Arrived in Panama after a 16 hour bus ride. The border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama was easy again however very time consuming. I arrived at the border at 5.30am and they didn't open until 6am. So had to wait around for 1/2 hour. When they opened I was stamped out of Costa Rica and then moved onto the entry window down the road for Panama. Aparently this was wrong and I had to go back to another window to first get my tourist card. Once I received this then went back to the entry window again and was stamped in. We then had all our bags checked which was the first time for me in Central America. All this took just over 2 hours. I met a guy from Israel at the bus terminal in Panama and we shared a taxi to the hostel. On arrival they advised that they were full however could supply a cot to sleep on in one of the dorms until a bed became available. No problem. A few hours later a bed was available as someone decided to leave early. At the hostel I met Ed (English), Trevor (American living in Canada) and Phil (English) who were also going to catch a sail boat over to Columbia.
On the second night I met up with a local Couchsurfer who offered to show me around some of the local clubs. This was a fantastic choice. The first bar had beers for $2 each. The second had 2 for 1 rums for $1.50. After getting back to the hostel after sunrise and having a few hours sleep and caught up with some others in the hostel who had also went out that night but to the more touristy bars. They were charged $10 entry and then drinks were between $5 and $10 each. I was definitely at the better venues. Also trying to learn some Salsa moves .... not very well by the way.
Also went to the Panama Canal while here. I was pretty hungover on the day so really struggled out of bed to make it. You need to get there by 9am to see the most activity. We saw a couple of ships go through. Obviously the story behind the canal is impressive however just watching the ships go through really seemed to be just a larger version of the locks on the Murray River.
On Tuesday, 7th July all four of us left on our trip to Columbia. We were collected by a 4WD from the hostel at 5am for a 2 hour drive to Carti which is on the north side of Panama. We arrived at a river which was flowing extremely fast. We thought we were going to cross this in the 4WD and when we saw trees (yes, full large trees) floating down stream we were not sure what was going to happen. We waited at the river edge for over an hour with no real idea on what was happening. We then noticed a few powered wooden canoes coming upstream, fighting the current. We were going the rest of the way to the sail boat on one of these. We waded through the water with our back packs onto the canoes and started our way down the river. When we hit the open water we then had to climb onto another canoe which then took us to our new home for the next 5 or so days. On this second canoe we met Aaron (Scot) and Chris (America) who were also on the same trip with us. We met the captain who ran through the rules with us in very bad broken English. We then had to wait for for 3 others before we started off. They arrived after a couple of hours, Alysa, Laura and Han, from America. We were on our way.
The first 3 days/nights were spent sailing around the San Blas islands. On day two we stopped at one of the islands to get our exit stamp for Panama. Here we also picked up two more people. David and Santiago who are brothers from Colombia, but had been living in Panama, and are now returning home. The San Blas Islands are a collection of 375 islands. They were beautiful. We all got pretty drunk the first night. On the second day we went onto one of the islands which is were a small Kuna family lived. They cooked us lobster (2 each), coconut rice and salad for lunch. The second night some of us didn't feel like drinking too much but the others decided to start a drinking game. This ended badly with 2 of the guys laying on the end of the boat, feeding the fishes. On night 3 we paddled over to an island for more drinking with a bonfire and some naked swimming. On day four we were on our way into open water to COlumbia. This was OK at the start however the sea started getting very rough. Most of us were feeling pretty ordinary this day and night and slept on deck as we really didn't want to go downstairs to stuffy sleeping area. We were also motoring all this day as there was no wind. Poor Trevor and Aaron suffered the most. Day 5 was a little better for me as there were only moments of quezyness. Trevor and Aaron however were still not handling it too well. The wind finally picked up and we were finally sailing at a reasonable speed. At 4am on day 6 we finally entered the harbour of Cartegena, Columbia after just over 40 hours in open sea. I think I will give sailing in open waters a miss from now on and just stick to nice trips around islands.
After almost 9 months I have finally made it to South America.