Wednesday, April 8, 2009

a man a plan a canal panama

(Dominical, CR - Panama City, Panama).

Don't you think the word "palendrome" should actually be a palendrome? The answer is yes, it should.

Since we last wrote (So it's been a while, we know, but not only is it difficult to find computers sometimes but generally when we can find them they are so damn slow that we are unable to complete an update without tearing our hair out in annoyance) we headed out from Dominical to San Jose where we stayed one night while Adam put on our new tire (which lasted ONE day before going flat. Yaaaay!!). No worries, he's a champ at fixing that stuff and as I lay in the hammock reading my book upon arrival in Puerto Viejo, Adam got a sunburn while sweating in the hot afternoon sun for a couple of hours taking the tire off (AGAIN!), replacing the inner tube, and then putting it back on.
Puerto Viejo, on the Southeast coast of Costa Rica is a funky little Caribbean town with tasty food, lots of dreadlocks, and little potsmoking hippy travelers who also have dreads and who roll around town on old bicycles, lay around in hammocks, and sometimes surf. We enjoyed some serious downtime in our super comfy, $16/night room with cable!! Such a luxury to lay in bed and watch English movies. We stayed at Cabinas Lika, where Roberto took great care of us. There is also a great little Comedor across the rocky street, where I had some of the best beans of the trip. Seriously, that's saying a lot.

After two nights in Puerto Viejo, we rode the short hour to the border at Sixoala, where a rickety one-way bridge is the only means of crossing into Panama. Customs took a while, but went smoothly, and we cruised into our sixth country! We headed toward Almirante where we left Peter in a secured storage room, and rode the launcha (little passenger ferry boats) to Bocas del Toro, beautiful islands just off the Caribbean side of Northern Panama. Here the waters are clear as glass, beautiful orange starfish shimmer on the white sand, and dolphins play. There are mangroves and long white, sandy beaches with picturesque palms lining the shores. We settled in at Mondo Taitu, Lonely Planet recommended it for its lively atmosphere and free pancake breakfasts. They offer free loans of surfboards, snorkeling gear, and even bicycles built for two! We did some serious riding on a big rickety bike with black and yellow stripes, and I will admit that my turn at the helm started off a bit scary. They're hard to steer.
We played a lot of cards, and made good use of their kitchen. Each morning we cooked up the free pancakes (I learned to add syrup to the batter) and each night there we made up huge pots of pasta with vegies and tasty sauce. We have now cooked four times on this trip.

Waving goodbye to Bocas, we headed down the long, beautiful roads South. We stayed in Santiago next to a movie theatre (yay!) and picked up a few of the tools we had lost on the highway just outside of San Jose. Did I mention our tool "pod" lid came off and we lost a few things on the highway? Nothing too serious, and now we've got our bailing wire and electrical tape back, also replaced the chain lubricant which had run out.
We had three choices of movies: Fast and the Furious IIII, Monsters vs. Aliens (in spanish), and Shopaholic. Guess which one we watched. Vin Diesel is such a hunk.

From Santiago we headed to the peninsula, down great winding roads to the beach. Panama, by the way, has been the most friendly country next to Mexico. People wave jubilantly from their porches, call out "Buenas!" wherever we go, and have been kind and friendly.
After a great lunch at a raucous beachside bar/restaurant, a shocking trip to the bathroom where the outhouse toilet was literally roiling with inch-long maggots, we drove out onto the sand and South along the shoreline a couple of miles. Adam had his helmet camera on, and crabs dashed out of the way as we flew along, the tide sending little waves our way, and everything just grand until...
we hit the soft edge where the dry sand and the wet sea meet and created 1 1/2 foot-deep puddles of quicksand. Need I say that we were soaking wet, Adam was laughing his "Oh, shit what have I done?" giggle, and then we stopped. Then he tried to move again. Nope. Again, and the sand and water sprayed out from the back and strange noises came out of it, and nope. We were stuck. I got off (obviously) and tried to help, but the poor little bike was sunk so deep we couldn't see the chain. One by one, we took off the luggage parts (tank bag, saddle bags, dry bag on the back, both of the side panniers) and then dug as much sand away from the rear tire as possible. Tipping the bike completely onto it's side, we rotated the whole thing back and forth until it was out onto the harder-packed sand. Luckily, the tide had been going out, or this whole two-hour ordeal would have been a lot less pleasant. So, yay! We had gotten Peter the Girl out of the sand and the muck. Then she wouldn't start. So it was that we removed the seat and the side panels (twice) to reconnect the little wires that had loosened and shorted out.
It was a beautiful beach, and there was a little palm-thatched roofed structure nearby, so if we'd had to stay overnight, it wouldn't have been so bad.
Finally, everything came together. Adam fixed the short, we repacked the gear, and headed into the nearby town where we stayed in a great little place called Hotel Baumy. Also, the only place to stay. $20, and run by a very sweet older couple who were relaxing on their terrace as the days heat cooled into evening.

The next day was a long one, starting just after nine and ending at about 6p, when we arrived in the green mountain town of El Valle. The only hiccup the whole day was when we were stopped for speeding and they made a valiant attempt to fleece us for $50! Two officers were just standing in the road as we rounded a corner and they waved us onto the shoulder. Acting very official they asked to see Adam's license and then told him to accompany one of them into the little office. They had no radar gun or official speed reading of any sort, but they explained that "they could tell" he was going too fast and that, according to the law (they pulled out an official looking book for this part) the fine was 50 smackers! Adam politely disagreed that he was speeding, asked to see any kind of evidence of this and then, doing his best to annoy the officer with extremely poor spanish, explained that he was happy to take the ticket and dispute the fine in court. The officer really did his best to accept payment for the fine on the spot with a promise of avoiding any further legal action, but as this clearly became less and less likely, he simply handed Adam's license back and sent us on our way. Stupid Jerks.
So, El Valle was a great little town with beautiful properties and sprawling houses tucked away in the jungle. Little shops and restaurants are sprinkled about the town which is nestled in the crater of a 3 million year old volcano. From our Hostal Central, $20/night we have access to thermal pools with natural clay mud masks (we both did facials), long hikes along rushing waterfalls where exotic butterflies float on the breeze, and apparently four foot long black snakes like to slither about. I saw a little tiny snake and thought, "oh, better watch out for those little guys" then, not ten minutes later a long, black one slithered out in front of us! Adam words were, "That's troubling." I couldn't have agreed more.

Our hostel was great. The owners friendly and nice, but for being so simple and comfy it is one of the loudest places we've stayed yet. The town gets very quiet after dark, but somehow the tin roof shakes and squeaks in the wind, the bed creaks with the slightest movement, and the whole place is like some kind of echo chamber. Odd, and rather irritating. We both slept with earplugs.

Today we made the short drive to Panama City where we explored the town looking for a suitable hostel where we could safely keep the bike and perform some much needed maintenance (replace the chain, oil filter, air filter, tires, etc) We also plan on taking some Spanish immersion classes while in town! Hablamos Espanol un poco, pero necesitamos practicar mucho mas. We settled on Hostel Casco Viejo where I sit now writing this little diddy and we get ready to head out to dinner. Our ride to Colombia doesn't leave for 12 days so we've got some serious downtime to take in. It is welcome!

And Happy Anniversary to L and M.
And Happy Birthday Emily!

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  1. OK, that sea turtle is making me cry. Not Adam having to replace the tire, twice. Not the maggots in the toilet. That poor sea turtle. My mom saw this post before me and had to call and warn me about it. I'm jealous of the gorgeous beaches, as we are just working our tails off here in rainy Seattle, and not being able to sleep because of stress, not noise. :) Please send a pic of a live sea turtle, please. Miss you guys!

  2. Glad to see that you are both still doing well, having fun, and you're safe! i applaud and admire your courage and desire to take this trip! i think it's amazing!
    (ps. the maggots...sick!)

  3. I hate to be grossed out so easily but I was eating a sandwich at my desk while watching your lovely slide show when the potty shot appeared... made me gag

  4. Grace, glad you took a picture of the maggot-infested toilet. I love those kind of pics because it really sets the scene of life out there. Its easy to forget with all those beautiful beaches. Anyway, love your stories, especially the one about getting stuck in the sand! I couldn't believe how deep it was! Fun story. Miss you guys!