To say today was an exciting day would be an understatement…. Today I made the most interesting border crossing of my life and I’ve done some pretty funky border crossings. When I was travelling around Asia and South America with my then girlfriend in 2007-2008 we made it our mission to cross every border at the most interesting place we could. Laos to Vietnam was quite hairy as was the road from Cambodia to Bangkok but this border crossing beats them all as it involved a taxi, a propeller plane and a speedboat!
I met a chap in the hostel who was making the same route so we decided to join forces. Our first journey was to the Panama City airport. The only excitement getting there was trying to fit my stroller into a tiny city car. With a bit of shuffling here and there we miraculously made it. The taxi driver said the journey would cost and absolute maximum of $10 and low and behold when we arrived it cost exactly $10.
The next hurdle was to get the check-in lady to allow me to bring my stroller and extra kit on-board – I don’t travel lightly! Luckily the lady was very smiley about the whole thing and was willing to help I just needed to pay an excess of $40 which I suppose was fair.
After a short wait, by Panamanian standards, we were allowed to go through a very relaxed customs check into the lounge. A medium sized plane was parked outside and we naturally assumed that was our flight. However when a flight was called (not ours) and the plane departed we were left wondering where our plane was. Our flight was not called on the loudspeaker as per usual but the flight attendant came round and rounded us up personally as it turned out there were only 5 of us! We were then led across the tarmac and presented with a 12 seater propeller plane. The kid in me woke up and I started to get very excited.
The pilot started taxi-ing out to the runway, made a sharp right and with no hesitation sped off down the runway and soared into the sky over Panama. The views were amazing and at this point I had convinced myself that the $108 spent on the flight was worth it! Throughout the journey there were amazing views of Panama with lots of dense forest and spectacular views of the turquoise blue Caribbean shoreline. For me it was extra exciting because I was able to retrace my run south to Yaviza from the sky. The landing was a little hairy as the runway started at the shoreline. As we approached it really did feel like we were going to ditch into the sea but luckily our experienced pilot had everything under control.
Puerto Obaldia was a funky little seaside town that is only accessible by boat of plane. Despite the remoteness of the place it was amazing at how lively it was. The main street, and pretty much the only street, was lined with wooden houses with families relaxing outside. This was the first time I had really experienced the real Caribbean vibe and it was only going to get stronger as the day continued.
Our first port of call was the immigration office to stamp out of Panama. This would have been a smooth process if I had had the two photocopies of my passport that were required. Luckily the local internet café managed to provide a photocopier to get me out of trouble. Once through immigration we had to make out way to the military check. For the first time a customs officer actually wanted to go through my belongings, a decision I think he regretted very quickly as he seemed to get bored half way me through pulling out endless bags. He definitely spent more time going through the amply bosomed lady’s lingerie who was ahead of me. Just as we were all set to depart one of the custom officers decided to take our passports for a third check. I am not entirely sure what he was doing or where but he sure took his time.
With all the check points done we headed down the peer and waved goodbye to Panama. For me it was with some relief. I have loved Panama but after four separate visits to Panama City I was definitely ready to leave.
The next obstacle was loading my stroller onto the speed boat that would take us to Carpugana Colombia. With one of the men in the boat and me on the pier a good 1-2 metres above we delicately lowered the stroller into the rocking boat. As miscalculation would have resulted in all my equipment ending up at the bottom of the sea. Once the loading was complete we set off. The speed boat was long and narrow with wooden benched throughout. The five people on board were huddled at the rear while our luggage was stowed at the front. When we hit the first waves it was evident that my stroller was going to be in for a punishing journey and it wasn’t long till all the laps were blowing in the wind and my bags were falling everywhere. Luckily with a little adjustment it wasn’t being slammed quite so hard with every wave.
The coast line was beautiful with palm trees lining the beaches and huge headlands creating spectacular blow holes with the crashing waves. We made our first port of call in a beautiful bay where we also filled up with gasoline. There Caribbean vibe was getting stronger and it was very evident we had now crossed the border to Colombia.
We finally arrived in Carpugana and the atmosphere was definitely chilled. The pier was full of young kids jumping into the sea and a horse and cart waited to transport deliveries around the small town. Immigration wasn’t forced upon you it was just something you had to do when you had time. When you finally get round to it the officer doesn’t even ask you a question, he just stamps you in.
The town itself is super relaxed with shops lining the narrow streets. Cars are non-existent and horse and cart are the preferred form of transport. The equivalent to a bus is a horse drawn cart with legless plastic chairs tied on. Everything is new and exciting. Even the local delivery of gasoline is amazing. Rather than piping it ashore or even delivering the barrels to the pier they prefer to moor the ship off the stone beach and then swim the barrels ashore and roll them up the street. I am not talking about one of two barrels – there were over 100 barrels.
We checking into the Bohemia Hostel on the edge of town and set about exploring some more. It is a shame that I leave for Turbo tomorrow but this is definitely a place I would recommend to anyone looking for somewhere fun and a little off the beaten track..