Panama City and San Blas, or the one where we spend Christmas stranded on a desert island

17th-29th December 2015
There’s a lot for me to catch up on in this blog as the new year comes in, and so much has happened since the last entry in Bocas. This will therefore be a pretty speedy overview of things that happened in between the 12 hour bus journey from Bocas to Panama City, to our delayed entrance into Capurgana Colombia after a fully eventful speedboat crossing through the San Blas islands.

Panama City
I’ll keep Panama City fairly short. It was a very different place, super modern with towering skyscrapers and fancy restaurants. We were staying in the old town, Casco Viejo, which was cool and interesting but pretty bizarre. You were surrounded by crumbling old buildings in disrepair and locals who couldn’t afford the upkeep on these ancient houses, but then also then trendy (and expensive) bars and restaurants. We spent most of our days around that area, as travel around the city was super confusing, e.g. there was a subway system but no map or changing between lines easily.

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Cathedral in Casco Viejo
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Contrasted with the super modern new city

One of our ventures out was to the Gurdwara in the north of the city. There are so few Sikhs in Latin America that it’s one of the few temples they have, and it was definitely not an easy journey to get there (managed one subway into town then a chicken bus). It was pretty cool, as a non-Sikh I obviously had no idea what I was doing but Rav kept me informed, plus we got a huge free lunch which was great.

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One of only a few in Latin America

The main attraction in Panama is obviously the canal, which is absolutely massive and splits the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast. There’s a in great museum on its history in Casco Viejo, but it didn’t compare to going to see the real thing at Miraflores Lock. The canal celebrated its hundredth anniversary last year and it was hard to believe that the gates of the lock were that old. It is an insane piece of engineering that means an enormous cargo ship can make it through the canal, and we stood and watched the ships come through in a big crowd of people. Very cool.

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Ship coming through the lock
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Seriously impressive
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Rav hard at work

After the canal we headed to the Mercado de MariscosĀ  (seafood market) for lunch. The market is huge and filled with fish fresh from the fishing boats outside, and sells cheap cheap ceviche which I ate a lot of. Yum. The harbour also gave a cool view of the city, so we sat there a while. Panama City is pretty cool. It’s Americanised and modern so quite different from most places we go, but was a nice place to spend some chilling time.

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Fresh catches
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Tasty ceviches
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Panama City is pretty cool

San Blas
When it comes to crossing from Panama to Colombia you have a few options. However by land is out of the question – the pan american highway stops dead to cut of the drug trade and the jungle is dangerous, full of guerillas, and basically just not an option. Flying is an option, but leaves you missing out the whole of the San Blas archipelago, a series of beautifully untouched cayes and islands and home to the indigenous kuna people. To cross this you have the choice of either sailing or speedboat, and we chose the latter which gave us more time on the islands, less time on the boats (although didn’t finish in the most convenient of locations).

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We didn't want to miss out on this

I could write for ages about how great this trip was, but will try and stick to the highlights. We set off super early on the morning of Christmas Eve, and took a windy jeep across to the north coast of the country where we got on our boats. The group was pretty big – 25 of us, and we stuffed into two little speedboats, waved goodbye to our big bags which would meet us in Colombia, and set off.

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The 'port' where we started our trip

The following is a list of cool things we did/random things that happened, as it is just too much to write it in proper prose:
– Visited tiny, perfect islands, either uninhabited or with a kuna family or two living there
– Drank coconuts fresh from the tree (with and without the addition of alcohol)
– A palm tree fell on my head while I was snorkelling and miraculously I was fine
– Ate octopus ceviche, lobster, prawns, and fish caught by the local fishermen. It tasted SO GOOD
– Slept in hammocks in huts, on porches, and in a village’s town hall
– Got stranded an extra two nights on a perfect island as the seas were too rough, meaning we didn’t have to travel on Christmas Day or Boxing Day
– Did my back in travelling by speedboat on the most terrifyingly massive waves I’ve ever seen

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– Participated in an island secret santa trying to find presents when all you have available is beach (and receiving some very nice bracelets made of palm leaf, driftwood and hammock string)
– Played a bunch of sports including sunset beach volleyball in santa hats, the worst game of basketball ever seen in a kuna village (first to one point), and football with shells for goalposts

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– Visited kuna villages and chatted with the locals, ran around with some children, and got chased by a little girl brandishing a kitten
– Hugged rescued spider monkeys and 3 week old puppies

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– Had our whole island flood at one point meaning we had to keep our stuff in our hammocks to keep it dry
– Drank lots of rum and partied under the Christmas full moon
– Witnessed the creation of an entire ‘sand London’
– Struggled through some difficult but satisfying yoga on the beach

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– Did without my gadgets (except occasional camera use) for a good few days
– Generally met a whole load of great people, managed to throw off the Christmas homesickness, and generally have a bit of an adventure.

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It was not luxury travel. Sleep and transport were not comfortable, minor injuries were aplenty, and food was sometimes a bit sparse especially since we got stranded. I still think this must be the best way to cross the border there could be.

Hope everyone at home had a lovely Christmas and new year. Missing you lots, and looking forward to seeing you all later in 2016!

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4 thoughts on “Panama City and San Blas, or the one where we spend Christmas stranded on a desert island

  1. I am so tempted to visit as well! Anyway looking forward to seeing you both soon. I am so pleased that you have met other people it always makes a difference. Enjoy everyday! Billie

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  2. Happy new year blogmeisterin, sounds like an amazing Christmas! Hope you are managing to recharge your batteries on the Colombian coast. You can only imagine your Mother’s excitement at joining you on the Inca trail in March, The effort being expounded on research and procurement has to be seen to be believed! Have fun xx

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