Getting from our sailboat to the capital of Panama proved to be more expensive than we’d figured. We had no choice but to pay for a private motorboat taxi to the mainland. They, of course, would only take us to where we could pay their friend for a private ride into Panama City. Then we found out that we came ashore in a conservation area. We had to pay to get out of the ‘protected’ land because we never paid to get in. We were happy to be given some cheap transport options out of Panama City after a whole day being guided along an expensive path to get there.
In Panama City I called my great friend Kayla, who lives out near the border with Costa Rica, to get info on how and when to meet up with her. Her instructions were to get a bus going toward David but to get off early in the tiny town of San Felix. She recommended spending a night at the coast near to there because by the time we got there it would be too late to meet her. We did as she said and stayed the night in a cabin on the beach in Las Lajas. The beach was nice, but coming from the San Blas Islands we weren’t too impressed.
Plus, we were excited to see Kayla, so the next day we headed back to San Felix and rode in the back of a truck from there to Oma. We were greeted by tall, beautiful, red headed Kayla Howard-Anderson running toward the truck. She’s the tallest woman in the state of Chiriqui, I swear it. We gave our hugs and said our hellos and then started the hard trek out to Kayla’s site.
The site is called Cerro Banco (Bank Hill) and you can only get out there by walking or riding a horse. The walk was only a few kilometers but took us almost 2 hours because of the steep climbs, mud pits, river crossings, and the rain pouring down by the end. Finally we made it to her house which is made of bamboo slats that she cut herself. No electricity, no running water, just a water filter and propane stove- and we thought Tess lived in a shed. But Kayla’s is certainly homey with all the pictures on the walls and the welcoming hammocks hanging out front.
Kayla, like Tess, is a Peace Corp Volunteer whom I met at Davis. She is working in the sanitation sector and trying to bring the hot, modern, technology of pit latrines into the region. When Kayla arrived there was 1 latrine in the whole community. It was at the school and no one used it anyway. Now there are many, but it will still be a lot of work to make them functional and get the people to actually use them. Kayla also keeps a blog which can be found here.
We spent about 4 days in the site, most of it hiking around to discover the amazing local people and stunning geography. We met all the families Kayla lived with and the people she works with. They gifted us food all along the way. We played a bit of soccer at the school on the most ridiculous soccer field I’ve ever witnessed- it’s seriously a steep hill covered with slippery rocks. We took a hike down to the nearby river for a swim (although we were already soaked by the time we got there) and did a lot of cooking with many local ingredients (pifa!) we’d never tasted. It rained spontaneously every day we were there, but we didn’t expect much less from that region.
Our visit with Kayla was much too short but very sweet. She escorted us back to San Felix where we helped her do some shopping. Then we said our goodbyes and hopped on a bus the rest of the way to David. We weren’t there long before crossing into Costa Rica. Because of the timing, just after crossing we were nearly stranded in a strange border town overnight. Eventually we opted to pay the expensive cab ride out to Playa Pavones- a nice beach town at the end of a long dirt road very popular with surfers.
We decided to cut our time in Costa Rica very short for a few reasons: first we found it very expensive and rundown with American ex-pats, stores, restaurants, and attitudes. Beyond that, it rained on us the whole time we were there AND we ran into our first big disappointment, the Irazú Volcano.
After a couple of days in Pavones we went straight for Cartago. We spent a short night there and got a bus the next day to the highest volcano in the country, Irazú Volcano (11,250 ft.). We were excited to see a Central American volcano because everyone seemed to be raving about them. Well, the day cost us about $15 US each and was a complete bust. The top of the volcano was cold, windy, and covered in fog, but even if the weather had been perfect it wouldn’t have been worth the trip. We could see down into the crater and there wasn’t anything cool or interesting or exciting about it. We decided to cut our losses and just be glad we’d finally have something to tell people when they ask about something that was a total let down.
After the volcano failure we went to San Jose, the capital. Daniela got in touch with the friend we were hoping to visit, but unfortunately he was unable to meet with us at all. Feeling bad vibes from all around, we made straight for the Nicaraguan border and crossed it the next day, amazed at how many countries we could hit in so few hours on buses in Central America (in South America it would’ve been impossible).
The rest of Central America and Mexico still to come.
Thanks for reading.