I arrived in Panama on the 26th of January This year via the paso canoas border. Was quite intimidating my first land border crossing, but my nerves was eased when I got onto a bus with a young lad who worked on the buses chatting to tourist an Panamanians alike. In broken Spanish my part broken english on his we got talking and got on exchanged numbers and advice. He asked how do you like panama so far 1 hour in country you can see the difference from one country to another from buildings landscapes and even advertising signs above shops and so on. He was a panamà city resident he explained I must go carnival I said ye Rio would be brilliant one day he replied no panama city. So I arrived in end of january in time for february, when carnival in panama was in preparation, so from the border to David at first purple house hostel in which I only stayed one night very friendly folk but extremely laid back which is good in its own way of course.
And yes everything is almost purple.
So after the first night I stayed at Bambu backpackers 5 minutes away in which I preferred for all kinds of reason lot less people and more culturally panamanian. So I stayed here 3-4 nights as David is extremely quiet town and there is not much to see or do well in my experience.
So then I head to the capital of panama which is panama city which for a city it genuinely feels like dubai if you was taken there and not know where you were going for example. I hate to mention him but the Donald trump, trump towers. Just as stunning the Revolution towers I was headed to casco viejo, as a B&B I researched seemed ok and I could do some sight seeing in the old town as I hailed a taxi I explained from a guide book where I wanted to go no problems we headed there he gave his verdict on the area says very nice. And there was a few tourists and backpacker in the area, which never encouraged or put me off either way, we arrived and yes, they were fully booked. So the lady on reception rang another hotel near by, was named hostel goce I thanked them and headed off hailed a cab said hostel goce gave the steet and avenida name. Asked the cab driver for a bar or a place for food he replied by Goce do not go out after 7 around here it is very dangerous do not take phone passport bag camera nothing stay in eat in the morning.
It was a shock to hear this he stressed over and over but I am here only once and if I only took enough for food and head back, there should be no problem. So I thanked and paid the driver he shouted the same warning as I left his cab.
So I arrived around 6-7 on the evening I planned to go out around 8 to get food, the accommodation was very basic and loud and it looked as if the main people who used the hostal where people on the move. But never the less I went out it was dark around 830-9 to get food, I walked down the road stray dogs, sewage and work people was a common sight, dark alleys even more common, with people freely coming in and out and when I say dark I mean dark where no lights worked on large stretches of road which enforced what the cab driver said to me early on.
But the huge old church and the kids playing football with dull torches who invited me to play on every corner, almost all the footballs where flat but the genuine kindness. Alleviated the stress from earlier on, so I continued my walk around until about 10, 11ish and had not a single issue. People were shocked to see this gringo roaming about and yes I was slightly on edge but not scared in the slightest my only regret, was that I never brought my camera out and more money for a beer or two. So the next morning I headed off to another hostel.
Beautiful casco viejo
So carnival is on my mind still and got speaking to people where to meet up in my new hostel named Panama house truly beautiful place. Where they advised me to do a few tourist type things so I agreed on the top of panama people call it an old army comms place. Ontop of a huge hill I got a taxi he knew english well and we could communicate fine, where he acted as a free tour guide.
So In the middle of town people beautiful where it is a family run place and you feel like an extended part, as you sit and eat the breakfast served to family and guests in the garden. Conversation is made by all members of the family they genuinely want to get to know each person, I stayed here for 4 nights. Enjoyed each one equally, so as my time came carnival getting closer I realised the costs of Panama. I got speaking to people, as it would likely cost a lot to spend more days here plus partying and things that are involved in partying, Such as drinks food and being polite to a lady by offering them a drink well in panama una bebida. So I made my mind up carnival next year.
I was disheartened but more focused on my plan to explore the darien gap. So I headed to albrook bus depot, which can be seriously confusing as it is huge but in the centre there are kiosks, the length of the depot with names of every region and main town. I was looking for the darien, when I found it I was pleasantly surprised to hear a bus was leaving any minute to agua fria security checkpoint then onto meteti a seriously dusty frontier type town, consists of one main road with all necessities and a bus station. I stayed here for a few days then caught a bus to puerto quimbo a small port with a B&B and a pub and another security checkpoint. Where they check previous checkpoints and reason for travel point of origin and destination. It is all in all a type of customs check to keep track of who and what are passing through the Darien.
So the port of quimbo a kind of access to all of the west Darien. So from here I was meant to go to jaque a Colombian, panama border town but, a never reliable fisherman and personal boats made into taxis it was not meant to happen. It was suggested to go to la palma the so called capital of the darien as more fisherman and businesses are there and maybe more frequent passage to jaque. So I obliged and to my shock the only westerner I came across in the whole of the darien was here at quimbo he was an elderly american from New York named Alfred introduced himself. And made a comment on his backpack, pack he called it a rock n rolla it was massive backpack type with wheels, as he said he is to old now to have a backpack which can only strap to his back. We laughed exchanged stories and got on our boat which was escorted by two senafront 250hp twin boats and heavily armed I did not know the reason for this, maybe a change in shift for the la palma regiment or another more serious reason. But on this 40 minute boat journey we saw breaching whales and dolphins which again I genuinely enjoyed. La palma began to get closer. As us and the senafront disembarked they disappeared as-well did Alfred and myself went on the hunt for our own accommodations.
I was up and down the main strip trying to find any B&B or hostel for maybe an hour my spanish was limited. And as not a single person yet I had bumped into here spoke any english at all. A frail old man drinking rum and milk acted out a sleeping motion I replied yes por favor he replied with a finger in a direction and said casa ramady. So little people come here there is currently no link on any travel website from trip advisor or any other with a link or even reviews to it until I created one. Which shocked me as it is extremely beautiful and the owner an elderly lady who’s only son moved to the states, I actually bumped into him on the evening. We spoke he spoke good english was quite an intimidating bloke muscles coming out of his head. But a really pleasant and respectful man who then introduced me to a number of his family who was also there this time of yr, from other parts of panama mainly panama city. I explained I needed an early night travelling a lot over the past few days, we said farewell and of I went.
This quiet town the following morning I asked around for boats to jaque I asked the son. He asked why I would want to go there I explained it was for work purposes, but not to my surprise no boats where going until the following week. I returned to my hostel got speaking to my new friends. We got talking about the upcoming days the only thing on each one of their minds was carnival I asked they have carnival here? They all laughed and said yes you are panama, so this tiny town where nobody goes also celebrate carnival with the same amount of enthusiasm as the capital city soon to find out. So I will be going carnival after all I was secretly very happy. So the following day I was until now one of two people in casa ramady droves of young ladies and men similar age to me was coming in there tens. I asked my new friend to ask his mother to extend my stay he laughed and promptly done it, enthusiastic to embrace me in his culture and family. I was humbled as nobody here owed me a thing, so one by one I got speaking to all the new guests with help of my translator and newest pal.
Myself and La reina Di Di the queen
So the carnival was 5 days of partying and parading up and down surely any girls dreams a team of people creating a new outfit for every day morning and night well any latin american girls growing up they aspire to there chosen queens and defend them to the extremes on day 2 of parade there was another queen who was introduced different part of town who’s crowds would face off well this time was an unpleasant experience after the opposing queens team presumed they was losing they resorted to pepper spray they sprayed the entire crowd babies and all. The senafront soon got in and broke it up yet the partying and drinking continued.
It got to the 3rd day I asked again when it was quiet for transport to jaque to confirm a pair, a brother and father came for supplies today. And stated they would head back tomorrow we agreed on a price and my seat. With help from my translator pal, agreed a price $40 they said around 5 o’clock tomorrow. I thanked them and continued enjoying myself at a much slower pace than the local folk, aswell as the previous day 🙂 So the night after parade.
The current queen right and last yrs queen left after one of the night parades the parties and water fights foam parties continued with vigour, aswell as the huge cock fighting tournament. But myself and new friends I met while partying as it was my last night in a carnival and la palma a small warm very welcoming supposedly dodgy place I enjoyed. And would go back but would like to take a person or hope this post allows someone to travel there anytime of the year but I recommend early feb.
So I said my goodbyes and boarded my boat to jaque and I will post about the exploring of the darien interior in future days