Central America | Panama – Feliz Navidad
It was hard for me to believe it was the Christmas season. December 20th, as I waited for my parents to arrive in the bus terminal in David, it must have still been 90 degrees at 4pm. I was still sweating. My parents and brother had flown into San Jose, Costa Rica, and were on the bus now to David. It was supposed to arrive around 5pm, and being optimistic, I was there at four. Silly idea. Of course it was 3 hours late. I was really getting worried as it got dark, but it finally arrived around 8pm. I took them to Tamburellis for dinner.
The next morning, we set off bright and early for the beach. We were going to Mono Feliz, off Punta Burica, a thin peninsula shared with Costa Rica. We took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puerto Armuelles, where we met a guy with a launch (a long skinny motor boat), who took us on an hour and a half ride. The sea got really rough, and we were all glad when he found a calm place to take us to shore. It was then a 2 kilometer walk to Mono Feliz. As soon as we stepped onto shore, the trees exploded with noise! There must have been twenty black howler monkeys yelling at us and shaking the branches. It was exciting, and almost scary. The whole walk was along the beach, except a bit of walking through knee deep bogs. We wondered if we would ever get there, and my family joked, could you find somewhere a little more remote next time? We don’t like these mainstream places! they said sarcastically. But we finally arrived at Mono Feliz.
It was beautiful, not another soul seen the whole time! White sand beach, lovely view of Isla Burica, natural vegeation and animals everywhere. Literally. Two cariblanca monkeys, named Elvis and Mickey, had been abandoned by their mothers, and were now so used to people, they jumped right on us. I loved them, and spent the next few days with a monkey on my arm. We were a little surprised with our ‘cabins’. There were three, two in the trees, one right on the beach. We had been given the ones in the trees, and we were surprised to find the walls were only waist high. The door was also about three feet high. Other than that, they were completely open to the world. I shared one with my brother. I think everyone grew to love them, but I had trouble sleeping, worried about what animals could jump over the little wall into the room. The jungle was alive at night. Once I got up with a headlamp to investigate a noise, and saw my first live armadillo! (Their nocturnal, and I’d only seen them as roadkill before, in Louisiana). The owners, a North American and Austrailian, were gone, but locals from Bella Vista, Milaluz, and her two sons took care of us. They told us all about the area and cooked three tipico meals a day. My dad fished almost the whole time, and I layed on the beach just as much. The sun felt wonderful!
Unfortunately, we had to leave a couple days later, tho I could have stayed forever. The place is not very accessible, so leaving was interesting. It turned out a chiva left from Bella Vista every morning at 6am. Bella Vista was over an hour’s walk away, and we all had big backpacks. So Milaluz, who we were good friends with by this point, suggested we come to Bella Vista the night before, and stay at her house. So we hiked up there one evening after if cooled a little. Bella Vista was a beautiful, tranquil little town, isolated by the lack of road to it. Her mother, husband, and six kids lived in the house, too, but they graciously made room for us, and we had tea, hojaldras, and fish my dad caught for dinner. Half the town stopped by to check out the gringos, and it was a fun night. The chiva left while it was still dark. It actually travelled along the beach, and we got to watch the sun rise over the ocean. Once at Puerto Armuelles, we easily caught a bus to David, and then to Cerro Punta. (Later, looking at a map, I realized we didn’t have to go all the way back to David. We could have just gone to Conception to catch the bus to Cerro Punta, cutting a couple hours off the trip, FYI).
I had told my family we had a room at Los Quetzales Lodge. The bus goes all the way to the door. When we got there, I surprised them that I had actually rented cabin three, a cabin actually in Parque Internacional Amistad (a park shared with Costa Rica). The cabin is in the cloud forest, up at about 6000 feet, so pretty chilly, especially at night. The lodge gave us a ride in a four wheel drive vehicle there. It was several miles, and we drove through a few little rivers. Then it was a short hike uphill to the cabin. Could you take us somewhere remote next time? my family joked again. They loved the cabin. It was two stories, with balcony on each level. No electricty, but there were kerosene lamps, hot water, and a woodburning stove. We had a great time there, going on hikes and cooking in the full kitchen, except for Christmas Eve dinner in the Lodge with people from all over the world. For Christmas, I gave my mom a chakra Augustina made, and my brother and Dad got Panama hats.
(One day, I went to check email at the lodge, and saw a headline- 5000 killed in South Asia tsunami. As everyone now knows, we watched the figures climb to 11,000, 20,000, 130,000. It was so depressing and scary. It really hit home to for a couple reasons. I had been laying on the beach several days that Christmas, if I was on that side of the world, I could have easily been there. Furthermore, I was familiar with Phuket, and know so many people who been through there. People I know could have been there. What a horrible tragedy, so sad).
We spent four nights there, before it was time for them to visit Chami. We took the bus back to David, then one to Chami, where we arrived at the piquera. I was nervous, really hoping we would make it safely. At the piquera, there were several people I knew, and they were fascinated with my family, and that they were going to Chami. It’s not exactly a tourist desination. Orlando was the chiva driver that day, luckily. He is a good driver, and thank goodness, we made it safely. It did start raining, and we had to get out and walk a few times, because the chiva could not get up a few muddy hills with all the weight. We arrived safe and sound, and soaking wet. They loved Chami! It really is beautiful, and every there was also fascinated to meet my family. They stayed in the little rooms Mireya rents, so we dropped stuff off, and went straight to my English class. Lots of people showed up, and practiced their English. It was a pretty informal class that week.
We also went on a few hikes, taking in the scenery. The hospital had a party for the kids, and we went to that. Carmen dressed as a clown, and got the kids to dance and sing. There was also a pinata, that, once it broke, was a free for all. The kids dogpiled onto the candy, and there was a pile of kids a few feet high. We ate with my host family, at Mireya’s, and at Balbina’s. “Let’s show your family the terrible nakwa you made!” exclaimed Balbina’s family. My family loved it. But you could clearly tell the dientes I made from dientes other people had sewn on.
After a couple nights, tho, it was time for my mom to start traveling back to Costa Rica for her flight home. She’s a high school teacher. We waited all day for a chiva, that finally arrived, and it was Orlando! I was soooo relived again that my family was with a good driver. The ride down was nice and uneventful- the best kind.
Back in David, it was deja vu of our first night in David- we ate at Tamburelli’s. The next morning, My brother and I sadly said goodbye to our parents. It had gone so fast! And they left on the bus to Costa Rica. Then John and I took the 6 hour bus ride to Panama City to ring in the New Year. The first day of 2005, we then took and hour bus ride to Santa Clara, a gorgeous beach! It was a great swimming beach- calm turquoise water- and the beach was packed because everyone had the day off.
Leaving was crazy. My brother, quite the hitchhiker, immeadiately caught us a ride in the back of a pickup from the beach to the interamerican highway, where we flagged down the first bus that came by, which took us 40 minutes to Anton, a hole in the wall town. That’s when it became obvious that the ENTIRE COUNTRY was traveling that day. We spent the next five hours madly trying to wave down any bus, anything, but the drivers kept motioning they were full. It started to get dark, and we were afraid we would have to spend the night in Anton. Was there even a hotel? Thank goodness, a Santiago bus stopped finally! It had exactly two seats, for us, no more. So at least we would make it to a decent sized city. We got there around 8pm, and after asking to get on a couple buses to David, and being rejected, we were about to call it a night. As we were about to go find a hotel, another David bus pulled up! It had two empty seats! We were so lucky, and on one of the worst traveling days of the year, we made it all the way to David by midnight.
Now, John figured out he has plenty of time before he has to fly home, and is coming back to Chami with me today. Hopefully we can do some nice hikes. And hopefully, and can get a start on my house, and some work before the next regional meetings!