After an incredible week and a bit in Panama City with Alejandra my feet became a little fidgety and I decided to see what more the country of Panama had to offer me. I decided that I needed to get myself to the legendary surfer/backpacker´s haven known as Bocas Del Toro. Over the last week or so I had also been told about an amazing little jungle hostal known as Lost and Found and decided to make a pit stop for a few days on my way to the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Lost and Found is a unique hostel located in a dense forest in the middle of the mountains of northern Panama. Panama City has little wind and extremely hot temperatures so the idea of hiking around in a cloud forest with fresh rivers all over was very inticing.
After nearly missing my 11 p.m. bus out of Panama City towards the city of David, I through on my reggaeton mix and fell unconsious almost immediately. I was awoken 3 times during the 7 and a half hour trip as national police came on board to check passports, pockets and bags of the passangers. I still managed to arriv in David right on schedule at 6:30 a.m.. After remembering that earlier in my travels I had promised myself to research more before departing for destinations; I realized that I forgot to do just that. Instead I walked around the bus station asking close to every person in there if they knew which bus I needed to take in order to get to this isolated Lost and Found Lodge. Finally, one bus driver new the name brought me to his bus heading up North to a town named Represa La Fortuna. I was luckily able to find the last possible spot available which required me to straddle an old man with my butt right in his face.
This was actually more a small van than a bus but at $3 for a 3 hour trip I never once thought to complain about standing. Actually, I found myself utterly excited to have a few days to explore this incredible cloud forest that a few others had been raving about. Along the way I managed to fall asleep while standing and collapse onto the lap of the old man behind me not once but twice. After being dropped off on the side of the highway and being told to start walking up a small trail leading straight up a mountain I said gracias and began my ascent. With signs every 150 metres or so I slowly made my way closer and closer to this isolated lodge in the middle of the pouring rain. After about 30 minutes I finally arrived at a somewhat open area of the forest with a few huts and continued to make my way to the largest one. I ended up meeting 6 happy campers and a few volunteers sitting at a covered picnic table, drinking fresh organic coffee and waiting for the rain to die down. There ended up being nearly as many volunteers as backpackers (about 9 volunteers and 11 hikers) but everyone really got along well.
I was eventually shown to my room where I was put on the top bunk in a room that was taller than it was wide. I should inform you that the top bunk was actaully on the 3rd level which made for an interesting climb when arriving late at night without a torch. Still being the late morning, I quickly switched into some dry clothes and headed out into the trails with my new Austrian friend Chris. With a map of all the trails available to us at reception we quickly remembered that we were men and that men don´t use maps. Instead we took off with a backpack of water and our cameras. We were able to make great time as we explored all of the forest in search for the mountain river in order to have a swim and cool off. We viewed beautiful scenery as we not so confidently made our way towards the river. After locating the river we ended up jumping rock to rock up the river in search of a deep enough pool to swim in. We ended up coming across a massive swimming hole with rocks a perfect height to throw down some back flips. After a few extremely refreshing jumps we through on our bags and made our way back to camp.
With a fully stocked fridge and a checklist for each guest this lodge ended up running on an honour system. If you took an egg, you marked on your sheet that you had taken an egg and at the end of your visit you pay for everything. Anyways, after a 5 egg omelet I joined the hikers and volunteers to watch the sunset from our unbeatable view from the side of the mountain. The sun ended up dissappearing right behind the massive Volcan Baru far away in the distance. The funniest part about this was that once the sun was completely gone everyone moved over to the shack that one could call the bar. Happy Hour at Lost and Found turned out to be the entire night ($1 stiff rum and cokes) and Fusbal was the lodge sport. With only about 20 people in total at the lodge the bar was quite an intimate setting and allowed for everyone to really get to know one another. The bar shut down at around 12:30 a.m. and everyone made there way back to bed in order to rest their tired bodies for another beautiful day of hiking through nature.
After a few days of hot springs, massive trees, monkeys and more rivers i finally hopped onto a bus with my new friend Else from the Netherlands and made my way up to Isla Colon which is the main island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. After a 4 hour bus ride (standing of course), I was able to retrieve my backpack from the top of the van completely drenched through from the Carribean downpour we had experienced for close to 3 and a half hours. We then made our way to a speedboat and powered away from the mainland towards the wet but beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro. Upon arrival i went in search for a “social” hostel since it was Friday and I was in one of the most infamous party places in Central America. i ended up checking into a place called Hostel Heike and as Ientered my dorm room I was greeted by a few boys who were all waking up from a nap after partying all of last night and surfing all morning. I instantly recognized one guys old school Vancouver Canucks hat and found out that the other boys were also from British Colombia. So here I was i nBocas del Toro with two boys from Salmon Arm, one from Vancouver Island, and another originally from Vancouver but now living in Edmonton. I know I said I came back to Panama to work on my Spanish but there was no way I was going to move out of a dorm room filled with 4 GCK´s (Good Canadian Kids). It turned out that this hostel was only meant for Canadian boys and Swedish girls and as we all gathered on the rooftop for shots of Aguardiente we made sure that the night was nothing less than legendary.
The next morning I woke up at 9:30 feeling surprisingly fresh but unprepared to hit the surf with the Candian boys who all had their own boards ready to go. Instead I told them to go ahead and proceeded to make about a 20 egg scramble for all my new friends for mthe night before. The boys returned only 2 hours complaining about the swell and the high winds. After sittign aorudn with the others until about 1:30 p.m. I became too anxious and decided to venture out into the rian in order to hire a board. After finding a decent board I then proceeded to hire a boat to take me out to Pierda Negra where rumours had it the swell was coming off nice along the reef. $4 round trip had me dropped off about 300 metres off shore at the perfect reef break known as Pierda Negra. I was able to catch a few waves over the couple hours I spent in the water even though the swell was far from ideal. My driver came back out to grab me right at 4:30 p.m. as planned and I hopped back in his boat and made my way away from Caremero and back to my hostel at Isla Colon.
That night ended up being very similar to the first night except a little more rediculous due to the fact that we had designated the night ¨Boys Night Out¨and started out the night with the Centurion. With terrible weather the next day the surfing remained fairly average and I decided it was time to pull the plug on Bocas and the next morning I took off back to Panama City. I will never forgert my boys Spencer, John, Sean, and Alex for their abilities to represent Canada so damn well.
After a full 13 hours of travel I finally arrived back in Panama City at about midnight and hit the pillow hard. The next few days Alejandra and I made sure to check out every last spot of Panama City ending our tiem together with a trip to Panama Viejo where the ruins of an old colonial town lay. Panama Viejo is the first colonial city to be constructed on the Pacific Coast of the New World and was an incredible place to explore and learn about the history. After one last night saying goodbye to all of my friends at Mamallena Hostel in Panama City I booked my flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador for the next morning. I woke up early the next morning to not only discover that Alejandra was already awake, but that she was frying me eggs and preparing my favourite batido. After a quick shower and my final farewells to Alejandra and the others in the hostel, I made my way to the airport and 4 hours later felt my plane touching down in the largest city in Ecuador.
I made my way out of the airport to discover that major cities in South America located almost on the equator are extremely humid. I took a taxi to the bus station where I hopped on a bus heading directly to the small surf town of Montanita. Approximately 4 hours later I hopped off the bus and was welcomed by that big beautiful smile that belongs to the one and only Steamin Willy Beamen. After throwing my bags into the room Will had organized for us and heading out in search of some grub. After a few hours of eating and sharing a $2 bottle of rum Will and I decided it was safe to say that we both managed to have fun on our own just fine but that it was a great feeling to be reunited.
We took Friday to explore the city and discover a little more about what Montanita had to offer. Montanita is a town that has been placed on a never ending (close to) perfectly sandy beach with waves that bring surfers from all over the world. Without backpackers the town would not exist but the best part about it all is that the backpackers are all from Chile, Peru, and Argentina so everyone speaks in Spanish. I was able to meet a very nice Israeli surfer who had recently moved down ther who would hire me an excellent board for only $6 a day so luckily I was able to hit the surf everyday and really get to take advantage of what Montanita had to offer me.
On Monday morning we woke up to a knock on the door of our hotel room and I was able to be introduced to Will´s new friend Ollie that he had met in Medellin only days after I had flown back to Panama. We became a killer combination fast and slowly began to become some of the familiar faces around this small town. Due to some sort of bed bug bites swelling up my lip and eye we decided to search for a new hotel upon his arrival and spent over an hour searching many, many hotels. After coming close to settling on a decent hotel about 200 metres form the beach we finally stumbled across a brand new hotel directly on the beach. For $10 each a night we all had our own beds, had our room cleaned everyday and were even given free laundry service. if you ever go to Mantanita, Oceanview Hotel is a no brainer. This place was far too nice too only be $10 a night but I am sure you won´t complain about this.
I quickly took advantage of our new location sometimes surfing several times a day directly outside of the place. having Ollie from Finland along with us made it really easy for everyone to do what they wanted without feeling like they were deserting the other. Sometimes Will and Ollie would head out for a coffee and a work out at the town gym while I would grab my board and head out for a sunset surf. I think we all know just how beautiful sunsets are along the Pacific Coast.
One morning when the tide was far too low to surf, Ollie, Will, and I played a little soccer on the beach right outside of our place. After about 30 minutes Will and I were blazing hot and ready for a dip in the ocean. Ollie shamefully watched as Will and I leap-frogged and piggybacked each other for about 100 metres in order to get out into the tide. We soon became anxious and after one last leap frog we both began to sprint into the shallows where I was able to locate an excellent rock that I could use to smash my knee open right to the bone. I swear this beach is well over 5 kilometres long consisting of only sand and one rock and somehow I managed to find it. Before I could even react I was on my back and facing the opposite direction staring down at my knee covered in blood. The first thing I thought was how my surf board would have to be returned for a little while. After Will helped me up and helped me hobble off the beach we hopped into a taxi and headed to the next town in order to get me stitched up. Within moments of opening the door to emergency they had me up on a bed and were beginning to disinfect my knee. While the doctor stitched me up, the nurses and doctors listened to my story about how I was able to fight two sharks and only end up with an injured knee. They all helped add in different parts to the story in order to insure that no girl in Montanita would be able to resist my courage and bravery. The visit at the hospital was actually surprisingly pleasant and after 12 stiches in two parts of my knee and being given a pack of painkillers I left the hospital without paying a single dollar. I owe a big thanks to Ollie and Will for remaining so calm and joking around in order to help keep my mind off of the pain.
With my newly acquired stitches the doctor told me I would be unable to swim for at least 2 weeks nevermind get backl on a surfboard. The problem is wit hthis town is that if you are not surfing then you are forced into doing the second most popular activity. This activity is common in a lot of places but not quite at the same level as others, this sport ladies and gentlemen, is drinking. Montanita is as famous for its surf as it is for its parties and without the ability to surf I took it upon myself to discover jus thow good the party here was. With my injury occuring on a Thursday it meant that I was just in time for the start of the weekend. After Will and Ollie returned from the gym that evening we all sat down outside the Argentinian restaurant beside our hotel and enjoyed a bottle of rum while watching the waves come crashing in. When the bottle was finished we then made our way over to quite possibly my favourite night life spot in the world.
This area is called Cocktail Alley and is a pedestrian street completely dedicated to serving dirt cheap cocktails to backpackers after a long day of surfing or sleeping off one´s hangover from the party last night. There are close to 25 different cocktail stalls all standing side by side all equipped with one or two bartenders ready to serve you whichever cocktail you desire. Most stalls have massive speakers on them and there seems to be an unspoken competition as to who can play their music the loudest. The decision of which stall to drink at was simple as all of the sudden Will was being hugged by a guy who was close to tears due to happiness. Will instantly remembered Pascual because he had been Will´s bartender and friend for 3 weeks back when will was in Montanita a whole 4 years ago. It made sense to me quite quickly why Will loved this guy so much. It turned out that he was the Body Boarding Champion of South America and also was hands down the best flare bartender in Ecuador. One gets entranced as they watch him throw three bottles in the air while still shaking up a mean Mojito (sin azucar por supuesto). Thursday, Friday, Saturday we started our nights here and every night the party was bigger and bigger. By the last night we had over 30 people standing around Pascual´s tiny stall either to watch the flare show or hear how I had managaed to fend off two sharks and only recieve 12 stitches in my knee. The nights always ended in different places but Cocktail Alley was by far the best place to start out the night and we really created one hell of a party at Pascual´s stall.
Montanita will always hold a special place in my heart but without the ability to surf and the weekend being over, I knew it was tiem to move on. It did not take me long to get over my depression of leaving as Will, Ollie, and I arrived in the mountain town by the name of Banos. I know that we all think that Banos means toilets but it actually means Baths and the town has been named after the hot springs just outside the town center. The climate here is cool in the nights but nice and hot during the day due to its altitude being well over 2000 metres. Banos is known as the extreme sports spot in Ecuador so I knew before hand I was going to love it but never this much. We arrived in Banos at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and luckily because Will likes to be a little more arganized then me we made our way through the sleepy town towards the hotel Will had made a reservation at the night before. We hardly were able to brush our teeth before we fell into a deep sleep not moving a muscle until we woke up at 9 a.m. that morning.
We quickly showered up and went down to a small cafe for breakfast On our way down the hill it was impossible not to be blown away by all of the mountains and waterfalls that raised thousands of metres above the town and completely surrounded it. Over breakfast we all agreed pretty quickly to rent dune buggies and make our way along the highway and dirtroads towards a waterfall by the name of El Diablo. We rented two buggies for 4 hours hours and paid only $60 for everything. We all took turns riding solo or with a partner and made our way along the highway through tunnels which were actually just caves and overlooking beautiful canyons and waterfalls. About 60 km outside of Banos we decided it was tiem to head off-road and foudn a dirt path heading towards what we thought would be a swimming hole at the bottom of the canyon. After about 30 minutes goign down the canyon we finally arrived at a hill so steep that it was not even possible to walk up. We turned around and made our way another 30 kilometres back towards Banos where we found another dirt road that would take us to the waterfall, El Diablo.
The walk to the bottom of the waterfall was only about 20 minutes through the jungle and upon arrival we were far from dissapointed. We were even able to crawl through extremely narrow caves in order to get clsoe to the top of the waterfall and even stand underneath. Your adrenaline is flying as you look forwards and see how powerful the water is when it is only a metre in front of you.
We hopped back into the buggies and made our way back to town where poeple were beginning to head out for the evening. I have to say that there is no more bad ass way of getting aroudn town then in dune buggies with your boys. After returning our buggies we decided to find a restaurant with soem chicken and head back to the hostel for a shower. We showered up, gymed it quickly and went for another quick bite before retiring to our room for the night.
Today was no less exciting as yesterday as we signed ourselves up for a Canyon tour which tooks us along two different ziplines totalling over 1600 metres and firing us right to the bottom of a canoyon. After the first zipline of over 850 metres and at speeds over 110 km/hour we then had too walk along a sketchy metal bridge sitting 100 metres fro mthe canyon floor. We were then made to climb over 100 metres straight up the canyon with a difficult stair design. It was once we reached the top we that we all high-fived each other and prepared ourselves for the final zipline back across the canyon and to safety. I will let the pictures do the job of explaining exactly what we did.
Ollie, Will, and I are all likely to be heading seperate ways tomorrow because Ollie wants to go to the Galapagos Islands, while Will hopes too meet up with his buddy Hayden in Mancora, Peru as soon as possible. As for me I think I might stay here tomorrow or make my way into the Amazon. Either way Will and I plan to meet up shortly in order to get ourselves to Cuzco in order to climb Macchu Picchu together. The knee is still sore and the extreme sports probably aren´t helping much but it seems to be healing great. In fact I can excpect the doctor to remove my stitches tomorrow if the doctor approves. One last month for me on my travels, time to buckle down and try to actually enjoy myself. I hope you enjoyed the read and the pictures and I promise to blog soon!