This was one amazing trip, in more ways than one. It all started around the beginning of September when I started getting the urge to buy an island. While the idea of buying an island and my bank account balance did not at the time match up, I still thought it would be fun to explore the idea and see where it took me. So I looked online at islands for sale and I asked myself the question, “If I were to buy an island, where would it be?” and that led me to the islands of Panama. There are hundreds and there are many advantages to owning an island in Panama as opposed to other locations. Here are a few of the reasons:
1) Panama is great for foreign investment
2) Cost of Living is about half what it is in Costa Rica
3) No Hurricanes in Panama
4) Accessibility (Its relatively easy to get to)
5) Real Estate Prices are much lower
So I had narrowed it down to Panama. Then I started researching all of the islands in Panama that were for sale. Amongst those, there were about 7 that I thought would be great. These were ones that had fresh water, enough land to do something with, natural beauty, etc. One of the islands, Isla Parida, was listed on “PrivateIslandsOnline.com” as only having about 25 acres and that seemed too small to me, but for some reason I kept it on my list anyway because there were so many things about it that seemed so perfect.
There were other islands that were only a few acres in size and others that were thousands of acres. Parida seemed perfect, except that it was too small. After doing some more searching, though, I found a property listing of real estate on Isla Parida that was 128.5 acres. That’s when I realized that there was a mistake in the other listing and that the true size of the Isla Parida was over 3000 acres and there were approximately 20 land owners.
One of the interesting things about this island is that it is located within a Nature Preserve of about 50 islands. Parida & one other island, Paridita, were the only ones where you were allowed to own property on them because there was proof of owners living on them from when Panama used to belong to Colombia and the rights of ownership carried over. However, there are still limitations as to how much building and development can be done on both islands. This means that both islands will remain in a pristine condition and this is one of the things that interested me.
Not only is it one of the most beautiful islands in the area, there are also plenty of kinds of tall hardwood trees, fresh water, mature fruit trees (mangos, bananas, coconuts, etc). The white sand beaches are awesome and the water temperature stays at around 82 degrees all year round. The dry season (the best time to go corresponds with our winter in North America). In addition, the fishing in the area is incredible and there are lots of fishing groups that go to the Gulf of Chiriqui to do big game fishing. In fact, this is one of the top places for that. There are tons of pictures of the sailfish, dolphin fish, tuna and other large fish that weigh hundreds of pounds. There are dolphins and whales. In fact, this is the place where the whales come to mate and care for their young. There is some really good whale watching at certain times of the year.
The other thing about this island that got me interested was that even though it was 12 miles offshore, it was still fairly accessible since the city of David in northern Panama is the second largest city in Panama with an international airport. From the airport, there is a 45-60 minute drive to the port at Boca Chica and then a 30-40 minute boat ride to the island. Far enough to be remote, but close enough to be accessible.
So, I decided to make contact with people on the island. Keep in mind that there are no roads and no infrastructure. People who live there either have generators to power their homes or they don’t have electricity. I found out that there were 2 fishing lodges on the island and I contacted both. Since I do internet marketing, I offered to promote their lodges as not only a place to go fishing, but also a place for Eco Tours, Health Retreats & Corporate Getaways. So, this evolved into having a business aspect to it as well as a long term plan to eventually have a second home or vacation property there as well.
Well my contacts were interested, but stressed the importance of coming and seeing the place first hand. So, I decided to go. I tried to get others to come, but most weren’t able to for one reason or another. Fortunately, one of my business contacts, Kyle Spencer, is an employee of JetBlue and could fly for free. So he and his wife decided to come with me as far as Costa Rica.
Catching Flights & Buses
My friend Kyle had access to some buddy passes on Jet Blue and Jet Blue goes to San Jose, Costa Rica, which is one way to connect to David, Panama as opposed to flying directly to Panama City. The good thing about the buddy pass was the reduction in flight costs. The bad thing about it is the logistics. With a buddy pass, you don’t have a flight plan you can count on. You have to go when there are available seats. As an employee of JetBlue, Kyle was able to look up the schedule and figure out how likely it was that we were going to make a certain flight or not, but when it came down to it, nothing was ever set in stone.
In addition, we had to make some connecting flights. For example, we would need to catch a red eye flight from Salt Lake City to New York (JFK), then to Orlando, and then to San Jose, Costa Rica. Each of those connecting flights also needed to have availability. I had committed and reserved the fishing lodge for the morning of the 18th. So if one of those flights was delayed or there wasn’t availability on one of them, then it was possible that I would have missed arriving at the port in Panama to get picked up on the 18th. The plan was to catch the red eye on the 15th and with the connecting flights, we’d arrive in San Jose on the 16th. Then on the 17th in the morning, I was going to catch an early morning bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama. (an 8-10 hour bus ride… I thought it would be a fun way to see a lot of Costa Rica and the bus ride only cost $15).
So we checked the flights and it looked like there was enough availability that we would make all of them, but it was a bit nerve wracking because even missing one of the flights would make it so I’d miss getting to the island. We even considered driving to Las Vegas and catching a flight to NYC from there. As it turned out, we opted to try one day sooner and catch the red eye flight from SLC to NYC (only 1 flight a day out of SLC). The problem with doing that was that there was less availability. In fact, it was so close that there were only 3 seats available and there were 3 of us, me, Kyle & Kyle’s wife, Lindsay. The chances that all of us would make it were slim, but we tried anyway.
Fortunately, we all 3 got on and they were the last 3 seats. And it was a long night. I don’t sleep unless I’m laying down, its dark & also quiet and I didn’t have any of those going for me. We arrived in NYC and had about an hour before the next flight to Orlando. Again, we lucked out and got on the flight. A few hours later, we had arrived in Orlando. An hour later, we were on the flight to San Jose.
Well, we made all the flights we needed to and that was going to put us in Costa Rica on the 15th, a day earlier than expected. So we were doing good. However, there was a problem with the airplane after we got on the flight from Orlando to San Jose. After 40 minutes in the air, the pilot announced that the water pressure on the plane was not working and that it was not an acceptable situation to fly without having it working, so we had to turn around and land in Ft Lauderdale to switch planes, but before that he had to fly in a circle for an hour or so to drop fuel since there was some rule that said he couldn’t land with the amount of fuel that he had. After we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, they had to fill out a bunch of paperwork and check the plane. It turned out that it was an easy fix and we stayed in the same plane. But it delayed everything about 4-5 hours… but it was a good thing because it was the last flight of the trip there so we were still able to make all the connections going standby.
Since our flight had been delayed by about 4-5 hours, we ended up getting to San Jose sometime around 5 pm instead of 1-2pm, but it didn’t matter since we didn’t have any specific plans. We got a rental car and then drove around looking for a place to stay and eat.
The temperature in San Jose was nice. It felt like San Diego to me. There was a cool breeze and there was a slight smell of ocean. The roads were good. It did have that latin American feel to it, but for the most part, it was a really great place to be. I was so tired that I mostly wanted to sleep. But we ended up finding a really nice place called Hotel Plaza Real. They had a suite with 2 bedrooms and all of us were able to share that spot for the 2 nights I was in Costa Rica. I was really glad we arrived a day early. It gave me a chance to get some restful sleep and also catch up on some work that I hadn’t finished from before. The next day, we went to pick up my tickets at the bus station, relaxed and also strolled around the downtown area. We checked out shops, ate at a vegetarian restaurant and talked with a lot of interesting people. It was a lot of fun.
In Costa Rica, they use “Colones” and we had to figure out how the currency exchange worked, because there was such a big difference between the value of a 1 dollar and the value of 1 colon. It was like 1000 colones was close to the value of 1 US dollar (roughly). I know that’s not exact, but it made more sense to me to think of it in that way. But you could also pay in US dollars from local establishments and get change in Colones, which was interesting to me.
The next morning was my scheduled bus ride. I was really excited about this because it was a way to see a lot of the countryside and it was so cheap to travel that distance. It was a long ride, but I was amazed with the natural beauty along the way. We drove along stretches where we saw beaches, mountains, jungle areas and resort destinations. We even saw a bunch of alligators in a river as we passed by. We eventually reached half way and stopped at a fancy rest stop that had a cafeteria with lots of food. This seemed like the place where all the buses stopped, so there were lots of people there needing to use the restrooms and wanting to eat. The food was pretty good. I ordered the amazing fruit juice called Bora, that I had tasted the day before. It seemed like every place we went to eat had amazing fruit juices and Bora and Cas were some of the ones that were typical in Costa Rica (I hadn’t even heard of those fruits before and they were delicious!)
After another hour or two, we came to the border crossing.
The Border of Costa Rica & Panama
I had heard that the border crossing was miserable and for sure it was! It was really hot there. We were all sweating in the shade. But that wasn’t the miserable part. Basically, we had to all get off the bus and wait in a bunch of lines for hours, fill out paperwork, have our bags checked and instead of being an orderly movement of people from one place to another, it was chaotic at best. I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, but the travel through the countryside was still worth it. Definitely not something you’d do all the time, but for a one time experience, the border experience was something that I could live with.
Well, we got off the bus, waited in a line to “Exit” Costa Rica. That one wasn’t that bad. I waited probably 20-30 minutes, gave them my paperwork and thought, “well, that wasn’t so bad”, but then we had to walk the distance of a few blocks through this area that apparently didn’t belong to Costa Rica nor Panama. We got to this other sign that said Welcome to Panama and there were some really huge lines that wrapped around in a non-organized way under the covered area and right next to the road where cars & buses were parked. The cars and buses that were parked there were not moving. Some of the buses were running though and exhaust was going in the direction of the people in line who were literally standing right next to it at a few points.
It seemed like there was only 1 person handling the whole line. Maybe there were more, but it went so slow and I think we were one of the last buses coming in. So we waited and waited. 2 hours later, we had gotten our passports stamped to “Enter” Panama. I was thinking “oh what a relief”, we’re done… but lo and behold, there was more. The people from my bus started congregating around this door that went inside the building and I asked what was going on and apparently it was our groups turn to go inside and to have our bags checked. But I didn’t have my bags with me, but then I looked over and saw that our bus had pulled up along side where the lines were and had opened up the cargo area for everyone to grab their bags. So I grabbed mine, but I had left my laptop on the inside of the bus near my seat. So I asked this guy who seemed to know what was going on if we needed to have all our bags with us because I had left my laptop on the inside of the bus. He said, “You did what?” and he got me motivated enough to go find the bus driver, open up the bus and go check to make sure that my laptop was still there. Fortunately, I found the bus driver and he opened the main part of the bus and the laptop was there and everything was fine.
Well, finally our group got to go into the little room. We had to wait till everyone arrived and there were 2 old ladies there who started calling out our names. Unfortunately, there was a family of 4 that was not allowed to enter Panama because their passports expired in only 5 days and they needed to have at least 6 months. So they were sent back. After the roll call, they then had us put all of our luggage on tables and they inspected it, but to be quite honest, it wasn’t that thorough and I think if someone had wanted to smuggle something, they could have. The whole thing was a disorganized mess, but we got through it. During that time while we were in line waiting, it started to rain and it rained hard. Its not the type of rain I’m used to in Utah, which is more like a drizzle compared to the pounding bullet sized drops that pounded the covering we were under. It only lasted 30 minutes or so.
Well, after getting through the border, we drove another hour or so and finally arrived at the city of David, Panama.
I had heard that there was a hotel called the Hotel Madrid that was nice and wasn’t that expensive and was only a few blocks from the bus station. I thought I’d try it out, so I just walked over to it. It was pretty close and they had rooms. It only cost $35 for 1 night. (Everything in Panama is so much cheaper and they also accept US dollars)
The hotel room was kind of small and the bathroom area smaller. The room had a slight odor of something, but I don’t know what it was and it wasn’t that bad. I turned on the air conditioner and got things cooled down. I ate dinner at the restaurant in the hotel and then did work stuff on the internet till 1 or 2 in the morning. I did speak with Eric, one of the 2 lodge owners and he had a real estate guy named Grayson Banner contact me about visiting some other properties for sale in the area. Both he and Grayson lived in the David area and they wanted to stop by the hotel for an early morning breakfast before I went to the island. So, they were going to come at 8 am. (Note: Panama is 2 hours ahead of my normal time zone and I had gone to bed late, had a long day on that bus ride and border crossing experience and I was exhausted. I had the hotel staff give me a wake up call at 7:30. I figured that would be enough time).
Well, I got the call at 7:30am and was so looking forward to that shower. But 1 minute later after we hung up, the guy at the front desk called again saying that people had arrived for me and were waiting in the restaurant below. What?! I had planned on 8am and I wasn’t even dressed or showered. Well, I didn’t know what was going on, but I hurried and put on my clothes, combed my hair the best I could and got down there within a few minutes. I walked into the restaurant and saw a guy that looked like he could be Grayson along with a Panamanian woman, but I didn’t see Eric.
Well I introduced myself to Grayson and he said he just wanted to let me know that he was there and that Eric would still be coming at 8am. Well, I was still half asleep, but thought I should get started on breakfast anyway. Eric showed up later and we had a talk about islands and money. Basically, you’ve got to have lots of money if you’re going to invest in an island. Grayson and Eric are both Americans who have lived in Panama a long time. Grayson seems to be a great realtor and very knowledgeable. Eric is a developer who got a really good deal on the ~500 acres he owns and he has built a really nice lodge from scratch. Once our meeting was over, I realized that I needed to get going so I could make it to the Boca Chica port by 11:00 am.
I found an ATM nearby, got some extra cash and flagged down a taxi driver. $35 for a 45 minute ride to the port. I could have taken a bus half way and then another bus the rest of the way, but the buses didn’t go there all the time and I probably wouldn’t have made it in time. Well, the taxis were all over the place and I got someone pretty quickly.
The scenery along the way was beautiful. Rolling hills, beautiful fields, mountains. The northern area of Panama produces the majority of the food in Panama and it was obvious from the fields of crops that we passed. Beautiful colored houses along the way, it was a nice ride.
I asked the taxi driver if he knew how to get to the port after we got to Boca Chica, but as soon as we had arrived, I realized that that was a silly question because the road turned into a narrow little cement road that went right through the middle of town, small houses on both sides and the end of the road was the port. There at the end were some boats right next to the edge of the water. So we pulled up and I found Shane there already there with his boat, ready to go.
Shane Jarvis is the boat captain and he was just dropping off a group at the port and picking me up. I had hoped to have others with me for the island trip, but it was just me. Nancy Reagan, one of the owners of the lodge who is married to Shane’s father and who also lives in Florida, showed up as well a few minutes later. The 3 of us then headed out to Isla Parida.
We passed lots of little islands along the way. They showed me a hotel that was built up on the edge of an island high up in some cliff areas. It was nice to be on a boat and headed to the island.
It really wasn’t that long a boat ride. It seemed fast. There was lots to see along the way. We even passed Isla Palenque, where a really nice resort was being built. A while later, up ahead there was Isla Parida. As we approached, I could see the beauty of the palm trees along the beach. I could tell it was amazing!
We anchored the boat in the bay and one of the crew members (Bernabe) came out with a little motor boat and grabbed our luggage and took us to the beach. I stood on the beach and let it kind of all sink in that I had finally arrived. It was amazing. A nice fresh cool ocean breeze, a beautiful beach and the thing I noticed the most was the “peace and quiet”… and it was great. There was a little cabana type covered area that was right on the beach that was pretty neat. It seemed like the perfect place to serve drinks and food for parties.
We then walked up the hill and passed a nice little wooden cabin type house, which I found out belonged to another property owner, named Justin. Beyond that and practically next door, was the lodge of Propiedad de Paradise, which is Shane’s lodge and the one I stayed at for 2 nights.
The lodge was simple, yet beautiful. There was a guest house that was separate from the main house. There were bunk beds in each of the rooms. I think it is probably more customary in Panama to utilize the space better and have more people in each room. There was room for 8, 4 in each room. There was an outdoor shower, that was still private and enclosed and the interior cabinetry was nice and looked great. Sitting out on the porch, there was a great view of the ocean and the islands in the distance.
Shane gave me a little tour of his property and showed me how he had his generators set up. It seemed like a lot of work and a lot of expense to power up the house with fuel from the generator that then continually kept these powerful batteries charged. A big thing for them is making sure that every time they come to the island, that they bring everything they need because if they forget something, then its $100 in gas to take the boat back to the mainland. So they’ve got to have all the food they need, spare parts in case something breaks down, etc. We had a wonderful cook, named Liz, who prepared amazing meals while we were there. We ate lots of fish, had Conch, fruit, sipped on coconuts and pretty much had a relaxing time.
Bernabe and Steve were some of the guides and crew who were there as well. Bernabe got his machete and he took me on a little jungle hike that first day where we saw tree branches with some very sharp spikes sticking out. We also saw some really fast crabs that would start scurrying about along the beach. I tried to chase them but they were too fast for me. We saw these little shell like structures that attached themselves to rocks along the beach. Bernabe used his machete to detach some of them to see the interesting little creatures that were inside.
After getting back from that hike though, I wanted so bad to go down and swim in the water… so I did. It was like heaven! If I could have picked a perfect temperature, that was not too hot and not too cold, that would be it. I just laid there and soaked in the water. In the lower layers of the water, there were some little undercurrents of cooler water would also feel so refreshing. After my long trip just getting there, it did feel like I had arrived in paradise.
I didn’t want to stay out there too long. The sun was pretty strong and I remembered my awful sunburn that I got when I went to Hawaii. So I made sure I brought some of my “Mercola Recommended” Healthy Sunscreen and I didn’t really get burnt.
After a nice shower, we had dinner and then I did some work on my computer. Oh by the way, we had high speed internet out there. Shane had invested in a special cable antennae that connects with the mainland and it seemed to work just great.
There was a large window in my room, so after a restful night, I awoke to the sunrise coming up over the ocean along with birds chirping and the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Even though my group was just me, Nancy, Shane and their crew still made sure I was satisfied and having a great time. After breakfast, I asked about going snorkeling and seeing Isla Gamez. Steve offered to take me in the little raft/motor boat and it was amazing!
It didn’t take that long, but the handle of the motor broke off from the rope when we tried to start the engine. After Steve fixed that, we took the little boat first to Isla Gamez, which is somewhat famous for tourists and others to go to on the weekends because it has some nice beaches, but its actually pretty small, perhaps a couple acres in size. When we arrived, we walked across to the other beach on the backside and then snorkeled on the back side where there were more rocks.
While we were snorkeling, this little tiny yellowish/orange fish with tiger stripes swam in front of my goggles the whole time. He was the size of a minnow. I couldn’t figure out why this little guy stayed in front of my eyes and literally, the whole time I was snorkeling. Steve said they are called “Seargent Majors” and he was using me for protection so they wouldn’t get eaten by the other fish. I kept trying to grab him but he was too fast and would move out of the way and then he’d keep coming back. As we snorkeled back to the beach, he had gathered his friends and family and now there were 5 total for a while, then 6… and they followed me all the way back as well.
We then took the boat over to Eric’s lodge, which was very nice. Eric was there and took me on a tour of his place & property. He had a few guests there that were sitting in the shade. We then rode the little boat up to where he has his bar and little cabins. They are kind of far from his main lodge and very rustic. The wood has spaces in between and no air conditioning. It would not have been that good to stay there by myself without a mosquito net and an air conditioner. Although Eric does have a guy that stays there to sell beer when people pass by. His lodge would have been great to stay at though and its on a great location on a little tiny peninsula that juts out so he’s got a beach at the front side of it and the back.
I then did a 30-45 min. hike through the jungle with Nancy & Bernabe (another one of their workers). I met a Panamanian family that lives full time on the island and saw the huts they live in. They are called the lobster guys because they are really good at finding lobsters and then they sell them to other island residents. The 71 year old grandfather, named Julio Bernal, has lived there his whole life and I asked him if he ever thought of moving or got tired of it and the answer was no. He still loves it after all that time.
There are mango trees all over and I walked through a bunch of banana trees, a sugar cane field, ate a fruit called piro that grows all over the jungle. It was delicious. I witnessed a fight between a dog & an iguana (got it on video too). The dog was winning, but the iguana got saved by our guide. The crabs were pretty cool too. There was one very colorful one that was dead that is in the picture to the side.
The seashells are amazing and I collected a bunch to bring home to my family. But I had a lot of fun just soaking in the water on the beach. It was so calm and peaceful. I love swimming, but hate the chlorine, so just floating in the warm water on those beautiful white sand beaches with no one around was amazing. It would be the perfect place to do my swimming as an exercise (without having to worry about the chlorine of the public pools).
I’m so glad I stayed 2 days instead of 1. The jungle hike, meeting the Panamanian family & the snorkeling, boat ride in the raft boat made it all worth it. Shane & Nancy are really great people. They are professional and they treat their guests well. They provide a high level of service and they are people you can depend on. They had a whole crew there just for me and they had a cook who prepared delicious meals and appetizers, Shane & 2 guys for maintenance, guide stuff, etc. Nancy was only there visiting from Florida and is not there full time.
On Sunday morning, we left about 9:30 am and got to back to Boca Chica port where Grayson & his Panamanian wife were waiting for me. Eric had told me and Grayson he was going to call to schedule the boat, but he didn’t. So we went up and asked Elvis (the name of the Panamanian boat driver) if Eric had called and he said no. Fortunately, Elvis was available and he was easy to find since the Boat Taxi thing is his business.
So, we just told Elvis what we wanted to do and he agreed. We were going to drive a boat in one direction to see some islands, but then also drive it in the other direction to see the others. It was $100 to go the one way, but $100 more if we drove in the other. So we just left and I told him I would tell him later whether I wanted to do the second half. It was kind of neat riding in his boat taxi. Thank goodness it had a cover. I had gotten a little sunburnt from earlier and it would have been bad.
But the breeze was nice. We did not get out on the islands. We only circled them, but it was still fun. We saw a bunch of islands that would have been neat to explore. We saw Isla San Jose, Iglesia Mayor, Isla Mona, etc.
On the way back, a bunch of wind started coming in and the waves got bigger. It was a little scary, but not too bad. The part that was irritating and unpleasant is that the salt water was being sprayed in my face and body for about 20-30 minutes straight. I was drenched. Not a dry part on my body. I couldn’t wipe the salt out of my eyes because it just kept coming. Grayson got some too and his wife & the boat driver didn’t seem to get it much. I’m so glad I left my luggage in Grayson’s car.
Anyway, I had enough and opted to come back to the port after the first half. It helped me realize the importance of having an experienced captain for when the winds pick up and waves are hitting you, but also having someone who knows what to do if the engine goes out or something.
I told Grayson I was going to come back to David and he gave me a ride. There was really no way I could go back to the island and get dropped off at Eric’s cabins with no certainty that I would have a way back and you can’t just walk on a jungle trail at night. It would be too dangerous. I saw these branches that had these porcupine like spines coming out. I actually got poked with one a little and it hurt quite a bit for a whole day. I also had bug bites all over my legs that were kind of painful and when I went snorkeling, it gave me blisters on the backs of my heels from the fins.
Back in David, Panama
By the time we had arrived back in David, I wasn’t feeling that great. I was still wet, hungry and was starting to feel more of the effects of the bug bites & blisters. Shane had recommended a great hotel called the Hotel Castilla and that is where I stayed. It was much nicer than the Hotel Madrid I was at the Friday night before. I arrived about 45 minutes before check in, so I just ate at the restaurant in my damp clothes and then checked in, took a shower and relaxed.
However, the relaxing didn’t last long because the itching from the bites was kind of bad. When I had shoes and pants on, the irritation against them made walking difficult. I could barely walk down the steps from the 2nd to the 1st floor. I had brought my cayenne and aloe vera and that evening proceeded to put it on every bite I had and there were a lot. Even though cayenne pepper burned, I have used it for other things and it helps. It did give me quite a bit of relief and I was able to sleep well that night.
The next morning I was hopeful that the pain would have subsided and it was actually just fine when I walked around barefoot in shorts. But when I went to breakfast downstairs, I realized I needed to do something else because I had a scheduled 4 mile hike in Boquete that afternoon. How in the world was I going to be able to do that? I was pretty sure I was going to have to cancel it, but I still had to get a bus/taxi and get there.
Anyway, I asked the hotel receptionist about stores in the area and since I was downtown, there were a bunch of options. The receptionist told me of a pharmacy that was right across the street. In pain, I hobbled out the door of the hotel and crossed the street. I found the pharmacy and showed the lady my bites and asked her if she had anything for them. She said she did. She showed me 2 different creams. I asked which one was more natural and that was the one I got. I hobbled back to the hotel across the street and proceeded to apply the cream to each of my bites. (Keep in mind that when you have over 100 bites, it takes a long time)
The pain did start to subside after an hour or so and by that time, I was about an hour late on my schedule. I should have been on the bus by then. So I hurried and got out of there, caught a taxi to the bus station and got on the bus. As I was waiting on the bus, I realized that I might not make it in time to get to Boquete by 1:00. Sure enough, I asked the bus driver, who told me that the bus wouldn’t get there till 1:30pm. I wouldn’t make it. However, I knew a taxi would. The difference in cost was $2 or so on the bus versus $35 for the taxi ride. But the bus took twice as long. So I got off the bus, caught a taxi and got there with about 15 minutes to spare. This whole time I am debating in my mind whether I should still do the hike. It felt a little better to walk, but I could still feel the irritation.
Anyway, I showed up at the Explora Ya office for the White Rock Hike Tour at about 5 minutes to 1:00. They wanted me there at 1 to fill out paper work, but the tour actually left at 1:30. I hadn’t eaten yet, nor checked in to the hotel and plus I was still wondering if I could handle the hike, which was 2 miles each way. The lady said to go ahead & get checked in and eat and we could do the paperwork after.
So I walked (with all of my luggage) from that office to the hotel Refugio del Rio, where I was to stay. It was probably about 4-6 blocks away. I was able to check in quickly and dropped off my stuff, which was a bit of a concern to me, because this place was a hostel and I was staying in a big dorm room type setup with lots of other people. So I was a little nervous leaving my stuff there and I was praying it would be there when I got back, but wasn’t sure where else to leave it. I found a cafeteria type restaurant on the way back, got some food, ate really fast and then walked back to the office, getting there about 1:31. I actually brought the rest of the food with me. The van that was taking us was about ready to leave. They told me they were about to leave without me.
By this time, I had pretty much decided I was going to go on the hike anyway. The bites didn’t hurt like they did before, but it wasn’t completely gone. Probably just enough to make me think I could still do it. So we drove for about 1/2 hour (and with enough time to finish my lunch on the van) and arrived at a very beautiful place.
I have to say that Boquete has amazing beauty. It is one of the top 10 places to retire to in the world and the climate was a little cooler than David, but it doesn’t snow there. There is lots of farmland, rolling hills, mountains and wonderful jungle type areas.
White Rock Hike
So we started off on our hike that would end at a waterfall. The foliage, the trees and the atmosphere were all amazing. There were 3 others and a guide with us on this tour. It was fun. I kept wondering what it was going to be like to have these guys carry me out of there if the pain got too bad on my feet and legs. But somehow, I was able to make it and it wasn’t too bad. We saw birds, beautiful plants, some very large trees. We even came to a tree that had some swinging vines and I got a video of me being Tarzan on the vines. (I had always wanted to do that).
It was a fun experience and I’m glad I was able to make the hike.
Hotel Refugio del Rio
I finally arrived back at the hotel and met some of the other people who stayed there. It turned out that the owners of the hostel were having a barbeque. (Keep in mind that this experience was like staying in a big house with a bunch of strangers. I probably wouldn’t repeat it, but if I did, I’d definitely have my own room). Anyway, the owners brought the meat and others were supposed to bring whatever they wanted and share it. Kind of like an informal potluck. So the next thing I knew, I was walking to the grocery store with 3 other strangers. 2 Dutch & 1 German and we were going shopping together (after only meeting that afternoon). So we walked down to the grocery store, bought some stuff for salad and then came back and tried to prepare it in the kitchen where there were probably 10 other people trying to use the kitchen at the same time. Maybe some seasoned travelers are used to doing that sort of thing, but it was a little strange for me. Anyway, we all ate and had a good meal.
Then that night, I had the ‘privilege’ of sleeping in a room with about 10 other people. Now, that was very strange for me. There were guys and girls and everyone was decent, but there wasn’t really a place to put your things. You had to kind of stuff them under or around your bed somewhere. Then there was smell of dirty laundry (my own and others) and you didn’t have your own bathroom. You basically had to take turns to use it or shower. I only showered once while I was there and it was ice cold. There were too many people in that house.
The other thing about sleeping in a room full of people is worrying about turning the lights on when others were sleeping and if you had to leave early. The next morning I had a zipline trek planned and I had to get up early and find my stuff in the dark. There were other things that weren’t that great, like the sounds that people make at night. The older English lady (who might have been missing a tooth) and who slept in the bed closest to mine warned me that if she started to snore, to just hit her or something. Well, I kept thinking “What have I got myself in to?” So my sleep at night wasn’t as peaceful and I did hear some snoring and one guy yelled out in his sleep followed by an enormously loud toot! No one made a sound, but I was having extreme difficulty in not bursting out with laughter. Thankfully I was able to keep it in and get ‘some’ sleep. (Just so you know, the cost was only $12/night at this place. It looked nice and I thought it would be fine for 2 nights. Well the next time, I think I’ll splurge for the nice $40 place where I can have my own room).
Boquete Zip Line Tour
The following morning, I awoke early, got my stuff in the dark and walked over to the office where we met for the Boquete Tree Trek (the Zipline Tour). We got on the back of a truck and we drove about 30 minutes or so up to this place that was probably one of the most beautiful places I have been. It was higher up in the mountains, it was cooler and it was just beautiful. They had a little lodge up there called the Crystal River Lodge with these little cabin type houses for guests to stay overnight.
We then had our little training about the zipline course, got our gear on and then took another truck to a place much higher in elevation. It was actually starting to get a little bit cold, but a light jacket was sufficient. After getting off the truck, we walked a little ways and arrived at the first station. There were about 5-6 guides that came and in our group there were a couple families and there were about 7 or 8 kids total, so with kids, they don’t go by themselves. They get strapped on to the instructors and go with them. So a few of the instructors had 2 kids strapped on to them as they sailed across the beautiful jungle canopy.
When we arrived at the first station, though, it was a bit of a shock. The reason was the height. Imagine being at the height of a skyscraper and there was a cable that went to another skyscraper. Let’s just say that it gets the adrenaline flowing. All kinds of thoughts rush through your mind. Will this cable hold me? What if I get stuck half way? Anyway, besides all of that, it was an amazing adventure. They have cables that crossed over to the other side of the canyon to another really tall tree that was high up. So as you crossed, you looked below and saw the river below cutting through the canyon. There were 14 stations and 12 cables that you went over. One of the guides would be positioned at each station and then 2 different times, we had to all wait at one station while all of the guides caught up and then moved forward to the other stations. The whole thing was professional from start to finish. After the first two times, it was less scary and it was easier to relax and just enjoy the amazing beauty as you zipped through the air across the top of the jungle canopy. Such an amazing experience!
After we got back, I ate lunch at the lodge while we waited for our ride back to Boquete. What a beautiful and amazing place.
Caldera Hot Springs, Swimming in a River & A Monkey
We got back to Boquete and I had about 45 minutes till the next Hiking Tour was about to depart. I checked in at the Explora Ya office and they said that they hadn’t gotten anyone else to go on that tour, so they were going to cancel it. Well I had overheard the family with all the kids talking about going on a horseriding tour that afternoon and so I asked the lady about that. She said that they didn’t have one going, but another tour group might have one. She took me across the street to a different company and sure enough, they had a horseback riding tour scheduled that afternoon. I thought that sounded fun, but then the other receptionist said that they also had another tour going to Caldera Hot Springs. So I had a choice and the price was about the same. I thought to myself, “Do I want to relax in the Hot Springs or ride a horse” and I realized that after the zipline, relaxing in the water was going to probably be more enjoyable. But I also wondered about the irritation on my bites when I bounced up and down on a horse.
So I went on the Hot Springs Tour. We drove in the back of a jeep for about an hour. Towards the end, we drove over rough dirt roads and in one place, we drove over some rocks that we should not have gone over. One of the tires slipped slightly on one of the rocks and I thought the jeep was going to tip over. Well, we hiked a little ways and the tour guide met up with the property owner, who was on a horse, paid some money and we were all allowed to go to the small little pools of water that were steaming hot. It did feel quite good to sit in them and it was relaxing. However, the property owner also had a monkey that hung out at his place. So we were all hopeful that we would be able to see the monkey up close.
The tour guides were going to take us to the river after the hot springs, and as we were hiking out, we saw the monkey up in a tree and we wondered if we’d be able to coax the monkey down so we could see it up close. Fortunately I remembered that I had some bland tasting crackers that I had gotten from the grocery store the day before. I opened a packet of them and gave some to the members of the tour group. One girl approached the monkey with a cracker. The monkey came down and reached out as the girl handed the monkey the cracker. The monkey then climbed the tree and sat on a branch eating the cracker (I got all of this on video).
I was trying to open up another packet of crackers so we could get the monkey to come down again. All of a sudden and with lightning speed, the monkey swung down to the ground, ran over to ‘my’ backpack and grabbed a complete packet of crackers (still in the wrapper) that was sitting next to my backpack. I had forgotten I had left a packet right there anyway.
It was the funniest thing and everyone was amazed at how smart the monkey was for going after the full packet of crackers, but also even noticing them. The monkey proceeded to climb the tree and went way up high with the packet of crackers. The property owner who was on the horse started yelling at the monkey to give those crackers back. Someone said that the property owner threatened the monkey with a whipping if he didn’t drop the crackers. The monkey obediently dropped the crackers and I got them back.
The tour guides decided that instead of going to the river near where we were (which was kind of rocky), that we should go to another place that had a nice beach. So we drove to that spot. It was out of the way, but it was well worth it. The beach next to the river was beautiful and it was a perfect place for swimming. The water was kind of cool, but it felt really refreshing after having been in the hot springs. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip.
The Way Back
We made our way back to Boquete and I stayed the last night at Refugio del Rio. Early in the morning, I got up and caught a taxi to take me directly to the airport in David. I didn’t want to miss the flight and the taxi ride was a lot more direct and enjoyable without all the stops that a bus makes.
After getting to the airport, I picked up a few more souvenirs for my family and waited for my flight. However, it turns out that the flight from David to San Jose was delayed almost 1 hour. And that made things difficult because I had to catch connecting flights from San Jose to Orlando to New York and then to Las Vegas (more about that later).
The good thing about the delay is that the people at the airport said that we were getting a plane that would get to San Jose in 1/2 hour instead of 1 hour, so it really was only about a half hour delay. Well, I figured I would still be okay, since I had a 2 hour wait in San Jose.
When I arrived at the San Jose airport, I was back on the buddy pass system and I would only be able to make those flights as long as there was availability. But Kyle had still checked ahead of time and thought that everything looked good for me to make it back with the exception of NYC to SLC. That one was completely booked so he had to route me through Las Vegas and I’d have to find my way to Utah from there.
So, when I arrived in San Jose, I didn’t think there would be any problem. But when I tried to go through customs, they wouldn’t let me. They said they couldn’t let anyone in the country who wasn’t going to be there for at least 6 hours. So I told them that I had a checked on bag that I needed to pick up at the Air Panama Terminal. They told me that I had to go up to the place where you wait for connecting flights. They asked to see my ticket and all I had was the buddy pass thing so that kind of complicated things. But I told them the flight I was trying to get on (and there was only 1 Jet Blue flight a day), so it was important that I make that flight. So I went up to the other security area and the security guy there said, “No you have to go back down to the place you were at to get your luggage”. And then I said, “Well I just came from there and they wouldn’t let me through”. So the guy walked back down to the customs area again with me and I tried to go through again. But customs wouldn’t budge. They said that Jet Blue was responsible for getting my luggage from Air Panama to Jet Blue. However, I didn’t have a ticket. I was going on a buddy pass. The people from Jet Blue agreed to help though so they got it worked out and got some agent down to the baggage claim area to pick up my suitcase and then transfer it to the right airline and this was with about an hour before the flight left. Fortunately they also had space on that flight and they got me checked in.
The flight from San Jose to Orlando was fine. I think it only took 2 1/2 to 3 hours total. We got to Orlando, went through customs there and then I proceeded to the terminal where the flight to NYC was to be. Well, there was a problem. The flight was completely booked. I called Kyle and he confirmed that I probably wasn’t going to make that flight. I found out that the next flight left at 6 am in the morning and that meant I was staying overnight in Orlando. I was thinking about sleeping in the airport because I’d have to get up so early, but I finally opted for the hotel option.
I was given a phone number for hotels close by that had some good discounts. I called one and they had a shuttle service and by the time I finally made it to the hotel, it was around 10:30 or so at night. I met the Pakistani owner who was kind of interesting. He asked me if I was from America and when I said yes, he asked why I was so nice. He apparently was able to figure me out in those couple minutes while I stood there at the counter and was surprised at how nice I was. He said “Its as if you were just born!” I was laughing on the inside. I was flattered at his words, but I really don’t know what I had said or done to make him think that. If he only knew what I had gone through that day and earlier that week ☺
Well, I did need a wake up call since my flight left at 6 am. There was a shuttle that left at 5 or one that left at 4. Leaving at 5 was cutting it too close and leaving at 4 was too early, but I figured it was better to be early than late. So I decided to have the wake up call at 3:45, giving me 15 minutes to wake up, pack up and get downstairs. (Also, 3:45am is really like 1:45 am in my time zone). Well, I went down to my room and found that there were bags and stuff in it already. I had been given a room that was already occupied. Fortunately, no one was in it. I went and told the same guy at the front desk and he assigned me to another room. While I was in my room, I wondered if he had changed my wake up call to the new room number. I thought I better check. I called and asked and he said, “Oh, yes, that is correct. I will make that adjustment.” Good thing I checked. I had also set my cell phone alarm, but apparently that was on vibrate and I wouldn’t have woken up from that, but I did get the wake up call from the hotel.
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I just waited at my gate. And I waited, but no one came to the gate. Usually there are people that show up 1 hour before and the other gate close by had people there at 5:00. So it finally got to 5:30 and I knew something was up. I went to the other gate and they looked it up and saw that the gate had changed for my flight. I got the new gate number and it was kind of far away. I had to run through the airport with my 2 bags so I would make that flight. That flight had 70 available seats, but I almost missed it because everyone had already boarded by the time I got there.
The flight from Orlando to NYC was fine and then I had a 1 hour wait for the next flight Las Vegas. I still was trying to figure out how I would get from Las Vegas to my home in Utah. Fortunately I also made the flight from NYC to Las Vegas. Finally after a long flight, I arrived in Vegas. I called my wife and she had looked up some stuff online for other flights, shuttles, buses and rental cars. Everything was outrageous and my flight arrived too late for a shuttle that went all the way to Orem. In addition, when I checked Southwest & Delta flights to SLC, they were either overbooked, super expensive and to top it off, there was an ice storm that delayed flights at the SLC airport. There were accidents all over northern Utah because of the ice. One plane even slid on the tarmac and I believe that was a first for the SLC airport. My wife Shelly was going to drive to St. George, but her mom convinced her that it wasn’t a good idea because of the weather.
I opted for a shuttle that took me to St. George even though it wouldn’t get me all the way to Orem. On the ride up to St. George, I was able to call the various rental car companies and found one that allowed for a one way drop off.
So the guys at the shuttle office in St. George had a taxi guy who took me out to the St. George airport where the Hertz car rental place was located. I got a good deal on a car, got some dinner and then started driving north. I was super tired. It had been a real long day and I started noticing myself dozing off. I somehow made it to Fillmore, but it was about 11pm and I pulled over and wasn’t sure if I should try to keep going or get a hotel. I also had some more work I had to finish up by the next morning. I called my wife and she helped me to see the need to get a hotel. It was a good idea. I looked towards the other side of the gas station parking lot where I was and there was a hotel right there. I finished up that bit of work and then got a good nights sleep. The next morning I got up refreshed and drove the rest of the way. I had made it home!
Even though there were parts of the trip that I definitely wouldn’t repeat, it was still incredible in so many ways. The memories are priceless. The people were wonderful. The food was great and the adventures were amazing. Just the feeling I got from pulling this off (even the travel logistics) was worth it. I had accomplished a goal I had set to visit the island and had done it. The trip was too amazing not to record.
My hope is to still set up a website to promote Eco Tours & Health Retreats on Isla Parida and do some business with the great people I met on the island. Along the way, I hope to be able to purchase property on the island and have a second home there at some point. It would be a great place to have family reunions and other gatherings or even set up a little community.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re interested in seeing the full set of pictures on the trip, click the following link: