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Costa Rica and Panama 2016

Sunday, July 16, 2017

It’s been over a YEAR since our return from one surreal adventure in Central America, and I’m still dreaming of those two weeks. There's no way I can express or retell the adventure here without overdoing it.

We flew into San Jose, entering what looked like Jurassic Park. From here, we headed to Dominical where we surfed, ran, and sweated. One day we walked up the beach, through some little village to find a mini waterfall. The families around us left after a while so we had that little oasis to ourselves, flying off the rope swing, floating in the rain.

We met a Dutch couple the next day for a hike to a much bigger waterfall. It had me facing some fears I didn't know I had of falling on rocks and getting as close as we could to its mighty sprays. That trek had me questioning my physical abilities, as I struggled my little butt up that hill. I didn't think I could keep going. It made the fresh mango that much better though.

From Dominical, we headed to the little surf town of Pavones by way of a 1970s American school bus down dirt roads with potholes galore. We met an intriguing bunch of surf characters from Sweden, Israel, Brazil, and St. Augustine.

It was quite a cozy little lifestyle we created there; walking to the market every day, cooking fresh meals in the open air kitchen, collecting mangoes, avocados and fruit I can't pronounce, sharing our cultural meals with the Dane having fiskefrikadeller one night and burgers the next, runs through the tropical Costa Rican streets while Dylan surfed, setting up on the beach in the perfect hammock-hanging trees, ditching electronics and reading every day. Eating ice cream every day to cool off and not even worrying about it with all our activity was pretty fantastic too.

After about three days enjoying this lifestyle, we decided to head on over to Panama since, you know, it was so close. Why not? Another surfer from Australia was heading that way too, so we tagged along with him. Thrill and intimidation filled my veins at the Costa Rica-Panama border patrol. The communication and directions had us wondering all over for far too long.

Panama was a nice change with mountains all around, much less bugs, and a cooooool temperature. We did two fantastic hikes here. One day we went up several different trails in search of "the three waterfalls." I don't think we ever found those three but we saw two others that were pretty great. We did get the experience of walking through crop fields, picking a blackberry or two, smelling the strong fragrance of onions along the way, and meeting several friendly pups.

The next day we decided to conquer the Quetzales trail. We started off thinking we were going to do the whole trail, hiking out and back. "It's only 6 miles," we said. We made the mistake of following the hostel worker's instructions to get off the bus a "couple kilometers from the entrance because the bus doesn't go all the way to the trail." I'm guessing we hiked up that steep road for about 3 miles just to get to the entrance of the trail.

We hiked and hiked through the greenest trail, spotting the funkiest looking fungi along the way. Panama has the biggest and prettiest plants; ferns bigger than me, white and green striped leaves with pink flowers, massive leaves with the most intricate looking veins. I even got to spot a wild orchid! 

Near the end, we saw a sign for a lookout that was maybe 1k away.  We were so tired at this point that we almost didn't even bother, but Dylan encouraged and we trekked up. We walked through a chilly burst of mist to see an overlook of the calmest valley. It was quite dreamy. You could see the cloud being sucked into a crack between the mountains. Worth the little extra hike.

I swear the trail kept lying to us about the distance, as we'd see a sign that would 3k to the end, then 30 minutes or sometimes what seemed like an hour later, we'd get to another sign saying 3k to the end. It was both discoursing as heck and perplexing. But we finally made it to the end with no food or water left for the hike back and tired legs and brains. At one point, we sat for a break and I had a conversation between two funky leaves. So we decided to hike out and find a bus back...

Not so easy. We came out to a beautiful but secluded area with wildflower fields and cows and no cars in sights or sound. I wound up running down a hill in attempt to find a resolution quicker. Maybe cars, a bus stop, people... something. But nothing. Just a cow that got too excited at the sight of a human. We kept walking and walking, trying to enjoy the serenity until finally a car came up and we sure as spitfire hitched that ride. A four hour bus ride later, we made it back to our hostel.

Our last night in Panama was complete with Sunday Mass, a fancy fish dinner on a patio overlooking the mountains, and a Boquete Brew.

Panama was absolutely worth it with the remote hiking, rare birds, cool weather, mountains, ethnic tribes in their interesting dress, and minimal tourists. They also had the best coffee in the world, (internet claimed, Abby confirmed). We actually pushed back our departure time in order to go back to Cafe Ruiz for one more cup and stuffed our backpacks with as much coffee as we could. 

Biggest mishap of the trip? Hotel Franciny. We wound up there when we'd gone from Pavones to San Jose and planned to continue on to Santa Elena. However, the busses were all done until the next morning.  So we needed a hotel. Our apparently untrustworthy taxi driver decided to take us to a "hotel" from hell. Driving down the street, it was the most homeless people I've seen in one stretch, and we showed up to a hotel with a sign made out of cardboard and sharpie. We got a tour of the grundgy, smelly place with stained mattresses in the hall, what looked like knife marks in the wall above the bed which was made up of a box spring, a two inch mattress, and a bed skirt over top. No blankets or sheets for the bed. A "room" was next door to ours that looked like a closet. The shower head had what looked like electrical wires wrapped around it and a hole in the wall that of course made us conclude "cameras..." We woke up at 5am to a cockroach crawling on Dylan's back. At that, we decided to just go to the bus station early to get outa there. A dreadful place Hotel Franciny was.  

Our last stop was Monteverde for a couple days. It was the least impressive to us, as it was very touristy and expensive, but it did provide us with one heck of a zip lining experience. I would absolutely recommend that. We went with Extremo Park, as unappealing as the name sounded, and it was such a fantastic surprise. It far exceeded our expectations in thrill and worth. Zipping on mile-high lines across gorgeously valleys through the mountains with monkeys and parrots along the way, flying on our bellies across the huge stretch, getting pushed off a platform on a huge rope, swinging us out above the falls. It was truly thrilling. 

We started our trip with an open plan of finding surf towns and good hiking. 
Our final route was 
Jacksonville-->Miami-->San Jose, CR--->Domincal, CR--->Pavones, CR--->Boquete, Panama--->San Jose--->Santa Elena--->San Jose--->Home

What an adventure that was. As our first trip out of country together, I'd say it was a success. A thrilling, challenging, hot, humid, dreamy success. 
Last day in Pavones

 Cookin up lunch in our open air kitchen at the hostel in Pavones. And scratching the bug bites on my feet. 

 Old Chambo, that kept us company while we waited out the rain on a hike 
 A retired American showed us a quetzal bird and a black guan or pavon negro which is what Pavones was named after, and this 1500 year old tree that survived a volcano. 

So. Much. Greeeeen.

                                       Our dreamy view at the end of the Quetzal Trail 
 San Jose


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