Panamanian meal, La Parada, Panamá city, Panamá, February 23, 2018

These days I’m enjoying days with no plans (well, I’m still working hard to catch up on things that are not about travelling). By chance, my hostel is a bit far from the city center, so I’ve been stuck at the hostel while only making occasional visits to a nearby mini market to buy eggs and onions to make my repetitive but otherwise satisfactory meals.

As I was going to the mini market today, one señora suggested me a local restaurant. It turned out that it was right next to the market – I hadn’t noticed the place due to its very humble appearance.

I had a typical meal, which was the only option : rice and beans, salad, and spicy chicken stew. It cost 4.75 dollars. My feeling is that this was the typical meal in Costa Rica as well 🙂

The name of the place was La Parada, the bus stop. After taking a seat, I realized that it was a descriptive name.

@la Parada, Panamá city, Panamá, February 23, 2018

Boquete, panama, February 17, 2018

Boquete was the second city in Panama where I stayed. This city is another example which proves that itineraries are always subject to change when travelling. In order to get to Panama City on time, I meant to make it to at least Santiago that day, but the city only seemed to have poor quality accommodation options within my budget. And I thought it was important to avoid poorly-lit depressing rooms for two nights in a row. So I decided to even make a detour and stay at one of boquete’s modern hostels.

Boquete is a small town at high altitude surrounded by mountains, and this gives boquete a much cooler climate than that of the rest of Panama. It is also known for the coffee plantations nearby, where 100% of Panamanian coffee is produced.

What I liked about Boquete was its stream flowing through the center of town. After visiting large scale lakes and rivers recently, I started to miss narrow stream with which I grew up when I was little – After all the urbanization they’ve disappeared in my hometown.

Right next to the steam, they organized the town’s annual flower festival, which made the whole seen even more photogenic. And that’s also where I ran into a couple from Argentina, who were selling homemade Alfajor. When I first saw them I was confused about what they were doing – they just looked like foreign tourists like myself. They said they had been traveling for two years and they were looking for financially sustainable ways for travelling longer.

@boquete, panama, February 17, 2018

Vehicle shipping in Panama, @colon, Panama, February 20, 2018

For a night owl like me, having to wake up at 5:30am is something I normally avoid or ignore. But today I had no other option – I needed to load my car into a container at the port in Colon.

Darien gap, an infamous jungle between Panama and Colombia, is the only part of the PanAmerican highway that is not passable by land. Worse, there is no ferry connecting this route, so the only remaining option is to ship vehicles via containers, which is an overwhelming idea for anyone who has never dealt with commercial containers.

From the first time I considered a PanAmerican overlandering travel, bypassing Darien gap was the symbol of the travel itself. The very idea that I’ve come to this far was making me excited last night – I did not sleep well.

There was lots of waiting here and there throughout the processes, but the well-experienced local agents helped us finish the whole things by noon.

Compared to others’ serious 4x4s, my car looked like a golf cart, but hey, I have the best fuel economy 😁

@colon, Panama, February 20, 2018

Go-to dinner menu, hostal casa nativa, Panamá city, Panamá, February 19, 2018

It turns out this is my favorite combination as a dinner when 1) I can use a kitchen 2) I have time to do grocery shopping and cooking 3) and I am not interested in trying the local cuisine at the moment.

Actually this was one of my go-to menus when I was living in DC. Old tastes die hard.

@hostal casa nativa, Panamá city, Panamá, February 19, 2018

Pre container vehicle inspection, panama city, Panama, February 19, 2018

Got the vehicle inspected at the Dirección de Investigación Judicial in Panama City, first step to ship it in a container to Cartagena, Colombia. He just checked the VIN and the engine. This was also the meeting place with other overlanders with some of whom I have been sharing info online.

Tomorrow the vehicle will be shipped at the Port in Colon.

@panama city, Panama, February 19, 2018

City view, Granada, Nicaragua, February 13, 2018

In Latin America, every city I visit has a church, so I began to almost not care about any churches. In Leon, however, I visited Iglesia La Merced to climb the roof – the church is the tallest building in Centro area.

There was a boy collecting $1 before climbing the stairs. The stairway was steep and narrow. Finally, the view was clear and the wind was refreshing, but I think it was better in Leon!

@Iglesia la Merced, Granada, Nicaragua, February 13, 2018

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Hot spring “Rio Chollin”, La Fortuna, Costa Rica, Feb 15, 2018

Costa Rica is known for a variety of adventure activities in nature, but this time (my second visit to the country) my body demanded a hot spring. I was originally going to a hot spring near Liberia, but the rough gravel roads did not sound motivating. Then I remembered a place where the tour guide had taken us three years ago. Only remembering that it was near La Fortuna, I began to track it down.

@Hot spring “Rio Chollin”, La Fortuna, Costa Rica, Feb 15, 2018

Border crossing, Peñas Blanca’s, nicaragua, February 14, 2018

Exiting Nicaragua was the toughest vehicle exit so far. Exiting usually takes about 10 minutes but it took 1.5 hrs in Nicaragua.

I am now comfortable with the usual processes and identifying who are real government officials and who are private helpers with similar looking uniforms.

What was new here was that I needed to get approval stamps from a customs agent and a police officer, who allegedly were around this open square but in fact it was hard to find them.

The police officer had a tough attitude too. After I tried to talk to her multiple times, she replied, “qué dices, chino?” with eye-flattening hand gestures, which dumbfounded me at the moment.
She was blunt and the air was saying that I was a criminal. During the inspection, she made piles of mess outside the car with my things, which I had to organize and store back into the car.

As a small revenge on my part, I told her at the end “qué tengas una buena vida.” with a smile-less face. 😁 Yes, I risked being detained for longer at the frontier, in the worst scenario. Oh, she did not respond or give me a look.

Under the strong sun for hours, I was exhausted and also mentally affected. I do not intend to complain or accuse someone, but at least I wanted to write about today’s feelings. I take the whole thing as part of traveling.

@peñas Blanca’s, nicaragua, February 14, 2018

Catedral de León, leon, Nicaragua, February 12, 2018

Unlike the previous few days, from Leon I had planned to spend more time for conventional touristy sightseeing activities. As expected, Leon was full of travellers which indicated that there is a free walking tour.

So I joined one early next morning, only to find out it was the first real day for the new young travel guides. They were obviously nervous and there were so many pauses, which made the whole group feel awkward.

Though I felt bad, I gave up after the first 40 minutes and sneaked into the terrace of the main catedral of the town, where I saw this unusual style of construction, which reminded me of Santorini and an imaginary Saudi Arabian palace at the same time. As shoes were prohibited, I spent about an hour on the terrace barefoot while enjoying the unique design and the view of the town. As there’s lots of strong sunlight in Leon, the floor was like a grilling stone.

@catedral de León, leon, Nicaragua, February 12, 2018

Driving in San Salvador, El Salvador, February 10, 2018

My destination was Plaza Libertad, the main square in the capital city of El Salvador, San Salvador. After 5 months of traveling by car, I’ve become more comfortable with finding parking spots at the very center of a city, but this time I never expected that the Plaza would be surrounded by traditional markets.

On another note, driving through a crowded market is an unusual experience – you watch all the people around or surrounding your car, minding their own businesses, yet you are in your private area, often air-conditioned. It is like an urban safari.

@San Salvador, El Salvador, February 10, 2018