I can't believe in two weeks I will be en route to Panama, and then, 4 days after that, heading to Colombia. Time has flown by these last few months, but I feel I'm as prepared as I can be. Planning this trip has been a little different. Normally I like to have as much done as I can ahead of time. But there are some variables on this one beyond my control.
A perfect example of this will be my time on San Blas. This is a series of islands in Panama owned by the Kuna tribe. Owned as in even the Panamanian government can't tell them what to do. Owned as in the islands are named after people in the tribe. One is named Robinson's Island for Robinson. Frank has an island named "Frank's Island." Electricity is scarce on most of them or doesn't exist at all. If electricity doesn't exist, there sure isn't wi-fi or a way to book a stay on one of these places. Some of the Kuna communicate with tour groups on the mainland, and that's how you stay with them on the island. All I know is that on April 7th, someone from LAM tours will be picking me up at 5 am, driving me 2.5 hours to Carti (the launching point in San Blas), I'll get in a small boat and head to Iguana Island (the one I'm choosing). I will probably be sleeping in a hut and eating food caught fresh that day. But I've heard it's a cool experience and one that shouldn't be missed in Panama.
As on past trips, I have A LOT planned. Seven different locations in 13 days! Here is a brief sketch of where I will be, what I will do, and where I will stay.
Saturday, April 5th:
Head to Chicago, fly to El Salvador for my short connection and then head to Panama City, Panama. Staying in a home with a nice couple, booked through airbnb. I will arrive very late.
Sunday, April 6th:
Explore Panama City, including the Canal via the Miraflores Locks, check out the historic Casco Viejo, bike the Amador Causeway, eat cheap ceviche and stroll.
Monday, April 7th:
Head to San Blas (Iguana Island) for the day and evening. Hang with the Kuna tribe and pay them $1 to take their photo. (This is what I read. But hey, they have to earn a living, right?) Probably lie on the beach and snorkel. Relax.
Tuesday, April 8:
Head back to Panama City and stay with the same people I did the first two nights. Do any last-minute exploring. Try sancocho, their national dish, a chicken-meat-yucca soup.
Wednesday, April 9:
Head out very early to the airport and catch a short flight to Bogota, Colombia (the Capital, 8 million people). My friend told me to spend "0 or 1" nights in Bogota, so I'm taxi-ing it to a bus station and riding a bus for two hours to Tunja. From there I will catch another short bus to the small, colonial city of Villa de Leyva, where I will stay for two nights at a cute hostal, my own room.
Thursday, April 10:
Explore historic Villa de Levya. This town has less than 8k people and has a huge cobblestone plaza in its center. I will probably do some hiking to some nearby lakes and let the chillness of the town try to rub off on me. Will try almojabanas (bun with cheese and egg).
Friday, April 11:
This will be a busy travel day. I'll catch an early morning bus back to Bogota, check in at the airport and take a 45-minute flight to Armenia, in the coffee region. From Armenia, I'll take a 45-minute bus ride to another cute, small town, Salento. I'll be staying at a hostal, but with my own room.
Saturday, April 12:
The main reason for staying in Salento is to hike Cocora Valley and to see the wax palms. Not sure if I will hire a guide or do this via horseback, but it should take most of the day. Somewhere in here I will try to catch a coffee tour at a finca/farm and play "tejo" at the local watering hole. Salento is also known for trucha/trout.
Sunday, April 13:
Catch a bus to Pereira, and another short bus to the city of Manizales (mon-i-sal-es), pop 300K. Staying with a nice couple through airbnb. The dad speaks a little English, but the mom does not. Hopefully visit a hot spring (known in this area) and the Cathedral.
Monday, April 14:
If feeling up to it, take a tour and hike Nevado del Ruiz, a stratovolcano part of the Los Nevados National Park. I have not booked this yet but am told I can do it the day before. Drink "Mistela"- a sweet and refreshing beverage that locals drink, consisting of clear brandy, chamomile, and marjoram. I will do this after the hiking...
Tuesday, April 15:
Take a short flight to the coastal town of Cartagena. Staying with a couple from the U.S. through airbnb for two nights.
Wednesday, April 16:
Explore the walled city of Cartagena and head to El Totumo, a mud volcano where tourists like myself pay money to float in "healing" mud.
Thursday, April 17:
Take a short flight back to Bogota and stay near the airport with a lady from airbnb. (Airbnb is proving to be great for finding helpful people and reasonable rooms). I have nothing planned and am not sure I will feel like doing much at this point.
Friday, April 18:
Fly out early from Bogota, connect in El Salvador to Chicago. Bus it to Milwaukee. Get a ride home.
There it is - 13 nights in Panama and Colombia. If I'm still standing when it's done, I will consider that a success. :)
Two Weeks Until Take Off
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States