Today is January 30th, 2019 and it is my first full day at Playa Venao, my third (and final) destination in Panama. Playa Venao is a small beach town on the Pacific side of Panama. While not as well traveled as its Atlantic-side counterpart (Las Bocas del Toro), it is just as beautiful and doesn’t have as many tourists
I FINALLY made it to my last destination; Playa Venao. You would understand why I overexaggerated the word “finally” if you knew the work if you knew the work that I put myself through to get here. Before I get to my chicken bus nightmare, I will tell you about my remaining time in Boquete. It turns out that hiking Volcan Baru on the first day was not a great idea. I had planned on seeing The Lost Waterfalls in Los Naranjos but unfortunately did not regain feeling in my lower extremities until yesterday. I literally spent my last day in Boquete on the patio of my hotel staring at the beautiful landscape. I did utilize the free shuttle to go down to town to restock on water but that was pretty much the highlight of the day.
I originally was going to go to Las Bocas Del Toro, a well-known destination here in Panama but I changed my mind after talking to a friend who used to live here. She told me that Las Bocas was pretty tourist heavy and “trashy”. The tourist aspect was confirmed because everyone I met in my hotel was in fact going to Las Bocas. Another consideration was that Playa Venao was closer to Panama City which meant I wasn’t going to be stuck on a bus for 10 hours trying to come back for my flight. Despite my decision to go to Playa Venao, I didn’t really know how to get there other than what I had read on the internet forums (which wasn’t much).
Yesterday, I woke up at 600 AM to begin my journey to Playa Venao. I paid the same driver who took me to Volcan Baru $5 USD to take me a mile to the bus stop where I got on a bus to David ($1.65 USD). An hour and half later, I was on my way to Santiago ($9 USD) which took about 4 hours. Once I got to Santiago, things began to get pretty stupid. I had to take a taxi ($1 USD) to another bus terminal to take a bus to Chitre, which was literally 35 kms away ($3 USD). From Chitre, I had to take a bus to Las Tablas which was about 25 km away ($1.50 USD). Once I got to Las Tablas, I had to walk about 2 km uphill with my backpack to get to the next bus station where I caught the bus to Pedasi ($2.40 USD). Once I got to Pedasi, I had to wait 40 minutes to take the last shuttle to Playa Venao ($5 USD). I arrived at my hotel at 5 PM last night after SIX chicken buses and two taxis which cost me $29 USD and 9 hours of my life. Outside of the first bus, none of them went more than 40 kms. After a long day of traveling, I had my favorite meal (pollo asado, papas fritas y arroz) at a local spot called La Bicicleta for about $11 USD (including tip) before settling into bed.
This morning the weather was perfect. While the northeast United States was getting hammered by snowstorms and sub-artic conditions, it was 82 degrees with a slight breeze. That alone made coming here worth it. I was also able to get a 3.5-mile nice run in on the beach, which also means that I have functional legs again. I was also able to find a $5 Yoga class that runs every night. The only downside is public transportation is few and far between and there was no ATM in the town meaning I have to reserve the last little bit of cash that I have. However, the best part of this place is there are virtually no tourists (probably because its such a pain to get to), which will make this week a truly relaxing experience.
This will be my last post until I leave Panama next Monday (barring some drastic change in my circumstances), not because I don’t want to write but I don’t really plan on doing anything worth writing about the next 3 days. My days will mostly consist of doing a morning run, spending the next 5 hours rotating between laying on the beach and swimming, and finishing with an evening Yoga session. While I won’t blog, I will post pictures and videos as the opportunity arises. With that being said, the computer is going off so that I can start my real vacation. See you again on the 4th.
Today is January 27th, 2019 and I am currently in Boquete a small town in Panama’s Chiriquí Province. While the town is nothing to write home about, it serves as the gateway to Panama’s highest peak, Volcan Baru.
I first want to point out that I am glad that I don’t need toes to type, because right now I lack feeling in both of my legs. It is 5:30 PM and 2 hours earlier I was crammed in a chicken bus on my way back to Boquete after successfully climbing Panama’s highest peak, Volcan Baru. I say it was a success based on the fact that I did it, and by no means was it stylish. However, every experience presents itself with learning opportunities. This won’t be a traditional blog as I have written before summarizing the days’ events but rather a reflection on today’s climb and how it both reinforces some of my beliefs and changes others.
I Travel Alone for a Reason- One of the questions that I am always asked by people who follow the website is “Why I never travel with other people”. The truth is, I am not a fan of being beholden to others’ timelines unless I’m getting paid for it. In addition, I hop around so much and cover so much ground in a single trip, I frankly don’t think others could keep pace. This belief was reinforced last night when I met a nice German couple who wanted to do the hike with me. Despite my preference to fly solo and even though they told me they weren’t in great shape, I figured it would be a nice opportunity to meet other people and I could save a little money on the taxi. I told them to meet me at the front of the hotel at 630 AM sharp the morning of the hike as I had arranged a cab to take us. Sure enough, 630 AM rolls around and the cab pulls up. However, the couple was no where to be seen. Being the nice guy that I am, I decided to look for them for 10 minutes. Eventually, the cab driver had to leave and so I left them and was stuck with a $20 USD cab ride. Ironically, I saw them 6 hours later as I was halfway down (they were still going up). They told me they were having their morning coffee in the kitchen and didn’t think I was serious when I said we were leaving at 630 sharp. That is why I travel alone…….
Not Every Mountain is Equal- So this isn’t the first mountain I’ve climbed, however I found out the hard way that some mountains are harder than others. The last mountain I climbed was Mount Halla on Jeju Island. Mount Halla also took me about 8 hours and was 9.6 km. However, most of it was via a steady incline and there were plenty of people on the trail. I took that mindset into this hike, and while I expected it to be long time wise, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the hike was. I was sucking wind 1.5 km in and the ascent was 13.5 kms (with a return of that same distance). In addition, I was the only going up while those that were coming down were few and far between. The most important difference was the difficulty, out of the 27 kms (up and back) that I walked, 18 kms were on an incline of over 6% grade. I definitely would not have been able to do this hike 3 months ago (and I was barely able to do it now). Research is important, especially when it comes to mountain climbing.
Water and Food are Essential- I feel extremely embarrassed writing this one, but this is probably the number one reason why I had a miserable time on this hike. In my infinite wisdom, I brought only a liter and a half of water and a pack of Skittles on a 16-mile hike. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with the full force of the Panamanian sun, or I probably wouldn’t be alive to write this. Historically, I been in such good shape that I am able to persevere with minimal water intake. The difference now is I’m almost 30 and I wasn’t going on 17-mile hikes up 3500-meter volcanoes. I found out today how important a sufficient water supply is given that there wasn’t even a creek to get dirty water out of in the whole hike. I was spoiled into thinking that there would either be food shacks at the entrance or locals hustling water and food along the trail. The point is, even in the United States, snacks and water bottles are cheap enough to where you should never have to rely on others to save you because you embarked on a hike unprepared.
You Can Get a Workout Walking- When I’m home in the United States, I live a pretty regimented lifestyle health wise. I average 2 marathons a month long-distance running, do CrossFit, and only eat fresh foods that I have specifically prepared. One of my biggest concerns about long-term traveling is that the life style will lose many of my “gains” I had worked for in the months prior. Although I try to do fairly strenuous activities when traveling, it doesn’t make up for running 20 miles a week or doing wall-balls on 6-minute rotations. My diet also tends to go down the drain on the road. However, I learned today that enough walking under strenuous conditions can leave you just as sore as one of the aforementioned exercises.
Satisfaction Stems from the Struggle- If you would have asked me at 1130 AM when I was struggling in the scorching Panamanian sun climbing 1 km at a 12% incline how I felt, I would have probably included a few choice four letter words in my response. Ask that same question after seeing a group of “hikers” drive down the summit in a four-wheeler, punches may have been thrown. It is true, that as with most circumstances in life, having enough money will simplify things. However, I can’t help but think (now that I am not worried about getting down alive) that the summit itself was nice, but it was going through the experience (and overcoming) that made it that much better. Sure, I could have paid $150 USD to get escorted to the top, but then would I be able to write this blog about the lessons I learned along the wat? Point is…. the easy way of doing something isn’t always necessarily the best way of doing it.
Today is January 26th, 2019 and I have arrived to Boquete after a 10-hour bus ride from Panama City. Boquete is a small rural town in the inland of the country. It is mostly known for its proximity to Panamas tallest volcano; Volcan Baru.
The last two days have been exhausting for me. Yesterday, I started my morning by running three miles. However, between dodging cars (even at 630 AM) and the 55% humidity, I was as physically exhausted as I have been in a while. I decided to follow up my run, with a three-hour stroll in the city’s famous Casco Viejo neighborhood. Surprisingly, there were few people out and about at 830 AM which made walking around a much more enjoyable experience. Due to the World Youth Fair and the visit from the Catholic Pope, there was a heavy police presence throughout which added an extra layer of security. I was able to visit Panama’s National History Museum for only $1 USD, which was well worth the price of admission. I eventually went back to my hotel where I was able to pay $3 USD for breakfast. I also found out that the U.S. government was finally opening back up after being “shutdown” for 35 days, which also means I officially have to use vacation days for the remainder of the trip.
In the afternoon, I wanted to take the ferry to Tobago Island located in the Panama Bay. However, by the time I made my way down the Amador Causeway, I arrived right before the last boat departed with no return trip until the next day. While disappointed, I did see some pretty nice panoramic views of Panama City on the way back on the bus. As I was making my way back to my hotel, I had to fight my way through (literally) thousands of children and several strategic roadblocks placed throughout the city as preparations were under way for the World Youth Fair. When you add 90-degree heat with high humidity, I barely had enough energy to eat dinner before passing out in my bed.
This morning I wanted to keep my physical fitness effort up, so I took a taxi to a nearby gym. I had to pay $5 USD for a workout session. While the gym wasn’t LA Fitness, it was decent given the circumstances. I didn’t get much cardio in, but I was able to complete my full lifting regiment. After the gym, the traffic going home was brutal as the taxi driver had to drive me halfway across town just to dodge it. What should have been a quick 10-minute ride, turned into half an hour. This also put me behind the curveball regarding catching the bus to David (and subsequently Boquete). Fortunately, I was able to take a quick shower and get to the bus terminal 10 minutes before the 10 AM bus.
I was given the first seat on the top deck of the bus. While this provided great views, it also exposed me to the scorching Panamanian sun. I also had to ration my phones energy to where I could entertain myself for 8 hours and have enough battery to find my hotel once I got to Boquete. While the bus ride wasn’t extremely comfortable, it was tolerable. I arrived in David at 545 PM, about 15 minutes before the buses stopped running to Boquete. About an hour and a half later, I was walking down main street in Boquete trying to hail a cab. Between their only being 6 cabs in the town and the drivers not wanting to drive out of their way to take me to my hotel, the task proved to be more difficult than I expected. I was finally able to highjack a cab from a guy who looked like he was going to eat dinner and by 830 PM, I had made it to my hotel (which happened to be a castle). Now, I am getting ready to go to sleep as I have a long day tomorrow as I attempt to hike Volcan Baru…….