Puerto Viejo is located SUUUPER close to the Panamanian border. So naturally, being an eager-to-see-new-places backpacker, I could not not cross it! Soooo, that was my next stop. Panama. Bocas del Toro, to be exact. A beautiful group of islands off the Carribean coast.
I took a shuttlebus across the border to the port-city, which I then got into a taxi-boat that took me to the main island, and main town of Bocas. It was a short three-hour journey so I arrived early afternoon. I did not plan to end up in this country, so I was not prepared with a guide book. Meaning, I had no idea what this place was really like, where I could stay, where the Main Street was, or anything! So, as we were swarmed getting off the boat with people shouting “where are you staying?? do you have a place?? whats your pricerange?!” I told one of them that I wanted a 10$ a night hostel, and he took me to one! It was clean enough, and this one actually had been recommended to me, so I signed in for the night! As I walked up to my room, I looked up and couldn’t believe it: Caroline, who I had met in Nicaragua, was there!
We went out for lunch, and then took a boat taxi to another island and spent the afternoon on Red Frog Beach (there were no red frogs to be seen), and had a lovely afternoon there. That evening I wandered around town a bit, looked for a place to eat, ate, wandered around some more, and finally headed back to the hostel and headed to bed early. The hostel was QUITE a party hostel ( NOT my favorite) but shut down at ten… so all the partiers headed out into town then. Perfect for me! Had a quiet hostel to myself!
Caroline and I woke up early the next morning to do a snorkeling tour. We had expected something MUCH different than what we got, and at the beggining we were both pretty disappointed. We were on this totally uncomfortable, small, metal boat, there were (of course) no dolphins in Dolphin Bay, the restaraunt we ordered our food at for lunch was small and exensive, and we were just simply sold something much different than we had thought we were buying. But, we were brought to a little island that had sloths!! And we were brought to an island that is a national park. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE I HAVE BEEN ON THIS EARTH! It was so beautiful. So unpolluted. So natural. So clean. So so SO perfect. We had a lovely afternoon spend on this beach, taking photos, chatting, swimming, sunbathing. It was such a perfect afternoon.
When we got back to town we met up with a few girls I had met in Puerto Viejo for dinner… for indian food!! IT WAS SO GOOD! Super satisfying. And then Caroline and I bought a bottle of wine and sat on the porch for a little while before bed. She was leaving in the morning, but I was so thankful for her company the past few days. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
…..Until I went to bed. I had climbed into bed around 10. Two of my roomates were out partying, and the guy in the bunk above me was already asleep. So I turned out the lights, turned on my headlamp and quietlly climbed into bed to do some reading and journeling. I had done that for a couple of hours, then settled in and started to fall asleep. At which point, my fantastic bunkmate decided to climb down the ladder (he was a larger man, this was not a graceful task), walk in and out of the room every few minutes about twenty times, turn on the light, and continue this entering and exiting, came in one last time, unpacked and repacked his back (light still on), rumaging around in all of his belongings, stood in the middle of the room and clipped his nails (at this point I took a photo of this because it was so ridiculous), then he climbed back up onto the the bed (light STILL on), started SINGING, and COUNTING HIS CHANGE !!!!!!!!!!! WHAT EVEN?!!?!? Shortly after he FINALLY turned out the light, and left the room. I had a VERY hard time falling asleep after this. I had no idea what he was doing, or where he went, or what just happened. Between him and the party aspect of this hostel, I wanted out ASAP… but I was probably just a little bit safer inside this hostel, than I was out in the streets trying to find a hotel in the middle of the night. I woke up in the morning due to techno music blaring at 8am (!!!!) packed up my belonging, and got out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t even know where I was going, but any place could be better than there.
And I was right! I checked out a few hostels and finally, DESPERATELY, ended up at Hotel Hansi. My safehaven. I desperately (probably even pathetically) asked for a dorm room, wanting not to spend any money (I was discouraged and wanted to leave the next day from this bad experience), and was flooooooored when she said ‘We don’t have dorms… we have single, private rooms with shared bathrooms…. for $13/night.’ YES PLEASE !!!!! It was perfect. Quiet. All to my own. Comfy. Clean. So much (SO MUCH!!!!) better than the last place. Like, wow.
That night I had bought some groceries, hoping to make dinner that night and just have a quiet night reading and writing. But as I was making dinner I met Chelsea and Alec (a couple from the states) and Jason (a fellow solo traveller from the states). We ended up getting together and going out for a few drinks that evening. Travelling on my own, it’s risky to let your guard down and let yourself be vulnerable with a drink. I did not at all feel safe enough to do that in the previous place, surrounded by the people that were there, but here, with them, it was great. We were all on the same page and just wanted to enjoy some company and a few drinks in paradise! We ended up at this really neat place. I’m not even sure what it was called, but it was really interesting! If this place were in Calgary, I would not have set foot in it. It was dirty, and weird and sketchy. But here, it was to be expected, and it was fun! The back of the bar opened up to the ocean, and the floor became a dock. In fact, the floor became the ocean! Well, there was a big hole in the deck with a ladder and a light illuminating the water beneath us, where we sat with our feet in the clear, blue water while we chatted and sipped our drinks. At one point, I felt something hit my foot and shouted out for everyone to stop moving their feet to see what it was! At first, it just looked like a peice of coconut, but looking closer we discovered that it was a squid!! A squid hit my foot!! WEIRD !! And as we were examining the squid, we noticed a HUGE starfish at the bottom. And naturally, decided that we were going to put our bikinis on, come back and swim down to touch it! As we were trying to figure out how far down it really was, we watched a HUUUGE Manta Ray sweep across the ocean floor beneath us!!!!!!!
What an exciting evening. What a ton of life in that big ocean.
The next morning Jason and I woke up with hopes to go sailing! We had signed up and everything. But. We were welcomed into the day with POURING RAIN. Rain that was NOT about to let up. We went down to the dock (and got absolutely drenched in the process) to get a refund and then we headed back to the hostel. What a huuuuge bummer – what is there to do on an island of jungle and beautiful beaches on a rainy day? Well, we found the perfect solution: we went quadding!!
Normally, I’m not the kind of girl that is interested in quads. I’ve just never really understood the attraction. But I figured, why not! What else was I going to do? So we signed up. The company that did it was really neat. They owned a large part of the land on the island and had created a bunch of different trails off of ‘Jungle Highway’, the main trail winding through the jungle and along the beaches. The rain had slowed down a bit (it was more like a heavy day of Calgary rain as opposed to a tropical storm downpour) by the time we set off on the quad through town to the trails, but the roads were still suuuper wet and SUUUPER muddy. We just grinned at each other, held on tighter, and made sure to speed up as we went through the puddles. It was only a matter of minutes before we were covered head to toe in mud, sand, leaves, and who know what else!!
The trail was pretty intense, really narrow, over roots and on coral, over rocks and under branches, by beaches and through rivers. We were all over the place !! It was really exhausting. When you’re driving you’re busy figuring out how to tackle in, and when you’re on the back you’re figuring out how to stay alive (let alone stay on!). It was a lot of fun. We took the trail as far as we could. After this the quad trail lead to a hiking trail, but because of the rain the swamp had overflowed and since we didn’t really feel like crossing through knee-deep swamp water and potentially meet a few ‘friendly’ crocodiles, we turned back and hopped on the quad again. We gave it an honest try! Later in the day the sun peeked out a little bit here and there, which made the puddles become even warmer than they already were, and by the time we had tackled the trails we still had a few hours before we had to return the quad, so we took it on the ‘highway’. We drove along these windy roads through the island and eventually came to a little sight seeing spot! We parked as close as we could to the entrance, paid the one dollar fee, and made our way into the gates. There were these HUGE caves. Like, the ones you see on the Discovery Channel or in the National Geographic… or in the scariest movies you could ever find. It was so beautiful outside. So many flowers and plants. And the path walking down to it was actually an isle between pews to an alter. It took us a while to realize what was going on there, but I guess that it was just an outdoor church! And then on the outside of the cave on the rocks surrounding the entrance there were statues of Mary and other saints. We walked through this beautiful, peaceful, full-of-life garden into the entrance of the cave where it was dark and cool, and damp, and filled with bats and a dirty, cold stream!!! We put our hoods up immediately, but I stopped only a few meters into it. Jason kept going…. he’s incredibly brave !! It was really freaky. I kind of wish I had explored deeper in it more, I’m sure it would have gone on for quite a distance. But I definitely wasn’t prepared – I needed a headlamp at least! Plus… these flying rodents were not very pleasant!
Next to the sign for the caves there was a sign for monkey watching, but it was extremely unclear. So we basically just made an adventure of our own – not seeing any monkeys at all – but getting stuck in a big mud pit, winding along through weird little roads that didn’t seem to really lead anywhere in particular, and really just seeing more of the island! It was almost getting time to return the quad, but we wanted to stop for dinner first. We had seen a restaurant on the beach earlier in the day and had started to make our way back to it. It was SO MUCH farther than we had thought! But it was a really nice place to eat (even though the food was AWFUL!). We sat on some chairs on the beach watching the incredibly powerful waves crash into the beach (you weren’t allowed to swim here… it’s too dangerous!!). It was a really great way to end the day spend with this new friend of mine.
We were both exhausted by the time we got back to our hostel, and we both ended up just taking a shower and falling asleep early in the evening and didn’t see each other again to the morning!!
Who would have thunk that a rainy day would of led us through a journey like that!