Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Volcan Baru, Panam City, and Changing Plans...again!

Sunrise from the top of Volcan Baru, an absolutely amazing sight.

The climb up Volcan Baru was an interesting experience to say the least. On the one hand, it was a bit of a let down as the climb itself was not very challenging. Essentially, you walk up a long, steep dirt road. The thing is wide enough to drive a souped up four wheel drive truck on. I prefer hiking up trails that are a bit wild and difficult to climb, it makes me feel more as if I am out in nature as opposed to simply walking up a poorly maintained access road.

Also, the climb up I could not see much as it was so foggy and it began raining about a quarter of the way up the mountain. That combined with the effort of walking the 10 miles to the summit carrying my heavy pack resulted in me being drenched with rain and sweat within the first few kilometers. On a clear day you can see all kinds of wild life including the Mayan bird of paradise, called a Quetzal. I think I saw one fly by me, but it was so misty I am not certain. At any rate, a large bird buzzed by me as I climbed the volcano.

While the technical aspect of walking up the mountain may not have been challenging, the physical challenge of ascending the Volcano was very tough. Once I hit the 10,000 foot mark, I really began to feel the elevation. I would have to stop every few hundred meters to catch my breath. My pack held up well though, allowing me to carry the heavy load in relative comfort (although I was far from comfortable!). I brought far more water than I needed, as it was so cold and wet for the majority of the climb my body did not need nearly as much fluids as I had thought it would. While carrying the extra weight of the water was annoying, I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Once I began to approach the summit, the temperature began to drop rapidly. I had on pants, a jacket, and a beanie, but my hands and face still began to go numb. The summit itself was enjoyable as it requires you to actually climb up a cliff face (although as far as rock climbing goes it was not a very long or challenging climb, but it was still fun). At the very top of the volcano I had an unrestricted view in 360 degrees of....clouds! That evening when I made it to the top, it was so cloudy I couldn't see more than a few feet, which was rather disappointing. So, I pitched my tent and settled in for a freezing cold evening.

The next morning after a cold and sleepless night, I woke up feeling that I may have made a bad decision in climbing the volcano. I began to eat breakfast and pack up camp when the sun began to creep up over the horizon and with it came the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. I was lucky in that it was a clear morning and I could see all the way to the horizon in every direction. I was at the highest point in Panama and in one field of view I could see Panama, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and the Pacific. It was amazing. It did not last long though, as within an hour, the clouds came rolling back in and covered everything. I was looking down at the clouds, which was a surreal feeling.

After enjoying the views and feeling good in the end about my climb, I headed back down the mountain, another 10 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation loss. I swear, hiking downhill is more uncomfortable than hiking uphill. Your knees hurt so much more on the descent than the ascent.

At the bottom, the cab that was meant to be waiting for me was not there, so I had to walk another two and a half miles towards town before a cab passed me and picked me up. That was annoying to say the least.

At the bottom, ready to tackle the Volcano.

A view in the beggining before the rain set in.

The hike would have been beautiful if you could have seen much of it. This was one of the more visible areas.

Soaking wet!

This is the caldera of the volcano, sine it is not active, there is not much to see.

The hike to the summit was much more enjoyable.

This is the very top of the summit, someone dragged a huge cross up here, that took some serious dedication.
Me on the summit. Freezing, and wet!

The Carribbean.

The Pacific.

Looking back to Costa Rica.

Sleepy eyed in the early morning.

The sunrise was fantastic.

This is where the offical trail ends, but to reach the summit, you have to climb a lot further and gain a great deal more elevation.

This is all I could see after the clouds came in in the morning.

On the way back down!

After I got back down from the volcano, I rested for a day and then took off for Panama City. There, I ran into a bunch of friends from Bocas. We also hooked up with some new buddies and a group of us went on a hike around the city and then went to check out the panama Canal. The Canal is a pretty incredible sight to see. The way they move these enormous boats through the series of locks, raising and lowering them, is quite a marvel. The process is slow, but it saves the boats vast amounts of money and resources. The country is currently expanding the Canal to double its capacity, but we were told it would still not be enough to meet the worlds shipping needs.

Jake from Alaska, Tamarah, Heather and Jeff from Canada, and two friends from England and America that I can not remember your names, sorry guys, I am terrible about that.

Making our way down the trail.
Panama City, it looks so western from a distance.

Jeff and I sporting some Panama hats. They actually are really cool hats.

One of the locks at the Panama Canal.

This boat paid 314,000 dollars to pass through the Canal, but it saved over 2 million by not going around South America.

Some of the guys on the boat, they obviosuly were not too excited to go through the canal.
Before the lower the boat down to pass through the lock.

After they lower the boat down to pass through to the next lock. It was pretty amazing to see them move these massive boats.

Panama city itself is a strange place. It looks so American full of sky scrapers and malls filled with goods from all over the world, but it is totally Latin. The streets are filled with such an incredible variety of people. Everything from dark skinned Caribbeans, Mestizos, Europeans and Westerners, to Maya and Kuna Indians in traditional dress. Everywhere you hear Latin music and street vendors sell everything from panama hats to fried chicken (which is delicious here). You have to alwasy be on th elookout for hustlers here too, as they are very good and very common. The contrasts are pretty incredible and it makes for an exciting place. Plus, it is a very cheap city to stay in. You can get a huge meal for $1.50 and stay in a hostel like mine for 7 bucks a night.

Speaking of excitement, there has been quite a bit of it since we have been here. Panama city is definitely not the safest place in the world. The first night I arrived, a girl staying at our hostel working for the peace corp. was mugged and robbed just outside of the hostel by a group of thugs. She was OK, shaken up and scared, but not seriously hurt. The next day Jake and I went to get my hair cut at an outdoor barber shop, when we heard a gunshot and then saw a man running from a soldier. The man looked like he was going to get away when a guy standing close to where I was getting my hair cut dropped his shoulder and just leveled the guy that was running with a tackle that would have made an NFL linebacker proud, then pulled a gun out of his pants and held it to the running man's head. When the soldier caught up to the running man he smacked the hell out of him and then put him in cuffs and dragged him off. The barber cutting my hair barely even paused in his work! All the guys hanging out at the barber shop (it seemed to be a good place to hang out with the locals) didn't even think twice about it!

I thought it was pretty exciting to be honest, but in retrospect it was pretty crazy, not something you would see too often back home.

As for the change in my plans, I was meant to be on a boat heading to Cartegena, Colombia today, but I was invited to come and hang out in a town called Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, with the Candains I met here in Panama City and after some deliberation, I decided to go. I have more time than money, and no place I need to be so I figured why not. They were fun people so I will go up and enjoy a week or so of hanging out and seeing the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which I had not seen when I was there. And also, Jake and his traveling companion Jeanie, who is working Bocas del Toro, will be coming through that area as well as will Alon from Israel. They are super fun too and we all get along well, so it will be nice to hang out with the friends I have made here a bit longer before pulling up roots and heading south.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quick Update

This is to let everyone know I am still alive. I apologize for the delay in updating the blog, but I have been on the move a lot lately. I am currently in Panama City, which is a very interesting place. It looks like a city in America from a distance with towering sky scrapers, but when you zoom down to the street level, it is completely Latin. I am enjoying it a lot and quite a few of the people I met in Bocas del Toro (the family as we have been calling each other) have shown up here, including Alon from Israel who is a super fun guy.

One of the guys I was hanging out with, Jake from Alaska, got a job at the Hostel I am staying at (Luna's Castle, great place www.lunascastle.com) and we have been hanging out with some really nice Canadians. We went out on the town last night and Jake busted out some of the most funny dance moves I have ever seen in my life before while all of the local Panamanians cheered him on, it was a riot. We were all nearly crying we were laughing so hard. We also checked out the Panama Canal and watched a huge boat come through the locks, pretty amazing to see how it works. Also, the girls from Latin America's next top model were all there at the same time which was sort of cool. Its funny, a lot of models in real life just look like tall, skinny girls that could use a hamburger.

I also climbed Volcan Baru (like a stupid tourist I got the name of the place wrong in my last post, sorry about that) and it was tough, especially lugging my big pack. I ended up walking a little over 22 miles round trip, gained 8,000 feet of elevation up to 12,000 feet total. I nearly froze my rear end off as I got rained on the entire way up and then the temperature dropped to below freezing at night, but the view in the morning was absolutely spectacular. Anyway, I will save the entire story for my next post, as I need to find a computer that will let me upload pictures, as I have a lot of good ones.

I hope everyone is well back home, much love to everyone.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A few last photos from Bocas

A group of us went to a cave called La Gruta, that runs through a mountain. We loaded up on supplies and made our way through the entire thing. It was a really fun experience and a little scary as it is pitch black in the cave and is home to thousands of bats, bugs and snakes.
This is the exit on the other side of the cave, we were all pretty glad to have made it through.
Some of us got a little more scared than others!

Making our way into the cave.
I was pretty excited to be there!
The entrance to the cave, not everyone went all the way through.

There is a statue of the Vrigin Mary outside the cave entrance. We were hoping she would keep any rabies bearing bats away from us!
These are just a few of the thousands of bats that were inside the cave.

Some of the great and very cheap food at the fair that has been going the entire time I have been in Bocas.
A shot of the fair.
I couldnt stay off of a bike for long, a few of us rented some beach cruisers and road around the island.
I thought this house had a pretty decent view.
Me showing off as usual, but the ride was just so beautiful. It made me miss Artax.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A taste of things to come.

My time here in Bocas del Torro is winding down as the last of my friends are leaving this weekend. It has been a truly wonderful two weeks and a nice little vacation from my vacation. I like to have time like this every now and then to cut loose and let my hair down a bit. It helps to keep my batteries charged. If all I did was move around and explore without ever putting some kind of roots down, I would get burnt out and stop appreciating what I was seeing and doing. After a few weeks of relaxing and having a truck load of fun with my new friends, I am really fired up to get back out on the road and explore some more.

So, my plan of attack is to make my way to the mountain town of Volcan, Panama. From there, I will climb the highest peak in Panama, a volcano of the same name as the town. It is a climb to just shy of 12,000 feet, and the trail is roughly 20 miles round trip. It should take me two days to complete. I will camp out at the top so that I can hopefully get the best views in the early morning where supposedly you can see all the way from the Pacific Ocean, to the Caribbean. This will be some good practice as I plan on making a very challenging 7 day climb in the Andes once I get to Peru in a month or so.

After climbing Volcan, I will then take a rafting trip through the mountains. The river I plan on going through has class 5 rapids, which are very challenging. The highest level of difficulty is class 6, but those are waterfalls. That should be a ton of fun and I have been dying to do some good rafting but with the bike it just was not very practical.

After that, I plan on making my way to Panama City, where I will take a sail boat to Cartegena, Colombia. It is a 5 day trip stopping at some of the Caribbean islands along the way. I have never sailed before, so I am really looking forward to this.

I will make my way down the coast of Colombia through to Ecuador and on into Peru, where as I said, I will make a tough climb up to the ruins of Machu Pichu in the Andes mountains. I will not be climbing the Inca Trail, but will be taking a longer and more challenging climb, solo up the back side of the mountains. I will go from Jungles up into the high mountains going through Indigenous villages up to the ruins which are meant to be some of the most impressive in the world.

After that, and this is the adventure I am really excited about, I want to make my way to the head of the Amazon river which is in Peru. From there, I am going to try and buy a little boat and sail it down the river all the way to the Atlantic coast, to a city called Belem in Brazil. It is a journey of 3,200 miles, the same as going coast to coast in the USA. Now, I want to say up front that this may not be possible to do, but after extensive research I am really confident that I can pull this off. There will be a lot of obstacles in the way however, and I still need to do a lot more research. However, if I am unable to buy a boat I will hire boats and hop from city to city with local guides. I would rather do it myself though and will try to make that happen. The nice thing about buying the boat in Peru and then selling it in Brazil is that with the currency discrepancies I should be able to turn a profit on it.

So, we will see. I think sailing down the Amazon would prove to be about as wild of an adventure as one could hope for and am really excited at the prospect and hope everything falls into place. Just the idea of the Amazon brings to my mind images of Anacondas, Native Peoples untouched by the outside world, thousands of acres of untouched wilderness and untold opportunities for exploration and adventure. I am really looking forward to trying to pull this one off.

So, that is the game plan for now. I am getting ready to leave Bocas in the next few days. I hope everyone back home is well and happy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Photos from Bocas.

Well, I am still here and loving it! We all slowed our pace down and have been now taking it nice and easy and just soaking up the slow pace of life, the good food and perfect weather here. This island truly is a slice of paradise and I want to absorb as much of it as I can before the highrise condos and resorts come in and change the flavor of it. A lot of our gang has left which is a bummer, bot those of us who remain are still loving life out here.

I will let the pictures tell the tale of the last week and change. I hope all is well back home, all my love!

This is a Hostel and Br called Aqua Lounge where we hang out during the day sometimes. It sits right on the water, has a diving board into the ocean, good food and music. It is a really fun place to hang out.

Another view of Aqua Lounge. Riding on the swings makes you feel like a kid again! Its great.

Here is a shot of our private little island, such a great place.

We were acting like we were in highschool again!

This is Ollie and Ryan showing off, both cool guys.

Moments like these, enjoying a fire on a beach out in the carribean all to yourselves, are things you remember for the rest of your life.

A panorama shot of the island.

Enjoying a sing a long and the bonfire.

For those who didnt have a tent, it was just sleepy time on the sand! But we all shared out towells to try and make it more comfortable for everyone.

Another shot of the islanders homes.

These are the little guys that give Red Frog Beach its name.

Red Frog Beach.

Yours truly showing his stuff in a rematch game in which team Americas (Centeral, South and North) took everyone else to school!

My buddy Sam, from Australia.

Jen, myself, Bri and Bryan enjoying a relaxing evening.

Bri, making me crack up.

Ollie, from Argentina and myself. Ollie is a rad guy and a mean guitar player as well as a good surfer.

Myself and Sarah, who is the coolest girl on the island.

Ollie, Andrew from Oz, Sarah, Myself, and Lacey enjoying a few 50 cent beers before gonig out to dinner. You can get a nice Thai food meal here for 8 bucks!