Tag Archives: Transportation

Panama : The return

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Panama : The return

We are now back in Panama for the last four nights of our amazing trip around Central America. We have seen and learnt so much about both countries. The wildlife, nature, way of life. Also we have seen firsthand the poverty in both countries. We also had some interesting conversations with Taxi drivers about life in Central America. “You can always rely on a cabbie for the real low down on a country”. One told us last night that he and most of the working class people are not impressed with their president or political leaders (to be honest that’s probably the case the world over) He told us that the wages here are very low $500 dollars a month in some cases. We mentioned the fact that we had noticed so many banks , his answer was I quote “ probably to wash money “. I presume he meant drug money from Colombia. This seems astonishing as I look out the window of our hotel room at a skyline consisting of high rise luxury apartments, hotels, banks and a marina full of boats. Also when you consider the revenue made from the Panama Canal how can this be? When we visited this amazing feat of engineering (more on that later). We learned that on average a ship passing through the locks costs $188,000 dollars and rises to a whopping $450,000 for the very large ones. The canal operates 24hrs a day 365 days of the year and around 40 ships a day pass through. So if you just take the average cost for passage through that’s $7,520,000 dollars a day. Which equates to 7.75 billion dollars a year, that’s without all the countries other exports ie bananas and many other fruits, coffee, pharmaceuticals etc. So having seen first hand the areas on the periphery of town, where people are living in run down squalid housing in no doubt cramped conditions, it made me wonder how could this be happening especially for a country with a population of only 4.5 million people. Where does all that money go. Certainly from my point of view not on the infrastructure. Outside of Panama the roads are terrible, the pedestrian walkways even in Panama are a heath and safety risk. In David which is Panama’s second largest city it’s really run down. It has none of the fancy buildings that Panama has, its infrastructure is in bad need of updating. So my question is where does all this wealth go?

Panama Canal : Miraflores Locks

As we were unable to get to the canal when we arrived in Panama back in March due to Friday afternoon traffic. (See my post entitled What a day). We got there around 10:30 quite excited at the prospect of seeing this engineering marvel. When we got to the entrance a staff member told us that no shipping will be passing through until around 2:30pm. So as well as seeing the locks we wanted to view a ship passing through. So rather than going back to our hotel we took a taxi to a shopping mall called Albrook, as it was a short ride from the canal to get a coffee and some lunch. Now if you have seen one shopping mall you’ve pretty much seen them all, but this one is absolutely huge. It has a floor space of 380,000 square metres. In comparison the largest in the UK which is the Gateshead metro centre which is 193,000. Well enough of shopping centre facts back to the canal. We arrived back in time to see three huge ships pass through. It’s mind blowing how close these huge ships are the the lock sides. Also how tall they are. We were on the viewing platform on the fourth floor of the visitor’s centre and on one ship carrying cars towered above us. A really truly amazing spectacle. For some really interesting facts on the locks click here. Entrance fee to the visitor centre is currently $10 dollars.

Goodbye Costa Rica.

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Goodbye Costa Rica.

Our journey through Costa Rica has ended and what an amazing journey it was. We saw so much wildlife that we have never seen anywhere before on our travels around the world. Sloths, White faced capuchin monkeys, Howler monkeys, Coati’s, Scarlet Macaws, Agouti’s, Racoons. I could write a long list. We have visited eight national parks, two wetland parks and done a night hike in the jungle. If you have been following my blog you will have read all about them. We also have learnt so many fascinating things about the wildlife here, and so much about the rain forest, their ecosystems and it’s trees and plants that support both the wildlife and themselves. The whole experience has been totally enthralling. Sadly though our journey in Costa Rica is at an end, and now we are back in Panama. Nevertheless the experiences and memories of this amazing country will be with us always.

Paso Canoas border crossing.

Now land border crossings can be a bit of a challenge, from memory we have done about five. Thailand to Cambodia at Poipet probably being the worst and most stressful. I always research the crossings thoroughly before any trip that involves them. Sometimes though when just reading about them they sound a total nightmare. it’s amazing what the mind conjures up when you have no images in your head. My mind conjures scenes from a Mad Max film or Dodge city. Well to be honest Poipet was just that. So my advice is go onto YouTube and search for the crossing you are going to and someone would have filmed themselves doing the whole thing. Beware though some are painful to watch as it’s just an exercise about look at me, see how handsome or beautiful I am. Despite this they can be a useful source of information. You then have an image in your head of the whole process and then realise it’s not as scary as you imagined at all.

When we crossed the border in the beginning of our trip we went across at a place called Sixola. The whole thing was a breeze. Friendly control officers helpful people. The whole process took around twenty minutes.

Crossing at the main border, Paso Canoas,was a very different experience. We read that it was always very busy and can take up to two hours to cross. Big queues of people, and a ten minute walk between the departing and arriving customs over very uneven ground. Oh well it had to be done, we had no choice. We took the bus from Golfito to Paso Canoas, which took around a hour and a half. The bus drops you off right across the street from where you get your exit stamp to leave and costa around a £2 each. For a taxi to do the same journey you are looking at paying between $60 to $75 dollars. When you leave Costa Rica you have to pay an exit tax $8 dollars or 5400 CRC. You can pay this at the office opposite where you get your exit stamp, but sometimes their systems are down making life difficult. Thankfully where we stayed in Golfito we were told by the host that you can pay the tax online through BCR bank. The page is in Spanish , but most modern smartphones have a translate option for web pages. Click Here for official site. We didn’t actually need to show our receipt for the exit tax as when you purchase the tax online you have to record your passport number on the form so I presume it showed on the customs officer’s computer as paid. This process took about ten minutes. She also told us that it’s best to have printed copies of all of your paperwork Covid vaccination records, Panama entry affidavit, proof of your onward journey from Panama. Also sometimes proof of funds for your stay in Panama, in the form of a credit card or three months bank statements. Fortunately we got all this done in a local print copy shop in Golfito. You can get this done at the border but I imagine it would be much more expensive.

Getting back into Panama was very different. Firstly the walk to get your exit stamp certainly did not take 10 minutes like other blogs I have read, granted the path we had read about was uneven but if you walk along the edge of the tarmac road, taking care avoiding the very large trucks passing you will be fine. On reaching the exit building, another added bonus was there were no large queues of people waiting to cross which we had read about, it was just us. The next part is where it got quite stressful. At the customs officers window you first have to show your exit stamp from Costa Rica, he then hurries you through a door to see a doctor “ I have to say he did not look much like a doctor, he could have been anyone. He then gives you a form to fill out. We were then approached by what we thought was a border official, he had a tee shirt with an official looking logo and an official looking lanyard. As I was filling out the forms he was joined by another guy, they were both very friendly and helpful but were getting a bit close to us for our liking. So Jackie kept guard on our luggage while I filled the forms out. One of the guys then took the forms from us and passed them through the window to the doctor, along with our printed covid vaccination records. They would not accept our digital NHS QR codes on our phone, thankfully we had printed copies. The Doctor then stamps the paperwork for you to take back to the customs officer. He asks you where you are staying in Panama and proof of your onward journey from Panama. They sometimes ask you for proof that you have enough money to support you when in the country. Thankfully this wasn’t needed in our case. He then takes a picture of you and then records your finger prints digitally. Stamps your passport and your done. When we left the building to catch our bus one of the supposedly official customs officers approached us and wanted a tip for his help. We initially said no, but for his cheek I gave him the only few colons (Costa Rican currency) we had, which was no use to us in Panama. So beware. Border scams don’t you just love them.

Getting the bus from the border to David is really easy, just by pass the hoards of waiting taxi drivers to the bus stand and there are loads plying for you trade. These small mini buses charge $5 pp (at time of writing) as opposed to between $55 and $70 dollars for a taxi.

Sierpe : Costa Rica.

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Sierpe : Costa Rica.

Our last but one stop before leaving glorious Costa Rica. We are visiting the small town of Sierpe. Our journey was to be taxi to the bus station, then a direct bus to Sierpe with the Tracopa bus company. We asked the waiter in La French café where we were having breakfast if he would kindly call us a taxi, when a very kind Canadian who also was having breakfast and who now lives in Costa Rica offered us a lift, a very nice gesture indeed. The bus company we used Tracopa, are recommended in the guide books, they have a fleet of large coaches which serve most large and small towns in Costa Rica. Along with another company called Ticabus. The journey took about two hours and cost 14,000 CRC which is about £16.

We came to Sierpe to do a couple of things, one was to take a night hike in the jungle and also take a tour of the extensive mangroves here. We also considered visiting the Corcovado National Park, but after quite a bit of research we gave it a miss. Which is kind of sad as the park is billed as the jewel in the crown of Costa Rica’s national parks. Our reasons were firstly you can only enter the park with an authorised guide “ which isn’t a problem in itself “ but the only way to get there from Sierpe was to take a boat along the river to where you will eventually go out to sea, all this is before you reach the San Pedrillo ranger station. This journey takes around one and a half hours. After which you will disembark for your hike. There are other ways of getting to the park, (click here, to find out more). It’s also recommended you stay overnight in basic accommodation or to camp to get the best experience. As we had visited quite a few National parks on our trip we have learnt that you need to be in the parks early to get the best possibility of sighting wildlife. Taking the tour as above you would not arrive until possibly 10am, that’s if sea conditions are good. Another factor was the cost. At around $120 to $130 dollars per person, and the fact that it’s getting towards the end of our trip, and the budget was getting a little tight we did not go.

After viewing google maps of Sierpe we decided to stay for five nights, as there looked like there was plenty to do. Unfortunately Google hasn’t got around to or are not allowed to perform their street view imagery, (That goes for the whole of Costa Rica) so we could not have a good look as to what Sierpe is really like. When we arrived, the bus stopped outside a hotel called Oleaje Sereno, which also has a restaurant called Le Perla attached . There were a load of people waiting at the dock, either for their tour to Corcovado or going onto their accommodation at drake bay. So we thought the town seems lively enough so we would be okay with our five nights. It wasn’t until everyone had gone and just left me and Jackie alone in this large restaurant we noticed the town was deserted, apart from a few stray dogs and tumbleweed rolling down the street (not really) and the fact that the restaurant we were in, was one of only two in town, we looked at each other and said what on earth were we going to do for five nights?

We called the owner of the apartment we had booked, to arrange access. She told us to wait there and somebody would meet us. A lovely little Costa Rican woman greeted us and showed us around. It was quite nice but a lot darker than the photos on Booking.com but it was okay. We were still wondering what we were going to do for the next four days, but we need not have worried . Just read my next post, as I feel it needs a separate entry on the blog to do it justice. It was just amazing.

Monteverde to Jaco : Costa Rica

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Monteverde to Jaco : Costa Rica

Today we moved on from the heights and cool temperatures of Monteverde to the coastal town of Jaco (pronounced Hacko). Situated on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, for some well earned relaxation after visiting Monteverde’s parks. Jaco is labelled as a party town because it’s just around a two hour drive from San Jose the capital.

Once again we opted to take a shared shuttle bus from Monteverde as our journey which was around three and a half hours in a car that is, would have involved two buses with a long wait in between and a much longer journey time. We found a local company in Monteverde who came highly recommended, called Faro travel . Their service was excellent, they kept us updated all the way from booking until pickup. So when Andreas our driver turned up in a 4×4 suv we were pleasantly surprised. I guess that their were not any other customers wanting to do the same journey. Andreas was very informative on the journey with all things Costa Rican. He told us that the Pan American highway we were travelling on is the longest highway in the world, stretching from Alaska to Patagonia, a distance of 48000 km, wow. We stopped at what the locals call Crocodile bridge, which was about two and a half hours into our journey, to take a break and stretch our legs. Now we had seen images of Crocodile bridge during our research back in the Uk. With pictures of the river below the bridge showing vast numbers of Crocodiles lazing around on the river banks below. But alas for us as the river was pretty high and flowing fast we only saw one, but we did see one rather large iguana lazing in the sun on a tree branch, he or she looked like they did not have a care in the world. Except not to get to close to the river as they may become dinner for a Crocodile.

Now we were not sure what to expect of Jaco, as it is billed as a party town. Now we don’t mind a good night out on the town but we like to walk to the nightlife, rather than being situated in the middle of it. So we were rather apprehensive about the location of our choice of hotel, but we were pleasantly surprised. Our accommodation the Hotel Ibiza was down a nice quiet street on the edge of town and just a few minutes from the beach. A really lovely clean nicely decorated place where the staff were all so lovely and friendly. Just perfect.

We booked just four nights at Hotel Ibiza. With hindsight we should have stayed there for the duration of our nine nights in Jaco, but we thought that to save the cost of eating out every night we should maybe book an apartment for the other five nights. So we opted for the La Paloma Blanca apartments the other end of town. Now the complex the apartment was on was beautiful, all low rise, three lovely pools, also we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. The apartment itself was very spacious but was well used as a rental property so it was a bit jaded around the edges. Our apartment B3 was on the third floor with nice views over the pool and the sea. We had booked through booking.com but it turned out the booking was handled by an agent call Vacasa. The price on booking.com was one thing but the extras that was charged but the letting agent was eye watering. 13% tax 18% service charge 9% location fee and $69 dollars cleaning fee. As the booking was non refundable we were well and truly stuck. Oh well you live and learn. But we did have a lovely stay there, with the added bonus of watching the colourful Scarlet Macaws who must have had a nest in a close by tree.

One other reason was to visit the Parque Nacional Carara (we can’t get enough of them). Situated near to crocodile bridge it’s another park run by Sinac which is government run. Entrance fee $11 dollars. There is no guided tour available, just self guided. The paths are all easy except at one point there is a climb up and down some rather badly maintained steps. Now I don’t know whether it’s just bad luck, or the wrong time of day but there was not much in the way of wildlife, except lots of lizards. Oh I nearly forgot also a couple of strikingly coloured poison dart frogs. We also were able to recognise the forest above a forest which we learned on our guided tour of the Santa Elena park. Besides that just to be walking through the jungle is something that we both would never tire off and never experienced before our trip to Central America.

Puerto Viejo : Costa Rica

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Puerto Viejo : Costa Rica

Today we caught the bus to Puerto Viejo, which is about twenty minutes south of Cahuita. The bus station, situated in the centre of town is just as we expected. A ramshackle place with one ticket both and about five bays for the buses to pull in. Consisting of a large dusty dirt area with great big potholes. The fare for the trip one way was 1060 crc or £1.23 for both of us.

The town is a lot busier than Cahuita, however it did say in the guide book that it was a party town. We had a good wander around, in which we both decided that we were glad we had opted to stay in Cahuita and not here. The town is a hub for backpackers who want a lively place to stay. We walked past many bars which were closed during the day but must come alive at night. We ventured to the Bread and Chocolate cafe, which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book and had a lovely brunch. I can highly recommend the food here and the prices are very reasonable

Before we left we set ourselves down in a nice beach side bar and had a couple of cold beers, watching children and adults alike jumping of a boat moored just off the beach. It looked great fun. We had our beers and set off back.