77. COLOMBIA – Punta Gallinas

We are starting to have a sense of distances here in South America. It took us two days to get just to the bottom end of the peninsula, La Guajira. We had two nights on different beaches on our way.

We just did a big grocery fill up in the last bigger town before reaching the desert when we spotted a hitchhiker by the road. It turned out he was heading to Cabo de la Vela, a small beach town on the peninsula which we were aiming to visit as well so we offered to give him a lift.

Remi, our travel companion is 24 and from France. He lived in Colombia for a year and travelling around, making money out of working on building sites, making and selling bracelets and necklaces and play music. He spoke excellent Spanish and strong enough English to have conversations. He was a free spirit but knowing exactly what he wants to do in his life and working towards it.

The peninsula’s length is approximately 160km. The first 40 km is a dead straight reasonably good paved road that leads  to the only town, Uribia with facilities such as fuel (you better fill up all your tanks here because you don’t want to get stuck in the desert) electricity and a small market. We topped up our diesel tanks -at the pump station which was a bit daft though we didn’t know that the roadside sellers’ diesel is perfectly good and less than half price. They getting the fuel from Venezuela and selling them from jerry cans.

The route was quite fascinating. After we left Uribia the paved surface on the road started to fade and become quite rough so stopped to let air out from the tyres to ease out on the harsh rattle of Burt. As John was working on the task Remi and I were entertaining the locals who constantly stopped asked if we were ok. One of them told us a better route to Cabo de la Vale which was supposedly faster and shorter at least by an hour.

We took his advice and turned off at km 103 as he advised, though I wasn’t sure how this will be “faster” as now there was no road at all, only tyre tracks we could follow through the cacti forest. It looked quite epic with its dryness and faded colours. We blindly followed the instructions and soon we were amazed how the scenery changed. We found ourselves on a vast salt flat that was smoother than a highway so within 10-15 minutes we made 20 km progress and were nearly at Cabo. In the last 20 minutes we were back to a cacti land which was very slow but the track lead us along the turquoise Carib beach dotted with small wooden fishermen sheds.

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We arrived to Cabo at around 5PM and drove through “town” between the wooden sheds just to familiar ourselves with the town, get a feel and look for a place to stay for Remi.  Cabo de la Vale, The Cave Candle once a fishing village is actually one of the best kite surfing spot in Colombia. It has shallow, calm , warm water and constant wind from one direction. Perfect predictable elements for pros and beginners so  it is a popular spot amongst kite surf lovers. Though the place only had just the right amount of outsiders as this spot is remote and is hard to reach.  We stopped at the other end of town at a small beach bar. Immediately we had people around us asking about Burt and our trip, some locals and some travellers/surfers and some beer came out we found ourselves getting lost in conversations. We met an interesting British guy and a couple of Colombian girls, all surfers who we were enjoying having a few beers with.


It was getting dark so we needed to find a spot and Remi decided to come with us, instead of staying in a hostel he could sleep in a hammock. Within a couple of minutes just outside of town we found a spot with a palapa that was perfect for Remi. Asked permission from the nearby family, parked up and walked back to town to find dinner and to continue our chats with the people we just met. It was a nice evening.


The following morning John and I decided to carry on to the north tip of the peninsula, called Punta Gallinas (Chicken Point!) Our free-spirit friend, Remi asked if he could come with us as this is such a great opportunity for him. Of course it was not a problem, we were happy to have him on board, we  had enough food and water for three so straight after coffee we set off and headed back out of town.

In town the night before everyone said we shouldn’t go out on our own because it is very easy to get lost. It is a vast desert with hundreds of tyre treks and it’s dangerous without a guide. We even met a guide who offered his services but we have a GPS (plus mapswithme on my iphone) that both have, quite incredibly, the marked treks right up to Punta Gallinas, also somehow a journey like this on our own feels rewarding.

We knew we had a long day drive ahead of us so we prepared ourselves, timed a few stops for breaks but still thought we will make it in one day. There was no way carry on north from Cabo so had to drive all the way back to the “highway”. As on the map from town to the highway the straight line looked a lot shorter than how we came yesterday so we took that one. Always listen to the locals. As the guy who suggested the faster route was right. This one took an hour longer through the cacti land with huge potholes than the long route through the flat land. A couple of hours later we were only just back where we started yesterday and it was already 36C.


We had 7 hours drive that day. Our GPS, cross-checking with my map on my phone was unbelievably accurate so we did not have any issues. The journey was pretty bonkers, it lead us for endless hours on bumpy, incredibly slow dirt roads through the cacti, sometime through tiny indigenous communities of 3-4 wooden shacks every now and then stopped by locals asking for road tax of 500-1000 pesos (25-50 cents) or sometimes only for a cup of water to drink.


Then it turned to salt flats again so we could speed up for 10-15 kms, then back to the cacti, then all of a sudden the scenery changed to something that we could imagine the Moon’s surface would look like. The only animals we saw were goats and small lizards running away from Burt’s rumble as we were approaching.

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We found the northernmost point with its lighthouse and a shed and decided to spend the night there. Remi chose to sleep in the shed in a hammock and after the whole day drive and an early dinner we took an early night.


The following morning we had a fisherman visiting and greeting us. He was very friendly and told us to visit the sand dunes a few kms down the road as that is a better spot for swimming. He didn’t believe that Remi spent the night in that shed, he said it was dangerous as it is falling down and it’s full of demons -I was guessing he was talking about the spirits of the two dead goats John found the evening before there but didn’t tell Remi until the morning. All of these didn’t seem to bother him as he said he slept like there’s no tomorrow.


We visited the dunes which looked great but the heat and the wind was something else. We couldn’t stand up straight from the wind and we all got burnt even we had sunscreen on. After a short swim in the wild water we decided to find another spot for the night and drove a few miles to find the only hostel Luz Mila. Remi had a good deal for the night there and even got to speak French with the handful of French visitors who spent a couple of days here. (they arrived on a boat!)

* further photos are coming

John and I found ourselves a beautiful spot on a flat area right next to the inlet Punta Gallinas was named after. Apparently from a bird’s view it looks like a chicken foot print. The hostel was up on the top of a cliff and had a fantastic view of Burt’s spot. So we found this wonderful spot, parked up and walked back up to the hostel for a game of card with Remi and a few cold beers. We still had enough food so cooked for the night for all three of us and had an early bedtime again. It felt right to head back tomorrow and agreed that after an early breakfast we’ll push on and try to make it all the way to the Venezuelan border to drop off Remi.


The following morning John and I just had our coffees and fired up Burt to get up to pick up Remi. We drove slow as the engine was still sleepy and we got ourselves stuck in to a deep, sticky, salty mud! We were somewhat experts by now with mud (though this was heavy, hard and sticky) and started immediately planning a strategy how we’re going to get out of it.


After not turning up on time, Remi saw us from the cliff and got down to help us. As usual, first it seemed “fine, we’ll get out in a minute, then was endless digging and realising how deep crap we are in and won’t get out of it anytime soon, then I wanted to cry a little, then dug harder and more and deeper then all hope returned and bang! 4 hours later we were out. There’s a fantastic rewarding feeling when I see that every little difference we made works and John’s great skills joint with Burt’s strength gets us out of the pickle.


It was after midday when we cleaned up, put all stuff back (spare tyres, jerry cans etc) and set off. The journey was slightly painful as we were all tired and driving for endless hours in the heat didn’t help, but somehow the trip seemed shorter, even that it was slightly longer. We found a good spot for the night near a family home where we asked permission to park up and once again, Remi and John set up a nice spot for him with the hammock and had an early night.


The next day we set off early, filled up with the cheap diesel for the men on the side of the road and reached the border by the early afternoon hours where we said goodbye and wished good luck to our new friend. Hope to see him again in Ecuador.


John and I still had a good shot of getting to our aimed destination before dark so we pushed on. It was wonderful to get to the town of Valledupar though we haven’t found a supermarket to fill up but we found a friendly roadside restaurant just outside of town with good food and cold beer plus they let us park up for the night. As we were sitting in this open cafe the an amazing tropical rain fell with unbelievable amount of water which was amazing and cooled the scorching hot air. This was our first rain since February. All together it was a successful day and we found the perfect place to have a rest before we pushing on to south. Result!

Next, getting to the mountains.





76. COLOMBIA -Cartagena or While We Were Waiting

In the 16 months, since on this journey this was our first time staying in a hotel/hostel. After we delivered Burt in the port on the Panamanian side we checked into a fairly nice but big, proper hotel with great facilities and A/C!! (Panama was extremely humid and hot and having aircon was a treat, not to mention the swimming pool) That very same day of the delivery we booked flights as well to Cartagena for the next morning so our hotel room treat was very short as we checked in late afternoon, but squeezed in a nice dinner with The OverlandingFamily and as the room included breakfast, I woke up extra early to get down to the breakfast room and I definitely helped myself with 2nd’s and 3ds’s of everything. It’s funny how these things like a nice cup of coffee, a piece of delicious bread roll or chocolate, air-conditioning or swimming pool became small pleasures and real treats to us.

After breakfast with the Family, we headed to the airport. Turned out it wasn’t only us who were desperate to leave Panama City, the whole gang was on the same flight. 9 vehicles worth of people were  there waiting for boarding and to get to Colombia, finally.

We arrived in the early afternoon hours on a Thursday, and if it was possible, Cartagena was/felt twice as humid and hot as Panama was. The Family had their hotel booked already, and after hooking up with Ben and Dante (also victims of the Panamanian shipping agent Tea’s) we got a cab and booked in to a little hotel next to The Family.

A few of us decided to go ahead without an agent this time so John, Steven and a couple of more  people headed to the port the next day to see if they can start at least the import process but no luck that day, in fact we found out that our ship hasn’t even arrived to Panama. At least not to the port. John was trekking the ship through a shipping website and we saw that it was floating near-by but not docked. It meant to leave Panama (Colon) on Saturday but there was no chance so we were facing more delays. At least we could see our ship, Ben wasn’t as lucky as us, he found out (from Tea, after he arrived to Colombia) that his vehicle won’t even be on the same ship as everyone else’s, and his ship is still in Venezuela!

As this was Friday, we all knew, nothing would happen over the weekend, ALSO (!) the following week is Easter week aka Semana Santa and this part of the world the holiday starts on Wednesday, so it occurred to us, if there will be further delays with the ship, or with the paper work we might won’t be able to get our vehicles cleared and taken out of the port for another 10 days or so. One promising thing happened though, that our ship has finally left for Cartagena on Sunday so with luck it will arrive on Monday.

Feeling a little gloomy and having done the Cartagena sightseeing, some shopping over the weekend we all were very keen to start the process first thing Monday. A few of the “gang” members hunted down an agent to help them but John, Steven and a few others trusted their own power on this, plus one of “our” team members, Rodney spoke fluent Spanish and had great negotiating skills -as we found out later.

The guys spent 3 full days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6/7AM – 6/7PM) mostly only sitting for hours and waiting, occasionally sign a document then more hours of waiting and so on. Having to deal with the process with others made these endless days a lot more bearable and created a certain bond which we could all talk about over dinner and a few beers at the end of each day. With much effort and a huge amount of luck, finally Wednesday evening the boys could take the vehicles out of the port, park them up in a secured parking lot and we could celebrate. Sadly Ben’s ship didn’t arrive on time and he was facing another 4-5 days waiting until he can begin the paper work at the port.

We felt for our new friend -we stayed at the same hotel together and we all bonded. Ben, Gilly, the kids and I were having early morning coffees together while the boys were at the port, passing time and having dinner and beers on the terrace in the evenings moaning about not having our trucks. Really felt for him as he was still without Nellie (his car) while we were talking about what time we are off the following day.  Ben is a lovable, unusual, eccentric character who is originally Dutch but you hardly could tell as he lived so long in the US. He works with disabled kids and adults in San Francisco on art and garden projects. Nellie,  is a 1955 Chevi is an art project itself too that he made and built part of it with the kids. Nellie is a giant orange football decorated with everyone who he meets’ signature, Dutch tulips and clogs and a lot of bonkers madness stuck on the top and side of it. Ben is mad about football and he decided to drive from the US to Brazil, to the world cup with Nellie. Imagine Central and South America as the most football crazy continents, imagine a giant orange football scooting around remote Latino villages and towns and imagine an ever jolly, 2m tall white haired guy and you got Ben and Nellie’s Adventure. It was such a pleasure meeting him and I hope we’ll meet again.

The morning was crazy and somehow I missed the Family. I popped out for coffee, as usual and by the time I returned they were gone. Though I knew they were on a mission to leave super early so it was my fault too but somewhat I lost on the time scale. John and I were a bit more laid back and after we comfortably packed up and made sure we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the hotel and to the few fellow travellers, members of the gang we headed to the car park.

There were a few things need to switch back on, fire up, fill up with water, re-apply the water filters etc. after the shipping so we knew it will take 10-15 minutes before we really leave town. Plus need to do grocery shopping as we did not have any food. We somehow lost a rubber gasket of one of the water filter and being Easter -everything is closed it took over an hour to create one that was the perfect size.

Finally we left and as we were driving out of Cartagena trying to stick with the big roads, we somehow missed a turn and ended up in the Historic district. Only 20 meters in the one-way street two police officers caught us. We explained them the situation and that it was not intentional to get in to the protected area. They said that there is no way out of here ahead, and they wanted us to pay them a “permission fee”. At this point we were “acting” not understanding what they meant. After a while they got bored with us and called in a third colleague who spoke some English. Now, one don’t have to speak any other languages to read body language. When the this third officer arrived, the two suggested him that this could be their lucky day with the dumb tourists. This guy listened to them first, then turned to us, he spoke little English but understood what John explained. Then he said “no problem, I lead you out of this street safely with my bike, just follow me”. We waved goodbye to the other two who were just blinking at this point, jumped in the cab and followed our guy. It was fairly straight forward way out and within a few minutes we were on the highway. Our guy stopped, shook John’s hand and wished us safe journey. He didn’t want anything but just help us. And we were very grateful for him. Good man.

Still on time, we were now driving on the coastal highway towards the area we wanted to visit before heading south, Punta Gallinas the northern most point of South America. It wasn’t just the fact that it is the tip of the continent, it also sounded fascinating by the what we read about it.

** (some photos will be uploaded soon)

Next, Punta Gallinas…

75. Highlights of Central America

Although, technically Central America starts at southern Mexico for us the big change (culture, language, food, scenery etc) started as soon as we entered Mexico at Calexico, California last year. Usually, travellers we came across with, spend 2-4 months in Central America which, let’s be honest is enough too.

This part of our journey will never be forgotten; we visited beautiful places, met absolutely excellent value people who we made friends hopefully for life, we experienced every climate Central America can offer and enjoyed the trip with its ups and downs. By the time we got to the far end of Panama we knew it was time to move on.

In Central America
We travelled through all 8 countries (we thought we might have to give El Salvador a miss due to right-hand-drive vehicle law, but we made it in and it was a very good thing)
We travelled 10 months
We travelled approximately 30.000 km
We stayed at 164 camp spots
Longest stay was in Mexico 5 months
Shortest day was in Nicaragua 6 days

My highlights:
Drive through the Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, MX
Las Posas, Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, MX
Cave of Swallows – Sótano de las Golondrinas, San Luis Potosí, MX
San Miguel de Allende,  Guanajuato, MX
Raíces de la Tierra, Zacatecas, MX
Parque Nacional El Chico, MX
Staying at OO and making friends there, Santa Maria de Tule, Oaxaca, MX
Driving along the Carretera Frontera, MEX307 in Chiapas, MX
Visiting the archaeological site, Yaxchilan, Chiapas, MX
Tulum is still our favourite beach ever. Spent a week there with the wonderful Lizzybus team. Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX
Sarteneja, BZ
a week in Riversdale with new friends, Placencia peninsula, BZ
Nebaj and Todos Santos Cochumatan, GUAT
San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, GUAT Meeting new friends and spend Christmas here
Perquin, ES
La Montaňona, ES
Copan Ruin and the area, HON
Making friends in Trujillo, Colon, HON
Making friends at Finca Cañas Castilla, La Cruz, CR
Punta Uva beach, CR
Coffee tour at Coffee Ruíz, Boquete, PA
Sailing through the Panama Canal, Colon, PA

Next, South America…

74. PANAMA – Panama City, San Lorenzo and crossing the Panama Canal

After leaving El Valle we still had nearly 10 days to pass till the shipping. John and I wanted to sort out a few things, do some shopping and the city seemed to be the perfect place to do so. But as we had plenty of time we decided to head to a national park, San Lorenzo before the city.

San Lorenzo Nation Park is not just on the Colon side of Panama, opposite Panama City but you have to cross a small bridge over the Canal, by the Gatún Locks to get to the park. So on our way we visited the Panama Canal at the Gatún Locks.

Gatún Locks

Gatún Locks

We tried to stay somewhere around the locks so we can watch the traffic over night but nowhere was allowed to park up. Eventually we headed to the Park which fitted us nicely. We found a fine place to park up at the mouth of Río Chagres at a fishing spot with a view of the San Lorenzo Fort in front of us. It was peaceful, quiet and breezy.


Camping in San Lorenzo

So much you can do in the jungle, so after a few days we headed to the Locks again for a proper visit where we bumped into the Overlander Family. As they were on the same ship as we were, they were trying to pass time too. Here we all got a message from our agent that our ship has been delayed and now it is leaving on 12th of April!! This was still the 29th-30th of March and the idea of another 2 weeks of waiting didn’t go down so well.
At the end of the day with the Family we decided to go back to the park. We ended up staying there for a couple of days. It was the weekend and was a bit more busy with fishermen but was still nice. We did some fishing, small walks, had BBQ together. It was certainly nice to share time with other travellers.


Again, a couple of days later we all ran out of inspiration and food and were running low on water so headed to a nice looking marina that was not far from here. We knew they didn’t encourage RV’s to stay there but John and Steven did their best to talk the English manager guy in to letting us stay. We were charged for staying in their car park, but were allowed to use their facilities and swimming pool, plus they had a decent restaurant, bar, a small shop and laundry room.


Here we met Maurice, a Dutch skipper who is sailing around the world on his own. Maurice has just arrived to the marina from the Caribbean and in a few days he was heading to the Pacific through the Canal. He spotted Burt and came up for a chat. We all ended up spending a few drinks and dinner with him and found out that he has no line-handlers for the crossing. Legally you need at least 5 people on your boat to transit the Panama Canal, so we all thought, if time works out OK (with our shipping) then we would love to volunteer as handlers on Blue Eyes (his Catamaran) We exchanged email addresses to keep in touch and see if we can make this happen.

As nice as it was to stay in the marina it was becoming slightly boring. We still had over a week to pass but by now we also were running out of Burt’s legal papers (insurance and the import document) When we crossed the border, almost a month ago they gave Burt 30 days allowance (John and I got 90 days as tourists) So we needed to head to Panama City to get extensions on these documents.

So finally we arrived to Panama City where all overland travellers stay, at the Balboa Yacht Club. It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, certainly it isn’t as nice and peaceful as the Shelter Marina was. Parking is on the street in front of the club’s restaurant. It is pretty filthy and from Thursday till Sunday it is very noisy. Although having other travellers give some comfort and the restaurant is pretty chilled about using their facilities and free wifi even if we don’t buy anything.

Here we met a few friends and travellers new and old. Petra started the line with Boris, then there were the Swiss kids we met in Costa Rica, a South African couple Peter and Sue, the German guy we crossed the border with a month ago, Arvin, and the following day Trevor and Pat arrived too. The Overlander Family were staying in a hotel in town. Except the Swiss kids, we were all waiting for the same ship.

on the street at Balboa Club with the gang

on the street at Balboa Club with the gang

John and I with Arvin went in to town to get new insurance first, then a couple of days later we got Burt’s import document extended.

Funny thing about (some) Panamanians. Due to the style of our travel we get in touch with locals on the road, in small villages, in towns, on markets, shops etc. We have been here for a month now and came across with friendly and very helpful locals but the majority of the attitude we are experiencing seems quite the opposite. No matter how nice, friendly, smiley, humbled, open we are, none of these make a difference to people here. We just get the same frowny faced, unhappy, couldn’t-be-bothered attitude.
Interestingly enough it wasn’t just us who felt this way, pretty much all of the fellow travellers we met said the same.

So as we still had plenty of time and we got all paperwork sorted it seemed we were able to help Maurice on his Cat crossing the Canal. We left Burt on the Panama side, at the Balboa Club (as this is where we will come to after the transit) and jumped on the bus with the Family to get to the Shelter Club.


We got there way ahead so had time for a quick lunch in the club and help Maurice to prepare the boat and practice The Knot. Our jobs will be to take responsibility of the 4 corners of the boat. each of us standing on a corner, catches the line the outside handlers throw, make the know and feed it back, then once the boat takes position and fixed all 4 corners by the line hold it firm and go with -either the filling or the draining.


We were scheduled to cross the first set of locks (Gatún Locks) at 5PM. We left the marine way before time to sail around a bit before getting in line for the crossing. I got slightly seasick but wasn’t too bad. Once we were in line a pilot, Rick joined us on the boat. Having a pilot on every ship is the Canal’s mandatory requirement. Rick was very nice and friendly and very helpful. I’m sure he has dealt with beginner handlers before and it is everyone’s good interest not to damage the boat or the canal so he kept us cool and focused with a slight wit.


We were in the lock with a smaller (but still quite large) cruise ship and a marvellous looking private yacht in front of us. This yacht in front of us had hired professional handlers and a couple of waiters serving champagne to the black tie, evening gown guests. Gilly and I thought we were on the wrong boat as we were sweating away with the ropes 🙂


Here we went through 3 locks and by the time we successfully completed the transit here was dark. After a 20 minutes sailing down the Gatún Lake Rick found our spot in the middle, tied us to a couple of yacht -also anchored for the night and said goodbye and left. Throughout the night more and more private boats were arriving and were being tied to us. It wasn’t the most peaceful night. As Maurice is sailing on his own for such a long time he wasn’t really prepared for us for the night. Although he had plenty of space on the boat (1 master + 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, + plenty of room to sleep upstairs) But he didn’t clear out one of the rooms so the Family slept in one tiny airless bedroom and us, well, wherever we found a surface. I wasn’t too bothered as I put myself away upstairs on the deck but John was having a lot of trouble not able to sleep. Besides there was no air movement at all and it was very hot and humid and as more and more boats arrived they made a big fuss for half an hour.

The next morning we just needed lots of coffee, and after that and some breakfast we were in good spirit again so the weird night was forgotten. By 7AM we were all packed and ready to welcome Jose, our pilot for the day. These guys actually more like coordinators, the pilots are for the large ships usually. But I liked to call them pilots. Jose was also a wonderful guy with a strong big voice and a gentle sense of humour.


It took 6 hours to get to the first lock, Pedro Miguel then soon after we got to the last set of 2 locks, Miraflores which was practically in Panama City and we were done. At Miraflores Jose called in the guys to turn the webcam at us so we have enough time to wave our friends who were watching us crossing the locks. All went well here too. It was the easy part as here they were draining the water which makes the handling easier than when they are filling. Once we were through Jose had to leave and we were on our way to the Balboa Club. Maurice had a bottle of chilled Champagne for the celebration of the successful transit which was a lovely touch. It didn’t take long to get to the Club, where we all hopped out and waved Maurice goodbye as he was sailing away from us.


On our overland travel, sometimes we get a chance to visit, see or experience something that it would be difficult or impossible without a vehicle, for example. Even though we didn’t actually needed the vehicle for this, it was BURT who attracted the invite of this event in the first place. This was a rare opportunity and I am (we all are) so happy to made it happen. This certainly will always be an event to remember forever.

After our two days adventure we were back to business. The following day we all (8-9 vehicles) had our police inspection for the shipping. This required our agent (well, her representative as her daughter) to come and meet us at the Club and lead 8 or 9 vehicles to the police station in town.

Once there, we all had an average 2-3 minute inspections of our rigs and we were good to go. At least till the afternoon when you have to return and pick up the official report of the inspection. When this was done, at least we were feeling something was happening finally!

The next day we filled up with propane and cleaned BURT top to toe for the delivery to the port tomorrow.

The following morning we were at the meeting point to join the group for the delivery. It was 9 vehicles(!) + Amy, again the rep of our agent. At this point most of us was complaining about Tea, the agent who we all booked our shipping, but she is not very brilliant and efficient with her responses. Poor Amy was trying to handle the custom, coordinating 9 large vehicles to park in the port and dealing with some of the frustrations. We knew there’s not much we could do but at least we were in the port now, and after hours of waiting for further inspection finally Burt is (and all vehicles are) lined up to be loaded on to AGATA in the next couple of days and that what was matter the most.


Although on some levels we all were frustrated, mostly about the illogical and inconsistent high prices we all had to pay for the shipping (added the ridiculous air fare /pers on the top of that) But we all knew that this border crossing will be the most costly one and braced ourselves but when you are actually facing that fact that you pay what you’re told, regardless, is just what it is. Monopoly, so nothing we can do.

After our delivery day which took the whole day we booked ourselves into a decent hotel in Panama, booked our flights for the next day and finally we were on the move again. At least checked out of Panama and arrived to Cartagena, Colombia, South America. Our final continent of this trip.

Next, a short reflection on Central America.

73. PANAMA – El Valle

We arrived in El Valle in the early afternoon hours and as we did in Boquete, we parked up in town and off we went to look around.

El Valle sits in a crater of an extinct volcano but to me it looked like, as its name suggests it also, that it is just in a valley between hills. Although the town is up in the hills it is nowhere near as high as Boquete was. During the day it was reasonably hot but, besides the wind picked up too the temperature dropped a few degrees for the nights. The town has one main road where the market square and all shops, restaurants and cafes are located. The long side streets spread to the sides dotted by posh houses with large, lush gardens owned, mostly by wealthy city people who come out here for the weekends from Panama City which is only an hour or so from here. There’s a considerable amount of expats, mostly northern Americans here too who live a seemingly quieter life here than the impression I had with the Boquetean expats. El Valle has a few interests to offer; a couple of waterfalls, hikes to a few viewpoints, a hot spring, zoo, a butterfly house just to name a few.

After spending the whole afternoon walking in town, having a feel of it we decided to drive out of town up to the hills to find a camp spot for the night, perhaps a few nights. We learnt it by now that it is usually it is a good bet, and we always find a quiet place. As we were driving further out we thought it’ll be lovely, the temperature was dropping too and the scenery changed from dry yellowish colour to lush green, semi-jungle-y. Then on the road lead us through a huge factory of caged chickens spread all over the hill tops. Besides we didn’t like this at all, it was also private property area but we needed to find a spot as it was getting late. Eventually, we found a small ranger shed at a trailhead and tucked ourselves behind the little hut and went for a little walk on the trail before it got dark. It was really worth it as the path led us up to a lookout of the valley which was rather spectacular.

133 Chicken farm camp_El Valle

In the morning, after a nice, cool and quiet night we rolled down, back to town and look for another possible spot. At another end of town we found a steep, dirt road leading up to one the hills where we found an area for us to park up. This was a lot closer, approx 1-2 km to the centre which gives us a chance to leave Burt and walk down and up to town. We stayed here 3 very windy nights. We did some hiking and walks but eventually we were keen to move again, perhaps in town somewhere…

134 Windy mountain top_El Valle

During our 3 days up in the hill we walked to town a few times for shopping, wifi and to check out the hot spring. The hot spring was located at the edge of town, an easy 10-15 mins stroll from the centre. First we went there was a bit strange as they had a problem with John’s swimming shorts! So we presented them all his shorts, and after a 3 persons discussion they picked and approved one pair so eventually we made it in. That afternoon it was very quiet in there and was only another couple in the pool with us. And that’s where we met Nina and George, the delightful poets, writers who were spending 6 months in Panama and have already been in El Valle for 2 months. We exchanged email addresses to arrange a hike together one day and they also told us about El Valle’s best kept secret which was a genuine small Italian place where the Italian couple bakes the best pizza. Didn’t have to twist my arm to check this place out so after we said goodbyes to our new friends, John and I walked up to the Italian house to book one of their 4 tables for that evening. The pizza was absolutely one of the best pizzas I ever had and what was better than the pizza is the home-made squash pesto with gooey soft dough as a starter. Absolutely a real treat!

The following day we drove down the hill, parked up and walked around town in the hope to find a lot to park up for a few nights. As every square meter in El Valle is private property we didn’t have much luck first but when we were walking down a street by an area that looked like to me as a building site a couple of American guys, Mark and Robert asked us if we were looking for a place to stay. They were about to open their hostel (still working on the swimming pool, and making few touch-ups) and the rooms were ready for guests. We told them that we have an RV and looking for a patch of land to park up. They remembered seeing us in town a few days back and Mark, the owner offered us to stay behind the hostel building on a huge grassy, tree filled area, next to the stream. It was a very nice place. John, for return offered to help them setting up their home page, take some photos and create a facebook page for the business. So now we had a great place to stay just minutes walk from the centre. We could fill up with water and use their internet.


At this point we were in the area for quite a few days, we knew our way around town now, made some friends, went for a lovely hike with Nina and George, also met a few Canadians who invited us for drinks to their house, we even managed to find an “Irish pub” on St. Patrick’s day! Meanwhile we were waiting to hear from the shipping agent about our shipping and keeping in touch with our traveller friends The Dutchies, Petra and the Family, John was working on the hostel’s website.

One afternoon, we were just coming back from a walk when The Dutchies rolled in! A quick arrangement with Robert about the camping and, as in the good old times they were parking next to us with Dunya cooling in the shade under Burt. It was lovely to have old friends. And more was coming…


A couple of days later Petra rolled in with Boris then the following day The Overlander Family. It was like a little overlander party and we were all having a nice time. Of course we visited the hot spring again, went for hikes and dinners to the discovered good restaurants. It was here where Erica and Michel made their decision to sail back home rather than shipping to Colombia. It is the end of their trip for now but this is what they wanted and they changed their booking. So the last day we all organised a little “good-bye do” for them which turned out to be a very nice party -and what we didn’t know then that this was our last time to see them on this continent.


John and I decided to move the next day. The police inspection needed for the shipping was coming up in a few days time and till then we wanted to see a few things around Colon and do some shopping in Panama City so we said see-you-laters to everybody, goodbye to Erica and Michel, Mark and Robert and left.

We spent almost 10 days in El Valle where we met Nina and George, enjoyed some activities and had the best pizza!

Now we are getting ready to leave Panama, leave Central America and looking forward to South America, as some say “The real-deal” of the Americas.

But before that, next the Panama Canal and San Lorenzo…

72. PANAMA -Pacific beaches

After a wonderful 3-4 days in Boquete with its fresh cool air we were on the road again.

Johnny was organising the shipping not just for us -as Betti, John, Burt, but for another two vehicles (the Dutchies and another Dutchie, Petra and her bus Boris) So we kept in touch with these guys and the Brit Overlander Family (who we met in Nicaragua) By the way The Overlanders will be on the same ship too though they booked it separately. Anyhow we learnt that these three are actually together somewhere on the beach in Costa Rica and will be crossing to Panama in the next few days so we undoubtedly meet at some point.

In the meantime we made a plan to visit the Pacific side of the country. Soon after we cross to South America, we won’t have beaches so we thought “one more time!”. John looked up a cool-sounding little surfing beach, Santa Catalina bit off the beaten track and a long way to get to but thought it will worth it.

As we were rolling down the super glam 4 lane highway from Boquete to David (50km) leaving the cool air behind us, the temperature was rising and didn’t stop till 36C. Then we had another 200 km ahead of us in the heat. It was actually a lovely drive but the heat was getting into our heads and were getting a bit agitated. We finally rolled in to Santa Catalina. I liked it at first glance; a few nice looking houses, a few restaurants and cafes with fairy lights, yoga classes and some hippy stuff.

We had a couple of places (some surfers cabana/camp places) with wifi and restaurants in minds where we thought it should be OK to park up but no. One of them didn’t really want vehicles and the other was awful, a desert with absolutely still air, no shade just the bleaching sun. Both wanted a ridiculous amount for park up. After trying a few more places we found on our way we ended up on the public beach and it was just fine. We just wanted wifi and eat out somewhere nice. Where we parked up eventually was a little beach restaurant and John and I immediately visited it for a couple of ice cold beers.

132 Beach camp_Santa Catalina

Here we met a delightful Canadian couple (Kate and Joseph) who just got married. As we were sitting there chatting we got invited to a small beach party that night as well. Somehow the rest of the afternoon turned in to a lovely social gathering. Joseph and Kate came to visit Burt. We opened our finest white wine (which is always the one and only Chilean boxed Clos) some beers and snack on top of Burt, watching the sunset. Then decided to spend dinner together back in the little restaurant and visit the beach party together later on where we met some good laugh pot heads but it was excellent fun.

The following morning we considered to stay as the company was great (some new people from the bonfire last night too) But the heat and the airlessness made us decide to leave. So as they say in nautical terms, we caught the trade wind to move on with it (haha)

Johnny looked up another, and the last chance for higher elevation place, El Valle before we will have to roll down the hills for the shipping. Samantha (satnav) said it is nearly 300km so the chance to get there the same day was slim though we knew a proper RV park (possibly the first since Guatemala) on the way.

It was sizzling hot and airless all the way to Santa Clara (where the RV park is) and we did everything for not to stay there but after visiting the beach first where they advised us that it is prohibited to park on the beach and the two restaurants didn’t want us there we had no choice. At least this RV park has a swimming pool! and that was the only thing I cared about at that point. John did not like the place at all so we had a bit of a squabble. The facilities may have been fine, finally we had wifi here too but the owner was a miserable, very unfriendly woman and that always makes it harder to give them 20 bucks. (plus she had about 15-17 endangered small and large birds locked up in small cages -later we were told that she has monkeys and other mammals at the back yard too)

We stayed here a very short one night and the next day we were out of there. We only had about 50km to go from here so we knew that we will be back to lovely cool air by the end of the day.

Next, El Valle…

71. PANAMA -Boquete

We crossed the border at the Caribbean, at Sixaola as supposedly this is the quiet and hustle free border. Well, it took over 4 hours for us -the longest border crossing we had. And it wasn’t particularly complicated just a lot of waiting around.

Once we were in Panama we had a pleasant drive along the northern coast then in to the mountains. We spent our first night in a national reserve area, although the land where we found the camp spot was a huge oil operation and they had their oil pump station there. We were invited, by the guard to stay by his house on a flat spot. As we were parking up he popped out to get a huge bag of organic cucumbers for us! In return we offered him a pineapple and a couple of mangoes -as they are rare at this elevation and as we found out, he stays here 2 weeks a month, 24/7 so the fruit were like treat for him. They to catch the sunset he took us for a quick hike to the pump station where the view was spectacular. It was so nice to have cooler temperature again, after a few weeks and we had a good night sleep here.

The next morning we left early and headed to Boquete, a popular mountain town at over 2000m elevation where there was access to Panama’s only volcano Volcán Barú. This re is also famous of its coffee plantations, and this area is the last chance to see quetzals, the wonderful birds we haven’t managed to see since southern Mexico.

On our way to Boquete, we swung by a hot spring where we thought we might stay for a night and move on the next day but it was unspeakably hot and humid and just a thought of a HOT spring made our brain melt so after a quick look we decided to keep going…

Boquete at first glance didn’t exactly blew our minds. (remembering our guide book said something about this town being one of the four best places in the world to retire.) Boquete got this title in 2001 and today one who visits here can see the fruits of this statement. Enormous gated communities dot the hillsides where once was lush forest and where they not only regulate who else can move in and the colour of the houses (beige) but that what size of dog you can only keep.

We parked up in town and walked around to have a feel of the place. We found the local fire department and filled up with water, found a buffet-type of canteen where locals, small and big, some tourists, some expats, young and old come to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grab a tray and choose your food for a few dollars. Great place for people watching too. Spotted a few tourist offices where offered quetzal-tours (which I thought would love to see before we leave), caught up with emails at one of the few free-wifi spots then decided to stay somewhere outside of town for the night.

We headed up to the volcano. After the national park entrance there’s a dirt road leads up to the top of the volcano. We heard it is a challenging road but thought we try to drive up a bit. In about 4kms we found a wonderful spot. Really fresh and cool air, lush green hilly surrounding and lots of birds.

131 Volcan Baru_Boquete

It was towards the end of the day and I was getting dinner ready as John was outside enjoying the view. Then all of a sudden he whisper-shouted me “get me my glasses and come out, quietly!” I quickly did what he said and there they were: a pair of quetzals! They landed on the tree right next to Burt. Stunning birds.

Back in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico where we spent a week with our birder friends, Kathi and Josh, I bought (and Kathi too) a cool quetzal T-shirt. Josh and Kathi said that now I have to see a quetzal, and they said that it will be easy in Guatemala as certain areas are full of them. But we never did. Well, we actually never made a special effort to visit those areas thinking there are still other countries… So I was extra, EXTRA pleased to see a male AND a female here at the last opportunity.

During our first night here we heard people walking by. Checked the time and it was around 2AM. In the morning John said that according to the book lot of people walk during the night to get to the top of the volcano by sunrise when it is the clearest to see both coasts, the Pacific and the Caribbean (one of the 2 spots in Central America where you can see both sides)

After breakfast we packed some lunch, plenty of water and headed to the top. We were passing people walking down. They were the ones hiking all night, enjoying the sunrise and the view up there, and now walking back down to town without sleep. We offered them some french toast I packed earlier and some water. The walk up isn’t particularly pretty, it is on a dirt road where small 4×4 jeeps making their way up with tourist who are not in to hiking. We had one these jeeps passing by us, then it broke down so we passed them, then they caught up and passed us one again, then broke down again and so on…

As we reached the top at 3478m we were gobsmacked. A huge part of the crater was shaved level and were about 17 radio antennas put up with its maintenance buildings. Man, I didn’t expect that! And strangely, no one (not the guide book nor any of the hiking-Byers mentioned it) Odd. Although we were there, actually I think John found the tower business fascinating and went to explore some of them. There was a nice little summit point with a white cross for the hikers there however, so we climbed up and just enjoyed the view for a while. Although it was cloudy the view was still marvellous and we had our lunch on the top of the world.


On our way down we collected 6 bags of rubbish too. It took 8 hours and 20 kms to get up there have a half an hour snack then walk back down to our spot. It was a good day.

We had a second night at this nice spot and the following day we decided to go on to a coffee tour. Well, at least me as Johnny isn’t as fascinated in the process of coffee-making as I am, besides he rather wanted to get on with booking the ship from Panama to Colombia.

My tour was in the afternoon so John and I, once again visited the local canteen for an early lunch and did some shopping before I was off. The tour took 3 hours and they showed us around on the plantation and one of the factories, then another then back to the coffee roasting shop where we started for some tasting.


Back in Hungary, yonks ago, I started with my friends and managed a tea shop, which for I had to attend to a tea training in Vienna so for me the coffee tour was fascinating and I am very pleased I finally got to visit a plantation and learn about the process. Besides I love coffee so totally worth it. After the tour we met a couple of ex-pats in the coffee shop and had a long chat with them then we tucked ourselves away for the night outside of town.

At the end Boquete didn’t grow on us as a town but we loved our 3 days here. The town has a few things to offer and I’m so glad we visited the volcano and did a coffee tour. AND we saw quetzals without a tour guide.

Next, Pacific beaches…