Friday, January 8, 2010

The End of the Central American Map

Seems like just a few days ago that I updated the map for Nicaragua. How shocking that it’s been a month! And we had told ourselves, and many others, that we were going to skip through Costa Rica as quickly as possible. In the end, it took us three weeks to get through this (supposedly) happiest of countries. Panama, then, only had the pleasure of our company for two weeks. We fly out of Panama City for Bogota, Colombia in a few days. We’ll be moving into South America, and thus switching blog maps. How exciting!

21 – 12/09 to 12/11 – Liberia, Costa Rica. As we rolled through northern Costa Rica in a bus that was deluxe compared to everything we’d seen prior we knew we weren’t in Kansas (or Nicaragua) any more. Even in the dark we could perceive the difference that is Costa Rica. Just the brightness of its streetlights distinguished Liberia, Costa Rica from everywhere else we had been.

22 – 12/11 to 12/12 – El Coco, Costa Rica. It took a lot of effort to find a place on a backpacker budget in this touristy beach town. In the end, we found a great humble room with a makeshift grandmother for an owner. Best host yet. El Coco’s black sand beach was unattractive.

23 – 12/12 to 12/19 – Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica. Our notorious week at the resort. If you’re thinking about going to Villas Sol at Playa Hermosa, let us say this, “Don’t!” Sadly this turned out to be the most stressful week of our adventure. No kitchen. No cheap restaurants nor nearby mercados. And staff completely unfamiliar in dealing with people on a budget. Pretty enough place, I guess. Hot water, cable TV, A/C and pools were nice to have available.

24 – 12/19 to 12/27 – Santo Domingo, Costa Rica. Bibi’s Bed and Breakfast drew us to this quiet community just north of San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. But why Bibi’s in the first place?? Jim Twomey, a Wabash College grad (the small and tight-knit college Joe attended), owns and operates the place with his wife, Bibi. A few days turned into over a week when we started helping Jim and Bibi with their rental property and got invited to partake in their Christmas celebration. As mentioned in a previous post, Bibi’s B&B is highly recommended.

25 – 12/27 to 12/29 – Golfito, Costa Rica. Another small Costa Rican town with a shockingly high number of American ex-pats. Here we enjoyed our first room with a view.

26 – 12/29 to 1/01 – David, Panama. We got back into CouchSurfing in David. Three nights with Johanna, an amazing host and person, a bit outside of the city. We day-tripped up to the refreshing city of Boquete, and prepped for and enjoyed the New Years party. Up early on New Years Day to get to Panama City.

27 – 1/01 to 1/13 – Panama City, Panama. CouchSurfing has let us down, so we’re digging deep to pay for hostels. Our goal of working on a boat traversing the Panama Canal sadly didn’t work out either. Took three days just to figure out where we needed to go to secure a spot. Shucks. On a more positive note, Panama City is an impressively lively and pleasant city. Just seeing the huge cargo boats going through the Canal is worth the visit.

My thoughts (Juleen is in D.C. This blog entry is all Joe’s fault.)…

Costa Rica is “adventure” tourism/ecotourism paradise. One caveat: You need money and lots of it. Another caveat: Is there a Costa Rican culture? For a quicker vacation of a week or a month, Costa Rica could hit the spot. Infrastructure, both generally and tourism specific, is well developed, so travel is more comfortable. The country seems comparatively safe, and you don’t need Spanish. Great! For us, though, Costa Rica was what we had heard it would be: too expensive and too touristy. A great stay with Jim and Bibi and a surprisingly enjoyable visit into San Jose were great consolation prizes.

Since we’ve only been to two places in Panama, I’ll limit my commentary to Panama City. Great city! The skyline is gargantuan. Who knew?! I can't imagine a place building more skyscrapers at the same time, but I haven't been to Dubai. With the Canal and other rich historical sites, museums, safe city buses, and lively streets, we could do Panama City again. Next time we’ll make it onto a boat. I promise, Juleen.