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Oh Wonder of Wonders! AC, Hot Showers, and Crossing the Sixaola Bridge Into Panama

9:30 PM (Local time – now on Central time)
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Hotel Angela
I would say that the hotels we stayed at in Puerto Viejo – both Cabinas Guarana, and Cabinas Casa Verde, were nicer than the room we have here at Hotel Angela in Bocas Del Toro. However, there are two key differences. Hot showers and air conditioning.
Oh wonder of wonders!
I know air conditioning eats electricity, and I know that some air conditioners create environmental challenges.
Even knowing these things, it’s like heaven to be sleeping in an air conditioned room after 3 weeks of hot humid climates without a/c. The crazy thing is that in most areas of the world, including here in Panama (though maybe not on this island – depending on where the water table sits), it would be possible to construct natural air conditioning using the air 6 feet below the surface.
But I’m digressing a bit.
The air conditioning for our little room here is GREAT!

At $45/night, Hotel Angela costs the same here in Panama as at Cabinas Casa Verde did in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, but we’re right on the water (literally the back of Hotel Angela is a dock) and we also get breakfast included in the morning here. And the high speed Internet works from our room, which is also the first time that has happened since we left Colorado.
Hotel Angela - Bocas Del Toro: Our Little Room
Our room is a little small (a lot small actually), but it works.
border crossing Costa Rica to Panama at the Sixaola bridgeTraveling the Sixaola bridge to get into Panama was truly an adventure in faith. The faith you have to have is that you won’t be the person standing on the bridge when it finally decides to give way. I’ve since learned (doing a little research here tonight at the hotel) that the Sixaola bridge is over 100 years old, and only one car, truck, or semi (yes, they let semis drive over this rickety and rusting thing) can be on it at a time, because they think the stress of more than that might cause it to collapse.
Believe me, when you’re standing on the bridge, looking through rusted metal to the river 50 feet below, and a semi driving on the bridge rumbles the bridge enough to knock pieces of rust from the bridge at your feet into the murky brown water below, prayers start coming to mind very quickly.
Bus crashing while crossing river in Costa Rica.Somewhere near here (saw it on the Costa Rican news from the lobby of Cabinas Casa Verde), a bridge like this one collapsed this past week with a school bus on it. A huge rescue effort was needed to get people out of the water, apparently seven people died, and it made the front cover of the next day’s newspaper.
Things of this sort tend to happen in threes (and often have to before people really take action to fix them) so I’m happy to have gotten across the bridge safe and sound, and am happy to be traveling back to Costa Rica at a different border crossing on a different road.
Customs at Sixaola Bridge - Panama side
Customs at the Panamanian/Costa Rican border was actually pretty smooth, though I’m happy we pre-arranged our full transportation in Puerto Viejo so that our driver could be there, telling us what we were supposed to be doing. It’s a little confusing, and it seems like there are a fair number of people milling about.
Some of them (no doubt) would be more than happy to offer “help” or “advice” to any tourist or visitor who appeared lost or misguided. (Most people are good people, with a few bad apples. It’s just hard to sort out the bad apples when the first place you meet them would be at a border crossing, so again, I’m glad we pre-arranged our transport all the way to Bocas Del Toro from Puerto Viejo.)
driving into Panama
Driving into Panama, we saw wooden houses stacked side by side. I don’t even know if you could call them houses. They looked to be about 500 square feet total and were located between the road and giant banana plantations on the other side. These buildings would easily be mistaken for tool sheds or old, small barns in any American setting North of the Mexico/Texas border. Outside of one of them, I saw a mom nursing 1 child and 3 others hanging around right around her. All of them were basically in underwear, including Mom. I don’t know if these were the family of one of the laborers for the banana plantations, but it sure gave me a huge appreciation for the home I grew up in and the opportunities I’ve been presented with in my life.
They don’t have power. They don’t have running water. All I could think was how these children will ever learn to do something like use the Internet?
However, It also helped me realize that if you do come from that humble of beginnings, and see that there is opportunity for something different than the hard life of picking bananas and living in small, powerless homes, that you might be willing to work really hard to make it happen.
Perhaps that’s why so many of the really successful businesses in the USA are started and owned by people who come to the USA from somewhere else?
This isn’t a judgment on people who pick bananas for a living. We absolutely need people on the planet who work with crops. I just hope that the people who do the work find enjoyment and satisfaction in it. There’s more to this thought, but I think it’s going to have to marinate in my brain a bit and come out at some later point.
Moving on from there, we drove through the Panamanian rain forest. I have never seen such tall trees growing in such vast quantities. The road was crazy and twisty.
All of that I expected.
What I didn’t expect is that the driver would like R&B tunes from the 50’s, 60’s and 1970’s.
It was odd, in a funny and good way, to be in a 15 passenger mini-bus, narrowly avoiding semis around hairpin turns in the Panamanian mountains, listening to “Sittin’ At the Park, Waitin’ For You”, “Let’s Get it On,” “Unchained Melody”, and “Stand By Me.”

I don’t know the name of the place where we caught the water taxi. (Carrie told me that it’s Almirante, so I found it on the map here and marked it. Zoom out 3-4 times to get a reference – Panama City (and the Panama Canal) is to the East and a tiny bit South)

What I glimpsed at Almirante were outhouses situated directly over the water (as in, sewage goes directly into the ocean), sitting behind wooden shacks.
Outhouses behind wooden shacks in Panama
In the same place where shorelines should be grass, sand, and seashells, piles of floating and washed up trash and old plastic bottles float about, as if they are the natural landscape. The occasional piece of marsh grass looks like an intruder.
wooden shacks at Almirante, Panama
Where we departed from was upstream from an old ship which had run aground at some point in the past and was rusting itself into the water.
old cargo ship run aground and rusting at Almirante, Panama
This is not a place where you would ever want to swim. However, I’m sure (from all of the boats made out of trees that we saw on the water – usually being paddled by children) that the people who live here also fish here and potentially swim and bathe here too. That’s just speculation, but I feel like I just glanced an alternate reality. It’s a glimpse into the reality of how life is for some people. It’s a reality that both fascinates and scares me, a reality I’m instantly and simultaneously appalled by and also want to understand more about. Perhaps even to live their reality for a day or two, to see if how they live is something I could begin to grasp, although most realities take more than a day or two to really comprehend.
The sunset though, on the ride from Almirante to Bocas Del Toro, was the kind of sunset you think should be reserved for someone of royal or noble blood. The great thing about sunsets is that they’re so big, anyone who takes the time to look up and notice feels like royalty while watching one happen.

Going to bed tonight, I checked my sheets. Carrie asked me what I was doing. “Just want to make sure I’m not sleeping with any Geckos,” I said half-jokingly. No sooner had I said it than a little gecko went running along the wall next to my sheets.

These suckers are FAST and stick to any surface (we’ve seen Geckos on several ceilings… one even pooped on me at Cabinas Casa Verde – didn’t know it was a gecko until I looked up).
And we’re actually happy to have the geckos, and even the small spiders (in the corners of some of the rooms we’ve been in) because they help to control the mosquito population.

I just make a point every night to zip and stand up my bag and back pack, because I don’t want any critter to attempt to consider it home
Actually, with this interior room with air conditioning and hot water (thank-you Hotel Angela!) and spending the next two days at least partially underwater while finishing our SCUBA certification, I’m really looking forward to recovering from the multitude of bites I’ve gotten up to this point.

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