Back to Costa Rica

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This past border crossing went by like a pleasurable dream. Who would have thought our past vehicle permit had been saved electronically? The border patrol found it in a matter of seconds! All we had to do was to reactivate it, get a couple signatures and a stamp, and we were good to go! Our insurance from before was still valid, hence we did not have to figure out where to go and get it. Less than an hour after leaving Panama, we were in Costa Rica. Definitely a new Central American border crossing record!

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We have spent the last couple of days and nights in Dominical. It is a pretty chilled out beach town with some surf, fun and lots of Americans (much like all of Costa Rica). The beach line is stunningly beautiful due to Costa Rica’s restrictions on building by the beach. Good thing!

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We are now in the process of packing up our Honey. We are heading up the coast!

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Wedding Present Extremo Surpriso

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Since Kyler and I got married in our love celebration fiesta last July, Ellie has been holding off on her present, awaiting our traveling times together.

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A couple nights ago, while Kyler and I were watching the last couple football games before the Superbowl, she came bursting with excitement into the pub. The present had been decided on and was to take place here – in Boquete! The following night, the gift was revealed: We were to scale Volcano Baru, Panama’s highest peak, not by foot, but by a specially outfitted Jeep the very next morning! What-a-Whaaaat?

4:30 am the next morning, the alarm goes off and four excited travelers rise to the adventure! Our only previous four wheel drive experience was 90 mile beach in New Zealand. Even though that was fun, this was about to blow our minds.

Early morning 4WD

As is obvious from the picture above (as well as the early start), it was dark for awhile after departure. The very first part of the trip was on paved road. As we neared the volcano, the speed came to an abrupt halt and the adventure began. What had been a road turned into what I would consider a poor path for hiking on. I did not believe that any vehicle could make it’s way up there. I was wrong…

Bumpy road volcan Baru

The Jeep been through a few minor modifications in order to perform like the star it did. I wish I could say I rembered the details, but I don’t. Mainly, it has some higher clearance than original, as well as different tires with only 20 psi to really grab hold of the rocks. Steven, our great guide and a Canadian expat, told us that the off roading up to the volcano is challenging because it consists of several different types of off roading. There are (many and massive) rocks, there is potentially very slippery mud (especially in the rainy season), it is steep and tight. Occasionally, one must use a winch to get make it up. Let me tell you, I am happy I was not driving!

After a couple hours making our way up (while passing some hikers on our way – Ouch – we were the assholes today!), we eventually got to the top of Panama! 3475 meters above sea level in a car. Mind blowing! (However, I am happy most hikes cannot be driven…!)

The summit of Volcano Baru is one of few (if not the only one?) places where one can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea. When we first got up, it was rather cloudy on the Caribbean side, but after a bit of hiking around, a warm coffee and some jumping photos, Bocas del Toro started peeking out from underneath the clouds!

Volcan Baru summit

Siri Kyler at the top of Baru

View from Baru

Siri top of baru

Kyler moque baru

By now you might have thought to yourself: What the heck is on Kyler’s head??! Some of you might be familiar with this longtime favourite of his, the moque. For the rest of you, let me introduce the mask-toque, the moque. Kyler found unique piece of accesorie in a market in Ecuador a few years ago. It is a mask on side and a toque (Canadian word for a beanie, hat, lue) on the other. In addition to these two qualities, it has two handles for easy carrying purposes, it keeps the neck warm, and it is of course, very stylish. Hopefully that would have answered your questions.

Group jumping on Baru

The road down was no less bumpy than the way up, except we could really see the lack of road we were on! I have huge respect for 4WD vehicles and their operators. It obviously takes a lot of concentration, skill and focus. It does happen that vehicles tip over on this trail, and appearently four vehicles have driven completely off the trail! Luckily that was not us!

Ellie Jeep Volcan Baru

Group Jeep Volcan Baru

Todays adventure was unlike any other heart beating adventure I have done in the past. It was a blast! Thank you for the wedding present, Ellie!

Boquete Flower & Coffee (+ free vodka) Festival

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With a stop and a night in Santa Catalina on the coast, we continued on to Boquete in the highlands. Boquete’s claim to fame is its stunning nature, exquisite coffee and outdoor activities, as well it’s numerous North American and European retirees. The climate is cooler than most other parts of Panama, making it a rather exotic destination for Panamanians. They come to Boquete to sport their winter apparel and buy gloves and fancy toques. However, Norwegians and Canadians would agree that Boquete’s climate does not qualify as glove weather!

We sort of rushed to Boquete to make it in time for the annual Flower and Coffee festival in town. We rolled in on Saturday afternoon and went straight to the festival area, where we mingled among flowers and drank some coffee.

Siri pink jacket

Siri Kyler pina drink

Siri Kyler Todd view tower

As we got deeper into the festival area, we saw a big structure ahead. It was quite obviously a Latin American portable club blasting the tunes. Out of curiosity (and the fact that it was free), we peeked in. What was inside was a massive, daytime dance party! Some drink producer was promoting their new invention and was quite literally throwing the drinks at us! For free! Yay! At 7pm the party was over, we had drank our share of pre-mixed cranberry vodka vodka and were invited to continue the party with a group of our new friends from David. With 80 free cans in tow, we found the closest agreeable spot to hang out. Somebody rounded up glasses and Kyler went and got two bags of ice, and the party continued. We tried our best to keep up, but around 9pm, we were obviously no match for the Panamanians! After some meat on a stick, we called it a good day and returned to Casa Honey.

party time

Siri Ellie at the party

Group shot

Destination: Waterfall, The Panamanian Highland

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From fun in the sun at Playa Venao for the past week, we decided to head for the hills. Santa Fe is a smaller mountain village boasting stunning nature, hikes and a cooler climate. The drive was a mere 233 km North.

Playa Venao Santa Fe map

Cowboy and cattle on road

Kids in the backseat

Mountain road

In order to really see the area, we decided to go on a medium length (5-6 hrs) hike through nature and a few villages. The ultimate destination was a waterfall called Bermejo. It can be viewed at the very top of the Santa Fe map below. The area is off the main tourist trail and we were therefore four out of very few visitors in town. On our hike we only met locals, and they are as friendly as can be!

Santa Fe map

Siri Ellie hike

Ellie mud crossing

Cascada Bermejo was a beautiful waterfall with several smaller pools below. The water was definitely what can be considered frisk, but made for a refreshing dip after hiking in the sun. Kyler and Todd explored what could be explored, including scaling down a cliff with a bat flying between Todd’s legs at the end!

Kyler Todd monkey business

Siri Todd Kyler testing the depth

Siri Ellie laxin

Santa Fe hike view

Plants close up

Hike horses

Panama house

A lone star

Flowers close up

On our way back to Santa Fe, we met these two kids who really wanted our attention. First, they showed us a dead snake in the stream by the road. When we had looked at that for a while, you could tell they were trying to think of something else to show and tell us about. Oh, look at the chicken guts over here! We came and we saw, before we said our goodbyes and continued on.

Looking at

The road back was very hilly. We slalomed down the hills for a while.
Towards the end, the hills were so steep we walked backwards. It helped!

Last hill to Santa Fe

As we arrive in Santa Fe, we found the one and only bar in town and had one, two, three, four well deserved beers. Not bad when the beers are 65 cents each! Cheers!

Deserved beers

A Very Little Horseback Ride

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For a change in scenery, activities and climate, we drove from the coast to the mountain village of Santa Fe.

We have been wanting to ride horses for a while. When we arrived at our hostel in Santa Fe, Hostal Qhia, we read that tour guide Cesar offered to take people on rides in the area. The tourist information folder stated that Cesar is a little man, and so are his horses. If you are very tall, or very big, this might not be the trip for you. With two Western sized men in our group, we had to make sure whether or not this applied to us. When asked, we were told we would be good to go, and so we did!

At nine am sharp, little Cesar arrived at our hostel with five horses in tow. Three of the horses could be considered small to medium sized. I got little Canelo. Definetely a x-small to small size horse. I felt bad for just getting on top of little Canelo, let alone knowing that he would have to haul me around for the next four hours. Kyler’s horse, Chocolate, was not keen (in general) and at times we wondered whether Chocolate should have been riding Kyler in stead of the opposite. Todd was given the horse in charge, Campion. He mostly kept a steady pace and would lead the troops. Ellie’s horse was Carolina. As it turned out, Canelo and Carolina were the slow and steady ones.
The trip took us up close to the peak of Mount Tuto overlooking Santa Fe. The path went up and down and up and down. It is a stunning area with mountain tops and lush nature all around.

Santa Fe little horse ride

Santa Fe Kyler crushing horse

Todd on a horse

Santa Fe Kyler Todd horses

Santa Fe Siri lost her horseLooks like Canelo ran away from me. If it was not Cesar tightening Canelo’s saddle while holding on to him, he might have given it a try…

Santa Fe horseback riding

Santa Fe horseback riding Ellie Todd

Santa Fe horses Siri posing

Santa Fe horse charging down the hill

As we were getting close to town, the horses found some energy deep within. They could not wait to finish! Chocolate, in particular, could not wait to get Kyler off his back and galloped back to our hostel. It was a great day. We all survived, including Canelo, Campion, Chocolate and Carolina. Now, we are all a little saddle sore, but some jell-o and hammock time cure most ailments!

Horseride jello

Santa Fe after horseride

The Panamanian Pollera

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In spite of the name, it does not have anything to do with pollo – chicken. The pollera is the traditional Panamanian dress. It is a spectacle of colors, fabric, beads and ruffles. The look of the pollera depends on the geographic origin of it’s wearer – much like the Norwegian bunad.

While lounging on – and around – Playa Venao, we heard about a festival that was to take place in Las Tablas, about an hour or so away, on Saturday. Nobody seemed to know exactly what the festival was about, but mentioned that it would involve dresses. We debated back and forth whether it was worth the drive. In the end we figured we had already spent sufficient amount of time on the beach (for now) and decided it would be great with some cultural input.

After packing up Honey; taking down the pop-top, rolling in the awning, driving off the leveling wooden block and moving stuff from the front seats to the back, we got on our way. The kids in the back (Ellie and Todd) fell asleep a little past Pedasi. Still wondering if the drive would be worth it, we trucked on. As we rolled into Las Tablas an hour and twenty minutes later, we were pretty quickly, pretty certain az the drive was worth it. The town was absolutely packed with colorful and happy people! We found great parking close to the action, right next to the paddy wagon. From there it did not take long to find the festivities. An enormous parade, involving more people than there were spectators, soon began. Each town had put together a group consisting of girls and women, boys and men to dance with them, a band to play music to dance to and occasionaly a rather spectacular float, for the parade. The girls were wearing the pollera and intricate, fancy head pieces. The original head pieces used to be made of fish scales and pearls. The newer ones are more commonly made from plastic beads and fabric due to the lower price and lesser labor involved. The boys and the men were wearing pants and different types of fitted shirts. Some of them had an excess amount of colorful buttons on them. They ran all along the front and some also had them all along the back. The typical head wear for the men was a certain type of straw hat. The hats were small on top, sort of like a quarter gallon hat, as oppsed to a ten gallon cowboy hat. The brims could be bent up as the hat bearer pleased. Some wore them with only the front folded up, some folded up the front and the back, and some wore it as is.

Las Tablas horns

Las Tablas float

Las Tablas women portraits

Polleras head piece close up

Las Tablas trio

Las Tablas Gangnam Style

Las Tablas polleras women

Las Tablas polleras street scene

Las Tablas polleras girl

Las Tablas polleras woman portrait

Las Tablas parade street scene

The parade snaked its way through all of town and we walked around so that we could take it in from several different view points. We were four out of approximately ten foreigners in town for the occasion and people were very happy to let us in on the celebrations. Todd was asked to dance and swung a woman and her polleras around to much applause. In the heat of the festivities Ellie became in dire straits of a handheld fan and got one for a dollar. I had enough work keeping my (fairly short) dress from flying up and decided it would simply be too much to keep track of. That was until Travel Panama handed them out for free and I could no longer resist. We finished off our cultural travel input with a refreshing glass bottle, real sugar Coca Cola, some meat on a stick, fresh batidos (fruit smoothies) and a dance outside the van, before returning to our camp spot at Playa Venao.

Las Tablas polleras Todd dance

Las Tablas polleras Siri

Funlovingliving at Las Tablas

A Little Paradise on Earth

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Stoked to discover more of Panama than the city and the canal, we left Monday morning after a run and a hearty breakfast. We considered driving up to Colon on the Caribbean coast, but decided not to, as it is not known to be pretty, nor safe. Instead, we had our eyes set on Playa Venao on the Azuero peninsula. It is a funny feeling officially being on our way back to Canada, but who says it has to be done fast?

Map Playa Venao

On the way to the Azuero peninsula, we saw this sign and the joke of the day came out: “I guess it means the food goes down well!”

El Titanic

As we pulled into Playa Venao, we all agreed we had found our spot! It is small and completely chilled out, while still having a few amenities such as a tiny-tiny supermarket, a couple restaurants and internet. The beach is beautiful, it is lush, sunny and hot. Who knows how long we will stay?

Van set up Playa Venao

Playa Venao

ellie todd playa venao

Playa Venao blue skies

Back On The Road!

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Day one at the mechanics was spent entirely at the VW dealership. We played Sudoku, read, watched, went for lunch and repeat. In the end they decided they needed some external help for the fix. We packed up the essentials, aka. ten kilos of laundry, and went to a hostel in town and did laundry all evening.

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We showed up at the VW dealer the next morning at 8 am hoping Honey would be fixed and back on the road in time to greet our friends Ellie and Todd at the airport in Panama City. The clock tick-tocked and we realized that we would not make it in time.

At 2 pm, Honey was fixed! With $90 less in our wallet, we hit the road with the intention of driving as far as possible until it got dark. When it got dark, the roads were so good we decided to keep going all the way!
Our goal for the past few months, the Panama Canal was crossed in the dark.

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Around 9 pm we rolled into our designated meeting point, Villa Michelle, our home for the next few days. Ellie and Todd were there, the funlovingliving team just got two new members! Yay!

An Oh No Start to the New Year

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Rather early on the first day of 2013, we left Bocas del Toro, our home for the past three weeks or so. We were heading to Panama City where our friends, Ellie and Todd are about to fly in, as we speak. Ellie and Todd will be joining our funlovingliving adventures for the next few weeks. Okey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

We got on the boat from Bocas to mainland Panama at Almirante, where our van, Honey, had been parked. We found her just like we left her – A big relief (when your van is like your baby)!

Full of excitement of being reunited with our baby and with new adventures ahead of us, we hit the road! The roads were smooth, the tunes were good and life seemed all good.

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After about an hour and a half drive, we decided to stop for a quick refreshing drink before embarking on the rather steep mountain pass over to the Pacific side and the Pan-American highway leading to Panama City. When we went to start Honey, she is not keen. Not at all. Our beloved van is completely dead and we are somewhere in random Panama where we do not want to be very long. Some friendly passer-byes come to help us. We all believe it is our starter that has given in. We have had some minor troubles starting earlier and took the van in to the mechanic in San Jose, Costa Rica, for this reason. They said all is good and we took their word for it. As we were now stopped, we regretted it! The friendly passer-byes got ahold of a local police officer who took up the job of finding a tow truck for us. We decided we wanted to go to David (on the Pacific side) rather than being stuck on the Caribbean side, where there really is not much and what is there is is sort-of shady. It started pouring rain and went from really, really sweaty hot to really quite cold in a matter of minutes. It rained like it only does in the tropics. Buckets and buckets at a time. Not quite the start of 2013 we had hoped for.

We waited and waited and waited some more. As it was starting to get dark, the truck was still not there and I was starting to get worried. What do we do if it doesn’t show up??

Luckily, we didn’t have to find out. The truck came just a little later, after having struggled across the mountain from David to us. Now he would have to do the drive back.

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The drive we had ahead of us was, well, horrible. More than once did I think we could die, right now, right here, in Panama. The tow truck didn’t have much for headlights and what it did have were looking different ways. It was extremely foggy to the point where we couldn’t see anything ahead of us. It felt like we were driving in a bubble, except we weren’t! We were on a rather skinny road. I squeezed Kyler’s hand so hard I must have stopped the circulation. As we hit pot holes I let out little sounds, while trying not to, at the same time. In the side view mirror, we could see the van shifting it’s position. It was sketchy, scary, hot, cold and terrifying, all the same time. After a four hour drive, we finally made it to David! Ahhh, what a relief! After another hour or so of unloading the van off the truck, packing some essentials, looking for a place to sleep and unwind, we went to bed exhausted. Unfortunately, Ellie and Todd will have to do without us for the next day or so, as we sort out the van and eventually make our way down to Panama City.

Alright, it’s 7:00 am, we will make some breakfast before day two at the mechanic shop. Let’s hope we get this show back on the road!