We have sort of trucked through Panama pretty quickly. We hit the 10-month mark of our travels in Boquete, the highlands, where we enjoyed the cool weather and worked out some van problems.
Boquete is a strange place because it’s filled with gringos. Gringolands mean one thing to me: BAGELS. I definitely ate bagels during our stay here. While Juan was working on the van, I also took advantage of the other (related) gringo amenity, coffee shops. Since the campground we were aiming for was closed, we stayed at the Hotel Fundadores, an inexpensive, dog-friendly place with a great yard and, best of all, built right over a river. It’s one of the coolest properties I’ve ever stayed on.
After Boquete, we spent a peaceful night camped on Playa Santa Clara, where the water and waves were just my speed, warm and lolling. We initially stopped at an RV park–the first proper campground we’ve seen since Mexico–but it was pricey, only marginally welcoming of our dog, and–this was the kicker–filled with mosquitoes. Luckily, we crossed over to the beach and set up camp for roughly the same price, but with ocean breezes. I would’ve loved to stay for a few nights, just playing in the water, but it was a little too hot and we were feeling a bit restless about getting our affairs in order for all of our upcoming travels. So after just one night at the beach, we went to check out the famous Panama Canal.
There are 80 kilometers of Panama Canal, so we started by driving over a bridge and having a picnic next to one of the public viewing points.
It was pretty cool to see the steady stream of massive ships slowly making their way into the locks. The viewing area was crowded with people with their kids, taking photos. Next, we went a little further south to another set of locks where they have the museum built, and a four-story viewing area, where you can really see how the locks fill and drain, and how these little trains pull the ships through. I have always imagined the Panama Canal as looking like this–highly engineered–its entire length, but in reality the ships pass through forest and a natural lake for much of their journey through Panama, and only pass through three sets of locks.
Juan and I took a special interest in watching the container ships, since the pony will be traveling on such a ship in just about three weeks, when we will put the van in a container to cross the Darien Gap. It is sort of scary to think of our little home being such a tiny unit in one of those ships.
Aside from dealing with all the Darien shipping, this Saturday Juan and I are flying back to California for a conference and a wedding, about a week apart. The big heartache of this is having to board Milo in a kennel for 18 days. He has spent pretty much every minute of every day with us for the last 10 months, so boarding him will be hard on all three of us. Being the neurotic dog parents that we are, we decided to go and check out the kennel we’d contacted several months ago, an American-run joint called the Hotel de Perros. The place was hard to find, and Panama City is in the middle of constructing a subway and repairing many of its bridges, so traffic was a real mess. When we finally got to the address described, we found that the place was closed–as in, there was a for rent sign out front. Thanks for the heads-up, guys! We spent the rest of the day visiting other vets, including one that had treadmills and a pool for the dogs to use, but not much of an outdoor area. We settled on a place called Superpet that a vet in San Jose had recommended to us–and we won’t mention it again, because it is sort of killing us.
Panama City is a large city that we have only seen parts of. The downtown where our hotel is seems sort of sketchy. Our room has four locks on the door, and the area is filled with sex workers. One of the hotels I inquired at only rented rooms by the hour. But we are also just a few blocks from the beautiful waterfront, which is well-maintained and watched over by lots of foot patrols. All in all, Panama City feels like a cross between La Havana and Guatemala City. Hopefully we can find time to visit the old part of the city before we take off.
Next, we struck out for the Caribbean coast to get in a couple more nights of beach, but it turned stormy again, so we set up camp for just one night on a beach near Portobelo. It was a pretty area, but the public beach was filled with trash and it continued to rain, so we made back for civilization.
On our way back to Panama City from the coast, we tried to stop at the famous Colón Free Zone, but it turned out to be just like a big shopping mall with extra security. They wouldn’t let us in with our California plates without jumping through some hoops (or paying a few tips), so we decided to skip that and head back into town to take care of some housework and rest before all of our upcoming travels-within-travels. Between storing the van and storing the dog, it will be a relief to just get on the plane.