Ben, who I'd met in Santa Catalina, and I took the 7 am bus for the long journey from there to Playa Venao. I had been told about it from a Panamanian woman in Boquete who said that there was good surfing there. I looked it up and found a place that sounded very cool called Eco Venao, and eco-lodge in the jungle.
Ben and I laughed at the multiple bus journey there. In one town called Chitré, we were welcomed in to town by a bunch of larger than life sized cartoon statues of Jesus floating between what looked like giant eggshells, an M&M, Nemo, Barney, some huge bird, and an enormous Christmas present. It was an odd cast of characters to say the least.
We finally arrived at our very cool, but basic eco lodge. After a shower under our coconut shower head and we went to see the beach. The waves looked good, as did the surfers. The thing was that this area of Panama has recently had a boom in development so everything had gone up in price. We stopped for a beer and dinner at a bar restaurant on the beach that had been open for all of three weeks. There was another new and expensive hotel that had just been open for a month. Rooms started at $90 a night. Playa Venao had suddenly gotten pretty darn swank. Thankfully Eco Venao was a more affordable option, although they too had raised their prices.
After we were done we returned to our eco lodge to pack up for Pedasí. We had heard some rustling in the trees above our bamboo hut, and the unmistakable call of the howler monkey. We went outside and right above our hut were over 20 monkeys! It was incredible! There was even a Carablanca.
There were too many monkeys to get in one picture
We unsuccessfully tried to hitch a ride to Pedasí and ended up taking a cab in the end. Pedasí was a cute little town with tile roofs and charm. Apparently a lot of other folks saw its potential as well, because there is a lot of foreign development in the area. The place we ended up staying, was fantastic, but like Playa Venao the prices had gone up there as well.
The next morning we took a little stroll around Pedasí before our long journey to Panama City.
We passed over the Panama Canal entering the city and realized when we got to the bus station that this is a huge and somewhat dangerous city and we had no clue where we were going. I remembered something about Casco Viejo as being the historic part of the city and figured we’d get dinner there before my flight back to Colombia. Getting to Casco Viejo we rode through some pretty sketchy looking neighborhoods and I was glad to be in a cab. Casco Viejo itself seemed like a run down small version of Cartagena.
The day we were there was the 46th anniversary of the Flag Riots of 1964. Apparently the Flag Riots started with some disagreement between high school and university students arguing about flying the US and Panamanian flags. A riot broke out and 12 people were killed and millions of dollars worth of property were destroyed. There were not many people out in Casco Viejo despite being a Saturday and I don’t know if a – it’s always like that, b – people were mourning the loses, or c – that no alcohol was available for purchase in either restaurant or store. My guess is option c.
I left in my cab and headed to the airport, bidding adieu to Ben who was on his way back to Nicaragua and the Spain. I met some foreigners headed to Colombia and they were on my plane. The first stop of the plane was in Cartagena – that is where all the foreigners departed. I was with a handful of Colombians on the short plane ride back to Barranquilla.
Panama was really a relaxing vacation. I felt like I saw a lot of the country, but my regret is that I didn’t really spend time with any Panamanians, but rather a lot of tourists. I didn’t speak that much Spanish while I was there either. Heading back to Colombia would change both of those in a hurry.
Now, back to our previously scheduled “La Vida Colombiana”