Panama was the only Central American country I hadn't visited. A bus trip from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica to Guabito, Panama changed that. I took a bus, a taxi, and a boat through Changuinola, El Silencio, Almirante, and then finally, to Bocas del Toro, Panama's most famous archipelago.
Like Roatan in Honduras, Bocas del Toro attracts beach and water sports enthusiasts. I had gotten that out of my system in Roatan and was seeking something more chill. Answer: Isla Bastimentos, which is just a 10-minute boat ride away from Bocas del Toro. The vibe there is different: if Bocas del Toro is laid back, Isla Bastimentos is lying down.
The locals who live on that island seem more Caribbean-like than Central American. Although they usually speak English and Spanish, they prefer talking in Guari-Guari, a unique language that blends English, Spanish, and Creole. This characteristic is also similar to Roatan. The difference between the islands and the mainland is so vast that it feels like another world. In short, if you need to escape from Central America, then go to an island in Central America.
At under $20 per night, Hotel Bastimentos is a great deal. It's hard to resist not jumping into one of their many hammocks, cuddling up with a good book and enjoying a thrilling thunderstorm while overlooking the water. For $35 (US currency is Panama's official currency) a small boat will take you to see dolphins in Dolphin Bay, red frogs at Red Frog Beach, and wizards on Wizard Beach. Although I saw the dolphins, red frogs, and Wizard Beach, I didn't see any wizards.
For a Central American, a trash can is always near
Trash litters Central American countrysides. Although there's trash on every street, trash is most plentiful on the river banks. Frequent rainstorms flush tons of trash down towards the streams. When the rain subsides and the creeks retreat, the vast pile of garbage is plain to see.
Who should we blame? Grandmothers, of course. I observed one grandmother who finished her plastic soft drink, screwed on the cap, and then, without hesitation or remorse, chucked the bottle out of our moving bus. I couldn't believe it. I felt like slapping her upside the head and asking her, "Hey Granny, is that what you teach your grandchildren?"
However, before I could smack her, I received my answer. During the long bus ride, I had been collecting my orange peels and plastic wrappers in a bag on the floor. During the bumpy ride, my bag slipped into the bus aisle. The young guy who patrols the aisle and collects the fares grabbed the bag, and without flinching, tossed it out the window. He didn't ask anyone if the trash was theirs, nor did he look to see if the projectile might hit someone on a bicycle.
Walking the streets, you'll observe similar behavior. After finishing a bag of potato chips, people routinely just let it fall to the ground. After being horrified by such blatant littering, I started to see the benefit. It is a pain in the ass to carry rubbish until you find a receptacle. So when I'm in America, I just toss things out window too! It just feels so liberating! Thanks Grandma!
Returning to Costa Rica
I wanted to keep heading south through Panama and backpack through the Darien Gap. Although Panama and Columbia are connected by land, there are no roads between them. Hence, the area is called the Darien Gap. Columbian drug lords patrol this dangerous, wild, roadless jungle.
However, Panama and Columbia have announced their intention to build a road through the Darien Gap soon. One more immense wilderness area will soon become less wild. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to explore the Darien Gap. I had a plane to catch in Costa Rica.
Before I boarded the plane, I had to see El Volcán Poás. This active volcano within sight of Costa Rica's capital is easy to see because the bus nearly drives you into the steaming cauldron. It takes you close enough that it's just a short walk up a paved trail. Along the way you'll see high altitude hummingbirds flying among twisted trees. From the crater's overlook, you can hear the bubbling, burping, and hissing sounds from the volcano's angry core. The view is spectacular.
As I listened to Hades, there was a bit of sadness in me. I realized that my Central American adventure was now over. Although I had completed my quest to see every Central American country, it had all happened too quickly. On the other hand, a new adventure was about to begin.
I boarded the plane in San Jose, Costa Rica. It flew to El Salvador, then to Nicaragua, then to Miami, and finally, it took a big hop across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I was back in Europe and excited to start of a new adventure! Woo-hoo!
Next article: I'll summarize the top Central American countries by putting them in an A-List and a B-List. I'll also share a controversial lesson from the region.