And so, now Mike & Vicky had returned home it was just the two of us again and onto the last country of Central America – Panama. Before doing that we had a choice of two borders, the Paso Canoas border by the Pacific coast which was by far and away the most travelled or Rio Sereno, an hour inland and hardly trafficked. Having had our fair share of bad experiences at the hot coastal borders full of trucks and general chaos we opted for the Rio Sereno border, a decision we’d come to regret.
The night before we crossed we stayed at a restaurant about 30 mins from the border. The owner used to run an RV park in the USA and so had a special allowance for overlanders that if we went to the restaurant we could camp for free. He had lovely cabanas there with gorgeous views and what looked like lovely hiking trails, however we arrived too late in the night to do them. Our meal at the restaurant inevitably ended up with us splashing out a little but it’s impossible to say no to $11 filet mignon steak! And the beers…
The following day we made our way into Panama. The border crossing was exactly what we had hoped for, completely empty and almost like an afterthought. If you weren’t careful you could definitely just drive into Panama without realising! Also having to pay our exit tax for Costa Rica in a local hardware store was definitely the icing on the cake. So the exit went smoothly, however the last stage of the entry into Panama was a bit of a problem. Instead of the usual ‘temporary import’ document we get they only gave us a sticker. The machine gun Spanish fired at us was incredibly hard to interpret but it basically transpired that due to World Youth Day, the Pope visiting Panama City, we had a different kind of permit which only lasted for 12 days – expiring before we were due to ship the van!
Without wanting to get bogged down in the detail the whole thing proved to be a massive pain involving numerous trips to different offices over the next week, although we eventually got it sorted. With that done we headed to Boquete, a small town in the highlands of northern Panama with a large retirement ex-pat community. We didn’t let that put us off though, as we’d read and heard about the beautiful hiking up here. Also Annie had a surprise in store for Mikey, two nights in a wonderful hotel to spend his birthday in.
We pulled into an absolutely wonderful hotel, Boquete Garden Inn. It was instantly tranquil, and the gardens surrounding the property were beautiful. We had our own suite, which was a lovely addition as a real treat for us is to have a living space separate from our bed space – something we rarely have in Betty! So that evening Annie made Mikey a beautiful risotto and we enjoyed a bottle of wine. The following morning we woke up to birdsong and a cooked breakfast on the patio, with a number of species of birds coming to say hello. It was a beautiful start to the big day!
As an example of what age does to us all, unlike his 25th celebration in a bar in London, Mikeys request for his birthday was to spend the day hiking. It was an absolutely perfect birthday, and we hiked the first trail to 3 separate waterfalls although the hike turned into a bit of a climb needed ropes to get up and down to the last waterfall! Then we stopped for some traditional (and believe us, expensive to make) ham sandwiches and onto our second hike which was less strenuous. We had another treat though as on this one we managed to see not one but three quetzals, the most famous bird in Central America. Once again, as with the sloths you’ll have to have a bit of faith in our photos, but the male has an incredibly long tail with just two feathers and absolutely striking colours!
After the second hike it was back to the hotel to freshen up and then on into town to visit the local brewery. Finally a beer which tasted good and was less than $6 a pint! Then we headed to RetroGusto for a flamboyant birthday meal, it was definitely above our average price point but we enjoyed Espresso Martinis, lovely starters and fantastic mains. We definitely can’t make a habit of spending that much on a meal but birthdays do only happen once a year! It looks like Mikey has a lot to live up to come March and Annie’s birthday…
But alas the fun of the hotel is now over, and it’s time for us to start looking to Panama City and getting ready to ship Betty to Colombia.
First though as this is the last country before South America, we thought we’d make the most of the availability of parts here. But that’s a story for next time.