Panama Mountain Adventure
12 July 2011
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Saturday July 2 - Tuesday July 5 When we first realized we wouldn't make Galapagos and crossing the Pacific this year (given our late start from California) we thought we'd stop in Ecuador and put the boat up there, but as we reported earlier, we met some folks from Ecuador who discouraged us from doing that given some new legislation. Our next plan was to go as far as Panama but we found that the options for storing the boat on the Pacific side are few. The one that seemed reasonable didn't have room for us and in fact had a waiting list. So we asked ourselves, why not just stop right here in Costa Rica. This area is very protected from severe weather. We would have loved to leave the boat with Tim at Land Sea, but he only has moorings - no slips- and thus isn't allowed to 'bond' boats. Since we would be leaving the boat for about 4 months (and thus beyond the limits of a 90 day cruising permit for this country) we needed to 'bond' it - meaning get it in a slip under the care of a marina and promise not to move the boat at all during that bonding period. Having investigated the three marinas in Golfito, we decided on Fish Hook marina right next door to Land Sea. It's considerably more expensive than a mooring but we essentially ran out of options.
Wednesday July 6 - Sunday July 10 To complicate matters, our 30-day visas for Costa Rica expire on July 7 and we needed a few more days to get Libertad and ourselves ready for our return to the USA. We needed to exit Costa Rica by July 7 or get a daily fine for exceeding our visa. So we decided to take a land trip across the border to Panama. We needed to stay there for at least 72 hours before returning to Costa Rica so that we could get a new 30-day visa. We took the bus to David, the second largest city in Panama, and did more shopping for our microwave and icemaker. We bought an icemaker at Price Smart (like a Costco, requiring a membership card). Dennis approached two women at the entrance, flashed them a smile with his dimples, and they agreed to let him use their card. The first night in David, we stayed at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. It was recommended in one of our cruising books, convenient as the bus into town passed right by it and it was very cheap ($27/night). Clearly someone staying there would have been more interested in enjoying the casino than the room. It was a tiny with no window and a humidifier that put more water into the air than it extracted (our clothes hanging in the closets were wet in the morning). It smelled of strong bleach and mildew and caused Virginia's headache to flare up. We didn't get any sleep because someone was blaring their TV all night long. Needless to say we got out of there first thing in the morning and moved into the Castilla Hotel. It was very nice. It was located right off of the Central Plaza with lots of shopping and restaurants within walking distance. It advertised $55/night, but when they found out we were not Panamanians, they gave us the tourist rate of $33.50/night. We hadn't heard of tourists having a lower rate before! We had quite a pleasant stay there. Chris and Paul from s/v Jeorgia joined us there on Friday. On a previous shopping spree, Dennis had spotted a small, hole-in-the-wall hat shop. Upon hearing that, Paul said he was particularly interested in obtaining a classic Panama hat. After wandering the streets a while, we just happened to recognize the hat shop owner on the sidewalk and followed him back to the shop. After trying on several styles and sizes, Paul found his hat and wore it for the rest of the trip, getting admiring comments daily.
The four of us decided to book a few days in a mountain resort in the nearby city of Boquete. After an hour bus ride through the Panamanian foothills we arrived at the Boquete Garden Inn, 3000 feet above sea level. For three days, we enjoyed cooler weather with much less humidity. It rained every day but did not deter us from what whatever we decided to do. This was another very nice hotel with beautiful grounds. They set fruit on some of the statuary to attract birds and we saw some lovely birds in these spots. We rented a car one day and drove all around the area to a waterfall, 'castle' (large house abandoned during construction about 16 years ago), fincas (coffee plantations), agricultural areas (potatoes and onions were being harvested but we understand they grow other things in this area including citrus). We visited a wildlife refuge and were able to walk into the cages and see some of the animals up close and personal that were hard to photo in the wild. The locals had quite a range of housing. Many were subsistence farmers living in small shacks of poles and corrugated sheet metal while others were in more substantial houses made of a variety of conventional construction materials. High up on the hillsides and ridges were very large, in some cases quite ostentatious, houses which looked quite out of place. Evidently in 2001 some magazine declared Boquete one of the top 4 places in the world to retire which resulted in an influx of foreign retirees buying up land and building their dream homes here. We also stopped by a fresa (strawberry) stand for a snack - delicious strawberry yogurt, juice, fresa con crema, and strawberry splits (we each tried something different).
Monday, July 11 we went back across the border, getting a new 30-day visa for Costa Rica, and returned to the boat. This time Paul negotiated a less-than-the-going-rate, 40 minute taxi ride back to Golfito rather than the 2 hour bus ride we had experienced previously. A real treat for Dennis as he was carrying the ice maker we had purchased. Tomorrow we will spend time preparing the boat to be locked up for a few months: cleaning out all perishable food, setting up a dehumidifier which we are renting from Tim, packing broken parts we want to take home for repair, etc. We fly out Wednesday July 13 and look forward to seeing all our family and friends in California. At this time we are planning on returning to the boat late November, but we've learned to remain flexible - plans change, again and again.