Bussing through banana country with chickens on my lap: Bocas to David

Bussing through banana country with chickens on my lap: Bocas to David
Sunset at Red Frog Beach

Sunsetting on my time at Red Frog Beach

After a final ukuele session with Phil and Soy, I marched through the misty rainforest, slightly disappointed that I still couldn’t find any of the caymen crocs who reside in the muddy puddle pond on the way to the dock. Alone with the garbage that needed to be deposed of in the mainline, I departed on a water taxi back to Bocas Town. Avar, my dreadlock friend, spotted my frizzy blonde halo from an approaching boat, waving me on my way with a grand goodbye “Chao loquita” (Yup, he called me “little crazy”. Not sure why, except that I’d constantly squeeze by him behind the bar to refill my water bottle with filtered rainwater then gulp down it down, like a dehydrated nomad in the desert). After trudging through town to the second water taxi dock, I barely didn’t notice little Maria, my buddy from Panama City, before me in the ticket line. Although she stayed in town, this was our encounter #3… I found her a couple days prior drinking beers at my “office”, the restaurant near Red Frog where I had to go for wifi. Our repeated meetings reminded me again of how small the world is and how important it is to be nice to people, because you never know when you’ll encounter them again.

Chiquita banana boat in Almirante, Panama

Chiquita banana boat in Almirante, Panama

After speeding by the Chiquita Banana shipping vessel, we slowed down to put- put-ing through the trash-filled waters near the waterfront homes of the workers. After landing, I bid goodbye to Maria (for a third time!) and wished her a safe journey to Costa Rica and met up with two Italian girls also heading to David. Some Panamanian promised us a taxi and after we walked halfway across town, we had to pay a $1 to pile on each other’s laps in a pick-up truck taxi, for a 45 second ride to the bus station. They dropped us in a swirling mob of Panamanians, “David?? $10 to David?? We need three!” and all of a sudden, someone strapped to the roof of a small shuttle bus and swept us inside.

On the bus to David with a box full of baby chickens

On the bus to David (Panama) with a box full of baby chickens

A squished 3.5 hour shuttle ride to David
A skinny teen, apparently in charge of the shuttle’s occupants, brilliantly shifted people, boxes and bags to squish us inside. He placed me on the fold-up seat by the door and as I searched for a place my feet on the crowded floor, a cardboard box of baby chicks appeared in my lap. Apparently, they were mine to have and to hold for the duration of the journey. I could feel the eyes of their owner, a young boy about 10 years old who had to stand a few meters back, peering protectively at his precious cargo. I attempted to reassure the boy and the chicks by greeting the shuffling fur-balls with a welcoming smile when suddenly, the shuttle took off. Without the chance to brace myself, both the box and I almost slid into the teen bus-master who hung the open door, like a sailor from the crow’s nest, looking for additional passengers to usher into the already-packed vehicle.
And so it went. Squished tighter than sardines, I slid on my collapsible seat with the wind in my face as the shuttle careened up, down and around rollercoaster roads. We’d stop at random roadside locations, the teen would grab my box, gesture for me to stand and hop out (often while the shuttle was still rolling) to let one person off (if we’re lucky) and pile 3 more on. Then, he folded down my seat, replaced the chickens and we’d be off!
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the nap that I was counting on but the scenery was incredible. As alluded to previously, Chiquita gets many of its bananas from Almirante and the rainforest in that region is dense and plentiful. I didn’t expect abrupt elevation changes but we constantly climbed mountains, whipped around corners on the edges of cliff-like drops., descended at goose bump-inducing speeds with the driver drifting in the middle of the road to avoid potholes.
About an hour outside of David, the scenery changed suddenly to something that reminded me of Northern California. Horses shaded themselves under hunched, gnarled trees covered in speckles of something. Cows roamed barbed-wire pastures, munching on lumpy tufts of reedy bush. Cabelleros occasionally trotted roadside on skinny steeds.

Arrival in David
When I finally made it to David and met up with Dustin, my couchsurfer host for the weekend, I learned the area is known for its nature and agriculture. Even though it is Panama’s second biggest city, it has none of the skyscrapers or tourist attractions of Panama City. With a relatively central location on the Pan-American highway, it is a major transportation hub, hosting machine shops, car dealerships and places to buy construction equipment.
A tourist would find themselves in David to transfer to Boquete (a town near a volcano which hosts a variety of eco-adventures), Costa Rica or Bocas but I don’t recommend extending your stay. I enjoyed my Friday afternoon and evening there, thanks to Dustin whose traveler’s spirit and incessant curiosity reminiscent of my own, but there’s not much to see. Dustin is an anesthesiologist, finishing his last three days of residency who grew up in town. He brought me to a river for a beer and a refreshing dip so I could wash away some of the sand I brought from Bocas. After becoming my best friend by offering me a real shower and a place to do laundry, we ate at a Chinese restaurant where I tried “Panamaian french fries”: mashed green bananas, fried in thin, circular patties. He attempted to show me a night out on the town, and we stopped at a couple discos but it was too early for things to get crazy and I wanted to save my energy for the wedding in Boquete.
Overall, that shuttle ride gives new meaning to the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life is a journey, a destination”. It may not have been the most comfortable way to get to David, but who needs to pay for a zip-line tour when your intercity transport can make your heart race and palms sweaty?

Song of the Moment: Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani (because that sh*t was bananas!)
If YOU want to go from Bocas to David (the departure point for Boquete): Take a water taxi to Almirante (I took Taxi 25 for $6 one way). Once you land, take a short taxi ride to the bus terminal for $1. Buses to David leave at least every 30 minutes. The shuttle I ended up taking cost $8.50 one way but a more legitimate charter bus would cost around $15 and some travel companies offer shuttles for $30.  It took 3.5 hours.

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1 Comment

  1. Jimmy Foote
    Jun 11, 2014

    Loled at the song of the moment..

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