Hola Panama

(I have very little time online so this will be a text-only update. )

The last few days have been quite rough. I knew the journey would not be easy so I travelled with 3 Argentinean friends who I kept bumping into as I passed through Colombia.

It took a combination of 2 buses (6 hours in total) and 3 hours of sitting couped-up in the back of a pick-up truck - driving through paramilitary territory - to get to Turbo, in the north of Colombia. We slept there the night and got up a 6am the next morning to get a lancha ("speed boat") to Capurgana - the island where one obtains an exit stamp from Colombia. From there it was another lancha to Puerto Obaldia - the island where one obtains the entrance stamp for Panama. The problem was that Puerto Obaldia is not used to foreigners and they therefore have almost no facility to process anyone not from Colombia or Panama. It also didn't help that immigration officer hated us for no apparent reason - though we later discovered that he hates everyone. Thank you SeƱor Vaz.

Furthermore, there were no boats leaving the island for about another 5 days. We were stuck there on this tiny, hot, humid, hell of an island - with absolutely nothing to do - for 2 days until I went around, talked to all the locals and met all the captains of boats and managed to organised a passage off the island to the next island - 1 hour away - where we had a better chance of getting a ride to mainland Panama... and even a flight!

We left at 5am the next morning and when we arrived at Mulaturpo (the next island) we had great luck and immediately connected with another lancha going to Carti - the first point of road access in Panama. The captain said it would be a 5-hour passage, however after 9 hours we were still going - squished shoulder-to-shoulder with splashing water continuously pummelling our faces. Unfortunately we didn't make it all the way to Carti and had to spend a night on a tiny island of natives - Carti Mulaturpo - where they gave us food and shelter completely free. We played with all the curious children (including albinos) and spoke with the elders about the changing and threatened culture and the departure of all the youth for the big city.It was truly an awesome experience.

This morning we were on a lancha for another 1.5 hours and then had a 3-hour jeep journey to finally arrive in Panama City. We had great difficulty finding a place to stay and finished in the apartment of a Mexican girl who offered her lounge room for $6 a night. We met her as she was selling pastels on the street.

I will probably continue with these guys further north for a little longer. The current plan is to leave Panama City on Sunday and head to Costa Rica.