Well, I was expecting to write a blog with fabulous pictures of the San Blas right now, but unfortunately I lost 4 days and $400 to El Capitan Kevin and his half-functioning sail boat without a trip through the San Blas since we had to flee the boat the moment we saw land to ensure our sanity… and to keep him from mutiny. We sailed towards Puerto Obaldia just after sunset and it looked like we had arrived to the middle of nowhere – just 2 bright lights guided us towards the small town of 500 and even then, Kevin almost ran us aground on some coral reefs skirting the shore. We paddled towards the only dock and were relieved to discover a hotel only a block and a half into town. Still everything was cloaked in darkness, so we relaxed in our room for $10 and smoked a cigar in the hammocks outside to celebrate land and our newfound freedom, although we had no idea how or when we were getting out of there.
The next morning, light arrived to uncover a tourist friendly, extremely safe town with two internet cafes, great cheap eats, and most importantly, an air strip with 2 flights that day to Panama city. After snorkeling for 10 minutes beachside and destroying my supposedly waterproof camera (never buy the Fujifilm XP10) and eating breakfast at a restaurant run by the same people who owned the hotel and sold plane tickets (it almost felt like the entire island was just one big family), we completed our 1 hr journey to Panama city, now only 1 day behind schedule but still without our dreams of sailing through the San Blas archipelago.
Panama city was a bit of a culture shock to arrive to after 5 days at sea with only the same 4 people around you and experiencing quite an extreme case of cabin fever. The highlights were definitely sleeping in a non-rocking, non-moldy bed at Luna’s Castle hostel – $13 per night including wifi and a banana pancake breakfast, which is in the beautiful Casco Viejo neighbourhood. Although an important colonial neighbourhood, it was extremely run down and reminiscent of Havana, Cuba with the decaying facades and lifeless streets. Panama Viejo was a modern neighbourhood built literally ontop of of the oldest ruins from the first European settlements in Panama.
Of course I had to visit the Panama canal, and was pleasantly accompanied by Guy East, a retired cyclist who is thinking of biking to all 200 countries. I challenged him to race, but I’m not that great at biking so Ill stick to planes, boats and buses.
Panama downtown looked bigger than Miami beach, and the traffic and complexity of getting from point A to point B made it a little difficult to navigate – especially since taxis are reluctant to pick you up or take you where you want to go, and at least 3 protests/riots/parades in the 3 days we were there blocked some major routes. The Panama independence holiday occurring on Nov 3 is surrounded by the two days before and after also being some sort of holiday or reason to close of roads and prohibit the sale of alcohol, and getting out of Panama was even more difficult when heavy rains, flooding and bridge collapses turned my 15 hr bus journey from Panama city to San Jose, Costa Rica into 40 hrs.