Thursday, January 22, 10:28am – Yaviza Panama.
Wednesday morning, yesterday, my German friends and I shared a taxi from our hostel, the Jungle House, to the national bus terminal. It is huge and connected to a massive mall with every american brand you can think of. I bought my ticket for $9 said good bye to the Germans and headed to my bus.
National Bus Terminal
I was sick the day before. I picked up something and that my body did not like and wanted desperately to get rid of. I have been careful but somewhere some little bug got in and boy was I sick a few times.
The bus was one of the midsize busses. Packed with people going to Darien. The trip is about 150 miles. I tried to talk to people on the bus but no one was very friendly. I sat and looked out the window. I stayed in a dorm the night before so I had not secure place to charge my laptop and my battery was dead. So I could not write as I wanted to.
The bus broke down at one point. Not sure what the problem was. I was in the back so I could not tell what was going on. Looking our my window I could see they took the drivers seat out and I could hear them banging on something. About 30 minutes later we were on our way. As we got further and further from Panama City the police / army presents increased. We went thru several police check points and I was asked for my passport and tourist card several times. They asked my lots of questions in spanish. I had no idea what they were asking me. I just told them in my broken spanish the cities I was going to and that my grandma’s house is in Rio Congo. I let people think that she is alive and lives there now. I only know present tense grammar. I don’t know how to say things that are in the past. I don’t like the authorities but in this care I liked that someone was writing down my name and passport number in case I come up missing. There is a trail to follow.
The drive was beautiful. There is a lot of deforestation here. The land has been turned into pasture for cattle. I makes me think twice about eating meat.
After about 6 and a half hours the bus stops and I am told I have to change buses. I got into a mini bus with 5 other people. This bus will take me to Yaviza. Its getting dark and the road is getting worse. Roads in Panama are generally very good. But I am getting closer to the end of the road and the end of civilization. People yell out from time to time to get off. The buss will stop anywhere to drop off people. Soon I am the last person on the bus. We are in the middle of the jungle. Its is surprisingly chilly. Perhaps not chilly, just not miserably hot and humid. It only feels like its chilly after days in awful heat.
Its completely dark. Its raining which I guess happens allot in the rain forest. No lights can be seen and the cloud cover hides the moon and stars. Its like standing in a dark closet. Pitch Dark. And the rain makes the headlights of the bus almost worthless. The road twists and turns and the driver is dogging huge pot holes the the road. The ride hurt. Really, some of the potholes hurts my bones.
After another hour I start seeing outlines of building and people walking around with flashlights in the rain. It is very surreal. The bus stops in the middle of the road. The driver says something in spanish. I asked him Yaviza? He said yes and wanted more money. I give it to him. I am in no place to be putting up a fight about $7. I look around and there is no lights, a few buildings with candles and lots of people walking around with flash lights. I get out my GPS and checked and yep I am in Yaviza. After 8 hours on a bus I am at the end of the road. In this moment my GPS just paid for it self. I thought was was getting scammed for money or just abandoned. I was all alone, in the jungle, in the dark, in the rain, and near the rebels. For the first time traveling I thought I bit off more than I can chew.
Yaviza. The end of the road. I have always been fascinated by where roads start and end. When I was little I drew maps of imaginably city’s and roads that started as single lane dirt roads and eventually turned into super highways. Well I found the end of the road. You can drive here from Los Angeles or New York. Just keep going south. From anywhere in the USA you can drive here. You can not get lost. All roads eventually will end here. After this it is just dense jungle, yellow fever, anacondas, jaguars, and a few trails used by kidnapping rebels with AK-47s.
So I am here. The end of the line. Welcome to Yaviza. No electricity. I am kind of glad there is not lights. I will not stand out as much. I walked around trying to find if there was a center of this little town. I am really nervous. I cant see any signs, stores or bars. Just 30 or 40 people walking on the one street with flash lights. And a few homes with candles in the windows. I felt like I was in a zombie movies, daring not to talk to anyone or the zombies will eat me.
I walk down this dark street and the people thin out so I turn around and start heading back to where the bus dropped me off. There are more people there. I still can not see anything like a bar or a store. In this part of the world there are little stores everywhere. I was really worried there are not stores. It is the last sign of civilization. And if there are no bar or store there is defiantly no hotels. And if there is a hotel I will never find it in the dark.
Then the lights come on. The town lets out a cheer and I can see business. I was so very happy. The electricity was off. Perhaps from the rain or perhaps from the lack of infrastructure.
I find a store with a old lady at the counter. I ask for where a hotel is. I know how to say this in Spanish. She points across the street and there is a hotel. I walked past it twice. She walked with me and gets the women that runs it. She asked me lots of questions which I don’t understand. I tell her I want a single room. At least I think I did. I hear the word for “with” and I say “with”. I don’t know what I just asked for and what that “with” is. But I rather have it than not. She walked me up a flight of stairs and to a room. She unlocks the door and shows me a room. I pay her $20 and lock the door behind me and unpack. I have a private bathroom. I was hopping the private bathroom was the “with” Its a ok room. Old, walls cracked. Double bed. towels and a fresh roll of toilet paper. I sit down on the bed and it breaks. I look under it and it is held up by broken chunks of cinder blocks.
On the bed is everything I travel with. My backpack, My laptop bag and my fanny pack. Sometimes I put my laptop in my backpack. Buy sometimes when you board busses there is not room on the bus and they put it on top of the bus or underneath it.
I propped a chair on the door incase someone tried to enter in the night so I would fall and make a noise if someone entered. Everyone warned me that Yaviza is the wild west and I should be very careful.
I want to wash my hands and turn on the water in the sink. The water does not work. So much for a private bathroom. I guess I got a closet not a bathroom. Broken bed, no water $20. Holiday Inn, Priceless.
I change into jeans. People here wear jeans. Why in the tropics they wear jeans I don’t know. But they do everywhere. You can tell the tourists by their shorts.
I walk back to the store and ask where I can get some food. I am really hungry. I did not eat for the last 8 hours on the bus. And the day before I was sick so I did not want to give my body anything else to violently expel. Her son some by and sell tells him to take me to a local restaurant. I follow him. He know a little little english. I don’t know where I am going but I have to trust someone and a old lady at the store in the middle of the street is probably a safe bet. He takes me to a little restaurant and they have barbeque chicken. I order half a chicken and a bottle of coke. He cut it with a machete and put it on a plate. No silver wear. Eat with your hands. It came with fired bananas. I was so hungry. The son leaves me and I finish my meal. I walk back to the store. I feel most safe here. I ask the son if he wants to drink some beer. I am told not to go to the bar alone.
He walked me to the local bar, and orders a large bottle and the bar tender gives us a very cold bottle of beer and two plastic glasses. He pays for it. We drink it and soon his girlfriend arrives. She goes to school in Panama City and speaks a little english. On the TV is some american moved dubbed in spanish. Its a mark walberg movie set in the winter. I ask him if he has ever seen snow. It took us a few minutes to arrive at a word for snow. I finally asked what cold, white water was and pointed at the snow on TV. He tells me the word for snow after he thinks about it. Its not a word he used often. He tell me he wants to see snow. I don’t think he understand how cold it can be. But he is very excited about wanting to see snow someday. Think about it. If you have lived your entire life in the dense jungle where everything is green and the temperature never drops below 80. An field of new snow, clean, white, fresh is so alien. But from TV or pictures you have no idea how cold it is. Even putting a cube of ice in his had does not tell the story. Putting ice in his had a refreshing in this oppressive heat. And the TV and pictures never show slush and the grime and black snow a few days later.
My new friend points to a sign on the wall that says the bar sells something. He asked me if I want to try it. I think it is a local vodka. I say yes. The bar tender hands us two ice cream cups. Cool. Desert. Something cold in this heat. I open it and it is chunky. I taste it. Its awful. Its chilled fish in limon juice. He laughs at my reaction. I thank him for it and he tell me its a local custom with beer. I try it again but its just to awful. I remember hearing something about it and that it is aged fish in limon to keep it from spoiling.
We watch TV some more and leave the bar and walk back to his family store. He unlocks the store and he offers me a plastic lawn chair to sit in. I sit in it and almost fall to the floor. Its broken. But the nicest chair in the place. I balance myself and he gets more beer as I chat with his girlfriend. We talk for an hour and he asked my lots of questions about the US. I feel very comfortable with him and tell him one moment and leave and get my computer. I put my laptop under my shirt and return to the store. I ask him to follow me into the store and pull out my laptop and show him photos of the US. He tell me to be very very careful with a laptop here.
He tells me his business is selling bootleg DVD and tell me to pick out my favorite movie from his collection. I pick out one and he gives it to me. I decline but he insists. I picked out Rambo, First Blood.
Finally I am ready for bed and I say go night. We trade email address and wishes me luck and that he hopes to see me again.
Friday, January 23, 4:36am – La Palma, Panama I just awoke up. I was tried and I wanted to get up early so I went to bed about 9pm last night. It is so quiet here. The only sounds are rosters, lapping waves and the occasional barking dog. There is not a soul awake in this town except for me. I am waiting for the sun to rise over the gulf. I am told it is very beautiful.
Thursday, in Yaviza I got up around 9am and headed out to find some breakfast, check out the internet cafe and figure out how I am getting to La Palma. I left all my gear in my room. I walked over to the store run by my new friends and asked them what they recommend. One of them walked me over to a local restaurant that was serving some soup. Soup is water and water is bad. So I choose not to eat there and decided to find somewhere else. I walked to the other side of town, 3 blocks, near the boat docks and asked someone about getting to La Palma. The told me he was going the other direction on the river and pointed me in the direction of someone else. I walked over and asked a national policeman about a boat. The national police is dressed in jungle fatigues and brandishes a automatic riffle. He asked me some questions about where I am going and why. He speaks no english so I do my best. He tells me to follow him. We walk for a few blocks. We are walking away from the river and this make me nervous. We soon come to the police compound with a high fence and barb wire with a sentry at the gait with a huge gun. We enter and he stakes me to the commander.
My stomach is bothering me again and I ask to use the bathroom. They ask me some questions and I am guessing they want to know if I can just piss on a tree or need to sit down. I don’t know the words for any of this so I pat my but and they laugh. Then they tell me to sit down on the bench in the lobby. I am starting to feel that I need a bathroom soon or I will make a mess in their lobby. I ask again and a soldier walked me up stairs to the bathroom and shows me a stall. It was just in time. Now I have a new problem. No toilet paper. I usually have a Kleenex in my fanny pack but I was only going out for a few minutes and I was not planning to be far from the hotel. I stand up and look over the door to see if there is any paper towel. Nothing. I don’t know the word for toilet paper and I cant think of any spanish word to get me close. I start thinking what I have in my pockets. A receipt. Business card. I have a few dollar bills that I brought for breakfast. I am thinking of the visa commercial. In this case a visa card will not help me. I need cash.
Then the soldier hands me a wad of toilet paper. And say something to me. All I can make out is “water” and “here”. I look over the door and there is a bucket of water to flush with. I fill up the tank with water and flush. It does not completely work. And I have not more water. I come out and he asked if I am ok. I tell use hand signals to attempt to tell him the toilet / water thing did not work. I tells me its ok and motions me to follow him back down stairs. I feel bad leaving the bathroom like. Especially in the middle of the army barracks. He tells me to sit on the bench in the lobby. Solders come and go with their full fatigues and assault riffles. I am sweating in my high-tech, moisture wicking, insect proof jungle safari clothes I bought at the hiking store in LA. They look dry and comfortable in their fatigues. After about 15 minutes I get up and ask if I can go. They tell me to sit down. My thoughts change from a nice soldier helping to find a boat to being detained, in a remote jungle, sweating like a pig, in the middle of an army compound.
I asked if I can smoke a cigarette so I can stand out side in the breeze. It felt good to cool off a bit. I prolog the smoke as long as I can. I finally go back in and sit down. About 15 minutes later the Sergeant asks for my passport. I tell him its in my hotel room. He asks me if I don’t have a passport. I try to tell him its in my hotel room.
Yaviza is that last town before the FARC, the columbian rebels and just 50 miles from the columbian border. This area is know for drug smugglers and guerilla. I am trying to smile and be helpful. Last think I want them to think is I am some american down there to buy drugs. I attempt to tell them I am here to see my grandmother. The Sergeant tell me to sit down again. The solders talk amongst them selves and finally one asked me in broken english, “your passport is in your hotel here in Yaviza? “Si, si, si” I say. Which is “yes yes yes”. I am told to sit down again. Another 30 minuets pass and I continue to sweat. Finally a solder some and speaks a little english. He tell me he will escort me to get my passport. He walked me back to the hotel and I get my passport and my fanny pack with my Kleenex. I try to start a conversation with him but he is not very talkative. I come back to the compound, the sentry lets us in and I am told to sit on the bench again. Another 30 minutes pass, although it seems much longer and the Sergeant call me to his desk and asks for my passport. I show him my passport and my tourist card. He is not interested in my tourist card. He copies down my information and asked me where I am going. I tell him Rio Congo. He has never heard of it. I tell him La Palma. He accepts that and I tell him I need a boat. When I am talking to people, keep in mind my spanish is that of a 3 year old. And I can only speak in the present tense, The first soldier I met returns and tell the Sergeant I want a boat to La Palma. The Sergeant finishes coping my passport info and tell me to sit down on the bench again. A family arrives and the solders flirt with the daughters. And I wait. I think they also were having their documents checked. I wait. Finally a solder comes and tell me to follow him. I think that is what he is tell me. I really don’t want to get up and just walk out. So I ask him, “We go”. “si”. I repeated and motion to to both of us. “I go to hotel?”. Yes. I follow him. He speaks a little english and I ask if I can have a photo with him. He says yes and motion to the huge painted army emblem on the wall. He motions to a another solder to take the photos. They laugh. Probably no one has ever asked to take a picture with them after being detained.
We walk back to the hotel and he tell me he will escort me to the bus. I can not take a boat from here to La Palma. I have to go to Port Quimba. I asked him if he has children. He has one young boy. He asks bout how to pronounce some english words and I ask more about his family. I know most of the family words and its great for conversation.
We get to the Hotel, I am already packed and I grab my gear. I tell him I have to leave the key at the store and while I am there I buy a few packs of crackers and a holster for a water bottle and then we walk to the center of town and a bus is just pulling away. He yells for the bus to stop and I get on. He was very nice and smiles allot. So before they shut the bus door I give him a carabineer as a gift. I really wanted to get breakfast, well, lunch now, and get on line, but I figured they are being so nice to escort me out of town I will just get on the bus. I am not sure if they thought I want to leave as soon as possible or they wanted me to leave as soon as possible.
Here are some random pictures of Yaviza.
The bus is the standard small bus and I ride an hour to the next town where I have to transfer to another bus to go to Puerto Quimba. The station has a sign saying it was built by USAID. Cool. I paid for the bus station. I wait and get some water and a soda and a bag of chips. I want some sugar and salt. I am show the next bus. Its not quite a bus. Its a pick up truck.
The ride to Quimba is about 30 minutes and me and one other passenger soon get to the port. It not a town or a village. Its just a boat dock, a little store / restaurant and a police post. There is a group of white people on the dock. I go over to them and say hello. They are from the states, Tennessee. They are bird watchers. They have high power binoculars and very nice camera around their necks. They ask me what I am doing and I tell them my story. They are all history lovers and ask me a ton of questions. One pulls out a digital audio recorder and records my story. But every few minutes one of their group yells out “yellow breasted horned something something” They all grab their cameras and binocular and watch it then debate if it was a yellow breasted this or that or it was a white billed wobblers blah blah. They then apologies that bird watchers are like that. The bird soon is out of site and our conversation continues until another bird flies by. This is Panama. There are more species of birds here than in all the rest of the Central and North America.
Finally their bus is ready and we say good by. My stomach is bothering me again and I asked for a bathroom. I ask a soldier to watch my stuff and walk to the restaurant. Now I use there words loosely.
Here is the restaurant and bathroom.
This sun is about to come up and I am off to watch it rise and check on boats to Rio Congo. Friday, 6:30am, Continued My flight leaves in a few hours. I will not be on it. I am more than a day away from the airport by bus. The sky was cloudy so I did not get a chance to see the sun rise. Standing on the baloney of the hotel over the ocean looking across the gulf was amazing. Before daylight is was just a black void. No lights, no sound, the clouds hid the moon and stars. Its was like the world just ended. This is a very magical place.
Some thoughts on what I brought with me.
- Small office binder clips. They are great to hang wet clothes on a fan or window. They are light and strong. I bought 3 but I wish I brought 4 so I could spread out the clothes to dry. I also brought 6 feet of light weight nylon flat rope. This was great to make a clothes line when there was not place else to hang stuff.
- Small leather man. This was great for a knife and it was great to have screwdrivers. A couple of times the locks on my room were loose and it was nice to tighten them up.
- Travel size laundry soap. This is great to wash out socks at night and for shirts. Laundromats are rare in Central America. I found a laundromat half way thru my trip in panama city and did all my clothes. A guy did a full load for $1.50.
- Battery charger. I use AA battery for most of my electronics. This was great to be able to recharge and not spend the money buying batters at local stores. Also in poorer areas, they often sell general use battery’s that don’t last that long.
- Athlete foot cream. I got a fungal growth on my feet the first few days. The cream took care of it quickly.
- Liquid Skin. This is great for cuts and nicks. The tropics has lots of nasty germs and this makes a quick lasting seal over the cut. Much better than band aids.
- Luggage combination locks. Most hostels have locker available but do not provide locks for them. I brought one for my bag and an extra one for lockers. I also bought a 4 foot length of plastic coated wire-rope to secure my bag or a closet or dresser dowers. I like combination locks so I can never lose my key.
- Carabineer, the metal clips that people use to climb mountains are great. I have several in different sizes. Some load baring and some not. They are a great way to quickly secure my bag to a chair at a restaurant or bus terminal. Its great to keep someone from walking by and grabbing my things. They also allow me to attach things to my bag and in crowed bus terminal I hook all my bags together for extra security. I brought more than I needed and have given them to the Police / Army when they have been helpful.
- Sun Glasses Rope. I always lose my sun glasses. On this trip I have not misplaced them once.
Tuesday, January 27th. 11am. Panama City, Panama.
I am sore and tired from the trip back to Panama City. I started my day yesterday at 3am. I took a 2 hour boat ride at 5am. Got into La Palma, took a nap, packed, got on a boat to Quimba at noon. Then a bus to Meteti. Then changed to another bus, an old american school bus, for a 8 hour ride to Panama City. The bus drive was not a careful as most bus drivers and dogging pot holes. I was literally knocked from my seat and luggage fell from the over head. Two people got slight injuries.
Continued, 1pm I have made most of my calls to friends and family to let them know I am alright. I have been out of contact for 5 days. That is the longest I have been out of touch with my world in years, maybe ever. I tried to make a phone call from one of the village. They had a payphone, but I could not get through to the States. I got internet access once and I got one email off before that went down.
I was worried that everyone would be worried about me. In all but the most remote villages people have cell phones. I asked about using a cell phone but no one knew how to call the states. I asked how expensive cell phones are here. In the Philippines, the cheapest phone was $100. I was told here I could get a phone for just $10. So I had a mission to buy a local Panamanian cell phone. But all the places to buy a phone was closed for the weekend. Monday morning I left before they opened and I was on a boat or bus all day. I got one when I got back in Panama City. The $10 model was made by a company I never heard of so I splurged and bought the $20 Nokia. I loaded it up with minutes and called mom and dad. The phone works well. I can send and receive texts, it has voice mail, but I have not figured out how it work yet. It even has a flashlight. It took me awhile to get someone to tell me how to dial the US. I have to dial 001 and the number from Panama to the States. And its really easy to call me from the states, I have learned. Just dial the number like any number in the states. I don’t know what it costs but I can be reached.
The number is: 1(507)688-25090
If your paying attention, the number has 8 digits not seven like the US.
I have muscles that are sore I did not know I had. The hike Sunday though the rain forest was really hard. And as time passed and dusk was an hour so so away, I really increased my pace. Rushing thru the jungle as fast as I can but slow enough not to run into a Golden Spider Web. Golden Spiders’ bites are almost as toxic as a black windows. And they can be big. The body, not including the legs can be 3 inch’s.
I did not see this one until I almost walked into it. I stopped just inches before I ran into its web. This image of spider is a bit blurrily. My camera decided to focus on my feet not the spider. I took my great walking stick and removed it from my path.
Here is a better photo of it in its web. Its web can be up to 3 feet across. This one with its leg was about 7 inches from toe to toe,
I last left off in my story arriving at Pureto Quimba. It is here I board a boat to La Palma. The fee is $3 for the 40 minute ride.Here is a map to give you an idea of the area.
Here are some shots of the port of Quimba and the dock.
People dump their trash everywhere. As beautiful as the country is the locals have no respect for their enviroment.
This little boy is the dock hand. I was quite nervous handing my backpack to a little boy that is not much bigger than my backpack.
A dugout boat I passed on the river.
River widens into the begining of the gulf of San Miguel.
Once we left the river the water got very choppy.
Arriving in La Palma at low tide. I was soaking wet by the time we arrived.