Sunday, February 7, 2016

Oh Panama!

Once we moved over to the Caribbean side we were very close to Panama and figured a trip over would be a quick and easy way to add another stamp to our passports.  Little did we know!  When we arrived at the border it was unlike the Canadian/US borders we are used to.  We figured out that we needed to park our car off to the side and stand in line to get through border control.  After about 45 minutes in line we discovered that in order to take our car across we needed some obscure paperwork from a bank two hours away.  In this moment of heat and despair, Aaron happened to come upon a fellow Canadian, Pete from Alberta.  I had been waiting in line while Aaron was taking care of exit taxes and figuring out the car thing and then he came over saying that we couldn't take the car across but there was this guy with a really nice camper van that was willing to load us all in and take us to the port town of Almirante so we could catch our water taxi to Bocas del Toro.  "What do you say?"  What could I say?  Sure!  Then a silent prayer that we aren't all about to be abducted and an internal reminder that most people really are good.  
The long hot wait at the border began to wear on our little travelers.  Once we found out we had to abandon our van everyone grabbed what they needed ready to walk across to Panama. The Costa Rica border administration is the building in the background.  

The one and only path for cars, people,
chickens, you name it, over the Sixaola
River from Costa Rica to Panama or back.
Until recently the rickety train bridge to the
left was used but it had been deemed unsafe.
A big step, as most structures get s used r
egardless of condition.
Once we made it into Panama it was more waiting to get through Panamanian side.
Finally, about five hours after reaching the border, us and Pete were ready.
Nothing like A/C and no seat belts to put smiles back on faces.  The kids
were convinced that we need a giant bed to sit on when we travel.
Great many thanks to the one and only Pete of
The boat terminal was nothing more than a
wooden shack over the water.
We were so happy to finally be on the water taxi headed for
Bocas del Toro.
Max, "Today we journeyed to Panama.  It took like till ten am to get packed up and then we started the long and perilous journey to our destination.  We drove and got to the border.  This is when the real travel began.  We got into a tussle about when, why, how, and what (about the border). Then we waited for hours in a line to cross the border.  After this we had the good fortune to bump into someone that would take us to where we needed to go.  He had a small camper with a bed and luckily some great air conditioning.  I even got cold!  Then we got on a speed boat/passenger boat.  (When we landed on the island)  We wandered with bad or no information on where our hotel is to find it, and when we eventually found it we got Italian food and then officially ended the year, no day. (only felt as long as a year.)  January 4, 2016

Maggie, "Today we piled in the van and drove to the border.  Then we had to wait in a line forever but they wouldn't let the van pass so this nice guy named Pete said we could come in his camper so after some more lines we piled in.  The kids sat on his bed, Mom and Dad in the middle, and he put the AC on sot it was so nice! ... When we found the hotel we found our room and it has three bunk beds and Jonah will sleep in the closet."

With loosing a whole day in travel we were eager to set out the next morning for some exploring.  First stop Starfish Beach.  We missed having room on the shuttle bus so we snagged a taxi, no problems putting seven people in the space of five and jostled the 20 minutes over potholed roads to the other end of the island.

Tessa, "Today we took a taxi to a beach we saw fish and starfish.  I even stepped on one!We made new friends and found a jellyfish.  We ate lobsters that I saw them get caught.  I saw fish and a slug and a hairnet crab.  We also got snorkels and snorkeled."

Max, "It's day 2 of our vacation in a vacation and we are in action!  We took a taxi to starfish beach.  It took us to a boat and we got on and sped to a glassy and comfortable looking beach.  We snorkeled out of the huge underwater drop about 10 meters from shore.  We moved several times and saw thousands of fish of all shapes and of course, starfish.  We left on the same boat and framed into a bus so full it needed the doors open. (and people were hanging out as we sped back over the bumping curving road.  They didn't cram the doors closed until just as we got into town.)  We had a wonderful day!"
Super snorkelers!

We were afraid to consider what this might mean and definitely
were not brave enough to come inside for the additional info.
Day Three
Maggie, "Today we went on this tour and saw los defines!  They were so amazing that I can't capture it with words.  They were so strong and sleek so amazing.  Then we went snorkeling.  I made a friend and she was from Panama but had never been snorkeling before!  We had a ton of fun and saw some really cool things.  Then we went to Red Frog beach.  there were some large waves and a riptide but it was the clearest water ever!  When we got back to the hotel we cleaned up and wandered up the street.  We got some ice cream and saw some cool stuff."  January 6, 2016

On the boat looking for dolphins.  We saw them,
but they did not pose for the camera well.  A
memory we will just treasure in our heart. :)
After the dolphin spotting they sped us over to an island where it appeared
theyonly had a restaurant and mangroves.  Here we could snorkel or swim
and we all took full advantage.  I loved that they just handed out masks.
No instructions or warnings whatsoever.  It makes it easy, but I was glad
we had some snorkeling experience and that I knew to watch out for the
spiny sea urchins that were everywhere.

Max and I snorkeled under the restaurant where we found the
most fish.  Thousands of little tiny fish in giant schools swam
around while coral and plant life clung to the pillars.  

And of course, starfish.

Best pals, throwing bread crumbs to the hoards of little fish and arguing about
who is the most awesome.  Isn't that magical?!
Red Frog beach, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever
been on.  The sand was perfect, soft and fine but not sticky.
The water was clear and warm, but still refreshing.  Our couple
of hours here was definitely not enough.  
Plus reasonably priced yummy food!  In Panama they have
fried plantains with every meal instead of the sugary mushy
ones they do in Costa Rica.  I much prefer the fried.

The Christmas tree on the beach.  In town they were also
still decorated for Christmas.  This was no accident.  In
Central America they keep all the Christmas things up
until January 6th which is the day they celebrate the
coming of the wise men.  I kind of like that idea.  

Tessa, "Today we went on a tour.  We went to a dolphin bay, we spotted dolphins they were close to us.  Next we went to snorkel, I met a nice girl she spoke english. I saw slugs, starfish, fish, and plants.  Next we found a beach and had lunch then played in the waves.  We also just walk around the island. this all made me feel EPIC!"

For dinner that night we ate Indonesian.  Yum!
I was proud of Max and Maggie for branching
out and getting something exotic.  They
thought the peanut sauce was too spicy, though.
Gratefully no complaints, Max just scraped it off
and enjoyed the meat.

Not knowing how long it would take us to get back we packed it up the last morning, took one more walk around town and aimed for the water taxi's.  In our walkabout the guy who we had booked our previous day's excursion with bumped into us as he pedaled his bicycle around town.  He assured us that he could get us a good rate to get back to Costa Rica, and from the sounds of it, he could.  All we had to do was give him the cash now and he would set us up to get back.  Tempting, but sketchy.  He had no office, nothing that made him look like anything more than a homeless guy on a bike, but we had had such a great experience the day before we decided to risk it.  I'm so glad we did.  We hoped on the water taxi and when we got to the terminal (aka wood shack on stilts) a driver was there who loaded us up and took us straight to the border in his unmarked old vehicle.  No seat belts, but he did have a great story about a friend of his who's favorite Chinese restaurant was shut down because the government found cat and several other unidentified meats being served.  The borders this time were a breeze and we found ourselves home by early afternoon.  A much appreciated miracle and a fine end to a marvelous adventure.

Tessa, "Today we were blessed because it took us a quarter of the time it took us the last time we took the border.  I felt blessed that we could get across the border.  Jesus answers your prayers."
When I downloaded the underwater camera pics I found a
couple from our swimming pool time at the hotel when we
first came to Costa Rica.  Thought I would just throw them in.

Max quote, "Jonah!  That (you) is (are) disgusting and inappropriate!"


  1. I think if I learned it would be so hard to get across the border, I would have given up. (And my kids too! I loved that picture of them all looking exhausted, ha ha). But by looking at the comments your kids made, you really learn something when you can make it through something hard without giving up. Looks like a lot of fun!

  2. I love the photo of all the kids on the porch after crossing the border into Panama...they look so tired of the whole thing! I'm so happy you found Pete and you didn't get abducted:)