice things like flooring now. I watched TV for the first time in a while, to ease myself back into civilization. Tonight, I swear, I´m going out. Even though I have an 8AM flight tomorrow.
- Breakfast - the BK numero tres!!
- Dinner - the kingfish at Casa Iguana, tied with the Enchiladas verdes at Frida´s in Antigua.
- Beer - Toña, Nicaragua
- Beer label - Gallo, Guatemala
- live music - Riki´s, Antigua, Cafe Nuit, Granada
- cheapest room - EVER - the psychedelic hotel San Francisco, San Pedro, $3.50
- Favorite room - Casa Iguana, casita number 4
- Boat ride - Big corn island to little corn island. Like a $4 white water rafting trip
- Bagged snack - those freeze dried taco things, Guatemala
Important things learned in Guatemala and Nicaragua:
- It´s easier to travel around here than Europe.
- Reggaeton is everywhere
- I sorta like reggaeton!
- What Central American guys lack in height, they more than make up in dancing skills
- People in Guatemala speak slower than Nicas, Guatemala is the perfect place to learn spanish
- Refried beans are damn good for breakfast
- Bedbugs here aren´t messing around
- If your feet are dirty, you are probably having a good time.
- Hygeine is overrated
- Other travellers in Central America are super friendly
- Chickens come in all sorts of cute logos here (Gallo, pollo estrella)
- Nicaraguan hot dogs are nothing to be feared
- I could retire or work in Antigua one day, It feels very homey
- People who admit to going to 300 plus Widespread panic shows are usually pretty strange
- Wearing one sweater for 3 weeks is perfectly acceptable
- It´s surprisingly easy to get used to seeing men with rifles
- It´s not easy to get used to seeing children working and class differences here
- Latin culture brings a little warmth and color into my life
and thanks for reading! If you were reading and not commenting, let me know..
above: the arco, a coffee plant, our coffee tour guide, some textiles made by children in the main square - about the tumultuous times in the 80s - (if you can read it, it´s sad about pregnant women hit by bullets in 1982 and 1985), another chicken bus, the room next to mine (my headboard isn´t that good, but I did have towel swans!)
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Little corn island is a beautiful, peaceful island - filled with gossip, intrigue and scandal. OK, ok, maybe I exaggerate. Scandal - yes, they did have a problem with drug trafficking two years ago, when some of the shuttle boats were stopped and searched often. But that´s under control now. And gossip, well, I found that out for myself at the sweet Oasis snack bar.
Monday, January 07, 2008
No, I´m not talking about skyrockets in flight, or sticks and stones rubbing together makin´everything right, or everything being clearer in the light of day-ay. (thanks to that un-named, yet good friend who put that on my ipod!) But it really is a dee-lightful afternoon here on little corn. Not much to say, I went for a little swin last night, but we are on the windy, outward side of the island so it was a little wavy and un poco seaweedy. Had dinner with a crew of nice people, had some beef with carbernet demi-glace and cauliflower cous cous, went to bed kind of early and read the memory keeper´s daughter for 3 hours.. had the sea wind blow on me while I was sleeping. I hiked through the woods into town to buy some bottles of water and use the computer. I am still recovering from being jostled senseless from the boat ride, but my shoulder is recovering from my death grip on that piece of wood. The sea looks less angry right now but is it wrong that I secretly hope that I get another ride like that in 2 days? As long as I live, it was the most fun I´ve ever had for 4 dollars.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Friday, January 04, 2008
I wish I felt a little better, because I am really beginning to like this place. I know that Granada is THE most touristy town in Nicaragua, but I can´t help but notice there is a wierd vibe bubbling beneath the surface here. I can´t put my finger on it, but it´s probably comparatitis from Guatemala. This is how I compare the two: