Friday, September 6, 2013

Panama (Pre-Panama City)

I have to admit, other than visiting the Hopp's, I didn't have any big expectations for Panama. I had always thought of Panama as "that piece of land between Costa Rica and South America". Oh, and also the country with the Panama Canal. Many people driving the Pan-American highway zip through Panama for various reason. One of the reasons is related to the anxiety of having to ship your vehicle around the infamous Darien Gap, an impassable swampy jungle occupied by FARC rebels and drug smugglers between Central and South America. The process takes at least 1-2 weeks, so for some, their time in Panama is centered around the dreaded logistics of vehicle shipping from Colon to Cartagena.

The Pan-Am highway runs East-West, the Panama Canal runs North-South, and we're going North to Columbia!?

Panama has been a lovely surprise. The landscape is lush and green, possibly more so than Costa Rica. We've seen waaaay more monkeys here. The cost of living is much lower than Costa Rica, with many grocery items half-price. The highway infrastructure here is amazing, almost a little odd. Four-lane highways seem to be sprouting up everywhere. Other than the customs lady at the border, the Panamanian people have been some of the friendliest people we've met.

Stopping for fruit on the roadside

Sniffing the Janson's coffee
Before arriving to the small mountain town of Boquete (via a 4 lane highway), I had no idea that Panama was famous for it's coffee. Who knew? Panamanian coffee was voted best in the world by the Specialty Coffee Association of America from 2005-2007 (coming in 2nd in 2008-2009). Boquete is home to one of the most famous Panamanian coffee growers, who reportedly fetch $130+ per pound for their premium "Geisha" coffee. Since we are in such a famous coffee growing area, we started buying better coffee (not Geisha). Instead of paying $2-3 for a small bag (250 grams), we bought the $6 bag of Janson Family coffee. OMG, it is so good. I can't imagine what the really fancy stuff tastes like.

The mountain highlands are refreshing and a great way to escape the gorgeous, albeit hot beaches. Unfortunately, much of the prime beach front is quickly being bought up by foreigners. The law may allow public access, but it won't be the same when the jungle backdrop is replaced by houses and hotels, so plan your visit soon.

This public parking lot (the only one at beautiful Playa Venao) will be closed to vehicles in a couple of months. 
Locals will be able to access the beach via a hole in the large gated concrete wall. 

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