The Panama Canal just got served
I never really got to sleep. By the time I posted the last entry, we were already out the door by 10am for Chinese-Panamanian dim sum, which according to our well-traveled guide Manuel (Tatiana’s friend in Panama who showed us around last night), is arguably better than New York’s or Hong Kong’s. Hmm, better than Hong Kong’s? That’s a tall claim there…
In Manuel we trust.
To say the least, I was very impressed. The dim sum we had was pretty flawless and I couldn’t say if Hong Kong’s dim sum was that much better (and that is saying a lot for what you would expect for dim sum in anywhere but Asia).
Afterwards we headed to the Panama Canal, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and one of the greatest feats of human engineering.
Those of you who don’t know anything about it, it’s a man-made canal constructed in 1914 that allows ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, saving about 8000 miles of journey when ships had to otherwise sail around South America’s Cape Horn to get to the other great ocean.
How it works: Ships would come into a portion of the canal, the water levels of that portion of the canal would sink to a certain level, and then special locks would release the ship to a new level of water and another portion of the canal. This process repeats itself to eventually allow for the ship to enter the other ocean. The whole journey through the canal takes about 8-15 hours depending on traffic (after all, it’s the ONLY thing that’s connecting the two great oceans other than the one by Cape Horn).
You usually have to pay some kind of admission/entrance fee to see the canal, but if you say you have reservations for the Miraflores Restaurant inside, you can get a restaurant pass and enter for free:
I love free things. Thanks Manuel & Tatiana for the tip!
The Panama Canal:
The Caribbean/Atlantic side
The Pacific Side
After seeing the Canal, we said our goodbyes to half of our group and the rest of us continued on to explore the rougher neighborhoods of Panama City:
We found an alleyway that literally is referred as: “Get out as quickly as you can alleyway.”
We then stopped by a park in Casco Viejo where supposedly the unemployed would spend entire days here:
- At time of posting in Panama City, it was 32 °C -
Humidity: 59% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
After a truly awful border crossing experience earlier today, we were welcomed at the Albrook bus terminal with the hospitality of Tatiana, a Panama City native and who offered to drive us around her city.
This would be the first time Tatiana and I would meet, as she had found my blog earlier last year while googling North Korean elevator experiences. She was about to come onto this trip, but work prevented her from pulling through. Nevertheless, I made it a point for us to meet regardless, and we did:
Fitting all 7 of us in her CRV!
...with Kym in the back!
She first took us to see the Panama Canal administrative building, overlooking Albrook and the prettiness of part of the Panama Canal:
We even befriended and took pictures with a famous “bad guy” Panamanian pro-wrestler:
We also appreciated a low-flying plane landing in Albrook Domestic Airport:
And then after sunset, we drove around towards our hostel, located within Marbella, their financial district:
After freshening up at the hostel (our first shower in days!) we met Tatiana’s Chinese-Panamanian friend Manuel, who was gracious enough to take us to dinner at the fish market.
FYI, the fish market was incredibly affordable as $25 was able to feed all 9 of us.
Then it was series of simultaneous bar-hopping and sightseeing in Casco Viejo (the Panama old town), thanks to Manuel.
View from one of the many rooftop bars in Casco Viejo
Lightning strikes in the distance
Then it was more drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe before finishing our night by dancing among the venues along “Calle Uruguay”; the street filled with lounges and nightclubs. Club Pure and Prive were the two that were recommended by Manuel.
FYI, we found out that Prive is free cover, whereas Club Pure charges a $10/per person cover. Be prepared to hear mostly reggaeton and salsa as house and hip hop are usually saved for the last 15 minutes before closing, sadly. But we made the most of it!
Okay, I’ve pretty much pulled an all-nighter to type this post out (it’s 7:30am right now), so let me pass out for now and get back to you in the morning…zzzzzz….
- At time of posting in Panama City, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 94% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: few clouds
I’ve done quite a few overland border crossings in my travels, but none was quite as bad as the one I just did today from Costa Rica to Panama. This is probably as bad as it gets but today was probably way out of the ordinary and we were simply unlucky to get caught up in some extraordinary circumstances.
1) We began with a 4 hour bus from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, which cost about $9 per person. Afterwards we cabbed it to the Ticabus station and boarded an 11pm bus ($60 per person) for Panama City. We were on the bus for about 5.5 hours before we arrived at the border town of Paso Canoas between Costa Rica and Panama:
2) It was about 4:30am when we arrived at the Costa Rica border, so you can imagine how sleepy we all are when they wake us up. We were then barked at to get off the bus to get our Costa Rica exit stamps in our passports, after which the bus drives away to the Panama border…and then we find out that the Costa Rica passport office/border post doesn’t open until 6am. So we waited for an hour and half outside in the dark.
Other border crossings would have allowed us to sleep on the bus. So I slept on the floor instead.
4) At 6am the Costa Rica border post opens, and thankfully it didn’t take long for them to process our passports.
5) We then walked over to the Panama border:
6) However, once at the border entering Panama, we arrived to discover only one person was working for a crowd of over 500 people, one by one in a line, trying to enter Panama. Yeah, right. But really, we wait over 3 hours while moving at a glacial pace.
(We were told later on that today was a holiday which means everything in Panama was short staffed…but no amount of research online afterwards to confirm would yield such information).
7) After that nightmare was over we were introduced to another: we were made to take our bags from the bus and bring into a customs room, where again, only one person was going to search all 500 of our bags, one by one.
8) After discussing Freud, debating some Kant and deriving the formula for cold fusion, we got back on the bus and made our way to Panama City, which was going to be another 9 hour ride.
It may not seem that bad in writing, but imagine being told by previous travelers that the crossing would take only 30 minutes when it actually took 4.5 hours (9 times as long!).
The bus company felt so bad (because what had happened, they said, was totally unexpected) that it stopped at a McDonald’s for an hour and bought us all chicken sandwiches:
Tica Bus, brought to you by McDonald's
9 hours later, we arrived finally at Panama City:
Panama Canal up ahead!
And their Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City was a welcome sight for sore eyes and cranky limbs:
- At time of posting in Paso Canoas, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
There’s been a few recurring inside jokes we’ve been throwing around during the trip, one of them being nature’s tendency to constantly amaze us, and at the same time screw us over.
Today was one of those days where it tried to screw us over. Today we got wrecked by nature.
We got up at around 6am this morning to get into the park as early as possible so we could see animals. Instead, it started to rain heavily and we took some time in making sure we would be prepared for the possibility of getting wet.
We went to the supermarket and bought some food (there’s no place to buy anything in the national park; you have to pack it with you unless you want to pay the admission fee more than once going in and out), took the local bus down to the national park entrance, and paid the $10 admission fee.
We hiked the trail for a bit…
…and we came upon some amazing empty beaches:
Playa Espadilla Sur
We also hiked up Cathedral Point for the viewpoint into the Pacific Ocean:
Found some more empty beaches:
Playa Manuel Antonio
We had one more trail left to do when it just started to pour.
Most people turned around and tried to flee for cover. Some gave up and turned around, heading for the exit. What did we do?
“I ain’t neva scurred!”
Either we’re idiotic, stubborn, or both, but we wanted to hike the last trail in order to catch an ocean view of Playa Escondido. The trail, however, turns into a bit of a challenge during what seemed like a tropical storm at the time.
Literally we were caught in a sudden cloudburst of interminable rain; as we struggled to hike a trail that ended up becoming a stream, and then a river…
And after about 20 minutes of hiking all by ourselves, cursing quietly under our breaths we were rewarded with…
End of the road
And then we headed back down towards the exit, dejected.
Just kidding: how is this NOT epic enough? Imagine hiking all by yourself in the pouring rain to the point where you can barely see what’s in front of you, in the middle of one of the top 12 national parks in the world. Just imagine it. Because we don’t have to; we actually did it. We got back from the park learning a little more about ourselves today; that all of us are kinda crazy stubborn, that we are up for any challenge, idiotic or not, that we are more than happy to go all in for off the beaten track experiences, and that we weren’t going to give up so easily even when nature stares right at us in the face….right in the FACE.
Ultimately, I feel pretty lucky to have these great group of people monsooning with me as they really are all a team of ultimate badasses. Thanks for never giving up, guys, I’m proud to be traveling with y’all.
Looking back on the last 48 hours it’s hard to believe we came from here:
- At time of posting in Manuel Antonio National Park, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 100% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: raining CATS AND DOGS
Our first group photo!
Today we explored the lovely little town of Quepos, which was once underwater filled with mangroves (thanks for that Jenn Gao!), and is so small it only takes 3 hours to see everything, even if you’re walking really really slowly:
We struck up a conversation with a bunch of Chinese restaurant owners at the “only Chinese restaurant in Manuel Antonio”; they were born in Costa Rica, spoke fluent Spanish along with a bit of English, but our group communicated with them in Cantonese and Mandarin. The world felt a little smaller while talking to them.
To make things even more interested, their local public school is funded by South Korea:
What else to do? Catch some kind of sunset at Playa Quepos:
One of the BEST coffee I ever had at Cafe Milagro:
Eat some Comida Tipicas:
At Restaurant "Tipico"
At "Soda de Sanchez"; their food was so much better! Highly recommended!
Become friends for life:
- At time of posting in Quepos, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: few clouds
Forbes Magazine lists it as one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world (the list is actually pretty thorough). A contributor to Forbes and the author of “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” remarked that this was “the most beautiful sunset in the world.” We had to go just to be sure.
The Manuel Antonio Beach:
We scaled down this hill in order to get to the beach more quickly. Some minor injuries occurred:
We appreciated some nature along the way:
Looking down the road to Manuel Antonio Beach
A four-leafed clover!
And we enjoyed their famous sunset:
Once dusk hit we had dinner at El Avion, featuring a decommissioned and unused 1954 Fairchild C-123 airplane from the days of the Nicaragua-Iran-Contra fiasco back in the days of President Reagen, which was converted into an impressive restaurant:
Inside the airplane
The hanger bay
Afterwards we embarked on an ill-fated trip to Villas Jacqueline for its rooftop lounge, and we had to walk through about 1km of this sketchy, unmarked dirt road in the dark:
When we got there, nobody was there. It was literally abandoned. We added the creepiness factor into this as you’ll notice there’s a tricycle that’s just…there (or are we forcing the creepiness right now?)
So we did what anyone else would do at the beginning of a bad horror movie and made ourselves at home.
But we didn’t stay for long.
As you can tell, we’re exhausted after a day of hiking, scaling down hills not meant to be scaled down, learning how to surf, taking on a pretty unpredictable and intense waves on the beach, and struggling with a relative lack of sleep the whole time.
So we’re taking the cue from our misadventure to Villa Jacqueline and will be heading to bed early tonight (first full night’s sleep in a long time!). This way we can check out the hiking trail in the National Park early tomorrow morning when all the animals wake up!
- At time of posting in Manuel Antonio, it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds