La Palma, Panama

The final days to Rio Congo and adventure in cities on the Gulf of San Miguel.

Tuesday, January 27, 8pm – Panama City, Panama

I’m at the Luna Castle hostel in the old city in Panama City. Its a great hostel. Dorm beds are $12 a night. People here are friendly and it has a great community vibe.

I arrived in La Palma on Thursday night. La Palma is the capitol city of Darien, the provence where Rio Congo is. Darien is 10,000 square miles and is home to 300,000 people. La Palma is accessible only by boat and by airplane. Flights are irregular. I only heard one plane the four days I was there. There is no roads to here. There is a short road that connects La Palma with a few of the near by villages and is used mostly by busses the locals use. People are very poor here.

My first view of La Palma.


Arriving at La Palma by boat. $3

Welcome to La Palma

A shot of La Palma from the hill at night. You can see how small it is. And the jungle and islands in the background.

La Palma is a one street town. Really its one street. And the only road in the area dead ends here. I walked the road and it dead ends at the edge of town into the side of a steep hill. The other direction goes for about 20 miles and end at some town. La Palma is on the side of a hill and all the houses on the hill are accessible via a maze of little paths that lead from the single street. On this street is one hotel and a pension house, a really cheap hotel. There are 4 restaurants which are open or closed at whim. Dinner at the best restaurant with a drink will run you $2.25. There are 5 bars. A beer, shot of rum, or a bottle of coke cola will set u back 65¢. There are several government offices, one bank, no ATM, and a office for the telephone company and the mobile phone company. No internet anywhere in the city. There are a lot of little stores. Every couple of doors is a little store. I stayed at the Casa Ramady. My private hotel room without air conditioning or a bathroom was $10 a night. The price jumps to $25 if you want your own bathroom and A/C. I stayed in a room with a/c and a bathroom the first night. Then I move to a cheaper room. The hotel is built over the water and is run by a very nice family that lives there and runs a store on the ground floor.

Casa Ramady Hotel in La Palma

My room the first night, Thursday. $25 with A/C and private bathroom. It is not that hot to need A/C and the common bathroom is very nice so I moved to a different room across the hall without A/C or private bathroom that cost $10 a night.

My other room. $10

The balcony overlooking the ocean.

Balcony overlooking the street.

Looking at the gulf from the hotel.

The hotel from the water.



I did not find anything that cost more than $3 other than my hotel room. In La Palma you use change. I used to wonder what it was like years ago when you could buy something with penny’s and nickels. I found a bakery that sold bread for 35¢. Most things in the stores cost less than a dollar. Trying to change a $50 dollar bill or even a $20 is difficult. I got my hair cut there for $1.25.

Here are some random shots of the town.

Most of the people that live in La Palma are of african decent. Most of the indians live outside of town in small groups of simple houses or huts.

I noticed that people are a little over weight for a poor latin american country.

Like the rest of Panama, dogs are everywhere and just lie down anywhere. Most people here think of them as pests and are often throwing rocks at them if they try to enter a building. Most places keep their door open during business hours so he dogs just walk into places. So the dogs are very skittish if you get close and are never aggressive.

The women the white skirt owns the store and the hotel I stayed in. Notice the road is only big enough for one truck.

One of the many stores.

The local clothing store. It’s one room.

A great view of the street looking from the hotel which is pretty much in the middle of town.

The bus that takes you to other villages.

My favorite restaurant.

And me taking a nap. This was taken by a women I met at the hotel. She became my traveling buddy.


The town Catholic Church.

Here is the edge of both sides of the town.

The street curves and heads out to the next village.


On the other side of town the road ends in the hill and this little path splits off. Then goes up some steps to a little fish market.

Some shots of the homes in the hills. No road here, just steep concrete steps and narrow paths.


My friend and I are getting to the top of the hill and you can see one of the edges of the village where the road starts to head to the next village. After this point there is nothing along the coast for 30 miles except jungle and an occasional indian family living in a hut.

My first night there I sent to bed pretty early. I was told the sun rise was beautiful coming up over the gulf. And I was pretty tired. I awoke the next morning well before dawn. That morning I started to look for a boat to Rio Congo. I found one guy that would take me by boat the 7 miles across the gulf for $85. That was much more than I wanted to pay and more than the locals pay. I kept looking. The usual fare is $3. I kept looking and had problems even finding someone that knew when boats went there. I then met a guy that told me a boat was leaving in a few hours and to wait at the hotel and the price would be $3 each way. I waited for hours and he never showed up. Then started looking again. I found someone else that told me to wait at the hotel and he would be back soon with information on a boat. He never show up. I started waking around the town again trying to find out if, when, where boats go to Rio Congo. There is no sense of time here. Noting is planned. A boat might leave at noon and then leave at 11:30 because it was full. If you bought a ticket and are not there when they want leave, a half hour early, they leave you. Or it might leave hours late because there is not enough people to fill it. Looking for my boat, I saw a blond women walking down the street. I stopped her and started talking to her. She was looking for a hotel and I suggested mine. As it was the only decent hotel in town.

I continued to look for a boat. I asked all the people standing near the boats at the waters edge and the fish market. No one knows of any boat over to the other side of the gulf. I was hanging out in the hotel and the women I recommended the hotel to asked me if I wanted to join her for dinner. We walked to my favorite place and it was closed. We went to an other restaurant and it was closed. That’s half the restaurants and it was only 5pm. We found a open restaurant and had a great meal. Chicken and rice. That’s all I have pretty much what people eat here is chicken and rice. Sometime beef and rice. And always a side of fired banana. Every dish comes with rice and fried bananas.

Back at the hotel a guest that does business in the area tell me he heard about my wanting to go to Rio Congo and that his friend will take me for $3. It was too late in the day to leave and make it back to La Palma and I told him I wanted to leave early in the morning and come back in the afternoon. We agree on the price of $3 each way, returning that afternoon. The boat captain will come to the hotel at 9am to get us. Reina and I hit the local bar and we both get buzzed for less than $4. We talked overlooking the gulf for an hour or so and I told her my story. She was looking at property to move here. She son is about to start college and she wants to leave the states. She asked if she can come along with me the next day to Rio Congo. She is pretty cool and she knows spanish so I said sure. I would love the company.
Thursday, January 30th 11pm – Panama City

I spent the day going to Colon which is the other end of the Panama Canal. I visited the free trade zone there for a client. Colon is very poor and I am told very dangerous. The free trade zone is huge with block after block of shops and warehouse for goods. The entire zone is protected and secured. I had to show identification to enter. Once in side it is safe. The business are all wholesale and do not pay Panamanian duties or taxes. The bus ride is two hours from Panama City via a two lane highway. Traffic is heavy and 50 miles trips is slow. I passed the Canal and saw one of the locks. The tourists I have met are all excited about seeing the Canal. But living in the midwest I have seen many locks. Although the Panama locks are larger they look the same as on the ones on the Ohio river.

I left at noon from Panama’s national bus terminal and arrive in Colon at 4pm. There was an accident or something on the road and we sat in traffic for 2 hours. The bus was very nice. I arrive at the bus terminal in Colon, which is dirty and run down. The worse terminal I have seen. I took a cab to the Radisson, the best hotel in the city and asked people where the free trade zone is, what the city is like and if there was anything else I should know. The free trade zone was a block away and I could walk it, the city is dangerous and I should not walk around it in the day or night. I walked to the zone collected allot of information for my client and grabbed a cab back to the bus station. I took the 5pm bus back to Panama City. The bus was full with worker commuting from the zone to Panama City. The ride back showed the movie, Tropic Thunder with Robert Downy Jr, Jack Black, and Ben Stiller with Matthew McConaughey and a cameo by Tom Cruise. The movie was dubbed in spanish. It is so odd to hear these famous actors have spanish come for their mouths. So much is lost. Their voices are such a part of their identity. With in minutes of the bus departing, everyone was a sleep.

Back to La Palma. Its is Saturday and the day to take a boat to Rio Congo. You travel by boat to Rio Congo. There are now roads there. Here is the route the boat took. The Ride took 2 hours and cost $3.

The plan was to leave at 9am but I was awoken at 7am. The captain wanted to leave before the waves picked up.

Hzere is my boat and the captain.

Here is a photo of a similar boat on shore. The boat is a hollowed out tree trunk with boards along the top and a small motor at the end.

Its not big and you sit just above the water.

The view of La Palma at low tide from the boat.

The entire hill and the town of La Palma on the banks

The view across the gulf.

Passing the jungle at low tide.

Headed to the narrow channel the separates the two parts of the gulf.

A little light house marking the channel.

The gulf

Lots of little deserted islands.

The boat captain and a passenger and the light house in the distance. The channel is small and with out the light house it would be hard to find.

I am now in the open water.

Rio Congo is far in the distance. The waves are not to bad. This ride requires a lot of faith in the little wooden boat and the captain.


The water is getting choppy and the boat is bouncing up and down spraying salt water on everything. I am looking to my left at the open ocean.

On the right side of the photo the will has a notch and u can tell there is a little beach there. The boat is headed towards it. I assume it is Rio Congo.

This bird followed the boat circling it for about 20 minutes. It made me think of Jonathan Livingston’s seagull.

I can start to make our little building on the shore. I am getting excited. I have come so far and see so many things. I can’t believe I am almost here. My journey is almost over.

I have arrived. This is Rio Congo at low tide. The shore is a mess of mud, rocks, and drift wood.

Click here to continue to Rio Congo

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