It's 12/20/13 and I am writing this from my parent's house in Sanford, Michigan where the thermometer reads 17 degrees F outside.  Huge snowflakes just started falling, adding to the already thick blanket of snow on the ground.  I am on a short hiatus from traveling, having flown from Bogota, Colombia to Detroit, Michigan on Dec. 8th, 2013 to spend just under a month with my parents, sister, 2 nieces & nephew for the holidays.  I will be flying back to Bogota on Jan. 3rd, 2014 to continue the journey....on bicycle.

I know it has been a looooooong time since my last blog post and I apologize to any of the readers out there who have probably given up on me.  Well, I'm back, baby!  As the months of traveling went by, I started losing steam & motivation, with the mental toll really hitting me through Panama.  It sounds crazy since I'm more or less on a long vacation, but being on the road, hopping from city to city & town to town started wearing me down.  I begin having thoughts like "What, another amazing beach, beautiful waterfall or ancient ruins?...been there, done that."  Or the common, "What in the hell am I doing?"  Sometimes I would be driving and forget I was in Central America or think I was in a dream where everyone would start speaking English again once I woke up.

Needless to say, I could feel I needed a break.  I had been traveling for close to 10 months when I drove over the Panama border.  

Despite this loss of momentum, I still thoroughly enjoyed Panama, met some fantastic people & had some very cool experiences.


    I drove 731 miles from 9/27/13 to 10/27/13 through the isthmus of Panama.  For reference, the country is slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina.  It was originally part of Colombia, but the construction of the canal changed things.  The Panama Canal Company was started in 1880 by a Frenchman, who was the same man behind the Suez Canal.  In 1889 the company went bankrupt due to a scandal and construction came to a halt.  In 1904 the U.S. forced Colombia to grant independence to the isthmus, bought the remaining assets of the Panama Canal Company and finished the canal in 1914.

    The border crossing of Panama was the one of the longest that I have experienced with massive lines for the entrance stamp.  Luckily, when I parked to start the process, I noticed the car behind me had Canadian plates and 2 fellow overlanders, Patrick & Marijke, from Belgium ( seen below.  They were very friendly & we gave each other emotional support.

    Unbeknownst to us, to enter Panama you need either 1) a bus/plane ticket leaving the country, 2) $500 cash or 3) a bank statement showing you have at least $500.  Umm..what??  No better way to encourage crime then to let it be known that people have $500 cash on them when they come into the country!  I do not carry this much cash so had to go to a internet cafe & print off my bank statement. Random note, though Panama has its own currency, known as the Balboa (which are only coins & stay at the exact same rate as the dollar), the US dollar is the main currency.

    After successfully crossing into Panama, I was on cloud nine.  This was it, I had made it to the final country in Central America!  I was singing and bouncing along and stopped at the first roadside fruit stand to pick up some bananas and a pineapple with a huge smile on my face.  Back on the road, I was cruising...right by a police officer with a radar gun.  He waves me down and all I'm thinking is "They have radar guns here???  Hold on, I haven't seen that in the last 6 countries!"  He clocked me at about 9 mph over the speed limit, though there are not really signs informing you of the speed limit and it changes pretty often.  I expected him to ask me for a bribe, but he only asked me for my paperwork and handed me a ticket.  I found out later a $15-20 bribe would have taken care of it right there.  At the time it didn't matter to me because I was heading to Colombia and knew my car would never be in Panama again, so I wasn't going to pay the ticket anyway.

My new Belgian friends stopped to make sure everything was ok.  I followed them the rest of the way to my first destination, the mountain, coffee town of Boquete; at 5 mph under the speed limit.



Place: Pension Topas
URL: None
GPS:  8° 46.354', -82° 25.937' (Google Maps)
Cost: $8/night camping - (I set my tent up near the pool & the owner oddly was trying to sell me power for my tent for $4....I refused since there's power in the common area 30 ft. away); if you are sleeping in your vehicle or want your vehicle parked inside the gate, it's $12 total/vehicle (including camping); private rooms were $25-$35 (depending if they had a private bathroom)
Parking: $0 (outside of the gate, out front off the street under the shade)
Nights Stayed: 2
Showers: Warm
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: Yes
Kitchen: None
Hammocks: None

Notes: Beautiful grounds and they offer breakfast there (price unknown). The pool was empty while I was there.  The owner is German and is kind of socially strange so I didn't ask him much.

Cost: $0
Where I walked: Along Avenida Volcancito - I believe this road goes on for about 16 km (9 miles) to the top of Volcan Baru, the highest peak in Panama.  It's well paved and runs through endless coffee plantations.

Unripe coffee beans:

Other hikes: There are a variety of hikes if you can get a hold of a map or hire a tour guide.  Some popular ones are Pipeline, Los Quetzales, El Pianista & Volcan Baru (supposed to be about 12 hours up & down)

Other Activities:

Though I did not do them, there are coffee tours (ranging $25-$35, most seemed to start at 2pm), white water rafting, ATV tours to the volcano, waterfalls & more.

    I'd like to interject here as I met a Dutch guy, named Alex (, at this hostel that had the first major effect of how I would finish the bicycle.  This true adventurer had cycled from the southern most town in Argentina, Ushuia, north through the entire continent of South America and almost all of Panama by that point.  I thought to myself, "Talk about a REAL adventure!  I feel like I'm cheating having this big ole freaking bad-ass would it be to do South America on a bike?!"

Bocas del Toro (Colon Island)

Downtown (main strip)

Place: Camping Y Griega (sign on front says Camping La Y)
GPS: 9° 21.504', -82° 15.182' (Google Maps)
Cost: $5/night - tent included (the sign at the actual place and the website say $7/night though she offered it for $5).  Only $3/night w/ your own tent.
Parking: N/A - I left my car in Almirante ($3/day) and took a 30 min. boat ride to Bocas ($4/person each way).  Boats leave every 30 mins from 6am to 6pm.
Rentals: Bicycle - $5/day
Nights Stayed: 8
Showers: Cold (Advertised as having hot water, but it is definitely cold)
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: None (Owner has a USB Claro internet stick & offered it for use)
Kitchen: Yes
Hammocks: 4

Notes:  This place is about a 35-40 min walk (3km) from where the boat drops you off in Bocas. It is only 1 year old & the owner is a very friendly Panamanian woman.  This is the cheapest place I could find on the island.

Some of the tents you can rent:

The hostel kitchen:

Scuba Diving:
Company: The Dutch Pirate
Cost: $60 for 2 "fun" dives (I'm PADI certified in Open Water)
Dive sites: Ferry wreck & The Coral Garden
Cost: $225 for Advanced Open Water PADI certification
Dive sites: Playground, Ferry wreck

Note: There are 5 dive shops in town and I just happened to ride past The Dutch Pirate and the owner, Rob from the Netherlands, gave me excellent info and I got a good feel from the conversation.  Bocas seems to be the cheapest place in the world I have seen/heard of for diving certification (even cheaper than Honduras & Thailand)

Out on the boat:

Bike Rental:
Cost: $5/day (includes lock)

Places I rode: 1st day to Playa Bluff, along the eastern coast of Colon (about 1 hour from Bocas, or 45 mins from Camping Y Griega).  

2nd day to Boca del Drago through the center of Colon island, ending at the northwest part of Colon Island (about 1 1/2 hour bike ride from Camping Y Griega) & then took a water taxi to Playa Estrella (Starfish beach where boats leave often to/from for $1.50/person)

Company: Bocas Brewery
On tap: Amber, IPA (he was out of this) & Ginger soda (non-alcoholic)
Cost: $3/beer

Note: The owner, Peter, grew up in New York but had been living in Seattle until moving to Bastimento Island (next to the island of Colon where Bocas del Toro is).  He's a great, personable guy with plenty of stories  I had the Amber & then a 50/50 Amber & Ginger soda - both very tasty.  He worked at Boeing for many years so has a "promotion" where he gives you a piece of paper with 1st beer purchase.  The object is to make a paper airplane that will fly from the back of the room over the bar...and the prize - a free beer.  I'm sorry to say my paper plane skills were not up to par that day.

Peter, the owner (sorry for the blurry pic):

Place: Alforno Allegna Pizzeria
Location: Corner of Avenida G Norte & Calle 5ta
Type: Italian
I ate: Pizza (8 slices) with onions & mushrooms
Cost: $6.50 + 0.45 tax
Wifi: Yes

Note: This pizzeria is Italian owned and they have a legit wood-fired oven, plus crushed red pepper, olive oil & balsamic vinegar on each table.  Very delicious pizza!

Place: Restaurante Beso del Dragon (kiss of the dragon)
Location: On the single street near the beach leading out of Bocas to the main, larger part of Colon Island.
Type: Panamanian
I ate: Pollo Quisado
Cost: $4.00 + $0 tax
Wifi: No

Note: Big plate & very yummy with the chicken slow-cooked in coconut milk.  Lentils are also a new treat in Panama and served at many of the local restaurants.  All locals eating there (just my kind of place).

Santa Catalina
Place: Oasis Surf Camp
GPS: 7° 37.584', -81° 14.725' (Google Maps)
Cost: $5/night camping
Parking: $0 (next to my tent on the beach)
Nights Stayed: 4
Showers: Cold
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: Yes, pretty slow and accessible in the restaurant they have by check-in
Kitchen: None
Hammocks: 8

Note: This hotel is fantastic for camping, setting up right next to the beach.  This is a very popular surfing town and you have the advantage staying at Oasis of already being right on the beach, so you don't have to carry your board from town.  You have to drive through a small river that empties into the Pacific to get to the surf camp on the other side.  If it's high tide when you arrive, you will have to wait for it to lower (maybe a few hours) to be able to drive through.  

Cost: $10/day
Note: This was the first time I tried surfing and had a blast.  There are all levels off people in the water, from beginners falling over like fools to very experienced folks.  Good times.

Place: Restaurant El Pacifico
Location: On main road coming into town on the left as you are approaching the beach.  Across the street from the little police station.
Type: Panamanian
I ate: Chuleta (pork chop) w/ lentils, rice & salad
Cost: $2.50
Wifi: No

Valle de Anton

Place: Random house (which used to be called Swami's campground, but that was closed a few years back)
GPS: ???
Cost: They asked for a donation so I gave them $5/night to camp
Parking: $0 (next to my tent in the backyard)
Nights Stayed: 3
Showers: Cold!!!
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: No
Kitchen: Yes
Hammocks: 2

Notes: I would not rely on staying here as it is no longer a campground and the people I stayed with were house sitting for only a month.  The couple house sitting, a guy from France & his Chilean girlfriend, were artisanos, so they made bracelets & necklaces and what not and would sell them in town on the sidewalk.  They were friends with an Argentine couple that was driving the opposite direction of me, from Argentina to Mexico.  Here's some pics of the guys working hard:

I wish I remembered the French guy's's one of the hammocks he learned to make while in Mexico.  He had been traveling for 3 freaking years and had picked up some pretty cool skills.

Hiking - La India Dormida
Cost: $0
Notes: One part of the mountain resembles a sleeping woman and is called La India Dormida, or The Sleeping Indian. It is only about a 45 min - 1 hour hike to the top and you have a beautiful view of El Valle from up top.  I got to the entrance of the hike at 7am so no one was collecting money at that time.  I think it is a few dollars during hours of operation.

View from the top:

Thermal Bath
Cost: $3
A little park with an orangish/rust colored pool that gets its color from a high iron content.  You can also get a mud face mask here with entrance fee

Other: Waterfalls, Bird Sanctuary, Orchid Place

Panama City


Place: Villa Vento Surf Hostel
GPS:  8° 58.707', -79° 31.250' (Google Maps)
Cost: $10/night dorm (8 person room)
Parking: $0 (they have a 2 car garage with gate that is locked at night)
Nights Stayed: 8
Showers: Warm
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: Yes
Kitchen: Yes
Hammocks: 1

Note: This hostel is owned by 2 Venezuelan brothers who are running a great operation.  It is filled with travelers, has a pool out back, offer free pancakes & coffee for breakfast and they sell $1 beers.  The entire staff is extremely helpful and are happy to answer any questions.

One of the brothers who owns it:

The Canal - Viewing Area
Cost: $5 Viewing Platform; $3 Informational Video about the canal's history
Note: You are not guaranteed to see a ship coming through every time.  You might have to wait an hour or more to see some action.

Casco Viejo
This is the old town of Panama City and it reminded me very much of Havana, Cuba with many buildings crumbling and still in disarray.  In 1989, under President George Bush Sr. via Operation Just Cause, the U.S. sent troops here.  During the invasion, de facto leader and general, Manuel Noriega, was deposed of and president-elect Guillermo Endara was sworn into office.  I didn't have my camera when I walked through the old town, but here's a shot of it from across the water.

Sold My Car 

(Despite the smile, I was sad to see my old friend taken away)

As I mentioned earlier, I changed my mind to complete the 2nd leg of the trip, South America, by bicycle.  When I arrived in Panama City, I quickly put my 4Runner up for sale online.  It was an exciting, yet sad, day when I finally handed my keys over.  Here's the pile of stuff I had after emptying my car (almost all of it was given to the hostel owners or left on the sidewalk with a "Free" sign.  I ended up with just a backpack & a black trash bag (but didn't have a pole to be a true hobo).  It was extremely liberating.

Read more about how I sold my 4Runner here:


   Please note this is a very dirty, run-down town with trash littered everywhere.  If you decide to go, there is no working ATM in town so you will have no way of getting money unless you take the bus back, about an hour 1 way, to the next big town.  Everyone I met there only came because it is a main port for boats heading to the San Blas islands or Cartagena, Colombia.


Place: Captain Jack's
GPS:  9° 33.066', -79° 39.294' (Google Maps)
Cost: $13/night dorm (8 person room)
Parking: $0 (they have space to fit cars)
Nights Stayed: 2
Showers: Warm
Tap Water: Drinkable
WiFi: No (They say they have it but it was out the entire time and heard the same from other travelers who were there before)
Kitchen: Yes, they have a grill out back to do some basic cooking and a fridge to store your food
Hammocks: 0

Note: I only stayed here because it is were the captain of the sailboat I would be taking asked to meet the night before.  I would not actually recommend this place, the food is quite pricey ($9 burger, $14 curry pasta), there is no WiFi and there are cheaper options in town (I heard of single rooms by the water for $6-7/night - ask in town).


Portobelo Ruins & Bay
Cost: $0
Note: These are old ruins from 5 Spanish forts

Iglesia de San Felipe

Cost: $0
Note: This is the large, white church in town, known for its Nazareno of Portobelo, better known as the Black Christ.  Every year they have the Black Christ festival held on October 21 (I missed it by like a week)


Place: El Mazareno - Panaderia Refresqueria
Type: Italian
I ate: Egg & veggie sub sandwich (these things are over a foot long and pressed like a panini)
Cost: Egg Sandwich - $2.50, Fresh Loaf of White Bread - $0.50
Wifi: No

Note: This was the best place to eat in town for me.  They had a few different sandwiches on homemade bread, homemade pizza, baked goods & great options for breakfast.  Very friendly owners too.

The highlight of Portobelo for me was meeting 3 cyclists that had ridden all through Central America and were taking their bikes on the boat to Colombia, then continuing on through South America.  At my hostel I met the very friendly couple. Lars & Jenny (, who had biked down from Mexico. They gave me some fantastic advice and plenty of information about cycling as they grilled some up some dinner. I promised them I would buy a bike and join the cycling community.

As we were chatting, another cyclist, Tomohiro Akizuki from Japan, comes riding up, completely beat after a 60 mile (100 km) day.  You can see how packed his bike is.  He had started in Los Angeles and was heading to southern Argentina as well.

Thank you cyclists for your information, hospitality and good nature.  I hope we cross paths again somewhere in South America!

Stay tuned for my next blog post covering the sailboat ride from Portobelo, Panama to Cartegena, Colombia with a 3 day stop in the amazing San Blas islands....

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