Two weeks into our three-week masters degree courses (erm?) that had focused on the art of speaking Spanish, we took a trip out of Granada to the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, the Riviera of Nicaragua, we thought.
Upon arrival we knuckled down to some serious conversational exercises. This may be a little advanced for some (remember, we’re a whole two weeks into learning Spanish when this video was taken) yet we’re hoping that this video can help to kick start a whole series on “Cyn and Matt teach Spanish”.
Or, maybe not.
You can head over here for a more informative look at Laguna de Apoyo.
Boquete is a small town nestled in the beautiful green mountain highlands of Chiriqui province in Panama. It’s really special here, there’s an energy to the place that’s impossible to describe. Truly, it’s beautiful. Basically, Matt and I fell in love with Boquete so we’ve decided to stay here a a few extra days. Lucky us, we’ll get to experience every day in a week!
Tuesday was our first full day in Boquete and we spent it exploring some of the free(er) things to do. It was a rather enjoyable day, I must say!
Grab a cup of coffee at Central Park and people watch.
Our Tuesday was bright and sunny and we took a little stroll to Central Park. I don’t actually know if that’s the name of the park or just the cafe. But anyway, we had a cappuccino in the little cafe that looks out at the park. The cappuccino was super sweet but good. And the people watching was alright, too! Women wearing traditional Panama dresses, old men who’ve likely lived here forever, and expats of various retirement ages were milling about.
Wander through the Tuesday Market.
All caffeinated and sugared up, we went off in search of the Tuesday Market. Affectionately (or resentfully?) called Gringo Market. It wasn’t much of a search — we were only a 2 minute walk away, just over the bridge.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, gringo is used in Latin America to refer to someone who isn’t Hispanic or Latino. Gringo Market was a bit weird because most of the vendors were expats. Also because the shoppers were…expats and tourists. I guess that’s where it got it’s name from.
I wonder how the Panamanians feel about the gringos taking over? I genuinely wanted to know. And if you do too, hop on over to Boquete Panama Guide to sort of find out. At the very least, find out the history of this bizarre market.
The market was, despite it’s oddities, enjoyable to stroll through. There were vendors selling everything from honey (local and delicious, by the way), meat, fruits and vegetables to used books (in English at cheap prices), jewerly, miracle creams, and clothing. And more.
Grab a bite to eat at Sugar and Spice Bakery.
Look, I’m only going to say this once. Sugar and Spice Dulces Gourmet is freaking amazing and you NEED to try it. K fine, I won’t only say it once…I’m going to scream it from the hilltops!
Get a muffin ($1), a sandwich (prices vary), a slice of pie ($2.50), or whatever you feel like. Or maybe try their quiche, a salad, or a soup.
I’m positive whatever you get will be delicious!
Matt and I have tried their French bread, oreo cupcakes, and tres leches cupcakes (cupcakes are $1.50). All amazing! In fact, we my have eaten the entire loaf of bread in one day…and had cupcakes for breakfast. You only live once, right?!
Go for a walk to Mi Jardin es Su Jardin
Mi Jardin es Su Jardin is a private garden that you can enjoy for free. When you consider the scale, it’s impressive! There’s even a private chapel.
Just a little over 2kms from Sugar and Spice, the walk will take you through town and uphill. You’ll be surrounded by green mountains and wander past a pretty church and darling cottage homes.
Hit Happy Hour at Mike’s Global Grill and stay for dinner
Oh my vegetarian heart was so happy here! I had the vegetarian chilli and man oh man was it good! Matt got the BBQ chicken pizza (with mushrooms) and he was in heaven too. To start, we ordered the yuca with special dipping sauce. I just about died of happiness and fullness.
So there you have it! A wonderful and not too expensive way to spend the day in Boquete.
So it’s time to leave Costa Rica for Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
The $30 USD shuttle From Puerto Viejo might seem tempting but the Sixaolo border crossing it’s so easy and much cheaper to do it yourself. Trust me, we just did it on May 5th, 2015. DIY the border crossing and you could save upwards of $16.75!!
Here’s how (and how much) to get to Bocas Del Toro from Puerto Viejo:
1) Take one of the earlier buses from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola. Starting at 6:30am, they come every hour.
Note that the bus may say Limón on it. Just ask the driver to make sure you’re getting on the right one. The bus takes about 1.5 hours, and the border closes at 5:00pm Costa Rica time.
Cost for bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola: $3.25 USD (you pay in colonies obviously)
2) The driver will kick you off the bus at the end of the line. If you get off on the road, walk straight ahead and up a tiny hill toward the Sixaola River (Rio Sixaola). It take 1-2 minutes. Cross the crazy old bridge. This is where you exit Costa Rica. Make sure you do this!
3) Go through Costa Rica Customs. It’s on your right in a tiny building. You have to fill out a short exit paper and pay an exit fee. The $7.00USD exit fee is payable via credit card (you do it with a machine) and you may or may not get a receipt. It doesn’t matter, the customs officers watch you pay. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay cash but it’s a little more ($8 I think).
There’s a free toilet here if you need it. It’s kind of gross and had no toilet paper on offer at the time of our border crossing.
Likely, Panamanian shuttle drivers will start soliciting you here. I recommend not to commit to one just yet because you can shop around for prices once you officially enter Panama. More on crossing the border.
4) Start walking straight again. You’ll be ushered into a suspect looking building and asked to pay for a stamp in your passport. It’s $4.00USD and it isn’t your Panama visa.
5) Carry on walking until you can turn left. Turn left and walk past a parking lot on your left. On your right is where you officially enter Panama.
It’s possible to cross without official paperwork being completely. It’s ILLEGAL and you’ll be in shit a few kilometres down the road when you hit a checkpoint.
Do you really need proof of onward travel?We got asked for proof of onward travel. We showed the border guy a print out of our flight confirmation email to Colombia. He looked at the paper and said fine. He didn’t verify in any way that what we showed him was legitimate. We didn’t have a boarding pass (obviously).
Someone we met didn’t have onward travel. The border guy wouldn’t let him through…after about 20 minutes and a $20USD bill later, his passport was stamped.
We DO NOT recommend offering bribes or gifts or using fake tickets to enter any country.
6) All of your paperwork is done now. It’s time to haggle with taxis/van drivers. It costs about $20 to go to Almirante by taxi, which is where you get the boat to Isla Colon (the main island home to Bocas Town). You can split the price with other people. I travelled with 4 other people and we each paid $4.00USD.
The van drivers will lie and tell you that if you take their van, you’ll save money on the boat. It’s total bullshit. The boat costs $6.00USD per person – it’s standard fair. That being said, you can negotiate with the van drivers for a decent price to the boat dock in Almirante (we got them down to $25 for 5 people).
It’s possible to take public buses. We didn’t so I can’t help with that.
Total cost from border to Almirate: $4.00USD.
7) You’ll be dropped off at the water taxi area. It costs $6.00USD and the boats run frequently. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s interesting (notice the toilets at the end of the docks!) and beautiful!
Total cost to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Town on Isla Colon: $13.25 USD
Remember, if you cross with the shuttle, you still have to pay all the border crossing fees. It’s cheaper to go by yourself!
It took us about 4 hours to get to Isla Bastimentos, which is about 35 mins by boat from Bocas Town.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And that people get stuck in their ways. It’s not so. Don Cune proves it.
Don Cune is a Panamanian farmer in the province of Chiriqui. He grows coffee and fruit (like my favourite soursop) in the mountains about an hour and a half from Boquete. It seems he’s made good friends with the guys from the Lost and Found Hostel!
We met Don Cune when we took their Organic Coffee Tour. Nico was our guide, and he was great, translating Don Cune’s stories with ease.
When Don Cune’s crops were being destroyed by bugs, he turned to pesticides, like many farmers would. Like many farmers have already done throughout the world in an attempt to save their crops, and earn a living. And the pesticides worked. For a while.
And then he and the other farmers needed to use a little more pesticides. And then a little more. And more. Until they completely stopped diluting the pesticides and just used them full strength. Despite the pesticide use, the bugs were rampant and killing the crops. The destructive bugs became resistant.
Farmers weren’t using them properly and bugs were becoming immune. The German manufacturer of these pesticides realized that this was a big problem. So the manufacturer flew to Panama to teach the farmers a few tricks that would help them better use the pesticides and be more successful with them.
Don Cune was one of the farmers who was being trained.
They learned simple but monumental things like how to identify which bug was the actual problem. That way, the farmer could choose the corrrect pesticide to take care of pest bug.
It’s quite simple to do. You attach a piece of yellow plastic to a stick (the stick should be a few feet long so you can stick it in the garden). Then you put a sticky substance all over the plastic and stick the stick in the ground and wait. In the morning, you come back and look at the plastic. What’s stuck to it?
If there’s a lot of one kind of bug, then that bug is the problem.
If one bug gets out of control [on the farm], it’s because the farmer has created the conditions for imbalance. – Don Cune, translated by Nico
Don Cune found butterflies, bees, and lady bugs. Those are all good insects. A healthy farm needs them, and he was struck with the realization that he was KILLING THEM! The pesticides he was using were killing the very creatures that would help his crops grow.
It was a series of realizations like this, coupled with simple methods of repelling insects (a repellent is completely different than a pesticide), and a ton of trial and error, that lead Don Cune to become an organic farmer.
And it’s stories like this that don’t just educate me, but give me hope. Hope that in this world so focused on making as much money as effing possible that all is not lost, that it’s possible to change the way we live. And live a life that is in harmony with nature — instead of destroying it for profit.
From what we’ve seen, organic farming isn’t just about not using chemicals. It’s about creating a balanced environment with many different types of plants, each benefiting from each other. The orange trees provide shade for the coffee plants, for example.
It’s done with an open mind and a huge amount of respect for the natural environment.
We’ve done our best to show you – grab a cup of coffee and watch the video now.