From Patagonia to Panama

Arriving at Capurgana Port, we were soggy, high on adrenaline and exhausted from our two day traveling stint to get there. Deposited in the middle of nowhere, we were ready for some relaxation. Really wanting to pinch our pennies, we dismissed the hostel with harbor views and hammocks and dragged ourselves around the stony streets of Capurgana, attempting to find the cheapest accommodation in town. It was all rather charming – there are no cars at all in the town and the main form of public transport appears to be the man who trotted by in a horse cart, offering seats of white plastic chairs with legs cut off.


VIP transport, Capurgana style

Before agreeing to the room that we had found on the edge of town, we made sure to check there was a kitchen, having stocked up for 3 nights of cooking in a bid to avoid the hugely inflated prices of Capurgana. Assured by the sweet older lady who owned the place that there was definitely a kitchen, we headed out for the day to laze on the beach and do a whole lot of well earned nothing. It was only when we returned at dusk to prepare dinner that we realized the kitchen was a pit where you made your own fire out of the firewood you chopped with a provided machete. It was a dismal discovery. Trying our best with wet matches that wouldn’t light and wood that we managed to get the owner’s son to chop for us on account of our obvious uselessness, we realized an important fact: we had no idea how to make a fire.

What would have been lovely to see in front of us at that exact moment

I’m sure the sight of all three of us miserably trying to light non lightable matches and fruitlessly blowing at the wood was a hilarious sight, but team morale was at an all time low. Distressed at our inability to prepare dinner and bitter that a machete and pit were seen as a conventional kitchen in Capurgana, we were very luckily taken pity upon by the woman who had rented us the room. For a price, we were allowed to use the family’s gas cooker (which caused awkward family arguments with the husband and thus an extremely awkward cooking atmosphere for us) and Helen cooked us a marvelous dinner of rice.

The next day we got up early to hike to Sapzurro, the next town one hill over. It was a boiling hot day and the one small bottle of water I brought for hike was woefully inadequate but it was beautiful at the top. The trek was both rudimentary and steep and on the way down there was a ten minute section that was essentially a sheer drop, covered in slippery mud. Arriving in Sapzurro to a beautiful beach, sun and idyllic laid back tiny town, we decided to press on to Panama (as you do). Sapzurro is on the Colombian border and once you heave yourself up a steep hill of many, many stairs you arrive at the Colombian-Panamanian border. Heaving yourself down again, you reach the Panamanian border town of La Miel. We headed uphill, completed border crossing procedures and took an obligatory photo with the ‘Welcome to Panama’ sign.


Overlooking Sapzurro from the very high mountain top


Hola Panama y Central America!



Once we’d trooped down the many stairs we arrived to the best beach ever. Spending summers on New Zealand’s Northland beaches during my childhood has made me a fussy consumer and a lot of beaches I’ve travelled to haven’t met my Northland standards but La Miel way surpassed them. White sands, a big quiet bay and transparent turquoise waters. Strapping on a snorkel mask, I amused myself for hours diving to the bottom and floating upwards. An absolutely fantastic day. Rather than catching the boat back to Sapzurro like everyone else, we chose to hike back, which meant that once the boats left we had the beach all to ourselves for another hour or so. Not quite masochistic enough to do the sweaty, muddy hike back to Capurgana, we ate coconut ice cream, bought some earrings and dangled our legs off the Sapzurro Pier before enjoying a lovely boat ride around the bay to get home. Having negotiated an agreement that we would pay to use the gas at our accomodation for the entirety of our stay, I made a mediocre dinner of pasta carbonara and relished the awkwardness of cooking in someone else’s kitchen with the entire family watching.


Beautiful, lovely, amazing La Miel…my new favourite beach in the world


Arriving back in Capurgana via the much more relaxing and less taxing boat ride

Our last full day in Capurgana was slightly held up by a fierce rainstorm at the start of the day but a morning’s worth of dozing and reading isn’t the worst thing in the world. Our plan of treating ourselves a nice dinner was challenged by all the formal dining options shutting early, but we made do with street food. I made one last Spanish faux pas, solemnly informing the girl who sold me a sole sausage rather than the full meal on offer that I only wanted a sausage because ‘no tengo mucho hombre’. Spanish is Spanish and Rachel is Rachel, and never shall the twain meet. But I had done it – three months earlier having arrived in Santiago, Chile and voyaged down the longest country in the world to Patagonia, I was now at the tip of Panama. It was a great feeling of accomplishment.

We ate our street food on the pier, looking out at the sea and reminiscing about our adventures together. It was a nice way to end things, although we were all sad to be going separate ways. Helen is off to Montreal on a Canadian working holiday visa to become a literary superstar and work on her already perfect French, whilst Bea is heading to London to take on the world of corporate finance in the City. With me heading back to New Zealand in November to take care of severely depleted finances, it may be awhile till our threesome reunites once again, but whenever we do, we’ll have lots of good memories and funny stories to laugh about.