Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Panama City Sightseeing

I got up a bit late this morning, after 8. We went to get breakfast (free breakfast here), but there was next to nothing to choose from. All the bread was gone, they had cereal and warm boxed milk that was just sitting in the cupboard. Pretty pa pathetic. We decided we'd just get breakfast somewhere on our way to the sightseeing bus.

We also needed to book the room for another night, but trying to find anyone that works here is a challenge. Anybody who works here just looks like another backpacker and the hostel doesn't really have a front desk, so you have no idea who to talk to.

After sitting around waiting for dad for 10 minutes, I saw a guy walking from a private area by the side of the hostel way to the back, behind the little guest house at the back of the property. He was carrying a tire tube. He looked like a backpacker, but he was going to areas where guests wouldn't normally go, so I walked over to him and asked him if he worked here. He said he did, in some strange accent. He didn't speak much English to me, but he seemed to understand everything I said to him. I told him we'd like to pay for another night, and he said OK. He then disappeared into the back with his tire tube for 5 minutes and I didn't quite know what to do. Then he finally came back out (tire tube still in hand), checked the paper notebook at the desk (no computerized booking system here!) and said something I didn't understand. But I got the impression that the room we had was booked for tonight. He then walked off to another similar room and asked them something, then came back and took me to another small 4 bed dorm room, and said we could stay there, giving me the impression that we would be the only two in that room.

We got the key, moved our bags and then walked to the mall where the bus starts and bought a day pass. Fortunately the bus was there when we arrived so didn't have to wait. We hopped on. Our plan was to get off at the canal stop, then the old city stop.

We arrived at the canal and got off, bought our ticket for the canal museum and viewing area. The museum discussing the history was quite interesting and well done. The viewing platform at the top provided great views of the canal and the ships moving through it (very slowly moving through it).

We spent about an hour there, then back down to the bus stop, perfect timing, the bus just arrived, so we got on.

The bus went to a few other places, including a high end marina on an island connected to the mainland via a causeway.

Finally we arrived at the old city. We got off, it was about 1, and I was hungry. The first thing we saw was a small brewery that brewed their own beer. We went in for lunch and a half litre of good, draught beer. I had an awesome sausage on a bun.

We discussed moving hostels, as both of us are not really happy with the place we're in. We had originally planned to do a walking tour of the old city, but the we decided to look for the Magnolia Inn, a place very highly recommended on TripAdvisor.

We found it down a very quiet street and booked it for the rest of it nights here in Panama. It's more expensive, $88/night, but it's a super nice place, in a restored colonial building.

We went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take us back to the mall where it started. We had planned on taking the other bus that does a different tour of the city, which the ticket is good for, so we waited for the bus, about 30 minutes and got on, only to find out that they just finished the last tour of the day for that bus. It was about 4pm now.

Back to the hostel.

We hung around the hostel for a while, then around 6:30 went to a place called Wing Zone, for chicken wings. Dad had chicken fingers, I had wings, which were quite delicious.

We went back to the hostel, I grabbed my good camera and headed back down to the waterfront to see more of it and take pictures with my good camera. And I saw something I fully didn't expect to see in Panama. One area along the waterfront has a lot of stray cats living along the waterfront wall. A head popped up behind the wall, and I saw it and thought to myself, "That didn't look like a cat. It looked like a...naw, it couldn't have been." It popped it's head up again. Sure enough, a racoon! There's a racoon living right along all of the stray cats along the waterfront.

The waterfront is really nice, extends a long way, and is sooo busy with locals jogging, working out; there were some basketball courts along there as well, busy with people playing basketball or volleyball or soccer in them.

I headed back to the hostel around 9:30, then read and to bed a bit later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 5 - Panama City

The captain told us yesterday that a fast boat would be here around 7:30am to take us to the 4x4, which will then take us to Panama City.

We all had breakfast and waited for the boat to arrive. It came shortly before 8:00am. We packed all of our stuff into the boat and then had about a 45 minute boat ride to the coast, up a river delta to a spot where a bunch of 4x4 trucks were waiting. This is the main entry/exit point for people going to/from the San Blas Islands, so there were lots of backpackers all over the place, coming and going.

The trip to Panama City cost us about $50US, that included the fast boat and the 4x4 truck.
It was about a 2 hour truck ride to Panama City. Coming into Panama City we crossed a huge tidal flat, similar to what I've seen in Nova Scotia in the past. Panama City is a very modern city, lots and lots of very tall skyscrapers dot the skyline.

I had reserved a twin room at Hostel Siriri, a large home which was formerly the embassy of Thailand here in Panama City. When we arrived, they didn't have any rooms with two beds, so dad and I get to sleep in a double bed again. Fun times.

The hostel is located walking distance to downtown and all kinds of modern amenities you'd find in any western city.

After getting settled, checking our emails and such, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe, which is near the hostel. We walked there, and it was a Hard Rock Hotel, not the restaurant (and, oddly enough, they didn't have a Hard Rock Cafe in the hotel, it´s located in another part of the city). Instead, we chose a small pub in a modern, massive mall, called Red Lion for a beer and burgers. The prices were quite reasonable, $12US for the burgers (which were very good), $3.75 for the beers.

After that, we walked through the mall and decided to get a piece of cake from a cafe in the mall. The lady working at the cafe was awesome, I would say 'Uno' and point to the carrot cake, and she would tell me the name of it in Spanish, then I'd point to the chocolate cake and she would tell me that name in Spanish as well.

Dad got all in a snit on the way to the restaurant because he was convinced that he lost his camera, because it was not where he always put it (in his pocket). In the end, he decided he remembered putting it somewhere else, which changed his mood to positive again.

We came back to the hostel and did journal stuff. We're both really tired, but it was way to early to go to bed. About 8 we went for a walk down to the waterfront, which is just a short 15 minute walk from the hostel. They have a long promenade all along the waterfront, and it was super busy with joggers and cyclists. I said to dad, apart from him, I was probably the least in-shape person on the walk way. Haha. Anyway, Panama City is very modern and you can see they have money here.

We headed back, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back so dad could get a McFlurry fix. Then back to the hostel around 10ish and to bed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 4

Up about 7:30, had breakfast.

We started sailing (with engines) around 9, I think. We sailed to the immigration office, on a small, sandy island and anchored offshore, went for a swim and had lunch.

After lunch we went to immigration island and our captain went in with our passports and our fake flight itineraries showing we are all flying out in October 28. Apparently, the Panamanian rules state if you arrive via boat, you need to show a flight ticket leaving within 72 hours or you have to pay a $100 fee.

Best immigration point ever! While our captain was in doing immigration, we played beach volleyball on the beach for an hour. It took a long time for it to be completed, and we were expecting to have to go into the office ourselves so the immigration person could compare passports photos to the actual person.

At long last, our captain came out of immigration and told everybody to get into the boat, it's all done.

We got back to the boat and headed back to some islands we sailed past on the way there. Some of these islands are nothing more than a spit of sand with a handful on palm trees on them.

It was later in the day, about 5. A few of them swam to the island where there were a handful of locals, a small hut and a few backpackers staying in tents. This island was small about 75% sand and 25% grass and about a dozen palm trees.

Supper was awesome, two types of amazing chorizo and potatoes and salad. The meals have been very awesome, even if it consisted of food types that I'm not that fond of. They were of all high quality, though.

After supper, a drinking game started up, the one where you make different rules depending on what card you pull. For example, if you pull a 2 you might have to take a drink, maybe a 8 means you have do something stupid.

One of the rules was A and B, the person who drew that card gets his or her eyes covered, the next person chooses who is A and B (without saying names), then the person who's eyes are covered has to say what A and B have to do.

Stef drew that card, she got her eyes covered, the next person picked her and another guy as A and B. Stef then made the rule that A had to run around the boat naked while B took pictures. She was all excited for her awesome rule until she found out she was A and she would have to be the one to run around naked. She did do it, and a German guy was the lucky guy that got to try and take some pictures as she ran around the boat as fast as she could. It was pretty hilarious.

I went to bed late, but before everyone else (except dad), I went to bed probably 1:00am.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 3

Dad got up in the morning, then I got up to go pee, and dad told me to check out the island, there's still people on it. Haha, sure enough, a bunch of them took the dingy back to the boat during the night and left a group of 5 guys on the island, stranded. LOL.

We went back to bed after doing our morning business. When I got up again, as breakfast was being prepared, the 5 guys were on the boat, they ended up swimming back to the boat. I guess the first group left the island around 2am, and told the other guys they'd be back to get them and they never went back, so they were relegated to sleeping on the island. They said it was OK, but it got cold about 4am, they had to keep lighting the fire to stay warm.

Breakfast was bacon and eggs. The bacon was delicious, I just wish I didn't have to share with everybody.

About 8:30 we took off.

We sailed for a few hours to another lovely spot. Hot and sunny again.

We snorkeled again, very nice hard coral and fish here, and I saw a huge reef shark, probably 7-8 feet, which was pretty awesome.

Lunch was delicious, beef tacos and burritos.

The afternoon was spent reading, swimming, napping or playing games (chess or card games).

The captain purchased $100 worth of lobster from local fisherman. The locals on the island we're next to will cook it all up for us and we'll eat on the island.

The coast guard keeps showing up to this little island as well, our captain says they are going there to get beer.

After it got dark, we all hopped into dingy and went ashore and had a lobster feast. It was OK, but lobster certainly isn't my favorite.

After the lobsterfest, we headed back to the boat. Most of the backpackers went to bed early, hungover from last night.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 2

Up around 7. I slept very well, dad didn't but that's probably because he literally slept all day yesterday.

When we got up, we were along the Panamanian coast, the first land we've seen in a while.

Dad got up, but he's still not that great.

We caught two mackerel, a king mackerel and a Spanish mackerel, on fishing line dragged behind the boat.

We sailed until mid morning, then anchored between two islands. Were staying here until tomorrow, so we all got the snorkeling gear and snorkeled to one of the uninhabited islands.

Dad did the snorkeling as well, but said afterwards it probably didn't do him any good.

Locals of the Kuna people come in their small dugouts and sell you stuff, from fresh lobster and crab, to beer, coke and rum. Our captain bought a very large crab and a very large lobster, presumably to cook tonight.

After lunch not to much happened. People snorkeled or took the dingy to the other island we are near (this island has a family living on it, in a little hut). Dad slept again.

Later in the afternoon dad came up and said he's finally feeling human again. He looks much better too. He hadn't been eating much either, but he started snacking this afternoon. Good to have him back again.

People played chess and cribbage into the afternoon, others went to the other island, generally just lounging.

Supper was a bit later tonight, around 8, it was lobster and crab, mine and dad's favorite! After supper everyone on the boat went to the further island to have a bonfire, except myself and dad (and the captain and first mate). Ten years ago I would have done it, but I'll let all the kiddies have that fun now. :-)

I went to bed sometime after 11 I think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 1

Up early to go pee, no one else was up yet, so went back to bed. The room has good airflow, but it's really stuffy and warm. I slept OK.

After going pee, I ended up falling sleep again and woke about after 8:30 sometime. Everybody else was up and eating breakfast, including dad.

Dad's not looking that hot. Yesterday he was complaining about fat ankles, you can hardly see them, as his ankles are all swollen. He didn't give any indication that they were bothering him, though.

This morning he said he didn't sleep very good and when he woke up, all his joints were really painful. Ankles, knees, fingers, etc. He was having troubles keeping his eyes open at breakfast, so he went back to bed.

Breakfast consisted of cereal, bread, fruit, oatmeal and coffee/tea. You eated whatever you wanted.

There was not that much to do. People read or laid in the sun or kept out of the sun or listened to music. As the sun got higher and hotter, pretty much everyone came into the shady area of the boat and a card game of President started.

Dad slept and slept all morning.

The boat has a cat named Luna. She's very friendly and is great at lounging in the hot shade.

Lunch consisted of pasta salad, it was quite delicious. Dad woke up and I brought some down to him. He said the joint pain was subsiding, but he was still looking not great. He went back to sleep afterwards.

A bit after lunch, the captain stopped the boat and we all went for a swim in the deep, blue water. The water was so clear, you could look down and see your feet as clear as anything.

We didn't see a single other boat or any land the whole day.

We saw a dolphin, it's fin breaking the water periodically.

Dad got up again for supper, which was various sandwiches that you made yourself. He went back to bed again after that.

I stayed up for a while, watching the phosphorescence, stars and the lightning in the distance, but was dead tired from the previous night, so went to need fairly early.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Leaving Cartagena

Up early, as usual.

This hostel has a long open area with all the rooms on either side of it. At night, backpackers are all in the common area, making lots of noise, and all the noise comes right into the rooms. It didn't bother me or dad, though. We just slept through it.

We had breakfast, then walked over to the Blue Sailing office to give them our passports. Back to the hostel, repacked all our bags, keeping only stuff required on the boat in our small packs, as our large backpacks will be stored in the boat and not easily accessible.

We checked out, stored our stuff on the storage area at the hostel then walked over to the historic section to do some final shopping.

I felt I needed a cap on the boat to keep the sun off my head, but didn't want to buy one in the touristy area. On the way back, we walked through the locals shopping area. I stopped in a store with ball caps, asked "Cuánto cuesta?", and she told me " Cinco mil.". At first, I was thinking that's 50,000 pesos, to much (about $25), then as I was leaving, realized that that's 5,000 pesos. That's $2.50. Heck ya! I bought one.

Back to the hostel, then for cheap lunch, a "tipico comida", a typical Colombian lunch, consisting on soup, a choice of meat, salad, rice, fried plantain and a juice for 7,000 pesos, $3.50.

It was super hot the last few days, blue skies, sun beating down. At 2:00pm today, it was 32 degrees, but felt like 42 with humidity.

We hung around the hostel in the afternoon.

Around 6:30 a bunch of us from the hostel went for Indian food for supper.

We headed to the marina at 7:45, via taxi, dropped our stuff off and walked to the supermarket close to the marina for refreshments for the boat trip. I bought 12 beer, dad bought some Smirnoff Ice. Some of the other backpackers bought cases upon cases of beer. It was kind of funny.

Once everything was packed away, we had our last safety meeting, then we were on our way, probably around 10:30pm.

Cartagena looks nice from the water, lots and lots of towers all along the waterfront. It was a beautiful night, hardly any clouds and we could see the stars come out more and more as we got farther from the lights of Cartagena.

Dad and I have a private cabin with a very large double bed. There are 13 backpackers altogether and two crew members, the captain and his girlfriend.

He tried to put the sails up once we hit open water, but there was not much wind, so it was engine power the whole time.

Dad went to bed first, I think I went to bed maybe 12:30am.