As you have already read, we started September great by watching the release of baby sea turtles. We then drove to the end of the road at the Ola Peninsula where we enjoyed a beautiful campsite by the sea. We enjoyed the peace and quiet and went for walks along the beach. Kilian had been having a toothache so we stayed near Uvita for a few days where Kilian could go to the dentist. Finding good health care while travelling can be a bit difficult, not in the least because of the language barrier. Fortunately Uvita is rather touristy so there was a good English speaking dentist who fitted Kilian with a new dental crown.
After that we drove to San Jose again where it took 3 days to get the expensive papers for Binkie ready so he could legally cross in to Panama. We had simply smuggled him across a few borders, keeping Binkie in his backpack. Nobody thinks to check a backpack for a cat ;). But because we fly out of Panama we needed official paperwork this time. We finally got the paperwork just before the weekend. Since it is never a good idea to cross a border in the weekend (sometimes it is also not possible) we waited until Monday the 12tht to drive in to Panama. Both borders were easy, except the paperwork for Binkie took almost an hour, apparently this is not something they do a lot.
Our first tourist stop was Senderos Los Quetzales. Where you can see the illusive Quetzal bird. A sendero is a hiking trail. We hiked the trail but no Quetzals. Unfortunately this was our last chance to see this illusive but beautiful bird as it only lives in Central America. We had also tried in Costa Rica several times but, no luck. They only live in the higher mountains (>1400 masl )so we knew we weren’t going to see them in the rest of Panama. We drove on to Amistad national park to do some more hikes. But only one trail was open and this was just a 20 minute walk, The rest was closed due to the rainy season. There were two policemen who double as park rangers, hanging around and one of them offered to guide us up to the waterfall along one of the closed trails. We accepted, but the park ranger was in such a hurry that he was practically running uphill and I couldn’t keep that up for an hour. So I took Binkie back to the van and Kilian ran uphill with the ranger to see the waterfall. Meanwhile I enjoyed the sun and walked Binkie around the parking lot. Coming back down Kilian gave the ranger the “tip” he asked for of $5, which was a good deal.
While being in Panama we had been in touch, online, with some overlanding friends, Richie, Abigail and their daughter Zoe , who also helped us out with getting our bank cards to Costa Rica. They were camping at a camp ground near the coast so we decided to join them. It is really nice and also important to be able to talk to other people once in a while and share experiences. It was a great camp ground, next to a hotel with a pool which we could also use. There were also other overlanders we had already met before, Brittany, Eric and their son Caspian. So we had a great few days, sharing food and fun. Binkie also made a friend 😉 We are roughly travelling the same route at the same pace so we will probably see them again.
After three days it was time to move on. We drove to river Torrio, where we had a nice walk. So far we were really liking Panama, It wasn’t to difficult to wild camp and the national parks were either free of charge or cheap ($5). Much better than in Costa Rica where the average price of a national park is around $15,- pp and there wasn’t a single free hiking trail. However the weather was making things more difficult. September and October are the last two months of the rainy season and we had already been told they would also be the wettest months. We don’t know if the rainy season was this bad al throughout Central America or just in Panama, but we now had a lot of days when it rained most of the day. Not exactly ideal weather when living in a van. However this didn’t stop us from driving up to Ola: a mountainous area with a few hikes and several waterfalls. We really liked this area and ended up staying 4 nights. We found a great campsite in a grassy field near the off road track to Ola. It was really quiet, about 5 people a day came by. It had been a long time since we had such a nice isolated spot so we really enjoyed it, as did Binkie.
The area has a lot of very narrow mountains, called picachos, which simple means peaks. They are really steep and covered in long green grass. It looked beautiful and different from what we have seen so far. There is a hike there, called Picachos de Ola (yes, not very imaginative 🙂 and we had read online that it was only one hour and you would have a beautiful view. We drove up to the hike and were able to leave the van in a guarded and very shady parking lot. This meant we could leave Binkie in the van. And that turned out to be a good thing because nobody had actually mentioned that this hike was rather dangerous! The first part was fine. But then it became really steep, like 70 degrees steep. And the trail was really narrow along a narrow cliff. The ground was uneven with lots of little rocks and the soil was a bit slippery. We thought about going back but didn’t want to give up. We spend a lot of time going up on all fours and holding on to little rocks. When we finally made it to the top we were really tired and hot. Since there weren’t any trees there was no shade. So after enjoying the view we started going back down. Which took two hours, mostly shuffling forwards on our butts, sometimes climbing down holding on to rocks, like when you are rock climbing but of course without a rope or any safety features. It was truly exhausting getting back down like that, like doing squats an push ups all the time. When we finally made it down we saw the owner and told her, that yes it was beautiful, but also muy peligroso (really dangerous) she said “si” with a big smile as if this isn’t an issue at all, so yeah…
We also visited two waterfalls, one called cascade de las Mesitas, which has several waterfalls on different height levels. We would have like to enjoy these a little more, but just when we arrived at the last one it started to rain heavily again so we had a quick look and left. We also found a beautiful waterfall just along the road where we had a nice swim, descending next to the waterfall on some natural stairs using a vine to climb down, talk about a jungle feel! We actually loved this waterfall the best and we really enjoy these surprises that are not a tourist attraction and we just happen to come across.
The surprise waterfall
Across from our campsite was a private road with a sign saying Vison Verde and in the evening the manager drove past our van and kindly invited us to visit the next day. They are all about agro tourism. They grow guayabas, a fruit that resembles a pear somewhat. We were given a tour through the orchard and also saw the little zoo of animals that have been rescued from bad situations. They are trying to get the animals (mostly monkeys that were kept as pets) to get use to living in the wild again.
Unfortunately we had to leave this area to go to Panama city. We had some business to take care of, pick up our parcel with our drivers licenses (finally after 3 months!) and we needed to start getting everything ready to ship the van. You will be able to read more about that later.