The Final Central American Leg

The Final Central American Leg

After our life changing experience with the Ngabe-Bugle, our elevated spirits drove us to keep exploring the wonders of Panama. We knew the next few weeks were going to be mixed with excitement and stress with the border crossing into Colombia looming. There are no roads between Panama and Colombia which leave very few options to get a vehicle south of Panama. We decided to ship in a container with Tim and Andrea to cut the costs in half, so the first step of planning was solidified.Yearning for cooler weather, we opted to head back to Boquete to enjoy some more fresh air and rock climbing. On our way, we made a quick stop in the little beach town of Las Lajas, where we met some fellow travelers from Europe heading North from Chile and Argentina. After a fun night full of stories and swapped advice, not to mention some beers, we became even more excited for the South American continent in our future. Between our laughter and smiles, we all enjoyed the big empty beach and even emptier waves.Excited to spend more time hiking and climbing, we made our way to Boquete and met up with Tim and Andrea once again. We started off our time back in Boquete with a bang and hiked the tallest peak and only volcano in Panama together, Volcan Baru.  Leaving Koru at the trail-head, our day began at midnight. The hike follows a rough old 4×4 road making it hard to get lost along the 8.4 mile route to the summit.   Arriving around 5:30am, we were rewarded with the most amazing sunrise so far on our journey. With colors grandly painting the sky, our view of the Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica and mountains of Panama was breathtaking.Along our descent back to Koru, we stopped for a quick bite at a little overlook. Just moments later we looked down and said, “what’s that?” Scrambling down the steep hillside, we discovered it was an old truck that must have flown out of control some decades ago. Back in Boquete, we rested and enjoyed the cool weather and easily forgot about time and its relentless constraints.The next 10 days we climbed, swam in the river, relaxed and enjoyed the Boquete area. One of our camping locations could not have been more perfect, residing directly next to great climbing on spectacular folded columnar basalt. Between days of climbing we managed a few more beautiful hikes full of wildlife, especially birds. Boquete also has a great public library, so we were able to catch up on our blog while visiting our favorite little bakery and coffee shop Sugar and Spice, which made more than a few of our days special.Feeling nice and tired from days of climbing, the time came and we reluctantly pulled ourselves away to make our way to the coast again. Santa Catalina was next on our list.Once upon a time a sleepy fishing town that was hard to get to, with a secret world-class wave, has now become a popular hot spot for anyone looking to get some good surf. Matt quickly understood the hype, especially with a large swell picking up upon our arrival. Although the lineup was crowded, Matt caught the biggest and most powerful waves of his life and managed to watch some of the best surfing he’s ever seen up close and personal. It’s no wonder there are professional competitions there on a regular basis. This photo is an example of what the big day was like. Winding our way back towards the Panamerican highway through acres and acres of farmland and rolling hills, we decided to venture to one more beach with mild surf and where an old college friend of Matt lives. Playa Venao is located at the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula in a beautiful bay. We parked beach side, with great views and they even had a mini ramp for skateboarding right by our camp spot! Matt’s Colorado Mountain College friend John and his new wife Carla have made a great life for themselves here. John works as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach and part time real estate agent and has the privilege of working near the hotel that Carla manages. With their dog Tina joining them everyday at work, and living beach-side with incredible views every day, we were enlivened by the life they had created.We shared several meals together and Matt and John managed a few surf sessions while reminiscing of all of the epic powder days shared in Steamboat over 10 years ago. It was such a treat to reunite with an old friend half way across the world. The decision had also been made to shed some weight off of Koru, so we left our bikes and bike rack with John and Carla. John had a friend in a nearby town who could renovate and re-purpose the bikes for local kids to use while John and Carla will have the pleasure to use the rack for their own biking adventures. Saying goodbye, we headed towards another mountain town, El Valle de Anton, where we planned to finalize our shipping and sailing plans and do some more hiking. The town resides in an old volcanic crater where the soil is perfect for agriculture and full of abundant fresh water. We hiked up and along the crater’s rim with amazing views of the town.  Descending down towards the town, we discovered some old petroglyphs left by indigenous peoples many moons ago.The time came for us to descend out of the Central American mountains for the last time, and into Panama City to begin our van shipping process. We were excited to see the famous city along with the Panama Canal, but first, Koru decided he wanted to give us one last electrical test. While just meters from a coffee shop, the engine stopped running on us and we got to work trouble shooting. After 5 hours with help from Karl, the problem was isolated and fixed! Running smoothly again, it was time for a little city life. Welcome to Panama City! We were shocked by all the high rises and modern feel, but we were excited and set out to explore.Our night of ‘camping’ was next to a large mall with a 24hr casino, where security guards had watch of the area the whole time. We even tried our hand at some gambling, which was a funny change from the last 10 months of our journey.Our first real activity in the city took us to the biodiversity museum, designed by Frank Gehry. Even before entering the museum, we were astounded by the building and surrounding landscaping, all of which aim to signify the importance of biodiversity.We had a great time learning about the importance of Panama within the global biodiversity context. The theme and arguably most important part of Panama’s biological history is when volcanoes finished forming the land bridge connecting North and South America.  We all now recognize this landmass as Central America, but prior to the geological events connecting the land masses, the plants and animals were significantly different. Scientists also theorize that when Panama was formed, the ocean currents changed dramatically, resulting in major climatic shifts. Now a blend of flora and fauna from both land masses exist together all over the continent, and the resulting biodiversity is astounding.  Let’s hope it stays that way! We managed to explore the big city a lot over the next few days. From seeing the Colonial district (Casco Viejo) with its cobble streets to walking beneath giant modern-style sky scrapers, Panama City was a pleasure to visit and a sight to behold.  With a few more days to kill before heading to the Caribbean port city of Colon to ship the van and prepare to sail to Colombia, we spent time watching ships pass through the Panama Canal. It was shocking watching the humongous bodies passing nonchalantly through dense jungle.
We spent our last night near the trail head of a popular hiking trail in the Soberania National Park. Here we were lucky enough to see a giant sloth, more birds than we can count, and countless amphibious, reptilian, and buggy creatures.  This was a major highlight of our Panamanian adventure and helped us recognize the biodiversity of this beautiful country. The time was upon us to make our way to Colon to bid Koru farewell for now, and hop on a sail boat through the San Blas islands before arriving to South America. Koru was successfully locked in a container with Savana for the journey to Cartagena, Colombia where we would start driving again!Working with an agent made the process fairly painless, so we took our backpacks and hopped on a bus to make our way to Puerto Lindo where our sailboat ‘Sangria’ would usher us to Colombia!  South America, We’re coming for you!

2 thoughts on “The Final Central American Leg

  1. And the adventure continues!
    Panama seemed like a good transition from North to South America, and an opportunity to reflect on the gifts and blessings to be found in the 10 Central countries that were visited. Looking forward to hearing about Colombia and points south.

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