Off the coastline of Panama City, in between the shore-liner boats waiting to pass through the Panama Canal, awaits a ferry to the island of Taboga. Spending five nights in Panama City we discovered the tiny island after connecting with locals one night at the Mojitos bar in the old city. With a passenger ferry heading to Taboga daily, we felt it would be the perfect day adventure. In the early morning, we backed up our day bags, made pancakes at the hostel and filled up on our gluten filled breakfast hoping it would keep us full until the late afternoon.
We had been travelling along side two German female backpackers whom we had met back at the Lost & Found hostel located in the Panamas cloud forest. Making the trek together to the ‘big’ city, they joined in on the day adventure. Hassling for a fair taxi price to the ferry dock was simple and cheap; nothing out of the ordinary lives of a backpacker. By this time, Thomas had even grasped my amazing skills of bargaining. While we stood by the ferry dock, the old wooden slacks appeared to be withering away as the sea water splashed onto the dockside. The white, blue and yellow paint that marked signage had been slowly chipped away with time. The morning sun was beginning to heat our bodies but the sea breeze caused goosebumps all over my skin as we waited patiently for the ferry. Slow and steady we watched the little boat dock.
We were handed orange life jackets by the ferry crew, they motioned for us to put them on. Approximately twenty people took a seat on the handmade wooden benches. It wasn’t too long until I felt that back and forth motion of the sea as my body questioned that third breakfast pancake. But conversations with our new travel friends allowed my body to relax and my mind to wander as the ferry slowly made its trek to Taboga.
At first glance, Taboga appeared to be that enchanted getaway destination. Filled with charm, shades of yellow and white buildings and beautiful colourful flowers made me fall in love with this little island community. Walking beachside, I enjoyed picking up shells, finding the biggest one to take away with me for the day. Thomas was entertained by climbing up trees or finding sticks and rocks to throw into the splashing waves; caveman like activities. In the distance, you could see the shoreline boats and the bustling city buildings of Panama’s capital.
After playing around on the sandy beach, we walked around the quiet community in search of well… particularly nothing. I felt as though we were allowing our wanderlust feet make the memories as we passed by quiet little streets with no one in sight. When we reached any crossroad we randomly would choose left or right. Each decision put us in the right direction. When our stomachs began to grumble our decisions lied on one important thing…lunch time. However, soon we realized that coming to Taboga on a Sunday may have had some downfalls as we had no snacks, limited water and from the looks of it no businesses to be open.
Walking along a stone paved path we noticed some locals going into a house. On the side of the white painted home was red paint that wrote out various items of food “hamburguesa” “fruita asorta” “sopa”. The door was wide open and was completed by a painted blue fish on its door stating below “hay peces”. Thomas, Myself and the two Germans walked up the steps and took a peek inside realizing it was a home-based restaurant. As our heads poked in the doorway, an old man smiled back at us with excitement indicating to come in and take a seat. He pulled up four plastic chairs from the back of his home and as we sat down, our stomachs growled with excitement. The man welcomed us in Spanish and Thomas replied in his basic Spanish for the menu. With no menu available, Thomas sought out the menu options that were painted in red on the side of the house. Hungry, Thomas attempted to order in Spanish some hamburgers. None of us understood what the man said, but we understood we could not have hamburgers. Thomas attempted again “Quatro biftecs por favor.” Again, the polite old man replied in Spanish. None of us understanding what was being said. We understood, there was no steak to be had. Thomas attempted to order for a third time, “pollo”, or chicken in English. With a smile from the old man he replied in his best English “Today…Today we have fish!”. Looking around at the table, four hungry backpackers replied “vamos a comer peces”, “we will eat fish.”
We had no idea what kind of fish…
How much fish…
If it was cooked fish…
But Today. Today we were going to have fish!
…And there were no regrets.
After waiting patiently for thirty minutes our meals began to come out of the little kitchen in the hallway. Our plates included a whole fish on the bone and a side of fries or banana plantains. As I began to de-bone the fish and take my first bites, my stomach melted with delight. It was the best fish I had ever had!!! From the first bite taken, we knew it had been caught that morning and cooked with love from the wife of the old man in their kitchen. The old man even stepped out to purchase some Coca-Colas we had asked for as a beverage as he had run out of coca cola. He smiled and stated in Spanish that he would return shortly. Four ice cold Coca-Colas completed our amazing meal. Costing a grand total of $6-8US per person, depending on the size of the fish, we were so thankful for that homemade meal that our bodies craved from our travels. Heading to their personal washroom, I glanced into the kitchen seeing a little adorable lady that reminded me so much of my grandma. I introduced myself, thanking her for the perfect meal. The hospitality of these two local ‘restaurant’ owners made me feel as though I was a distant family member visiting. Thomas felt compelled to tip them and handed the man the only $20US bill we had. Being on a budget ourselves it was a small dent of gratitude for the best fish in the world. The man tried to decline the gesture but we insisted. They smiled with gratitude in return as we packed up and said goodbye.
We took the rest of the afternoon to hike to the top of Taboga, following markers along a pathway. When we reached the summit, the clouds had cleared up for us to see spectacular viewpoints completing the perfect day adventure. Luckily for us we had made it in time to take the only ferry heading back over to the mainland as our little hiking detour left us tired and slow paced. Taking a glance out from the water at this unique little island community, I reflected that we truly had gotten a taste of Taboga. I felt so fortunate that our not so planned day led us to the best fish dish I have ever had but more importantly the memory of the kind-hearted seniors who made us feel like family members in their home.
Wandering Central America, we arrived in Panama searching for a place of relaxation. After all, backpacking is tiring. We had finally arrived on a beautiful Caribbean island off the coast of Panama called Isla Bastimentos. It is located in the Bocas region on the east coast of Panama. This exotic island was home to a small population of people who lived a simple lifestyle. One thing that sparked my interest was that the locals on the island spoke Creole, an interesting dialect between English, Spanish and the Caribbean native language. Majority of the houses and shops lied along the small island coastline with old wooden docks that led out to waiting water taxis to get to and from the mainland. Although most locals appeared to live in poverty they were generous to share their paradise surroundings, known as home, with us.
While soaking in the relaxing vibe of the island, we settled into our new home for the next four days. The guest house that we were staying at was called Tom’s Guesthouse. It was located right on the coastline and was built over the water. The owners of the guesthouse were an older couple originally from Germany. They had moved to Panama to spend their days basking in the Caribbean sun. The guest house was perfect, containing the normal essentials but I would suggest that the best part were the hammocks overlooking the clear blue water. After settling in, we spent the first day in the hammocks, drinking beer and interacted with other guests. It was only a matter of time that I had fallen asleep from the rocking of the hammock caused by the light coastal breeze.
(My evil boyfriend capturing my nap)
The next day we decided to move our bodies further than our hammocks and wander the island for small hidden gems. We set forth to hike to the top point of the island. We packed our beach towel and sunscreen with the mindset of reaching the other side of the island as the locals told us of the amazing beaches. Walking along the pathways we noticed old abandoned homes in the mist of the shrubs, that at one point in history, shared beautiful stories and viewpoints. As we continued our journey we began to see hand painted signs in English stating “Up in the Hill”....
With our curiosity, we followed the signs.
As we followed the old painted markers...it led us to a wooden building with a patio fit for any backpacker daydreamer. It was home to a small local and organic café known as the ‘Up in the Hill’ Cafe. At the highest point of Isla Bastimentos was this quaint business with the best view in all of the Bocas del Toro Region.
Of course, we stayed for a cup of coffee and a chocolate brownie. Unfortunately the brownie contained coconut, which I am allergic to, so you can only imagine how upset Thomas was that he had to eat the brownie all by himself. Once we finished our afternoon snack, we started our trek down the windy trail leading to the beach. After approx. 45 minutes walking downhill, we had arrived again to another hidden gem called Wizard Beach. With no one in sight, we were alone. The crystal clear, light blue, water was ours. And as we marked our spot for the rest of the day with our towels, the perfect little grains of sand buried our feet, exfoliating each individual toe.
We had arrived.
While we were lucky to have the beach to ourselves for hours, we were not surprised when other people (both locals and tourists) came to explore this magical beach. Our day became disrupted when a Russian couple arrived completely 'smashed'. As the middle aged man stumbled his way over to us, we knew our day was going to get a lot more eventful. Of course, his intentions were innocent, as he slurred his sentences talking about very “meaningful” and “deep” things about life. His wife continued to try to redirect him from us but I have to admit he was very entertaining. As the day moved forward, we observed this middle aged Russian running up and down the beach like an episode of Baywatch… wearing a light green ‘banana-hammock’ swimsuit and a typical hairy chest….we couldn’t help but laugh for hours.
As soon as the sun began to set, Thomas and I realized we allowed time to pass without planning how we were going to get back. We had only seen one water taxi arrive at the beach to drop of a group that was located at the opposite end of the beach. Fortunately, that water taxi came back to pick up the group. Thomas and I quickly grabbed our belongings and ran for the boat. The once soft, beautiful sand that snuggled between our toes, now limited our ability to run. It felt like we were escaping from quick sand, making it appear as though the beach continued to stretch out for miles with no end in sight....I was worried we were not going to make it.
However, we did luck out and reach the boat. The taxi driver was kind enough not to charge us an arm and a leg for the ride back ($2US) giving us the fair price. Once we were on the boat, I had a strong gut feeling... a moment of concern that… there were too many people on this boat! The water line began to get closer and closer to the edge of the boat…and I began to worry about the possibility that this boat may sink!!! As I looked at the taxi driver for reassurance he just smiled without a worry. Finally, the last person got on and the taxi driver began the engine and started to reverse for sea. We were only a couple of meters away from the beach and out of nowhere the Russian couple grabbed the boat, trying their best to climb in for a ride!!! The driver yelled out in the creole language to what I believe was “You IDIOTS!”...
…the waterline crept up higher, only 6 inches to disaster. One small wave… we would sink.
As the boat slowly made its way to each destination, ours thankfully being the first, we got out and waved goodbye to the boozed, sun-burnt, dazed individuals. As I turned to walk away, I noticed the Russian man passed out in the back seat. While the boat pulled away, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself and think it was the perfect ending to our relaxing day in paradise.
It wasn’t long until after spending a couple nights at the Lost and Found Lodge that we found ourselves irking for more adventure. We had already had an interesting venture getting to this so called ‘jungle’ hostel but better yet, we lucked out on getting the last private room to enjoy some relaxing silence at night in the very heart of Panama’s cloud forest. In the morning, the hostel embraced the calm lifestyle most North Americans strive to have; including fresh orange juice to squeeze into a clean glass to start the day off right. I have to add that the morning hammock lounging does add to the so called ‘cherry on top’ for a perfect backpacker adventure.
About two hours in, which felt like a life time of hiking considering most of the two hour journey was inclined, we came across a river. The water was rushing down the mountain curving and splashing every giant boulder in its way. The trees were lush and green and while birds rested on surrounding branches it was silent and peaceful. Thomas and I looked at each other and hopped onto one of the large boulders to sit, relax and have our lunch. The inner child came out in us as we picked up small sticks and raced them in the running water. I, of course, won...or at least that’s how I remember it!
After we hopped along the boulders and had a “nature pee” break, we set off hiking uphill. We had heard that at the top of the mountain there were spectacular viewpoints and for those lucky enough to see on the clearest days… the coast that touched the Pacific Ocean. As we ventured around remembering where our last marker was placed, we all of a sudden bumped into a young man, roughly the same age as us. Interestingly enough, a Canadian!
All three of us sparked conversations about the backpacking lifestyle and how cool this lost and found lodge was. However, not being the skilled hiker that I always hoped to be..the illusion of the uphill hiking conversations appeared never to end. Thomas took the lead of the trail, followed by our Canadian friend from Toronto and finally, there was I, tailing behind… dying for another break. Another hour and a half went by and suddenly, Thomas claims that the end is near. The thoughts of tears that ran through my mind if the he had only been joking with me. But, he was not lying, in fact, I believe he knew better than that…we finally had reached the end of our journey of the day.
As we hiked back down the mountain side, I felt a sense of completion and happiness. It was when we got back to the hostel and continued to hang out with other guests that stories of adventures were shared while watching the sunset in the distance. The hostel hosts Cloud, a rescued monkey, who I would say is a mascot that greets new guests. Additionally, there is a bar room that is lively at night and a movie room if you want vouch for a relaxing night. For any backpacker who wants to create good memories and meet great people, the Lost and Found Eco-lodge is one of the places to find adventure and have lasting memories.
If you are interested in visiting in the future click on the link below!
After spending time on the Caribbean side of Panama, we decided to check out an interesting hostel within Panama’s cloud forest. We heard about this known ‘jungle’ hostel from some gringos we had met in Costa Rica. The hostels name “The Lost and Found Lodge”. So as we packed up our bags and headed south... only to realize that we had
no clue where we were going...
While we walked down the busy streets of Bocas Town (Isla Colon), we were misguided to the wrong bus terminal which, of course, had to be in the opposite direction of where we actually wanted to go. After turning around and walking for another 30 minutes we finally arrived at another bus terminal. We asked some local bus drivers if they were heading towards the city of David or if they knew where this mysterious hostel was located. One of the workers claimed he knew what we were talking about; however, he spoke a dialect of Spanish that was too confusing to understand. Now, for all the backpackers reading this blog, you may already know the key to communicating is with your hands and going off facial expressions. This is an important asset when trying to get from place to place. As we hopped onto a small local bus (holds about 15 passengers) we took our chances that we were going in the right direction.
With our bags shoved underneath the crammed seats and with a crowded bus, away we went on the 2 ½ hour journey. The co-worker of the driver began to hang off the outside of the bus to collect the money of the individuals who were already on the bus. When it was our turn to give him our fee, I asked him in my broken Spanish if he knew where to get off for the Lost and Found lodge. In response, he rapidly blurted a bunch of Spanish back at me, which in short, I took as a yes. At this point we were in the hands of this local worker and hoped we would get to hostel that day.
While observing the locals, I quickly noticed that the bus would never come to a complete stop. However, when an individual would want to get on and/or off the bus the co-worker would reach out his hand to the person and grab them into or out of the vehicle as the driver would just slow down. It was nerve racking to watch as I was worried that someone would get hurt. And as time passed and the space on the bus became smaller and smaller I began to wonder when our turn to get off the smelly, sweaty, squished vehicle would be.
When we were approaching to our hopeful destination, the concern of us having to possibly do a “drop and roll” effect out of the moving vehicle was beginning to look truthful when the driver was not coming to a complete stop for us. Although I had been watching locals do this kind of routine for the last hour, I was worried that I would cause serious injury to myself. The co-worker suddenly began to grab our bags and as he leaned out of the vehicle it looked like he was going to throw our bags out of the bus first!!! Thomas quickly grabbed onto our backpacks ensuring that this wasn’t the case. Fortunately by this time the bus driver had come to a complete stop and turned to us with the hand motions of “get out”. We were relieved that the driver understood we were not accustomed to the “hop on, jump off” routine. While we focused on getting off the bus quickly we both looked out at our surrounding environment only realizing we had a new concern. We were on the side of a mountain. With no real civilization around us and with hesitation we still began to get out.
As the co-worker helped me off the bus, we realized the driver was becoming impatient but not at us. Meanwhile, at the back of the bus were two blonde gringos who were slowly hesitating to get off as well. When all four of us grabbed our backpacks on the side of the road, we watched the bus drive off into the distance of the mountain side. Our newly made backpacking friends were from Sweden and had told us they had overheard me talking about the hostel that they too, were trying to locate. They only got off the bus because we got off!!! While standing in the middle of the cloud forest beside a quiet road with no traffic, Thomas and I explained that we too had no idea where this hostel was located. When we all looked at each other with faces of “what do we do next?” it was then we all broke down and started to laugh.
Walking around the quiet area we all looked for some kind of sign that stated what direction we needed to go. I suddenly noticed a small painted sign nailed to a tree ,on the other side of the road, with a small yellow marker indicating Lost and Found with an arrow pointing up. With excitement we all realized we had made it to the right destination!!! As the other couple decided to readjust there bags, Thomas and I grabbed our bags and started to hike (approximately 20-30 minutes uphill) following the markers made available. When we reached the end of the markers, we found the hidden gem within the middle of Panama’s cloud forest. Since, Thomas and I were the first of the two couples to check in we lucked out and were able to book the last private room. Thomas was determined to get the private room after hearing what the alternative option was. It was a room that held 24-30 people. I still remember Thomas trying his best to contain his excitement as the Swedish couple sighed with disappointment.
Finally, as we settled into our quiet room, I relaxed in a hammock that overlooked the mountain side where this amazing hostel was located. I watched the beautiful sunset that night with one of Panama’s Volcanos in the background. I knew at this point we would stay here for a couple of nights. It was a perfect ending to the day where we truly were lost and found.
(The perfect view from my hammock!!!)