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Caribbean cruising

off to panama


View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

Our last morning in Cartagena was spent running around taking photos, as we had forgotten our camera every single time we went out so far.

Here are a few of our favourites...

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After that (meaning a later start) we set off on our buses to Carpugana, via Necoli, Monteria, and some other random town. The bus boys were super good to us and made sure that we found the next bus before driving off, and then even found us the cheapest place to stay in town and ensured we had a room before leaving. It was great!
Just before arriving in Necoli (where we needed to spend a night before boating to Carpugana), it started to absolutely pour down - soon the road was covered in flash floods, and we were thinking uh oh, this is not how we wanted to arrive to look for accommodation. Luckily, the hostel was pretty much the bus terminal (the town is tiny)
Managed to buy our cheapest dinner in a long time, at a dollar each for some local food, also at the bus terminal.

Next morning we headed across to Carpugana, after getting stung for extra baggage costs with their faulty scales - we'd had our luggage weighed recently and the boat company were claiming up to 30% more per bag. We were not impressed!
Arrived in Carpugana and ended up staying at the dive shop in their accommodation.. They had this dog there which was the size of a small horse. And it was not fully grown. Said dog's favourite place to sleep was under our bed, and so occasionally we came home to find it in our room after it had been cleaned for the day. Silly thing.

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But we managed to go out for a dive or 2, and saw a turtle and a few barracuda. Visibility was not quite as good as it was pretty currenty.
The rest of our time was spent just chilling on the beach / reading in hammocks / going for random jungle walks along the "roads" - here are no cars there and there is no way to drive here.

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Setting up hammock in the garden

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Beach time

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We had a moment of panic when we arrived and found the San Blas tour office shut for 1.5 days, and then were told there was no space on their trips until the 25th (and the last time we'd had internet there had been space on the 19th). This is a massive deal in Carpugana as there are no banks, no ATMs and so no way of getting cash out. So we had enough to last until the 19th but definately not until the 25th. Luckily after a few hours of waiting, we heard yes we could book with them. Phew!

The tour headed off by first taking us around the bays to Sapzurro - the place we had planned to go in the first place. Here there was a nicer beach, and a 'waterfall' which we were encouraged to walk to, which was literally a wet rock. hah.
Spent the afternoon playing ball in the water, and got to enjoy the shock on the boys faces when I could actually throw/catch.
It was nice to spend the time that night getting to know some of the others on our tour - we were the only kiwis, but plenty of brits and ozzies, all of whom seemed pretty nice

Next morning was the time to head off on the fast boats. Sadly it was absolutely pouring with rain as we headed around the point to Panama and immigration. Luckily immigration was a breeze and soon enough we were away on the boats, and the rain had mostly stopped.

After two hours on a fast boat in not so smooth conditions, we were all rpetty ready to get off. Luckily the rain had pretty much totally cleared (though still cloudy), for our first taste of San Blas Islands. There were coconut trees, a volleyball net and not much else. It was pretty much bliss!

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Headed off for some snorkelling, which was admittedly reasonably average, as the rain has stirred up the visibility. Saw a lion fish - it was nice to not see more, apparently they are a "pandemic". Swimming back was a nightmare, as the far side of the island's water was 30cm deep, but corally and so unwalkable.
Some local kids were playing with a homemade sailing boat - made of a few sticks and plenty of plastic bottles. It was actually very sea worthy and pretty cool!

The island we slept on that night was not quite so pristine and lovely - we were unable to swim, as the toilets go directly into the sea, and there were 800 people living on this island. yuk!!

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View down the toilet

Richard and I being a couple, were treated to our own room, which was sea front, and excellent until the storm blew in around 6:30am and blew open our windows, covering our bed in rain. Luckily we were mostly up by then anyways.
While on the island we were treated to a traditional dance, and a tour of town. I couldn't help but think if they had any serious horizontal rain (like we got the next morning) that their walls made of bamboo sticks wouldn't fare very well and everything inside would soon be soaked.

On the second day, again our boats were delayed by the rain, and some epic thunder and lightning, but once again, luckily the rain stopped by mid morning and we were away.

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Looking stormy

The island we arrived at was not super exciting - there was no beach, but supposedly some better snorkelling. So Richard and I donned the gear and headed out, and managed to find a small channel out to the deeper water to be able to actually look at the reef. Snorkelling was again thwarted as this side of the reef was full of coconut debris and so not pleasant swimming, so we soon tried to give up. But what we hadn't realised is that that channel we swam out was actually really currenty, and we were swimming as hard as we could and making no ground (we had no flippers). There was a moment of, oh I wonder if they will need to send a boat to get us, before we managed to swim horizontally into shore.

That afternoon we headed across to Monkey Island - named so as two spider monkeys live there with a local family. Sadlythe monkeys came to be there because the family killed their mother to eat her, and since hand raised the babies. While they were ridiculously cute and cuddly, I couldn't help but feel incredibly sorry for them.

Soon enough it was time to go back to the other island, where the night was whiled away with card games and rum.

Third morning, surprise surprise it was trying to rain again. SIlly mother nature held off in raining properly until we had arrived at our last island. This island was by far the highlight - white sandy beach, swimming, nearby reef for snorkelling, sleeping in hammocks. It was everything you think of when you think Caribbean Island (that most of the other islands so far had not quite achieved).

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Afternoon was spent dodging the rain after a pre lunch snorkel - saw a barracuda, and spent a bit of time trying to find a gap in the reef to move out of 30cm deep water. Richard spent most of the afternoon playing beach volleyball (which I quickly relearnt that I am terrible at)

That night the aim had been to have a bon fire, but as there had been so much rain, we had no dry wood. It didn't stop the boys managing to get one very smoky fire going, that needed plenty of TLC.

This final night was easily the worst nights sleep, as where my hammock was, was not totally watertight, and so I was awoken to dripping on my forehead. The only solution was to rotate 180 degrees and get wet feet instead, as there were no hammocks going spare.

The last morning arrived, and the rain did finally clear up permanently. We headed to a nearby island, which was even more perfect than the one we slept on! It was tiny, surrounded by crystal clear waters with palm trees in the middle. Here again we headed off snorkelling, and spent a while watching an eagle ray having a feed as he lazily circled around us. Unfortunately I had sunscreened up while still wearing shorts, and so managed to get a sunburnt bum. Dulp!

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I tried to stand on this palm tree, but it was so bouncy, I couldn't make it to the end without risk of landing in the corals

All too soon it was time to leave this island, and head for mainland Panama.

Highlights of the San Blas trip included; peanut butter available for breakfast (I haven't had ANY since February), hummus for lunch, and one night feed of so much crayfish (and no one knew you could eat the legs, and so we went a little crazy)

The road through to Panama City started off ridiculously windy and steep - and we came up over a rise, to go down one steep section, and came across a truck upside down in the ditch. Luckily the driver seemed fine.
Arriving in Panama City seemed like a very different world - massive high rise buildings, infrastructure, able to drink the tap water! It all seems a bit much!

As it seems like there is not heaps to do in Panama City, we decided to hit the canal. Getting there proved to be a bit of an adventure - we caught a local bus to the bus station, where we would have to change buses. But turns out there are two bus stations and get got off at the wrong one, and so then had to get on the subway to get to the right one (as a local woman took it upon herself to not let us try and get a bus as it was "unsafe"). Finally we made it to the right bus station, and then found out we needed to wait for the bus for about half an hour. Fine!
Eventually we arrived at the canals, which while initially disappointing, we finally decided were really cool.

The canals are actually 3 locks - areas which have been made to help bring the massive ships up to 26m above sea level, so they can cross the lake in the middle of Panama, and then back down to sea level when they reach the other side. We hung around long enough to witness one huge ship coming through, and the changing water levels. Interestingly, the canals are expanding, and so the lock we saw will no longer be used (as its replacement is a whole 17m wider or something), and this switch is happening in 3 days! Meaning that if we had been just a few days later, we wouldn't have been able to see any ship action at all, as there is no ability to view the other 2 locks, and the new one is also not set up for viewing.

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A huge ship arriving from the lake side, awaiting the dropping water level to head to sea (100 million litres in each pen)

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Notice the water level going down

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And down some more

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And finally the gates open, for the next pen to drop the ship some more.

After the canals we headed back to the bus terminal, and grabbed some food - we cooked with some UK boys, and had delicious sweet chili stir fry. Getting back from the bus terminal to our hostel was actually really hard, as we didn't know what bus we should catch. We wandered round while I asked everyone how to get to our suburb - to be met with the response "oh thats quite difficult" great! All the locals were again really helpful though, and made sure they had successfully palmed us off to someone else that could help us / bother the bus drivers before leaving - even when we delayed some of them by a good ten minutes.
The other part of bus fun is to ride you need a card - you cannot pay in cash. Of course we don't have a card, and so the way around this is to give your money to a local and get them to swipe you on. Easier said than done when there are 5 of you! We always did eventually get on though.

Today we are having a quiet day before a 16hour bus (yay!) to San Jose in Costa Rica tonight. While Panama looks like it has some cool places, we have realised we only have 6.5 weeks left, and some things we would like to see in the (non USD using) north.

Posted by VGH on tour 06:49 Archived in Panama

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