Category Archives: Panama

Island Hopping to Colombia

“Oh shit, we’ve lost a Guna.”

“What do you mean we’ve lost a Guna? How can that even happen?”

“Well, he went skinny dipping with you guys and no one has seem him for a few hours. We only found his clothes.“

“Shit. I hope he’s ok.”

“Yeah, I’m not too worried, he’s a good swimmer, they all reckon he’s the best free diver in the village.”  This from Adam, the Kiwi tour guide, who was characteristically chilled out about the whole incident.

“Everyone back in the boat!” he shouted. “It’s time to go.”

We scouted the island and the ocean on the way back to the village, shining headlamps and calling out every few seconds for the missing man. To everyone’s relief, our missing friend was asleep safe and sound in his hammock. For some reason, he had decided to swim about 1km home. In complete darkness. Naked.  

The short flight from Panama City to Cartagena is ridiculously expensive, so for marginally more dinero we hopped our way through the beautiful San Blas Islands, from Panama to Colombia. 

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We travelled with a great group of people and the trip surpassed my expectations. This time of year is when the seas are the roughest, so the boat rides were like a roller coaster, while constantly being blasted in the face by salt water. I popped dramamine religiously, so for once I didn’t join the unfortunate souls throwing up overboard.

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We even had a “wedding” (symbolic, not legal) on the island. These lovebirds had met about six weeks ago in Guatemala and had decided to take the plunge, matching outfits and all.

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This wasn’t the only celebration though, there were also a number of birthdays. Two boat loads of people dubiously piled into one boat, and guided by head torches we slowly made our way to a deserted island to party. This was also the infamous night we lost the Guna.

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One of the highlights for us was being able to visit the Guna villages. The indigenous Guna people living on the islands of San Blas migrated to there from the mainland after Spanish colonization. What is remarkable, is that they have been able to establish political autonomy and govern themselves. This was gained through an armed revolution in the 1920’s in response to the Panamanian government’s attempts to suppress their customs.

The Guna women are particularly beautiful, and for the most part continue to dress in their traditional fashion.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASea drop toilet. I always looked down and never saw anything. Apparently the fish are quick.

When the tour finished, we still had two boat rides and two bus rides to get to Cartagena, but in the company of new friends, it didn’t seem so bad.

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The Waiting Game : Panama

There is no road connecting Panama to Colombia, in the 48,000 km of road all the way from Alaska to Patagonia, there is only this 100 km or so of road missing.  So, to get across to South America we had to spend a bunch of time in Panama City arranging for the van to be shipped as cargo to Cartagena.  

Knowing from the experience of others that this week would most likely be expensive and stressful, we chose to book a guest room through airbnb and took the opportunity to enjoy a little downtime in between rushed visits to shipping agents, customs inspections and the port. I think this was a good plan.

In reality, we spent most of the week watching tv and movies in air conditioned comfort.

After a few days, we finally handed over the keys to the port workers and they assured us it would be carefully loaded into a container. We crossed our fingers and hoped that we would see it again, safe and sound in Colombia. Now vanless, we had some time to wander around the old town, and enjoy our last night in Panama.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The new Panama City, from Cinta Costera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It looks a little different after sundown and with a low tide

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Deep fried whole fish with patacones- Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood market)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Birdlife, Casco Viejo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Street life, Casco Viejo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Kids on the balcony

Also, our hosts David, Nicholas and Nahun treated us really well, keeping us well supplied with good company and good food throughout the week. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bbq

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHomemade patacones

We had the feeling that we were missing out on much of what Panama had to offer.  But that’s sometimes just the way things go.  A quote from one of my favourite John Steinbeck books puts it perfectly:

“This journey has been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning”

This is kind of how we felt in Panama, we’d been moving quickly and were concentrating on the logistics of getting across the gap without really stopping to look around much.  But now, with North and Central America behind us, we’re hungry for South America.