San Blas Paradise

13.08.2016 – 17.08.2016

Finally, our once in a lifetime experience is coming closer. We were planning this trip for a longer time already or were at least dreaming of it when we were still in Germany, we are excited and looking forward to spend 5 days sailing from Panama through San Blas Islands to Colombia. But lets start from the very beginning.

Our meeting point was set up from Blue Sailing company (the organizers of the boats and departures) to be at Portobelo, which is approximately a 3 hours bus ride from Panama City, it took us actually 4 hours since our last bus connection picked up a million passengers along the route to the village. Finally we got there, climbed the small hill to Captains Jacks restaurant to meet our co – passengers and our captain. Captain Borja, a guy from Barcelona who we imagined to be just as you imagine a captain to be – old, wise, wit a beard, calm. Well, not exactly the description we would use for our Captain. He, maybe in his mid-thirties, arrived a little bit late and very hectic, seemed to be very confused and looked like he just got up. 🙂 So he would be the one keeping us safe on a boat for the next 5 days…our health insurance would be so worth it! He started to collect our passports with a really short and ‚trustful‘ explanation that the customs office is closing shortly and he doesn’t have that much time to do the immigration, so we should just give him our passports and wait there…so we did as the captain said 😉

Waiting, eating, drinking and waiting…hmm the captain is already gone like 3 hours and we are still waiting, getting to know each other – without passports.

The co – passengers (what an amazing group – you guys made these 5 days as special as they were :)) we immediately found very sympathic and slowly the nervousness stopped. We actually had a good feeling about the upcoming 5 days together – no more nightmares of annoying passengers getting on our nerves and killing the trip for 5 days on the same boat!

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„The Captain is coming!“ – we heard from behind our back. Pfuuuf finally, and he even brought our passports back and didn’t sell them to some Mafia as we had already guessed…He finally gave us some brief instructions for the boat, short but useful information, and also told us that we now need to take a taxi to another port….?! Hmmm why our boat was there and not in the port where the organization sent us to is a mystery to us until today 😉

So after a really long day of transportation and waiting and transportation and waiting we finally got boarded our boat at around 21:00 – the AMANDE 1 – 6 Atoll sailing boat with 4 rooms, for the group of us10 our home for the next 5 days. Safety instructions – again short and direct, from which the 2 most important rules were:

  1. no drugs allowed on boat (and he was deadly serious about that!)
  2. no sleeping in common seating area

Yes Sir!

Our crew consisted of 3 persons in total, from which was one Captain Borja, cool, experienced but little bit short in giving information, then Dani, sailor and cook, always smiling and preparing such delicious food all the time and Dani’s brother Dario, who was actually on vacation but helped on the boat.

OK guys, we start the trip, fasten your seatbelts, we are going to be on San Blas Islands in, hmm, maybe 8 hours , said the captain. As all of us were well prepared for a sailing trip, we opened the first bottle of rum and enjoyed our first sailing impressions, getting to know each other even better. After a couple of cups of rum most of us decided to have some rest and go to the bed, others would refer to their bed as being a coffin(extremely tiny bed stacked in the room). 😉

“Aqua – viene Aqua!!” Although our spanish has approved the last weeks in central america, it is still not the best, especially when it is 03:00am and we’re half sleeping. But to hear these words (which mean “water comes in!”) in the middle of the night made us somehow being awake all of a sudden. We hear the engine is not running, our crew is running around like crazy to the front and back and front and back, yelling something more in spanish – Daaaamn we are going to sink! “Ellen, get your head lamp and be ready to evacuate the boat!” – YES, I really said that. Ellen looked at me with panicked eyes and asked me “Whaaat?!?!? Are you f*#%ing kidding me?? We cannot evacuate, there’s only water around us!!”

Ok, Ok before behaving appropriately in such a situation, which would mean waking everyone else up and running around the boat, screaming “we all gonna die!”, I’m going upstairs on the deck to check the situation up there.

The captain is covered in sweat and running around, Dani as well but they don’t look like we’re about to evacuate the boat. Turned out that not the water comes in the boat,  there’s, but no water is leaving the engine’s cooling system, which means no cooling of engine and because of that no running engine.

Sleeping in that night would not be happening, since our boat crew needed to fix this problem very fast and one of the closest access to the engine was through our room! The worst on the whole situation was that we were a couple of kilometers out of the coast and no help was close by. In the end, after 3.5 long hours of working on the engine, receiving help through WhatsApp voicemails from other sailors, our crew changed one part of the engine and the calming roaring of the engine was back on – victoryyyyy, we can finally continue to the Paradise San Blas 😉

The next morning, we finally reached the calm waters of San Blas Islands and eventually realized what everyone who did this trip was talking about – it is Paradise. Around us only islands full of palm trees, cristal clear water and sailing boats and catamarans. The water so refreshing that after the first jump in, you don’t want to come out ever again – for next 3 days we can do exactly this.

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We sailed from Island to Island, snorcheling, swimming, eating delicious food prepared by our Cook Dani in an unbelievably small kitchen on the boat and just enjoyed paradise. On almost every visited Island there are ‚Kuna‘ families of local habitants living and selling fish, lobsters and hand made souvenirs to all visitors.

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Snorcheling in this waters was a great experience, discovering the wonderful coral reefs, watching mantas, colorful fishes, ship wrecks and that beautiful clear water.

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Our very romantic evenings we spend on the boat or on the Island, watching the sunset and having a cup of Panamanian Rum with anything what was available, just paradise. 🙂

“Time to leave guys!” – that sounded like the captain violently wants to pull us from the paradise. Everyone knew what is going to follow and we knew that we need to continue to direction Columbia. 2 days on the open water on our Amande boat – what terrible stories we heard of sick passengers, feeling ill for 2 days and vomiting without end! Challenge, here we come. Most of us were well prepared and bought seasickness pills, some of us tried alternative ways eating ginger and pressing the P3 point on both hand wrists according to acupuncture studies (James, what a luck that you found that book on the boat!). After dinner we headed to the open waters and expected that our boat will be turning into a zombie boat – pale people making weird noises, no talking, walking dead, eeewww.

To shorten this story a little bit – we survived, and in the end it wasnt that bad at all! For most of us the pills helped a lot, making us sleepy and calming us down. The biggest effort was probably to get over the immense heat in the small rooms, but being surrounded by great people who all felt the same, the coast line of Cartagena appeared earlier than we thought. On the last evening on the boat, we were even joined by dolphins jumping at the front of our boat and made a wonderful end to this amazing trip.

Useful advices:

  • take seasickness pils
  • Choose a boat according to your requirements (Party/ Chilling Boat)
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra dolars for beers and rum on the island
  • As the showering water is your drinking water – No shower 😉
  • Bring book or something to keep you busy

We would highly recommend this trip, as it was an amazing experience for us. But, to be honest (Ellen’s opinion): once and never again. 🙂

 

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Bocas del Toro y Panama City

Bocas del Toro, the Island Paradise 

06.08.2016 – 09.08.2016

Jippii, we’ll be heading to the next country, Panama! From San Jose Costa Rica , we booked a bus with Caribe Shuttle, which would take us until the first city after the border and then we continue by boat to the island “Isla Colon”, which is the most populated and touristic island in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

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Pick up time was estimated between 6:20am and 6:50am, but as we already learned here in Costa Rica, better don’t rely on punctuality. 😉 We started the long ride at 7am and went pretty fast until Puerto Viejo, which we have visited at the beginning of our trip already and is close to the Panamanian border. Since it was not the first time that we planned to cross a border, we knew we would need some sort of onward bus ticket to proof that we leave the country after a certain time. On our tickets from Caribe Shuttle however, it said that we have to have a flight ticket ready to our home country to show it at the border…that was the moment I first got suspicious, where as Jakub was still completely convinced that the booked bus tickets we had were totally fine. Turned out, they were not sufficient! 🙂 The Panamian police offficers at the border insisted on a flight ticket we had to show them, not willing to let us pass… luckily, I  being the well organized and prepared German, had created some, let’s say very real looking flight tickets to Munich, which we could show the officers in the end on my tablet. 😉 And there it was, the desperately wanted entry stamp for Panama, which we really earned after almost dying from heart attacks at the border crossing!! We already saw us sitting in a dark cell without sunlight at the border, only allowed to make one phone call…Too be honest, we don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t have some sort of flight ticket, but these men seemed very serious about the immigration process, which is why you’re better off having a “booked” flight. 😉

Almirante

Almirante

Back in our shuttle bus, it took us another 40 minutes to the port city Almirante, where we took a boat to Isla Colon. The clear water we saw once we were close to the island was amazing – even at the small port we could see starfish in the water! Since there are lots of beaches to explore, we decided to book a round trip to several spots for the next day. Starting at 9:30am, we headed to the first destination, the dolphin’s bay – and there they were, showing their fins and playing in the water! But of course, we were not the only boat with tourists aboard, means the dolphins were surrounded by at least 6 boats… that unfortunately made this experience once again less exciting as it was supposed to be. Yes, we know that most of the tours are fully booked with tourists and as long as we go for planned tours, we will never have a private and lone experience. Nevertheless, we somehow try to stick to this “romantic” idea of seeing or experiencing something more private… one day it’ll happen. 😉 Continuing to our next spot, our capitain on the way stopped the small boat and allowed us to snorchel in the cristal clear water to see the stunning underwater world – amazing. Such colorful fish and corals, we really enjoyed it. After 45 minutes we headed to Isla Zapatilla, a very remote and uncrowded beach. It looked picture perfect with its white sandy beach and the turquoise water! But then… dark clouds at the sky…. did we just hear the rumble of a thunder…. is that rain on our skin…? Rain in paradise, please no! Unfortunately, it did start raining and it was storming like crazy. We tried to hide somewhere under palm trees, creating a shelter with our beach blanket (Majlo, that was the best present ever!! :)) but got soaking wet. Luckily, our captain picked us up and we headed to another spot. Our only disadvantage was that the boat had no roof or anything to protect from the rain. We were soaking wet, water splashing in our faces from everywhere, what a trip. 🙂 All of us were more than happy when we drove back to Isla Colon to dry our clothes and ourselves!

To The Dolphins Bay

To The Dolphins Bay

Hola ;)

Bocas del Toro ( Isla Colon)

Bocas del Toro ( Isla Colon)

Playa Red Frog

Playa Red Frog

For the next day, we decided to wait how the weather develops in the morning. It was sunny and beautiful, so we went to the Red Frog Beach – best choice ever. What a beautiful spot on earth…we have seen a lot of beaches so far, but this one seriously had this certain something. 🙂 We wanted to stay there forever, dive in the waves, swim, sleep, take a million pictures which can never show the amazing nature. All in all, a wonderful day. We had hoped to repeat it the day after, but the weather again was against us which is why we allowed ourselves a lazy day. We felt it was necessary to just do nothing once in a while and completed only one task that day: get copies from our passports, which we would need for our sailing boat trip to Colombia that we’ve booked. 🙂

Panama City

09.08.2016 – 11.08.2016

Early morning the next day we said “Bye Bye” Bocas del Toro and ” Hello” Panama City!
Arriving late in the afternoon at Allbrook Mall, we took the metro to direction city center, which was quiet funny. There is only one line which takes you more or less from north to South in Panama city and back – so there was no chance of confusing metro lines  hopping in the wrong metro. 😉

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Our hostel for the next 2 days was located in the area “Casco Antiguo”, a very old neighborhood with beautiful houses and old churches. We took a stroll down to the water and were fascinated by the illuminated skyline of Panama City. The next morning, we walked along the water front on “Avenida Balboa”, a very modern and beautiful walkway into the city.

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In the afternoon, we planned to visit the “Miraflores Locks”, one of the 3 locks where visitors can see the huge ships crossing the Panama Canal. Taking a public bus for 0.35$ we arrived at around 3pm there – luckily, we have read several comments on TripAdvisor beforehand and knew that between 10:30am-14:00pm the directions of the Canal are being changed and no ship would cross. After a short introduction via 3D cinema about the Canal, we went to the visitor terrace and saw the very impressive, huge merchant ship which was about to cross the Canal! Standing there, we felt like small ants next to it and where amazed by the awesome technology behind the Canal.

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To sum it up, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The landmass is slightly above the mean sea level, which creates the need to lift the vessel upto 26 meters above mean sea level. As the vessel is lifted and after reaching the other end of the canal, it has to be dropped down to the mean sea level, to enable the ship continue its sea passage. To facilitate the lifting and dropping of the vessel, Lock Gates are provided [source: http://www.brighthubengineering.com/naval-architecture/35713-the-panama-canal-a-man-made-engineering-marvel/%5D.
I could have stood there all day long watching the ships to cross, so cool. 🙂
But we needed to go back to the hostel and prepare our luggage for the biggest adventure so far on our trip: sailing across the Caribbean Sea to Colombia! I hope we meet Captain Jack Sparrow and his Black Pearl Crew…. 😉

 

 

 

Panama Papers – Little Introduction

Panama,officially called the Republic of Panama, is a transcontinental country situated between North and South America. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the west,Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half of the country’s 3.9 million people.

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As all of the Central American countries, Panama was inhabited by indigenous tribes before settlement of Spanish in 16th Century. Settlers brought they illnesses and took care of dicreasing of the population…

Panama brought from Spain in 1821 and joined the union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela, after this union disolved Panama stayed tied to its neighbour Colombia until 1903 when Panama got independent with help of United states. Of course this help wasn’t for free and US was allowed to build so famous Panama Canal through the countire ca. 16km wide and 80km long.

Since the early 20th century, Panama has gained a reputation worldwide for being a tax haven. In 2016, the release of the Panama Papers caused a huge global financial scandal.

Revenue from canal tolls continues to represent a significant portion of Panama’s GDP, although commerce, banking, and tourism are major and growing sectors.

Panama’s jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants and animals – some of them to be found nowhere else on the planet.

The Panamanian currency is officially the balboa, fixed at a rate of 1:1 with the United States dollar since Panamanian independence in 1903. In practice Panama is dollarized: US dollars are legal tender and used for all paper currency, while Panama has its own coinage.

The balboa replaced the Colombian peso in 1904 after Panama’s independence. Balboa banknotes were printed in 1941 by President Arnulfo Arias. They were recalled several days later, giving them the name “The Seven Day Dollar”. The notes were burned after the seven days but occasionally balboa notes can be found in collections. These were the only banknotes ever issued by Panama and U.S. notes have circulated both before and since…

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Deutsche Übersetzung