While sitting in a gritty run down hotel right off the Caribbean coast, after what most likely was my most uncomfortable road trip of my life, I certainly felt the hard kick in the ass that traveling gives you from time to time. I heard the salsa music bouncing off the walls right outside my hotel room and when I walked outside I saw a hole in the wall bar packed with Colombians, young and old, where the music is coming from. I thought to myself, “Is this what these people do all everyday, just get drunk in and sit next to a 150,000 decibil loud speaker? Oh yeah, well, I guess it is Sunday.”
The town I so eloquently speak of in the last is Turbo, Colombia, a small little port city that is nestled right between the start of the Darien jungle and the Colombian Carribean coast. Being the cheapest means to get to Panama from Colombia, I chose to work my way up the coast of the Darien by speed boat, then take a small plane from the first small town across the Panamanian border into the city. This is an account of what the trip should feel like if you plan to embark upon it this way.
My journey started in Cartagena whereabouts I had quite a good time enjoying the fruits of that beautiful coastal city. Upon arriving at the bus station, immediatly a Colombian was in my face asking me where I need to go. Ok I surrender. I hopped on a long and sweaty 7 hour bus ride to the city of Monteria, which I would advise you not to visit. Not much going on there.
From there after my hotel stay there were vans running from the terminal to Turbo, which was about a 4 hour journey, half on unpaved roads.
After a while, my back bones on the brink of shattering, we stepped out into the grungy port town of Turbo, Cartagena, where I immediately bought my morning speed boat ticket for Capurganá, a nice little beach/port town on the Panamanian-Colombian border. After this I headed for my hotel.
The cost was 17.000 COP for the night (roughly $9.00) and I’m not sure I got what I paid for having heard some pretty shady sounds during my night of half sleep.
Regardless, I was up and at it at 7 AM ready to speed boat my way through the Carribean. When arriving at the dock, I somehow got a front row seat on the boat, the worst row, probably because I didn’t tip the boat manager.
After about 2 and a half hours of jolting up and down, we were finally at Capurganá.
The town was quite pleasant yet very small. It housed about 5 or 6 hostals. Most of the roads are cobblestone wit an occansional horse and carriage walking by. It had a smalltown feel, and no cars, making for a nice serene getaway for any tourist. I made friends with some Swedes on the boat over, and me and the three of them decided to stay at a new Hostel called Victoria’s run by a Colombian lady who owned a finca about a 20 minute walk from the village. She was quite kind, although would not let me use her kitchen (standard hostel obligation right?) and seemed very taken back and offended when I tried. I now know not to screw around with a Colombian woman’s kitchen.
Since I didn’t book my flight for the next day early out of Puerto Olbadia ( the first town across the Panamanian border) early enough, I had to stay in town til the next one which was three days away. This gave me a few days too check out the area.
The next few days I mostly hung around with the Swedes. It was quite hard to interact with many of the locals, since they all spoke in that terribly obnoxious and hard to understand Caribbean dialect of Spanish. The first day we hiked to Sapzurro, a smaller tranquil little town with beautifully clear beaches and less tourists. It was there that I took a dip in the ocean for the first time in about a year. Complete peace.
Overall Capurganá was a good experience but 3 days there is more than plenty to see and do it all, so by the Thursday of my flight I was ready to leave. I was up at 7 AM once again on the boat for Puerto Olbadia, and once again I snagged a front row seat on the boat! Not only was this ride bumpy, but by the end of the ride I was soaked in Caribbean sea water. Hells yeah, this is what traveling is all about kids.
Upon arrival at customs after about an hour long boat ride, they proceeded to check search all bags of arriving customers. This was expected. After getting my stamp, I made friends with a a south Korean girl who was also on the same plane, along with about 10 Argentinians. After waiting a couple hours, we headed for the airport, if you want to call it that. It had one open air building, with no baggage check or anything of the sort. I am pretty sure one of the Argentinean guys took a piss on the runway.
When the plane arrived about 2 hours late, I was pretty damn ready to see Panama City.
We boarded the plane of about 20 people, and within 15 minutes we were off.
Smooth plane ride, not much turbulence, and an hour later we were in Panama City. Overall, 6 days, 1 terrible bus ride, a bumpy van ride, 2 speed boat trips one of which gave me a Caribbean sea shower, a stay in a quiet little beach town, a little plane ride, and a hell of a lot of waiting is what it took. Total- about $200.00 dollars.
Overall I would recommend this method of travel between countries. Certainly it has it’s ups and downs, but you get to sea a part of the world that not many people experience. The Darien jungle is dangerous and uninhabitable, so this is the closed you will get without a kidnapping from the FARC or whatever the hell is lingering in that part of the border.
If you want good directions on a step by step way to do this, check out this post from a guy named David. His directions are useful and very thorough.
If you are traveling farther north to Costa Rica make sure you get your Yellow Fever Vaccine with the yellow card. I was denied at the Costa Rican border because I did not get my vaccine until I was in Panama and tried to travel the next day. Apparently you have to wait 10 days for the vaccine to kick in before you can enter Costa Rica. It is always good to check immigration laws for the given country you are set to travel, one thing I have learned the tough way.