Sunday, July 13, 2014


July 6, 2014

It poured all night and was still pouring in the morning.  I didn’t relish the idea of taking boat rides during the deluge, so kept stalling my departure.  Finally, at 11:00, I decided I had to go because I didn’t want to be hiking up the hill to the Lost and Found Lodge in the dark.  When the rain slowed to just a steady fall, I wrapped my duffel in a trash bag and hailed a boatman.  Speeding across the water during a rain required holding my umbrella in front of me like a windscreen.  I couldn’t see where I was going, but at least I wasn’t being pelted with rain.

Buses from Almirante to David Leave from Here
When I got to Bocas, there was a huge crowd of people and luggage waiting to go to Almirante.  The group ahead of me had 14 people.  I couldn’t get on the first boat, but lucked out and got on the second boat because there wasn’t room for the big group.  It was still raining, so we pulled the side curtains down and huddled inside for the half hour ride.  I said a firm, “No!” to the kids who wanted to carry my luggage and headed up the road, looking for the bus terminal.  My guidebook said it was a mere five minute walk from the dock.  A nice gentleman in the house on the corner directed me to the terminal.  The rain had stopped and I picked my way between the puddles to the terminal.  Unfortunately, the bus towards David didn’t leave from the terminal.  That explained why the guidebook said a taxi would charge $5 for the ride to the terminal, even though it was close.  The David terminal was a mile or more away and they were confusing the two terminals.  I walked all the way to the terminal at the crossroads.  Everyone looked at me like I was crazy as I dragged my bag down the highway and a guy on a motorcycle actually said, “You made it!” when he saw me as he pulled into the gas station next to the terminal.

A bus came along shortly after I arrived and they seemed quite familiar with the location of the Lost and Found Lodge.  The bus climbed up through the mountains and then followed the coast for an hour or so before heading up the pass and over the mountain to the reservoir.  After about two and a half hours, we arrived at the road to the Lost and Found Lodge.  The path was billed as a 15 minute walk and really was if you weren’t carrying heavy luggage.  It was straight up a hill so steep that much of it was stairs.  When I hesitated for a moment to be sure I was on the right path, two guys carrying a huge dive bag between them caught up to me.  They had come on the bus from the opposite direction.  By the time we had dragged our ridiculous, heavy luggage all the way to the lodge, we had bonded.  Bret was a guy about my age from Florida and Conner was a young teacher from Alberta.
Lost and Found Dorm Building

The Lost and Found Lodge straggles down a steep hill.  At the top are the bar and the showers.  The restrooms are down in a hollow below the bar.  Further down the hill are the kitchen, office, and common area.  The dorms are below that and my private cabin was quite a way further down the hill below that.  The cabin was one room and a front porch with an incredible view over the mountainside and the valley all the way to David.  The building was constructed of steel framing with concrete board walls and a tin roof.  There was a very comfortable double bed with a nice mosquito net, which wasn’t really necessary for bugs, but did a great job of keeping the leaves and debris produced by the tremendous wind out of my face.  Hammocks were hung all over the place.

Interior of My Cabin at Lost and Found
Dinner was available for $6 and it was chilly enough that a bottle of red wine sounded delightful.  I sipped red wine on the deck until dinner was ready and then hung out for a bit until the sun set.  Happy hour started at 8:00, but I had already consumed half a bottle of wine and was tired from not sleeping well in Bastimentos and my trek up the mountain.  I retired to my cabin, read for a bit, and went to sleep.

July 7, 2014

Since the restroom was about a 200’ climb over a hill from my cabin, it was not something I wanted to do in the middle of the night.  As a result, I was up early.  I took a shower while I was up there.  The first shower I looked into was occupied by a large toad.  The next one only had a large dung beetle, which seemed tame by comparison.  Refreshed from my shower, I boiled a couple of eggs and had eggs, toast and coffee.  After breakfast, a big group of us decided to go swimming at Los Caniglones where a river has cut a channel through limestone cliffs and you can sun on the rocks and then leap into deep water below.  We took a bus down the mountain towards David for 40 minutes or so ($2) to the town of Gualaca.  After visiting the grocery store for provisions, we walked a short distance down the road between the store and the baseball field to the river. Having flung myself off the 148 foot high Tarzan swing in Monteverde, I didn’t feel I had to prove anything by jumping off the highest point.  I settled for a drop of ten feet or so into a deep pool of water that was mixed with hot springs to reach the absolute perfect temperature.  It was cool enough to be refreshing without making your brain freeze.  I swam upstream through the canyon, watched the other jump in, and then floated back down to a spot where it was easier to climb out.  After a couple of repetitions, I was glad to lie on the warm rocks and dry out a bit.  There were a couple of college gymnasts from Colorado who were also there and they were doing impressive flips and twists as they dove into the water.

My Cabin at Lost and Found
Our plan was to take the bus back past the hostel and hike to a waterfall in the afternoon.  We got on the bus, but didn’t get very far before the engine gave out on the bus.  We stopped at a place in the road where we had a fabulous view but, having planned to go canyoning, I had left my camera behind.  We waited for about an hour for a second bus to come and rescue us.  By that time, we decided it was too late to tackle the waterfall hike, so we got off at the stop for the hostel.  Bret, Conner and I stopped for lunch at the restaurant near the beginning of the path.  I had fried mozzarella cheese sticks and a strawberry smoothie for $4.75.  The others had sandwiches, all of which were reasonable and tasty.  We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the hostel and using the WiFi.  I downloaded the novel, The Lost and Found, written by one of the owners and started reading that.  We ate a filling dinner of chicken with rice, lentils, and cucumber salad.  I finished my bottle of wine.  Each night, after dinner, we all went up to visit with Rocky, the tame kinkajou.  Rocky has a large cage and we would all sit on the floor as he crawled around, visiting everyone and occasionally snuggling into someone's lap.
Rocky, the Kinkajou
I went up to the bar for happy hour at 8:00, but only stayed for one drink because the music was kind of obnoxious and it just wasn’t my scene.  I went back to my cabin and read until my phone went spastic and refused to stay on the page I was trying to read.  Once again, I slept like a log, even though the wind was howling and, at times, I feared the roof would blow off.

July 8, 2014

View from My Cabin at Lost and Found
Nature called at about 6:30, so I trekked up to the restrooms.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my towel, so had to make the climb a second time in order to take my morning shower.  The official name of my cabin was Ocelot, but I started referring to it as the cardio cabin, since I ended up making that big climb five or six times a day.  I had a leisurely breakfast and a cup of coffee and worked on my blog until the others got moving.  

The Rio d'Oro
Our plan was to tackle the Lost and Found Treasure Hunt that day.  The treasure hunt begins with the first clue, which is located in the center of a maze.  The maze was a jungle of heliconia, ferns, and other rainforest shrubs.  We stumbled around in there until Milan and eventually I found the clue.  We successfully found the second clue without a false step and then set off into the woods in search of the third clue.  I won’t give details here in case any readers plan to visit the Lost and Found Lodge, but I will reveal that our next stop involved a long, steep climb over the ridge to find the third clue and then down to the river where we got stumped.  We tried a couple of different solutions to the riddle, but never did find the clue.  We were starting to get hungry and knew we had to climb back over the hill to get to food, so decided to (at least temporarily in some cases) abandon the treasure hunt and head back to the hostel.

View from Mirador
We climbed back up the steep hill and then took an even steeper detour to the Mirador, which offered a view that made hauling ourselves up there worth the effort.  The land sloped away before us to infinity.  The mountains were very rugged and very green.  Virtually every path was as steep as a staircase and some were more like ladders.  Fortunately, there were lots of trunks, vines, and roots to use as handholds.  After pausing for a bit at the top to enjoy the view, we climbed, jumped, and slipped our way back down the hill to the hostel to eat lunch.  After lunch, I retired to my front porch to write.  Much to my surprise, I actually had decent WiFi coverage down there.  I spent the whole afternoon catching up on my blog and uploading photos and then had another great meal with the gang before heading off to ready myself for an early departure.

July 9, 2014

I got up at six so as to be ready to eat breakfast as soon as the kitchen opened at 7:00.  I downed a couple of slices of peanut butter and toast and got checked out by 7:30.  Then the adventure began.  I had to carry my heavy day pack and big duffel bag half a kilometer down a steep, rocky forest path in the pouring rain.  I couldn’t use my umbrella because I didn’t have enough hands.  Sometimes, I could balance the duffel on my head, which kept the rain off, but I couldn’t go down rocky steps that way because I couldn’t look down with the bag on my head.  I would have to lower the bag, pick my way down the steps, and then hoist the big bag back onto my head.  It was a good thing no one was watching me.  Eventually, I came to the point where there were steep concrete tracks and I was able to use the wheels and cover the duffel with a trash bag.  I had already wrapped everything inside in plastic bags, knowing it was going to get wet.

Once I got down the hill, I crossed the road and stood in the rain to wait for the bus.  After about 15 minutes, a local bus came up the hill, turned around in front of me, and asked if I was going to David.  I said I was going to Chiriqui, which is on the way to David for the long distance buses.  The conductor grunted something and I got on, figuring my chances of getting to Chiriqui were low, but at least I would be out of the rain and could get my bus from David.  I got on about 8:00.  My bus to Santiago was supposed to leave Chiriqui at 9:45, so I figured it would leave David around 9:30.  The long distance bus took about an hour to get to David, so I figured it would work out.  Soon, it became apparent that we were not going to the bus terminal in Chiriqui and that I was not going to make it to David until long after the bus had left.  I resigned myself to having to wait for the 11:15 bus.  Then the magic of Panama buses kicked in.  We got to the David bus station.  My bus stopped and the driver pointed at the minibus parked in front of us and said, “That’s your bus.”  Just as I got my bag out of the luggage compartment, the bus pulled away.  Once again, I figured I would have to wait for the 11:15 bus and started to walk towards the terminal to find the correct gate.  Suddenly, I heard someone yelling at me from across the street.  My bus driver must have flagged down the other driver and told him I wanted to go to Santiago.  He came running across the street and helped me with my bag.  I hadn’t been in David for five minutes before I was on my way.

The trip to Santiago took about two and a half hours.  David was at a much lower elevation than the Lost and Found Lodge or even Boquete, but our route to Santiago continued to descend.  We drove through rolling hills with mixed forest and grassland.  It looked like California in the wintertime, if you didn’t look too closely at the trees.  We saw lots of cattle.  Eventually we started to see signs of urbanization and came to the city of Santiago.  Santiago is the 3rd largest city in Panama and also has a good sized bus terminal.  I got off my bus and started looking around for a bus to Chitre.  A very small man (A midget, maybe?  He wasn’t dwarfish.) Took my bag and offered to help me find my bus.  Usually, I decline such assistance, but this seemed like a good investment.  For a dollar, he took me directly to my bus, which was about to leave.  Once again, I made the transfer in under five minutes and was on my way to Chitre.
Azuero Landscape

Santiago is a university town my bus was filled with high school and college students who had finished class for the day and were on their way home.  It took a little over an hour of driving through suburbs and exurbs to get to Chitre.  Chitre is a good sized town with automobile dealerships, banks, a hospital and a shopping mall.  It had a nice, manageable bus terminal.  Despite all my hiccups earlier in the day, I had arrived half an hour early, thanks to the incredible connections I had made.  I used some of that time to visit an ATM in the bus station.  (An ATM in the bus station!  Panama is so normal.) About 2:10, I wandered out front to look for the best place to wait for my friend, Karen, who was due to pick me up at 2:30.  I walked outside and there was Karen, just getting out of her car.  We looked at each other in shock, each surprised to have found the other so quickly and with so little effort.  I hopped in the car and we set off for Pedasi.

Karen had offered to pick me up in Chitre, to avoid an extra connection, and I didn’t realize that it was an hour and a half drive.  It was very nice of her to come.  We drove for about an hour and then stopped in Las Tablas to have some lunch and watch the Netherlands vs. Argentina World Cup game.  We stopped at a sports bar on the main road through Las Tablas that had several TV screens in an open air bar.  The owner was a friendly guy named Jim from the United States.  We had a nice lunch and watched the first half of the game (score 0-0) before continuing on to Pedasi.  It was time for the game to be over when we reached Pedasi, so we stopped at Smiley’s (owned by an American named John) to check on the score.  The second half had just ended and the score was still 0-0.  Of course, we had to order beers and stay to watch the outcome.  At the end of the 30 minute overtime period, the score was still 0-0.  Both the Netherlands and Argentina was playing aggressive offense, but they both had good defense and no one was able to score.  Argentina finally won 4-3 on penalty kicks and all the Latinos in the bar (and me) were very excited.  The final game was going to be old world (Germany) vs. new world (Argentina), which made it more exciting for everyone.

Pedasi is a town of 1,700 people on the southeast corner of the Azuero Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific from the Isthmus of Panama.  It is the driest part of Panama, with low rolling hills and lots of grass and cows.  It seems very much like a small town in rural America.  Downtown clusters around the church and the square, but only extends a couple of blocks beyond that in any direction.  There are two gas stations, a couple of grocery stores and a few restaurants along the main road that passes by the downtown area.  Karen lived a sort distance outside of town, along the road that led to Margarita Beach.  She was renting a cute little house that belonged to some people who lived in South Dakota and spent their winters in Panama.  The house had a large wrap around porch, a kitchen/living room, two bedrooms, and a loft room over the bathroom.  The ceilings were high and ceiling fans helped to move hot air out the open windows in the apexes of the roof.  Windows opened on all four sides and every room but the bathroom had ventilation from three directions.  It was a very simple and functional house, but was quite comfortable and easy to maintain.  The house was located in a development that was still in the process of being built.  There was a lot of quiet and open space, but it was far from being isolated.  Karen and I spent the evening drinking Micheladas on the porch and getting to know each other.

July 10, 2014

Karen's House
Margarita Beach
Life in Pedasi was unhurried.  We had a nice breakfast and then went down the road to the beach and walked along the beach for an hour or so.  Karen had an English class to teach at 3:00.  I went into town with here and explored the town while she was in class.  My first stop was the post office because I wanted to mail a postcard to my uncle.  I had bought the postcard in Costa Rica, but never found the post office to mail it.  In Boquete, I managed to buy stamps, but didn’t have the postcard with me at the time.  My bus left before the post office opened the next day and there was no exterior mail drop.  I had been carrying the card around for a week, but hadn’t found a post office in Bocas del Toro or the environs of the Lost and Found.  The tiny post office in Pedasi (one room) had no exterior box, either, so I went in.  I handed the stamped postcard to the clerk and he looked worried.  He refused to accept the card because he wasn’t sure if it cost the same amount to mail a postcard from Pedasi that it did from Boquete.  He asked if I had a phone number where he could call me to tell me the postage.  I didn’t.  I offered to buy more or to use one of the other stamps I had already purchased, but he was not going to accept that postcard until he talked to his supervisor the next morning.  I left, having failed to mail a postcard from Panama.

Church in Pedasi
From the post office, I walked a block to the square.  I took the requisite photos of the church and square and then looked around for something to amuse me.  The one souvenir shop in town was closed.  The ice cream store was closed.  Hardly anyone was around.  It looked like a plague had passed through town.  Finally, I found a café that was open, although deserted.  I bought a cookie and a soda and sat reading in the shade until it was time to meet Karen.  We went home and lounged on the porch until dinnertime, when we made an awesome pepperoni and chicken pizza with all kinds of veggies, olives and capers from scratch.  We spent the evening munching pizza and drinking a bottle of red wine.

July 11, 2014

Surfer Cabins at Playa Venao
I got up around 7:00 and ran down to the beach and back, which was only about a mile and a half, but was a nice way to start running again, since my shoes were so worn out that running further would have been hard on my feet.  We had a leisurely morning and then headed out to Playa Venao, which is a short distance west along the southern edge of the Azuero Peninsula.  Playa Venao is a beautiful, sandy beach that is frequented by surfers.  There were a couple of small hotels along the beach and a few homes scattered along the cliffs and through the hills overlooking the water.  More development was coming, but it was still fairly sleepy.  On the way there, Karen took me to see the beachfront apartment she would be renting in the fall.  It was a furnished one bedroom apartment in a three unit building with a big porch overlooking the ocean.  The rent was $500/mo. 
Playa Venao

Rocky Inlet at Playa Venao
We walked along the beach to the rocky outcroppings at the eastern edge and then back to a restaurant where we sat in the shade drinking Squirt from glass bottles and admiring the palm thatched roof.    When we had cooled off, we headed towards home, stopping to visit a couple of Americans who were living nearby where Karen was going to housesit.  They had a nice, airy house with a small pool overlooking a pretty garden and the ocean.  We had to be careful not to park under the mango and coconut trees in the front yard, for fear of falling fruit denting the car.

We had a date to meet some friends of Karen’s for dinner at a new restaurant outside of Pedasi called La Huerta.  “Huerta” means “garden” and this restaurant raised all their own produce in a big garden out behind the dining area.  We wandered through the garden, identifying vegetables, while we waited for Karen’s friends.  Her friends, Lolita and Robert, had invited some other Americans and soon we had a table of twelve people.  Karen’s neighbors were at the next table with some other foreigners and it soon seemed like every expat in Pedasi was in that restaurant.  Marcia, the chef, was lovely and welcoming and the food was delectable.  I had the special, which was two skewers each of beef, chicken and shrimp, served with salad, yucca and plantain chips, and grilled yams.  It was a healthy feast for $12 and everything was tasty and lovingly prepared.  I enjoyed chatting with Karen’s friends and acquaintances living in Panama.  It was nice to spend an evening with people who weren’t young enough to be my children, although the experiences of people who move to Panama and live in nice, new homes are definitely different from those you meet traveling by sailboat or backpacking through Central America.  Some were definitely considering venturing further outside of their comfort zones, while others were content with their comfortable lives.  I could certainly see the attraction of living there, but wondered if I would ever be content living in one place permanently.  I would have been quite content to stay for at least several months, however, and filed that option away for a future when I might have time for that.

After dinner, we went back to Smiley’s to listen to the band for a short while.  The band was playing a nice variety of reggae, blues and classic rock.  Mostly, they were quite good, although one of the guitarists sang off key and made us cringe.  We left when the band took a break after a rousing rendition of Sweet Home Alabama.

July 12, 2014

Karen's Kitchen
Living Room
I had originally intended to leave on Saturday, but had become so terminally relaxed that I decided to stay another day.  Karen slept in while I got up, cleaned the kitchen and did some writing.  Once Karen was up, I cooked a big breakfast and we chatted until she needed to go to meet with her friends’ property manager about her housesitting gig.  I stayed behind to catch up on my blog.  I spent most of the afternoon writing and uploading photos.  When Karen came home, I made drunken chicken for dinner (chicken and chorizo with tequila and orange juice.)  Panamanian chorizo bore almost no resemblance to real chorizo, so it turned out a bit strangely. We had a nice dinner, anyway, and enjoyed a bottle of wine. It had been wonderful to spend time in a real home after traveling for so long and to make a new friend.  It was kind of hard to tear myself away, but I needed to get to Panama City and start work on preparations for the remainder of my trip.

Guest Room

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